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Jeremiah 31:21-22

Context

31:21 I will say, 1  ‘My dear children of Israel, 2  keep in mind

the road you took when you were carried off. 3 

Mark off in your minds the landmarks.

Make a mental note of telltale signs marking the way back.

Return, my dear children of Israel.

Return to these cities of yours.

31:22 How long will you vacillate, 4 

you who were once like an unfaithful daughter? 5 

For I, the Lord, promise 6  to bring about something new 7  on the earth,

something as unique as a woman protecting a man!’” 8 

1 tn The words “I will say” are not in the text. They are supplied in the translation to mark the transition from the address about Israel in a response to Rachel’s weeping (vv. 15-20) to a direct address to Israel which is essentially the answer to Israel’s prayer of penitence (cf. G. L. Keown, P. J. Scalise, T. G. Smothers, Jeremiah 26-52 [WBC], 121.)

sn The Lord here invites Israel to stop dilly-dallying and prepare themselves to return because he is prepared to do something new and miraculous.

2 tn Heb “Virgin Israel.” For the significance see the study note on 31:3.

3 tn Heb “Set your mind to the highway, the way which you went.” The phrase “the way you went” has been translated “the road you took when you were carried off” to help the reader see the reference to the exile implicit in the context. The verb “which you went” is another example of the old second feminine singular which the Masoretes typically revocalize (Kethib הָלָכְתִּי [halakhti]; Qere הָלָכְתְּ [halakht]). The vocative has been supplied in the translation at the beginning to help make the transition from third person reference to Ephraim/Israel in the preceding to second person in the following and to identify the referent of the imperatives. Likewise, this line has been moved to the front to show that the reference to setting up sign posts and landmarks is not literal but figurative, referring to making a mental note of the way they took when carried off so that they can easily find their way back. Lines three and four in the Hebrew text read, “Set up sign posts for yourself; set up guideposts/landmarks for yourself.” The word translated “telltale signs marking the way” occurs only here. Though its etymology and precise meaning are unknown, all the lexicons agree in translating it as “sign post” or something similar based on the parallelism.

4 tn The translation “dilly-dally” is suggested by J. Bright, Jeremiah (AB), 276. The verb occurs only here in this stem (the Hitpael) and only one other time in any other stem (the Qal in Song 5:6). The dictionaries define it as “to turn this way and that” (cf., e.g., BDB 330 s.v. חָמַק Hithp.). In the context it refers to turning this way and that looking for the way back.

5 sn Israel’s backsliding is forgotten and forgiven. They had once been characterized as an apostate people (3:14, 22; the word “apostate” and “unfaithful” are the same in Hebrew) and figuratively depicted as an adulterous wife (3:20). Now they are viewed as having responded to his invitation (compare 31:18-19 with 3:22-25). Hence they are no longer depicted as an unfaithful daughter but as an unsullied virgin (see the literal translation of “my dear children” in vv. 4, 21 and the study note on v. 4.)

6 tn Heb “For the Lord will create.” The person has been shifted to avoid the possible confusion for some readers of a third person reference to the Lord in what has otherwise been a first person address. The verb “will create” is another one of the many examples of the prophetic perfect that have been seen in the book of Jeremiah. For the significance of the verb “create” here see the study note on “bring about something new.”

7 sn Heb “create.” This word is always used with God as the subject and refers to the production of something new or unique, like the creation of the world and the first man and woman (Gen 1:1; 2:3; 1:27; 5:1) or the creation of a new heavens and a new earth in a new age (Isa 65:17), or the bringing about of new and unique circumstances (Num 16:30). Here reference is made contextually to the new exodus, that marvelous deliverance which will be so great that the old will pale in comparison (see the first note on v. 9).

8 tn The meaning of this last line is uncertain. The translation has taken it as proverbial for something new and unique. For a fairly complete discussion of most of the options see C. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” EBC 6:571. For the nuance of “protecting” for the verb here see BDB 686 s.v. סָבַב Po‘ 1 and compare the usage in Deut 32:10.



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