NOTES ON CHAPTER 31
This chapter is well-known because of 31:31-34 (repeated in Hebrews 8), but the interpretation of this chapter, apart from what the Holy Spirit said in Hebrews 8, is not as clear as one might hope. For instance, in the JSB (Jewish Study Bible), the chapter refers exclusively to the return of those in Babylonian exile. This is to be expected, however; if they gave room for a Messianic application, then the only fulfillment is seen in Jesus. Coffman comments regarding this chapter (31:2-26): “It is impossible to construe these verses literally, because nothing even remotely resembling these predictions ever occurred I the historical racial Israel” (p. 341). This is complemented by Jewish scholar Michael Brown when he dealt with an objection that would be offered by orthodox Judaism concerning Jeremiah having lied (or being a false prophet); the words clearly apply to physical Israel. Brown remarks, in a rather long sentence, that they did happen, but not with what was expected by those interpret this as a physical application (Objections, volume 4, p. 289).
When the Lord commissioned Jeremiah to preach, Jeremiah was told that he would tear down, but also build up (1:10). The building up and rejoicing is what we can see occurring in this portion of the chapter (31:1-9). To who does these verses apply? In 31:1, it is to “all the families of Israel,” and in 31:7, it is to the remnant of Israel. With that being said, it is also inclusive of those who return from exiled lands (31:2, 8, 16-17). Though Israel (both the northern and southern nations) had to experience a painful captivity, the Lord will bring them back (31:18-22). As God’s covenant nation (as both the northern and southern nations were under one king at one time), the Lord dealt with them as nations, and not individuals. Thus, when the Lord punished, when the Lord spoke, it was to nations. The days are coming, the Lord said (31:27-34), when it will be the individual that will experience the pain of one’s individual (negative) response to the Lord. The days are coming, moreover, that God’s covenant with the nation will be on an individual basis, rather than corporately. Under the old covenant, a male was circumcised (not the female) at a time when there was no personal response, but under the new covenant the response by both male and female will be their own. The remainder of the chapter speaks to God’s fidelity in keeping this promise (31:35-40).