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As we enter the 31st chapter of the book of Jeremiah, we continue to hear the contents of the “book” that God commanded Jeremiah to write back in Jeremiah 30:2. And due to the nature of the subject matter in this smaller book within the broader book of Jeremiah, commentators have called this section in Jeremiah 30-34 the Book of Encouragement or the Book of Consolation. And that’s what we’re going to continue to study today.
We’ll be examining Jeremiah 31:1-20. And the encouragement in these verses is going to relate to Millennial Blessings for Northern Israel. Let me just take that title one piece at a time.
The Lord is going on the record here as addressing the Millennium. That’s the time as we know it now after the Rapture of the Church, after the Tribulation of this world, and started by the return of Christ to earth. From other parts of Scripture, we know that this Millennium is a time when Christ reigns on earth from Jerusalem. We know that people will live a long time during this period. We know that Satan will be bound so that he can’t tempt anyone for 1,000 years. And that’s an important point to catch – the Millennium is 1,000 years! During this time, it seems that many of the results of the curse that were placed on this world because of Adam’s sin will be reversed or at least minimized.
And in that context of the Millennium, you can imagine that there will be blessing upon blessing. Good things from God. Among those would be: long life, a perfect ruler to lead us, a changed global environment apparently, no Satan, animals not harming one another, and on and on.
And those blessings we’ve just rehearsed will be universal. And yet, in this section of Jeremiah, the Lord wants to point out how those blessings apply to one particular group. That is, Northern Israel. And I think this is fascinating, because there is some reason to think that the Jews from the northern kingdom of Israel never came back to their land from the Babylonian captivity. But apparently, they will someday, according to this section.
So, with that explanation, let’s consider this message of the Millennial Blessings for Northern Israel in Jeremiah 31:1-20.
And the way this message is going to work is that I’ve noticed a number of facts presented here about this time in world history. And I’m a little naturally suspicious of alliteration – the beginning of consecutive words with the same sound or letter – but it just so happens that many of the points in this section start with the letter “R”.
So, let’s study the Millennial Blessings for Northern Israel now in Jeremiah 31:1-20.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Restored Relationship with God
To begin, the people who descended from Northern Israel will in the Millennium have a restored relationship with God.
KJV Jeremiah 31:1 ¶ At [the same/that] time, [saith/affirms] the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
This corresponds to Jeremiah 30:22 where the Lord tells the people that in the future – in the Millennium as we recognize it – the Jews shall be God’s people and God shall be their God.
Now, northern Israel at the time of the writing of this book was in exile. They were brought to Assyria. They had been out of the land for maybe a century and a half. It seemed that they were no longer God’s people. In fact, by this point in history they could hardly be distinguished as a people at all! They were scattered and spread abroad and indistinguishable from the rest of the world.
But here God is promising that a time is coming when all Israel – not just Judah, but all Israel – would be God’s people. His special people. A people devoted and loyal to him. It hasn’t happened yet from our vantage point in the grand scheme of things. But this will happen. The Jews – all of them – will someday soon be viewed by God as his special people. And God will indeed be their God. There are all sorts of Jews in Israel today. But hardly any of them have adopted the true God as their God. Some day that is going to change.
Israel will – in the Millennium – enjoy a restored relationship with God.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Reversal of Circumstances
They’ll also experience a reversal of circumstances according to Jeremiah 31:2.
2 Thus saith the LORD,
The people [which were left of/who survived] the sword [found/will find] [grace/favor] in the wilderness; even Israel, [when/as] [I/it/they] [went/journey] to [cause him to/find its/find their] rest.
This verse is a little dark and obscure at first.
It could be speaking of Israel’s past move from Egypt to Canaan. In that sense then they would have escaped the sword of Egypt and would have found grace in the wilderness.
Another possible interpretation is that this is speaking of the Israelites who survived the Assyrian invasion. In that sense they escaped the sword of the Assyrians. And so then the grace that they find in the wilderness would apparently be speaking of their coming out of their time in exile – which would be a reference to the Millennium.
