28 November 2012Jeremiah 31:1-17
"I have loved you with an everlasting love." (v. 3)
This passage draws on an astonishingly rich pool of images. Each one carries great emotional power. In part they illuminate the intense suffering of God's people, who at the time of writing were scattered over vast areas of the Middle East to the north of Palestine.
A good place to start is at the end, with verses 15-17. 'Rachel at Ramah' carries a double burden of grief. Long before, Jacob's wife Rachel had died in childbirth (Genesis 35:16-20). Ramah was one traditional site for her tomb. Much closer to Jeremiah's experience was this: at Ramah was the holding camp where the people of Judah were herded before they were deported to Babylon (in 586BC). Rachel's death cries are heard again because God's people will now surely perish.
Jeremiah's wonderful images, however, speak also of hope. The plight of God's people will be reversed. In some images Jeremiah envisages God once again leading Israel out of their Egyptian slavery, through the Red Sea, across the wilderness and eventually to the Promised Land. As then, so in the future. When they return at the end of their exile, from all parts of the world, there will be dancing and feasting fit for a wedding - as if Israel were a virgin bride for God (verses 2-6).
In another image Israel's journey 'home' will be in total contrast to the testing conditions of a hot wilderness and rocky paths that marked the first Exodus. The people will walk by a stream, on straight, smooth paths (verse 9)!
God's intention in the glorious future is to reunite all the scattered peoples (disabled and dispirited people as well as the able-bodied). The northern kingdom (called Ephraim in verses 6 and 9) and the southern kingdom will combine into a new Israel (also called Jacob in verse 7). God will act like a shepherd who draws the scattered flock into a fold.
God will shower the restored people with innumerable blessings. Wonderful crops will be harvested. The land will become like a watered garden, beautiful and fruitful.
Who could doubt, implies Jeremiah, God's faithful love and goodness?
- In the culture of wealth and contentment in the West today, can we hear the force of Jeremiah's faith and hope? Are there experiences in your life or the lives of your friends which can link in with the prophet's story of suffering, loss and restoration? What are they?
- Do you think Christianity is spreading very rapidly in so many parts of the developing world because people there identify with Israel's experience of deprivation and despair? And cling strongly to God's promise, which brings hope?
- The death and resurrection of Jesus are the centre of Christian faith. How does this passage, and its rich images, support and nourish your faith?