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Jeremiah 31:1 At that time, says Yahweh, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people- The intention was that the ten tribes along with Judah would repent and return together to Zion, entering covenant relationship again under a new covenant based upon the promises to Abraham, whereby all Abraham's seed were God's people (Gen. 17:8). It is the common relationship of God's people to the same one God, the joint experience of repentance and forgiveness, which binds His people together. This potential didn't happen, and therefore is delayed until the last days and also reapplied in the experience of God's redeemed people today.

Jeremiah 31:2 Thus says Yahweh, The people who were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest-
The implication is that many Israelites perished in Egypt by "the sword", and then found grace in the covenant made with them after leaving Egypt, in the Sinai wilderness. "The sword" is used to heighten the similarities with those who survived the Babylonian onslaught, and in "the wilderness" of Babylon became the good figs of Jer. 24 who would repent and also find grace in a new covenant. That was the intention. Despite living in houses in Babylon on a permanent basis (Jer. 29:28), they were (like us) to perceive that life as temporary, and the sophisticated city of Babylon as a wilderness. As God caused Israel to find "rest" in the promised land through Joshua-Jesus, so the exiles were intended to; and so can we in some sense allow God to cause us to enter into that rest (Heb. 4:3). Despite God causing them to enter the rest, they didn't (Heb. 3:11). The causative power of God was refused by them, just as His people today can refuse the Holy Spirit's work.

They found grace in that they left Egypt taking the idols of Egypt with them, and actually wanted to return to Egypt. Just as Hosea knowingly married a prostitute, as God knew Israel's unfaithfulness from the start. The hint is that Israel in exile could likewise be saved by grace. 

Yahweh had promised that He would lead His people on that wilderness journey from Babylon to Zion just as He had earlier led His people from Egypt to the same promised land. Jer. 31:2 had encouraged them that Israel “found grace in the wilderness” before, and they would do again, “When I go to cause [Israel] to go to their place of rest” (RV). God had promised in Jer. 31:9 that He would bring Israel on their journey from Babylon to Judah along the fertile crescent- He would “cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble”.  This is why Isaiah’s prophecies of the restoration from Babylon are shot through with allusion to the exodus and wilderness journey (e.g. Is. 43:2; 51:10; 63:11). Jer. 31:2 had prophesied of the returning Jews: “The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest”- just as Zech. 1:11 describes the land being “at rest” when they returned to rebuild Zion. My point is that Yahweh didn’t give up with His people because many chose to remain in Babylon, and those who did make the journey didn’t believe His promises of protection very strongly. He zealously worked with whatever they could present Him with. And yet in the immediate context, we read later in Jeremiah of how the Jews who were left in the land chose to go to live in Egypt rather than participate in this potential exodus from Egypt. They refused the potential of the new covenant.

Jeremiah 31:3 Yahweh appeared of old to me saying, Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you-
This had been Jeremiah's consistent message; that although he had to speak of judgment to come, the essence was God's love. As God potentially caused them to enter the reset (:2), so He drew them out of Egypt into the desert by grace, and so would He do in returning the exiles from Babylon to the promised land. But most preferred to remain in Babylon, just as the call of the Kingdom is resisted by many today. The Hebrew for "loving kindness" is related to the word for "grace" in :2. Perhaps Jeremiah as Judah's representative experienced this 'drawing up' unto salvation when he was "drawn up" out of certain death in the dungeon (Jer. 38:13, s.w. "with loving kindness have I drawn you [up]", Jer. 31:3).

Jeremiah 31:4 Again will I build you, and you shall be built, O virgin of Israel-
But Judah easily gave up the work of building; they had to be constantly coaxed to get on with it by Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. They were, however, effectively declining to allow themselves to be built up into God’s Kingdom, because they were too worried about building their own houses than God’s. And so insofar as we too decline the spiritual upbuilding which there is available in God’s word, so we decline a part in God’s work of building a house for His Name. God would “build you, and you shall be built, O virgin of Israel”. The “virgin” here refers to the temple which was to be built by God, and yet it also clearly refers to the actual people of Judah who returned. In other words, their attitude to the temple was their attitude to themselves. Because they had such a low value of their own worth before God, they treated His work with a similar low value. And there is a great lesson for us here.  

The promise of being built had been conditional upon their obedience in Jer. 12:16 ("if... then shall they be built..."). But now it appears the condition has been dropped. 

Again you shall be adorned with your tambourines, and shall go forth in the dances of those who make merry- The allusion is to Miriam and the women of Israel rejoicing after the exodus from Egypt. But as noted above, the Jews chose to go to Egypt rather than share this potential. Jer. 31:15 (cp. Mt. 2:18)  speaks of how Rachel weeps for her slain children, but here she is portrayed as a virgin who takes her tambourine in hand and dances, entering a new covenant with her ba'al, her Lord, her husband, who has obliterated the memory of all her sins in a way that only a Divine being could do. Women in love are stereotypically associated with emotions of giddiness, hysteria, excitement, joy... and this is the language applied to weeping Rachel, weeping over the children God had taken from her. And yet... according to the New Testament quotations and expositions of Jer. 31, this is the very same 'new covenant' into which we enter in baptism. This is God's joy over us, and it should be ours over Him. The "Again..." suggests that as Miriam and the women of Israel celebrated the Red Sea deliverance with tambourines and dancing, so all Israel would rejoice at the deliverance from Babylon. And yet most didn't want to leave Babylon, and the miserable few who did respond to Cyrus' decree returned seeking their own material benefit and grumbled at the famine they found in the land. This was because they had not really repented.


Jeremiah 31:5 Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy its fruit-
The reference to Samaria reminds us that the ten and two tribes were to be united; see on :1. They did this at the restoration, but became so obsessed with treading out the grapes that they did it even on the Sabbath, and thereby disallowed the fulfillment of the Kingdom  prophecies which were dependent upon them keeping the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15; Isaiah 58:13).

AV: "the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things". Under the law of Moses, the planter couldn't eat of the fruit of a vineyard until the fifth year after planting. For the first three years it was considered uncircumcised, unclean, and therefore not to be eaten; in the fourth year it was holy to the Lord, the fruit belonged to Him; in the fifth year the planter could eat of it for himself (Lev. 19:23-25). But under the new covenant, the formerly unclean could be eaten; just as the description of the new boundaries of Jerusalem later in this chapter include places previously thought to be unclean. The unclean would be counted clean- that's the message. And that was to be true of people too.   

Jeremiah 31:6 For there shall be a day when the watchmen on the hills of Ephraim shall cry, Arise, and let us go up to Zion to Yahweh our God-
The reference to Ephraim reminds us that the ten and two tribes were to be united; see on :1. The ten tribes would worship at Zion in the rebuilt temple, and not in Jeroboam's high places. But most of them chose to remain in captivity; so much potential was wasted. The new covenant would bring unity between God's people. And those of His people who refuse to live like that are thus placing their covenant relationship with God in question.

Jeremiah 31:7 For thus says Yahweh, Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout for the chief of the nations: publish, praise, and say, Yahweh, save Your people, the remnant of Israel-
It was God's intention that the restoration would not only unite Israel and Judah (see on :1), but the surrounding nations would turn to Yahweh and rejoice in His grace to Jacob; they would urge Yahweh onwards in saving His people, and share in that gracious redemption.

Jeremiah 31:8 Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the uttermost parts of the earth, along with the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her who travails with child together: a great company shall they return here-
The language of lame, limping Jacob and his wives and their children together all suggests Jacob returning from exile to his homeland. This could have happened at the restoration. "Company" translates a Hebrew word often used in the prophets of the company of nations associated with Egypt or Babylon, who would invade Israel and then be punished (Ez. 32:23 etc.). But the promises to Abraham were that a "company" (s.w.) of nations would and could become part of Abraham's seed (Gen. 28:3; 35:11; 48:4). The "great company" who were to participate in the restoration of God's Kingdom in Israel was intended to include this great company of Gentile nations, who at that time were to be judged but were intended along with the remnant of Judah to repent and come into covenant relationship with Yahweh, to "know Yahweh" as Ezekiel often expresses it. “A great company” didn’t return from Babylon, according to the records in Ezra and Nehemiah. The majority chose to stay in comfortable Babylon.

