So in Jeremiah 31, this new relationship to God is made very distinct. "At the same time, saith Jehovah, will I be the God of all the families of Israel." There is to be a complete restoration of the scattered and dispersed tribes not of Judah only but of Israel: "all the families of Israel." Nothing can be more distinct. "Thus saith Jehovah, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest."
Then in a very beautiful manner this chapter delineates the mighty intervention of God. He "will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together" (verse 8). It is a complete deliverance, so that even the suffering and the sick will be brought safely back by God's command and care. He will ensure their safe entrance into the holy land. The recovery of the nations is to be, therefore, complete. If any persons were likely to be left behind when Israel is being gathered, it would, of course, be the sick and helpless, such as here described; but no, all are brought back. Jehovah will forget none.
Further, Israel will not return with vainglory and pride, as if their own arm had delivered them. Their salvation in that day will not be due to the influence of money or to diplomacy, or to anything of man. "They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them." It will be a real work of God in them and for them. A work of repentance in their souls will accompany their restoration. "For I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn" (verse 9).
In this chapter occurs the well-known scripture which is applied to Herod's destruction of the innocents, as they are called, at Bethlehem. "Thus saith Jehovah; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children because they were not" (verse 15). It is beautiful to see that the Holy Spirit (Matt. 2:17, 18) applies to that event the passage about sorrow but not that about joy. Here is what follows: "Thus saith Jehovah; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith Jehovah; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy" (verse 16).
Now the evangelist did not quote this verse. He only referred to what was fulfilled. There was bitter sorrow then, even in the birthplace of royalty. Deep anguish was in the place where there ought to have been the greatest joy. The birth of the Messiah ought to have been the signal for universal joy in the land of Israel. And there would have been if there had been faith in God and His promise, but there was not. Moreover, since the state of the people was one of shameful unbelief so there was an Edomite usurper on the throne. Hence violence and deceit ruled in the land, and Rachel wept for her children and could not be comforted because they were not. So the Holy Spirit applied the first part of the prophecy, but there He stops. When the entire prophecy is fulfilled, there will be sorrow again in the land, great sorrow, but there will also be joy. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." "And there is hope in thine end, saith Jehovah, that thy children shall come again to their own border" (verse 17).
Then comes the repentance of Ephraim. "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus"; and the Lord shows that this work of contrition which undoubtedly begins in their souls is carried on to its end. "Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth" (verse, 19).
The Lord shows His feeling of love for the repentant one. "Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore My bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith Jehovah. Set thee up waymarks, make thee high heaps: set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou wentest: turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities" (verses 20, 21). It is the final return of Israel to their own land after long wandering. "How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter? for Jehovah hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man" (verse 22).
It has been common among the Fathers as well as the divines that have followed them to apply this passage to the birth of the Lord of the Virgin Mary, but the prophecy has not the smallest reference to it. A woman compassing a man is not at all the same thing as the Virgin compassing and bearing a son. Compassing a man has no reference whatever to the birth of a child. The meaning is that a woman who is regarded as the weakest of the human race should overcome even the strongest man. The term for man here implies a man of might. He is expressly not an ordinary man but a hero, a man of might; and, contrary to the ordinary course of nature, the weak woman overthrows the powerful man.
Such is the idea of the phrase. The true force of "compass" is not only to oppose or resist but even to defeat all the man's strength. And so God will cause this woman, who is clearly a figure of the backsliding daughter of Israel in her great weakness, to be an overcomer. Though she is in the very weakest state and all the might of the man is against her, she will nevertheless compass the man and be victorious.
There will be in the coming time a complete change for Israel in the manner of what we know in our blessed Lord Himself. We often sing in one of our hymns, "By weakness and defeat, He won the meed and crown," so in that day the Lord will reproduce His own victory in His people. "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord." The woman is the symbol of the nation in their weakness, and the compassing a man is their victory over all human resources brought to bear against them.
This view gives a very simple meaning to this symbolic sentence, without forcing a reference to the virgin birth of Christ. Indeed Jeremiah does not make any distinct reference to the Messiah's birth. He predicts the Messiah as a king reigning. He does not look at His birth, His life, His death, or His cross, but at the nation of Israel, and at the Lord Jesus in His national relationship to them as their King, as "David their king."
