Jeremiah 31:1. At the same time, saith the Lord — Namely, in the latter days, mentioned Jeremiah 30:24. I will be the God of all the families of Israel — Not of the two tribes only, but of all the tribes; not of the house of Aaron only and the families of Levi, but of all the families. And they shall be my people — I will favour them, and do them good, and they shall be subject to, and shall worship and obey me. “This second part of the prophecy,” says Calmet, “principally respects the return of the ten tribes. And I have shown, in a particular dissertation, that not only Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, but also the twelve tribes returned into their own country.” Doubtless, many individuals of the ten tribes returned with the Jews from Babylon, having been incorporated among them in the several places where they were settled; yet this seems to have been only a very partial accomplishment of this prophecy, which, as Blaney observes, “points out circumstances that certainly were not fulfilled at the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, nor have hitherto had their completion.” But, in the latter days, when the fulness of the Gentiles are brought in, all Israel shall be saved; for, as Isaiah and St. Paul testify, there shall come out of Zion the deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. Isaiah 59:19; Romans 11:26-29. See note on Jeremiah 30:10.
Jeremiah 31:2. The people that were left of the sword — That sword of Pharaoh with which he cut off the male children as soon as they were born, and that sword with which he threatened to cut them off when he pursued them to the Red sea. Found grace in the wilderness — Though in the wilderness, where they seemed to be lost and forgotten, as these latter Jews and Israelites were now in a strange land, yet they found grace in God’s sight, were owned, and highly honoured by him, and blessed with wonderful instances of his peculiar favour. And he went to cause them to rest — Went before them in a pillar of cloud, to mark out the places for them where they should pitch their tents, and conducted them to the land that he had provided for them. And after such evidences of his kindness to them, why should they doubt of the continuance of his favours?
Jeremiah 31:3-4. The Lord hath appeared of old unto me — The prophet here personifies the Jewish nation, the people spoken of in the foregoing verse, who are introduced as calling to mind how God, in times of old, had manifested himself to the fathers of their nation, and appeared for their deliverance. Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love — These are evidently the words of God addressed to Zion or Jerusalem. As if he had said, The mercies I promised you, as a nation, when I made a covenant with your fathers, shall never fail. My love was not a temporary love, manifested merely to a single generation, but it is an everlasting love, and will continue through all generations. Therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee — I have shown my benignity toward you, by taking all opportunities of doing you good, and preventing you, by acts of grace and goodness, to draw you to myself, as your God, from all the idols to which you had turned aside. I have ever dealt graciously with them who fear me, and who hope in my mercy, and will always continue so to do. Again I will build thee, O virgin of Israel — “Thy inhabitants shall be again restored to thee, who shall rebuild their cities and habitations that lay desolate during the time of their captivity.” Perhaps the Jews have the title of virgin of Israel bestowed upon them to imply that, in consequence of their repentance and reformation, “they should be washed from the stains of their former idolatries, so often compared to whoredom in the Scriptures.” — Lowth. Thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets — “All the signs, both of religions and civil joy, shall be restored to thee.” That it was usual for the women of Israel to go forth with tabrets and dancing in times of public rejoicing and prosperity, see Exodus 15:20; 11:34; 1 Samuel 18:16. These times were now to be renewed.
Jeremiah 31:5. Thou shalt yet plant vines — Building and planting are commonly joined together; upon the mountains of Samaria — Samaria, being the metropolis of the ten tribes, seems to be put for the kingdom of Israel, as it is distinct from that of Judah. According to which interpretation the mountains of Samaria are equivalent to the mountains of Israel, and therefore the words imply, that the deliverance here spoken of should extend to Israel as well as Judah. The planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things — After they have planted them they shall eat the fruits thereof, according to the promise contained in the parallel texts, (Isaiah 65:21; Amos 9:14,) whereas, God had threatened as a curse, that, in case of their disobedience, when they had planted their vines, another should eat the fruit, Deuteronomy 28:30. The verb חללו, translated, eat them as common things, alludes to the law that forbade the fruit of any young trees to be eaten till the fifth year of their bearing. For the first three years they were to be considered as in a state of uncircumcision or uncleanness. In the fourth year the fruit was holy to the Lord. But after that time it became free for the owner’s use, Leviticus 19:23-25. See also Deuteronomy 20:6; and Deuteronomy 28:30; where the same verb is used for eating of the fruit of a plantation without restraint. Here, therefore, a promise is given directly opposite to the above-mentioned threat, namely, That the persons who planted the vineyards on the hills of Samaria should not be compelled to give up the fruit of their labours to others, but should themselves remain in the land, and enjoy the produce of their plantations unmolested.
