Our reading today speaks of the restoration of God’s people. As we will see, this is all accomplished in Christ.
God tells Jeremiah that He will restore the fortunes of His people, Israel and Judah (30:3). He then says that He will bring them back to the land, and they will possess it. In restoration prophecies, the rejoining of Israel and Judah and them coming back to the land are references to the spiritual people of God – the elect of all time – being joined in Christ. The theme is complex in the Bible and we cannot explore it all here. For now, note that the book of Hebrews speaks of Abraham understanding that the Promised Land was not Canaan (see Heb 11:8-16) and that the promises given to the Old Testament saints are completed in the church (see Heb 11:39-40).
When God here says that the sufferings of His people were like the birth pains of labor (vv. 5-6 – see 6:24), He is pointing forward to a time of joy after the distress (v. 7). This is the salvation of Jacob. This is the restoration of Israel and Judah to the land in verse 3. But note that this will come to pass “in that day” – which as we have seen is a reference to the end times in the Bible (v. 8). Here, God says that this will be when the bonds of Jacob are burst and foreigners will no more make a servant of him.
However, we already saw that God promised that Judah would never come out from bondage (see our discussion of 22:10-12). And note here that their bondage will be broken when they serve YHWH and the Davidic King He will raise up for them (v. 9 – see our discussion of 23:1-8). It must be noted that when Judah returned from the Babylonian exile, there was no Davidic King. And they were also still in bondage (to Persia, then Greece, etc.). This is a reference to the spiritual people of God being freed from bondage when YHWH raised up Christ, the Davidic King. The restoration to the land is a picture of the spiritual restoration of those in bondage to sin and death to God’s presence. That this is not physical Israel and Judah is further evidenced by verse 10. Where was the quiet and ease for them? This is speaking of final salvation begun with Christ’s First Coming, which will be completed at His Second Coming (v. 11).
At the end of verse 11, we see that there will salvation for the spiritual people of God among the physical people of God. God’s spiritual people are never punished by Him, but disciplined. And in the following verses, we see that God is either speaking to the physical people sometimes and the spiritual people sometimes, or He is contradicting Himself. Because the purely physical people have an incurable hurt (v. 12, 15 – see 15:18). They cannot be healed (v. 13). Their “lovers” (the foreign nations they sought for help instead of YHWH – see 4:30) have turned on them. This is referring to Babylon in particular. But it is the hand of God that will do it as punishment for sin (vv. 14 – 15).
And yet, there are those whose wounds are not incurable (v. 17). God will heal them. And He will recompense their enemies (v. 16). Because they have been made outcasts, God will save them. And who is it God will save? Zion (v. 17). This is God’s spiritual people. The tents of Jacob will be restored (v. 18 – see Amos 9:11 where this is a reference to the coming Davidic King). That the palace will stand where it used to be is talking about Christ’s reign among us in the New Heaven and New Earth. This was never fulfilled physically. It will be when Christ is among us and we sing celebratory songs (v. 19 – see Isa 35:10, Rev 15:2-4).
In verse 21 we see that the coming King will physically be of Israel. The reference to approaching God means that He will also be a High Priest (see Heb 5:4-5). God says that when this King and Priest comes, the spiritual people will be YHWH’s, and YHWH will be theirs. But with this salvation will also come judgment (v. 24). And note how the chapter ends. God tells those Jeremiah is prophesying to (and likely even Jeremiah himself) that this will not be understood until the latter days. The latter days began with Christ’s first coming (see Hos 3:5)!
Chapter 31 begins with the words “at that time” (31:1). This is the same time being discussed in chapter 30 (“that day” of 30:8 and the “latter days” of 30:24). God again repeats that He will be our God and we will be His people, and here He refers to us as “all the clans of Israel” (a united Judah and Israel – again the gathered spiritual people of God). God here promises restoration in terms of the land again. But much of what He says here never physically comes to pass. After the captivity, Judah did not control Samaria (in Manasseh – v. 5). There was also not time that those from Ephraim came too worship worship YHWH (v. 6) in any physical “Zion” (be it Jerusalem or the Temple Mount). Both the tribal territories of (West) Manasseh and Ephraim made up most of the country of Samaria in Christ’s day (see John 4:20).
