28 December 2012

Jeremiah 31:15-17

"Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears" (v. 16)


This unusual passage was originally written to speak to a people in exile, a people who, after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, were gathered at Ramah (Jeremiah 40:1) for deportation. The declaration that 'Rachel is weeping for her children' echoes back to Genesis 30:1 and to a woman who was so desperate for children that she claimed she would die if she did not give birth. Eventually God granted her a son, when Joseph was born (Genesis 30:22-24). This suggests figuratively that the people of God who had been established many years ago, were now no more. The event of the exile was a defining experience for the Jewish people - almost as important as the exodus from slavery in Egypt, and has stayed with them in their shared story and worship throughout history, giving them touching places to remember when other times of persecution have befallen them.

For the New Testament the passage finds its fulfilment in the tragic events of the infanticide meted out under the tyrannous rule of King Herod as he sought to find the infant Jesus. Matthew 2:16-18 records how the King, who had been outwitted by the visiting Magi, ordered that all boys under two years of age be killed. Whether he thought he might still dispose of Jesus in this cull, or whether it was somehow to punish the town of Bethlehem is not clear, but certainly in his madness the latter seems more likely, if even less reasonable. Whatever, it is a dark passage.

At the end of this passage Jeremiah changes the mood by bringing God's news that there is no more need for tears as the people of God would return from exile. They would "come back from the land of the enemy" (v. 16). In the same way, the good news of the gospel reminds us that even though even though we were lost, yet through Christ we can be redeemed. Jeremiah's words to an exiled people that "there is hope for your future" (v. 17) speaks to all who have ever experienced a sense of dislocation and exile, bringing comfort and hope.

To Ponder

  • Have you known what it is to weep for the sense of being in exile? Do you know others who do?
  • What can you do today to be a voice of hope?