I prefer the latter possibility because of the context of Millennial Blessings for Northern Israel. But either has merit.
So, in the Millennium, Northern Israel will experience a reversal of circumstances. From sword and exile to grace and rest.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | Based on God’s Unending Love
But the question might be asked, “Why is God interested in blessing Northern Israel in the future Millennium?” The answer is found in Jeremiah 31:3. Simply, these promised future blessings are based completely on God’s unending love for Israel.
3 The LORD [hath appeared/will manifest himself] [of old/from afar/in a far-off land] [unto me/to him/to them], saying,
Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love:
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
The speaker in this verse is a little uncertain. If it’s Jeremiah, then we know that God isn’t speaking only of his – he’s speaking to all of Jeremiah’s fellow-Jews as well. It’s more likely that God is speaking to exiled Northern Israel here and it’s to Israel that God is speaking.
God loves Israel. Why? Well, the Lord said back in Deuteronomy that it wasn’t because they were anything special. They weren’t numerous. They weren’t mighty. But rather, God just decided to love them. And when God decides to love you, he doesn’t ever ultimately stop.
So, why will the former inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel experience Millennial blessings some day? Because God loves them and always will.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Rebuilding that Results in Rejoicing
Moving on to Jeremiah 31:4, when God does finally bless Israel in the Millennium, there will be a rebuilding that results in rejoicing.
4 Again I will build thee,
and thou shalt be [built/rebuilt], [O virgin of/my dear children] Israel:
thou shalt again [be adorned with/take up] thy [tabrets/tambourines],
and shalt go forth [in/to] the dances of them that make merry.
So, Israel is pictured as a young daughter who is happy and dancing. God’s obviously not speaking of a sensual provocative dance. He’s speaking of a jubilant, exuberant, joyful dance.
That’s how God pictures Israel when they come back to the land finally and permanently in the Millennium and are rebuilt. They will rejoice.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | Abundant Agriculture
Part of what will encourage their great joy is what we find in Jeremiah 31:5. They will have abundant agriculture.
5 Thou shalt [yet/once again] plant [vines/vineyards] upon the [mountains/hills] of Samaria:
the planters shall plant, and shall [eat them as common things/enjoy their fruit].
By the way, note the mention of Samaria. Again, we’re reminded that here in this section God is speaking specifically of Northern Israel. Samaria was the former capital of that region. When Israel was conquered and exiled, their capital was silenced.
Let’s bring it to the modern day. Do you wonder what’s ever happened to Samaria? Well, you would be more familiar with the name of the region in which this city now lies. It’s called the West Bank by the international community. And Israel still doesn’t actually even control this area. The PLO does – the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But it’s not going to be that way forever. Someday, the Lord says, “thou (Israel!) shalt … plant” in this area. They’re not doing that yet. But they will. And they will be doing this in the Millennium.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Religious Renewal
Now, in addition to the abundant agriculture of that day, the Israelites will have something so much more important. According to Jeremiah 31:6, Israel will have a religious renewal.
6 [For/Yes,] there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry,
Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the LORD our God.
In the days when Northern Israel split off from the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the king of Northern Israel wanted to prevent his citizens from going down south to Judah in order to worship the Lord. He thought that if they went down there, they’d go back to the Davidic ruler of the time and leave his kingdom. So, to prevent that, King Jeroboam set up the golden cows in Bethel and Dan. And ever since that point and until they were exiled, Israel’s worship was pure idolatry.
But a time is coming when people in this area of the modern West Bank – which again, currently does not even belong to Israel – these people will call out to one another and announce that it’s time to go to Jerusalem to worship the Lord.
So, in the Millennium, one more blessing that Israel has to look forward to is this religious renewal.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Challenge to Pray for this to Become Reality
Now, there are realities that are related to us in God’s word that don’t seem to fit together in our finite minds. Two large categories that often seem to be in conflict are these: 1) God’s sovereignty and 2) Man’s responsibility.