Jeremiah 31:6-7. For there shall be a day, that the watchmen shall cry — By the watchmen are meant God’s prophets, or the ministers of his word, giving notice of his dispensations, and calling upon men to act suitably under them. The first reference may be to the leaders and teachers of the Jews, returning from Babylon, or to the general summons throughout all the ten tribes, for which Ephraim is put, to repair to Jerusalem, and join themselves to the true church, from which they had been so long separated; but, doubtless, in the full completion of the prophecy, by watchmen the preachers of the gospel are to be understood. The phrase, crying upon mount Ephraim, alludes to the custom of persons that had to publish any proclamation ascending to the top of some high hill, from whence their voice might be heard a great way off. See 9:7; 2 Chronicles 13:4; Isaiah 40:9. The phrase, Arise ye, let us go up to Zion, &c, alludes to the Jewish custom of going in companies to Jerusalem at their three annual festivals. For thus saith the Lord, Sing with gladness, &c. — When ye see some dawning of these blessed times, express your joy for the restoration of Jacob’s posterity in the most public manner that can be; and shout among the chief of the nations — Namely, among the most potent nations from whence you are to be gathered. Or, persons belonging to the chief nations of the earth are here called upon to congratulate the Israelites on their restoration to their own land, and their conversion to the church of God, as Moses predicted, Deuteronomy 32:43, and the apostle exhorts, Romans 15:10, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people; for when the promises made to the fathers are accomplished, the Gentiles shall glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause will I confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name, Romans 15:8. Publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Lord, save thy people — Publish these good tidings with the highest expressions of praise and glory to God; and likewise pray that he, who hath begun so glorious a work, would proceed and complete it.
Jeremiah 31:8-9. Behold, I will bring them from the north country — Here God himself undertakes to conduct home the remnant of his people from the countries through which they had been scattered; and the promise relates to the ten tribes, as well as to those of Judah and Benjamin; for Assyria and Media, whither they were removed, lay north of Judea as well as Babylon. And the following words speak of a general restoration of this people from their several dispersions; and with them the blind and the lame, &c. —
God will compassionate their infirmities, and will conduct them with all imaginable care and tenderness, and furnish the feeble and indigent of them with suitable accommodations. The prophet alludes to the care and compassion which God manifested in conducting his people, of all ages and conditions, through the wilderness, compared to the care with which a parent or nurse carries a tender child, Deuteronomy 1:31. See also Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 49:10. They shall come with weeping — The LXX. translate the words, εν κλαυθμω εξηλθον, και εν παρακλησει αναξω αυτους, they went forth with weeping, but with comfort will I bring them back; which sense agrees exactly with the words of Psalms 136:5-6, which was composed upon occasion of the return from captivity, He that sows in tears shall reap in joy: he that goeth forth weeping, shall come again with rejoicing. Our translation, however, is much more agreeable to the original words, and is also confirmed by Jeremiah 3:21, where we read, A voice was heard, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel; the prophet speaking upon the same subject, and in the same words here used. See also chap. Jeremiah 50:4, where it is said, The children of Israel and Judah shall come together, going and weeping, and seek the Lord their God. All which words imply, that the Jews and Israelites, at the time of their general restoration, shall have their joy tempered with tears of repentance for their former miscarriages; which is more fully expressed Zechariah 12:10, where God promises to pour upon them the spirit of grace and supplication. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters — So that they shall not be afflicted with thirst, or the want of any accommodation in their journey. The words allude to God’s miraculously supplying the Israelites with water in the wilderness. See notes on Isaiah 35:6-7; Isaiah 41:17-18; Isaiah 49:10. In a straight way wherein they shall not stumble — This phrase is an allusion to God’s leading the Israelites through the Red sea, and afterward in the wilderness. See Isaiah 63:13; Isaiah 42:16. For I am a father to Israel — The remembrance of former connections is here mentioned as the motive of God’s returning favour to Israel. And Ephraim is my firstborn — Ephraim is often, as here, equivalent to Israel, especially when Israel denotes the ten tribes as distinct from Judah. He is termed the firstborn among the tribes of Israel; because the birthright which Reuben had forfeited was conferred upon the two sons of Joseph, of whom Ephraim had the precedence. “The reader will observe, that all this was but imperfectly verified in the return of the Jews from Babylon, but was fully made good in those who were made partakers of the gospel of Christ, in the miracles, in the preaching of the apostles, in the free grace and pardoning mercy of the Redeemer.”
