10 March 2016

Jeremiah 31:10-13

“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.’” (v. 10)

Psalm: Psalm 54


For 400 years, the children of Israel had fought against the armies of surrounding nations. In the 11th century BC it had been the coastal Philistines who had been their greatest enemy - with their monopoly of iron they ruled Judah for 40 years (Judges 13:1; 1 Samuel 13:19-23). The other coastal power - the Phoenicians (or Sidonians) - had encroached at least 20 miles inland by this time (Judges 18:27-29). Although King David subdued the surrounding nations, after the division of the kingdom into Israel and Judah (1 Kings 12:20) not only had there been civil war, but each kingdom had to defend itself against other nations. They also sought alliances and made intermarriage with other nations against their own kin. In 721 King Ahaz of Judah had paid the Assyrians to help them repel the armies of Israel and Syria, while also struggling against incursions from Edom and Philistine (2 Chronicles 28): the result was that the Assyrians took not only Israel but also Judah. The Assyrians, then the Babylonians, were to have mighty empires which they governed by deportation and scattering of their conquered peoples - including the people of Israel and Judah - imposing harsh tributes on vassal states, and appointing vice-regal governors and puppet kings.

So Jeremiah speaks to these 'nations' to tell them who will really be in charge. Although "Jacob" - the people of Israel and Judah - has apparently been conquered and subdued by stronger nations (verse 11), this was permitted by Jacob's own God, as a punishment for his sin (Jeremiah 18:13-17). But now God is ready to reunite them and to be their shepherd once more. It is as if God taunts the nations with the riches with which the people will be blessed - which will no longer need to be handed over in tribute. The promise of a garden where they will "never languish again" (v. 12) hints at a return to the paradise of Eden, where mourning is turned into joy, and sorrow is turned into gladness (verse 13).

To Ponder

  • The media today portray the Church as in terminal decline against the strong hand of modern culture. What do you think this passage has to say to those who think that the Church has had its day?
  • Some people believe that the way God shows blessing is to make sure that they have "the grain, the wine, and the oil … and they shall never languish again" (v. 12). In other words, God blesses through health and wealth. What do you think?
  • Are there times when you have struggled with mourning and sorrow, but have later found joy and gladness once more? How could your experience help others? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.