And not even in this passage can you escape these two seemingly-competing realities. Because up until now we’ve heard a message of God’s sovereignty. We’ve heard that God is going to do these things. We’ve heard that he loves Israel and will draw them and it seems that nothing will stop him.
But now, we arrive at Jeremiah 31:7. And it’s not as if God’s sovereignty is denied in this verse, but man’s responsibility is definitely highlighted. In this verse, the Lord challenges those who read this passage to pray for all of these wonderful things to become reality.
7 [For/Moreover] thus saith the LORD;
Sing with gladness for Jacob,
and shout [among the chief/for that foremost] of the nations:
[publish/proclaim] ye, praise ye, and say,
O LORD, [save/rescue] thy people,
the remnant of Israel.
We’re commanded to sing and shout and publish and praise and pray. You and I, as readers of this passage are commanded to pray that God would save his exiled people of northern Israel.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A National Retrieval
And when God finally does hear those prayers for the salvation and restoration of his people Israel, he is going to perform a national retrieval, according to Jeremiah 31:8.
8 Behold, I will bring them from the north country,
and gather them from the [coasts/remote parts] of the earth,
and with them the blind and the lame,
the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together:
a great company shall return thither.
Now, I struggle at this point. Because this passage is all about the Millennium. But what it seems is happening right now in our day is that the Lord is doing some of this – he’s retrieving Jews from all over the world to come back to the nation of Israel. The United Nations re-constituted this country back in 1947. Numerous events have contributed to Jews from all over the world returning to their homeland. It’s happening now.
And yet, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the Millennium. God will bring back his people Israel to their land in the Millennium. And I think this explains something that has been a little difficult for me to understand. In the book of Revelation, the Lord commands his people the Jews to come out of Babylon in the days of the Great Tribulation. So, there will apparently still be Jews dispersed in other countries in the Tribulation that God himself will need to bring back at the end of that time period – which again leads into this time we’re speaking of in this passage, which is the Millennium.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Repentance that Results in Rest
And this is how these people will return. They’re not going to come back in unbelief. They will be weeping and repenting. And this repentance of theirs will result in rest for them.
9 They shall come with weeping,
and with [supplications/prayers of repentance] will I lead them:
That’s the repentance. Now for the rest.
I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way,
wherein they shall not stumble:
That’s a beautiful, very picturesque picture of the rest that God will give to his people Israel.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | God’s Relationship to Northern Israel
And the Lord will give them that rest because of his relationship with Northern Israel – end of Jeremiah 31:9.
for I am a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn [but not the first one born…].
Ephraim was not the first one born in time to Joseph. He was the second. And this is one of those instances in which “first born” doesn’t mean the first one born. Being the firstborn was more of a privileged status than one’s order of birth. The firstborn was highly-honored by his father. He had greater responsibilities and greater benefits.
And it’s this high privilege that God is noting here. Ephraim – which is almost synonymous with Northern Israel – is claimed by the Lord to be his firstborn – not Jacob’s, not Joseph’s, the Lord’s! That’s quite a privileged position.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Reminder to the Nations
Well, at this point, in Jeremiah 31:10, the Lord turns to address the nations concerning his plans to gather Northern Israel back to their land.
10 Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations,
and declare it in the [isles/coastlands] afar off,
and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him,
and [keep/watch over] him, as a shepherd doth his flock.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Remarkable Redemption and Rescue
And in order to effect that gathering of Israel, the Lord will need to carry out a remarkable redemption and rescue as is recorded in Jeremiah 31:11.
11 For the LORD hath [redeemed/rescued] Jacob,
and [ransomed/secured the release of] him from the hand of him that was stronger than he.
In context, the one who was stronger than Israel simply would have been all of his oppressors while Israel was in captivity.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Rejoicing in Abundance, Removal of Sorrow
And you can only imagine the emotions that Israel will experience in the Millennium when all of them are brought back to their land. According to Jeremiah 31:12-13, there will first of all be a rejoicing in abundance. And second and kind of the opposite side of the same coin, there will be the removal of sorrow.
