Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 31

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-6



This chapter continues to speak of restoration, peace and prosperity for Israel - both North and South. Verses 1-22 deal basically with the North (Ephraim); Verses 23-26 with Judah. Verses 27-40 envision a reunited kingdom with the prospect of a glorious future. Many regard this chapter, and its promise of a New Covenant, as the high point of Jeremiah’s prophecy.

1. "At the same time", in verse 1, is the same as "in the latter days" of Jeremiah 30:24; thus, in the latter days Jehovah will be the God of a reunited Israel (all the families), and will once more acknowledge them as His people, (comp. Genesis 17:7-8; Isaiah 41:8-10; Romans 11:26-28).

2. "The wilderness" (vs. 2) should be regarded as a prophetic figure for the land to which the northern kingdom has been exiled (comp. Hosea 2:14-16); even in their present extremity the grace of God reaches out to the need of those He loves - waiting, that He may give them rest and peace, (comp. Exodus 33:14; Joshua 1:13).

3. "Of old" (vs. 3) may be better tendered "From afar" - even from His heavenly dwelling, (comp. Exodus 3:7-8).

a. He assures them that His love for them is "everlasting"; not merely beyond time, but beyond their comprehension, (Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:8; Ephesians 3:17-19; Hosea 14:4-8).

b. Because this is true, He has dealt with them in absolute fidelity (hesed) to the covenant that He made with their fathers at Mt Sinai, (Psalms 36:7; Psalms 63:3; Psalms 89:33; Jeremiah 9:24; Jeremiah 32:18; Hosea 2:19).

c. Thus has He "drawn" them - faithfully and lovingly leading, guiding, directing, and developing them according to their particular need.

1) Sometimes by embracing them and drawing them near to His heart.

2) Again, in thrusting them from Him - holding them at arm’s length and charting their paths through trouble, travail, agony and pain; but, always "with loving kindness", because this was essential to their spiritual wholeness.

4. The Lord will again build this people into a nation characterized by purity, stability, permanence, gratitude and joy, (vs. 4; Jeremiah 24:6; Jeremiah 33:7).

5. Verses 5-6 describe a time when the breach between Israel and Judah is healed; reunited and fruitful, in the land of their fathers, they will, together, "go up to Zion" to worship Jehovah, their God, (Isaiah 65:21; Ezekiel 28:25-26; Jeremiah 3:18; Jeremiah 50:4-5; Isaiah 2:3-4).

Verses 7-14


1. Here is a call for joyful song, celebration and praise to Jehovah, (vs.7; Jeremiah 20:13; Psalms 14:7).

a. He has saved His people, the remnant of Israel, (Jeremiah 23:3; comp. Psalms 28:9; Isaiah 25:9).

b. He has exalted Jacob to be the leader (chief) of the nations, (comp. Deuteronomy 26:18-19; Deuteronomy 28:13; Isaiah 61:9).

2. Those whom the Lord is pictured as bringing from all the places to which they have been scattered (the blind, the lame, the woman that is with child, etc.) seem calculated to reveal that deliverance does not come through rugged determination, or personal vigor; it comes through the love, grace and power of the Almighty! (vs. 8; Jeremiah 3:18; Jeremiah 23:7-8).

3. Tears of repentance and joy characterize the remnant of Israel as God leads them home - through unknown (Isaiah 42:16), but refreshing, paths (Isaiah 40:3-5; Isaiah 42:1-7; Isaiah 49:9-13) upon which is no cause for stumbling, (vs. 9; comp. Isaiah 63:10-14).

a. Such gentle care demonstrates the Father’s love.

b. Ephraim He regards as His "firstborn": though, chronologically, Reuben was Jacob’s oldest son (Genesis 24:32); the term "firstborn" was applied to Ephraim because of that tribe’s recognized leadership during the era of the Northern kingdom. (It is also worthy of note that Jacob had a special love for this favored grandson of Rachel -the wife whom he truly loved.)

4. When the nation returns to Him, the Lord will be to them a Good Shepherd of provision and protection, (vs. 10; Isaiah 40:11; comp. John 10:1-14).

5. He will fully ransom and redeem them from those who oppress them, (vs. 11; Jeremiah 15:21; Jeremiah 50:34; Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 48:20).

