31 “At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”
2 This is what the Lord says:
“The people who survive the sword
will find favor in the wilderness;
I will come to give rest to Israel.”
3 The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
4 I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful.
5 Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.
6 There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’”
(Jeremiah 31:1-6 NIV)
Verse 1 reiterates the promise the Lord made long ago to Abraham and Moses and repeated in verse 22 of Chapter 30 – that God would be their God, and they would be His people. Verse 1 is considered a “bridge” verse that ties together the previous sections of Chapter 30 with the subsequent sections of Chapter 31.
Notice that verse 1 says, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel”, indicating the reunification of the northern and southern tribes into one nation. Verse 2 points back to a united people that escaped from Egypt via God’s hand. The Exodus from Egypt (led by Moses) was something permanently etched in the mind of every Jewish person. Verse 2 goes on to talk about how the nation experienced God’s hand of favor, protection, and provision in the desert.
Verse 3 is the central point of today’s passage. The phrase “in the past” found in verse 3 is more literally translated “from afar” in the Hebrew, and means “long ago”. When God says “I have loved you with an everlasting love”, this is not a new revelation to the people or a recent discovery on God’s part. This love, both as a verb (action – doing) and a noun (character trait – being) is intrinsic to who God is.
The second phrase of verse 3 (“I have drawn you with unfailing kindness”) refers to a deep and abiding relationship between God and His people. This relationship is not with the chains of enslavement, but the heart-bonds of love. Hosea 11:4 expresses this as an adult who loves a child and bends down to feed them and hold them cheek-to-cheek. We understand this same expression of love when we sing “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds“.
Verse 4 speaks of the people rejoicing because of the rebuilding of Israel. Verse 5 looks forward to the day when agriculture will be viable once more – when crops grow, and the drought ends. The reference is to Samaria, the northern kingdom.
Verse 6 is the language of pilgrimage and the reunification of God’s people. People living in Ephriam (in the northern kingdom) will make their way to Jerusalem (Zion) in the southern kingdom to worship the Lord. This verse depicts a time of safety and security. The watchmen will be focused on worship, not war, on praising God, not watching for predators.
May we experience God holding us in His loving arms – to understand deep in our hearts what it means when God says “I have loved you with an everlasting love”.
To the extent that we experience God’s love, may we share His love with others around us – friends, strangers, neighbors, co-workers, family, acquaintances. It may be something we do for them, or as simple as who we are when we share a smile or a kind word.
Remember, God’s love is based on abundance, not scarcity. His love is available to all, and to be shared with everyone.
May this very favorite hymn of mine also be your experience today:
“The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
(The Love of God, Frederick M. Lehman, 1917, verses 1 and 3)