12 Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion,
and shall [flow together to/be radiant with joy over] the [goodness/bounty/good things] of the LORD,
for wheat, and for wine,
and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd:
and their [soul/life] shall be as a watered garden;
and they shall not [sorrow/languish/grow faint or weary] any more at all.
13 Then shall the [virgin/young women] rejoice in the dance,
both young men and old together:
for I will turn their mourning into joy,
and will comfort them,
and make them rejoice [from/in place of their] their sorrow.
And folks, what a contrast this message is compared to what we’ve been hearing throughout most of this book of Jeremiah. We’ve been hearing of punishment for the people’s disobedience. Then their punishers are promised punishment in the future. There’s been sorrow and wrath and all sorts of hard things. So, we do need to keep that in mind as we read through this wonderful Book of Encouragement. Let the contrast between what God was having to do to his people compared to what he had and has planned for that very group of people – let that shock you, in a good way. I’m sure it would have been shocking to those who heard the message originally. And that shock in the future will cause these people – the people who descend from the tribes of Northern Israel – to rejoice.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | Abundant Provision for All
Moving on to Jeremiah 31:14, God promises abundant provision for all.
14 And I will [satiate/fill] the soul of the priests with [fatness/abundance],
and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD.
Both priests and people will find abundant provision.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | Rachel’s Children Restored from Exile
Next we get into a section in Jeremiah 31:15-17 regarding Rachel weeping for her children. So, we’ll try to explain what this meant in its original context and then try to consider how the apostle Matthew applied this passage to King Herod’s murdering of the infants of Bethlehem.
15 Thus saith the LORD;
A [voice/sound] was heard in Ramah,
lamentation, and bitter weeping;
Rahel weeping for her children
refused to be comforted for her children,
because they [were not/are no more/are gone].
16 Thus saith the LORD;
[Refrain thy voice from weeping/Stop crying!],
[and thine eyes from tears/Don’t shed any more tears!]:
for thy [work/heartfelt repentance] shall be rewarded, saith the LORD;
and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
17 And there is hope [in/for] thine [end/future/posterity], saith the LORD,
that thy children shall come again to their own [border/territory].
So, first the easy part – what this passage meant in its original context. This section is portraying Rachel – the mother of Benjamin and Joseph – weeping from Ramah which was in the territory of Ephraim in Northern Israel, on the mountains of Ephraim. She’s weeping because those who descended from her in Northern Israel were exiled and thus gone from the land. But that’s when God comes back and addresses Rachel and tells her to stop weeping because of what he’s just been saying this whole time in Jeremiah 31 – he’s bringing back her descendants from exile in the Millennium!
That’s the original message given to the Jews. And it’s fairly easy to understand.
What’s not so easy to understand is how Matthew applies this to the children of Bethlehem who were murdered by King Herod.
In Matthew 2:16-18 we read the following.
KJV Matthew 2:16 ¶ Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Matthew is clearly associating the events of Herod’s murder of the infants in Bethlehem with Jeremiah’s prophecy. And he goes farther and says that this event in some way or another “fulfills” Jeremiah’s prophecy.
Now, I understand how these two events share in common certain features. In both Jeremiah and Matthew, we’re speaking of Rachel’s descendants. In both books, we’re talking about their death or at least their violent displacement. In both books, the location is the same – Ramah in Ephraim.
We see differences, too. In Jeremiah the people will eventually come back. But Matthew leaves out that final comfort given by Jeremiah of the return of Rachel’s children. The details of the circumstances recorded in both of these books differ somewhat – Jeremiah has Rachel’s descendants being exiled, though some were killed and many of them would have been adults. In Matthew, Rachel’s descendants are all children, two years old and younger. All of them are killed and none are exiled.
So, there are indeed similarities in the events recorded in both Jeremiah and Matthew. There are also some significant differences in the details.
And yet somehow the events of Matthew fulfill the statement made by the Lord in Jeremiah 31. And I think the question that needs to be answered to make sense of this assertion by Matthew is to try to understand what “fulfill” means. What does that word mean? If we wanted to replace that word with another word or a phrase that would more completely convey the meaning of that word, what word or phrase would we use?