Lame, disabled [limping] and women in labour are a way of saying "Vulnerable people". But it seems the idea is that these vulnerable, forgotten, not public people lead the triumphant procession to Zion. It is the classic inversion; not the brave warriors, but the weak and vulnerable and non-military people who are the true victors. They come not simply with cries of joy and triumph, but with weeping for their sins (:9), again an inversion of the image of the 'triumphant return home'.

Often Jeremiah has used the image of a woman in labour to describe the trauma of the Babylonian invasion and exile (Jer. 4:31; 6:24; 13:21; 22:23; 30:6, e.g. "Inhabitant of Lebanon, who makes your nest in the cedars, how greatly to be pitied you will be when pangs come on you, the pain as of a woman in travail!"). That labour was in vain if no repentance had been elicited, if no "new man" had been born out of it. But now the women in labour return in triumph, in that they come with weeping for sins (:9). Indeed pain in labour is a result of sin, part of the curse of Gen. 3:16. But out of the results of sin and the suffering for sin, there comes wonderful new life. There's so much pain in the book of Jeremiah; and the lesson is that pain and suffering only has meaning if we let it work its intended fruit. Otherwise it is all the more tragic. So in this image, the cries of the women in labour are cries of repentance for sin (:9), and so the pain brings forth new birth. Hosea laments that Israel were in the pain of a woman stuck in labour, whose child remained at the critical and most painful point. Or as in Hezekiah's time, the child came to the birth but there was not strength to bring it forth.

There is also the suggestion that  even the feeble and frail, those who ordinarily would not have strength for so long a journey, would be empowered to make it. We likewise who cannot make the journey... are likewise empowered.

Jeremiah 31:9 They shall come with weeping; and with petitions will I lead them-
The weeping would be in repentance and they would be lead back to Zion in response to their petitions. And yet it would also be with the joy of people who know they have been forgiven (:4). But this wasn't the scene at the restoration; those who returned came as colonists do, seeking land for themselves and a good life. And they found famine in the land and cities in ruins. LXX, “They went forth with weeping, but with consolation will I bring them back". This matches the later prophecy that Rachel need not weep for her children because they will return. They didn't. We can understand this to be a wasted potential, which indeed it was; but the theme of the new covenant appears to be that these people who went into captivity will return to the land and stand there redeemed and transformed. And that can only really come about by a literal resurrection of "all Israel" by grace alone. 


I will cause them to walk by rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My first born- Both Ezra and Nehemiah wanted to have a Babylonian military escort on the journey back; they weren’t sure that they would be given “a straight way” with Yahweh’s protection. Neh. 4:10 records that “Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed [s.w. “stumble”, Jer. 31:9], and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall”. They were easily discouraged by the words of the surrounding world, by the apparent hopelessness of their task; and thus they stumbled. Ezra 8:21 LXX describes how Ezra fasted for them to be given a “straight way”, as Jeremiah had foretold they could have. He saw the need for them to make the effort to fulfill the prophecy. Note how Ezekiel’s vision of the cherubim featured “straight” progress; the wheels on earth surely connect with how Israel should have been, moving in a straight way back to the land, in harmony with the Angel-cherubim above them likewise moving in a straight way. But they failed to “keep in step with the Spirit”... They were to walk “each one straight before him” (Is. 57:2 RVmg.), as each of the cherubim went straight ahead (Ez. 1:12). Ps. 107:2,7 RV speak of Israel being gathered out of the nations and being led in a “straight way” to Zion, as they had [potentially] been enabled to do on their departure from Egypt. Yet then they spent 38 years walking a distance coverable in just 11 days- because they did not walk in the “straight way”. The house of Israel were to “measure the pattern” of the temple just as the Angel had done; they were to work in harmony with the Angel, laying out the temple exactly as the Angel had done in the preceding vision (Ez. 43:10 cp. Ez. 40:5-13). And we too are to follow where our Angel potentially enables us to go.

The restoration prophecy of Jer. 31:9 spoke of how the returnees would walk "in a straight way" (s.w.) "by the rivers of waters"- and surely Ezra consciously alluded to this when by the river Ahava he fasted for the exiles to return in a "right / straight way". He knew that these prophecies of restoration would not just automatically come true- they had to be fulfilled by much prayer, fasting and stepping out in faith. But so very few perceived that. And the challenge remains for us today- to walk in the way which God's Angels have potentially prepared for us, with prayer and boldness. I feel this is especially true in the matter of latter day witnessing.

And yet "Ephraim", the ten tribes, were to experience this. But they didn't- they remained in exile and assimilated with the world around them. They didn't experience the huge Divine potential made available here, as so many do not.

Jeremiah 31:10 Hear the word of Yahweh, you nations, and declare it in the islands afar off; and say, He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd does his flock-
This continues God's fantasy, if you like, His earnest hope and wish, that the return of His people to Him would be blessed by the nations and they too would eagerly turn to Him. The scenario whereby Babylon was to be destroyed was not His ideal intention. Time and again the Lord Jesus reapplies the language of the restoration from Babylon to what He is doing to all men and women who heed His call to come out from the world and follow Him. The ideas of bringing His sheep, "other sheep of mine", who will hear His voice and form one flock under one shepherd (Jn. 10:16)- all these are rooted in the restoration prophecies (Ez. 34; Ez. 37:21-28; Jer. 23:1-8; Jer. 31:1-10).

Jeremiah 31:11 For Yahweh has ransomed Jacob, and redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he-
Redemption from he that is stronger is an allusion to the promise that Jacob would overcome his stronger brother, Esau (Gen. 25:23); and Esau as Edom was active in the destruction of Zion. But Jacob would be redeemed and return- if they wished. The suffering of God over the exiles all points forward to His later experience in the death of His Son. But note that God’s suffering was particularly because Israel would not return to Him. Had they done so, the hurt of their past sins would have been erased in a moment. God redeemed and ransomed Jacob, thereby enabling them to return from Babylon- but the majority preferred to ignore the call to return because they were so caught up in the good life. And likewise the hugely costly redemption of the world in the blood of Christ is painful for God insofar as so many, the majority, refuse it. The pain of providing this ransom and the hurt of human sin was one thing; the refusal of the offer of a way back to relationship with Him is far worse. From this we can perceive how thrilled God is when we turn to Him. And further, appreciating it should inspire our preaching, knowing the Father’s joy over just one true convert who will accept His ways in Truth and enter into loving relationship with Him.

Judah effectively refused their ransom and redemption. And so this great salvation was reapplied to salvation in Christ for a new Israel. These terms are together applied to our redemption from death (Hos.  13:14), and both terms are often used in the New Testament of our salvation in Christ.

Remember Jeremiah was speaking this "little scroll / book of comfort" of Jer. 30 and 31 after the Babylonian victory and the exile. Yet he is brave enough to criticize them, when it was Babylon who had personally saved him from Zedekiah's prison house and offered him material benefits and a pension for life as a result of his apparent "pro Babylon" stance. The prophecies he now utters would've made it impossible for him to remain in their good books and to enjoy their benefits. Jeremiah's prophecies weren't well received by his people, even though by giving them he alienated himself from Babylon. He was left therefore alone, alienated from his own people and also from the world around him. All because of his understanding of the hope of the Kingdom. Zech. 8:4 records the attitude to such prophecies: "Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts?". Jeremiah by contrast said that "Nothing is impossible to You" (Jer. 32:17 "Ah Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is impossible for you").

