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Jeremiah 31:3-20

Context

31:3 In a far-off land the Lord will manifest himself to them.

He will say to them, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.

That is why I have continued to be faithful to you. 1 

31:4 I will rebuild you, my dear children Israel, 2 

so that you will once again be built up.

Once again you will take up the tambourine

and join in the happy throng of dancers. 3 

31:5 Once again you will plant vineyards

on the hills of Samaria. 4 

Those who plant them

will once again enjoy their fruit. 5 

31:6 Yes, a time is coming

when watchmen 6  will call out on the mountains of Ephraim,

“Come! Let us go to Zion

to worship the Lord our God!”’” 7 

31:7 Moreover, 8  the Lord says,

“Sing for joy for the descendants of Jacob.

Utter glad shouts for that foremost of the nations. 9 

Make your praises heard. 10 

Then say, ‘Lord, rescue your people.

Deliver those of Israel who remain alive.’ 11 

31:8 Then I will reply, 12  ‘I will bring them back from the land of the north.

I will gather them in from the distant parts of the earth.

Blind and lame people will come with them,

so will pregnant women and women about to give birth.

A vast throng of people will come back here.

31:9 They will come back shedding tears of contrition.

I will bring them back praying prayers of repentance. 13 

I will lead them besides streams of water,

along smooth paths where they will never stumble. 14 

I will do this because I am Israel’s father;

Ephraim 15  is my firstborn son.’”

31:10 Hear what the Lord has to say, O nations.

Proclaim it in the faraway lands along the sea.

Say, “The one who scattered Israel will regather them.

He will watch over his people like a shepherd watches over his flock.”

31:11 For the Lord will rescue the descendants of Jacob.

He will secure their release 16  from those who had overpowered them. 17 

31:12 They will come and shout for joy on Mount Zion.

They will be radiant with joy 18  over the good things the Lord provides,

the grain, the fresh wine, the olive oil,

the young sheep and calves he has given to them.

They will be like a well-watered garden

and will not grow faint or weary any more.

31:13 The Lord says, 19  “At that time young women will dance and be glad.

Young men and old men will rejoice. 20 

I will turn their grief into gladness.

I will give them comfort and joy in place of their sorrow.

31:14 I will provide the priests with abundant provisions. 21 

My people will be filled to the full with the good things I provide.”

31:15 The Lord says,

“A sound is heard in Ramah, 22 

a sound of crying in bitter grief.

It is the sound of Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted, because her children are gone.” 23 

31:16 The Lord says to her, 24 

“Stop crying! Do not shed any more tears! 25 

For your heartfelt repentance 26  will be rewarded.

Your children will return from the land of the enemy.

I, the Lord, affirm it! 27 

31:17 Indeed, there is hope for your posterity. 28 

Your children will return to their own territory.

I, the Lord, affirm it! 29 

31:18 I have indeed 30  heard the people of Israel 31  say mournfully,

‘We were like a calf untrained to the yoke. 32 

You disciplined us and we learned from it. 33 

Let us come back to you and we will do so, 34 

for you are the Lord our God.

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

After we came to our senses 35  we beat our breasts in sorrow. 36 

We are ashamed and humiliated

because of the disgraceful things we did previously.’ 37 

31:20 Indeed, the people of Israel are my dear children.

They are the children I take delight in. 38 

For even though I must often rebuke them,

I still remember them with fondness.

So I am deeply moved with pity for them 39 

and will surely have compassion on them.

I, the Lord, affirm it! 40 

1 tn Or “The people of Israel who survived the onslaughts of Egypt and Amalek found favor in the wilderness as they journeyed to find rest. At that time long ago the Lord manifested himself to them. He said, ‘I have…That is why I have drawn you to myself through my unfailing kindness.’” For the basis for each of these translations see the translator’s note. There is debate whether the reference here is to God’s preservation of Israel during their wandering in the Sinai desert or his promise to protect and preserve them on their return through the Arabian desert on the way back from Assyria and Babylon (see e.g., Isa 42:14-16; 43:16-21; Jer 16:14-15; 23:7-8). The only finite verbs in vv. 2-3a before the introduction of the quote are perfects which can denote either a past act or a future act viewed as certain of fulfillment (the prophetic perfect; see GKC 312-13 §106.n and see examples in Jer 11:16; 13:17; 25:14; 28:4). The phrase at the beginning of v. 3 can either refer to temporal (cf. BDB 935 s.v. רָחוֹק 2.b and Isa 22:11) or spatial distance (cf. BDB 935 s.v. רָחוֹק 2.a[2] and Isa 5:29; 59:14). The verb in the final clause in v. 3 can refer to either the continuance of God’s love as in Ps 36:10 (cf. BDB 604 s.v. מָשַׁךְ Qal.5) or drawing someone to him in electing, caring love as in Hos 11:4 (cf. BDB 604 s.v. מָשַׁךְ Qal.1). The translation has opted for the prophetic reference to future deliverance because of the preceding context, the use of מֵרָחוֹק (merakhoq) to refer to the far off land of exile in Jer 30:10; 46:27; 51:50, and the reference to survivors from the sword being called on to remember the Lord in that far off land in 51:50.