Jeremiah 31:10-11. Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, &c. — This apostrophe, or turning to the heathen nations, was, as it were, the prelude of calling them to the knowledge of the true God. This calling of them was certainly never effected by the Jews in the way and to the degree it was by the apostles of Christ and their disciples, who gained thousands more to Christianity than ever the Jews did to Judaism. Here the prophet calls upon the Gentiles, not the Jews, to hear the word of the Lord, and to proclaim or make it known; and the event has proved that he did not do this but by the direction of the Divine Spirit, since the Gentiles were far more ready to hear and obey the word of God by Christ, and to receive his divine doctrine, and propagate it, than the Jews were. Declare it in the isles afar off — The Jews, as we have repeatedly seen, called all the countries islands to which they went by sea. He that scattered Israel, &c. — He that caused Israel to be carried away captive into various countries, and dispersed them over the face of the earth, will gather them into one body or people, Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 27:12; Isaiah 54:7. And keep him as a shepherd does his flock — As God’s care over his people is often compared to that of a shepherd, so the office of the Messiah is described under the same character, Isaiah 40:11, and particularly with respect to the Jews, after their conversion and restoration. For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, &c., from him that was stronger than he — From those who by subtlety and power conquered him, and detained him captive; an emblem of that redemption which Christ obtains for us by vanquishing the devil, called the strong one, Matthew 12:29.
Jeremiah 31:12-14. They shall sing in the height of Zion — By the height of Zion is meant the temple, built upon a hill adjoining to mount Zion, and it is here to be taken metaphorically, as it frequently is in the writings of the prophets, for the church, which is compared, by Christ, to a city set on a hill, as being remarkable for the excellence of its laws and institutions, and the piety and virtue of its genuine members. And shall flow to the goodness of the Lord, &c. — Spiritual blessings are here, as elsewhere, described under the emblems of fruitfulness and plenty. And their soul shall be as a watered garden — Refreshed and fertilized by the truth and grace of God. And they shall not sorrow any more at all — Hebrew, לדאבה עוד ולא יוסיפו, They shall not add, or, continue, yet to grieve. The LXX. render it, ου πεινασουσιν ετι, They shall not hunger any more; and so the Vulgate. Then shall the virgin rejoice, &c., both young men and old — There shall be signs of a universal joy, in which all ages shall unanimously join. The expressions in the next verse allude to that plentiful provision that was made for the temporal support of the priests under the law, which is here put metaphorically for that plenitude of blessings which are to be enjoyed under the gospel.
Jeremiah 31:15-17. Thus saith the Lord; A voice, &c. — Here “the scene of this prophecy changes, and two new personages are successively introduced, in order to diversify the subject, and to impress it more strongly on the mind of the reader. The first is Rachel, who in these verses is represented as just rising from the grave, and bitterly bewailing the loss of her children, for whom she looks about in vain, but none are to be seen. Her tears are dried up, and she is consoled with the assurance that they are not lost for ever, but shall in time be brought back to their ancient borders.” The passage is strongly figurative, but not difficult of interpretation, as the reader will perceive by what follows: A voice was heard in Ramah — Ramah was a city of Benjamin, (see 19:13,) near which Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, was buried. She is here, in a beautiful figure of poetry, represented as come forth out of her grave, and, as chief mourner on so sad an occasion, lamenting bitterly for the loss of her children, none of whom presented themselves to her view, being all either slain or gone into exile. In this way the prophet sets forth the lamentations, in and about Jerusalem, at the time of the several captivities mentioned Jeremiah 52:15; Jeremiah 52:28-30. The evangelist indeed applies these words to Herod’s massacre of the infants at Bethlehem and its environs, Matthew 2:17-18. But the context here plainly shows, that this massacre could not have been the direct and immediate object of the prophecy, (see the following note,) but the prophet’s words so well suited the occasion that the evangelist, with great propriety, observes their congruity therewith. He must however be understood just as if he had said, The circumstances of this affair were such that the words of Jeremiah, though spoken with a different view, may well be accommodated to this event. And this is as much as can be allowed with respect to several passages of the New Testament, where the words of the Old Testament were said to be fulfilled. See Matthew 2:16; Acts 1:16-20, &c.; and Blaney. It is observable, that the Vulgate and Chaldee understand the word, רמה, ramah, not as a proper name, but as an appellative, and translate it, in excelso, on high, or, aloud; according to which the sense will be, A voice is heard on high, or aloud, lamentations, weepings; of Rachel bewailing her children, and refusing to be comforted concerning them, because they are not. Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears — Set bounds to thy sorrow, repress and moderate thy inordinate and excessive grief; for thy work shall be rewarded — That is, it will appear thou hast not brought forth children in vain, nor shalt thou be deprived of the satisfaction of seeing the welfare of thy children, which is the parent’s reward for her pain in bringing them into the world, and her care and attention in providing for their support and education; for they shall come again from the land of the enemy. Thus the text interprets itself. But if the massacre at Bethlehem had been primarily designed here, with what propriety could it have been said, how could it have been affirmed, that they should return fromthe land of the enemy, or, as in the next verse, should come again to their own border? The words ישׁ תקוה לאחריתךְ, rendered here, There is hope in thine end, may be translated, There is hope, or expectation, to thy posterity; that is, though these of the present age do not experience a return from captivity, yet their posterity shall enjoy that blessing. This promise was particularly fulfilled with respect to the tribe of Benjamin, as well as that of Judah, in their return under Cyrus. See Ezra 1:5.
