Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Salvation for all the Families of Israel. - Ewald has well stated the connection of this chapter with the conclusion of the preceding, as follows: "In order that the old form of blessing, found in the books of Moses, and here given in Jer 31:22, may be fulfilled, the whirlwind of Jahveh, which must carry away all the unrighteous, will at last discharge itself, as has been already threatened, Jer 23:19; this must take place in order that there may be a fulfilment of that hope to all the tribes of Israel (both kingdoms)." Jer 31:1. announces deliverance for all the families of Israel, but afterwards it is promised to both divisions of the people separately - first, in vv. 2-22, to the ten tribes, who have been exiles the longest; and then, in a more brief statement, Jer 31:23-26, to the kingdom of Judah: to this, again, there is appended, Jer 31:27-40, a further description of the nature of the deliverance in store for the two houses of Israel.
The deliverance for all Israel, and the readmission of the ten tribes. - Jer 31:1. "At that time, saith Jahveh, will I be a God to all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Jer 31:2. Thus saith Jahveh: A people escaped from the sword found grace in the wilderness. Let me go to give him rest, even Israel. Jer 31:3. From afar hath Jahve appeared unto me, and with everlasting love have I loved thee; therefore have I continued my favour towards thee. Jer 31:4. Once more will I build thee up, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel; once more shalt thou adorn [thyself] with thy tabrets, and go forth in the dance of those that make merry. Jer 31:5. Once more shalt thou plant vineyards on the ills of Samaria; planters will plant them, and apply them to common use. Jer 31:6. For there is a day [when] watchmen will cry on Mount Ephraim: Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion, to Jahveh our God!"
The expression "At that time" refers to Jer 30:24, "in the end of the days," which means the Messianic future. The announcement of deliverance itself is continued by resumption of the promise made in Jer 30:22; the transposition of the two portions of the promise is to be remarked. Here, "I will be a God to them" stands first, because the restoration and perfection of Israel have their only foundation in the love of God and in the faithfulness with which He keeps His covenant, and it is only through this gracious act that Israel again becomes the people of God. "All the families of Israel" are the families of the whole twelve tribes - of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, separated since the death of Solomon. After this announcement of deliverance for the whole of Israel, the address turns first to Israel of the ten tribes, and continues to treat longest of them, "because, judging from appearances, they seem irrecoverably lost - for ever rejected by the Lord" (Hengstenberg). Jer 31:2 is variously explained. Ewald, following Raschi and others, refers the words 'מצא חן וגו to the leading of Israel out of Egypt: once on a time, in the Arabian desert, the people that had just barely escaped the sword of the Egyptians nevertheless found grace, when Jahveh, as it were, went to make a quiet dwelling-place for them. The love which He displayed towards them at that time He has since continued, and thus He will now once more bring back His people out of the midst of strangers. This view of the passage is supported by the use of the perfects in Jer 31:2 and Jer 31:3, in contrast with the imperfect, "again will I build thee," Jer 31:4, and the employment of the expression "in the desert;" cf. Jer 2:2; Hos 13:4-5. But "the people of those who have escaped the sword" is an expression that cannot be reconciled with it. Rashi, indeed, understands this as referring to the sword of the Egyptians and Amalekites; but the thought that Israel, led out of Egypt through the Arabian desert, was a people that had survived or escaped the sword, is one met with nowhere else in the Old Testament, and is quite inapplicable to the condition of the people of Israel when they were led out of Egypt. Although Pharaoh wished to exterminate the people of Israel through hard servile labour, and through such measures as the order to kill all male children when they were born, yet he did not make an exhibition of his wrath against Israel by the sword, neither did he show his anger thus at the Red Sea, where he sought to bring Israel back to Egypt by force. There God shielded His people from the attack of Pharaoh, as He did in the battle against the Amalekites, so that Israel was led through the desert as a whole people, not as a remnant. The designation, "a people escaped from the sword," unconditionally requires us to refer the words to the deliverance of the Israelites from exile; these were only a remnant of what they had formerly been, since the greater portion of them perished, partly at the downfall of the kingdom, and partly in exile, by the sword of the enemy. Hence the perfects in Jer 31:2 and Jer 31:3 are prophetic, and used of the divine counsel, which precedes its execution in time. By using the expression "in the desert," Jeremiah makes an allusion to Israel's being led through the Arabian desert. The restoration of Israel to Canaan, from their exile among the nations, is viewed under the figure of their exodus from Egypt into the land promised to their fathers, as in Hos 2:16.; and the exodus from the place of banishment is, at the same time, represented as having already occurred, so that Israel is again on the march to his native land, and is being safely conducted through the desert by his God. There is as little ground for thinking that there is reference here made to the desert lying between Assyria or Babylon and Palestine, as there is for Hitzig's referring שׂרידי חרב to the sword of the Medes and Persians. - The inf. abs. הלוך is used instead of the first person of the imperative (cf. Kg1 22:30), to express a summons addressed by God to Himself: "I will go." See Gesenius, 131, 4, b, γ. ] The suffix in הרגּיעו points out the object (Israel) by anticipation: "to bring him to rest." רגע in the Hiphil usually means to be at rest, to rest (Deu 28:65); here, to give rest, bring to rest.
The people already see in spirit how the Lord is accomplishing His purpose, Jer 31:2. "From afar (the prophet speaks in the name of the people, of which he views himself as one) hath Jahveh appeared unto me." So long as Israel languished in exile, the Lord had withdrawn from him, kept Himself far off. Now the prophet sees Him appearing again. "From afar," i.e., from Zion, where the Lord is viewed as enthroned, the God of His people (Psa 14:7), sitting there to lead them back into their land. But the Lord at once assures the people, who have been waiting for Him, of His everlasting love. Because He loves His people with everlasting love, therefore has He kept them by His grace, so that they were not destroyed. משׁך, to draw, keep, restrain; hence משׁך חסד, prolongare gratiam, Psa 36:11; Psa 109:12, but construed with ל of a person; here, with a double accusative, to restrain any one, to preserve him constantly by grace.
Israel is now to be built up again, i.e., to be raised to a permanent condition of ever-increasing prosperity; cf. Jer 12:16. The additional clause, "and thou shalt be built," confirms this promise. The "virgin of Israel" is the congregation of Israel; cf. Jer 14:17. A new and joyful phase in the life of the people is to begin: such is the meaning of the words, "with tabrets shalt thou adorn thyself, and thou shalt go forth in the dance of those who make merry." In this manner were the popular feasts celebrated in Israel; cf. Jdg 11:34, Ps. 66:26.
"The mountains of Samaria," i.e., of the kingdom of Ephraim (Kg1 13:22; Kg2 17:24), shall again be planted with vineyards, and the planters, too, shall enjoy the fruits in peace - not plant for strangers, so that enemies shall destroy the fruits; cf. Isa 62:8., Isa 65:21. The words "planters plant and profane" (i.e., those who plant the vineyards are also to enjoy the fruit of them) are to be explained by the law in Lev 19:23., according to which the fruits of newly planted fruit trees, and according to Jdg 9:27, vines also, were not to be eaten during the first three years; those of the fourth year were to be presented as a thank-offering to the Lord; and only those of the fifth year were to be applied to common use. This application to one's own use is expressed in Deu 20:6 by חלּל, properly, to make common.
Jer 31:6 is attached to the foregoing by כּי, which introduces the reason of what has been stated. The connection is as follows: This prosperous condition of Ephraim is to be a permanent one; for the sin of Jeroboam, the seduction of the ten tribes from the sanctuary of the Lord, shall not continue, but Ephraim shall once more, in the future, betake himself to Zion, to the Lord his God. "There is a day," i.e., there comes a day, a time, when watchmen call. נצרים here denotes the watchmen who were posted on the mountains, that they might observe and given notice of the first appearance of the crescent of the moon after new-moon, so that the festival of the new-moon and the feasts connected with it might be fixed; cf. Keil's Bibl. Archol. ii. 74, Anm. 9 see also the articles Mond and Neumond in Herzog's Real-Encykl. vols. ix. and x.; New-moon in Smith's Bible Dictionary, vol. ii.]. עלה, to go up to Jerusalem, which was pre-eminent among the cities of the land as to spiritual matters.
