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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Jeremiah 31

Verses 1-6

God’s Lovingkindness for Ephraim

“At that time” (Jer 31:1) is again the familiar expression for the end time (cf. Jer 30:24). Then the LORD will be the God of His people who are here represented as “all the families of Israel”, that is the twelve tribes and not just Judah. This refers to all the generations through the ages, but also to all the generations at that time. God will then joyfully acknowledge them as His people. They will then be focused on Him and serve no other gods.

The people who will be there then are a people preserved by grace (Jer 31:2). Many of them have fallen by the sword of the Assyrians and the Babylonians. There are also those who have survived that sword. That is what grace has worked. They all deserved the same judgment. They found grace in the wilderness of their exile (Jer 16:14-15; Jer 23:7-8).

The reason for His grace is His everlasting love (Jer 31:3; Hos 11:4; Hos 14:1; Zep 3:17). The believer sees it from afar, from distant times, for the LORD shows it to His elect. Because of that everlasting love, He has “drawn” His people “with lovingkindness”. We see how God expresses Himself in grace, love and lovingkindness. For the people, this happened a first time at Sinai. There the bond between God and His people began (Jer 2:1-3).

In His love, He will build His people again and they will be rebuilt (Jer 31:4). He is doing it and they will experience it. He is fulfilling His promise. He is doing that to the “virgin of Israel”. They will be like a new people who are in an untainted relationship with Him and are faithful to Him. There is no question of previous unfaithfulness. He begins history anew, as it were, with a new exodus under music and song as back then, when they went out of Egypt. “Tambourines” and “dances” are characteristic of times of joy (cf. Exo 15:20). These expressions of joy are contrasted with the sorrow of exile (Psa 137:1).

The conditions under which that new Israel will be built are those of music and dance. There is merriment all around. It is like the homecoming of the prodigal son (Lk 15:25-27). They will “again” surround themselves with music and express their joy. That time is also a time of renewed prosperity. “Again” they will plant the land with fruits that speak of joy, “vineyards”, and the fruit of them they will enjoy themselves (Jer 31:5).

That time is the time of the restoration of the unity of the people. What the watchmen call out proves that the breach in the kingdom, which has lasted for many centuries, has been healed (Jer 31:6). The watchmen stand in Ephraim, the ten tribes realm, and call out to arise and go up to Zion in the two tribes realm. For there is “the LORD our God”. There is then no longer any question of any jealousy between the two realms.

Verses 7-14

Joy Is Back in Israel

The LORD calls to sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, the twelve tribes (Jer 31:7). With five verbs, “sing”, “shout”, “proclaim”, “give praise” and “say”, Jeremiah celebrates the great salvation that lies ahead for Israel. The people who have been trampled on for so long will then stand as chief above all the nations. Because it is not yet so, the call sounds to praise the LORD and to add to this the prayer that He saves His people. His people are “the remnant of Israel”.

Here we see that praise precedes prayer. The praise proclaims the assurance that the prayer will be answered. The answer also comes immediately, for the LORD causes the remnant to come from all the ends of the earth (Jer 31:8; Mt 24:31). No one will be left behind by weakness or prevented by natural circumstances. It will be a great multitude. The “woman with child and she who is in labor with child” announce new life, which will make the great multitude even greater.

The remnant who return are aware that they have to blame themselves for the scattering (Jer 31:9). For this they will weep tears of repentance. Their supplications will be answered by the LORD with His guidance. Weeping and supplication are the attitude and mind that are a joy to His heart. Such a people He can lead to streams of refreshing waters (cf. Isa 41:18; Isa 43:20; Isa 49:10). He does so on a path that is without unexpected turns and without any obstacles with the danger of stumbling. He does so as a father in his care for his beloved child who is his firstborn, which is especially true of Ephraim.

The LORD makes known to all the nations what He will do to Israel (Jer 31:10). Indeed, He had to scatter Israel because of their abandonment of Him. But He will gather them again and shepherd them. He is the good Shepherd for His people (Jn 10:1-16).

The LORD will gather His people again because He has ransomed them and redeemed them from powers stronger than they (Jer 31:11). Without Him, His people are weaker than the weakest people. He is stronger than the strongest power and when His people acknowledge Him again, their redemption is a fact. This is especially applicable to the redemption from the power of the antichrist in the end time.