Now this special line in their ministry gives great symmetry to the prophets. There is always great propriety in the various prophecies. The prophets do not all bring in the Messiah in the same way. Isaiah is the most comprehensive of all the prophets, and brings in the Messiah in every way. Some of them only foretell the Messiah as a sufferer, and others as a glorious conqueror. One may show Him in both aspects, but usually some present Him in one way and some in another. There is always a relation between the particular scope of the prophecy and the manner in which Christ is introduced in it.
The effect of this assurance of coming blessing for his people upon the prophet's mind was that his sleep was sweet unto him (verse 26). He was refreshed by the knowledge that God will work for His people in the time of their greatest weakness and bring about such happy results. The prophecy that follows is in entire accordance with this intimation.
"Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast. And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them to pluck up and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them to build, and to plant, saith Jehovah. In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge. Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (verses 27-32).
The new covenant will not be of the same nature as the old one. This contrast between them completely refutes one of the standing objections of modern Judaism. One of the most celebrated Rabbis, a Spanish Jew, called Erobeo,* reasons at great length and with considerable acuteness as if there could be nothing but the law of Moses which will remain the invariable standard of Israel and nothing else.
* There seems no doubt that "Erobeo" in the text refers to Balthazar Orobio de Castro, an apologetic writer for the Jewish faith. He was born at Braganza, Portugal, and died in 1687 at Amsterdam, where he settled after leaving Spain. He produced many works in defence of the Jewish religion, opposing especially Spinoza, the infidel Jew, who has been called the father of modern Pantheism. Orobio's parents were nominally Christian, and he himself was tortured and imprisoned by the Inquisition. On his release, he abjured Christianity, reverted to the religion of his race was circumcised, and took the name of Isaac. - (W.J.H.)
Now it is very evident that in this passage we have the prophet who completely rejects such a thought and who shows that there is to be a vast change of covenant relationship. It will be no dishonour to the law of Moses that God will establish a new covenant under the Messiah; in fact Moses himself predicted it. He foretold that the Lord God was to raise up a prophet like unto himself, but although like unto him, superior to him (Deut. 18: 15, 18). There would be no superiority in this prophet if he did not introduce a new state of things, that is, the new covenant. Moses brought in the old covenant. Christ will bring in the new covenant.
I do not say we, Christians, have got the new covenant itself, but we have got the blood of the new covenant. We have that on which the new covenant is founded. The new covenant itself supposes the land of Israel blessed and the house of Israel delivered, but neither the one nor the other has become true yet. The new covenant supposes certain spiritual blessings, namely, the law of God written in the heart and our sins forgiven. These spiritual parts of the new covenant we have received now, along with other blessings peculiar to Christianity, namely, the presence of the Holy Ghost and union with Christ in heaven which the Jews will not have.
But nothing can be more evident than that this prophecy refutes the Jew when he imagines that it is a dishonour to the law for God to bring in anything better than what was enjoyed in the days of Moses. In this passage the marked contrast between the two covenants is most clearly shown, and the special features of the new. "This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith Jehovah, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah: for they shall all know Me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (verses 33, 34). These two verses apply to the Christian just as much as they will to the Jew, but what follows does not apply to Christians, nor to the Jews now, for they are not a nation. "Thus saith Jehovah, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; Jehovah of hosts is His name: if those ordinances depart from before Me, saith Jehovah, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever" (verses 35, 36).
To show that this prophecy is not to be understood merely in an allegorical way, but literally, the prophet says, "Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that the city shall be built to Jehovah from the tower of Hanameel unto the gate of the corner" (verse 38). This is not the city in the heavens, whose maker and builder is God. It is not the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from God, because there is no tower of Hanameel there. There is no such thing as measuring the corner there. "And the measuring line shall yet go forth over against it upon the hill Gareb, and shall compass about to Goath" (verse 39). They are the old localities and gates of the city of Jerusalem; and God will renew them in the day that is coming.
Further, the prophet speaks of "the whole valley of the dead bodies." Surely no one is so insane as to suppose that there is a valley of dead bodies in the new Jerusalem. "And the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the brook of Kidron, unto the corner of the horse gate toward the east, shall be holy unto Jehovah; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever" (verse 40). The truth is that the idea is so unfounded that there is the danger in our saying too much about it, of giving the impression that one was merely trying to make the scheme ridiculous.