Jeremiah 31:1-3 and the Final Wilderness Journey

“At that time,” declares the LORD, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.” Thus says the Lord, “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness– Israel, when it went to find its rest.” The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

Jeremiah 31:1-3, NASB

Jeremiah 30 began to describe how Jesus would save Israel from exile (I wrote about this in Jeremiah 30:1-11 and the Last Kingdom and Jeremiah 30:12-24 and the Lord’s Loving Vengeance). Jeremiah 31 continues to describe what will happen “at that time.” Israel will be brought back into covenant with God and be His people.

The beautiful imagery of this chapter begins by comparing the exile to the exodus. Just as the Lord saved Israel from the sword of Egypt and led him through the desert under Moses, He saved a remnant from the sword of Babylon.

Jesus apparently refers to this passage in John 6. He compares Himself to the bread from Heaven that kept Israel alive in the wilderness. Moses gave water from a rock in the wilderness, and whoever believes in Jesus will never thirst. Now look at how Jesus conflates the loving “drawing” of Jer 31:3 with the description of the new covenant in Isaiah 54:

“The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness'” (Jer 31:3).

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (John 6:44-45).

All your sons will be taught of the Lord; and the well-being of your sons will be great” (Isa 54:13)

It is commonly understood that the end of Jeremiah 31 is about the new covenant, but Jesus understands the whole passage to be about it. The final return from exile will come when Jesus raises us up on the last day. In a sense we’ve entered this rest already, and in another sense we’re still wandering through the wilderness, being led to the promised land. If the Lord wills, I’ll explore this more by covering the rest of Jeremiah 31 in the coming weeks.

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