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Jeremiah 31:1-6

Jeremiah 31:1-6

Background to the Book of Jeremiah
Historical Situation: Jeremiah began his ministry in Jerusalem around 627 BCE and he witnessed the final years of Jerusalem before it fell to Nebuchadrezzar in 597 BCE. While there may be some dispute about the exact dating of his call that is what the author of the Book of Jeremiah wanted us to accept. Jeremiah was a young man who protested to God when he was called (Jeremiah 1:4-10) and who later made bitter lament to God about the way he was treated by colleagues. He came from a priestly family from the town of Anathoth, a few kilometre north of Jerusalem and formerly in the territory of Northern Israel.

He was well aware of the traditions from the northern tribes rather than the southern tradition as the prophet Isaiah. The king at the time of the first part of Jeremiah's prophecies was Josiah who had instituted reforms to purify the worship practices in 621 BCE. He did this by removing the local shrines and their sacrifices, outlawing the country Levites from presiding over sacrifices (at local shrines) and made Jerusalem the only place in which sacrifice could be made. Because the Levites gained their livelihood from this practice he made laws which dictated they had to be cared for by the local people (Deuteronomy 14:27-28). The reign of King Josiah was relatively peaceful from the ravages of the superpowers - Assyria, Babylon and Egypt which gave him the opportunity to instigate his reforms based on the Book of Deuteronomy. Josiah got caught up in a war with Egypt in 609 BCE and was killed when he tried to prevent Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of the Assyrians in their last ditch stand against the upcoming power of Babylon (and was killed in battle in 609 BCE). The situation of Jerusalem rapidly deteriorated from this time with a quick turnover of kings and the continued rise of Babylon. Josiah's son Jehoahaz was sent in bonds to Egypt after three months. His brother Jehoiakim took the throne and from a vassal of Egypt he became a vassal of Babylon in 604 BCE. Jehoiakim died in 598 BCE (or assassinated) and his son Jehoiachin had been on the throne for three months when Nebuchadrezzar took Jerusalem in 597 BCE. He deported Jehoiachin, the Queen mother, state officials and took enormous booty including the temple vessels and treasures, but did not destroy the city or temple (Thompson: 24).

Jeremiah's preaching appears to indicate that the reforms had been unsuccessful because his preaching is calling the people back to faithful worship of Yahweh. He prophecies the impending fall of Jerusalem with all its horrific implications. The people refused to believe him because they thought that Jerusalem would always be safe, as indeed, Isaiah had told them 110 years previously. After 598 BCE Jeremiah suffered personally because he was prophesying exile for 70 years and this was an unpopular message. Zedekiah (uncle of Jehoiachin) supported rebellion against Babylon and Nebuchadrezzar came and destroyed Jerusalem after a terrible siege. The city was destroyed, including the temple and further officials taken into exile. The Governor set up by the Babylonians was assassinated in 582 BCE and further deportations occurred. Some Judeans fled to Egypt before the arrival of Nebuchadrezzar taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 42).

Literary Features: We don't know the precise process whereby the book was formed from the oral traditions into the final form we have now. It appears to be in blocks of material which are deliberately structured to reinforce the message. Chapters 1-29 depict the divine judgement on Judah and Jeremiah's controversy with false prophets: chapters 30-33 make up the Book of Consolation: chapters 34-45 depict events around the fall of Jerusalem: chapters 46-51 contain the oracles against the nations and the final chapter parallels 2 Kings 24:18-25:30 which tells us about the final fall of Jerusalem.

The Greek translation of the Book of Jeremiah is shorter by one seventh which is unusual as the Greek translations are usually longer. The Hebrew and Greek translations were both circulating in Israel at the time of the Qumran community ( ). Whether there was a shorter Hebrew version which is now represented by the Greek and this was later expanded into the Hebrew edition of the Book is a matter of some debate. The arrangement of the blocks of material are different in each edition with the Oracles against the Nations to be found in the Greek edition in chapters 26-32. The Greek edition names Jeremiah as the prophet four times whereas the Hebrew edition names Jeremiah as the prophet thirty times.

The book is a mixture of poetry and prose. It appears to many scholars that much of the prose is preaching on aspects of Jeremiah's oracles from the poetry. This preaching has many similarities to the theology and language used by the Deuteronomistic writers. Whether the Deuteronomists took Jeremiah's oracles and use them as a basis for preaching God's word to a later situation we can never be certain. However, the message and language of the prose sections are compatible with Deueteronomic thought. For example, the message to the exiles was the need to believe in the true prophets like Jeremiah. He is held up as an excellent example. Another message was to explain that they were in exile was because they had been disobedient and therefore lost the land. Yahweh had been faithful to them and they had failed to keep their side of the covenant as depicted in Exodus 19.