Jeremiah 31:18. I have surely heard Ephraim, &c. — Here, still further to diversify the subject, and give it the greater force, the other personage referred to in the preceding note is introduced. Ephraim, representing the ten tribes, is brought forward, lamenting his past undutifulness with great contrition and penitence, and professing an earnest desire of amendment. And “these symptoms of returning duty are no sooner discerned in him than God acknowledges him once more as a darling child, and resolves to receive him with mercy.” The passage is intended to show the change necessary to be wrought in the hearts of the Israelites, in order to their obtaining this restoration from captivity, according to the conditional promises made of old to this people. See Leviticus 26:40-41. Previously to his conferring this great benefit upon them, God must hear them bemoaning themselves, or bewailing their miserable state, and the sins which had brought them into it, acknowledging that the chastisements which they had suffered had not been more or greater than their sins had justly merited, and praying earnestly for mercy and deliverance. Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised — Or, instructed by thy discipline, as אוסרmaybe properly rendered. As a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke — Whereas before I was as an untamed bullock, or heifer, that is not to be managed but by stripes and corrections. Turn thou me, and I shall be turned — Do thou turn my heart by thy preventing and renewing grace, and then I shall be effectually reformed, Lamentations 5:21. “Sometimes the Scripture ascribes the whole work of man’s conversion to God, because his grace is the first and principal cause of it. But yet, to make it effectual, man’s concurrence is necessary, as appears particularly from Jeremiah 51:9, where God says, We would have healed Babylon, and she is not healed; that is, God did what was requisite on his part for her conversion, but she refused to comply with his call. To the same purpose he speaks to Jerusalem, (Ezekiel 24:13,) I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged.”
Jeremiah 31:19. Surely after that I was turned, I repented — After I was enlightened and impressed with a due sense of my duty, and of the many deviations from it of which I had been guilty, and after my will was subjected to the will of God, I straightway became a true penitent, and expressed my repentance by all the outward and inward signs of an unfeigned sorrow for, and hatred to, my past conduct. And after that I was instructed — Respecting my sin and folly, in forsaking the fountain of living waters for the broken cisterns that could hold no water; I smote upon my thigh — Through the most poignant grief and concern, and with indignation against myself. I was ashamed, yea, even confounded — At my own stupidity and frowardness, and could neither with any confidence look up to God, nor with any comfort reflect upon myself; because I did bear the reproach of my youth — The burden of my former sins lay heavy upon my mind, and I became sensible that all the calamities and reproaches I had undergone were the due deserts of my offences. Ephraim smote upon his thigh, as the publican upon his breast. We find, both in the Holy Scriptures, and other ancient records, smiting on the thigh mentioned as an expression of great surprise and concern. Thus God commands Ezekiel to cry and howl, on account of the sword that should be upon his people, and to smite upon his thigh. We find the same custom noticed by Homer, Iliad 16. 50:124.
— — — — — — αυταρ αχιλλευς ΄ηρω πληξαμενος πατροληα πρωσεειπεν,
Divine Achilles view’d the rising flames, And smote his thigh, and thus aloud exclaims, Arm, arm, Patroclus! POPE.
It is also noticed by Xenophon, Cicero, and others. The meaning is, when Ephraim was made sensible of his sinfulness he showed marks of real contrition.