Jeremiah 31:12 They shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow to the goodness of Yahweh, to the grain, and to the new wine, and to the oil, and to the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all-
This was the potential. The wheat, wine and oil were all withheld by Yahweh as a result of their selfish materialism, according to Haggai and Malachi. And Neh. 5:3 specifically mentions that a “dearth” came even in Nehemiah’s time. The "watered garden" clearly alludes to Eden, which could have been restored at this time in the restored Kingdom, as Ezekiel's restoration prophecies make clear. This, along with the idea of no more tears of sorrow, is alluded to in Rev. 21:4; but it is all reapplied to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth at the Lord's return.

Jeremiah 31:13 Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together; for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow-
The "sorrow... mourning" was that of the exiles and survivors of the Babylonian onslaught, as the book of Lamentations makes apparent. This could all have been dramatically reversed had they repented and allowed the restoration to happen as God intended. But they didn't repent, even when God attempted to as it were force through the restoration. The young and old didn’t rejoice together- the old men wept at how small the temple was compared even with Solomon’s, whilst the younger ones rejoiced (Ezra 3:12). Sorrow at realizing their sins is a feature of the Ezra and Nehemiah records- rather than joy in the real experience of God’s redemption. Again, are there similarities with ourselves? The life in Christ, the Kingdom life, is of all joy and peace through believing, of joy and peace in the spirit of holiness. But is this the life and mindset which we live?

As discussed on :8,9, the mourning is of repentance. This morphs into joy at the experience of forgiveness and rightness with God. We note that all these predictions of reversal are apparently spoken to those who were then alive, as in :14. If in fact Jeremiah's first hearers died in condemnation and exile, then the good news and grace here is hard to perceive. It makes far more sense if, as discussed on Hos. 14, those very people will one day be resurrected to experience this great reversal. One other option is that it was God's intention that the exile be reversed very quickly, so that this happened to the initial audience. Jeremiah's advice to settle in for a long captivity, at least 70 years, would then be God's later amendment of this plan and intention.

Jeremiah 31:14 I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness-
But the priests returned to mind their own fields because the tithes weren’t paid to them (Neh. 13:10). One of the dominant features of salvation in God's Kingdom will be that of satisfaction, being satiated, utterly filled.

And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says Yahweh- When Israel were so far from God, He foretold the day when "my people will be gorged with my grace" (Jer. 31:14). The image of gorging upon grace is yet another reflection of the super-abounding nature of it. And this part of the new covenant to be made with Israel is true of us today, who have already entered that same covenant; it's a thought we can dwell upon as we eat at the Lord's table. And as we do so we can think of how God describes His feelings in all this: "I will find joy in them and in doing them good" (Jer. 32:41). God simply loves pouring out such grace. Let's try to catch something of this spirit of the grace of God. Let's try to adopt God's perspective. For what does He require more of a man, "but to do justly, and to love mercy (as God does, Mic. 7:18), and to walk humbly with your God" (Mic. 6:8)?

Jeremiah 31:15 Thus says Yahweh: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children-
"Ramah" means literally 'the high place'. There may be an allusion to how "Rachel", Jacob's idolatrous and faithless wife as representative of the women of Judah, had offered their children to Baal upon those high places. And now she realized that was all in vain. Apart from this approach, it is difficult to see any other specific significance in the mention of Ramah. The bitterness of her grief was because she knew she had sinned and sacrificed her children to that which had not profited; and yet even that grief could be assuaged by Yahweh's plan for her, if she would accept it. The historical Rachel died in sorrow, refusing comfort, and yet gave birth to Benjamin, 'son of my sorrow', renamed 'son of my right hand'. She was an appropriate symbol for Judah in their suffering. Out of it all could come mere sorrow, or the birth of a Messianic king and people. It all depended upon whether or not they would accept comfort.

Ramah was where the captives were assembled before leaving for exile (Jer. 40:1). Rachel herself didn't weep there. But a voice was heard there like that of Rachel's weeping for Benjamin.

She refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more- Is. 40:1,2 had spoken a message of comfort to the exiles: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God”. But [in full allusion to this prophecy], the exiles were like Rachel who refused to be comforted over her loss; they claimed they found “none to comfort” (Lam. 1:2,16,17,21). But they were willfully refusing the comfort of God’s repeated word of hope and restoration. They didn’t grasp the plain teaching of the prophetic word because they didn’t want to- it demanded too much of them, and a giving up of the comfortable Babylon life. Hence Is. 43:19 laments: “I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth [in the decree to return to Zion?], do you not perceive it?”. And do we "not perceive it?" time and again in our own lives, as to the potentials God is opening up?

Rachel refused to be comforted over Benjamin, but in fact he was alive and lived. The same words are used of Jacob mourning the apparent death of Joseph, "and he would not be comforted" (Gen. 37:35). But likewise, he was in fact alive. "Because they are no more" is also a term used about Jacob's grief over the apparent loss of Joseph (Gen. 37:30 he "is not", Reuben says; Gen. 42:26,30,32,36,40). Weeping for the children slain by the Babylonians was in fact weeping for those who would yet live and had not been ultimately lost- that's surely the idea. For Rachel is exhorted to cease her mourning, because of the new covenant. But for that to have meaning, they would need to be literally resurrected. That they 'live on' through "Israel" being transferred to any other entity would be cold comfort.

The early chapters of Matthew contain at least three examples of  quotations whose context just cannot fit the application given: Mt. 2:14,15 cp. Hos. 11:1; Mt. 2:17,18 cp. Jer. 31:15; Mt. 1:23 cp. Is. 7:14. Much Christian material about Israel shows how they have returned to the land, rebuilt the ruined cities, made the desert blossom etc., as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in Jeremiah etc. The context of these prophecies often doesn’t fit a return to the land by Jews in the 20th century; but on the other hand, the correspondence between these prophecies and recent history is so remarkable that it can’t be just coincidence. So again we are led to conclude that a few words here and there within a prophecy can sometimes have a fulfillment outside that which the context seems to require.

Jeremiah 31:16 Thus says Yahweh: Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says Yahweh; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy- As explained on :15, it depended whether or not Rachel accepted the comfort of the prophetic word. Her "work", her labour pains in sorrow, could have been rewarded by the rebirth of a son, in the restoration of Judah from the land of the enemy.

God paints Himself as acting with the anger of a very angry husband, whose anger is rooted in the profoundness of His love for His wife. There is a dark side to intimacy. It’s why families, lovers, both spiritual and natural, experience the heights of both love and frustration / anger with each other. With a love like God’s, it’s inevitable that there is a strong element of jealousy and potential hurt over us. It has to be so. And yet as we know the story of the prophets never ends with the angry judgment- amazingly, given this level of anger and judgment / retribution, there is always the passionate appeal for Israel to return, to recover love, romance and intimacy in the relationship. Taking as it were a snapshot of the nature of the judgments God expressed, this is indeed hard to swallow. It’s hard to read Jer. 31:16-34, how God will slay Rachel’s children, leave her weeping for them, and then dry her eyes and speak of a new covenant and new relationship with her. But the point of it all is that this indeed is how radical the cycle of sin, judgment and repentance really is in the lives of each of us. If a movie were to be made of all this, none of us would be able to resist it. The story of how through love gone sour, estrangement, rape and battery, a couple triumph in love and true, eternal intimacy. But this is the wonder and power of true repentance. And it is also a powerful window into the consequence and nature of human sin. These metaphors and images of God as the jilted lover convey the reality of sin and reconciliation in a way that no amount of prose ever could. And yet it wasn’t only metaphor- all this was lived out in the feelings of Hosea for Gomer. He could only have had those feelings if he very deeply loved her. The whole story, the images and ideas… surely leave us knowing once and for all that our religion and relationship with God simply can never be merely abstract contemplation of Biblical ideas, devoid of commitment and passion in response to God’s love. All these wonderful ideas come down to us through reading and reflection upon Scripture. But Bible reading, understood and felt as it should be, can from now on for us surely never again be a passive, neutral, private experience. If we truly are in covenant relationship with this wondrous God, it demands our all. Our failures, forgiven as they are, will haunt us for their awfulness; and the wonder of His love will never cease to move us to real tears in the midst of this unemotional, too busy, post modern world. And the experience of God’s ever new love and forgiveness will lead us to rise above all the examples of failed relationships and marriages we are surrounded with, to realize quite simply that those whom we love, we forgive. And the vastness of God’s love means that He genuinely forgives us. And we too will go on risking ourselves, making ourselves vulnerable, to love again, to forgive again, knowing His love for us. But of course all this hinges around our perception of our sins and unfaithfulness being what it is.

