Summary: A new exodus: the voice of joy.
A SONG OF CONSOLATION
Jeremiah envisages a time of rebuilding for all Israel (Jeremiah 31:4). Mentioning the mountains of Samaria (Jeremiah 31:5), he speaks of a day when the watchmen of Ephraim will encourage their people to return to Zion (Jeremiah 31:6) - representing not only Jerusalem, but also the right worship of the LORD (John 4:22). This reunion is anticipated by other prophets (e.g. Ezekiel 37:21-22).
1. This song (Jeremiah 31:7-14) is enwrapped (like a belated Christmas present) in references to joy.
Jacob is referred to as the chief - or foremost - of the nations (Jeremiah 31:7). This did not square with the present experience of either Ephraim or Judah - scattered and in exile - but gifts them with a prophetic hope based in God’s view of things: after all, they are the ‘apple of His eye’ (Zechariah 2:8). The verse ends with a call to prayer for the remnant of Israel.
2. The voice of homecoming: a new exodus (Jeremiah 31:8-10).
The Jebusites had once mocked David, saying that they would defend Jerusalem with their blind and their lame (2 Samuel 5:6). Now the exiles were returning “with the blind and the lame” (Jeremiah 31:8). This points forward, too, to the blind and the lame who came into the Temple to be healed by Jesus (Matthew 21:14).
Not only was the nation going to be rebuilt, but also repopulated. The Assyrians in particular had been exceedingly cruel towards the women with child: now the women with child, and those in labour, joined the happy throng of returning exiles (Jeremiah 31:8).
Again the LORD would lead His people through the wilderness: a thousand mile journey that would be completed via “a straight way” in which He would lead them (Jeremiah 31:9), as opposed to the circuitous wanderings of the rebellious children of Israel in Moses’ days. For us as Christians, Jesus is the only Way (John 14:6).
Neither would there be any lack of water to refresh them for the journey (cf. Psalm 23:2). The stumbling and the thirst of their past wanderings would not be repeated (Jeremiah 31:9). The LORD would now become Father to Israel despite their prior failure to embrace Him as their Father (Jeremiah 3:19). Through our Lord Jesus Christ both Jews and Gentiles, by the one Spirit, may have direct access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18).
The LORD, as a shepherd, would lead His flock: He who had scattered Israel would gather him (Jeremiah 31:10). Jesus said, ‘other sheep I have, which are not of this fold’ (John 10:16) - and we too hear the voice of the Shepherd, and gather to Him.
3. The voice of redemption (Jeremiah 31:11-12).
In days of old, the LORD had redeemed Israel out of Egypt. Now Jacob is redeemed, and ransomed from the hand of one stronger than he (Jeremiah 31:11). This looks forward to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Thereby He defeated the strong man in his own stronghold (Luke 11:21-22), overcoming death on our behalf (Romans 6:23).
Redemption takes us back to the well-watered garden (Jeremiah 31:12). It was in the garden that Adam ate of the forbidden fruit. Now there is restoration: a foreshadowing of the new Jerusalem, and a return to bliss. All this is fulfilled in Jesus.
4. Praise for the goodness of the LORD (Jeremiah 31:13-14).
The Targum reads, “Then shall the congregation of Israel rejoice as in dances” (Jeremiah 31:13). David danced before the LORD when the Ark of the Covenant was brought up to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14). Now young and old are seen in celebration: their mourning has been turned to joy, their sorrow to rejoicing.
All this arises from the goodness of the LORD (Jeremiah 31:14; cf. Zechariah 9:17). It is ours in Christ Jesus: the bread of life (John 6:35), and the true vine (John 15:1). What greater satisfaction do we need (cf. Psalm 23:6)?