6. Verses 12-14 describe the deep joy of the redeemed in Zion, and their abundant soul-satisfaction in the bounty of Jehovah, (Jeremiah 50:19; Psalms 36:8; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 55:2; Isaiah 61:3).

Verses 15-22


1. So sad has been the scattering of Israel that Jeremiah pictures Rachel (the beloved wife of Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin) as lifting up her head from the grave to weep over the deportation of her children by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. (vs. 15).

a. Ramah was a settlement in the vicinity of Gibeah and Beeroth (Joshua 18:25), about 5 miles north of Jerusalem, (Jeremiah 40:1; Isaiah 10:29).

b. Rachel had died in giving birth to Benjamin, enroute to Bethlehem, and had been buried at Zelah on the border of Benjamin, (Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:17; 1 Samuel 10:2).

c. Matthew cites this illustrative figure in connection with the slaughter of innocents by King Herod, in his attempt to destroy the new­born "King of the Jews!" (Matthew 2:17-18).

2. In verses 16-17 the Lord is pictured as comforting Rachel by the assurance that her children will be restored, (Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 30:18-19; Jeremiah 30:3; Jeremiah 29:11).

3. Ephraim is likened to an undisciplined calf (Hosea 4:16) until the hand of the Lord laid upon him such restraints and chastisement as brought him to repentance and shame, (Jeremiah 3:22-25) - and a readiness to submit to the yoke of Jehovah, (vs. 18-19; Psalms 94:12-13; Matthew 11:28­-30).

4. As an humbled returning prodigal, Ephraim will come to know the vastness of God’s love and care! (vs. 20; comp. Luke 15:22-32).

a. Such divine grief as here expressed over the waywardness of his people is something that only parents of rebellious children can begin to understand! (comp. Hosea 11:8-9).

b. They were dear to Him; He delighted in them; He had fond memories of their youth; and He yearned for an opportunity to RESTORE THEM to His fellowship! (Isaiah 55:7; Hosea 14:4).

5.Verse 21 is an appeal for Israel to return by the same way she has departed (Isaiah 52:11), the old relationship cannot be restored until she turns to the Lord with her whole heart, (Deuteronomy 30:1-4); she will then be regarded as the "virgin of Israel", (vs. 4).

6. In the first part of verse 22 the Lord chides Israel as a "backsliding daughter": How long will she go hither and thither- placing her hope and trust in most anything other than Jehovah Himself? (Jeremiah 2:23; Jeremiah 13:27; Jeremiah 49:4).

7. A number of suggestions have been put forth to explain the meaning of the "new thing" that Jehovah creates: "a woman shall compass a man" (vs. 22b).

a. Some view it as fulfilled in a repentant and restored Israel - embracing Jehovah her God, and being established in the New Covenant, (Psalms 110:3; Matthew 23:39).

b. Others seem certain that it is a reference to the virgin birth of the Christ, (Luke 1:26-35; Galatians 4:4-5).

c. However, since Israel has rejected the role of a faithful witnessing institution to all men, the Lord ultimately casts her aside and raises up a new witnessing institution (in His church) with which He establishes the new covenant relationship, and to whom He gives a commission to evangelize all nations - even unto the consummation of the age, (Matthew 16:18; Luke 12:32; Matthew 28:18-20; Matthew 26:26-29).

1) As with Israel, the church is said to be His "house" and the "holy temple" in which He dwells, by the Holy Spirit, (1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 2:19-21).

2) Likewise, the relationship between Christ and His church is illustrated by that between a husband and his wife; she is espoused to "one husband" in whole-hearted love, devotion and obedient loyalty, (Ephesians 5:22-32; 2 Corinthians 11:2).

3) So obviously "blessed" is the relationship of love between the Lord (the man Christ Jesus) and His new covenant community (the church) that Israel (the nation) is said to be "provoked to jealousy" (Romans 11:11) - a very powerful influence in effecting her ultimate repentance and loyal return to her long-spurned Saviour, Lord and King!

4) Having learned obedience, the believing nation will also be brought into the bonds of the new covenant - though it is the studied judgment of this writer that such will NOT take place until AFTER she has faithfully executed her role as "chief" of the nations (vs. 7) during the millennium.

