Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
This chapter continues the subject of the preceding in a beautiful vision represented at a distant period. God is introduced expressing his continual regard for Israel, and promising to restore them to their land and liberty, Jer 31:1-5. Immediately heralds appear, proclaiming on Mount Ephraim the arrival of the great year of jubilee, and summoning the people to gather unto Zion, Jer 31:6. Upon which God resumes the speech; and makes such gracious promises both of leading them tenderly by the way, and making them happy in their own land, that all the nations of the world are called upon to consider with deep attention this great salvation, Jer 31:7-14. The scene is then diversified by a very happy invention. Rachel, the another of Joseph and Benjamin, is represented as risen from her tomb, in a city of Benjamin near Jerusalem, looking about for her children, and bitterly lamenting their fate, as none of them are to be seen in the land of their fathers, Jer 31:15. But she is consoled with the assurance that they are not lost, and that they shall in due time be restored, Jer 31:16, Jer 31:17. To this another tender and beautiful scene immediately succeeds. Ephraim, (often put for the Ten tribes), comes in view. He laments his past errors, and expresses the most earnest desires of reconciliation; upon which God, as a tender parent, immediately forgives him, Jer 31:18-20. The virgin of Israel is then directed to prepare for returning home, Jer 31:21, Jer 31:22; and the vision closes with a promise of abundant peace and security to Israel and Judah in the latter days, Jer 31:23-26. The blessed condition of Israel under the Messiah's reign is then beautifully contrasted with their afflicted state during the general dispersion, Jer 31:27, Jer 31:28. In the remaining part of the chapter the promises to the posterity of Jacob of the impartial administration of justice, increasing peace and prosperity, the universal diffusion of righteousness, and stability in their own land after a general restoration in Gospel tines, are repeated, enlarged on, and illustrated by a variety of beautiful figures, Jer 31:29-40.
Dr. Blayney has introduced this and the preceding chapter with the following excellent observations: -
"There are many prophecies," says he, "in various parts of the Old Testament, which announce the future restoration of Israel to their own land, and the complete re-establishment of both their civil and religious constitution in the latter days, meaning the times of the Gospel dispensation. These two chapters contain a prophecy of this kind; which must necessarily be referred to these times, because it points out circumstances which certainly were not fulfilled at the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, nor have hitherto had their completion. For the people who returned from Babylon were the people of Judah only, who had been carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar; but here it is foretold, that not only should the captivity of Judah be restored, but the captivity of Israel also, meaning those ten tribes which were carried away before, by Shalmaneser king of Assyria; and who still remain in their several dispersions, having never returned, in a national capacity at least, to their own land, whatever some few individuals have done. But the terms of the prophecy entitle us to expect, not an obscure and partial, but a complete and universal, restoration; when God will manifest himself, as formerly, the God and Patron of all the families of Israel, and not of a few only. Again it is promised that, after this restoration, they should no more fall under the dominion of foreigners, but be governed by princes and magistrates of their own nation, independently of any but God, and David their king. But this was not the case with the Jews who returned from Babylon. They then indeed had a leader, Zerubbabel, one of their own nation, and also of the family of David; but both the nation and their leader continued still in a state of vassalage, and the most servile dependence upon the Persian monarchy. And when the Grecian monarchy succeeded, they changed their masters only, but not their condition; till at length under the Asmonean princes they had for a while an independent government of their own, but without any title to the name of David. At last they fell under the Roman yoke; since which time their situation has been such as not to afford the least ground to pretend that the promised restoration has yet taken place. It remains therefore to be brought about in future under the reign of the Messiah, emphatically distinguished by the name of David; when every particular circumstance predicted concerning it will no doubt be verified by a distinct and unequivocal accomplishment. There is no particular date annexed to this prophecy, whereby to ascertain the precise time of its delivery. But it may not unreasonably be presumed to have followed immediately after the preceding one in which the restoration of the people from their Babylonish captivity is in direct terms foretold. From hence the transition is natural and easy to the more glorious and general restoration which was to take place in a more distant period, and was designed for the ultimate object of the national hopes and expectations. Both events are frequently thus connected together in the prophetic writings; and perhaps with this design, that when that which was nearest at hand should be accomplished, it might afford the clearest, and strongest, and most satisfactory kind of evidence that the latter, how remote soever its period, would in like manner be brought about by the interposition of Providence in its due season. But though this prophecy relates wholly to one single subject, it seems naturally to divide itself into three distinct parts.