Context of Jer 31:1-6
The Book of Consolation follows directly on from an oracle of salvation in which Israel will be restored. Covenant language is used in Jer 30:22 - And you shall be my people, and I will be your God, which is derived from the conditional covenant made at Mt Sinai. It is interesting that while this language is used here in the following chapter the new covenant is totally unconditional, not like the Sinai Covenant because God will put the law within their hearts.

Jer 31:1-6 affirms God's everlasting love for his people and the call which will bring them back to Jerusalem. Vv.7ff is the response and further affirmation about God's actions to save his people. In the Book of Consolation (Jer 30-33) God offers to save them and bring them back into the land. He says that their guilt is great which caused the exile, but now Yahweh will restore their health. God will make a new covenant (Jer 31:31-34) which is unconditional and written on their hearts unlike the old Mosaic covenant.

It appears at the beginning of Jer 33 that Jeremiah is shut up in the court and God speaks to him with further reiteration of the promises made earlier in the Book of Consolation. Included in the promise are the words of vv.14-16 which state that a righteous branch will spring forth from David. They feel despair that they will ever be a nation again. However, God as Creator will never reject Jacob's descendants or fail to choose a leader from among David's descendants.

Insights/Message of Jer 31:1-6
Literary structure: Jer 31:1 is really part of the previous unit Jer 30:23 - 31:1 which gives the promise clearer definition (Thompson: 563). However, it acts also as a heading for the poems in Jer 31. In the divine oracle in vv.2-6 the name Israel is probably being used here to address all of the exiles and not referring only to the Northern Kingdom. The poem begins with a reference back to their escape from Egypt and time in the wilderness. V.3b changes from the 3rd person address to the 1st person address by God. This ensures the promise to follow is far more powerful. The promise of restoration begins with the affirmation that because God has loved them with an everlasting love it is the reason for God's continued faithfulness towards them. The promise restoration is then spelt out using the images of building, planting, rejoicing and returning to Zion. The language in v.3 of 'love' (Heb: ahaba) and 'steadfast love' (Heb: hesed) brings the covenant to mind for the people. 'Again' used three times in vv.4-5 acknowledge there has been a break in the relationship but now it will be healed and the former things will again be in place (Brueggemann: 283).

Message / Theology:These verses are one section of the eight affirmations of hope for Israel's restoration in Jer 31. The hope is based on God's grace and loving kindness for his first-born son (v.9). These messages of hope come to the exiles in the midst of despair and hopelessness. Because their restoration is no longer dependent on their behaviour, but on God's loving kindness there is a certainty about it. It will happen. The two aspects of God's character, 'redeemer' and 'creator', are present in vv.11-12. This is also the case in the theology of Isa 40-55.

Even in the midst of despair and loss God affirms the covenant love of relationship between them. They have sinned and one of the consequences was their exile in Babylon, but because of God's steadfast love and faithfulness they can look forward to a return to the land first promised to Abraham. As God cared for, guided, and restored Israel so God continues to care for us, guide us and offer salvation not because we have earned it, but because of God's continuing gracious love. After the despair and pain of Good Friday we are able to celebrate the saving acts of God as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and continues to live. W e can acclaim the images of rejoicing for Israel in this chapter because we can do the same in remembering and celebrating what God has done for us in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need to use our own images of rejoicing with which people can resonate today.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 28:1-10

Resources/Worship for Jer 31:1-6

Worship/Resources: Poetry needs a person who is able to read well. It could be pointed out how this is a message of hope to the exiles and the way it is constructed, that is, vv.7-9 to Israel, vv.10-14 to the nations.

People tend to hear only of the judgmental and warlike images of God in the Old Testament. This could be an opportunity to show how parental and shepherding images are also part of the Old Testament understanding of God.

A description of how life will be like when lived under grace and salvation of God need to relate to modern day life.
Brueggemann, Walter. A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile & Homecoming. Cambridge: W.B.Eerdmans, 1998.
Carroll, Robert P. Jeremiah: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM, 1986.
Clements, R. E. Jeremiah. Int. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988.
Holladay,William L. Jeremiah 1 : A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: Chapters 1-25. Herm. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
---. Jeremiah 2 : A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: Chapters 26-52. Herm. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.
Keown,Gerald L. Jeremiah 26-52. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1995.
Jones, Douglas Rawlinson. Jeremiah. NCB. [London]: Marshall Pickering; Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 1992.
McKane, William. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. Vol 1, Introduction and Commentary on Jeremiah I-XXV. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986.
---. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. Vol 2, Introduction and Commentary on Jeremiah XXVI-LII. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996.
Miller, Patrick D. The Book of Jeremiah. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001
Thompson, John A. The Book of Jeremiah. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1980.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:

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