7 This is what the Lord says:
“Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
‘Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’
8 See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.
9 They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.
(Jeremiah 31:7-9 NIV)
Today’s passage builds on verses 2-6 from yesterday’s text. The Lord instructs the people to rejoice for the returning exiles.
The phrase “the foremost of nations” was a common phrase repeated across Israel before the northern kingdom’s captivity and the exile of its people. The Lord spoke through the prophet Amos (Amos 6:1) to point out that this prideful, complacent attitude was not a good thing because it left God out of the picture. The people forgot from where their strength and protection came.
In today’s text, the Lord uses the same phrase “the foremost of nations” in a positive light, but for a very different reason. No longer could the exiles say they were the foremost because of their strength or where they lived. Instead, they were the foremost because of what God had done for them.
Verses 7b and 8a identify what the Lord had done – saving a remnant of His people (not letting them die out completely), and returning the exiles from the ends of the earth. As we have noted in earlier passages, this restoration of God’s people from the ends of the earth was an even bigger miracle than God saving His people and calling them out of Egypt.
So what was the miracle? What was the change? It was not the strong, the warrior, the powerful or the wealthy that returned on their own merits. Verse 8b tells us that those returning from exile were the blind, the lame, the expectant mothers, the women who were ready to have their babies any day. This miracle of returning to their homeland was the Lord’s power displayed – this had nothing to do with the ability of the people to break free and return on their own.
Verse 9 depicts the attitude of the returning exiles. They were not the proud, complacent nation that was carried off so many years before. They were not demanding, arrogant, selfish, and forgetful of what God had done for them. Instead, they were humble, thankful, and weeping with joy and offering prayers of thanksgiving for what the Lord had done.
Notice the Lord’s compassion for His people in the second half of verse 9 – He smoothed the path back home for the blind, the lame, the pregnant.
The Lord also called Himself Israel’s father and identified the exiles as His first-born son. This status is significant, as the Lord is specifically remembering those who were exiled first and is calling them back home. Just as the first-born son was to be redeemed for the Lord (set apart for His service – Exodus 13:1-16), so the first exiles were special in God’s sight. This special status was not the first returning exiles’ right to be claimed, but rather it was the Lord’s gift to be given.
May we remember the Lord as our protection and provision, to express our thankfulness and our dependence on Him each day.
May we recognize our status as sons and daughters of the Most High God, knowing that this is nothing that we earn or provide for ourselves. The Lord confers this status based on our relationship to His Son Jesus as Savior and Lord.