Jeremiah 31:20. Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he, &c. — These questions are designed to be answered in the affirmative, as appears from the inference, therefore my bowels are moved for him. It seems that, to suit the idiom of our language, and fully to express the sense of the original, the particle not ought to have been supplied, and the clause to have been read, Is not Ephraim my dear son? Is he not a pleasant child? That is, is he not one that I have set my affections on, as a parent does upon a child in whom he delights? Thus Dr. Waterland, Lowth, and many others interpret the words. Houbigant, however, defends the common reading, and thinks that God means to deny that Ephraim was his son, in order to show him that his bowels were moved toward him solely through free mercy, and not on account of any merits or deservings of his people. For since I spake against him — Or, of him, as the same phrase in the original is translated Jeremiah 48:27. I do earnestly remember him still — Ever since I have so severely reproved and chastised him, my thoughts toward him have been thoughts of peace. I have a fatherly kindness and affection for him. Therefore my bowels are troubled for him — Or, yearn over him, as Joseph’s bowels yearned toward his brethren, even when he spake roughly to them. Observe, reader, when God afflicts his people, yet he does not forget them; when he casts them out of their land, yet he does not cast them out of his sight, nor out of his mind. Even then, when God is speaking against us, yet he is acting for us, and designing our good in all; and this is our comfort in our affliction, that the Lord thinketh upon us, though we have forgotten him. When Israel’s afflictions extorted a penitent confession and submission, it is said, ( 10:16,) his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel: for he always afflicts with the greatest tenderness. It was his compassion that mitigated Ephraim’s punishment, (Hosea 11:8-9,) My heart is turned within me, &c., and now the same compassion accepted Ephraim’s repentance, and induced God to say, I will surely have mercy upon him.
Jeremiah 31:21. Set thee up way-marks — “These words are a call to Israel to prepare for their return. The word צינים, rendered way-marks, means stone pillars, and תמרודים, translated heaps, from המר, a palm-tree, probably signifies tall-poles, like palm-trees, or, perhaps, made of palm- trees; both set up in the roads, at certain distances, for the traveller’s direction, and extremely necessary for those who had to pass wild and spacious deserts,” — Blaney. Set thy heart toward the way which thou wentest — Mind well the way that the Assyrians and Babylonians carried thee captive, for thou shalt return the same way. Turn again — That is, Return to thine own country; O virgin of Israel — See note on Jeremiah 31:14. Turn again to these thy cities — The expression is doubled for the greater certainty of the event.
Jeremiah 31:22. How long wilt thou go about — Or, go out of the right way, or follow thine own imaginations, O thou backsliding daughter — Thou that didst formerly revolt from thy sovereign Lord, and decline from his worship and service, going after idols, and seeking help from foreign nations, instead of applying to him for it; and who now seemest to loiter when God calls thee to return homeward out of a strange country. The expression is often used of Israel, or the ten tribes: see Jeremiah 3:6-12 : and of Judah and Israel together, ibid., Jeremiah 31:14; Jeremiah 31:22; both being comprehended under the title of the virgin of Israel, in the foregoing verse. For the Lord hath created, or doth create, a new thing in the earth, a woman shall compass a man — It is difficult to say, with any certainty, what this obscure passage means. Several ancient Jews expounded it of the Messiah, and most Christian interpreters understand it of the miraculous conception of the child Jesus in the womb of the virgin. “Taking the words in this sense they properly import,” as Lowth justly observes, “a new creation, and such as is the immediate work of God. And that such a prophecy concerning the conception of Christ may not be thought to come in here abruptly, it is to be observed, that as the coming of the Messiah is the foundation of the promises, both of the first and second covenant; so it contains the most powerful arguments to persuade men to obedience: and the covenant, of which Christ was to be the Mediator is plainly foretold and described in the 31st and three following verses of this chapter.” Blaney, however, thinks the original words, נקבה תסיבב גבר, cannot by any construction be brought to imply any such thing as the miraculous conception above mentioned. “Admitting,” he says, “that the word תסובב may signify shall encompass, or, comprehend in the womb, and that גבר, instead of an adult, or, strong man, (which the word generally means,)
may also signify a male child; yet the words, all taken together, still import no more than that a woman shall conceive, or contain, a male child: but this is nothing new or extraordinary, and therefore I presume it not the sense intended.” Being of opinion that the word, which we translate compass, or encompass, may signify to cause to turn about, or repulse, he renders the clause, “A woman shall put to the rout a strong man,” judging it to be a proverbial form of speech, denoting, “The weaker shall prevail over the stronger,” an expression equivalent to, one shall chase a thousand. Now this, says he, it must be confessed, is in itself new and unusual, and contrary to the ordinary course of nature; and accordingly it is ascribed to the interposing power of God, who is said therein to create a new thing, or, in other words, to work a miracle. Interpreting the passage in this sense, he explains its connection with the context as follows: “The virgin of Israel is exhorted not to turn aside, or decline the invitation given her to return, as she might, perhaps, be disposed to do through dread of the power of enemies, who would oppose her deliverance. For her encouragement she is told, that she had no reason to be apprehensive of the superior strength of any enemies, since God would work a miracle in her favour, and enable her, though apparently weak, to overcome and prevail against all their opposition.” By an interpretation nearly allied to this, many understand the passage as being a promise that the Jewish Church in its time, and afterward the gospel church, should prevail over all its enemies; though comparing the fewness and weakness of the church’s members with the multitude of her enemies, and the greatness of their power, it seemed as strange a thing as for a woman to prevail against a strong and mighty man.
