So far in this book we have heard prophecies of Jeremiah that, with the exception of a few passages (Jer 2:1-3; 3:14-17; 16:14-15; 23:1-8; 24:4-7), are all threatening and gloomy in character. In Jeremiah 30-33, the prophetic perspective changes to primarily hopeful. This is all the more remarkable because the prophecies in Jeremiah 32-33 were given in the tenth year of Zedekiah, that is, just before the final fall of Jerusalem. The main idea of these chapters is that Israel as a nation will not perish.
1 - 3 Return from Exile
1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 2 “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book. 3 For behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah.’ The LORD says, ‘I will also bring them back to the land that I gave to their forefathers and they shall possess it.’”
These verses are the introduction to Jeremiah 30-31. They deal with the hopeful theme of the restoration of the people. These verses clearly and unequivocally establish that the people will return to the land. The LORD says this to Jeremiah in a new word (verse 1). We come to a climax here.
“The word” that comes to Jeremiah implies a special commission. It does not relate to preaching or delivering a message, but is intended primarily for himself. Since he is a type of the believing remnant, it is also meant for them. He is instructed to write in a book all that the LORD has spoken (verse 2). This seems to involve Jeremiah 30-33 in particular (cf. Jer 36:2). What is written provides certainty and means of verification. Others also wrote their words in a book, such as Moses (Exo 17:14; Deu 31:24), Joshua (Jos 24:26), Isaiah (Isa 8:1; 30:8), Nahum (Nah 1:1), Habakkuk (Hab 2:2).
Jeremiah 30-33 are a separate book in this book. This “book” of four chapters is sometimes called “the book of comfort” because it is full of comfort and promises. These chapters contain the assurance of their continued existence. At a time when so many Jews are in exile, this must be a great comfort to those who believe. It contains prophecies about the realm of peace and about the Lord Jesus, for then and through Him all that is promised in these chapters will be fulfilled. They also have a practical meaning for us who are already living in the kingdom, even though that kingdom exists now in a hidden form (Rom 14:17). In spiritual terms, we can already experience such restoration now.
Above all, through the inspired Word we know the truth of God. We see the confirmation of what He has said when what He has said is fulfilled. Here He speaks in regard to His plan to bring about a turn in the captivity of both Israel and Judah (verse 3). It is about the restoration of the twelve tribes. Israel is in scattering and Judah in exile. They will again be as one people in the land of the fathers. It is not so now and it did not happen at the return from Babylon. The return from Babylon is imperfect, both in number and in condition.
4 - 7 The Time of Jacob’s Distress
4 Now these are the words which the LORD spoke concerning Israel and concerning Judah:
5 “For thus says the LORD,
‘I have heard a sound of terror,
Of dread, and there is no peace.
6 ‘Ask now, and see
If a male can give birth.
Why do I see every man
[With] his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth?
And [why] have all faces turned pale?
7 ‘Alas! for that day is great,
There is none like it;
And it is the time of Jacob’s distress,
But he will be saved from it.
The LORD’s words concern the twelve tribes, now divided into ten tribes, “Israel”, and two tribes, “Judah” (verse 4). He is speaking to all of them. His words concern the whole. The words Jeremiah is to pass on from the LORD do not initially contain words of hope, but are those of “a sound of terror” (verse 5). When deliverance comes, the people will be in the deepest misery, in great fear. There is no prospect of peace.
With a question, the LORD points out the dismay of that time. He wants people to think about what caused it. The events foretold work an enormous, panic-stricken fear in the men that is compared to the labor pains of a pregnant woman (verse 6). All their faces are pales by the sight of the disasters that are coming upon them and against which all resistance is futile.
What happens next makes that day – by which is meant a period of time – a day unparalleled in the entire history of God’s people (verse 7). The exclamation “alas” fits that day. That day is the period of a “time of Jacob’s distress” (cf. Mt 24:21). At the same time, the comfort or encouragement also comes: “He will be saved from it.” When the need is greatest, the LORD comes to the aid of His people and will save them.
The prophetic Scriptures contain many references to this unique time of Jacob’s distress (Jer 46:10; Isa 2:12-21; 13:6; 34:1-8; Eze 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1-2,11; Dan 12:1; Amos 5:18-20; Mic 1:2-5; Zep 1:2-3:8; Zec 14:1-8,12-15). The tribulation will culminate in both physical and spiritual salvation (cf. Zec 12:10-14; 13:1) that will be such that Israel will never again be subdued by any nation. This cannot be said of any salvation that has taken place to date. The promise, “he will be saved from it”, refers to a time even now future.
8 - 11 Saved From Tribulation
8 ‘It shall come about on that day,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘that I will break his yoke from off their neck and will tear off their bonds; and strangers will no longer make them their slaves.
