Exegesis on Jeremiah 31:23-40
Jonathan Gogol Jim Dumke Intro. OT Exegesis #2 Jeremiah 31:23-40 This particular section of the book of Jeremiah talks about a revelation from Yahweh that entails a promise of a “new covenant” for His people Israel; one that would enable them to fully know and follow Yahweh and his commands. This vision of consolation comes despite Israel’s consistent unfaithfulness to Yahweh, and also at a time when the people are truly suffering; by way of the destruction of their land by the hands of the Babylonians (Anchor 4141).
It is believed that either the prophet Jeremiah, the man by which this shocking revelation came through, or his disciple Baruch ben Neriah, who also was going through this ordeal, are believed to be the author(s) who penned this passage (Anchor 4142). Irregardless of the actual author, the message is what is of the greatest importance; which is best understood by exploring the historical background of the text, the type of writing the theme is presented through and a critical in-depth analysis of it.
Even though the selected text is characterized with a promise of hope, the background of this passage is one that is wrought with much turmoil; for both the prophet Jeremiah who proclaimed it and the people of Israel who were to hear it. It is believed among scholars and historians that Jeremiah was born near the beginning of the reign of King Josiah and was raised in a sanctuary in or near Anathoth (Anchor 4135).
Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, most likely when he was just a teenager, in the 13th year of the reign of Josiah; this was around 627 BCE (Anchor 4137). Around 622 BCE, when the temple scroll was found and king Josiah’s reforms ensued, Jeremiah also started his ministry preaching Yahweh’s word and centralized worship; which most likely was the causation of the closing of his Anathoth sanctuary from the rest of the priesthood who still held to the ways Manasseh; the former king who allowed worship in multiple places and to different gods Anchor 4138). Although Jeremiah tended not to participate in the celebrations that ensued during Josiah’s reformation, he states such in 15:17, he did not stay altogether by himself, in that he preached more rigorous observance of the Sabbath, intense devotion to the service of Yahweh and for Israel to be independent of its controlling neighbors (the Assyrians and Egyptians) wherever he went (Anchor 4139).
In his last days as a prophet of Yahweh, the southern kingdom of Judah was under siege by the more newly in power Babylonians, more specifically Jerusalem, and Jeremiah, who had already been preaching much “doom and gloom,” continued to do so even as he was arrested and made to be under house arrest by the guard of the court (Anchor 4141). This situation, facing both Jeremiah and the people of Judah, is what sets up for the drive behind this passage; for the suffering that Jeremiah already had been shown would come, has indeed arrived.
The general theme delivered in Jeremiah is that of the general repentance, centralized worship, faithfulness to Yahweh and the consequences that are coming for sin, however, it also speaks of both a general and specific consolation and renewal to be had for faithfulness. This specific passage, which is by way of a series of oracles, a divine word/revelation given by God/Yahweh by way of a prophet, by Jeremiah is believed to have been written during the time of the Babylonian siege as a word of consolation to the bleak situation facing the whole of the southern kingdom of Judah (Anchor 4142).
Jeremiah uses this passage to point out to his audience, the people of Judah, that a new covenant, which includes forgiveness of sin and a closer relationship with Yahweh, will relief the tension between Judah/Israel’s sin and punishment they’re suffering and the commitment of Yahweh to their survival; a much needed comfort for a desperate situation (Word 127).
This passage also becomes a vehicle of hope that is delivered to the people through Jeremiah, in that it promises a future of restoration that doesn’t depend on the sins of their ancestors and that Yahweh will give them the ability to follow His ways from their heart; considering their collective tract record and current demise, it is good news indeed (Interpreters 811). The passage, Jeremiah 31: 23-40, is a part of a longer section, Jeremiah 30-31: 22, that is attributed to a prophetic word from Yahweh through Jeremiah, that offers up a renewed hope and restoration for Judah/Israel and it also connects Jeremiah’s reality that is leshed out in Jeremiah 32 (Word 127). The beginning section, Jeremiah 30-31:22, tends to be more a kin to the “general pattern” of exhortations towards Judah/Israel being faithless and Yahweh’s being faithful and promising to restore them if they repent fully; as is seen throughout many other passages in the Hebrew Bible (Interpreters 811). Shortly thereafter, Jeremiah 31: 23-40, a series of five oracles that form a chiasm, spells out in more detail the implications of the previous section, which is more poetic in nature, stays more future oriented and refers to the people that are to receive the promises in the third person (Word 127).
The entire section is centered on its main promise of a new covenant in the third (31-34) section, starts and ends with promises more specific to Jerusalem in the first (23-26) and fifth (38-40) sections and the second (27-30) and fourth (35-37) sections that speak of the end of sufferings of judgment and words of assurance respectively (Word 127).
This passage then sets up the audience for the context of Jeremiah 32, in that Jeremiah buys land in Jerusalem, at the behest of Yahweh, during the Babylonian siege, prays for understanding why, and Yahweh says that they will be safe because the people will again buy and tend land in Jerusalem (Interpreters 811). The first oracle, 23-26, spells out a restoration of Judah/Israel to a renewed life in the land with harmony and focus on worship in Jerusalem (Interpreters 811).
Verse 23 includes “Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel,” which is associated with worship in Jerusalem and connects Judah and her cities as the object of Yahweh’s deeds of salvation, in the form of restoration of prayer; which parallels Jeremiah 31: 7-14 that explains that Judah will be part of the promises of Jacob (Word 128).
