Verses 1–9

God here assures his people,

I. That he will again take them into a covenant relation to himself, from which they seemed to be cut off. At the same time, when God’s anger breaks out against the wicked (Jer. 30:24), his own people shall be owned by him as the children of his love: I will be the God (that is, I will show myself to be the God) of all the families of Israel (Jer. 31:1),—not of the two tribes only, but of all the tribes,—not of the house of Aaron only, and the families of Levi, but of all their families; not only their state in general, but their particular families, and the interests of them, shall have the benefit of a special relation to God. Note, The families of good people, in their family capacity, may apply to God and stay themselves upon him as their God. If we and our houses serve the Lord, we and our houses shall be protected and blessed by him, Prov. 3:33.

II. That he will do for them, in bringing them out of Babylon, as he had done for their fathers when he delivered them out of Egypt, and as he had purposed to do when he first took them to be his people. 1. He puts them in mind of what he did for their fathers when he brought them out of Egypt, Jer. 31:2. They were then, as these were, a people left of the sword, that sword of Pharaoh with which he cut off all the male children as soon as they were born (a bloody sword indeed they had narrowly escaped) and that sword with which he threatened to cut them off when he pursued them to the Red Sea. They were then in the wilderness, where they seemed to be lost and forgotten, as these were now in a strange land, and yet they found grace in God’s sight, were owned and highly honoured by him, and blessed with wonderful instances of his peculiar favour, and he was at this time going to cause them to rest in Canaan. Note, When we are brought very low, and insuperable difficulties appear in the way of our deliverance, it is good to remember that it has been so with the church formerly, and yet that it has been raised up from its low estate and has got to Canaan through all the hardships of a wilderness; and God is still the same. 2. They put him in mind of what God had done for their fathers, intimating that they now saw not such signs, and were ready to ask, as Gideon did, Where are all the wonders that our fathers told us of? It is true, The Lord hath appeared of old unto me (Jer. 31:3), in Egypt, in the wilderness, hath appeared with me and for me, hath been seen in his glory as my God. The years of ancient times were glorious years; but now it is otherwise; what good will it do us that he appeared of old to us when now he is a God that hides himself from us? Isa. 45:15. Note, It is hard to take comfort from former smiles under present frowns. 3. To this he answers with an assurance of the constancy of his love: Yea, I have loved thee, not only with an ancient love, but with an everlasting love, a love that shall never fail, however the comforts of it may for a time be suspended. It is an everlasting love; therefore have I extended or drawn out lovingkindness unto thee also, as well as to thy ancestors, or, with lovingkindness have I drawn thee to myself as thy God, from all the idols to which thou hadst turned aside. Note, It is the happiness of those who are through grace interested in the love of God that it is an everlasting love (from everlasting in the counsels of it, to everlasting in the continuance and consequences of it), and that nothing can separate them from that love. Those whom God loves with this love he will draw into covenant and communion with himself, by the influences of his Spirit upon their souls; he will draw them with lovingkindness, with the cords of a man and bands of love, than which no attractive can be more powerful.

III. That he will again form them into a people, and give them a very joyful settlement in their own land, Jer. 31:4, 5. Isa. the church of God his house, his temple? Isa. it now in ruins? It is so; but, Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built. Are they parts of this building dispersed? They shall be collected and put together again, each in its place. If God undertake to build them, they shall be built, whatever opposition may be given to it? Isa. Israel a beautiful virgin? Isa. she now stripped of her ornaments and reduced to a melancholy state? She is so; but thou shalt again be adorned and made fine, adorned with thy tabrets, or timbrels, the ornaments of thy chamber, and made merry. They shall resume their harps which had been hung upon the willow-trees, shall tune them, and shall themselves be in tune to make use of them. They shall be adorned with their tabrets, for now their mirth and music shall be seasonable; it shall be a proper time for it, God in his providence shall call them to it, and then it shall be an ornament to them; whereas tabrets, at a time of common calamity, when God called to mourning, were a shame to them. Or it may refer to their use of tabrets in the solemnizing of their religious feasts and their going forth in dances then, as the daughters of Shiloh, Jdg. 21:19, 21. Our mirth is then indeed an ornament to us when we serve God and honour him with it. Isa. the joy of the city maintained by the products of the country? It is so; and therefore it is promised (Jer. 31:5), Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria, which had been the head city of the kingdom of Israel, in opposition to that of Judah; but they shall now be united (Ezek. 37:22), and there shall be such perfect peace and security that men shall apply themselves wholly to the improvement of their ground: The planters shall plant, not fearing the soldiers’ coming to eat the fruits of what they had planted, or to pluck it up; but they themselves shall eat them freely, as common things, not forbidden fruits, not forbidden by the law of God (as they were till the fifth year, Lev. 19:23-25), not forbidden by the owners, because there shall be such plenty as to yield enough for all, enough for each.