Jeremiah 31:23-25. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel — These prophecies of the restoration of the Jews are ordinarily prefaced with these two attributes of God, the one of which asserts his power to do the thing promised; the other, his goodness to his people; as yet, or, yet again, they shall use this speech in the land of Judah, and in the cities thereof, &c. — Three things the prophet here foretels, 1st, That the cities which had formerly been the habitations of unjust, cruel, and bloody men, should become the habitations of men who should do justice to all. 2d, That the city which stood upon mount Zion, and had formerly been a habitation of idolaters and other unholy persons, should become a place in which men should, in a due and holy manner, worship and serve the true God. 3d, That they should be so famous, both for justice and holiness, that men would take notice of it, and wish they might be blessed on that account: so that as they had, for their sins, been made a curse and proverb, so, upon their reformation they should be for a blessing. And there shall dwell in Judah, &c., husbandmen — This verse is not only intended to express that the country should be inhabited, as well as the cities, after their return from captivity, but to set forth their peaceable and happy state at that time. For I have satiated, or, I will satiate, the weary soul — I will comfort them after their sorrows and afflictions, and will give them abundance of ease and plenty.
Jeremiah 31:26. Upon this I awaked, &c. — These words afford a plain proof that the preceding revelations had been made to the prophet in a dream, or vision. And my sleep was sweet unto me — The vision which I had seen was so agreeable to me that it gave me as great satisfaction and comfort as men usually feel when they have been refreshed with an undisturbed and sweet sleep.
Jeremiah 31:27-28. I will sow the house of Israel — Under the captivity the land lay desolate, without man and beast, Jeremiah 33:12; but here it is promised that it should be again inhabited and replenished with both. And like as I have watched over them to pluck up, &c. — I will show the same care and diligence in restoring them as I have formerly done in destroying them, according to the promise made to them upon their repentance and reformation. See Jeremiah 18:7-10.
Jeremiah 31:29-30. They shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, &c. — “God had often declared that he would visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, and had particularly threatened to execute judgment upon the present generation for the idolatries and other sins of their forefathers. See note on Exodus 20:5, and chap. Jeremiah 15:4. This gave occasion to the proverb mentioned in this verse, which they that were in captivity applied to their own case, as if the miseries they endured were chiefly owing to their fathers’ sins: see Lamentations 5:7; Ezekiel 18:2; but when this judgment should be removed, then there would be no further occasion to use this proverb, as Ezekiel there speaks.” But every one shall die for his own iniquity, &c. — These national judgments ceasing, every one shall suffer only for his own faults. “This promise,” says Lowth, “will be remarkably verified when God shall cease to visit upon the Jewish nation that imprecation which they laid upon themselves by the crucifixion of Christ, his blood be upon us, and upon our children.” It was the opinion of Bishop Warburton, that the punishment of children for the iniquity of their parents, was to supply the want of the sanction of a future state, which he supposed was very obscurely, if at all, revealed under the Mosaic dispensation. “For,” says he, “while a future state was kept hid from the Jews there was an absolute need of such a law to restrain the more daring spirits by working upon their instincts. But when a doctrine was brought to light which held them up, and continued them after death, the objects of divine justice, it had then no further use, and was therefore reasonably to be abolished, with the rest of the Jewish laws peculiar to the Mosaic dispensation.” But it may be inquired here, Do not children still suffer for the sins of their parents in the only sense in which they ever did, namely, in all national calamities, and in that poverty and reproach, and those bodily afflictions, which the vices of their parents entail upon them?
