“Thus says the LORD: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you'” (vv. 2–3).
When Jeremiah first announced during King Jehoiakim’s reign that the Babylonian exile had been made certain, in God’s providence, by Judah’s impenitence (Jer. 25:1– 14), it is unsurprising that many of them would have lost their hope in the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The exiles in Babylon, however, had reason to look forward to the future after they read Jeremiah’s letter telling them how to live under Babylonian rule. Though they would have to settle in a foreign land, the prophet told them that the Lord was going to visit them again and bring them back to Canaan (29:1–14). After seventy years in Babylon, the repentant people would return to their homeland (vv. 10–14; see Deut. 30:1–10). Jeremiah’s words of hope continue in today’s passage as he looks to the redemption of Israel and Judah from Babylon. Much of the imagery in Jeremiah 31:1–30 is found in the other prophets. Isaiah 62:10–12 also speaks of making the path straight for God’s people (Jer. 31:9). Since this was only done for kings in the ancient Near East, this image highlights the glory and recognition the people would enjoy when returning from exile (Isa. 60; Mic. 4:6–13). They would find “grace in the wilderness” (Jer. 31:2), a deliberate allusion to the wilderness wanderings after the exodus from Egypt that is common in the prophetic books (Isa. 40:3; Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:14–15). The return from exile would be as significant, if not more so, than the exodus that formally constituted Israel’s covenant with the Lord. Because the people of God would learn from their exilic discipline, things would be different than before (Jer. 31:18–20). This change would be possible only because of the Lord’s everlasting and electing love for His people (v. 3). He is faithful to His covenant even when we are not. In verse 15, Jeremiah refers to the weeping of Rachel, the idealized mother of God’s people, at Ramah, a Benjaminite town on the border between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah where the Babylonians gathered the Judahites it captured before taking them off to Babylon (40:1). Rachel cries because she sees her children taken away from Ramah to suffer in a foreign land, but the Lord comforts her, promising to reward her work (31:15–16). Her effort of bearing and raising her children seemed to be in vain when the people went into exile, for exile represented the end of her family and thus the nation. But if God was going to restore His people, the family and nation were not going to be lost forever. Moreover, as we will see, there would also be a new covenant.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Surely, God’s words “I have loved you with an everlasting love” are among the most comforting in all of Scripture. Although they should not lead us to presume upon His grace, they do remind us that the transgressions of His elect do not change His disposition of love to His people. Our sin truly displeases Him, and He will discipline us for it. But if we are truly in Christ, transgressing His law will not cause Him to hate us. Let us be thankful for this constant love and obey Him in gratitude for it.