9 But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.
10 ‘Fear not, O Jacob My servant,’ declares the LORD,
‘And do not be dismayed, O Israel;
For behold, I will save you from afar
And your offspring from the land of their captivity.
And Jacob will return and will be quiet and at ease,
And no one will make him afraid.
11 ‘For I am with you,’ declares the LORD, ‘to save you;
For I will destroy completely all the nations where I have scattered you,
Only I will not destroy you completely.
But I will chasten you justly
And will by no means leave you unpunished.’
The outcome from that great distress comes from the LORD. He will break the yoke of the covenant that is there between the antichrist and the head of the Roman empire and that is upon His people, that is, upon the remnant thereof (verse 8). The bonds with which His people, that is the remnant, are then bound, He will break. It is a total salvation from all hostile, oppressive powers. He will do that through His King David, the Messiah, Whom He will raise up for them (verse 9). Then they will serve the LORD their God.
With the promise of the breaking of the yoke, the LORD encourages His “servant Jacob” not to fear (verse 10). The yoke that is imposed on them next, they will gladly take, for it is the gentle, benevolent yoke of their Messiah King (Mt 11:28-30). Jacob is His servant, the people serve Him. Those who serve Him are protected by Him. “Israel” need not be dismayed either, for the people will be saved by Him from the distant lands in which they are captives. The LORD will allow Jacob to return and let it dwell in its land in peace, without worry and without fear of enemies.
He guarantees it, He is with them (verse 11). This is the great and glorious promise that makes every opposition and every danger meaningless. When He is with us, nothing can threaten us and every threat is struck down. When He has scattered His people and is bringing them back, He will destroy completely all who seek to prevent it.
But His people He will not destroy completely, to them He will not make an end. He will certainly punish them because they have deserved it. But He will do that in moderation, so that they will not be totally annihilated. He will use that discipline to cleanse them and then He will fulfill His promises to them, that is to the remnant according to the election of His grace.
12 - 17 Wounds of Israel Healed
12 “For thus says the LORD,
‘Your wound is incurable
And your injury is serious.
13 ‘There is no one to plead your cause;
[No] healing for [your] sore,
No recovery for you.
14 ‘All your lovers have forgotten you,
They do not seek you;
For I have wounded you with the wound of an enemy,
With the punishment of a cruel one,
Because your iniquity is great
[And] your sins are numerous.
15 ‘Why do you cry out over your injury?
Your pain is incurable.
Because your iniquity is great
[And] your sins are numerous,
I have done these things to you.
16 ‘Therefore all who devour you will be devoured;
And all your adversaries, every one of them, will go into captivity;
And those who plunder you will be for plunder,
And all who prey upon you I will give for prey.
17 ‘For I will restore you to health
And I will heal you of your wounds,’ declares the LORD,
‘Because they have called you an outcast, saying:
“It is Zion; no one cares for her.”‘
The condition of the people at this time looks hopeless (verse 12). The breach between the ten and two tribes is incurable; it is a painful wound. No man can do anything about it, nor are there any means of recovery (verse 13). Politics, science or education, everything has proved futile to give them back their health. The situation is hopeless for those who do not repent.
All those on whom they placed their hope have forsaken them, they are no longer worthy of their attention (verse 14; Jer 22:20). The reason for that is that the LORD has wrought it, and the cause of it is their iniquity. He has smitten them because of the multitude of their sins. Therefore, He has become to them as “an enemy” and “a cruel one”. It is not the nations that are their real enemies, but the LORD. Therefore, the crying out is completely unjustified (verse 15). They have themselves to blame for the misery. Nor do they need to blame the nations, for what comes upon them comes from the LORD. They need to turn to Him in their distress.
This is not to say that their enemies go free (verse 16). Their enemies who discipline them under God’s permission devour God’s people. They do everything out of pure self-interest, they are out for their own benefit. They too do not reckon with God. Therefore, all their adversaries will go into captivity and suffer the misery they have inflicted on God’s people.
In contrast, God will restore His people and will do so soon (verse 17). He will do so because the enemies have exploited His people while they have regarded and treated them as pariahs. They have scornfully called it “Zion”. God will show that He has chosen precisely what they have despised.
It is with it as with a father who disciplines his children, but who will fight like a lion against anyone who wants to harm his children. In this way, God does not allow His people to be treated with contempt or spoken of disparagingly. Whoever touches His people touches the apple of His eye.
18 - 22 Rebuilding Jerusalem
18 “Thus says the LORD,
‘Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob
And have compassion on his dwelling places;
And the city will be rebuilt on its ruin,
And the palace will stand on its rightful place.
19 ‘From them will proceed thanksgiving
And the voice of those who celebrate;
And I will multiply them and they will not be diminished;
I will also honor them and they will not be insignificant.
20 ‘Their children also will be as formerly,
And their congregation shall be established before Me;
And I will punish all their oppressors.