Jeremiah 31:31-32. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord — The latter days, or the times of the gospel, are here intended, as is evident from the apostle’s applying the following promises to those times, and quoting this whole passage as a summary of the covenant of grace, Hebrews 8:8-10. I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah — The benefits of this covenant were first offered to the Jews, as being the completion of that covenant which God had made with their fathers, Acts 3:26; Acts 13:46; but those benefits were actually conferred only on the spiritual seed of Abraham, or the imitators of Abraham’s faith, the true Israel of God, on whom peace is and shall be, Galatians 6:16, and with whom only this new covenant is made. In other words, Israel and Judah stand here for the true people or church of God, especially the gospel church: and the covenant here promised to be made with them is said to be new, not because it was so as to the substance of it, for it was made with Abraham, Genesis 17:7, and with the Israelites, Deuteronomy 26:17-18; but, upon many other accounts, especially the following: — 1st, It was new, considered as a testament, confirmed by the actual death of the testator, which did not take place till gospel times. 2d, It was revealed after a new manner, more fully and particularly, plainly and clearly. 3d, It contained no such mixture of temporal promises as when first made with the Jews. 4th, The ceremonial law was no part of it, as it was to the Jews, who were obliged to approve themselves God’s people, by a strict observance thereof. 5th, The publication of it was extended to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, which was not the case with the Mosaic covenant. 6th, The influences of the Divine Spirit, attending the publication of it, are conferred more largely under this than under the old covenant, distributing to believers a greater measure and variety of gifts and graces, to enable them to comply with the terms, and fulfil the demands of it. Not according to the covenant made with their fathers — Differing from it in the circumstances above mentioned, and in others declared afterward: in the day when I took them by the hand, &c. — The covenant which God made with the Jews, when they came out of the land of Egypt, was on his part the law which he gave them from Sinai, with the promises annexed; on their part, (which made it a formal covenant,) their promise of obedience to it. This covenant God says he made with them when they were a weak and ignorant people, the care of whom he took upon himself, and led them as a parent leads his feeble child by the hand. Which my covenant they brake — This covenant they are said to have broken, not because of every defect, or failure in their obedience, for in that sense, through the general depravity and weakness of human nature, they could not but break it; (see Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:10-11;) but because of their gross and wilful sins often repeated and continued in without repentance, and more especially by their idolatry, compared to whoredom, which broke the marriage covenant between God and them, and caused him to divorce them, and to say, Lo Ammi, You are not my people: Although I was a husband to them — This their covenant-breaking was aggravated by God’s kindness to them and care of them, who, as he stood, related to them in the character of a husband, so he had always manifested to them such love as is but faintly shadowed forth by that of the most affectionate husband to his wife, and had given them no temptation to go a whoring from him.
Jeremiah 31:33-34. This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel — That is, with those who are Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile, John 1:47, who are Jews inwardly, Romans 2:29, by the circumcision of the heart and spirit, spoken of and promised by God, Deuteronomy 30:6. I will put my law in their inward parts, &c. — In the times of the gospel God’s law is not abrogated and made void; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it: but it is written in the hearts of God’s true Israel by the finger of his Spirit; and they become obedient to it from their secret approbation of it as holy, just, and good, and from the delight they take in it after the inward man. But it may be asked, How was this peculiar to this new covenant? Did not God of old write his law on the hearts of his people? Did not David and others, the servants of God, of whom we read in the Old Testament, serve God, out of a principle of love and delight in his law? We must answer, Undoubtedly they did, and the law of God was, in a measure, written in their hearts; but this was not through the virtue of the Mosaic dispensation, but through the grace of this new covenant, revealed and communicated, though but obscurely and partially, even under that dispensation. The principal design of the prophet here is evidently to express the difference between the law and the gospel: the law shows man his duty, the gospel brings the grace of regeneration, by which the heart of man is changed, and he is enabled to do his duty. All who, during the time of the Mosaic dispensation, attained salvation, were saved by virtue of this new covenant; but this was not then evidently exhibited; neither was the renewing grace of God so generally and largely given as it has been under the gospel. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour — This must not be so interpreted as if under the gospel there should be no more need of ministerial teaching, for Christ himself sent out his apostles to preach; nor yet as if there should be no further need of brethren in Christ teaching one another, for the contrary is commanded, Colossians 3:16. This expression only signifies the great increase of divine knowledge, especially of the knowledge of the being and attributes of the one living and true God, and of the relations in which he is pleased to stand to his people, which is the knowledge here chiefly intended. For they shall all know me, from the least unto the greatest — Even the least of them, who have an interest in this new covenant, and are ingrafted into the good olive, and partake of the fatness of the root, even babes in Christ, and much more they who have arrived at the measure of the stature of his fulness; shall all savingly know me, and have eternal life in and by that knowledge. For I will forgive their iniquity, &c. — Here God represents the free pardon of all their sins as being the root and foundation of this grace, and of all the privileges and blessings of this new covenant.