The first part, after a short preface, in which the prophet is required to commit to writing the matters revealed to him, commences with representing, in a style of awe and energy, the consternation and distress which, in some future day of visitation, should fall upon all nations, preparatory to the scene of Jacob's deliverance, Jer 30:5-9. Israel is encouraged to confide in the Divine assurance of restoration and protection, Jer 30:10, Jer 30:11. He is prepared previously to expect a severe chastisement for the multitude of his sins; but consoled with the prospect of a happy termination, Jer 30:12-17. This is followed by an enumeration at large of the blessings and privileges to which the Jews should be restored upon their re-admission into God's favor, Jer 30:18-22. Again, however, it is declared that the anger of Jehovah would not subside till his purposed vengeance against the wicked should have been fully executed; and then, but not till then, an entire reconciliation would take place between him and all the families of Israel, Jer 30:23, Jer 31:1.
The second part of this prophecy begins chap. Jer 31:2, and is marked by a sudden transition to a distant period of time, represented in a vision, and embellished with a variety of beautiful scenes and images. God announces the renewal of his ancient love for Israel; and promises, in consequence thereof, a speedy restoration of their former privileges and happiness, Jer 31:2-5. Already the heralds have proclaimed on Mount Ephraim the arrival of the joyful day; they summon the people to re-assemble once more in Zion; and promulge by special command the glad tidings of salvation which God had accomplished for them. God himself declares his readiness to conduct home the remnant of Israel from all parts of their dispersion, to compassionate and relieve their infirmities, and to provide them with all necessary accommodations by the way, Jer 31:6-9. The news is carried into distant lands; and the nations are summoned to attend to the display of God's power and goodness in rescuing his people from their stronger enemies, and in supplying them after their return with all manner of good things to the full extent of their wants and desires, Jer 31:10-14. Here the scene changes; and two new personages are successively introduced, in order to diversify the same subject, and to impress it more strongly. Rachel first; who is represented as just risen from the grave, and bitterly bewailing the loss of her children; for whom she anxiously looks about, but none are to be seen. Her tears are dried up; and she is consoled with the assurance that they are not lost for ever, but shall in time be brought back to their ancient borders, Jer 31:15-17. Ephraim comes next. He laments his past undutifulness with great contrition and penitence, and professes an earnest desire of amendment. These symptoms of returning duty are no sooner discerned in him, than God acknowledges him once more as a darling child and resolves with mercy to receive him, Jer 31:18-20. The virgin of Israel is then earnestly exhorted to hasten the preparations for their return; and encouraged with having the prospect of a signal miracle wrought in her favor, Jer 31:21, Jer 31:22. And the vision closes at last with a promise that the Divine blessing should again rest upon the land of Judah; and that the men of Judah should once more dwell there, cultivating it according to the simplicity of ancient institutions, and fully discharged from every want, Jer 31:23-26. In the third part, by way of appendix to the vision, the following gracious promises are specifically annexed: That God would in time to come supply all the deficiencies of Israel and Judah; and would be as diligent to restore as he had ever been to destroy them; and would not any more visit the offenses of the fathers upon the children, Jer 31:27-30. That he would make with them a better covenant than he had made with their forefathers, Jer 31:31-34. That they should continue his people by an ordinance as firm and as lasting as that of the heavens, Jer 31:35-37. And that Jerusalem should again be built, enlarged in its extent, and secure from future desolation, Jer 31:38-40."
At the same time - This discourse was delivered at the same time with the former; and, with that, constitutes the Book which God ordered the prophet to write.
Will I be the God of all the families of Israel - I shall bring back the ten tribes, as well as their brethren the Jews. The restoration of the Israelites is the principal subject of this chapter.
The people which were left of the sword - Those of the ten tribes that had escaped death by the sword of the Assyrians.
Found grace in the wilderness - The place of their exile; a wilderness, compared to their own land. - Dahler. See Isa 40:3
I have loved thee with an everlasting love - ואהבת עולם אהבתיך veahabath olam ahabtich, "and with the old love I have loved thee." "Also, with a love of long standing have I loved thee." - Blayney. "But I love thee always." - Dahler. I still bear to the Jewish people that love which I showed to their fathers in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in the promised land. Can it be supposed, by any person seriously considering the context, that these words are spoken of God's decree of election in behalf of the Jews? Those who make it such, act most injudiciously on their own principle; for, how few of the Jews have ever given evidence that they were the children of God, from their restoration from Babylon to the present day! The words refer simply to their state as a people, most wondrously preserved by the providence and mercy of God, as a standing proof of the Divine authority of the Scriptures, and as an evidence of God's displeasure against sin.
Therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee - "Therefore have I lengthened out mercy to thee." - Blayney,
C'est pourquoi je t'ai conserve ma grace.
"Therefore I have preserved my grace to thee."
The exiles, who had not for a long time received any proofs of the Divine protection, are represented as deploring their state; but God answers, that though this may seem to be the case, he has always loved them; and this continued love he will show by bringing them out of their captivity. However creeds may fare, this is the sense of the passage; all the context proves this.
O virgin of Israel - Israelites in general; now called virgin, because restored to their ancient purity.
With thy tabrets - Women in general played on these; they were used in times of rejoicing, and accompanied with dancing. To these customs, still preserved, the prophet alludes.
Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria - This was the regal city of the Israelites, as Jerusalem was of the Jews.
Shall eat them as common things - By the law of Moses no man was permitted to eat of the fruit of his vineyard till the fifth year after planting. For the first three years it was considered uncircumcised, unclean, not fit to be eaten; in the fourth year it was holy to the Lord, the fruit belonged to Him; in the fifth year he might use it for himself, Lev 19:23-25. But in the time here mentioned the fruit should be considered common - lawful at all times to be eaten.
For there shall be a day - Literally, for this is the day, or the day is come. The watchmen - the prophets.
Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion - Let both Israelites and Jews join together in the worship of the Lord.
The chief of the nations - The same as Jacob or Israel; for most certainly this people was once the most honorable on the face of the earth.
O Lord, save thy people - Let the Jews earnestly intercede in behalf of their Israelitish brethren; or let them rejoice and praise the Lord, who hath saved the remnant of Israel. So Dr. Blayney thinks the clause should be understood.
I will bring them from the north country - From Babylon.
From the coasts of the earth - The ten tribes were carried away partly into Assyria by Tiglath-pileser, and partly into Mesopotamia and Media by Shalmaneser, Kg2 15:29; Kg2 17:6. Assyria and Media, being very distant from Palestine, might have been called, in prophetic language, the coasts of the earth.
The blind and the lame - I will so effectually remove all difficulties out of the way, so provide for them on the journey, so supernaturally support their bodies and minds, that the veriest invalids shall safely proceed to, and happily arrive at, the end of their journey.
They shall come with weeping - Duly penetrated with a sense of their sins, they shall deeply deplore them; and, while weeping for them, earnestly supplicate God to have mercy upon them.
By the rivers of waters - I will so guide and provide for them in the arid deserts, that they shall find streams of water whenever necessary. Every one knows of how much consequence water is to travelers in the eastern deserts.
Ephraim is my first-born - Ephraim, being the most considerable, is often put for the whole of the ten tribes.
And shall flow together - Perhaps this may refer to their assembling at the three great national feasts, the passover, pentecost, and tabernacles.
Their soul shall be as a watered garden - Full of the light, life, and power of God; so that they shall rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every thing.
And I will satiate the soul of the priests - The worship of God being restored, they shall have their proper share of the victims brought to the temple.
A voice was heard in Ramah - The Ramah mentioned here, (for there were several towns of this name), was situated in the tribe of Benjamin, about six or seven miles from Jerusalem. Near this place Rachel was buried; who is here, in a beautiful figure of poetry, represented as coming out of her grave, and lamenting bitterly for the loss of her children, none of whom presented themselves to her view, all being slain or gone into exile. St. Matthew, who is ever fond of accommodation, applies these words, Mat 2:17, Mat 2:18, to the massacre of the children at Bethlehem. That is, they were suitable to that occasion, and therefore he so applied them; but they are not a prediction of that event.
They shall come again from the land of the enemy - This could not be said of the murdered innocents at Bethlehem; they never came again; but the Jews, who had gone into captivity, did come again from the land of their enemy to their own border.
I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself - The exiled Israelites are in a state of deep repentance.
Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised - I was at first like an unbroken and untoward steer, the more I was chastised the more I rebelled; but now I have benefited by thy correction.
Turn thou me - I am now willing to take thy yoke upon me, but I have no power. I can only will and pray. Take the matter into thy own hand, and fully convert my soul.