Jeremiah 31:17 There is hope for your latter end, says Yahweh; and your children shall come again to their own border-
The historical Rachel died in sorrow, refusing to be comforted with the thought that her suffering had brought a son into the world. And so Zion could choose whether or not to accept the prophetic word of comfort, and to understand their sufferings as being but the labour pains which would bring forth the restored, revived Kingdom of God in Israel. The slain children of Rachel did not return to their own border- because they refused. And that generation died in exile, for the most part. The hope of the "latter end" which could comfort "Rachel" was that the children would return from the land of the enemy (:16). The last, great enemy is death, Paul teaches; and resurrection redeems from that last enemy. The resurrection of historical Israel, hard as it is to understand and fit with other Bible teachings, would certainly make the interpretation of this "comfort" far easier and logical. And gracious.

Jeremiah 31:18 I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, You have chastised me, and I was chastised, as an untrained calf: turn me, and I shall be turned; for You are Yahweh my God-
See on Jer. 18:8. The appeal for Jerusalem to be "instructed" in Jer. 6:8 uses this same word translated "chastised", or "punish" (Lev. 26:18). The idea was that the punishments were to be instruction; they were not the lashing out of an offended Deity. It was God's hope, even 'fantasy' would not be too strong a word, that His people would realize this, and come to say "You punished / instructed me, and I was instructed" (Jer. 31:18 s.w.). His desire was to turn them, to make them repent, and to return them (s.w.) to their land in glory. But they had to themselves desire to be turned. The work of the Spirit for us under the new covenant is the same; even if we lack the steel in our will to repent, we will be made repentant- if we desire the Spirit to move. Psychologically we will be empowered, or turned / made repentant, if we have that desire to be repentant. That desire is not the same as the repentance. It's not as if God is saying that if we repent, then He is there for us. The offer is more than that. It is that if we desire to repent, He will psychologically turn us. Repentance itself is therefore a gift (Acts 3:26; 11:18). The next verse is explicit to this effect; it is after the Divine turning that they repent.

Was repentance required for the new covenant to come into operation? We struggle throughout all the new covenant passages to understand this. Clearly there is the expectation of and need for repentance- an admission of guilt, a saying "Yes" to the new covenant, and asking to be "turned". But on the other hand, there is the impression of God forcing it through. Hosea explains this in terms of Hosea's love for Gomer, and God's for His people. The conditions weren't met; but still He wanted to force through a new covenant, a remarriage, a continued and eternal relationship. Simply because of His love. "Turn me and I shall be turned" is to be the credo of our lives, constantly and willingly repeated in faith it shall happen. Repent me [it's the same word, shub], and I will be repented... and then, I will myself repent (:19).

God's power to turn is part of the gift of the Spirit, which is part and parcel of the new covenant. To be turned away from sin is part of the covenant made with Abraham, which Paul understands to be the essence of the new covenant: "You are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham: And in your descendant shall all the families of the earth be blessed. To you first, God, having raised up His servant, sent him to bless you, in turning every one of you away from your sins" (Acts 3:25,26). The blessing of the covenant, fulfilled in the Lord Jesus, was this turning away from sin which is the desperate desire of every Godly man.

Jeremiah 31:19 Surely after that I was turned, I repented-
See on :18. LXX "After my captivity I repented". The repentance comes after the turning. It is a gift. "To the Gentiles also has God granted repentance to life" (Acts 11:18). The idea of being given spirituality is repeated so often in the restoration prophecies. Thus Jer. 32:17 "I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all My heart and all My soul". The whole mental focus of God is involved in this. The word shub is used both of moral 'repentance', turning back, as well as the return to the land. But God is consistently presented as the causer of this turning / repenting. Jer. 33:7 is clear: "I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return" [also Jer. 30:3; 32:44; 33:11,26; 34:22; 42:12, seven times in total- a major theme]. Ez. 34:16 makes the spiritual aspect of this 'return' very clear: "I will seek that which was lost, and will cause to return that which was driven away". It's not simply that the lost is found because it wanders back home; it is "caused" to return. "I will be who I will be" teaches the ultimate causative nature of God. But it is in line with the characteristics of His Name and character, as declared when He pronounced His Name to Moses in Ex. 34. Yet those characteristics are in conflict and turmoil within Him, His grace in the end dominating His declared judgment of sin. And so His "I will [cause] to be" reflects that. The record of the new covenant in Jer. 32:41 concludes with the promise that the whole essence of God is in this covenant: "I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with My whole heart and with My whole soul".

"I will be who I will be" seven times in Jeremiah declares that He will "cause" repentance / return of "the captivity". "The captivity" refers to the people of the captivity, defined in Ez. 34:16 as those who were lost.  "The children of the captivity" is a common phrase (Ezra 4:1; 6:16 etc.). "Those who had come out of the captivity" uses "the captivity" to refer to the group of exiled persons, not "exile" in an abstract sense.  "The Jews who had escaped, who were left of the captivity... The remnant who are left of the captivity" (Neh. 1:2,3) clearly uses "the captivity" to refer to persons. And that captivity, those persons, would be caused to return / repent.

And after that I was instructed, I struck on my thigh- Jeremiah speaks in the first person perhaps because he had a personal need for repentance and forgiveness, which typified that of Judah. The sins in view may have been things committed in "my youth", just as Israel's earlier sins were now finding them out. Now, "I groaned for the day of shame" in his youth (LXX). The result of this pure grace, of God turning us to repentance, leads to repentance in practice on our side.

I was ashamed, yes, even confounded, because I bore the reproach of my youth- Our shame should be before God for our sins against Him, and not before men. Hence the prophets often criticize Israel for not being ashamed of their sins before God (Jer. 6:15). Our shame before men leads to anger; our shame before God is resolved in repentance and belief in His gracious forgiveness. Thus Jeremiah recalls how his repentance involved being ashamed, and yet then being "instructed" (Jer. 31:19). It's through knowing this kind of shame before God that we come to a position where we are unashamed.

Jeremiah 31:20 Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says Yahweh-
Here the two tribes are reminded that even after the deportation of the ten tribes ("Ephraim"), God still considered them His "darling child". Judah were so wrong to consider themselves so far superior to Israel, considering that God had no relationship with Ephraim because they lacked the Jerusalem temple. God's strong intention was to regather the ten tribes when Judah were regathered. But despite the yearning of God to do this, it didn't happen; because as noted on :18, they didn't even want to repent. The unrequited yearning of God for human repentance is a tragedy, and He must be so thrilled when we at least desire to respond. And Jeremiah experienced this same yearning of the heart for his people (s.w. Jer. 4:19). That yearning should be ours as we beg men and women to respond; our evangelism should be done out of a heart that bleeds for people.

"Yearns" is literally troubled, and is used of the roaring of the Babylonians against Judah, and the roaring and troubling of Jeremiah's heart (Jer. 4:19 "My anguish, my anguish! I am pained at my very heart; my heart is disquieted in me; I can’t hold my peace; because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war"; Jer. 5:22: 31:35). God's internal turmoil, expressed in Hos. 11 as His repentings / changes of mind being kindled together, resulted in the pole of His loving grace as it were triumphing over the pole of His justified anger and judgment. Jeremiah's conflicted heart reflected God's heart, just as our hearts should.

