John T. Willis

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Yahweh will take away Ephraim's weeping and tears--Jeremiah 31:15-20

Continuing the study of the Book of Jeremiah, the next three hope oracles in Jeremiah 30-33 appear in Jeremiah 31:15-30. Consistently, Yahweh through Jeremiah begins with an apparent doom oracle, but suddenly reverses the doom into hope. This blog addresses the three hope oracles in Jeremiah 31:15-30.

I. Yahweh will wipe away the weeping and tears of Ephraim. Jeremiah 31:15-22.
a. The places named in this oracle all occur in North Israel: Ramah--31:15; Ephraim--31:18, 10; Israel--31:21. Therefore, Yahweh through Jeremiah has in mind North Israelites living in this time.
b. This oracle begins with doom. Rachel symbolizes North Israelites. This term comes from the stories of Rachel about the births of Joseph in Genesis 30:22-24 and Benjamin in Genesis 35:16-21. Rachel had been barren, but Yahweh opened her womb. She was born and raised in Paddan-Aram or Haran in the northern regions of the Euphrates River--Genesis 29:1-30. After twenty years in that area, they return to the Land of Canaan, and eventually Rachel dies near Bethlehem--Genesis 35:16-21. In the days of Jeremiah, the North Israelites are in captivity. They are lamenting and weeping bitterly. Thus, Yahweh through Jeremiah describes their terrible situation. 31:15.
This verse CLEARLY refers to a PRESENT situation in the days of Jeremiah. The SITUATION is North Israelites in exile or captivity. In the following verses, Yahweh announces that Yahweh will soon defeat the enemies of God's people and bring North Israelites back into the land of Canaan.
This raises an issue discussed on the two previous blogs on the topic: How the New Testament uses the Old Testament. Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15 and applies this verse to Herod's murders of the Jewish children in and around Bethlehem. He introduces this quote with the words: "Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah." The quotation is in Matthew 2:18, the introduction is in 2:17, and the account of Herod's murders is in 2:16. How is Matthew using Jeremiah 31:15 in this context? A previous blog sketches AT LEAST ELEVEN possible explanations. It may be impossible to know CERTAINLY HOW Matthew is using the Old Testament. It is CLEAR that this is NOT a situation of PREDICTION-FULFILLMENT in the literal sense, BECAUSE Jeremiah 31:15 contains an OBSERVATION about the PRESENT situation in the days of Jeremiah. One possible explanation is Matthew's use of the Old Testament as TYPOLOGICAL, as Paul CLEARLY does in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. Another possible explanation is that Matthew knew the interpretational method of the Jewish Rabbis, like Paul does in Galatians 3:16, called MIDRASH. Further, the word "fulfilled" does not necessarily refer to a previous PREDICTION. A CLEAR example of this is 2 Timothy 4:5, when Paul instructs Timothy: "Fulfill your ministry." The NRSV interprets this in this way: "Carry out your ministry FULLY." There is not a PREDICTION here, but a rhetorical way of saying: Complete, finish.
c. Yahweh now REVERSES the situation. He summons the North Israelite exiles to quit weeping and shedding tears. Yahweh will bring them back from "the land of the enemy," obviously Babylon. "There is HOPE for your FUTURE." The penitent people of God will return "to their own country," obviously the land of Canaan. This is an announcement that God will bring the Israelites exiles out of Babylon back to Canaan to rebuild the temple and restore the city of Jerusalem and the land of Canaan. 31:16-17.
d. The exiles respond by admitting that they were guilty of rebelling against God and deserved to be "disciplined." Now they have been repenting and asking Yahweh to give them mercy. 31:18-19.
e. Yahweh responds positively to the penitent exiles. EPHRAIM=NORTH ISRAEL is Yahweh's DEAR SON, Yahweh's CHILD. Yahweh is full of compassion, and declares: "I WILL SURELY HAVE MERCY ON HIM." 31:20.
f. Yahweh tells the exiles to "set markers" on the road, make "guideposts," consider "the highway" from Babylon to Canaan in preparation for Yahweh's overthrow of Babylon and the restoration of his penitent people. 31:21-22.

II. Jeremiah awakes from a dream to understand Yahweh will restore the fortunes of Judah. Jeremiah 31:23-26.
a. In the previous oracle, Yahweh declared a message to EPHRAIM=NORTH ISRAEL. In the next oracle, Yahweh turns to declare a message to "the holy hill"=Jerusalem, Judah. Yahweh will "restore their fortunes." He will "bless" the "holy hill"= Jerusalem. See the common use of this expression in Psalms 2:6; 15:1; and often. 31:23-24.
b. The Judean exiles in Babylon are "weary" and "faint." But soon Yahweh will "satisfy" and "replenish" the penitent and restore them to the land of Canaan. 31:25-26.

III. Yahweh will SOW "the house of Israel and the house of Judah," that is, bring them out of Babylon and back to the land of Canaan. Jeremiah 31:27-30.
a. The Hebrew word "sow" is a word play for Jezreel. Jeremiah is intentionally bothering this term from Hosea in Hosea 1:4-5; 1:10-2:1; 2:18-23. Here, Jeremiah is combining promises about North Israel and South Judah, BECAUSE Yahweh's desire is to re-unite and re-unify ALL of God's people as in the days of Saul, David, and Solomon. 31:27.
b. There is another word play on the word "watch." Yahweh used this word play in the account of the call of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:11-12. The Hebrew word for "watch" is shoqed, and the Hebrew word for "almond" is shaqed. In the context of Jeremiah 1:11-18, Yahweh will "watch" over his people to punish them. NOW, Yahweh declares that he will reverse this to "watch" over his people to restore them from Babylonian captivity. Formerly, Yahweh had "plucked up, broken down, overthrown, destroyed, and brought EVIL=PUNISHMENT"--see Jeremiah 1:9-10; but NOW Yahweh will BUILD and PLANT them in the land of Canaan. 31:28.
c. Some of God's people naively assumed they were being punished in Babylon because of the sins of their ancestors. They created a popular jingle:
"The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children's teeth are set on edge."
Ezekiel quotes this same jingle in Ezekiel 18:2. But Yahweh through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel responds by declaring that each person is responsible for his own sins, not for the sins of his ancestors or parent or grandparents, etc. 31:29-20.

Essentially, these three oracles contain other hope oracles or promises of Yahweh already discussed in previous hope oracles. Jeremiah is using fresh metaphors and figures, but his message is the same.

Our God is ultimately a God of HOPE. He punishes people when they sin, but his purpose is not to destroy people, but to discipline them and bring them to repentance.

Share YOUR thoughts and aspirations with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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