After that I was turned - Converted from my sin, folly, and idolatry.
I repented - To conviction of sin, I now added contrition for sin. Conviction, in this sense of the word, must precede contrition or repentance. As soon as a man sees himself lost and undone, he is convicted of sin; when convicted, he begins to mourn. Thus contrition follows conviction.
I smote upon my thigh - My sorrow grew deeper and deeper; I smote upon my thigh through the extremity of my distress. This was a usual sign of deep affliction. See Eze 21:12. It was the same among the ancient Greeks. So Homer: -
Ως εφατ' αυταρ Αρης θαλερω πεπληγετο μηρω
Χερσι καταπρηνεσσ,ολοφυρομενος δε προσηυδα.
IL. lib. 15:113.
"She spake: and with expanded arms, his thighs
Smiting, thus sorrowful, the god exclaimed."
- αυταρ Αχιλλευς
Μηρω πληξαμενος Πατροκληα προσεειπεν.
IL. lib. 16:124.
"Achilles saw it, smote his thigh, and said."
I have often seen persons in deep grief act thus.
Is Ephraim my dear son? - It is impossible to conceive any thing more tenderly affectionate than this. Let us consider the whole account. The ten tribes, called here Ephraim, for the reason before alleged, are represented as acknowledging their sins. I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself; and in his lamentation he says,
1. Thou hast chastised me.
2. Though he at first rebelled against the chastisement, yet at last he submitted and acknowledged his offenses.
3. He turned from all his offenses; he was converted.
4. After his conversion, (שובי shubi), he repented; after conviction came contrition, as before stated.
5. Being in a state of godly sorrow, he was instructed, הודעי hivvadei, he got a thorough knowledge of the desperate wickedness of his heart and life.
6. Having received this instruction, he was filled with excessive grief; which is signified here by smiting on his thigh. See above.
7. He finds that from his youth up he had been sinning against God; and although his youthful sins had long passed from his memory, yet the light of God brought them back, and he was ashamed and confounded at the sight of them.
8. In this state of confusion and distress God sees him; and, commiserating his state, thus speaks: -
1. Is Ephraim my dear son? Bad as he is in his own sight, and in the sight of my justice, he is now a penitent, and to me is precious.
2. However loathsome and disfigured he may be with sin and sorrow, he is to me a pleasant child - a child of delights; one in whose conversion I delight, and my angels rejoice.
3. I did speak against him: כי מדי דברי בו ki middey dabberi bo, for "from the abundance of my speaking in him;" accusing, threatening, promising, exhorting, encouraging; "I do still earnestly remember him." God has taken much pains with him, and is unwilling to give him up; but now that he repents, he has not received the grace of God utterly in vain.
4. God feels a yearning desire towards him; המו מעי לו hamu meai lo, "my bowels are agitated for him." I feel nothing towards him but pity and love. When a sinner turns to God, God ceases to be angry with him.
5. God expresses his determination to save him; ארחמנו רחם rachem arachamennu, "I will be affectionately merciful to him, with tender mercy, saith the Lord." He shall find that I treat him as a father does a returning prodigal son. So every penitent is sure to find mercy at the hand of God.
Set thee up waymarks - Alluding to stones, or heaps of stones, which travelers in the desert set up to ascertain the way, that they may know how to return. Mark the way to Babylon: thither ye shall certainly go; but from it ye shall as certainly return.
A woman shall compass a man - נקבה תסובב גבר nekebah tesobeb gaber, "A weak woman shall compass or circumvent a strong man." This place has given much trouble to Biblical critics. By many Christian writers it is considered a prophecy of the miraculous conception of the holy virgin; but as I am sure no such meaning is in the words, nor in the context, so I am satisfied no such meaning can be fairly brought out of them. Houbigant thinks there is a small error in the text, i.e., תשובב teshobeb, shall return, and not תסובב tesobeb, shall compass. This reading is found in two of Kennicott's MSS., and he contends that the passage should be read, "The wife shall return to her husband;" alluding to the conversion of the Jewish people, called above a backsliding daughter. This makes a good sense; but I do not see why this should be called a new thing in the earth. After all, I think it likely that the Jews in their present distressed circumstances are represented under the similitude of a weak defenseless female נקבה nekebah; and the Chaldeans under that of a fierce strong man, גבר gaber, who had prevailed over and oppressed this weak woman. But, notwithstanding the disparity between them, God would cause the woman - the weak defenseless Jews, to compass - to overcome, the strong man - the powerful Babylonians. And this the prophet says would be a new thing in the land; for in such a case the lame would take the prey. The context favors both these meanings. Dr. Blayney gives a sense very near to this: "A weak woman shall repulse a strong or mighty man." It is most likely a proverbial expression.