21 ‘Their leader shall be one of them,
And their ruler shall come forth from their midst;
And I will bring him near and he shall approach Me;
For who would dare to risk his life to approach Me?’ declares the LORD.
22 ‘You shall be My people,
And I will be your God.’”
Glorious promises about the restoration of God’s people follow. The LORD speaks of “the tents of Jacob” and of “his dwelling places” (verse 18). These are the dwelling places in the land where He will allow His people to dwell in peace. Those dwelling places are now ruins because the people have been driven out of the land. Jerusalem, His “city”, His dwelling place, will also be rebuilt, as will “the palace”, the dwelling place of His King. Everything will have its rightful place. There is also a certain ascension to be seen: tent, dwelling, city, palace.
When His people dwell in peace in the land again, the land will be filled with thanksgiving (verse 19). This will go out to the LORD and be perceived as a testimony by the nations around them. It is the sound of joyful people who will be numerous. The nations around them will look up to them and despise them no more.
Their sons will serve the LORD in faithfulness, and the whole, the church of Israel, will be established in the land before Him forever (verse 20). They will never again be removed from it. Anyone who dares to lift another finger against them will be punished by Him.
We have in verse 21 one of those beautiful Old Testament references to the Messiah. First, the nation will be blessed with a Ruler of its own people and not of a foreign people. “Theis leader”, that is the Messiah, shall be “one of them” (cf. Isa 10:34; 11:1). This is a prophecy that presents a strong consolation in light of the people’s imminent subjugation to a foreign power. He is not a foreigner, like the many foreign rulers who have ruled over them. He will speak of them as of ‘My brethren’ (cf. Deu 17:15). He is their Ruler, “the government will rest on His shoulder” (Isa 9:5), He, Who will “be ruler in Israel” (Mic 5:2). He rules.
Also, He is the One Who approaches God. This points to His priestly position and ministry (cf. Zec 6:13; Psa 110:4). He is the King-Priest, the true Melchizedek. He is the Mediator between God and His people. This Ruler needs no mediator. He is therefore greater than David and Solomon. Like Melchizedek, He will have a double function. No man can take on the service of the priesthood by himself (cf. Heb 5:4). In fact, it is dangerous even for a king to do so. We see this with Jeroboam (1Kgs 12:26-33; 13:1-6) and Uzziah (2Chr 26:16-20).
In view of the importance of access to God, Jeremiah shows in the last lines of verse 21 by a rhetorical question that it is not a light matter to approach God. Approaching God is allowed only to the priests, who serve in the holy place, while on the Day of atonement only the high priest is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. The question implies a negative answer. But when the true David reigns, Israel will in truth be God’s people and God can openly acknowledge them as His people (verse 22).
In asking who would dare to risk his life to approach the LORD, we can think of the price the Lord Jesus was willing to pay for His people on the cross. There He not only risked His life, but He gave it. He made His soul a guilt offering (Isa 53:10b) and paid the debt that we could not pay. There the Divine exchange took place: He our sins and we His blessing.
In Proverbs 17, we read that a person is “a man lacking in sense” if he stands surety for his neighbor (Pro 17:18). After all, you never know what you might end up with. The debt may well be so great as to be unaffordable. What the Lord did was not without “sense”. For He knew perfectly how high the price was and He knew that He could pay it. It reminds us of the statement in the letter to Philemon where the apostle Paul, as a true follower of the Lord Jesus, offers himself to Philemon as guarantor for Onesimus (Phlm 1:18).
23 - 24 Judgment and Then Blessing
23 Behold, the tempest of the LORD!
Wrath has gone forth,
A sweeping tempest;
It will burst on the head of the wicked.
24 The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back
Until He has performed and until He has accomplished
The intent of His heart;
In the latter days you will understand this.
There follows another word about the great tribulation which is here called “the tempest of the LORD” and “wrath”, “a sweeping tempest” (verse 23). This word concerns the wicked. God’s burning wrath does not turn away from them, but remains on their heads (cf. Jn 3:36b). Before there can be blessing, the guilty must be judged. This is said precisely here, lest the careless be given false assurance in their sins. Despite promises of hope, God always remains faithful to the holiness of His nature in all His actions.
The LORD stands behind the judgment being carried out by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah uses the picture of a sudden tempest to describe that judgment. The LORD is doing His work of redemption by showing His power in judgment. The blessings spoken of by Jeremiah are only for the God-fearing.
God’s anger will take its full course and effect (verse 24). He cannot be stopped. For the believer, it cannot be stopped either, but he may know that it has been averted and come down on the Lord Jesus. Those who do not believe will have to bear God’s wrath themselves. We cannot always understand how God expresses His anger and thereby brings about the thoughts of His heart. There will come a time when we will understand. We may already understand much of it when we read the book of Revelation, where much is revealed about the exercise of God’s anger.