The restoration of Israel. - Jer 31:7. "For thus saith Jahveh: Shout for joy over Jacob, and cry out over the head of the nations! Make known, praise, and say, I Jahveh, save Thy people, the remnant of Israel! Jer 31:8. Behold, I will bring them out of the land of the north, and will gather them from the sides of the earth. Among them are the blind and lame, the woman with child and she that hath born, together; a great company shall they return hither. Jer 31:9. With weeping shall they come, and with supplications will I lead them: I will bring them to streams of water, by a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born. Jer 31:10. Hear the word of Jahveh, ye nations, and declare among the islands far off, and say: He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd his flock. Jer 31:11. For Jahveh hath redeemed Israel and ransomed him out of the hand of one stronger than he. Jer 31:12. And they shall come and sing with joy on the height of Zion, and come like a flood to the goodness of Jahveh, because of corn, and new wine, and fresh oil, and the young of the flock and the herd; and their soul shall be like a well-watered garden, neither shall they pine away any more. Jer 31:13. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and young men and old men together; and I will turn their mourning to joy, and will comfort them, and will cause them to rejoice after their sorrow. Jer 31:14. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fat, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith Jahveh."
In order to set forth the greatness of the salvation which the Lord will prepare for Israel, so long outcast, Israel is commanded to make loud jubilation, and exhorted to approach the Lord with entreaties for the fulfilment of His purpose of grace. The statement regarding this salvation is introduced by כּי, "for," since the description, given in this strophe, of Israel's being led back and re-established, furnishes the actual proof that the nation shall be built up again. The summons to rejoice comes from Jahveh (since, by His gracious dealings, He gives the people material for praise), and is addressed to the members of the nation. These are to rejoice over Jacob, i.e., over the glorious destiny before the people. צהלו is translated by Hitzig: "shout at the head of the nations," i.e., making a beginning among them all; but this is incorrect and against the context. The thought that many other enslaved nations besides Israel will rejoice over the fall of their oppressors, has not the least foundation in this passage. The summons to the nations, which follows in Jer 31:19, is simply a command to make known God's purpose regarding the deliverance of Israel. Of course, בּראשׁ, taken literally and by itself, may be rendered "at the head" (Kg1 21:12; Amo 6:7, etc.); but in this place, the expression of which it forms the first word is the object of צהלו, which is construed with בּ, "to rejoice over something," Isa 24:4. "The head of the nations" signifies "the first of the nations" (ראשׁית הגּוים, Amo 6:1), i.e., the most exalted among the nations. Such is the designation given to Israel, because God has chosen them before all the nations of the earth to be His peculiar people (Deu 7:6; Sa2 7:23.), made them the highest over (עליון על, Deu 26:19) all nations. This high honour of Israel, which seemed to have been taken from him by his being delivered over to the power of heathen nations, is now to appear again. השׁמיעוּ, "make to be heard, sing praise," are to be combined into one thought, "sing praise loudly" (so that people may hear it). The words of praise, "Save Thy people, O Jahveh," form rather the expression of a wish than of a request, just as in many psalms, e.g., Ps. 20:10; Psa 28:9, especially Psa 118:25 in הושׁיאה נא, with which Jesus was greeted on His entry into Jerusalem, Mat 21:9 (Graf). - To the rejoicing and praise the Lord replies with the promise that He will lead back His people out of the most distant countries of the north, - every one, even the feeble and frail, who ordinarily would not have strength for so long a journey, "Hither," i.e., to Palestine, where Jeremiah wrote the promise; cf. Jer 3:18; Jer 16:15.
"With weeping," i.e., with tears of joy, and with contrition of heart over favour so undeserved, they come, and God leads them with weeping, "amidst earnest prayers to the God they have found again, as a lost son returns to the arms of his father" (Umbreit). Hitzig and Graf would connect בּתחנוּנים with what precedes, and combine "I will lead them, I will bring them;" by this arrangement, it is said, the careful guidance of God, in leaving nothing behind, is properly set forth. But the symmetry of the verse is thereby destroyed; and the reason assigned for this construction (which is opposed by the accents), viz., that תּחנוּנים does not mean miseratio, clementia, will not stand the test. As in Isa 55:12 it is the being brought בּשׂמחה that is the chief point, so here, it is the bringing בּתחנוּנים, amidst weeping, i.e., fervent prayer. At the same time, the Lord will care like a father for their refreshment and nurture; He will lead them to brooks of water, so that they shall not suffer thirst in the desert (Isa 48:21), and guide them by a straight (i.e., level) road, so that they shall not fall. For He shows Himself again to Israel as a father, one who cares for them like a father (cf. Jer 3:19; Deu 32:6; Isa 63:6), and treats Ephraim as His first-born. "The first-born of Jahveh," in Exo 4:22, means the people of Israel as compared with the other nations of the earth. This designation is here transferred to Ephraim as the head and representative of the ten tribes; but it is not likely that there is in this any allusion to the preference which Jacob displayed for the sons of Joseph, Gen 49:22. compared with Jer 31:4 (Venema, J. D. Michaelis, Ngelsbach) - the advantage they obtained consisting in this, that Ephraim and Manasseh were placed on an equal footing with Jacob's sons as regards inheritance in the land of Canaan; in other words, they were elevated to the dignity of being founders of tribes. There is no trace in this prophecy of any preference given to Ephraim before Judah, or of the ten tribes before the two tribes of the kingdom of Judah. That the deliverance of Ephraim (Israel) from exile is mentioned before that of Judah, and is further more minutely described, is simply due to the fact, already mentioned, that the ten tribes, who had long languished in exile, had the least hope, according to man's estimation, of deliverance. The designation of Ephraim as the first-born of Jahveh simply shows that, in the deliverance of the people, Ephraim is in no respect to be behind Judah, - that they are to receive their full share in the Messianic salvation of the whole people; in other words, that the love which the Lord once displayed towards Israel, when He delivered them out of the power of Pharaoh, is also to be, in the future, displayed towards the ten tribes, who were looked on as lost. The nature of fatherhood and sonship, as set forth in the Old Testament, does not contain the element of the Spirit's testimony to our spirit, but only the idea of paternal care and love, founded on the choosing of Israel out of all the nations to be the peculiar people of God; see on Exo 4:22 and Isa 63:16; Isa 64:7. בּכרי is substantially the same as יקּיר been בּן and ילד שׁעשׁעים in Jer 31:20.
The most remote of the heathen, too, are to be told that Jahveh will free His people from their hands, gather them again, and highly favour them, lest they should imagine that the God of Israel has not the power to save His people, and that they may learn to fear Him as the Almighty God, who has given His people into their power, not from any inability to defend them, but merely for the purpose of chastising them for their sins. איּים are the islands in, and countries lying along the coast of, the Mediterranean Sea; in the language of prophecy, the word is used as a designation of the distant countries of the west; cf. Psa 72:10; Isa 41:1, Isa 41:5; Isa 42:12, etc. On Jer 31:10, cf. Jer 23:3; Exo 34:12., Isa 40:11. "Stronger than he," as in Psa 35:10; the expression is here used of the heathen master of the world.
Thus led by the Lord through the wilderness (Jer 31:9), the redeemed shall come rejoicing to the sacred height of Zion (see on Jer 17:12), and thence go in streams, i.e., scatter themselves over the country like a stream, for the goodness of the Lord, i.e., for the good things which He deals out to them in their native land. "To the goodness of Jahveh" is explained by "because of corn," etc. (על for אל), cf. Hos 3:5. As to the good things of the country, cf. Deu 8:8. Their soul will be like a well-watered garden, an emblem of the fulness and freshness of living power; cf. Isa 58:11.
Then shall young men and old live in unclouded joy, and forget all their former sorrow. "In the dance" refers merely to the virgins: to "young men and old together," only the notion of joy is to be repeated from the context.
The priests and the people will refresh themselves with the fat, i.e., the fat pieces of the thank-offerings, because numerous offerings will be presented to the Lord in consequence of the blessing received from Him.