Verses 23-30


1. Verses 23-25 visualize the people of Judah restored to their land and finding satisfaction in their God, (Jeremiah 30:18; Jeremiah 32:44; comp. vs. 12-13; Matthew 5:6; John 4:14); the blessings of Jehovah rest upon them as the "habitation of righteousness" and "mountain of holiness", (Isaiah 1:26; Psalms 48:1; Psalms 87:1-3).

2. From verse 26 it appears that God gave this revelation to Jeremiah in a dream -for he suddenly awoke from what he described as a "sweet sleep", (comp. Zechariah 4:1).

3. Once the lessons of apostasy have been learned, the heavenly Sower will increase both men and flocks in a thriving land; no longer will it be necessary for Him to "pluck up, break down and overthrow", (vs. 27-29; Jeremiah 32:41; Hosea 2:23).

4. Some among the exiles were evidently claiming that the Lord was unjust in punishing them for circumstances which were no fault of their own; the popular proverb quoted in verse 29 reflected their skepticism, (comp. La 5:7; Ezekiel 18:1-4).

5. Jeremiah assures them that God holds each individual among them morally responsible for his own life, and will judge accordingly, (vs. 30; Deuteronomy 24:16; Isaiah 3:11; comp. Romans 14:12; Matthew 12:36; Matthew 16:27).

Verses 31-34


1.The day is coming when the Lord will initiate New Covenant with Israel and Judah - redeemed, reunited and restored to their own land, (vs. 31-32; Isaiah 27:6).

a. For centuries they have been pillaged, plucked up, scattered and afflicted, (Judges 3:8; Judges 3:12-14; Judges 4:1-3; Judges 6:1-6; Judges 10:6-8; Judges 13:1).

b. Since the fulfillment of this covenant requires a restoration to something previously forfeited, it necessarily involves a literal and united nation, (Ezekiel 36:8-11; Ezekiel 37:21-22; comp. Isaiah 11:13-14).

Fulfillment will involve:

1) Restoration to covenant fellowship.

2) Restoration to covenant land.

3) Restoration to covenant blessings.

c. There is actually nothing in this passage to suggest that the initial establishment of this covenant Would be with a NEW WITNESSING INSTITUTION (the Lord’s New Testament church) -including Gentile participants, through a spiritual engrafting, (Romans 11:16-27; comp. Romans 2:28-29); but one cannot always foresee just HOW God is going to fulfill His word! (For a study on the New Covenant and the Lord’s Church, see my work entitled: "Outline Studies in the Covenants".)

d. So far as the nation is concerned, the establishment of this covenant is yet future, and there are definite conditions that she must first meet.

1) She must recognize and confess her sin against the covenant God, (Contr. Malachi 1:2; Malachi 1:6-7; Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:7).

2) She must change her mind, and heart-attitude, toward Jesus, the true Messiah - Son of David, Son of man and Son of God! (Matthew 23:39).

3) She must be brought to a condition of "mourning" over the awfullness of her sin - especially in rejecting and crucifying her Divine Lover, Redeemer and Friend! (Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:1; Revelation 1:7).

e. Though the nation persists in stubborn revolt against the true Messiah, God has pledged to bring about such repentance as will permit Him, in righteousness, to restore the forfeited blessings -to the eternal praise and glory of His grace! (Zechariah 10:9-12).

2. This covenant will not be established on the same order as that made with their ancient fathers.

a. Under that covenant God never swerved from His faithfulness in dealing with His people: taking them by the hand, He led them out of their bondage and servitude in Egypt (Deuteronomy 1:31; Isaiah 63:12), and His dealings were those of a faithful husband, (Isaiah 63:7-9).

b. The nation, however, revolted against the authority of her true husband, (Isaiah 63:10; Jeremiah 3:11-18; Jeremiah 3:20-25; Hosea 2:14-20); she broke the covenant-bond on which the blessings of Jehovah were conditioned, (Jeremiah 11:7-8; Isaiah 59:1-2); without the obedient walk to which she was pledged, she forfeited the privileges and blessings that she had come to regard as her exclusive, inalienable rights! (Isaiah 50:1; Isaiah 54:6-8).

c. The covenant from Mt Sinai made clear demands upon the nation, but provided no enabling dynamic; instead of bestowing life, it condemned to death - emphasizing the vanity and total bankruptcy of human merit before God.

