Summary: There is hope for the children of believers, if they will but put their trust in God.
GRACE IN THE WILDERNESS
The LORD speaks of Israel's time after her deliverance from Egypt as a “time of espousals,” when she was “holiness to the LORD” (Jeremiah 2:2-3). This may seem a little surprising, since we know that the forty years wandering in the wilderness were a punishment for Israel's waywardness and disobedience. Yet the flourishing of a first love is not without its nuptial tiffs, and often a husband or a wife will happily defend their partner to those outside the relationship – as God does here. Meantime the LORD calls His offending spouse to return to her first love (Revelation 2:4-5).
In Jeremiah 31:2 likewise, the LORD speaks of the people who were left of the sword “finding grace in the wilderness.” After all, He had embraced them with “an everlasting love,” and continues to draw His people not according to their merits, but according to His grace and loving-kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). This becomes significant when applied to those who went into exile in Jeremiah's day, who had escaped the sword (Jeremiah 51:50), and who would eventually experience a new exodus by returning to the land. It is even more significant to those who were far off, strangers to the covenants of God, who are now “brought nigh” by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13).
Rachel was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She was also the grandmother of Ephraim and Manasseh. Benjamin had remained with the tribe of Judah when the kingdom was divided after Solomon's death, whilst Ephraim's name had become synonymous with the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel/Ephraim had already gone into exile before Jeremiah's days, and Judah and Benjamin would soon follow. This is the background to the picture of Rachel weeping for her children (Jeremiah 31:15), so familiar to us from Matthew's surprising interpretation of this prophecy in relation to the massacre of the innocents (Matthew 2:18).
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). Rachel's tears were efficacious, and therefore need not be perpetual. Her children would indeed return to the land (Jeremiah 31:16-17). There is hope for Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph. There is hope for little Benjamin, who has cleaved to his elder half-brother Judah. There is hope for the holy innocents. There is hope for the children of believers, if they will but put their trust in God.
The wonderful words of hope which are found in Jeremiah 30-33 were spoken whilst Jeremiah was shut up in the court of the prison in the king of Judah's house (Jeremiah 32:2). Jeremiah was accused of committing treason, no less, because he spoke of the imminent defeat and final demise and captivity of the present regime (Jeremiah 32:3-5).
Jeremiah was given God's words to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, before he could ever fulfil the second part of his ministry, which was to build and to plant (Jeremiah 1:10). We cannot plant churches unless we first confront people with the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, their own need to repent, and the reality of the judgement to come. Following this there are the comforting words of God's grace, of the forgiveness of sin, the imputation of Christ's righteousness to all who will believe, of the hope of glory, and the certainty of heaven.