Jeremiah 31:21 Set up road signs, make guideposts-
We may well enquire how travellers were supposed to do this. Maybe the idea is that the first ones to repent were to return and as it were pioneer the way for others to follow. It could be that the idea was that the return of God's people from captivity was to set up the way for the peoples of their captivity to follow them in coming to Zion and accepting Israel's God. Or perhaps the contradiction is purposeful; the question would naturally occur as to how they were supposed to do this. And the answer is that God would empower them and show them the way back to Him (see on :18).

Set your heart towards the highway, even the way by which you went: turn again, virgin of Israel, turn again to these your cities- This could be specifically addressed to the ten tribes, "Ephraim" (:20), urging them to leave the lands of their captivity. If they had the mental desire, the heart, the set heart, the mindset, the desire to repent / turn again, then they would be turned again; both spiritually, back to God, and literally, back to the land (:18). This is the vision of Ps. 84:5 ESV: "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion". But it also had reference to the call for exiled Judah to return. The command to flee the land of the north [Babylon] is to be found in Is. 48:20; Jer. 51:6; Zech. 2:6; and they were to “get thee up to the high mountain” (Is. 40:9), using the same word about Judah ‘going up’ from Babylon to Israel. But the majority of Judah remained in Babylon. And the majority of those who did return, only did so in order for purely personal benefit- of having their own house and land. They ‘went up’ to the land, but not to Zion. With reference to Is. 40:9, Hag 1:7-9 exhorted them: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD. Ye looked for much [i.e. they expected the promised Kingdom blessings], and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house”. Their focus was on their own lands and farms rather than the glory of Zion (as Neh. 13:10,11). They stood related to the things of God’s kingdom, but never ventured beyond their own personal self-interest. They would not accept that God manifestation rather than human salvation and pleasure was the essential purpose of their God.

Jeremiah 31:22 How long will you go here and there, you backsliding daughter?-
The exile is described as a being tossed to and fro, continual movement within the empires who had taken them captive. But "how long" they were in exile was an open question; they could have been restored sooner had they wished it, and finally the 70 years of exile until full restoration of the Kingdom were reinterpreted in Daniel 9 to be 70 weeks of days, i.e. a far longer period. See on Jer. 25:12; 29:10.

For Yahweh has created a new thing in the earth: a woman shall follow after a man- This suggests that the woman, Judah, were to take the initiative with God by mapping out the roads they would take back to Zion- the suggestion could be that the 70 year period of captivity could have been shortened had Judah taken the initiative. This refers to the way in which Ruth and Naomi, herself a returned exile, summed up the courage to ‘go after’ Boaz, to present herself to him for marriage- reflecting the spiritual ambition of all those who seek redemption and restoration in Christ. If they had the  desire to repent, then they would be given repentance [as well as forgiveness]; see on :18. But they had to take the initiative, in seeking it. And yet even that initiative was "created" by God.

 A very slight change in the vocalization of the Hebrew text here gives the reading "a woman shall be turned into a man". And God would create this; He would give the stereotypically weak woman the courage and strength of a man. Or "turned" could be "returned"; God would create the desire for the woman to return to the man who had divorced her and against whom she had committed multiple adulteries. Whatever the reading, the impression is that God would create desire and provide psychological strengthening in a new and superhuman way. This is the law being written in the heart, the work of the Spirit promised in the new covenant which God was offering His people at this time. Whichever way we read this, God "created" it; He would give them the initiative to follow after a man, or, would empower them with the strength of a man. This is the whole theme of this new covenant- that God would spiritually empower people beyond their own strength and desire.

This could be a reference to the virgin birth. Understanding it as a woman shall "encompass" a man, as the means of the restoration. 

Jeremiah 31:23 Thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, Yet again shall they use this speech in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I shall bring again their captivity: Yahweh bless you, habitation of righteousness, mountain of holiness-
Jer. 33:16; 23:6 etc. outline God's intention that after the restoration, the rebuilt Zion would be named "The Lord our righteous one" because Jerusalem would be the habitation of the righteous one (Jer. 31:23; 50:7). This is similar language to the restoration prophecies of Isaiah- the surrounding Gentile world would see / perceive / believe in "the righteous one" who would reign in the rebuilt Zion (Is. 62:2). The "mountain of holiness" is consistently used for Zion, with the intention that at the restoration from exile, Zion would become the "holy mountain" which features in the Kingdom prophecies of Is. 11:9; 56:7; 65:25; Joel 3:17; Obadiah 17, to which the restored exiles would return (Is. 66:20; Ez. 20:40; Zech. 8:3). The phrase is also used of heaven itself (Ps. 3:4 etc.). The idea was that the Kingdom of Heaven would be established on earth, centered in Zion. This could've happened at the restoration, but it didn't; the returned exiles were to build the 'holy mountain' in the new temple system they were commanded to build in Ez. 43:12. But they didn't fulfill that prophecy. And so Rev. 21,22 use the idea and apply it to the restored Kingdom of God on earth at the time of the Lord's return.

Jeremiah 31:24 Judah and all its cities shall dwell therein together, the farmers, and those who go about with flocks-
The idea of farmers and shepherds living within the area of the restored Zion is found in Ez. 48:18 (see notes there). But the commands of Ez. 40-48 weren't obeyed by the returned exiles.

Jeremiah 31:25 For I have satiated the weary soul, and every sorrowful soul have I replenished-
This is the sorrow of :12 (s.w.) being removed for the returned exiles- but they chose not to accept this possible scenario. God would work within them psychologically through His Spirit, all part of the promise of the new covenant which we are under too. As He had "filled" them with sorrow and panic at the Babylonian invasion (Jer. 13:13, s.w. "replenished"), so He would fill them with joy and take away their sorrow.

Jeremiah 31:26 On this I awakened, and saw; and my sleep was sweet to me-
The preceding revelation had been given in a dream which Jeremiah, perhaps through Baruch, wrote down. He found this Kingdom vision "sweet", and yet he seems to forget it when he gets bogged down in the "sorrow" (cp. :25) of his book of Lamentations, failing to see the silver lining.

This awaking may suggest that the restoration would require a resurrection. He speaks as if the vision itself was what awoke him.

Jeremiah 31:27 Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of animal-
To sow seed within a family or house means to add new members to it. Israel and Judah were to be reunited at the restoration, and a totally new creation of people and even animals was to come. This will find its fulfillment when the Lord returns to reestablish the Kingdom, seeing that the exiles' lack of repentance precluded it from happening in their time. The Hebrew words for "sow... seed" occur together in the record of the Genesis creation, translated 'yielding / bearing seed' (Gen. 1:11,12,29 etc.). The idea is of a new creation, and is used of the situation in the restored Kingdom of God in Is. 30:23; 55:10; Ez. 36:9-11.

We note that this new covenant is yet future here- "the days come", as in :29 "In those days they shall no longer say...". Ezekiel's vision of the new covenant appears to be that it has come already at his time. We conclude that just a few years after Jeremiah is writing, Ezekiel saw the possibility that the new covenant had already come for those who were repentant. The question is whether any really were repentant. Jeremiah 5 describes how not even a single man could be found in the streets of Jerusalem who had truly grasped the covenant. But we could posit that perhaps the new covenant was not for those who remained in Judah; it was specifically for the exiles. The covenant was offered to the "remnant", but that remnant is simply defined in :2,3 as those who survived the Babylonian judgment upon Jerusalem. "Iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none: and sin in Judah, and none shall be found; for I will forgive those whom I leave as a remnant" (Jer. 50:20).