1) Though the law was good and holy, it demanded a righteousness that it could not produce, (Galatians 2:21).

2) It demanded duties FROM WITHOUT which could only be produced from a POWER WITHIN - and the law provided no such power, (Romans 8:2-4).

3) Moses clearly commanded that their hearts be, circumcised to love the Lord their God, but this never became the ruling motivation of their individual or corporate lives, (Deuteronomy 30:6); without it all else was vain! (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; Galatians 5:6).

3. Jeremiah is brief in stating the basic provisions of the New Covenant, (vs. 33-34).

a. It involves a FORGIVENESS that is gracious, compassionate, full and free, (Jeremiah 50:20).

1) Nothing in the life of Israel, or of anyone, merits such gracious forgiveness.

2) Divine compassion alone, rooted in divine love, makes forgiveness possible, (Micah 7:18-19; Exodus 34:7).

3) Nothing is held back; God FORGIVES and FORGETS! (Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 38:17). He forgets in the sense that he does not hold any fully confessed sin against any.

4) On the part of men it is "without money and without price"; it cost God the SON OF HIS LOVE! (Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 10:14 -­18).

b. It involves a provision of spiritual discernment and power, (1 Corinthians 2:9-14; Romans 2:14-16; 2 Corinthians 3:3; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 30:21).

1) Centuries of participation in religious rituals had brought no satisfaction or deliverance - only frustration and failure, (contrast Jeremiah 32:37-42).

2) Never before had they been ready for such an outpouring of the Divine Spirit; their hearts had not been right before God, (Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 32:40; Isaiah 32:10-18).

3) Willingness to recognize Jesus Christ as Lord will ultimately bring them spiritual benefits that Gentiles - walking in the steps of Abraham’s faith - have long enjoyed.

4) This does not mean that there will be no further progress of knowledge; only that all will have immediate access to God, (1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 John 2:27).

c. It will also involve, for Israel, a restoration to the intimacy of divine fellowship.

1) Though God was longsuffering - patiently bearing with them in their idolatry, apostasy and presumption - He eventually cast them off and withheld the blessings reserved for those who would walk obediently in the sphere of covenant fellowship, (Jeremiah 2:2-20).

2) After millenniums of dreadful darkness, desolation and wanderings, God will take the initiative in bringing home again the one whom He so dearly loved, wooed and comforted in her youth, (Ezekiel 16:60-63).

3) She will again be cleansed and given opportunity to reciprocate the love that has so miraculously preserved her (though she was ignorant of it, Hosea 2:8) through the painful years of her rebellion and infidelity, (Ezekiel 36:22-31; Ezekiel 37:22-24).

4) The word "know", as used here, suggests far more than intellectual attainment; it bespeaks a PERSONAL INTIMACY that is possible only in a relationship of mutual love, (Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 54:13; Habakkuk 2:14; John 17:3; Philippians 3:10; Ephesians 4:13; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 1:3; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:20).

Verses 35-40


1. Stressing the immutability of His love for Israel, the Lord insists that the prospect of His utterly abandoning her was as unthinkable as that the fixed order of sun, moon and ocean waves should disappear, (vs. 35-36; Jeremiah 33:20-26; Psalms 89:36-37; Isaiah 54:9-10).

2. The permanent rejection of this people is as unlikely as that the universe, with its multiplied millions of galaxies, will be measured, and all the secrets of the foundations of the earth searched out! (vs. 37; Amos 9:8-12; Isaiah 40:12; Romans 11:2-5; Romans 11:26-27); the very preservation of the Jewish people to this day (though still in unbelief, and away from God) is adequate affirmation of this promise.

3. And Jeremiah foresees an ultimate rebuilding of the City (Jerusalem), in holiness, unto the glory of Jehovah her God - after which it will never again be plucked up nor thrown down, (vs. 38-40; Jeremiah 30:18; Joel 3:17).

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Jeremiah 31". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. 1985.