Changing of sorrow into joy, because Ephraim will turn to the Lord, and the Lord will lead him back. - Jer 31:15. "Thus saith Jahveh: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not. Jer 31:16. Thus saith Jahveh: Restrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for there is a reward for thy work, saith Jahveh, and they shall return from the land of the enemy. Jer 31:17. And there is hope for thy latter end, saith Jahveh, that children shall return to thy border. Jer 31:18. I have certainly heard Ephraim complaining, Thou hast chastised me and I was chastised, like a calf not tamed. Turn me that I may turn, for Thou, O Jahveh, art my God. Jer 31:19. For, after I return I repent, and after I have been taught I smite upon [my] thigh; I am ashamed, yea, and confounded, because I bear the reproach of my youth. Jer 31:20. Is Ephraim a son dear to me, or a child of delight, that, as often as I speak against him, I do yet certainly remember him? Therefore my bowels move for him; I shall surely pity him, saith Jahveh. Jer 31:21. Set thee up way-marks, put up posts for thyself; set thine heart to the highway, the road [by which] thou camest: return, O virgin of Israel, return to these cities of thine. Jer 31:22. How long wilt thou wander about, O backsliding daughter? For Jahveh hath created a new [thing] in the earth: a woman shall encompass a man."
In this strophe the promise is further confirmed by carrying out the thought, that Israel's release from his captivity shall certainly take place, however little prospect there is of it at present. For Israel will come to an acknowledgment of his sins, and the Lord will then once more show him His love. The hopeless condition of Israel is dramatically set forth in Jer 31:15.: Rachel, the mother of Joseph, and thus the ancestress of Ephraim, the chief tribe of the Israelites who had revolted from the royal house of David, weeps bitterly over the loss of her children, the ten tribes who have been carried away into exile; and the Lord addresses consolation to her, with the promise that they shall return out of the land of the enemy. "A voice is heard" (נשׁמע, participle, to show duration). The "voice" is more fully treated of in the second part of the verse: loud lamentation and bitter weeping. There is a difficulty connected with בּרמה. The lxx took it to be the name of the city Ramah, now called er-Râm, in the tribe of Benjamin, five English miles north from Jerusalem, on the borders of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (Kg1 15:17), although this city is elsewhere written with the article (הרמה), not only in the historical notices found in Jer 40:1, Jos 18:25; Jdg 4:5, etc., but also in prophetical addresses, as in Hos 6:8; Isa 10:29. In this passage it cannot be a mere appellative ("on a height"), as in Sa1 22:6; Eze 16:24; nor can we think of Ramah in Naphtali (Jos 19:36, also הרמה), for this latter city never figures in history like the Ramah of Samuel, not far from Gibeah; see on Jos 18:25 and Sa1 1:1. But why is the lamentation of Rachel heard at Ramah? Most expositors reply, because the tomb of Rachel was in the divinity of Ramah; in support of this they cite Sa1 10:2. Ngelsbach, who is one of these, still maintains this view with the utmost confidence. But this assumption is opposed to Gen 35:16 and Gen 35:19, where it is stated that Rachel died and was buried on the way to Bethlehem, and not far from the town (see on Genesis, l.c.), which is about five miles south from Jerusalem, and thus far from Ramah. Nor is any support for this view to be got from Sa1 10:2, except by making the groundless assumption, that Saul, while seeking for the asses of his father, came to Samuel in his native town; whereas, in the account given in that chapter, he is merely said to have sought for Samuel in a certain town, of which nothing more is stated, and to have inquired at him; see on Sa1 10:2. We must therefore reject, as arbitrary and groundless, all attempts to fix the locality of Rachel's sepulchre in the neighbourhood of Ramah (Ngelsbach); in the same way we must treat the assertion of Thenius, Knobel, Graf, etc., that the Ephratah of Gen 35:16, Gen 35:19, is the same as the Ephron of Ch2 13:19, which was situated near Bethel; so, too, must we deal with the statements, that Ephratah, i.e., Bethlehem, is to be expunged from the text of Gen 35:9 and 48 as a false gloss, and that the tradition, attested in Mat 2:18, as to the situation of Rachel's sepulchre in the vicinity of Bethlehem, is incorrect. Nor does the passage of Jeremiah now before us imply that Rachel's sepulchre was near Ramah. Rachel does not weep at Ramah over her lost children, either because she had been buried there, or because it was in Ramah of Benjamin that the exiles were assembled, according to Jer 40:1 (Hitzig, and also Delitzsch on Gen 35:20). For it was the Jews who were to be carried away captive that were gathered together at Ramah, whereas it was over Israelites or Ephraimites that had been carried into exile that Rachel weeps. The lamentation of Rachel is heard at Ramah, as the most loftily situated border-town of the two kingdoms, whence the wailing that had arisen sounded far and near, and could be heard in Judah. Nor does she weep because she has learned something in her tomb of the carrying away of the people, but as their common mother, as the beloved spouse of Jacob, who in her married life so earnestly desired children. Just as the people are often included under the notion of the "daughter of Zion," as their ideal representative, so the great ancestress of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh is here named as the representative of the maternal love shown by Israel in the pain felt when the people are lost. The sing. כּי איננּוּ signifies, "for not one of them is left." - This verse is quoted by Matthew (Mat 2:18), after relating the story of the murder of the children at Bethlehem, with the introductory formula, τότε ἐπληρώθη τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ ̓Ιερεμίου: from this the older theologians (cf. Calovii Bibl. illustr. ad Jer. l.c.) conclude that Jeremiah directly prophesied that massacre of the children committed by Herod. But this inference cannot be allowed; it will not fit in with the context of the prophecy. The expression ἐπληρώθη, used by Matthew, only shows that the prophecy of Jeremiah received a new fulfilment through that act of Herod. Of course, we must not reduce the typical reference of the prophecy to that event at Bethlehem simply to this, that the wailing of the mothers of Bethlehem over their murdered children was as great as the lamentation made when the people were carried into exile. Typology rather assumes a causal connection between the two events. The destruction of the people of Israel by the Assyrians and Chaldeans is a type of the massacre of the infants at Bethlehem, in so far as the sin which brought the children of Israel into exile laid a foundation for the fact that Herod the Idumean became king over the Jews, and wished to destroy the true King and Saviour of Israel that he might strengthen his own dominion. Cf. Fr. Kleinschmidt, die typolog. Citate der vier Evangelien, 1861, S. 10ff.; Fairbairn's Typology, fifth edition, vol. i. pp. 452-3.]