His people will come in the realm of peace – for that time is what it is all about – as a redeemed people and stand on Zion to cheer Him (Jer 31:12). “The bounty of the LORD” are the blessings of the land which they will enjoy abundantly: the grain, the new wine and the oil (cf. Deu 11:13-14). They will offer sacrifices to Him and honor Him. Their souls will be at perfect rest, enjoying His benefits. There is no longer any reason to be sad. Nor will the abundance of blessing make them unfaithful any longer, as it has often been with them and often is with us. The selfish use of material blessing is a source of much hatred.

The youth, which also points to this new, fresh situation, will express themselves in joy, and the old will join them (Jer 31:13). Young women dance together, young men and old also dance together. The following practical remark may be attached to this. We do not read anywhere in God’s Word that dancing is done by a man and a woman together. It is always plural or alone and before the LORD. No wrong feelings are present in this. Dancing to please people as the daughter of Herodias does, does arouse those feelings (Mk 6:22).

It is the situation in the realm of peace. There, mourning is changed to joy and there is comfort after sorrow. That reversal is from the LORD. He is the cause of their joy and comfort. He is leading His people into the realm of peace.

The priests, those who sacrifice to the LORD, will be satisfied with abundance (Jer 31:14). So great will be the prosperity of the people bestowed upon them that the priests will be satisfied because of the many sacrifices offered by the worshipers (cf. Lev 7:34). The abundant harvests will increase the portion of the priests.

The people, that is all the people, will also be satisfied and they will be satisfied “with My goodness”. What a deep satisfaction that must be. Spiritually speaking, we can already experience this now, if we occupy ourselves with all the good blessings given to us by the Lord Jesus and presented to us by the Spirit in God’s Word.

Verses 15-22

Israel’s Lamentable Present

Suddenly we are back from the future to the present condition. The state of Israel now is still a state of desolation (Jer 31:15). There is no talk of rejoicing yet. What is heard is weeping for which there is no comfort, because there is no prospect. This verse is applied to the infanticide in Bethlehem (Mt 2:16-18).

Ramah lies on the border between the ten and two tribes. Rachel’s two sons, Joseph and Benjamin, are separated. Joseph belongs to the ten tribes and Benjamin to the two. However, the children are not only separated, but they are not even there anymore, they have been taken away: the ten tribes into the scattering, the two tribes into exile. That is why Rachel weeps.

Then comes the comforting word from the LORD (Jer 31:16). They no longer need to utter their voices in weeping and their tears need not come forth, for they will be rewarded for their faithfulness. That reward is a return from the land of the enemy. What the LORD Himself has wrought is also rewarded by Him. He gives them hope by directing their attention to what will happen in the future to the children she now weeps over: they will return to their territory, the land He has promised to give to their fathers and their descendants (Jer 31:17).

The LORD assures Ephraim that He hears what they are complaining about (Jer 31:18). He does not forget them, but takes note of what they say. He hears their confession in which they acknowledge that they have been justly chastised because they had behaved selfishly like an untrained calf. Through that chastisement, that disciplining, they are led to ask Him to accept them again because they are His own people. They ask this in the words: “Bring me back that I may be restored.” It is the prayer – not of a single sinner, an individual person, but – of the remnant of the ten tribes realm to the LORD to complete His work by bringing the already inwardly converted people back into the land as well.

This question to the LORD for bringing back is misused in certain Christian (Reformed) circles as an argument that a person cannot turn back or repent, but that God must do so. This abuse stems from a misunderstanding of election. That in other Bible verses God calls man to repent, yes, commands that man must repent (Acts 17:30), people in those circles do not care. When you point that out, they invariably come up with this verse anyway. Therefore, it is important to read this verse in the context in which it appears. It concerns a people who have already come to repentance through a work of God.

The same is true of what Jeremiah says in Lamentations 5: “Restore us to You, O LORD, that we may be restored” (Lam 5:21). Jeremiah speaks these words for and on behalf of the people and not for himself or anyone personally. Jeremiah is obviously already converted and born again. This is a reversal, a return of God’s people to the relationship in which they stood to God before they abandoned Him. Therefore, an appeal to these verses by a single person as an excuse that he cannot repent is utterly misplaced.