Jeremiah 31:28 It shall happen that like as I have watched over them to pluck up and to break down and to overthrow and to destroy and to afflict, so will I watch over them to build and to plant, says Yahweh-
God had promised to build and plant them in a restored, Messianic kingdom in Israel (Jer. 31:28; 42:10; Ez. 36:36). But this was all conditional upon them continuing to obey His voice, otherwise He would change His plans (Jer. 18:9,10). Jeremiah had been given the power to speak the words of both destruction and building and planting (Jer. 1:10). This planting was simply because of God's word. Jeremiah's prophetic words had the power to plant and root up (Jer. 1:10). This was be done simply because God had spoken it, rather than in response to Judah's spiritual state. His word is thereby a word of grace, just as His creative words of Gen. 1 were pure grace. 

Israel were told to "throw down", "break in pieces" and "utterly destroy" the idols and altars of Canaan. There were times during their history when they obeyed this command by purging themselves from their apostasy in this. The Hebrew words used scarcely occur elsewhere, except very frequently in the context of how God "broke down", "threw down" and "destroyed" Israel at the hands of their Babylonian and Assyrian invaders as a result of their not 'breaking down' (etc.) the idols. "Throw down" in Ex. 34:13; Dt. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chron. 31:1 is the same word in 2 Chron. 36:19; Jer. 4:26; 31:28; 33:4; 39:8; 52:14; Ez. 16:39; Nah. 1:6. "Cut down" in Dt. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chron. 31:1 later occurs in Is. 10:33; Jer. 48;25; Lam. 2:3. So Israel faced the choice: either cut down your idols, or you will be cut down in the day of God's judgment. Those who worshipped idols were like unto them. The stone will either fall on us and destroy us, or we must fall on it and become broken men and women (Mt. 21:44). For the man untouched by the concept of living for God's glory, it's a hard choice.

Jeremiah 31:29 In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge-
Part of their repentance would involve taking personal responsibility for sins, rather than blaming their situation on others, complaining that they were suffering from the effects of the sins of their fathers. To this day, this has to be part of repentance; a taking of the blame for our sins, rather than blaming anyone else or our gene pool. Ezekiel was up against this problem in his appeal to the exiles to repent. He labours the point in Ez. 18 that fathers cannot be held responsible for the spiritual failure of their children in all cases. Ez. 18:2 uses the same figure of eating sour grapes. This principle leads us to reflection upon the case of elders whose adult children fall into sin. It should be noted that the bishop’s qualification is that he knows how to rule his own house (1 Tim. 3:5). It may be that as with Samuel and other elders, their children or converts do not ‘turn out’ well. If this is because there was a lack of spiritual leadership, this disqualifies a brother. But if he knew how to rule, but they rebelled, then he is not thereby disqualified.

Jeremiah 31:30 But each one shall die for his own iniquity: every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge-
See on :29. Their repentance would involve recognizing that they personally had committed the sins which they previously had blamed their fathers for. The exiles likely blamed their situation upon Manasseh's sins, without recognizing that they were repeating his sins themselves. And yet it seems that in Jer. 32:18, Jeremiah himself has something of Israel's wrong attitude, even though he theoretically knew that the children were suffering for committing the same sins as the fathers. We can know such truths in theory and yet struggle to accept them in practice.

The implication is that in the restored state, people would still sin and die. But they would be in covenant. This aspect of course will not apply in the future Kingdom.  

Jeremiah 31:31 Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah-
Israel and Judah were to be united on the basis of their repentance, experience of forgiveness and joint part in this new covenant. It was refused by them at the time, but is now offered to all in Christ. And this unity between those within it should be likewise experienced.  The cup of the new covenant which features in the breaking of bread service is the visible symbol in our age of the commemoration of this covenant; and yet sadly it has become the tool for division within the body of those within the new covenant. This really is so tragic.

The new covenant could have then been established, requiring the abrogation of the Old Covenant [the law of Moses] on the basis of an acceptable sacrifice.  Somehow, this would have been possible. But it was deferred until the time of the Lord Jesus. That covenant required Judah to have God’s law written on their hearts, so that they each had the knowledge of God (Jer. 31:34); and yet Mal. 2:5-7 laments that the priests were more interested in divorcing their wives than teaching God’s law to the people; their lips didn’t keep nor teach the knowledge of God.

However the "new" covenant can equally be translated as a 'renewed' covenant; the word translated "new" is used in this sense in Lam. 3:22,23, God's mercies are new / renewed every morning. Because the essence of it is in the promises to Abraham, which Paul sees as the basis of the new covenant. Peter saw in the promises to Abraham the implication of Israel being 'blessed' through being turned by God to God (Acts 3:25,26)- which is clearly alluding to the language here in Jer. 31 of Israel being turned and then repenting.

The new covenant is presented as a fait accompli. "I will make a new covenant... I will put My law in their hearts (:33)... I will forgive their sin (:34)". No conditions are mentioned, just as the new covenant of Gen. 15, the oath to Abraham, was a one sided, unilateral covenant from God to Abraham. Paul argues that the promises to Abraham are the basis of the new covenant. They likewise were one sided promises. God passed through the sacrificed animal parts, but Abraham was powerless and asleep and didn't. The New Testament clearly applies this "new covenant" to us, but uses the word "testament", which has the idea of a last will and testament. Heb. 9:17 is clear: "For a will is of force where there has been death". The idea is that a will, a gift by way of inheritance testified in a testament or will, is a unilateral, one way gift. Once received, you cannot repay the person who gave it because they are dead. This is the word the New Testament chooses to use for "covenant" [although others could have been used], perhaps in order to emphasize this unilateral, total grace.

Jeremiah 31:32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-
That old covenant had been broken. It was not so much that the Lord Jesus removed it in His death; it had already been broken. For they had departed from their God and married the gods of the Gentiles; hence the reference to  their breaking the covenant although God was their husband. The old covenant was the marriage contract between them and God. And yet He continued faithful to them at that time; hence AVmg. "Which My covenant they break; and should I (therefore) have continued an husband unto them?".

Which My covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them, says Yahweh- Israel rejected God's covenant, and therefore He rejected them in that He broke the unbreakable-by-Him covenant (2 Kings 17:15,20; Zech. 11:10). In reality, they had rejected themselves, and broke the covenant (Jer. 31:32). It could not and would not be broken by Him- it was only they who could break it. And so with us.


Jeremiah 31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people-
See on 1 Sam. 10:9. There is a repeated theme that Israel's entry into the New Covenant will be associated with God doing something to their hearts, confirming their own change of mind. In other words, the covenant is largely a matter of the mind. This new state of mind is in fact fundamentally part of being in covenant relationship with God. This leads us to the paramount need for us to develop genuine spiritual mindedness, the thinking, the breathing of God's Spirit in our minds. So God will act upon Israel's heart directly, using the medium of His word to do so. The initiative is God's; He  will write His word upon their hearts. He is not passively offering people the opportunity to do it to themselves; He will do it to Israel. The same heart-swop operation is described in Ez. 36:25,26. Jer. 31:33 said that God would place His laws in Israel's heart; in Ez. 36 we read that He will place His Spirit in their hearts. It is the Spirit which makes us obedient to the word. Those within the new covenant today receive this same gift of the Spirit; not today in terms of miraculous gifts, but the operation of God on the human heart which brings about the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant to be "their God" (Gen. 17:-8-10). In this sense the new covenant is based upon the promises to Abraham, and in essence preceded the old covenant given on Sinai. Entrance to the new covenant is by baptism, and therefore the gift of the Spirit is given at baptism, as is made clear in the Acts record. 

Jeremiah has earlier commented about the state of Judah's heart at this time. It was so corrupt they themselves didn't realize how corrupt it was (Jer. 17:9); their sin was indelibly written and even engraved upon their heart (Jer. 17:1 "The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart"). What seemed psychologically incurable was to be changed. God's law would be written there, they would be given a new heart, just as the tablets of the old covenant were broken and re-written. Likewise Jeremiah had earlier lamented: "they have forsaken My law which I set before them... but have walked after the stubbornness of their own heart" (Jer. 9:13,14). This problem would be resolved; the law would no longer be "set before them" and their heart have the choice whether to accept it. Instead, the law would be written in their hearts. Ezekiel's version of the new covenant has the same features.  Israel were asked to "get a new heart and a new spirit" (Ez. 18:31). But they didn't, and so God promises to forcibly give Israel a new heart and spirit (Ez. 36:21).