The Lord will put an end to this wailing. "Cease thy weeping," He cries to the sorrowing ones, "for there is a reward for thy labour" (almost identical with Ch2 15:7). פּעלּה is the maternal labour of birth and rearing of children. The reward consists in this, that the children shall return out of the land of the enemy into their own land. Jer 31:17 states the same thing in parallel clauses, to confirm the promise. On the expression "hope for thy latter end," cf. Jer 29:11. בּנים without the article, as in Hos 11:10, etc.; cf. Ewald, 277, b. This hope is grounded on the circumstance that Israel will become aware, through suffering, that he is punished for his sins, and, repenting of these sins, will beseech his God for favour. The Lord already perceives this repentant spirit and acknowledgment of sin. ואוּסר does not mean "I had myself chastised," or "I learned chastisement" (Hitzig), but "I was chastised," like an untamed calf, i.e., one not trained to bear the yoke and to endure labour. On this figure, cf. Hos 10:11. The recognition of suffering as chastisement by God excites a desire after amelioration and amendment. But since man cannot accomplish these through his own powers, Israel prays, "Lead me back," sc. from my evil way, i.e., turn me. He finds himself constrained to this request, because he feels regret for his apostasy from God. אחרי שׁוּבי in this connection can only mean, "after I turned," sc. from Thee, O Lord my God; on this meaning of שׁוּב, cf. Jer 8:4. הוּדע, to be brought to understanding through punishment, i.e., to become wise. To smite the thighs is a token of terror and horror; cf. Eze 21:17. On בּשׁתּי וגם נכלמתּי cf. Isa 45:16. "The shame of my youth" is that which I brought on myself in my youth through the sins I then committed. On this confession generally, cf. the similar one in Jer 3:21. - Thereafter the Lord replies, Jer 31:20, with the question, whether Ephraim is so dear a son to Him that, as often as He has spoken against him, i.e., uttered hard words of condemnation, He still, or again, thinks of him. ילד שׁעשׁעים, "a child of delight," whom one fondles; cf. Isa 5:7. The clause explanatory of the question, "for as often as," etc., is taken in different ways. דּבּר may signify, "to speak about one," or "to speak against one," or "to pay addresses to one," i.e., to court him: Sa1 25:39; Sol 8:8. Hitzig applies the last meaning to the expression, and translates, "as often as I have paid my suit to him;" according to this view, the basis of the representation of Jahveh's relation to the people is that of a husband to his wife. But this meaning of the verb does not by any means suit the present context, well established though it is by the passages that have been adduced. Ephraim is here represented as a son, not a virgin to whom Jahveh could pay suit. Hence we must take the expression in the sense of "speaking against" some one. But what Jahveh says against Ephraim is no mere threatening by words, but a reprimand by deeds of judgment. The answer to the question is to be inferred from the context: If the Lord, whenever He is constrained to punish Ephraim, still thinks of him, then Ephraim must be a son dear to Him. But this is not because of his conduct, as if he caused Him joy by obedience and faithful attachment, but in consequence of the unchangeable love of God, who cannot leave His son, however much grief he causes his Father. "Therefore," i.e., because he is a son to whom Jahveh shows the fulness of His paternal love, all His kindly feelings towards him are now excited, and He desires to show compassion on him. On המוּ מעי cf. Isa 16:11 and Isa 63:15. Under "bowels" are included especially the heart, liver, reins, the noblest organs of the soul. The expression is strongly anthropopathic, and denotes the most heartfelt sympathy. This fellow-feeling manifests itself in the form of pity, and actually as deliverance from misery.
The Lord desires to execute this purpose of His everlasting love. Jer 31:21. Israel is required to prepare himself for return, and to go home again into his own cities. "Set thee up way marks." ציּוּן, in Kg2 23:17 and Eze 39:15, "a tombstone," probably a stone pillar, which could also serve as a way-mark. תּמרוּרים is not from מרר as in Jer 31:15, but from תּמר, and has the same meaning as תּימרה, Joe 3:3, Talm. תּמּוּר, a pillar, Arab. t̀âmîrun, pl., cippi, signa in desertis. "Set thy heart," i.e., turn thy mind to the road, the way you have gone (on הלכתּי see Jer 2:20), not, that you may not miss it, but because it leads thee home. "Return to these cities of thine." "These" implies that the summons issues from Palestine. Moreover, the separate clauses of this verse are merely a poetic individualization of the thought that Israel is to think seriously of returning; and, inasmuch as this return to Palestine presupposes return to the Lord, Israel must first turn with the heart to his God. Then, in Jer 31:22, follows the exhortation not to delay. The meaning of התחמּק is educed from Sol 5:6, where חמק signifies to turn one's self round; hence the Hithpael means to wander about here and there, uncertain what to do. This exhortation is finally enforced by the statement, "Jahveh creates a new thing on earth" (cf. Isa 43:19). This novelty is, "a woman will encompass a man." With regard to the meaning of these words, about which there is great dispute, this much is evident from the context, that they indicate a transformation of things, a new arrangement of the relations of life. This new arrangement of things which Jahveh brings about is mentioned as a motive which should rouse Ephraim (= Israel) to return without delay to the Lord and to his cities. If we keep this in mind, we shall at once set aside as untenable such interpretations as that of Luther in his first translation of 1532-38, "those who formerly behaved like women shall be men," which Ewald has revived in his rendering, "a woman changing into a man," or that of Schnurrer, Rosenmller, Gesenius, Maurer, "the woman shall protect the man," or that of Ngelsbach, "the woman shall turn the man to herself." The above-mentioned general consideration, we repeat, is sufficient to set aside these explanations, quite apart from the fact that none of them can be lexically substantiated; for סובב neither means to "turn one's self, vertere," nor to "protect," nor to "cause to return" (as if סובב were used for שׁובב). Deu 32:10 is adduced to prove the meaning of protection; but the word there means to go about fondling and cherishing. Neither the transmutation of the female into a male, or of a weak woman into a strong man, nor the protection of the man by a woman, nor the notion that the strong succumbs to the weak, forms an effectual motive for the summons to Israel to return; nor can we call any of them a new creative act effected by Jahveh, or a new arrangement of things. But we must utterly reject the meaning of the words given by Castle, le Clerc, and Hitzig, who apply them to the unnatural circumstance, that a woman makes her suit to a man, even where by the woman is understood the virgin of Israel, and by the man, Jahveh. Luther gave the correct rendering in his editions of 1543 and 1545, "the woman shall encompass the man," - only, "embrace" (Ger. umfangen) might express the sense better than "encompass" (Ger. umgeben). נקבה is nomen sexus, "femella, a female;" גּבר, a "man," also "proles mascula," not according to the sexual relation (=זכר), but with the idea of strength. Both in the choice of these words and by the omission of the article, the relation is set forth in its widest generality; the attention is thereby steadily directed to its fundamental nature. The woman, the weak and tender being, shall lovingly embrace the man, the strong one. Hengstenberg reverses the meaning of the words when he renders them, "the strong one shall again take the weak into his closest intercourse, under his protection, loving care." Many expositors, including Hengstenberg and Hitzig of moderns, have rightly perceived that the general idea has been set forth with special reference to the relation between the woman, Israel, and the man, Jahveh.
Starting with this view, which is suggested by the context, the older expositors explained the words of the conception and birth of Christ by a virgin; cf. Corn. a Lapide, Calovii Bibl. ill., Cocceius, and Pfeiffer, dubia vex. p. 758ff. Thus, for example, the Berleburger Bibel gives the following explanation: "A woman or virgin - not a married woman - will encompass, i.e., carry and contain in her body, the man who is to be a vanquisher of all and to surpass all in strength." This explanation cannot be set aside by the simple remark, "that here there would be set forth the very feature in the birth of Christ by a virgin which is not peculiar to it as compared with others;" for this "superficial remark" does not in the least touch the real point to be explained. But it may very properly be objected, that סובב has not the special meaning of conceiving in a mother's womb. On this ground we can also set down as incorrect the other explanation of the words in the Berleburger Bibel, that the text rather speaks of "the woman who is the Jewish Church, and who, in the spirit of faith, is to bear Christ as the mighty God, Isa 9:6, in the likeness of a man, Rev 12:1-2." However, these explanations are nearer the truth than any that have been offered since. The general statement, "a woman shall encompass (the) man," i.e., lovingly embrace him - this new relation which Jahveh will bring about in place of the old, that the man encompasses the wife, loving, providing for, protecting her - can only be referred, agreeably to the context, to change of relation between Israel and the Lord. סובב, "to encompass," is used tropically, not merely of the mode of dealing on the part of the Lord to His people, the faithful, - of the protection, the grace, and the aid which He grants to the pious ones, as in Psa 32:7, Psa 32:10; Deu 32:10, - but also of the dealings of men with divine things. אסובבה מזבּחך, Psa 26:6, does not mean, "I will go round Thine altar," in a circle or semicircle as it were, but, "I will keep to Thine altar," instead of keeping company with the wicked; or more correctly, "I will surround Thine altar," making it the object of my care, of all my dealings, - I will make mine own the favours shown to the faithful at Thine altar. In the verse now before us, סובב signifies to encompass with love and care, to surround lovingly and carefully, - the natural and fitting dealing on the part of the stronger to the weak and those who need assistance. And the new thing that God creates consists in this, that the woman, the weaker nature that needs help, will lovingly and solicitously surround the man, the stronger. Herein is expressed a new relation of Israel to the Lord, a reference to a new covenant which the Lord, Jer 31:31., will conclude with His people, and in which He deals so condescendingly towards them that they can lovingly embrace Him. This is the substance of the Messianic meaning in the words. The conception of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary is not expressed in them either directly or indirectly, even though we were allowed to take סובב in the meaning of "embrace." This new creation of the Lord is intended to be, and can be, for Israel, a powerful motive to their immediate return to their God.