Verses 24 and 25 are seen together as explaining the place where the Judeans will dwell as simply “there,” which refers back to verse 23 for “there” to mean the land of Judah, and also include blessings that are associated with worship on Zion in Jeremiah 31: 12, 14; which also use “languish” and “satisfy” to term how one feels in the presence of Yahweh (Word 128).
In the last verse of this section, 26, speaks of awakening, which can best be understood as Judah awakening from its sleep, which is often a sign of a period of vulnerability, and it will be sweet because of the wisdom gained from knowing that Yahweh will restore them; as is seen in Proverbs 3:24 (Word 129). The second oracle, verses 27-30, goes into a promise to reverse Yahweh’s past judgments, effectively epopulating and rebuilding the land of Judah/Israel, and bringing about the silencing of the people’s complaints towards Yahweh. Verse 27 speaks of Yahweh promising that He will sow the seed of both man and beast; a metaphor that comes from Hosea 2:25 where sowing is to repopulate the land and from various points in Genesis, 12:7/13:16/22:17 to name a few, that point to seed referencing innumerable descendants promised to Abraham’s line; thus implying that His promise will go well beyond the current generation (Word).
Verse 28 then moves on using several infinitives to mark the judgments of Yahweh from the beginning of Jeremiah 1: 10, 14 and then completes with His building and planting; effectively showing the people while Yahweh had the power to thoroughly bring the bitter judgment they’re now enduring, He also has that same power to fully and thoroughly bring His promised restoration (Word 129).
Verses 29 and 30 can best be seen as Yahweh changing the attitude of the people in the coming days, which constituted the children paying for their parents’ sins and evidenced by Ezekiel 18, by way of the new community Yahweh will build, different than the old, and sin will be dealt with as it should be, without the long history of disobedience and held to the just and consistent application of the law in Deuteronomy 24:16 (Interpreters 811).
The third oracle, 31-34, leads into the new covenant that is promised by Yahweh, one that is not like the old one they already knew, but one that will put Yahweh’s law into their hearts and boast complete forgiveness of their sins. Verse 31 is the only place in the Hebrew Bible that has the term new covenant within it, which is spelled out for both Judah/Israel, and it is, using the literal rendition of the Hebrew word, “cut” a new covenant that is explicitly understood to be a certain future point (Word 131).
Verse 32 goes into Yahweh saying that this new covenant will not be like the old one, given in Exodus 20, and it is needed due to the fact that the former generation had broken the old covenant, understood as the prior and current generations, and has its background in Jeremiah 11:1-17 and also the allusions made in Jeremiah to Deuteronomy 28 support this view; also, the verb in this verse means to “marry” with the emphasis on the rights and authority of a husband for his wife, in reference to Yahweh being the husband of Judah/Israel (Word 132).
Verse 33 and 34 then goes into Yahweh declaring that He will put His law into their hearts, establishing it with Yahweh and house of Israel so as to reassure the people that Yahweh will not start over with another, likened to Deuteronomy 30: 6-8 (which tells that Yahweh sill circumcise their hearts); however with this proclamation no tablets, scrolls or others need tell knowledge of the Yahweh, it will be in their hearts and Yahweh will remember their sin no longer, meaning no divine wrath with come as spelled out in Numbers 14: 20-23 (Word 134). The fourth oracle, 35-37, goes into an assurance for the people of Judah/Israel.
These verses, taken together, spell out a cosmotic doxology that spells out that just as the cosmos will endure, so will Judah/Israel; not unlike how Amos underscored the judgment of Yahweh in Amos 4:13, 5:8-9 and 9:5-6 (Interpretation 812). Also of note, the assurance that Judah/Israel has in Yahweh continuing to stay with them is made explicit by putting in impossibilities, humans can’t explore the foundations of the earth (referenced also in Job 38:4-7) and only God can measure the heavens (referenced also in Isaiah 40:112), that refer again to His permanence in providing for and being with His people Judah/Israel (Word 136).
The fifth oracle, 38-40, confirms that Judah’s suffering is real and also confirm hope for Jerusalem. These verses can also be taken together to point out the increase in scale and size of the future newly rebuilt Jerusalem (Interpretation 812). It also ends with a promise that this new city will never be uprooted, like the current one the people of Judah are now seeing being done with their own eyes (Word 138).
All things considered, Jeremiah 31:23-40 is a breath of fresh air for the people of Judah/Israel who needed it so desperately. Though this passage can easily be seen in light of Jesus’s ministry and the new covenant He gave us, it is primarily a ray of hope for a people who are suffering severely. They need to know that it won’t always be as it is, that they will come home again someday, that Yahweh hasn’t completely abandoned them and that there is hope for a reconciliation with Yahweh for His people.
So the fact that Jeremiah was also an active participant in this tragic siege is a good indicator of perhaps his own interpretation of what Yahweh showed him. In the end, after having read this section, any person who was suffering could know without a doubt that Yahweh will always be their God and they will always be His people, even in light of their terrible suffering. Bibliography Freedman, David Noel. “Jeremiah. ” The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New
York: Doubleday, 1992. 4135-52. Print. Multiple. “Jeremiah. ” The New Interpreter’s Bible: General Articles ; Introduction, Commentary, ; Reflections for Each Book of the Bible, including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994. 811-16. Print. Hubbard, David Allan. , Glenn W. Barker, Gerald L. Keown, Pamela J. Scalise, and Thomas G. Smothers. “31: 23-40. ” Word Biblical Commentary: Jeremiah 26-52. Dallas, TX: Word, 1982. 126-39. Print.