We have here,
I. Ephraim’s repentance, and return to God. Not only Judah, but Ephraim the ten tribes, shall be restored, and therefore shall thus be prepared and qualified for it, Hos. 14:8. Ephraim shall say, What have I do to any more with idols? Ephraim the people, is here spoken of as a single person to denote their unanimity; they shall be as one man in their repentance and shall glorify God in it with one mind and one mouth, one and all. It is likewise thus expressed that it might be the better accommodated to particular penitents, for whose direction and encouragement this passage is intended. Ephraim is here brought in weeping for sin, perhaps because Ephraim, the person from whom that tribe had its denomination, was a man of a tender spirit, mourned for his children many days (1 Chron. 7:21, 22), and sorrow for sin is compared to that for an only son. This penitent is here brought in, 1. Bemoaning himself and the miseries of his present case. True penitents do thus bemoan themselves. 2. Accusing himself, laying a load upon himself as a sinner, a great sinner. He charges upon himself, in the first place, that sin which his conscience told him that he was more especially guilty of at this time, and that was impatience under correction: “Thou has chastised me; I have been under the rod, and I needed it, I deserved it; I was justly chastised, chastised as a bullock, who would never have felt the goad if he had not first rebelled against the yoke.” True penitents look upon their afflictions as fatherly chastisements: “Thou hast chastised me and I was chastised; that is, it was well that I was chastised, otherwise I should have been undone; it did me good, or at least was intended to do me good; and yet I have been impatient under it.” Or it may intimate his want of feeling under the affliction: “Thou hast chastised me and I was chastised, that was all; I was not awakened by it and quickened by it; I looked no further than the chastisement. I have been under the chastisement as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, unruly and unmanageable, kicking against the pricks, like a wild bull in a net,” Isa. 51:20. This is the sin he finds himself guilty of now; but (Jer. 31:19) he reflects upon his former sins and looks as far back as the days of his youth. The discovery of one sin should put us upon searching out more; now he remembers the reproach of his youth. Ephraim, as a people, reflect upon the misconduct of their ancestors when they were first formed in a people. It is applicable to particular persons. Note, The sin of our youth was the reproach of our youth, and we ought often to remember it against ourselves and to bear it in a penitential sorrow and shame. 3. He is here brought in angry at himself, having a holy indignation at himself for his sin and folly: He smote upon his thigh, as the publican upon his breast. He was even amazed at himself, and at his own stupidity and frowardness: He was ashamed, yea even confounded, could not with any confidence look up to God, nor with any comfort reflect upon himself. 4. He is here recommending himself to the mercy and grace of God. He finds he is bent to backslide from God, and cannot by any power of his own keep himself close with God, much less, when he has revolted, bring himself back to God, and therefore he prays, Turn thou me and I shall be turned, which implies that unless God do turn him by his grace he shall never be turned, but wander endlessly, that therefore he is very desirous of converting grace, has a dependence upon it, and doubts not but that that grace will be sufficient for him, to help him over all the difficulties that were in the way of his return to God. See Jer. 17:14; Heal me and I shall be healed. God works with power, can make the unwilling willing; if he undertake the conversion of a soul, it will be converted. 5. He is here pleasing himself with the experience he had of the blessed effect of divine grace: Surely after that I was turned I repented. Note, All the pious workings of our heart towards God are the fruit and consequence of the powerful working of his grace in us. And observe, He was turned, he was instructed, his will was bowed to the will of God, by the right in forming of his judgment concerning the truths of God. Note, The way God takes of converting souls to himself is by opening the eyes of their understandings, and all good follows thereupon: After that I was instructed I yielded, I smote upon my thigh. When sinners come to a right knowledge they will come to a right way. Ephraim was chastised, and that did not produce the desired effect, it went no further: I was chastised, and that was all. But, when the instructions of God’s Spirit accompanied the corrections of his providence, then the work was done, then he smote upon his thigh, was so humbled for sin as to have no more to do with it.