The re-establishment and blessing of Judah. - Jer 31:23. "Thus saith Jahveh of hosts, the God of Israel: Once more shall they say this word in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I turn their captivity: 'Jahveh bless thee, O habitation of righteousness, O mountain of holiness!' Jer 31:24. And there shall dwell in it, [in] Judah and all its cities together, husbandmen and [those who] move about with the flock. Jer 31:25. For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have filled every languishing soul. Jer 31:26. Because of this I awoke and looked, and my sleep was sweet unto me."
The prophecy which treats of Judah alone is condensed, but states much in few words - not merely the restitutio in statum integritatis, but also rich blessing thereafter. "May Jahveh bless thee" is a benediction, equivalent to "may you be blessed;" cf. Psa 128:5; Psa 134:3. נוה צדק does not mean "habitation of salvation," but "habitation of righteousness;" cf. Isa 1:21, where it is said of Jerusalem that righteousness formerly dwelt in it. This state of matters is again to exist; Jerusalem is again to become a city in which righteousness dwells. "The holy mountain" is Zion, including Moriah, where the Lord had set up His throne. That the designation "the holy mountain" was applied to the whole of Jerusalem cannot be made out from Psa 2:6; Psa 48:2., Isa 11:9; Isa 27:13, which have been adduced to prove the assertion. The prayer for the blessing implies that Zion will again be the seat of the Divine King of His people. Jer 31:24. "There dwell in it (in the land of Judah) Judah and all his towns," i.e., the population of Judah and of all its towns, as "husbandmen and (those who) pasture flocks," i.e., each one pursuing undisturbed his own peaceful employment, agriculture and cattle-rearing, and (Jer 31:25) so blessed in these callings that they are kept from every need and want. דּאבה may either be viewed as the perfect, before which the relative is to be supplied, or an adjectival form imitated from the Aramaic participle, masc. דּאב.
Thereupon the prophet awoke from his ecstatic sleep, and said, "My sleep was pleasant" (cf. Pro 3:24). Very many expositors, including Rosenmller, Umbreit, and Neumann among the moderns, understand the words, "therefore (or, because of this) I awoke," etc., as referring to God, because in what precedes and follows Jahveh speaks, and because God is sometimes, in the Psalms, called on to awake, e.g., Psa 7:7; Psa 35:23; Psa 44:24, etc. But it has been properly objected to this, that the words, "my sleep was sweet" (pleasant), are inappropriate as utterances of God, inasmuch as He does not sleep; nowhere in Scripture is sleep attributed to God, and the summons to awake merely implies the non-interference on the part of God in the affairs of His people. Moreover, we would need to refer the sleeping of God, mentioned in this verse, to His dealing towards Israel during the exile, in such a way that His conduct as a powerful judge would be compared to a sweet sleep - which is inconceivable. As little can the verse be supposed to contain words of the people languishing in exile, as Jerome has taken them. For the people could not possibly compare the time of oppression during the exile to a pleasant sleep. There is thus nothing left for us but to take this verse, as the Targum, Raschi, Kimchi, Venema, Dahler, Hitzig, Hengstenberg, and others have done, as a remark by the prophet regarding his feelings when he received this revelation; and we must accept something like the paraphrase of Tholuck (die Propheten, S. 68): "Because of such glorious promises I awoke to reflect on them, and my ecstatic sleep delighted me." This view is not rendered less tenable by the objection that Jeremiah nowhere says God had revealed Himself to him in a dream, and that, in what precedes, there is not to be found any intimation that what he sets forth appeared to him as a vision. For neither is there any intimation, throughout the whole prophecy, that he received it while in a waking state. The command of God, given Jer 30:2 at the first, to write in a book the words which Jahveh spoke to him, implies that the prophecy was not intended, in the first instance, to be publicly read before the people; moreover, it agrees with the assumption that he received the prophecy in a dream. But against the objection that Jeremiah never states, in any other place, in what bodily condition he was when he received his revelations from God, and that we cannot see why he should make such an intimation here - we may reply, with Ngelsbach, that this prophecy is the only one in the whole book which contains unmixed comfort, and that it is thus easy to explain why he could never forget that moment when, awaking after he had received it, he found he had experienced a sweet sleep. Still less weight is there in the objection of Graf, that one cannot comprehend why this remark stands here, because the description is evidently continued in what follows, while the dream must have ended here, when the prophet awoke. For this is against the assumption that the hand of the Lord immediately touched him again, and put him back into the ecstatic state. One might rather urge the consideration that the use of the word שׁנה, "sleep," does not certainly prove that the prophet was in the ecstatic state, from the fact that the lxx render תּר, in Gen 2:21 and Gen 15:2, by ἔκστασις. But wherever divine revelations were made in dreams, these of course presuppose sleep; so that the ecstatic state might also be properly called "sleep." Jeremiah adds, "And I looked," to signify that he had been thoroughly awakened, and, in complete self-consciousness, perceived that his sleep had been pleasant.
The renovation of Israel and Judah. - Jer 31:27. "Behold, days are coming, saith Jahveh, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with seed of men and seed of beasts. Jer 31:28. And it shall be that, just as I have watched over them to pluck up and to break down, to pull down and to destroy and to hurt, so shall I watch over them to build and to plant, saith Jahveh. Jer 31:29. In those days they shall no more say, 'Fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the teeth of the children become blunt;' Jer 31:30. But each man shall die for his own iniquity: every man who eats the sour grapes, his own teeth shall become blunted."
After announcement has been made, in what preceded, that both portions of the covenant people will be led back into their own land and re-established there, both are now combined, since they are again, at the restoration, to be united under one king, the sprout of David (cf. Jer 3:15, Jer 3:18), and to both there is promised great blessing, both temporal and spiritual. The house of Israel and the house of Judah, as separate nations, are represented as a fruitful field, which God will sow with men and cattle. בּהמּה, "cattle," the tame domestic animals, contribute to the prosperity of a nation. That this seed will mightily increase, is evident from the fact that God sows it, and (as is further stated in Jer 31:28) will watch over it as it grows. Whereas, hitherto, He has watched for the purpose of destroying and annihilating the people, because of their apostasy, He will in time to come watch for the purpose of planting and building them up. The prophet has hitherto been engaged in fulfilling, against the faithless people, the first part of the commission given him by the Lord when he was called to his office (Jer 1:10); hereafter, he will be engaged in building up. As certainly as the first has taken place - and of this the people have had practical experience - so certainly shall the other now take place.
The proverb, which Ezekiel also (Eze 18:2.) mentions and contends against, cannot mean, "The fathers have begun to eat sour grapes, but not till the teeth of their sons have become blunted by them" (Ngelsbach); the change of tense is against this, for, by the perfect אכלוּ and the imperfect תּקהינה, the blunting of the children's teeth is set down as a result of the fathers' eating. The proverb means, "Children atone for the misdeeds of their fathers," or "The sins of the fathers are visited on their innocent children." On this point, cf. the explanations given in Eze 18:2. "Then shall they no more say" is rightly explained by Hitzig to mean, "They shall have no more occasion to say." But the meaning of the words is not yet made plain by this; in particular, the question how we must understand Jer 31:30 is not settled. Graf, referring to Jer 23:7-8, supplies יאמרוּ after כּי־אם, and thus obtains the meaning, Then will they no more accuse God of unrighteousness, as in that wicked proverb, but they will perceive that every one has to suffer for his own guilt. Hitzig and Ngelsbach have declared against this insertion - the former with the remark that, in Jer 23:7-8, because both members of the sentence begin with protestations, the whole is clear, while here it is not so - the latter resting on the fact that the dropping of the proverb from current use certainly implies a correct knowledge of the righteousness of God, but one which is very elementary and merely negative; while, on the other hand, the whole connection of the passage now before us shows that it is intended to describe a period when the theocratic life is in a most flourishing condition. Then expositors take Jer 31:30 as the utterance of the prophet, and as embodying the notion that the average level of morality shall be so high at this future period, that only some sins will continue to be committed, and these as isolated exceptions to the rule. Taken all in all, Israel will be a holy people, in which the general spirit pervading them will repress the evil in some individuals, that would otherwise manifest itself. But we cannot imagine how these ideas can be supposed to be contained in the words, "Every man shall die for his own sins," etc. Jer 31:30 unquestionably contains the opposite of Jer 31:29. The proverb mentioned in Jer 31:29 involves the complaint against God, that in punishing sin He deals unjustly. According to this view, Jer 31:30 must contain the declaration that, in the future, the righteousness of God is to be revealed in the punishment of sins. As we have already remarked on Eze 18:3., the verse in question rather means, that after the re-establishment of Israel, the Lord will make known to His people His grace in so glorious a manner that the favoured ones will fully perceive the righteousness of His judgments. The experience of the unmerited love and compassion of the Lord softens the heart so much, that the favoured one no longer doubts the righteousness of the divine punishment. Such knowledge of true blessedness cannot be called elementary; rather, it implies a deep experience of divine grace and a great advance in the life of faith. Nor does the verse contain a judgment expressed by the prophet in opposition to that of his contemporaries, but it simply declares that the opinion contained in that current proverb shall no longer be accepted then, but the favoured people will recognise in the death of the sinner the punishment due to them for their own sin. Viewed in this manner, these verses prepare the way for the following announcement concerning the nature of the new covenant.