There was nothing wrong with the law of itself. Kept in totality, fulfilled, it produced the character of the Lord Jesus. To have the spirit of the Lord Jesus is therefore the same as having the Mosaic law written within our hearts. Within the law, there was the command to internalize it, to circumcise the heart so that the heart was filled with love for God: "Fear Yahweh your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him and to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul... Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart... Yahweh your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed, to love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live" (Dt. 10:12,16; 30:6). So the new covenant is about a kind of enforced internalizing of the Torah. This writing in the heart was what the covenant proposed to do. But as an unbreakable covenant, there was now no possibility of disloyalty to it. Sin, leaving the covenant, would no longer be possible. This is what eternity is about. And the process starts now. We notice more parallel between the old and new covenant in that the promise of the new covenant, "I will be their God, and they shall be my people", was in fact the same intention as the old covenant (Lev. 26:12; Ex. 29:45).

The writing of the law in our hearts in this life doesn't mean sinlessness. Paul alludes to the new covenant when he speaks of the law that is in his heart or mind, but he laments that despite that he still sins (Rom. 7:23). Just as under the new covenant men still sin and die for that sin. But the covenant is eternal, and this will result in our sinful tendencies being eliminated at the resurrection. For then our whole bodies will be dominated by God's Spirit. But the path to that begins now. For 2 Cor. 3:3 is clear that the Spirit now writes on the tables of our heart.

Heb. 8 proves that we are under the new covenant by quoting from Jer. 31, which is a prophecy of how in the future, Israel will repent, and will enter into the new covenant. Twice the Spirit uses Jer. 31:31 to prove to us that we are under the new covenant now (see Heb. 8:6-13 and 10:16-19); yet Jer. 31 is a prophecy of how natural Israel in the future will enter into that covenant, after their humiliation at the hands of their future invaders. So we are being taught that our entering of the covenant now is similar to how natural Israel will enter that covenant in the future. The point is really clinched by the way the Spirit cites Jer. 31 as relevant to us today. The reasoning goes that because Jer. 31:34 speaks of sin forgiven for those who accept the new covenant, therefore we don't need sacrifices or human priesthood now, because Jer. 31:34 applies to us. So therefore God writing in our hearts is going on now, too. This is confirmed by Paul's allusion to Jer. 31 in 2 Cor. 3:3. God wrote with His Spirit on our hearts, He made a new covenant on the covenant-tables of our heart. Likewise 2 Cor. 1:22: "Who hath also sealed us, and given us the earnest of the spirit in our hearts". There are several prophecies which speak of Israel entering that new covenant, and what it will mean to them. All of them, in some sense, apply to us who are now in the new covenant. All of us should be earnestly seeking to appreciate the more finely  exactly what our covenant with God means, exactly what covenant relationship with God really entails.

Being God's people is now redefined. If God is working on our inward parts through His Spirit and we are responding- we are His people. "Israel" were previously defined by whether they were in covenant with Yahweh. The critical metric of the new covenant is whether a man has God's Spirit, even if his theology may slightly differ from his brother who also has that Spirit. Related to this is the metric of repentance; this is the sacrifice now required, as Hosea says, men are to offer their repentant lips and statements of repentance as "the calves of our lips". Peter connects repentance with the receipt of the Spirit. ["repent... that you may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"]. Hence believers with identical theology remain separated because one follows the Spirit and another doesn't; and believers with differing theology who both follow the Spirit find themselves united. It is the Spirit which unites; any attempt to create unity by purely intellectual, theological agreement [e.g. through a commonly agreed 'statement of faith'] is therefore at best misplaced idealism. And it never actually produces unity of any deep nor lasting nature.

Jeremiah 31:34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother saying, Know Yahweh; for they shall all know Me, from their least to their greatest, says Yahweh-  Prophet, priest and people were all to be sharing God's word; all society was to be involved (Jer. 23:34). But the false prophets gave their words to the priests, whose duty it was to teach their words; and then the people spread those words further. This was how Israel should have been, with the ordinary people spreading the knowledge of God's word; and indeed this is the ideal situation of the Kingdom age, although such a teaching ministry will ultimately not be needed because all shall know / have relationship experience of Yahweh through their experience of forgiveness. And those under the new covenant begin this now.

The old covenant involved priests teaching the people to "Know Yahweh". The priesthood had been the teaching mechanism for God's people to learn "the knowledge of God". But as Jeremiah and the prophets frequently lament, the priesthood was corrupted and was spiritually dysfunctional, the priest's lips didn't keep the knowledge of God, as Malachi laments. There was therefore no effective teaching mechanism. And so under the new covenant, collective teaching was replaced by this direct teaching from God within individual hearts. This is a more radical change than may be at first apparent. And people today likewise struggle with it, because they prefer group teaching and acceptance of group think, even if the thinking is Godly, rather than the intensity of personal relationship with God and all that demands. Nobody in the new covenant can complain that they are left without good teaching, just because they consider the teachers at their church to be weak or irrelevant. We are taught directly by God, through His Spirit which is part of the new covenant; and therefore not really by going to church meetings. The Lord had these things in mind when He taught that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would teach His people all things (Jn. 14:26). God through His Spirit teaches directly, so that the disciples wouldn't even need to go and physically listen to the Lord Jesus to get this teaching. John sums it up in 1 Jn. 2:27: "the anointing which you received of him abides in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you". Surely this alludes to the promise of the new covenant here in Jer. 31.

Those under the new covenant will no longer need teaching from men. Exhortations as in Jer. 11:4,7 (“listen to my voice”) and Jer. 32:33 (“though I taught them again and again”) will no longer be necessary. This is the situation also envisaged in Is. 54:13 "All your sons shall be taught of Yahweh", i.e. directly, through His Spirit.

To "know" means to be in relationship. Hosea lamented often that Yahweh "knew" Israel, but they didn't "know" Him. In this light, we marvel that God says "they shall know Me". He is going to force through the relationship, to make them in relationship with Him. Even though relationship surely requires mutual freewill on both sides to enter it. This will be achieved "For I will forgive their iniquity". He offers forgiveness ahead of repentance, and the experience of this will bring them into relationship, 'knowing' Him. Just as the Lord shared His table with sinners, accepting them, in order to lead them into relationship with Him and repentance.

For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more- The knowledge of God will no longer have to be taught in theoretical terms because the experience of forgiveness is to know God. Being under the new covenant means that we will know Yahweh, on account of our sins being forgiven. We will be certain of their forgiveness, not just hoping for the best. So often the prophets use the idea of "knowing God" as an idiom for living a life totally dominated by that knowledge. The new covenant which we have entered is all about 'knowing' God. The knowledge of God elicits repentance, real repentance; and reveals an equally real forgiveness. It is possible for those in Christ to in practice not know God at all. Thus Paul exhorted the Corinthian church: "Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God" (1 Cor. 15:34). The knowledge and practice of the presence of God ought to keep us back from sin.

In Jer. 14:10 we have read that "Yahweh does not accept them: Now He will remember their iniquity, and will punish their sins". Now, quite out of the blue, purely at His initiative, He says that He gives them a new covenant under which He will not remember their sins. This is the same conflict as in Hosea: "I will love them no more... I will love them freely". It is the outcome of His heart churning within Him, His "repentings kindled together" (Hos. 11), coming down on the side of unilateral gracious acceptance of them. Because of His love and desire to make it work, rather than their repentance nor faithfulness. Earlier in Jeremiah, forgiveness had been offered if just one righteous man was found: "If you can find a man, if there are any who does justice, who seeks truth... I will pardon her" (Jer. 5:1), i.e., without her repentance. The new covenant is therefore predicated upon the perfection of Messiah, the Lord Jesus. Hence Paul teaches that the Lord's death confirmed the covenant, and we take the symbol of His blood as the token of it; the cup of the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. Thus the cup of the new covenant is "unto the forgiveness of sins" (Mt. 26:28 Gk.). It is the covenant itself, which is unilateral, which gives forgiveness. Human repentance is not a condition for this. Although that new covenant can still be spurned.