II. God’s compassion on Ephraim and the kind reception he finds with God, Jer. 31:20. 1. God owns him for a child and a prodigal: Isa. Ephraim my dear son? Isa. he a pleasant child? Thus when Ephraim bemoans himself God bemoans him, as one whom his mother comforts, though she had chidden him, Isa. 66:13. Is this Ephraim my dear son? Is this that pleasant child? Isa. it he that is thus sad in spirit and that complains so bitterly? So it is like that of Saul (1 Sam. 26:17), Isa. this thy voice, my son David? Or, as it is sometimes supplied, Isa. not Ephraim my dear son? Isa. he not a pleasant child? Yes, now he is, now he repents and returns. Note, Those that have been undutiful backsliding children, if they sincerely return and repent, however they have been under the chastisement of the rod, shall be accepted of God as dear and pleasant children. Ephraim had afflicted himself, but God thus heals him—had abased himself, but God thus honours him; as the returning prodigal who thought himself no more worthy to be called a son, yet, by his father, had the best robe put on him and a ring on his hand. 2. He relents towards him, and speaks of him with a great deal of tender compassion: Since I spoke against him, by the threatenings of the word and the rebukes of providence, I do earnestly remember him still, my thoughts towards him are thoughts of peace. Note, When God afflicts his people, yet he does not forget them; when he casts them out of their land, yet he does not cast them out of sight, nor out of mind. Even then when God is speaking against us, yet he is acting for us, and designing our good in all; and this is our comfort in our affliction, thatthe Lord thinks upon us, though we have forgotten him. I remember him still, and therefore my bowels are troubled for him, as Joseph’s yearned towards his brethren, even when he spoke roughly to them. When Israel’s afflictions extorted a penitent confession and submission it is said that his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel (Jdg. 10:16), for he always afflicts with the greatest tenderness. It was God’s compassion that mitigated Ephraim’s punishment: My heart is turned within me (Hos. 11:8, 9); and now the same compassion accepted Ephraim’s repentance. Ephraim had pleaded (Jer. 31:18), Thou art the Lord my God, therefore to thee will I return, therefore on thy mercy and grace I will depend; and God shows that it was a valid plea and prevailing, for he makes it appear both that he is God and not man and that he is his God. 3. He resolves to do him good: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord, Note, God has mercy in store, rich mercy, sure mercy, suitable mercy, for all that insincerity seek him and submit to him; and the more we are afflicted for sin the better prepared we are for the comforts of that mercy.
III. Gracious excitements and encouragements given to the people of God in Babylon to prepare for their return to their own land. Let them not tremble and lose their spirits; let them not trifle and lose their time; but with a firm resolution and a close application address themselves to their journey, Jer. 31:21, 22. 1. They must think of nothing but of coming back to their own country, out of which they had been driven: “Turn again, O virgin of Israel! a virgin to be again espoused to thy God; turn again to these thy cities; though they are laid waste and in ruins, they are thy cities, which thy God gave thee, and therefore turn again to them.” They must be content in Babylon no longer than till they had liberty to return to Zion. 2. They must return the same way that they went, that the remembrance of the sorrows which attended them, or which their fathers had told them of, in such and such places upon the road, the sight of which would, by a local memory, put them in mind of them, might make them the more thankful for their deliverance. Those that have departed from God into the bondage of sin must return by the way in which they went astray, to the duties they neglected, must do their first works. 3. They must engage themselves and all that is within them in this affair: Set thy heart towards the highway; bring thy mind to it; consider thy duty, the interest, and go about it with a good-will. Note, The way from Babylon to Zion, from the bondage of sin to the glorious liberty of God’s children, is a highway; it is right, it is plain, it is safe, it is well-tracked (Isa. 35:8); yet none are likely to walk in it, unless they set their hearts towards it. 4. They must furnish themselves with all needful accommodations for the journey: Set thee up way-marks, and make thee high heaps or pillars; send before to have such set up in all places where there is any danger of missing the road. Let those that go first, and are best acquainted with the way, set up such directions for those that follow. 