The new covenant. - Jer 31:31. "Behold, days are coming, saith Jahveh, when I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant; Jer 31:32. Not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I laid hold of their hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which covenant of mine they broke, though I had married them to myself, saith Jahveh; Jer 31:33. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Jahveh: I will put my law within them, and on their heart will I write it; and I will become to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. Jer 31:34. And they shall no more teach every man his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, Know ye Jahveh, for all of them shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith Jahveh; for I will pardon their iniquity, and their sins will I remember no more. Jer 31:35. Thus saith Jahveh, [who] gives the sun for light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and stars for light by night, who rouses the sea so that its waves roar, Jahveh of hosts is His name: Jer 31:36. If these ordinances move away from before me, saith Jahveh, then also will the seed of Israel cease to be a people before me for ever. Jer 31:37. Thus saith Jahveh: If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be searched out, then will I also reject all the seed of Israel because of all that they have done, saith Jahveh. Jer 31:38. Behold, days come, saith Jahveh, when the city shall be built for Jahveh, from the tower of Hananeel unto the gate of the corner, Jer 31:39. And the measuring-line shall once more go out straight over the hill of Gareb, and turn round towards Goah. Jer 31:40. And all the valley of the corpses and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the valley of Kidron, unto the corner of the gate of the horses towards the east, [shall be] holiness to Jahveh; it shall not be plucked up nor pulled down again for ever.
The re-establishment of Israel reaches its completion in the making of a new covenant, according to which the law of God is written in the hearts of the people; thereby Israel becomes in truth the people of the Lord, and the knowledge of God founded on the experience of the forgiveness of sins is such that there is no further need of any external means like mutual teaching about God (Jer 31:31-34). This covenant is to endure for ever, like the unchangeable ordinances of nature (Jer 31:35-37); and in consequence of this, Jerusalem shall be guilt as the holy city of God, which shall never be destroyed again (Jer 31:38-40).
כּרת בּרית does not mean "to make an appointment," but "to conclude a covenant," to establish a relation of mutual duties and obligations. Every covenant which God concludes with men consists, on the side of God, in assurance of His favours and actual bestowal of them; these bind men to the keeping of the commands laid on them. The covenant which the Lord will make with all Israel in the future is called "a new covenant," as compared with that made with the fathers at Sinai, when the people were led out of Egypt; this latter is thus implicitly called the "old covenant." The words, "on the day when I took them by the hand," etc., must not be restricted, on the one side, to the day of the exodus from Egypt, nor, on the other, to the day when the covenant was solemnly made at Sinai; they rather refer to the whole time of the exodus, which did not reach its termination till the entrance into Canaan, though it culminated in the solemn admission of Israel, at Sinai, as the people of Jahveh; see on Jer 7:22. (On the punctuation of החזיקי, cf. Ewald, 238, d, Olshaus. Gramm. 191,f.) אשׁר is not a conjunction, "quod, because," but a relative pronoun, and must be combined with את־בּריתי, "which my covenant," i.e., which covenant of mine. "They" stands emphatically in contrast with "though I" in the following circumstantial clause, which literally means, "but I have married them to myself," or, "I was their husband." As to בּעלתּי, see on Jer 3:14. Hengstenberg wrongly takes the words as a promise, "but I will marry them to myself;" this view, however, is incompatible with the perfect, and the position of the words as a contrast with "they broke."
(Note: In the citation of this passage in Heb 8:8., the words are quoted according to the lxx version, κᾀγὼ ἠμέλησα αὐτῶν, although this translation is incorrect, because the apostle does not use these words in proving any point. These same words, moreover, have been rendered by the lxx, in Jer 3:14, ἐγὼ κατακυριεύσω ὑμῶν.)
The two closely connected expressions indicate why a new covenant was necessary; there is no formal statement, however, of the reason, which is merely given in a subordinate and appended clause. For the proper reason why a new covenant is made is not that the people have broken the old one, but that, though Jahveh had united Israel to Himself, they have broken the covenant and thereby rendered it necessary to make a new one. God the Lord, in virtue of His unchangeable faithfulness, would not alter the relation He had Himself established in His love, but simply found it anew in a way which obviated the breaking of the covenant by Israel. For it was a defect connected with the covenant made with Israel at Sinai, that it could be broken on their part. This defect is not to exist in the new covenant which God will make in after times. The expression "after those (not these) days" is remarkable; ההם is not the same as האלּה, and yet the days meant can only be the "coming days;" accordingly, it is "those days" (as in Jer 31:29) that are to be expected. The expression "after these days" is inexact, and probably owes its origin to the idea contained in the phrase "in the end of the days" (בּאחרית, cf. Jer 23:20).
The character of the new covenant: "I (Jahveh) give (will put) my law within them, and write it upon their heart." בּקרבּם is the opposite of נתן לפניהם, which is constantly used of the Sinaitic law, cf. Jer 9:12; Deu 4:8; Deu 11:32; Kg1 9:6; and the "writing on the heart" is opposed to writing on the tables of stone, Exo 31:18, cf. Jer 32:15., Jer 34:8, Deu 4:13; Deu 9:11; Deu 10:4, etc. The difference, therefore, between the old and the new covenants consists in this, that in the old the law was laid before the people that they might accept it and follow it, receiving it into their hearts, as the copy of what God not merely required of men, but offered and vouchsafed to them for their happiness; while in the new it is put within, implanted into the heart and soul by the Spirit of God, and becomes the animating life-principle, Co2 3:3. The law of the Lord thus forms, in the old as well as in the new covenant, the kernel and essence of the relation instituted between the Lord and His people; and the difference between the two consists merely in this, that the will of God as expressed in the law under the old covenant was presented externally to the people, while under the new covenant it is to become an internal principle of life. Now, even in the old covenant, we not only find that Israel is urged to receive the law of the Lord his God into his heart, - to make the law presented to him from without the property of his heart, as it were, - but even Moses, we also find, promises that God will circumcise the heart of the people, that they may love God the Lord with all their heart and all their soul (Deu 30:6). But this circumcision of heart and this love of God with the whole soul, which are repeatedly required in the law (Deu 6:5; Deu 10:12, Deu 10:16), are impossibilities, unless the law be received into the heart. It thus appears that the difference between the old and the new covenants must be reduced to this, that what was commanded and applied to the heart in the old is given in the new, and the new is but the completion of the old covenant. This is, indeed, the true relation between them, as is clearly shown by the fact, that the essential element of the new covenant, "I will be their God, and they shall be my people," was set forth as the object of the old; cf. Lev 26:12 with Exo 29:45. Nevertheless the difference is not merely one of degree, but one of kind. The demands of the law, "Keep the commandments of your God," "Be ye holy as the Lord your God is holy," cannot be fulfilled by sinful man. Even when he strives most earnestly to keep the commands of the law, he cannot satisfy its requirements. The law, with its rigid demands, can only humble the sinner, and make him beseech God to blot out his sin and create in him a clean heart (Psa 51:11.); it can only awaken him to the perception of sin, but cannot blot it out. It is God who must forgive this, and by forgiving it, write His will on the heart. The forgiveness of sin, accordingly, is mentioned, Jer 31:34, at the latter part of the promise, as the basis of the new covenant. But the forgiveness of sins is a work of grace which annuls the demand of the law against men. In the old covenant, the law with its requirements is the impelling force; in the new covenant, the grace shown in the forgiveness of sins is the aiding power by which man attains that common life with God which the law sets before him as the great problem of life. It is in this that the qualitative difference between the old and the new covenants consists. The object which both set before men for attainment is the same, but the means of attaining it are different in each. In the old covenant are found commandment and requirement; in the new, grace and giving. Certainly, even under the old covenant, God bestowed on the people of Israel grace and the forgiveness of sins, and, by the institution of sacrifice, had opened up a way of access by which men might approach Him and rejoice in His gracious gifts; His Spirit, moreover, produced in the heart of the godly ones the feeling that their sins were forgiven, and that they were favoured of God. But even this institution and this working of the Holy Spirit on and in the heart, was no more than a shadow and prefiguration of what is actually offered and vouchsafed under the new covenant, Heb 10:1. The sacrifices of the old covenant are but prefigurations of the true atoning-offering of Christ, by which the sins of the whole world are atoned for and blotted out.
