9 March 2016

Jeremiah 31:1-7

“Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.” (v. 5)

Psalm: Psalm 53


The prophet Jeremiah was bringing hope to people who had seen Jerusalem destroyed and who had been carried off into captivity. Yet he brought hope not just of a return home to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the Temple at Mount Zion, but also of a return to an earlier time: a reuniting of God's people in true worship at Zion (verse 6).

1 Kings 12 gives this background. On King Solomon's death, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel had refused to accept the even harsher regime promised by his son Rehoboam when he ascended the throne. These ten breakaway tribes formed the northern kingdom of Israel with a former court official, Jeroboam, as their king. Butpoliticalseparation also broughtreligiousseparation. Jeroboam knew that if his people still returned to Jerusalem for religious festivals at the temple, Rehoboam would benefit. So Jeroboam set up rival worshipping centres at the northern and southern limits of his kingdom, at the ancient holy places of Bethel (Genesis 12:8) and Dan (Judges 18:29-31). However, not only did he introduce his own festivals, but he also reintroduced idols and child sacrifice. It was this blasphemy which caused God to reject Israel and permit the Assyrians to conquer them (2 Kings 17:13-18).

So it is significant that verse 1 speaks ofallthe families of Israel once more being accepted by God - even those of Israel who had worshipped other gods. Verse 2 is a reminder of the rebellion (and forgiveness) of God's children, "Ephraim", in the wilderness as God saved them from Egypt (Hosea 11:1-6; Deuteronomy 1:30-33). The Ephraim of which Jeremiah speaks (verse 6) is part of the northern kingdom (Jeroboam had been an Ephraimite) - so it is most significant that people are being called from there to go and worship once more at Mount Zion. Even Samaria, the seat of Israel's capital (first Shechem then Tirzah), will be so peaceful that all God's people will plant crops there (for war prevents farming). The 'remnant' (v. 7) refers to the few who choose to answer this call and return to faithful worship of God in the rebuilt Jerusalem, as Israel once more returns to the purity of a virgin (v. 4). Their temporary exile is replaced by the "everlasting love" of God (v. 3).

To Ponder

  • We still live in a world of religious separation. What do you think is needed in order to reconcile people who all seek to serve the same God, and who still focus their religious thoughts on Mount Zion, but do so in different ways? What is your part in this?
  • How have you personally experienced the forgiveness of God when (perhaps childishly?) you have failed to be faithful to God's call on your life?
  • War lays waste to so much and still restricts food supplies. As we currently (in 2016!) hear of besieged Syrians starving to death as they literally face the sword what practical steps might you personally take to help them?

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.