So, let’s try to complete the following statement.
“Herod killed the Bethlehem babies. This (blanks) Jeremiah 31:15.”
What should go in that blank?
- This reminds us of Jeremiah 31:15?
- This hearkens back to Jeremiah 31:15?
- This shares a number of things in common with Jeremiah 31:15?
- This bears an uncanny resemblance to Jeremiah 31:15?
- This is amazingly similar to what happened in Jeremiah 31:15?
I think the best I can do with this passage is more like “acts out.” So, what happened with the babies in Bethlehem acts out or fleshes out what the Lord said in Jeremiah 31:15. It’s not as if Jeremiah 31:15 was given for the sole purpose of getting everyone ready for the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem around 500-600 years after he spoke. But that slaughter of the babies was an acting out of that part of the prophesy given in Jeremiah 31.
You might wonder if Matthew uses the word “fulfill” in this sense anywhere else? I think he does. He uses the Greek word which is translated as “fulfill” (πληροω) 16 times. I think “acting out” could fit in just about any of those instances. One example will have to suffice for now. Jesus in Matthew 5:17 said that he came not to abolish or get rid of or ignore and consider worthless the Law and Prophets. No, he said he came to fulfill them. That is, he came to act them out. And he acted out the Law and the Prophets perfectly for your benefit and mine.
Now, the fact that Matthew 2 is an acting out of Jeremiah 31 is not to deny that there will be a final and ultimate “acting out” of the entirety of Jeremiah 31:15-17. We know already that God will have the final “acting out” of this passage when he finally brings the people of Northern Israel back to their land in the Millennium. But that’s not to exclude the possibility that parts of this passage in Jeremiah 31 will be acted out in some ways leading up to that point.
So, to summarize the connection between Jeremiah 31 and Matthew 2, what does Matthew mean when he speaks of the murder of babies in Bethlehem and then references Jeremiah 31 and says that that passage has been fulfilled? It simply means that the unrighteous murder of the babies was an “acting out” of the part of Jeremiah 31 where it portrays Rachel as mourning the loss of her descendants.
And at the most very basic level, what does it mean to fulfill something (at least in Matthew 2)? It means to act it out.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Repentance Received and Responded To
Now let’s continue in Jeremiah 31:18-19 where the people who were sent out of Northern Israel are portrayed as repenting in the future. And God wants it to be known that he will receive their repentance.
18 I have surely heard [Ephraim/the people(?)/the people of Israel] [bemoaning himself thus/grieving/saying mournfully];
Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised,
as a [bullock/calf] [unaccustomed to the yoke/untrained]:
[turn thou me/you disciplined us], and [I shall be turned/we learned from it];
for thou art the LORD my God.
19 Surely after that I was turned [i.e., away from You], I repented;
and after that I [was instructed/came to my senses], I smote upon my thigh:
I was ashamed, yea, even [confounded/humiliated],
because I did bear the reproach of my youth.
This is the kind of statement that those repentant Jews will say to the Lord when he brings them back to Israel in the Millennium.
Jeremiah 31 Summary | A Remembrance of Relationship
And finally, God remember his relationship with the people of Northern Israel in Jeremiah 31:20.
20 Is Ephraim my dear son?
is he a [pleasant/delightful] child?
for [since/as often as/even though] I [spake against/rebuked] him,
I do [earnestly/fondly] remember him still:
therefore my [bowels/heart] [are troubled/yearns] for him;
I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the LORD.
The Lord indeed will surely have mercy upon Northern Israel as he showers them with blessings in the Millennium.
And don’t worry. We haven’t spoken hardly a word about us Christians in this message. But there are definitely blessings to come for Christians in the Millennium. Revelation tells us that we will reign with Christ for that thousand-year period. What more do we need to know?!
So then, may the Lord help us to live the rest of this week in light of the future blessings to come – both for Northern Israel and for us.Tags: Old Testament Major Prophets