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Jeremiah 31:18-19

Context

31:18 I have indeed 1  heard the people of Israel 2  say mournfully,

‘We were like a calf untrained to the yoke. 3 

You disciplined us and we learned from it. 4 

Let us come back to you and we will do so, 5 

for you are the Lord our God.

31:19 For after we turned away from you we repented.

After we came to our senses 6  we beat our breasts in sorrow. 7 

We are ashamed and humiliated

because of the disgraceful things we did previously.’ 8 

1 tn The use of “indeed” is intended to reflect the infinitive absolute which precedes the verb for emphasis (see IBHS 585-86 §35.3.1f).

2 tn Heb “Ephraim.” See the study note on 31:9. The more familiar term is used, the term “people” added to it, and plural pronouns used throughout the verse to aid in understanding.

3 tn Heb “like an untrained calf.” The metaphor is that of a calf who has never been broken to bear the yoke (cf. Hos 4:16; 10:11).

sn Jer 2:20; 5:5 already referred to Israel’s refusal to bear the yoke of loyalty and obedience to the Lord’s demands. Here Israel expresses that she has learned from the discipline of exile and is ready to bear his yoke.

4 tn The verb here is from the same root as the preceding and is probably an example of the “tolerative Niphal,” i.e., “I let myself be disciplined/I responded to it.” See IBHS 389-90 §23.4g and note the translation of some of the examples there, especially Isa 19:22; 65:1.

5 tn Heb “Bring me back in order that I may come back.” For the use of the plural pronouns see the marginal note at the beginning of the verse. The verb “bring back” and “come back” are from the same root in two different verbal stems and in the context express the idea of spiritual repentance and restoration of relationship not physical return to the land. (See BDB 999 s.v. שׁוּב Hiph.2.a for the first verb and 997 s.v. Qal.6.c for the second.) For the use of the cohortative to express purpose after the imperative see GKC 320 §108.d or IBHS 575 §34.5.2b.

sn There is a wordplay on several different nuances of the same Hebrew verb in vv. 16-19. The Hebrew verb shub refers both to their turning away from God (v. 19) and to their turning back to him (v. 18). It is also the word that is used for their return to their homeland (vv. 16-17).

6 tn For this meaning of the verb see HAL 374 s.v. יָדַע Nif 5 or W. L. Holladay, Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 129. REB translates “Now that I am submissive” relating the verb to a second root meaning “be submissive.” (See HALOT 375 s.v. II יָדַע and J. Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament, 19-21, for evidence for this verb. Other passages cited with this nuance are Judg 8:16; Prov 10:9; Job 20:20.)

7 tn Heb “I struck my thigh.” This was a gesture of grief and anguish (cf. Ezek 21:12 [21:17 HT]). The modern equivalent is “to beat the breast.”

8 tn Heb “because I bear the reproach of my youth.” For the plural referents see the note at the beginning of v. 18.

sn The expression the disgraceful things we did in our earlier history refers to the disgrace that accompanied the sins that Israel did in her earlier years before she learned the painful lesson of submission to the Lord through the discipline of exile. For earlier references to the sins of her youth (i.e., in her earlier years as a nation) see 3:24-25; 22:21 and see also 32:29. At the time that these verses were written, neither northern Israel or Judah had expressed the kind of contrition voiced in vv. 18-19. As one commentator notes, the words here are both prophetic and instructive.



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