The Old Testament text for this Sunday is from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. The text is Jeremiah 31:7-9 and is a small part of a very significant chapter in Jeremiah. In fact, chapters 30-32 are often referred to as the “Book of Consolation”. After much language of judgement and woe, Jeremiah turns to words of comfort for the people. Certainly, they are in great need because the time frame of Jeremiah (627-585 BC) are years of terrible unrest; both socially and especially politically. When Jeremiah begins his prophetic ministry under young King Josiah all eyes had been focused on Assyria which had previously taken the Northern Kingdom of Israel into exile around 712 BC. However, all could see that the Assyrian empire was falling apart, and the concern is over who will step in and fill the power vacuum? There were multiple candidates—Egypt, Babylon, the Medes. This led to much unrest among the people.
The date for chapter 31 is a bit fuzzy, but would seem to be around 609-585 BC. The return from exile that Jeremiah refers to could be that of the Northern Kingdom or it could be both Northern and Southern (my opinion). However, is Jeremiah prophesying a return from exile which has not yet happened or a return from the exiles of 712, 595, and 587? It is difficult to know exactly, but these are great words of comfort nevertheless.
The themes of “Restoration and Remnant” are very strong in this chapter. This is our Gospel focus and it could not be clearer. But as we preach this text it is important to consider what has led the Israelites into exile in the first place—unbelief; unfaithfulness; a disdain for the covenant; etc. This is our law focus because the joyful restoration of chapter 31 cannot happen out of context. Later, in the more famous verses in chapter 31, Jeremiah lays it out clearly (vss. 31-34). God will restore His remnant and return them from exile. He will establish a “New Covenant” with His people; unlike the old one, which they broke. This is how the people of Israel, both Northern and Southern Kingdoms, found themselves in such a difficult and terrible spot. They had broken the Covenant and spoiled the relationship between God and man. The full effect of the Law had been visited upon them, but now the LORD will remember His people and return them to the land of promise and to Holy Jerusalem.
31:7 רָנּוּ root: רנן Qal: “to rejoice; break out in rejoicing; give a loud, joyful cry”
שִׂמְחָה “joy; gladness; jubilation”
וְצַהֲלוּ root: צהל “to rejoice; cry aloud; cry shrilly”
בְּרֹאשׁ הַגּוֹיִם “first of nations; chief of nations” It has been suggested that this was a popular term for Israel and was used with much pride. Certainly, as the “chosen people,” they could use this term. Using it here in this historical context may serve the purpose of showing how the LORD God has once again re-established the Covenant (New) with His people.
הַשְׁמִיעוּ root: שׁמע Hiphil imperative: “Proclaim!; Sound forth!”
עַמְּךָ The Hebrew has “your people” while the LXX and Targums have “His people”
שְׁאֵרִית “remnant” I would translate this phrase as “The LORD saved your people, the remnant of Israel.” The verb “to save” is used in the imperative and I would use it in an emphatic, declarative sense. The remnant here is best identified as the “New Israel” restored to the Promised Land to be the people to usher in the New Covenant.
31:8 מֵבִיא root: בִוא Hiphil participle “I am bringing” Note the One doing the bringing, the “Causing Agent” is the LORD.
וְקִבַּצְתִּים root: קִבץ “to gather” “I am gathering”
מִיַּרְכְּתֵי from ירכה “remotest place; remote part; farthest place”
פִסֵּחַ “lame; limping”
הָרָה “pregnant; in labor” Idea conveyed is “far along in her pregnancy”
קָהָל גָּדוֹל “a great assembly; great company” Frequently, coupled with the use of “to gather” these words are used to represent a “worship assembly”. Since the return to the Promise Land and entering the courts of the LORD’s house are referred to in similar fashion in other portions of Scripture, especially poetic sections, this connection could be made. Note also the Exodus like quality of this gathering and returning and the Messianic language.
31:9 בִּבְכִי “with weeping”
וּבְתַחֲנוּנִים from: תַחֲנוּן “pleading for mercy; supplication for a favor”
אוֹבִילֵם root: יבל Hiphil: “to bring; lead” “I will lead them back; I will cause them to be brought back; I will bring them back”
אוֹלִיכֵם root: הלך Hiphil with verbal suffix: “I will make them walk; I will lead them.” Again, do not fail to note the “causing agent”.
נַחֲלֵי מַיִם “brooks of water; flowing streams” The idea of “living, active waters” is here.
יִכָּשְׁלוּ root: כשׁל Niphil “to stumble; stagger” The idea of straight paths without obstacles might also bring to mind the words of Isaiah in reference to John the Baptizer’s preparation for the way of the LORD.
The language in this text makes the preaching task much easier. Yes, this is the restoration of the people of Israel and their return from exile as the remnant. However, it also points to Israel reduced to One, Jesus Christ, who comes to establish the new covenant with His faithful remnant—the Church.