In Jer 31:34 are unfolded the results of God's putting His law in the heart. The knowledge of the Lord will then no longer be communicated by the outward teaching of every man to his fellow, but all, small and great, will be enlightened and taught by the Spirit of God (Isa 54:13) to know the Lord; cf. Joe 3:1., Isa 11:9. These words do not imply that, under the new covenant, "the office of the teacher of religion must cease" (Hitzig); and as little is "disparity in the imparting of the knowledge of God silently excluded" in Jer 31:33. The meaning simply is this, that the knowledge of God will then no longer be dependent on the communication and instruction of man. The knowledge of Jahveh, of which the prophet speaks, is not the theoretic knowledge which is imparted and acquired by means of religious instruction; it is rather knowledge of divine grace based upon the inward experience of the heart, which knowledge the Holy Spirit works in the heart by assuring the sinner that he has indeed been adopted as a son of God through the forgiveness of his sins. This knowledge, as being an inward experience of grace, does not exclude religious instruction, but rather tacitly implies that there is intimation given of God's desire to save and of His purpose of grace. The correct understanding of the words results from a right perception of the contrast involved in them, viz., that under the old covenant the knowledge of the Lord was connected with the mediation of priests and prophets. Just as, at Sinai, the sinful people could not endure that the Lord should address them directly, but retreated, terrified by the awful manifestation of the Lord on the mountain, and said entreatingly to Moses, "Speak thou with us and we will hear, but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Exo 20:15); so, under the old covenant economy generally, access to the Lord was denied to individuals, and His grace was only obtained by the intervention of human mediators. This state of matters has been abolished under the new covenant, inasmuch as the favoured sinner is placed in immediate relation to God by the Holy Spirit. Heb 4:16; Eph 3:12.
In order to give good security that the promise of a new covenant would be fulfilled, the Lord, in Jer 31:35., points to the everlasting duration of the arrangements of nature, and declares that, if this order of nature were to cease, then Israel also would cease to be a people before Him; i.e., the continuance of Israel as the people of God shall be like the laws of nature. Thus the eternal duration of the new covenant is implicitly declared. Hengstenberg contests the common view of Jer 31:35 and Jer 31:36, according to which the reference is to the firm, unchangeable continuance of God's laws in nature, which everything must obey; and he is of opinion that, in Jer 31:35, it is merely the omnipotence of God that is spoken of, that this proves He is God and not man, and that there is thus formed a basis for the statement set forth in Jer 31:35, so full of comfort for the doubting covenant people; that God does not life, that He can never repent of His covenant and His promises. But the arguments adduced for this, and against the common view, are not decisive. The expression "stirring the sea, so that its waves roar," certainly serves in the original passage, Isa 51:15, from which Jeremiah has taken it, to bring the divine omnipotence into prominence; but it does not follow from this that here also it is merely the omnipotence of God that is pointed out. Although, in rousing the sea, "no definite rule that we can perceive is observed, no uninterrupted return," yet it is repeated according to the unchangeable ordinance of God, though not every day, like the rising and setting of the heavenly bodies. And in Jer 31:35, under the expression "these ordinances" are comprehended the rousing of the sea as well as the movements of the moon and stars; further, the departure, i.e., the cessation, of these natural phenomena is mentioned as impossible, to signify that Israel cannot cease to exist as a people; hence the emphasis laid on the immutability of these ordinances of nature. Considered in itself, the putting of the sun for a light by day, and the appointment of the moon and stars for a light by night, are works of the almighty power of God, just as the sea is roused so that its waves roar; but, that these phenomena never cease, but always recur as long as the present world lasts, is a proof of the immutability of these works of the omnipotence of God, and it is this point alone which here receives consideration. "The ordinances of the moon and of the stars" mean the established arrangements as regards the phases of the moon, and the rising and setting of the different stars. "From being a nation before me" declares not merely the continuance of Israel as a nation, so that they shall not disappear from the earth, just as so many others perish in the course of ages, but also their continuance before Jahveh, i.e., as His chosen people; cf. Jer 30:20. - This positive promise regarding the continuance of Israel is confirmed by a second simile, in Jer 31:37, which declares the impossibility of rejection. The measurement of the heavens and the searching of the foundations, i.e., of the inmost depths, of the earth, is regarded as an impossibility. God will not reject the whole seed of Israel: here כּל is to be attentively considered. As Hengstenberg correctly remarks, the hypocrites are deprived of the comfort which they could draw from these promises. Since the posterity of Israel are not all rejected, the rejection of the dead members of the people, i.e., unbelievers, is not thereby excluded, but included. That the whole cannot perish "is no bolster for the sin of any single person." The prophet adds: "because of all that they have done," i.e., because of their sins, their apostasy from God, in order to keep believing ones from despair on account of the greatness of their sins. On this, Calvin makes the appropriate remark: Consulto propheta hic proponit scelera populi, ut sciamus superiorem fore Dei clementiam, nec congeriem tot malorum fore obstaculo, quominus Deus ignoscat. If we keep before our mind these points in the promise contained in this verse, we shall not, like Graf, find in Jer 31:37 merely a tame repetition of what has already been said, and be inclined to take the verse as a superfluous marginal gloss.
(Note: Hitzig even thinks that, "because the style and the use of language betoken the second Isaiah, and the order of both strophes is reversed in the lxx (i.e., Jer 31:37 stands before Jer 31:35.), Jer 31:35, Jer 31:36 may have stood in the margin at the beginning of the genuine portion in Jer 31:27-34, and Jer 31:37, on the other hand, in the margin at Jer 31:34." But, that the verses, although they present reminiscences of the second Isaiah, do not quite prove that the language is his, has already been made sufficiently evident by Graf, who points out that, in the second Isaiah, המה is nowhere used of the roaring of the sea, nor do we meet with חקּות and חקּים, ישׁבּתוּ מהיות, כּל־היּמים, nor again הקר in the Niphal, or מוסדי ארץ (but מוסדות in Isa 40:21); other expressions are not peculiar to the second Isaiah, since they also occur in other writings. - But the transposition of the verses in the lxx, in view of the arbitrary treatment of the text of Jeremiah in that version, cannot be made to prove anything whatever.)
