Description
God promises an end-time exodus and return of the northern tribes to Israel, and re-unification with Judah. Under the new covenant, they will all come to know God's complete forgiveness. Jerusalem will be rebuilt and enlarged and never destroyed again.
Commentary
This chapter describes the restoration of all the tribes of Israel. Verses 2 to 22 focus on the restoration of the northern tribes of the kingdom of Israel, that were exiled by Assyria in 722 BC. These tribes are often referred to collectively as Ephraim, or as Israel. However, the name Israel often refers to the nation as a whole. Verses 23 to 26 focus on the restoration of the southern tribes of the kingdom of Judah, that were exiled to Babylon in 586 BC and later restored to the land. Today's Jews are descendants of Judah. After the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile, the restored nation was often referred to as Israel, which could be used interchangeably with Judah.

Restoration of the lost tribes of Israel
Verses 2 to 22 are addressed to the people of Israel who survived death at the hands of the enemy. References to Samaria (v5) and Ephraim (vs 6 & 9) make it clear these are the survivors and their descendants from the northern tribes that were exiled by Assyria. These tribes were never restored to the land. Assyria did leave a small remnant of Israelites in the land (2 Chronicles 30:1-31:6), but also resettled people from parts of Mesopotamia among them (2 Kings 17:24-34). Descendants of this mixed group of Israelites and foreign immigrants feature in the New Testament as the Samaritans, many of whom ended up becoming Christians (John 4:39-42, Acts 8:4-25). The focus here in verses 2 to 22 is on the restoration of the northern tribes who were exiled, not of those who were left as a remnant in the land. Today the descendants of these tribes are referred to as the lost ten tribes of Israel. But God knows who they are. He says they will find favour in the wilderness (v2), and he will reveal himself to them in a far-off land. He will say to them "I have loved you with an everlasting love" (v3). This restoration in the wilderness is also described in Hosea 2:14. God will rebuild them (v4) and replant them in Samaria (v5) and Ephraim (v6). Today, the areas of Samaria and Ephraim approximately equate with the northern half of the disputed West Bank. These restored northern tribes will go to Zion (Jerusalem) to worship (v6). God tells the people of Jacob to sing for joy and to pray that God will deliver the survivors of these northern tribes (v7). God responds with a promise to bring them back to the land from the land of the north and from distant parts of the earth. The land of the north to which they were exiled refers to regions that were part of the Assyria Empire. According to 2 Kings 17:5-6 and 1 Chronicles 5:26, they were settled along the River Habor, and among the cities of the Medes. The River Habor is known today as the Al-Khabour River and is a tributary of the River Euphrates in north-eastern Syria. The Medes were an ancient Iranian people group located on the east side of the River Tigris, and modern-day Kurds are believed to descend from them. So today, the descendants of the northern tribes of Israel are most likely concentrated around Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Over the centuries, they have likely also spread across the nations of the world. According to verse 8, they will return as a vast throng, including the blind, the lame and pregnant women (implying no-one is left behind). They will come back in repentance, and God will reaffirm Ephraim as his firstborn son (v9). Although Reuben was Jacob's firstborn, because he slept with his father's concubine, Jacob passed the rights of the firstborn to Joseph's son, Ephraim (1 Chronicles 5:1-2 and Genesis 48:17-20). Like a shepherd, God will regather Israel, even from faraway lands along the sea (v10). He will rescue them, and they will come to Zion and rejoice in God's goodness and abundant provision (v11-14). In verse 15, a sound is heard in Ramah (between Jerusalem and Bethlehem) of Rachel weeping for her children. Rachel was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, and the grandmother of Ephraim and Manasseh. She is pictured weeping for them because her children are gone (taken into exile). In Matthew 2:18, a fulfilment of this is seen in Herod's slaughter of the infants in and around Bethlehem, near where Rachel's tomb was located. However, in its original context, it is primarily a picture of Rachel's descendants being taken away into exile. God tells her to stop crying, because her children will return from exile to their own territory (v16-17). God hears the repentant prayers of the exiles (v18-19) and is deeply moved with compassion for them (v20). God will lead them back to the same places and landmarks they left (v21). God promises to do something new (v22). In context this is the new exodus of the lost tribes that Jeremiah introduced in 23:7-8. Israel's new exodus is also described as 'something new' in Isaiah 43:14-21, where God tells Israel they can forget the original exodus and crossing of the Red Sea, because it will pale in comparison. It will be a mighty act of God. The lost tribes of Israel feature in the book of Revelation. In chapter 7, angels seal 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes during the Great Tribulation. However, not every Christian interpreter takes this literally as referring to the natural descendants of the twelve tribes.