Jeremiah 31:35-37. Thus saith the Lord, who giveth the sun for a light by day — All the acts here mentioned are such as manifest the divine, almighty power of him who is the Lord of all the hosts of the creation. Which divideth, or, who did divide, the sea — Namely, as the words are generally interpreted, the Red sea, to give the Israelites passage. The original words, however, רגע הים, which occur Isaiah 51:15, where they are translated as here, are by Bishop Lowth rendered, who stilleth the sea, a sense which accords better with the words immediately following, when the waves thereof roar — That is, even when the waves are most tumultuous, and roar most dreadfully, he, with infinite ease, quiets them, and produces a perfect calm. In this sense the same word is interpreted Jeremiah 31:2 of this chapter, and also Jeremiah 50:34. If these ordinances — Hebrew, החקים, these appointments respecting the heavenly bodies and their motions and uses; depart from before me — Be altered or suspended in their operations; then shall the seed of Israel cease from being a nation, &c. — Thus God makes the continuance of the laws of nature a pledge of the continuance of Israel as a people. The prediction implies, 1st, That God would preserve a remnant of them in the country to which they were led captive, and would restore them to their own land; 2d, That there should be another remnant of them, at the beginning of the gospel, called οι σωζομενοι, the saved, (Acts 2:47,) who, by embracing the faith of Christ, should escape those terrible judgments that should be inflicted upon the main body of that nation; and 3d, That Providence would still preserve them in a body distinct from all other people in the world, in order to their conversion in God’s due time. To this place St. Paul, speaking of the conversion of the Jews in the latter times, seems to refer when he says, The gifts and calling of God [to the Jews] are without repentance, Romans 11:29. If heaven above can be measured, &c. — If the height and extent thereof can be ascertained by men, which is impossible, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel, &c. — That is, I will never cast them all off — a promise which the apostle, (Romans 11:1-2,) proves to have been made good by God, notwithstanding the rejection of the great body of that people.
Jeremiah 31:38-40. Behold, the days come, that the city shall be built to the Lord — Or, for the Lord, namely, for his use and service. Blaney renders it, Under the direction of the Lord, from the tower of Hananeel, &c. — “Here follows a description of the circumference of a new city to be built on the site of Jerusalem; but that it does not mean the city which was rebuilt after the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity is evident from two principal circumstances; first, because the limits are here extended farther, so as to include a greater space than was contained within the walls at that time; and secondly, it is here said, that it should never be razed or destroyed any more. This new city, therefore, must be referred to those after-times when the general restoration of Israel is appointed to take place.” Thus Blaney, with whom many other commentators agree. That this prophecy “was not fulfilled,” says Dr. Dodd, “from the return out of Babylon to the days of Christ, we are assured from sacred history; where we read that mount Goath, or Golgotha, (which word in Hebrew signifies the heap of Gotha,) was situated without Jerusalem. The same may be said of the valley of dead bodies and of the ashes,” namely, the valley of Hinnom, so described, from its having been made a common burying place, and a receptacle for the rubbish and filth of the city. “As to Gareb we know nothing certain. We may also add, that the last clause of this chapter, it shall not be plucked up, &c., any more for ever, cannot refer to the Jerusalem which was rebuilt after the captivity, and which was plucked up and thrown down by the Romans. We must necessarily recur, therefore, either to some future building of that city, or to the church of Christ, against which we are assured the gates of hell shall never prevail,” and which is elsewhere called the city of God, and the new Jerusalem. Taking the passage in this mystical sense, as a description of the church, in its most enlarged and perfect state, in the latter days: we can be at no loss to explain the clause in the last verse which expresses that all parts of the city, even the valley of Hinnom, and all the fields, unto the brook Kidron, &c., shall be holy unto the Lord. For, undoubtedly, at this time the church shall be thoroughly purged from all corruption, both with regard to the doctrine taught in it, and the principles and practices of its members, who shall all be both well instructed in divine things, and truly holy in their hearts and lives.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 31". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany