Jeremiah 31 Commentary

The people return home (31:1-22)

God has not forgotten any of his people who have been driven into a harsh existence in distant countries. Those of both the northern kingdom Israel and the southern kingdom Judah will share in the restoration to the land of their ancestors (31:1-3). They will be reunited in a land of renewed contentment and prosperity. They will join again in the national religious festivals at Jerusalem (4-6).

The prophet pictures the joyous journey back to Palestine. Even the blind and the lame join in the long trek back, because God strengthens them and supplies their needs along the way. He cares for them as a father cares for his firstborn son (7-9). The God who scattered his people in many lands now gathers them. He releases them from the power of those who have held them captive (10-11). God will protect and care for his people, giving them agricultural prosperity, social contentment and religious satisfaction (12-14).

When the people go into captivity there is weeping and mourning (15), but God wants this to be replaced with rejoicing and hope (16-17). First, however, the people must acknowledge that they have sinned and that God has acted justly in punishing them. They pray to God in an attitude of humble repentance (18-19), and God, as their loving and merciful Father, forgives them (20).

In view of their expected return, the prophet suggests that when the people go into captivity, they leave markers along the way. This will enable them to know the pathway back to their homeland.

Although the nation goes into captivity as an unfaithful daughter, she will be cleansed and will return as a pure bride. God is going to reverse the normal course of events; he is going to create something new (21- 22).

A new city and a new age (31:23-40)

Jeremiah has a vision of Jerusalem as a city of righteousness and Judah as a land of contentment. It is a vision that gives him the satisfaction of a pleasant dream (23-26). God had been responsible for the devastation of their land in the past, but he will also be responsible for its productivity in the future (27- 28). The people by then will have learnt the lessons of their captivity. They will no longer blame their forefathers for their misfortunes, but will realize that people are punished for their own sins (29-30).

The people of Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant that God made with them at Sinai, and therefore they never enjoyed the close relation with God that he intended for them. God now promises to make a new covenant (31-32).

God’s new covenant will not be spoiled by people’s imperfections, because it will not depend upon their obedience to a set of laws. God will change people by working within them, by giving them a better knowledge of his will and the inner strength to carry it out. Instead of priests alone being able to approach God, all will know God. People will not need priests as mediators between them and God, because God himself will deal with their sins. He will remove all barriers and bring them into direct fellowship with himself (33-34).

(This new covenant came into being through the death of Jesus Christ. All who have faith in him receive its blessings. For the New Testament development of Jeremiah’s prophecy see Heb 8:6-13; 9:15; 10:12-18; Gal 3:14,28-29.)

As surely as God will continue to control the universe, so just as surely will he restore Israel and Judah to their land (35-37). Jerusalem will be rebuilt and possibly extended beyond its former boundaries. Places around the city that were formerly defiled will be purified, so that Jerusalem becomes a city entirely dedicated to God (38-40).

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