Ephraim’s repentance is sincere. Repentance is the basis for restoration. It has dawned on them after conversion how great their unfaithfulness has been (Jer 31:19). They have discovered themselves and acknowledged that they have been acting in their own strength. They acknowledge this with shame. Because of their deviations, even from their earliest youth, they have become humiliated.

The LORD’s response to their confession is the assurance of their worth to Him (Jer 31:20). They are to Him a precious son, a favorite child. All of His speaking to them comes from His thoughts that are continually occupied with them. His heart goes out to them. His inner feelings go out to them, to have mercy on them. Fatherly tenderness here transcends childish rebellion and also takes it away in a righteous way. In Hebrew, “My heart yearns” is literally “My bowels make noise”. The LORD’s speaking here is very human.

He is pointing His people, the ten tribes, out of the scattering, the way back to Him (Jer 31:21). They are to determine the direction and set their hearts on it. Then, like the prodigal son, they practice what they intended to do and get up and head for their land (Lk 15:18; 20a). He is calling them as “virgin of Israel” to now make their way back to Him and to their own cities.

The “virgin of Israel” is now still the “faithless daughter” (Jer 31:22), turning in all directions to get support from somewhere, but not looking up to ask from the LORD for that support. However, her twisting is coming to an end. The LORD will create something new. She will repent to the LORD. Then she will overcome the power of the nations that now rule over her. Generally, “woman” stands for weakness and “man” for strength. The main idea of the verse is that what is weak will win over what is strong. God’s power is accomplished in weakness. The weak shames the strong (cf. 1Cor 1:27b).

Verses 23-26

Judah’s Bright Future

The LORD encourages Judah and its cities (Jer 31:23). He says He will bring a reversal in their captivity. Then the old blessing greeting will again be heard from the mouths of those who visit Jerusalem. That blessing is based on the fact that they will then live in Judah on the basis of righteousness and holiness. There is no blessing apart from these aspects, which are also the absolute guarantee of the blessing. “The holy hill” refers to the Temple Mount and to Jerusalem as a whole (cf. Psa 2:6; Isa 66:20).

At that time, the city will again be characterized by its righteousness (cf. Isa 1:21). When that righteousness is there, which has its origin in the Messiah Who reigns, there will also be peace. There will be fellowship and cooperation in peace (Jer 31:24). They will be satisfied and refreshed by the LORD (Jer 31:25). Fatigue and sorrow will no longer be there because He has removed all reason for them.

Jeremiah has seen that scene in a dream (Jer 31:26), for the reality that surrounds him is totally unlike it. When he wakes up, he looks around and observes it. Yet his dream is not a deception. He is pleasantly refreshed by his sleep. He is comforted by it because what he has seen will happen. Here the dream is a means that reveals what will happen. We see such dreams for example in the histories of Jacob, Joseph, Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar.

We may also think about the fact that the Lord Jesus will make everything right. We do not see that yet, we only see misery, but the thought of the future is pleasant to us and refreshes us. When we think of the future we read about in God’s Word, we are not daydreaming or building castles in the air. It is really true what awaits us because it is based on righteousness and holiness through the work of Christ. The false prophets also have their dreams and tell them to the people (Jer 29:8). When they wake up, it will not be pleasant.

Verses 27-30

Abundance Under the Messiah

The time of blessing will come (Jer 31:27). There will be an abundance of people and beasts in both the houses of Israel which will then be one house. The LORD will sow the seed of people and beasts and there will be an abundant harvest (cf. Eze 36:8-11; Hos 1:11; Hos 2:23). What a contrast that will be to the desolation of the land now, when the people have been taken away into exile and the livestock have nothing to live on.

The LORD will fulfill His word to build up and plant just as He has said about to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster (Jer 31:28). They will see that His judgments were justified. They will acknowledge that they came on them not because their fathers sinned (Jer 31:29), but because they themselves deserved them (Jer 31:30; cf. Eze 18:2-3).

Verses 31-34

A New Covenant

Jer 31:31-40 are about the new covenant:
1. The time of the covenant (Jer 31:31) – “days are coming”
2. The Maker of the covenant (Jer 31:31) – “the LORD”
3. The name of the covenant (Jer 31:31) – “new covenant”
4. The parties of the covenant (Jer 31:31) – “the LORD”, “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah”
5. A different covenant (Jer 31:32) – “not like the covenant” of old, the first covenant, based on merit and works
6. The place of the covenant (Jer 31:33-34) – “within them and on their heart”
7. The immutability of the covenant (Jer 31:35-37) – as immutable as the fixed cycle of nature
8. The tangible aspects of the covenant (Jer 31:38-40) – Jerusalem rebuilt in holiness and permanence
9. The surety of the covenant – “says the LORD” (nine times).