Restoration of Judah
Verses 23 to 26 describe the return of Judah to the land. This was fulfilled after the Babylonian exile, and has again been fulfilled in modern times by the reestablishment of the State of Israel and the return of many Jews. In the Great Tribulation, half the people of Jerusalem will once again flee into exile (Zechariah 14:2 and Revelation 12:6), and will return to the land (Isaiah 48:20) at the end of the Great Tribulation when Jesus defeats Antichrist and liberates Jerusalem.

A New Covenant with Israel and Judah
Verses 27 to 34 are addressed to the restored and reunited nation of Israel and Judah. After those days (v33), meaning after their return to the land, God promises to make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel. He will put his law within them, and write it on their hearts and minds. Hebrews 8:8-12 quotes verses 31 to 34, so it is clear this covenant is the New Covenant established by Jesus through his death and resurrection. The New Testament promises that if we truly repent and believe, our sins will be forgiven (Mark 1:15, Acts 2:38 & 5:31), as promised in verse 34. This covenant was established at Jesus' first coming (Matthew 26:26-29), and we benefit from it today, It is significant that before establishing the New Covenant, Jesus reached out to the people of Judah, and also to the people of Samaria who represented the northern kingdom of Israel (John 4). However this chapter of Jeremiah envisages a much greater future fulfilment of Israel and Judah being restored and reunited under the New Covenant. This will surely take place at the second coming and during the Millennium that follows. Then everyone in Israel and Judah will know God, and receive complete forgiveness.

In verses 35 to 37, God promises he will never again reject Israel, and they will never again cease to be a nation. In other words, they will possess the land forever. This is yet another proof of the end-time relevance of this prophecy of Israel's return and restoration. It is not merely describing its restoration after the Babylonian exile, for Israel again ceased to be a nation for nearly 1,900 years after AD 70.

In verses 38 to 40, God promises that Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and will be larger than before (it will need to be rebuilt because it will be in ruins by the end of the Great Tribulation). But it will never again be torn down or destroyed.
Tags
Places: Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, Samaria, Ephraim, Ramah, Bethlehem, Land of the North
Symbols:
Tags: Restoration of Israel and Judah, Lost tribes of Israel, Return of exiles to Israel, Israel restored in the wilderness, New covenant, Complete forgiveness of sins for Israel and Judah, End-time exodus, Rachel weeps for her children, Restoration of Jerusalem, Jerusalem never again to be destroyed
1 At that time I will be the God of all the clans of Israel and they will be my people. I, the Lord, affirm it!”