2 tn Heb “Virgin Israel.”

sn For the significance of this metaphor see the note on Jer 14:17. Here the emphasis appears on his special love and care for his people and the hint (further developed in vv. 21-22) that, though guilty of sin, he considers them like an innocent young virgin.

3 sn Contrast Jer 7:34 and 25:10.

4 map For location see Map2 B1; Map4 D3; Map5 E2; Map6 A4; Map7 C1.

5 sn The terms used here refer to the enjoyment of a period of peace and stability and the reversal of the curse (contrast, e.g., Deut 28:30). The Hebrew word translated “enjoy its fruit” is a technical one that refers to the owner of a vineyard getting to enjoy its fruit in the fifth year after it was planted, the crops of the first three years lying fallow, and that of the fourth being given to the Lord (cf. Lev 19:23-25).

6 sn Watchmen were stationed at vantage points to pass on warning of coming attack (Jer 6:17; Ezek 33:2, 6) or to spread the news of victory (Isa 52:8). Here reference is made to the watchmen who signaled the special times of the year such as the new moon and festival times when Israel was to go to Jerusalem to worship. Reference is not made to these in the Hebrew Bible but there is a good deal of instruction regarding them in the later Babylonian Talmud.

7 sn Not only will Israel and Judah be reunited under one ruler (cf. 23:5-6), but they will share a unified place and practice of worship once again in contrast to Israel using the illicit places of worship, illicit priesthood, and illicit feasts instituted by Jeroboam (1 Kgs 12:26-31) and continued until the downfall of Samaria in 722 b.c.

8 tn See the translator’s notes on 30:5, 12.

9 tn Heb “for the head/chief of the nations.” See BDB 911 s.v. רֹאשׁ 3.c and compare usage in Ps 18:44 referring to David as the “chief” or “foremost ruler” of the nations.

10 tn It is unclear who the addressees of the masculine plural imperatives are in this verse. Possibly they are the implied exiles who are viewed as in the process of returning and praying for their fellow countrymen.

11 tc Or “The Lord will rescue his people. He will deliver those of Israel who remain alive.” The translation used in the text follows the Hebrew: “Rescue your people, O Lord, the remnant of Israel.” The alternate translation which is preferred by several modern English versions (e.g., REB, TEV) and a majority of modern commentaries (see, e.g., J. A. Thompson, Jeremiah [NICOT], 569; J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB], 273, n. s-s) follows the reading of the Greek version and the Aramaic Targum and appears more appropriate to the context of praise presupposed by the preceding imperatives. The difference in the two readings are the omission of one vowel letter and the confusion of a final ךְ (kaf) and a וֹ (holem-vav) which are very similar in form. (The Greek presupposes הוֹשִׁיעַ יְהוָה אֶת־עַמּוֹ [hoshia yÿhvahet-ammo] for the Hebrew הוֹשַׁע יְהוָה אֶת־עַמְּךְ [hoshayÿhvahet-ammÿkh].) The key to a decision here is the shift from the verbs of praise to the imperative “say” which introduces the quotation; there is a shift from praise to petition. The shift in mood is not uncommon, occurring, for example, in Ps 118:25 and 126:4; it is the shift in mood between praise for what has begun to petition for what is further hoped for. It is easier to explain the origin contextually of the Greek and Targum than it is the Hebrew text, thus the Greek and Targum are probably a secondary smoothing of the text (this is the decision of the D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 4:263). The mood of prayer also shows up in v. 9 and again in vv. 17-18.

12 tn The words “And I will reply” are not in the text but the words vv. 8-9 appear to be the answer to the petition at the end of v. 7. These words are supplied in the translation for clarity.

13 tn Heb “They will come with weeping; I will bring them with supplication.” The ideas of contrition and repentance are implicit from the context (cf. vv. 18-19) and are supplied for clarity.

14 sn Jer 31:8-9 are reminiscent of the “New Exodus” motif of Isa 40-66 which has already been referred to in Jer 16:14-15; 23:7-8. See especially Isa 35:3-10; 40:3-5, 11; 41:17-20; 42:14-17; 43:16-21; 49:9-13. As there, the New Exodus will so outstrip the old that the old will pale in comparison and be almost forgotten (see Jer 23:7-8).