This section does represent a highlight in Jeremiah’s teaching. It begins with the attention-grabbing word “behold” (Jer 31:31). The words “days are coming” Jeremiah has used before. They place the prophecy in Messianic times, in the day of the LORD, the period to which the history of the people end up (cf. Jer 31:27).

In the days to come, the LORD will make a new covenant with the two houses of Israel. The parties of the covenant are the LORD, the house of Israel and the house of Judah. We see here that the covenant recalls the tearing of the people into two kingdoms, but we also see that it includes both parts of the people. The entire covenant is for the whole people. Therefore, the new covenant, like the old covenant, will be made with God’s chosen earthly people. It cannot be made with the church, simply because there is no former (old) covenant made with the church. Nor can it be made because the church did not exist at all in the Old Testament.

At the same time, this new covenant is a quite different covenant. It is not like the old covenant that He made with their fathers at Sinai, after He delivered them from Egypt (Jer 31:32). Attached to that old covenant are also conditions to which the people committed themselves. They are, as it were, marriage conditions, for the LORD has married them and shown them His love. However, the people have broken their promises of faithfulness and thus the promised blessing was forfeited.

The new covenant is of a quite different character (Jer 31:33). It is not better because the old one is bad, but because it is based on better promises. The old covenant depends on man’s obedience. The new covenant is a one-sided covenant with only conditions or promises on God’s side. In addition, He can fulfill His conditions by virtue of the blood of His Son, through which sins committed under the old covenant can be forgiven (Mt 26:27-28; Lk 22:20; Heb 8:12). The Lord Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant. He has secured the blessings of the new covenant through His death (Heb 9:15).

He will also enable them to fulfill what He asks of them, for He gives His law in their innermost being and writes it on their heart. They will fulfill His will with full consent and completely. Then He will be their God and they will be His people. The relationship is made right by the faithfulness of God, a relationship based on the blood of the new covenant (2Cor 3:1-18; Heb 8:1-13).

They will no longer need to exhort one another to be faithful to the LORD (Jer 31:34). The prophets are no longer needed. Teaching in the law is also no longer necessary, for they all have knowledge of the LORD and His will. Knowing the Lord Jesus is the starting point for getting to know Him better, to “know Him and the power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10). We may pray that we be given “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph 1:17).

In their relationship to the LORD, what had hindered that relationship was removed: their iniquities and their sins. This is also a cause for us to surrender ourselves completely to the will of God and live for Him. If we love Him, we will live for Him and keep His commandments and His word (Jn 14:21; 23).

Verses 35-40

Israel Remains Forever

The LORD confirms all the previous promises with the strongest pledges. He points to the fixed order in the creation of sun, moon and stars, to which no power can change anything (Jer 31:35). He also stands behind the roaring of the waves of the sea which also no man can tame. His Name is “LORD of hosts”.

Just as the ordinances He instituted for His creative work will never depart from before Him, so the posterity of Israel will never cease to be a people before Him (Jer 31:36). He adds, “forever” which is literally “all the days”. Every day He will be there for His people, just as He cares for His creation every day. He had to hide His face from them for some time, but that time is gone forever.

To establish even more strongly His covenant with His people, He points to the immensity of heaven above and the impossibility to search out the foundations of the earth below (Jer 31:37). It is reminiscent of Paul’s praise of God’s actions in restoring Israel (Rom 11:33-36). All that the people have done has not been able to change His mind regarding His purpose to bless them. The way in which He has acted in this regard is eternally worthy of our worship. His righteousness and mercy have been fully vindicated by what Christ has done. To Him be the glory forever!

In the days to come, Jerusalem will be rebuilt (Jer 31:38). She will then be before the LORD. The circumference of the city will be measured (Jer 31:39), reminiscent of the measuring of the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:15). Measuring means establishing ownership. There will also be an area with remembrance of the judgments (Jer 31:40). That area will be set apart for the LORD. Everything outside of it will be kept by Him. Never again will any of it be torn away or broken down. When He rules, there will be complete peace and security.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 31". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.