The Lord bless thee, O habitation of justice - After their return they shall De remarkably prosperous. Piety and industry shall go hand in hand; they shall have their husbandmen, their shepherds, and neatherds, Jer 31:24. And Jerusalem shall become a righteous city, and the temple shall be a place of holiness; so the weary there shall have rest, and the sorrowful shall be abundantly comforted, Jer 31:24, Jer 31:25.
Upon this I awaked - It appears that the prophecy, commencing with Jer 30:2 and ending with Jer 31:25 of this chapter, was delivered to the prophet in a dream. Dahler supposes it to be a wish; that the prophet, though he could not hope to live to that time, might be permitted to awake up from his tomb; and, having seen this prosperity, would be content to return to his grave.
I will sow - with the seed of man and with the seed of beast - I will multiply both men and cattle.
The fathers have eaten a sour grape - A proverbial expression for, "The children suffer for the offenses of their parents." This is explained in the next verse: "Every one shall die for his own iniquity." No child shall suffer Divine punition for the sin of his father; only so far as he acts in the same way can he be said to bear the sins of his parents.
A new covenant - The Christian dispensation.
After those days - When vision and prophecy shall be sealed up, and Jesus have assumed that body which was prepared for him, and have laid down his life for the redemption of a lost world, and, having ascended on high, shall have obtained the gift of the Holy Spirit to purify the heart; then God's law shall, by it, be put in their inward parts, and written on their hearts; so that all within and all without shall be holiness to the Lord. Then God will be truly their God, received and acknowledged as their portion, and the sole object of their devotion; and they shall be his people, filled with holiness, and made partakers of the Divine nature, so that they shall perfectly love him and worthily magnify his name.
And they shall teach no more - It shall be a time of universal light and knowledge; all shall know God in Christ, from the least to the greatest; the children shall be taught to read the New Covenant, and to understand the terms of their salvation.
I will forgive their iniquity - It shall be a time of General Pardon; multitudes shall be daily in the Christian Church receiving the witness of God's Spirit, and in their life and conversation witnessing a good confession. How wonderfully is this prophecy fulfilled in the age of Bibles, Sunday schools, and village preaching.
If those ordinances - As sure as the sun shall give light to the day, and the moon to the night, so surely shall the Jews continue to be a distinct people. The same thing is expressed in other words in the next verse. Hitherto this prophecy has been literally fulfilled; the Jews are still a distinct people from all the dwellers upon earth. Every attempt that has been made in any country to naturalize and unite them with the people of that country, has proved abortive. The well-circumstanced attempt made this year (1830) in England, when the strongest interest was excited in their behalf, has also utterly failed. And why? Because of God's purpose expressed in Jer 31:35-37 of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.
The city shall be built to the Lord - This cannot mean the city built after the return from Babylon, for two reasons:
1. This is to be much greater in extent;
2. It is to be permanent, never to be thrown down, Jer 31:40. It must therefore mean, if taken literally at all, the city that is to be built by them when they are brought in with the fullness of the Gentiles.
The tower of Hananeel - This stood in the northeast part of the city; from thence the wall proceeded to the corner gate, (probably the same as the old gate), thus named from its running out into an angle in that part.
Upon the hill Gareb - Gareb and Goath are out of the limits of this city. The latter is supposed to be Golgotha; that is, the heap of Gotha, which, being the place where our Lord was crucified, was without the city. These hills were a little to the north-west of the old city walls: but are destined to be within the new city. See Dr. Blayney on all these verses.
The whole valley of the dead bodies - The valley of the son of Hinnom.
And all the fields unto the brook of Kidron, unto the corner of the horse-gate toward the east - All these places, the fuller's field, etc., shall be consecrated to the Lord, and become a part of this new city; so that this will appear to be a city much more extensive than the city of Jerusalem ever was; and to be suited to that time, when the people shall have the law written in their hearts, and God shall have filled the land with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast. Talia saecla currite! "Make speed, ye happy times!"