15 sn Ephraim was the second son of Joseph who was elevated to a place of prominence in the family of Jacob by the patriarch’s special blessing. It was the strongest tribe in northern Israel and Samaria lay in its territory. It is often used as a poetic parallel for Israel as here. The poetry is not speaking of two separate entities here; it is a way of repeating an idea for emphasis. Moreover, there is no intent to show special preference for northern Israel over Judah. All Israel is metaphorically God’s son and the object of his special care and concern (Exod 4:22; Deut 32:6).

16 sn Two rather theologically significant metaphors are used in this verse. The Hebrew word translated “will set…free” is a word used in the legal sphere for paying a redemption price to secure the freedom of a person or thing (see, e.g., Exod 13:13, 15). It is used metaphorically and theologically to refer to Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage (Deut 15:15; Mic 6:4) and its deliverance from Babylonian exile (Isa 35:10). The word translated “secure their release” is a word used in the sphere of family responsibility where a person paid the price to free an indentured relative (Lev 25:48, 49) or paid the price to restore a relative’s property seized to pay a debt (Lev 25:25, 33). This word, too, was used to refer metaphorically and theologically to Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage (Exod 6:6) or release from Babylonian exile (Isa 43:1-4; 44:22). These words are traditionally translated “ransom” and “redeem” and are a part of traditional Jewish and Christian vocabulary for physical and spiritual deliverance.

17 tn Heb “from the hand/power of the one too strong for him.”

18 tn Reading a Qal perfect from the root II נָהַר (nahar; so KBL 509 s.v. and HALOT 639 s.v.) rather than I נָהַר (so BDB 625 s.v.).

19 tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.” This phrase has been brought up to the beginning of v. 13 from the end of v. 14 to introduce the transition from third person description by Jeremiah to first person address by the Lord.

20 tc The translation follows the reading of the LXX (Greek version). The Hebrew reads “will dance and be glad, young men and old men together.” The Greek version presupposes a Qal imperfect of a rare verb (יַחְדּוּ [yakhdu] from the verb חָדָה [khadah]; see BDB 292 s.v. II חָדָה Qal) as opposed to the Hebrew text which reads a common adverb יַחְדָּו (yakhdav). The consonantal text is the same but the vocalization is different. There are no other examples of the syntax of the adverb used this way (i.e., of a compound subject added to a third subject) and the vocalization of the Hebrew text can be explained on the basis of a scribe misvocalizing the text based on his greater familiarity with the adverb.

21 tn Heb “I will satiate the priests with fat.” However, the word translated “fat” refers literally to the fat ashes of the sacrifices (see Lev 1:16; 4:2 and cf. BDB 206 s.v. דֶּשֶׁן 2. The word is used more abstractly for “abundance” or “rich food” (see Job 36:16 and BDB 206 s.v. דֶּשֶׁן 1). The people and the priests were prohibited from eating the fat (Lev 7:23-24).

22 sn Ramah is a town in Benjamin approximately five miles (8 km) north of Jerusalem. It was on the road between Bethel and Bethlehem. Traditionally, Rachel’s tomb was located near there at a place called Zelzah (1 Sam 10:2). Rachel was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin and was very concerned about having children because she was barren (Gen 30:1-2) and went to great lengths to have them (Gen 30:3, 14-15, 22-24). She was the grandmother of Ephraim and Manasseh which were two of the major tribes in northern Israel. Here Rachel is viewed metaphorically as weeping for her “children,” the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, who had been carried away into captivity in 722 b.c.

23 tn Or “gone into exile” (cf. v. 16), though some English versions take this as meaning “dead” (e.g., NCV, CEV, NLT), presumably in light of Matt 2:18.

24 tn The words “to her” are not in the text but are implicit from the context. They are supplied in the translation for clarity.

25 tn Heb “Refrain your voice from crying and your eyes from tears.”

26 tn Heb “your work.” Contextually her “work” refers to her weeping and refusing to be comforted, that is, signs of genuine repentance (v. 15).

27 tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”

28 tn For this nuance for the Hebrew word אַחֲרִית (’akharit) see BDB 31 s.v. אַחֲרִית d and compare usage in Pss 37:38; 109:13. Others translate “your future” but the “future” lies with the return of her descendants, her posterity.

29 tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”

30 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).

31 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.

32 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.

33 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.

34 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).

35 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.)

36 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.”

37 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.

38 tn Heb “Is Ephraim a dear son to me or a child of delight?” For the substitution of Israel for Ephraim and the plural pronouns for the singular see the note on v. 18. According to BDB 210 s.v. הֲ 1.c the question is rhetorical having the force of an impassioned affirmation. See 1 Sam 2:27; Job 41:9 (41:1 HT) for parallel usage.

39 tn Heb “my stomach churns for him.” The parallelism shows that this refers to pity or compassion.

40 tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”



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