Jeremiah 31 – “Oracles of Return; The New Covenant; Rebuilding Jerusalem”

Planting-seeds-rowHebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Yahweh promises to gather in the exiles so that they can live joyous, prosperous, and righteous lives. He will create a new covenant which cannot be broken. He will also rebuild the outer limits of Jerusalem.

II. Photo

Yahweh will settle the people: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals.” (v. 27)

III. Select Verses

1: At that time — declares the LORD — I will be God to all the clans of Israel, and they shall be My people.

4-6: I will build you firmly again, O Maiden Israel! Again you shall take up your timbrels And go forth to the rhythm of the dancers. Again you shall plant vineyards On the hills of Samaria; Men shall plant and live to enjoy them.  For the day is coming when watchmen Shall proclaim on the heights of Ephraim: Come, let us go up to Zion, To the LORD our God!

15-17: Thus says the LORD: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. Thus says the LORD: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the LORD: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the LORD: your children shall come back to their own country.

29-30: In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

31-34: The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

35-37: Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name: If this fixed order were ever to cease from my presence, says the LORD, then also the offspring of Israel would cease to be a nation before me forever. Thus says the LORD: If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will reject all the offspring of Israel because of all they have done, says the LORD.

IV. Outline

1-26. Oracles about the ingathering of the exiles

    1. Introduction: Yahweh and all Israel will be reunited

    2-3. Yahweh revealed his eternal love for Israel in the wilderness (enigmatic statement)

    4-6. Future joy, prosperity, and return to Zion

    7. Call to praise and petition

    8-9. The exiles of “Ephraim” (the north) will be returned

    10-11. Message to the nations: Yahweh will gather in the exiles

    12-14. Zion will prosper and the people will be joyful

    15-17. Rachel cries for her children (Ephraim and Manasseh = the north) but Yahweh promises their return

    18-19. Ephraim’s lament

    20. Yahweh will receive Ephraim with love

    21-22. A call to return (enigmatic statement: like a woman calls for a man?)

    23-25. Future prosperity and righteousness for Judah

26. The point in time that Jeremiah awoke from his sleep

27-30. Oracles about future prosperity

    27. The north and south will be “sowed” with the “seed” of people and cattle

    28. The people who once destroyed will build and plant

    29-30. Pedagogic statement: children will no longer suffer on account of their parents’ sins

31-37. Oracle regarding the new covenant

    31. Introduction

    32-33. Unlike with the original covenant, which Israel broke, this covenant will be placed in the hearts of the people

    34. All the people will know Yahweh and their sins will be forgiven

    35-36. The covenant is as eternal as day and night

    37. The covenenant is unbreakable (just as the heavens cannot be measured)

38-40. Oracle regarding the borders of Jerusalem and the city’s rebuilding


V. Comment

Verses 38-40 mention a number of sites in the vicinity of Jerusalem:

  • The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the LORD. It shall never again be uprooted or overthrown.

Gerald Lynwood Keown, Pamela J Scalise, and Thomas G Smothers shed the following light on the locations of each of these sites as follows (Jeremiah 26-52, pp. 137-139):

  • The tower of Hananel: “According to Neh 3:1; 12:39; Zech 14:10, the Tower of Hananel was on the north side of the temple mount.”
  • The Corner Gate: “The Corner Gate is also mentioned in 2 Kgs 14:13(//2 Chr 25:23), which locates it at the northwest corner, and 2 Chr 26:9, which tells how Uzziah fortified it with a tower. “Gate of the Corners” in Zech 14:10 is probably the same structure.”
  • The hill Gareb: Location unknown.
  • Goah: Location unknown.
  • The valley of the dead bodies and the ashes: “The Valley of ben-Hinnom is infamous in the book of Jeremiah as the site of Topheth, where children were “passed through the fire” to strange gods. The דשן “fatty ashes,” of the sacrificial victim (Lev 6:3 [Eng 10]) would refer to their remains. Jer 19:6–13 warns that Topheth will be filled with dead bodies and graves as a judgment upon the city’s false worship.”
  • Wadi Kidron: “The Valley of ben-Hinnom joins the Kidron Valley southeast of Jerusalem… The Kidron Valley was a garbage dump (1 Kgs 15:13; 2 Kgs 23:6) and the location of the graves of the common people, which Josiah defiled with the dust and ashes of the image he removed from the temple and destroyed (2 Kgs 23:6).”
  • The Horse Gate: “North of this intersection, the Kidron lies just outside the eastern wall of the city and the temple. The Horse Gate was located in that wall, somewhere south of the temple mount (Neh 3:28).”

VI. Works Used

Gerald Lynwood Keown, Pamela J Scalise, and Thomas G Smothers. Jeremiah 26-52. Waco: Word Books, 1995. Pp. 137-139.

(see “Commentaries” page)

Photo copied from