Then shall Jerusalem be built up as a holy city of God, and be no more destroyed. After ימים, the Masoretic text wants בּאים, which is supplied in the Qeri. Hengstenberg is of opinion that the expression was abbreviated here, inasmuch as it has already occurred before, several times, in its full form (Jer 31:27 and Jer 31:31); but Jeremiah does not usually abbreviate when he repeats an expression, and באים has perhaps been dropped merely through an error in transcription. "The city shall be built for Jahveh," so that it thenceforth belongs to Him, is consecrated to Him. The extent of the new city is described as being "from the tower of Hananeel to the gate of the corner." The tower of Hananeel, according to Neh 3:1 and Zac 4:10, was situated on the north-east corner of the city wall; the gate of the corner was at the north-west corner of the city, to the north or north-west of the present "Jaffa Gate;" see on Kg2 14:13; Ch2 26:9; cf. Zac 14:10. This account thus briefly describes the whole north side. Jer 31:39. The measuring-line (קוה as found here, Kg1 7:23 and Zac 1:16, is the original form, afterwards shortened into קו, the Qeri) further goes out נגדּו, "before itself," i.e., straight out over the hill Gareb. על does not mean "away towards, or on" (Hitzig); nor is the true reading עד, "as far as, even to," which is met with in several codices: the correct rendering is "away over," so that a part, at least, of the hill was included within the city bounds. "And turns towards Goah." These two places last named are unknown. From the context of the passage only this much is clear, that both of them were situated on the west of the city; for the starting-point of the line spoken of is in the north-west, and the valley of Ben-hinnom joins in at the end of it, in the south, Jer 31:40. גּרב means "itching," for גּרב in Lev 21:20; Lev 22:22 means "the itch;" in Arabic also "the leprosy." From this, many expositors infer that the hill Gareb was the hill where lepers were obliged to dwell by themselves, outside the city. This supposition is probable; there is no truth, however, in the assumption of Schleussner, Krafft (Topogr. von Jerus. S. 158), Hitzig, and Hengstenberg, that the hill Bezetha, included within the city bounds by the third wall of Agrippa, is the one meant; for the line described in Jer 31:39 is not to be sought for on the north side of the city. With Graf, we look for the hill Gareb on the mount which lies westward from the valley of Ben-hinnom and at the end of the valley of Rephaim, towards the north (Jos 15:8; Jos 18:16), so that it is likely we must consider it to be identical with "the top of the mountain" mentioned in these passages. This mountain is the rocky ridge which bounds the valley of Ben-hinnom on the west, and stretches northwards, on the west side of the valley of Gihon and the Lower Pool (Birket es Sultn), to near the high road to Jaffa, where it turns off towards the west on the under (i.e., south) side of the Upper Pool (Birket el Mamilla); see on Jos 15:8. It is not, as Thenius supposes (Jerusalem before the Exile, an appendix to his commentary on the Books of Kings), the bare rocky hill situated on the north, and overhanging the Upper Pool; on this view, Goah could only be the steep descent from the plateau into the valley of Kidron, opposite this hill, towards the east. Regarding Goah, only this much can be said with certainty, that the supposition, made by Vitringa and Hengstenberg, of a connection between the name and Golgotha, is untenable; lexical considerations and facts are all against it. Golgotha was situated in the north-west: Goah must be sought for south-west from Jerusalem. The translation of the Chaldee, "cattle-pond," is a mere inference from גּעה, "to bellow." But, in spite of the uncertainty experienced in determining the positions of the hill Gareb and Goah, this much is evident from the verse before us, that the city, which is thus to be built anew, will extend to the west beyond the space occupied by old Jerusalem, and include within it districts or spots which lay outside old (i.e., pre-and post-exile) Jerusalem, and which had been divided off from the city, as unclean places.
In Jer 31:40, without any change of construction, the southern border is described. "The whole valley of the corpses and of the ashes...shall be holy to Jahveh," i.e., be included within the space occupied by the new city. By "the valley of the corpses and of the ashes" expositors generally and rightly understand the valley of Ben-hinnom (פּגרים are the carcases of animals that have been killed, and of men who have been slain through some judgment of God and been left unburied). Jeremiah applies this name to the valley, because, in consequence of the pollution by Josiah of the place where the abominations had been offered to Moloch (Kg2 23:10), it had become a sort of slaughtering-place or tan-yard for the city. According to Lev 6:3, דּשׁן means the ashes of the burnt-offerings consumed on the altar. According to Lev 4:12 and Lev 6:4, these were to be carried from the ash-heap near the altar, out of the city, to a clean place; but they might also be considered as the gross deposit of the sacrifices, and thus as unclean. Hence also it came to pass that all the sweepings of the temple were probably brought to this place where the ashes were, which thus became still more unclean. Instead of השּׁרמות, the Qeri requires השּׁדמות , and, in fact, the former word may not be very different from שׁדמות קדרון, Kg2 23:4, whither Josiah caused all the instruments used in idolatrous worship to be brought and burned. But it is improbable that שׁרמות is a mere error in transcription for שׁדמות. The former word is found nowhere else; not even does the verb שׁרם occur. The latter noun, which is quite well known, could not readily be written by mistake for the former; and even if such an error had been committed, it would not have gained admission into all the MSS, so that even the lxx should have that reading, and give the word as ̓Ασαρημώθ, in Greek characters. We must, then, consider שׁרמות as the correct reading, and derive the word from Arab. srm, or s]rm, or s[rm, "to cut off, cut to pieces," in the sense of "ravines, hollows" (Arab. s]arm), or loca abscissa, places cut off or shut out from the holy city. "Unto the brook of Kidron," into which the valley of Ben-hinnom opens towards the east, "unto the corner of the horse-gate towards the east." The horse-gate stood on the site of the modern "Dung-gate" (Ba=b el Mogha=riebh), in the wall which ran along from the south-east end of Zion to the western border of Ophel (see on Neh 3:28), so that, in this verse before us, it is the south and south-eastern boundaries of the city that are given; and only the length of the eastern side, which enclosed the temple area, on to the north-eastern corner, has been left without mention, because the valley of the Kidron here formed a strong boundary.
The extent of the new city, as here given, does not much surpass that of old Jerusalem. Only in the west and south are tracts to be included within the city, and such tracts, too, as had formerly been excluded from the old city, as unclean places. Jeremiah accordingly announces, not merely that there will be a considerable increase in the size of Jerusalem, but that the whole city shall be holy to the Lord, the unclean places in its vicinity shall disappear, and be transformed into hallowed places of the new city. As being sacred to the Lord, the city shall no more be destroyed.
From this description of Jerusalem which is to be built anew, so that the whole city, including the unclean places now outside of it, shall be holy, or a sanctuary of the Lord, it is very evident that this prophecy does not refer to the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile, but, under the figure of Jerusalem, as the centre of the kingdom of God under the Old Testament, announces the erection of a more spiritual kingdom of God in the Messianic age. The earthly Jerusalem was a holy city only in so far as the sanctuary of the Lord, the temple, had been built in it. Jeremiah makes no mention of the rebuilding of the temple, although he had prophesied the destruction, not only of the city, but also of the temple. But he represents the new city as being, in its whole extent, the sanctuary of the Lord, which the temple only had been, in ancient Jerusalem. Cf. as a substantial parallel, Zac 14:10-11. - The erection of Jerusalem into a city, within whose walls there shall be nothing unholy, implies the vanquishment of sin, from which all impurity proceeds; it is also the ripe fruit of the forgiveness of sins, in which the new covenant, which the Lord will make with His people in the days to come, consists and culminates. This prophecy, then, reaches on to the time when the kingdom of God shall have been perfected: it contains, under an old Testament dress, the outlines of the image of the heavenly Jerusalem, which the seer perceives at Patmos in its full glory. This image of the new Jerusalem thus forms a very suitable conclusion to this prophecy regarding the restoration of Israel, which, although it begins with the deliverance of the covenant people from their exile, is yet thoroughly Messianic. Though clothed in an Old Testament dress, it does not implicitly declare that Israel shall be brought back to their native land during the period extending from the time of Cyrus to that of Christ; but, taking this interval as its stand-point, it combines in one view both the deliverance from the exile and the redemption by the Messiah, and not merely announces the formation of the new covenant in its beginnings, when the Christian Church was founded, but at the same time points to the completion of the kingdom of God under the new covenant, in order to show the whole extent of the salvation which the Lord will prepare for His people who return to Him. If these last verses have not made the impression on Graf's mind, that they could well have formed the original conclusion to the prophecy which precedes, the reason lies simply in the theological inability of their expositor to get to the bottom of the sacred writings.