Israel Will Be Restored and Join Judah in Worship
2 The Lord says, “The people of Israel who survived death at the hands of the enemy will find favor in the wilderness as they journey to find rest for themselves.
3 In a far-off land the Lord will manifest himself to them. He will say to them, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love. That is why I have continued to be faithful to you.
4 I will rebuild you, my dear children Israel, so that you will once again be built up. Once again you will take up the tambourine and join in the happy throng of dancers.
5 Once again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria. Those who plant them will once again enjoy their fruit.
6 Yes, a time is coming when watchmen will call out on the mountains of Ephraim, “Come! Let us go to Zion to worship the Lord our God!”’”
7 Moreover, the Lord says, “Sing for joy for the descendants of Jacob. Utter glad shouts for that foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard. Then say, ‘Lord, rescue your people. Deliver those of Israel who remain alive.’
8 Then I will reply, ‘I will bring them back from the land of the north. I will gather them in from the distant parts of the earth. Blind and lame people will come with them, so will pregnant women and women about to give birth. A vast throng of people will come back here.
9 They will come back shedding tears of contrition. I will bring them back praying prayers of repentance. I will lead them besides streams of water, along smooth paths where they will never stumble. I will do this because I am Israel’s father; Ephraim is my firstborn son.’”
10 Listen to the Lord’s message, O nations. Proclaim it in the faraway lands along the sea. Say, “The one who scattered Israel will regather them. He will watch over his people like a shepherd watches over his flock.”
11 For the Lord will rescue the descendants of Jacob. He will secure their release from those who had overpowered them.
12 They will come and shout for joy on Mount Zion. They will be radiant with joy over the good things the Lord provides, the grain, the fresh wine, the olive oil, the young sheep and calves he has given to them. They will be like a well-watered garden and will not grow faint or weary any more.
13 The Lord says, “At that time young women will dance and be glad. Young men and old men will rejoice. I will turn their grief into gladness. I will give them comfort and joy in place of their sorrow.
14 I will provide the priests with abundant provisions. My people will be filled to the full with the good things I provide.”
15 The Lord says, “A sound is heard in Ramah, a sound of crying in bitter grief. It is the sound of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are gone.”
16 The Lord says to her, “Stop crying! Do not shed any more tears! For your heartfelt repentance will be rewarded. Your children will return from the land of the enemy. I, the Lord, affirm it!
17 Indeed, there is hope for your posterity. Your children will return to their own territory. I, the Lord, affirm it!
18 I have indeed heard the people of Israel say mournfully, ‘We were like a calf untrained to the yoke. You disciplined us and we learned from it. Let us come back to you and we will do so, for you are the Lord our God.
19 For after we turned away from you we repented. After we came to our senses we struck our thigh in sorrow. We are ashamed and humiliated because of the disgraceful things we did previously.’
20 Indeed, the people of Israel are my dear children. They are the children I take delight in. For even though I must often rebuke them, I still remember them with fondness. So I am deeply moved with pity for them and will surely have compassion on them. I, the Lord, affirm it!
21 I will say, ‘My dear children of Israel, keep in mind the road you took when you were carried off. Mark off in your minds the landmarks. Make a mental note of telltale signs marking the way back. Return, my dear children of Israel. Return to these cities of yours.
22 How long will you vacillate, you who were once like an unfaithful daughter? For I, the Lord, promise to bring about something new on the earth, something as unique as a woman protecting a man!’”

Judah Will Be Restored

23 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel says, “I will restore the people of Judah to their land and to their towns. When I do, they will again say of Jerusalem, ‘May the Lord bless you, you holy mountain, the place where righteousness dwells.’
24 The land of Judah will be inhabited by people who live in its towns, as well as by farmers and shepherds with their flocks.
25 I will fully satisfy the needs of those who are weary and fully refresh the souls of those who are faint.
26 Then they will say, ‘Under these conditions I can enjoy sweet sleep when I wake up and look around.’”

Israel and Judah Will Be Repopulated

27 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will cause people and animals to sprout up in the lands of Israel and Judah.
28 In the past I saw to it that they were uprooted and torn down, that they were destroyed and demolished and brought disaster. But now I will see to it that they are built up and firmly planted. I, the Lord, affirm it!”

The Lord Will Make a New Covenant with Israel and Judah

29 “When that time comes, people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but the children’s teeth have grown numb.’
30 Rather, each person will die for his own sins. The teeth of the person who eats the sour grapes will themselves grow numb.
31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.
32 It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord.
33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people.
34 “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.”

The Lord Guarantees Israel’s Continuance
35 The Lord has made a promise to Israel. He promises it as the one who fixed the sun to give light by day and the moon and stars to give light by night. He promises it as the one who stirs up the sea so that its waves roll. His name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
36 The Lord affirms, “The descendants of Israel will not cease forever to be a nation in my sight. That could only happen if the fixed ordering of the heavenly lights were to cease to operate before me.”
37 The Lord says, “I will not reject all the descendants of Israel because of all that they have done. That could only happen if the heavens above could be measured or the foundations of the earth below could all be explored,” says the Lord.

Jerusalem Will Be Enlarged

38 “Indeed a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when the city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt as my special city. It will be built from the Tower of Hananel westward to the Corner Gate.
39 The boundary line will extend beyond that, straight west from there to the Hill of Gareb and then turn southward to Goah.
40 The whole valley where dead bodies and sacrificial ashes are thrown and all the terraced fields out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far north as the corner of the Horse Gate will be included within this city that is sacred to the Lord. The city will never again be torn down or destroyed.”
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