And when would Ephraim (Samaria) go to Zion (God’s spiritual people) to worship YHWH? When we brought YHWH to them (see Acts 1:8)! This is why the songs of celebration (see 30:19) are for the chief of the nations (literally: “head of the nations”) and the song is of the salvation of the remnant of Israel (v. 7 – see Isa 11:11, 49:22). Remember, all the nations went into captivity with Judah with no distinction (see 27:3-8). So will the remnant be of all nations. That is why they are gathered from the whole earth (v. 8). All who repent (v. 9) are part of the remnant (see Luke 24:47).
God’s words now continue to go to the nations (v. 10). Spiritual Israel will be gathered by her Shepherd (v. 10) Who will ransom and redeem her (v. 11). The height of Zion (v. 12) is the mountain of God – the place of His presence where heaven meets earth – the church! There, our mourning will be turned to joy (v. 13 – see John 16:20-23). We will be satisfied in Him alone (v. 14). This will be at our final salvation.
Verse 15 is said by Matthew to be fulfilled in Herod’s murder of the children of Bethlehem. In verse 16, God tells Rachel not to weep (the “your” in verses 16-17 is feminine singular). He tells her there is hope (v. 17). That hope is the restoration. Even though Ephraim (Rachel’s grandson because he was Joseph’s child) grieves and desires to be restored (v. 18), God will turn back to him (v. 19). God will show Ephraim (synonymous with Israel in much of the Old Testament) mercy.
In verses 21-22, God is telling His people to trust Him. He is creating a “new thing.” That a “woman encircles (or surrounds) a man” is a picture of protection. This is likely a reference to Rachel and her children. God is applying this to Himself. He was grieved because His children were no more – were taken away (out of His presence). Yet He will have mercy on them and protect them again. This protection of a people is the “new thing.” If this is simply a restoration of the physical people to the physical land, it is hardly new. This is speaking of the gathering of His spiritual people.
The habitation of righteousness, the holy hill, is the place of God’s presence (v. 23). That is where (spiritual) Judah will dwell: in God’s presence (v. 24). God will satisfy every weary soul (v. 25 – see Matt 11:28-29). This is like a pleasant dream to Jeremiah (v. 26). In verse 27, God will sow (plant) the combined (restored) house of Judah and Israel with “the seed of man and the seed of beast.” This is a reference to the Noahic Covenant that was made with Noah and the animals on the Ark, and the offspring of man and beast (Gen 9:8-11). That was a covenant for the whole earth! And now, the whole earth is sown with the restored Israel and Judah – this is for everyone!
In those days of verse 27, God says that just as He has watched over them to “break down…build and to plant” – this is a reference to the preservation of His people through the prophetic word (see 1:4-10 – note that this was for all nations in 1:5), so in those days, everyone will be judged for their own sins (vv. 29-30 – see Ezek 18:2-4). This can be judgment in Christ, or by Christ. Then YHWH promises the New Covenant (31:31 – see Luke 22:20). This is the Covenant Christ makes with His church. It is not like the Old Covenant (v. 32) that Israel and Judah broke (see 11:10). This is why each will be judged for his own sin (vv. 29-30). What the fathers have done (eaten sour grapes in v. 29, broken the covenant in v. 32) is now irrelevant in Christ. God will not give a Law to be followed, but will place it within His people – in their hearts (v. 33). This is how He will be their God, and they will be His people. And everyone who has this Law – everyone who is in this covenant – will know God (v. 34). And He will forgive their sins forever!
In verse 35, God refers to Himself as Creator and Sustainer. In verse 36, God says that Israel (who He makes this new covenant with on verse 33, so this is spiritual Israel) will cease to be a people only if His power cannot sustain His creation. In verse 37, only if the vastness of the whole creation can be explored will He cast off Israel because of their sin. In other words, it is impossible for God’s true people to cease to be His people. This is also said to be true of “the city” (vv. 38-40). That city is Jerusalem. These verses describe the expansion of Jerusalem and its permanency. This is again not speaking physically. This is the spiritual Jerusalem – those in the New Covenant.