5. They must compose themselves for their journey: How long will thou go about, O backsliding daughter? Let not their minds fluctuate, or be uncertain about it, but resolve upon it; let them not distract themselves with care and fear; let them not seek about to creatures for assistance, not hurry hither and thither in courting them, which had often been an instance of their backsliding from God; but let them cast themselves upon God, and then let their minds be fixed. 6. They are encouraged to do this by an assurance God gives them that he would create a new thing (strange and surprising) in the earth (in that land), a woman shall compass a man. The church of God, that is weak and feeble as a woman, altogether unapt for military employments and of a timorous spirit (Isa. 54:6), shall surround, besiege, and prevail against a mighty man. The church is compared to a woman, Rev. 12:1. And, whereas we find armies compassing the camp of the saints (Rev. 20:9), now the camp of the saints shall compass them. Many good interpreters understand this new thing created in that land to be the incarnation of Christ, which God an eye to in bringing them back to that land, and which had sometimes been given them for a sign, Isa. 7:14; 9:6. A woman, the virgin Mary, enclosed in her womb the Mighty One; for so Geber, the word here used, signifies; and God is called Gibbor, the Mighty God (Jer. 32:18), as also is Christ in Isa. 9:6; where his incarnation is spoken of, as it is supposed to be here. He is El-Gibbor, the mighty God. Let this assure them that God would not cast off this people, for that blessing was to be among them, Isa. 65:8.
IV. A comfortable prospect given them of a happy settlement in their own land again. 1. They shall have an interest in the esteem and good-will of all their neighbours, who will give them a good word and put up a good prayer for them (Jer. 31:23): As yet or rather yet again (though Judah and Jerusalem have long been an astonishment and a hissing), this speech shall be used, as it was formerly, concerning the land of Judah and the cities thereof, The Lord bless you, O habitation of justice and mountain of holiness! This intimates that they shall return much reformed and every way better; and this reformation shall be so conspicuous that all about them shall take notice of it. The cities, that used to be nests of pirates, shall be habitations of justice; the mountain of Israel (so the whole land is called, Ps. 78:54), and especially Mount Zion, shall be a mountain of holiness. Observe, Justice towards men, and holiness towards God, must go together. Godliness and honesty are what God has joined, and let no man think to put them asunder, not to make one to atone for the want of the other. It is well with a people when they come out of trouble thus refined, and it is a sure presage of further happiness. And we may with great comfort pray for the blessing of God upon those houses that are habitations of justice, those cities and countries that are mountains of holiness. There the Lord will undoubtedly command the blessing. 2. There shall be great plenty of all good things among them (Jer. 31:24, 25): There shall dwell in Judah itself, even in it, though it has now long lain waste, both husbandmen and shepherds, the two ancient and honourable employments of Cain and Abel, Gen. 4:2. It is comfortable dwelling in a habitation of justice and a mountain of holiness. “And the husbandmen and shepherds shall eat of the fruit of their labours; for I have satiated the weary and sorrowful soul;” that is, those that came weary from their journey, and have been long sorrowful in their captivity, shall now enjoy great plenty. This is applicable to the spiritual blessings God has in store for all true penitents, for all that are just and holy; they shall be abundantly satisfied with divine graces and comforts. In the love and favour of God the weary soul shall find rest and the sorrowful soul joy.
V. The prophet tells us what pleasure the discovery of this brought to his mind, Jer. 31:26. The foresights God had given him sometimes of the calamities of Judah and Jerusalem were exceedingly painful to him (as Jer. 4:19), but these views were pleasant ones, though at a distance. “Upon this I awaked, overcome with joy, which burst the fetters of sleep; and I reflected upon my dream, and it was such as had made my sleep sweet to me; I was refreshed, as men are with quiet sleep.” Those may sleep sweetly that lie down and rise up in the favour of God and in communion with him. Nor is any prospect in this world more pleasing to good men, and good ministers, than that of the flourishing state of the church of God. What can we see with more satisfaction than the good of Jerusalem, all the days of our life, and peace upon Israel?