IV. That they shall have liberty and opportunity to worship God in the ordinances of his own appointment, and shall have both invitations and inclinations to do so (Jer. 31:6): There shall be a day, and a glorious day it will be, when the watchmen upon Mount Ephraim, that are set to stand sentinel there, to give notice of the approach of the enemy, finding that all is very quiet and that there is no appearance of danger, shall desire for a time to be discharged from their post, that they may go up to Zion, to praise God for the public peace. Or the watchmen that tend the vineyards (spoken of Jer. 31:5) shall stir up themselves, and one another, and all their neighbours, to go and keep the solemn feasts at Jerusalem. Now this implies that the service of God shall be again set up in Zion, that there shall be a general resort to it, with much affection and mutual excitement, as in David’s time, Ps. 122:1. But that which is most observable here is that the watchmen of Ephraim are forward to promote the worship of God at Jerusalem, whereas formerly the watchman of Ephraim was hatred against the house of his God (Hos. 9:8), and, in stead of inviting people to Zion, laid snares for those that set their faces thitherward, Hos. 5:1. Note, God can make those who have been enemies to religion and the true worship of God to become encouragers of them and leaders in them. This promise was to have its full accomplishment in the days of the Messiah, when the gospel should be preached to all these countries, and a general invitation thereby given into the church of Christ, of which Zion was a type.

V. That God shall have the glory and the church both the honour and comfort of this blessed change (Jer. 31:7): Sing with gladness for Jacob, that is, let all her friends and well-wishers rejoice with her, Deut. 32:43. Rejoice, you Gentiles with his people, Rom. 15:10. The restoration of Jacob will be taken notice of by all the neighbours, it will be matter of joy to them all, and they shall all join with Jacob in his joys, and thereby pay him respect and put a reputation upon him. Even the chief of the nations, that make the greatest figure, shall think it an honour to them to congratulate the restoration of Jacob, and shall do themselves the honour to send their ambassadors on that errand. Publish you, praise you. In publishing these tidings, praise the God of Israel, praise the Israel of God, speak honourably of both. The publishers of the gospel must publish it with praise, and therefore it is often spoken of in the Psalms as mingled with praises, Ps. 67:2, 3; 96:2, 3. What we either bring to others or take to ourselves the comfort of we must be sure to give God the praise of. Praise you, and say, O Lord! save thy people; that is, perfect their salvation, go on to save the remnant of Israel, that are yet in bondage; as Ps. 126:3, 4. Note, When we are praising God for what he has done we must call upon him for the future favours which his church is in need and expectation of; and in praying to him we really praise him and give him glory; he takes it so.

VI. That, in order to a happy settlement in their own land, they shall have a joyful return out of the land of their captivity and a very comfortable passage homeward (Jer. 31:8, 9), and this beginning of mercy shall be to them a pledge of all the other blessings here promised. 1. Though they are scattered to places far remote, yet they shall be brought together from the north country, and from the coasts of the earth; wherever they are, God will find them out. 2. Though many of them are very unfit for travel, yet that shall be no hindrance to them: The blind and the lame shall come; such a good-will shall they have to their journey, and such a good heart upon it, that they shall not make their blindness and lameness an excuse for staying where they are. There companions will be ready to help them, will be eyes to the blind and legs to the lame, as good Christians ought to be to one another in their travels heavenward, Job 29:15. But, above all, their God will help them; and let none plead that he is blind who has God for his guide, or lame who has God for his strength. The women with child are heavy, and it is not fit that they should undertake such a journey, much less those that travail with child; and yet, when it is to return to Zion, neither the one nor the other shall make any difficulty of it. Note, When God calls we must not plead any inability to come; for he that calls us will help us, will strengthen us. 3. Though they seem to be diminished, and to have become few in numbers, yet, when they come all together, they shall be a great company; and so will God’s spiritual Israel be when there shall be a general rendezvous of them, though now they are but a little flock. 4. Though their return will be matter of joy to them, yet prayers and tears will be both their stores and their artillery (Jer. 31:9): They shall come with weeping and with supplications, weeping for sin, supplication for pardon; for the goodness of God shall lead them to repentance; and they shall weep with more bitterness and more tenderness for sin, when they are delivered out of their captivity, than ever they did when they were groaning under it. Weeping and praying do well together; tears put life into prayers, and express the liveliness of the, and prayers help to wipe away tears. With favours will I lead them (so the margin reads it); in their journey they shall be compassed with God’s favours, the fruits of his favour. 5. Though they have a perilous journey, yet they shall be safe under a divine convoy. Isa. the country they pass through dry and thirsty? I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, not the waters of a land-flood, which fail in summer. Isa. it a wilderness where there is no road, no track? I will cause them t walk in a straight way, which they shall not miss. Isa. it a rough and rocky country? Yet they shall not stumble. Note, Whithersoever God gives his people a clear call he will either find them or make them a ready way; and while we are following Providence we may be sure that Providence will not be wanting to us. And, lastly, here is a reason given why God will take all this care of his people: For I am a Father to Israel, a Father that begat him, and therefore will maintain him, that have the care and compassion of a father for him (Ps. 103:13); and Ephraim is my first-born; even Ephraim, who, having gone astray from God, was no more worthy to be called a son, shall yet be owned as a first-born, particularly dear, and heir of a double portion of blessings. The same reason that was given for their release out of Egypt is given for their release out of Babylon; they are free-born and therefore must not be enslaved, are born to God and therefore must not be the servants of men. Exod. 4:22, 23, Israel is my son, even my first-born; let my son go that he may serve me. If we take God for our Father, and join ourselves to the church of the first-born, we may be assured that we shall want nothing that is good for us.