Jeremiah 31:35 Thus says Yahweh, who gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirs up the sea, so that its waves roar; Yahweh of Armies is His name-
Just as God stirs up the sea, so as noted on :33, He can stir up the human heart. The same immense power manifest in the natural creation is available in the spiritual creation of new hearts and people.

Jeremiah 31:36 If these ordinances depart from before Me, says Yahweh, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever-
Israel did cease from being a nation, but only temporarily. The promise here is that God would not permanently "forever" reject them. Or we could understand this promise as meaning that "the seed of Israel" were a nation "forever" only because God changed the definition of them from natural to spiritual, as Gal. 3:27-29 and many New Testament passages makes clear. Or it could be that there was always a "seed of Israel" before God in that there was always a faithful, believing minority. There is reason to think that there has always been a “remnant” of Jews who believe in the true Messiah- Paul’s reasoning in Romans certainly implies this. If some Jews have always ‘held the truth’- then did we not ought to be seeking them out? For there aren’t so many within our community. Only if Heaven above can be measured “then will I cast off all the seed of Israel” (Jer. 31:37 RV). Clearly not all Israel have been cast off- only if the Heavens pass away will all the seed of Israel cease from being “before me”, i.e. in some sort of covenant with God (Jer. 31:36). Paul surely alludes here when saying that God has not [totally] cast off His people because there is always “the remnant”. There will always be a remnant of Israel open to true conversion in every generation.

Here and in :37 we have the eternal nature of the covenant stressed. A covenant can be broken by the failure of one side, as happened under the old covenant. The new covenant involves Israel never failing, because ultimately at the resurrection we shall be made sinless. Love for God and His ways will be instilled into us by nature, and the process leading to that begins now with the Spirit turning our hearts to Him. This is far more than simply meaning "There will always be Jewish people around"; that is a far too limited and simplistic interpretation of these promises. The "eternity" of Israel is because they are in the new covenant, which most natural Jews to this point have rejected. Israel under the new covenant will endure eternally. That's the idea. The contrast is always with the tragedy of the fact that Israel were previously not faithful to their covenant with God and broke it. But finally they will never be unfaithful to this new covenant, because they will be made obedient. The new heart given is one of obedience, as in Jer. 24:7 "I will give to them a heart to know me, that I am Yahweh. And they will be my people and I will be their God, for they will turn / be turned to me with their whole heart" [contrast Jer. 3:10]. Likewise Jer. 32:39: "I will give them one heart and one way, so they will fear me forever... I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they will not turn from me". Likewise "I will not turn away from following them". God and man as it were married for ever, never turning away from each other; whereas so many 'turn away' from the Lord now. Then Israel will not turn away to other gods. If this is the eternity we seek, we shall be given it. This is what the new covenant is all about. Then there will be no possibility of turning away from the covenant, the freewill to sin will be no more, because current human nature will be changed. The work of prophets like Jeremiah was to urge loyalty to the covenant and to reform human behaviour. They clearly didn't have much success. All these appeals went largely unresponded to. Hence the new covenant, which although it begins now [it is quoted about us now in 2 Cor. 3, Heb. 8 and we take the cup of the new covenant now], is really a window onto what eternal relationship with God will look like. Thus they had been told to circumcise their hearts (Jer. 4:4); they had not done so, but the new covenant means God circumcising their hearts eternally. They were to wash / cleanse their hearts (Jer. 4:14), but the new covenant involved God doing this to them (Ez. 36:26).

The eternity of the new covenant is the basis for this promise of Israel's eternity. The  statement that Israel would not "cease" from being a nation is therefore a blunt statement that the Israel of Jeremiah's day would somehow continue. The language and promise is strange and graceless to that "Israel" if all this means is that they are rejected and replaced by another nation of believers. The continuation of "Israel" by grace is hard to understand unless there is a literal resurrection of historical Israel. If a man marries a woman called Karen, loves her wonderfully, but she pushes off with other men, they divorce, she dies and remains to be judged and condemned by God; and the wonderful man marries another woman called Karen, who does respond to his love... where is his grace towards Karen number 1? It's hardly gospel good news to tell Karen number 1 that she's still loved and eternally valued, all is going to be ultimately good and OK, just because her husband now loves another woman called Karen. This is where replacement theology totally misses the point of all these prophecies, urging Rachel to dry her eyes because her slain sons shall return from the land of the enemy, God's love for her is eternal etc. And it is also hard to see them having much meaning unless the historical Israel are resurrected and "so all Israel shall be saved"- despite all the theological tensions that creates. The restoration of Job's fortunes likewise apparently involved the resurrection of his unfaithful, judged children; and he clearly represented Judah in their afflictions and restoration.

Jeremiah 31:37 Thus says Yahweh: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says Yahweh-
But “My God will cast them away” (Hos. 9:17; Is. 54:6); the same Hebrew word occurs when God says He would “reject” Israel (Hos. 4:6). God spoke in His wrath, He has passion, but likewise His grace is such that He can relent from what He has spoken in His wrath. This is the paradox of His love and grace. For other explanations of the paradox, see on :36. It is the new covenant which means that the cast off become eternally not cast off.

Only part of Israel are blind to Messiah; a majority, but not all of them (Rom. 11:5,7,25). I don’t think that Paul is merely speaking of the situation in the first century, where clearly some Jews did believe. I say this because Jer. 31:37 clearly states that Israel will never be “cast off”; yet, according to Romans 11, Israel are only not cast off because some of them do believe in Christ. The fact Israel are not now totally “cast off” therefore indicates that there always will be a remnant of faithful Jews- faithful to God’s Son and trusting in grace rather than law (Rom. 11:6). Therefore we should be hopeful that at least a remnant will respond to our preaching to them.

Jeremiah 31:38 Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that the city shall be built to Yahweh from the tower of Hananel to the gate of the corner-
Like the commands of Ez. 40-48 this is command more that prediction. This is the same basic dimension as in Ez. 40-48, but as noted extensively there, the exiles didn't obey it, building a far smaller temple and not following the ordinances commanded there; and thereby precluded the reestablishment of the Kingdom at that time. Nehemiah attempted to 'make holy to Yahweh' (:40) this area (Neh. 3:1; 12:39) but this was not how things continued.

Jeremiah 31:39 The measuring line shall go out further straight onward to the hill Gareb, and shall turn about to Goah-
See on :38. LXX "compassed with a circular wall of choice stones". This was not then fulfilled, but the wall of costly stones is spoken of in Rev. 21:19, and Zech. 14:10 has the same ideas in view. The prophecies which the exiles didn't allow to be fulfilled were reapplied and rescheduled to the establishment of the Kingdom on earth at the Lord's return. The idea of these last two verses may be as noted on :5, that the previously unclean will be brought in to holiness. The unclean place of dead bodies will be counted as clean (:40). "Gareb" means 'place of the scabs', perhaps a place for unclean lepers; and "Goah" is connected by some to Golgotha, the place of execution. These unclean places would be brought within the boundary of the clean and holy. Just as would God's people.

Jeremiah 31:40 The whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields to the brook Kidron, to the corner of the horse gate towards the east, shall be holy to Yahweh; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more forever
- See on :38. This included the valley of Hinnom, where the children were sacrificed to Baal. Finally there would be permanent cleansing, and Jerusalem would never again be thrown down. This will only finally come true in the latter day fulfillment, as Nehemiah's attempt to fulfill it (Neh. 3:28) was not followed up by the exiles.