Scratchpad – Exegesis of Jeremiah 31.31-37 – Suggestions?

The figure of Jeremiah on the Sistine Chapel c...

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Admittedly, I wanted a passage for this work-up which was easy because my intention is not to focus on this text, but 2nd Samuel. However, here are some scratchpad thoughts. Suggests are welcomed and encouraged:

Jeremiah 31:31-37

Preliminary Observations

Christians have, since the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, used Jeremiah 31.31-33 as a hallmark of the faith, in describing the new order of the Covenant in which Gentiles were now full participants. The original meaning of the text, however, looked forward to a future time in which the exile would be ended, Judah and Israel secure and reunited as a Kingdom and in which the covenant with God was renewed. In it we find imagery of a divine marriage, references to the Canaanite gods, and a reference to the Law which seems to more humanistic in origin and application than the standing Mosaic Law. I note that the prophecy is not about the far distant future, but about the hope of the immediate future, perhaps in relation to the end of exile when no monarchy, at least no Israelite monarchy, existed, erasing the Image of God which had nearly destroyed the Covenant.

God is seen as the bridgegroom and the father at once, with the child Israel being taken by the hand and being led away from Egypt although the scene is equal to that of a husband redeeming his wife. The (re)newed law is clearly designed to be more human and more relational, having written the law on the heart. This may reflect the thought that God’s people will not be examined by their actions. Jeremiah is also showing his anti-priestly strain in verse 34 in that he allows that everyone will now be a kingdom of priests, equal before God, and no longer needing a stand between. Gorman notes that this seems to be contrary to the Deuteronomic concern for teaching, but this may be Jeremiah’s way of speaking about the priests as the centralization of knowledge. Perhaps as well, it alludes to the notion of a literary and liturgical use of the Law in which people will be able to freely hear and read what the Law says.

Verses 35-37 refer to cosmic degrees, in which people would see a strict relationship between the events on earth and what they believed had happened and were happening in the heavens. Creation plays a part here, but seemingly not the detailed creation stories of Genesis 1-3, as written in exile. Instead, Jeremiah is allowing the knowledge of the cosmos to reside solely in the mind of the Divine YHWH. What matters here is that YHWH wants the mystery of the cosmos hidden from the people because it is His realm alone and uses the mystic language to showcase the great love of Israel which He has, as displayed by the coming new covenant. A plain reading, or a botched scientific reading rather, would force away from v.35-37 the needed divine mystery of the cosmos wherein it is the great gulfs of unknown which displays the known love between God and Israel. Not sure how Genesis 1 plays into this passage of Jeremiah, if it does at all, as Genesis 1 is still not about solidifying knowledge about Creation itself. Instead, I would gather that the stories of Creation are connected here to the fact that YHWH is the One who is ordering with purpose the cosmos.

JPS NLT NASB
31 See, a time is coming — declares the LORD — when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah.

32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, though I espoused them — declares the LORD.

33 But such is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after these days — declares the LORD: I will put My Teaching into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

34 No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, “Heed the LORD”; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me — declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquities, And remember their sins no more.

35 Thus said the LORD, Who established the sun for light by day, The laws of moon and stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea into roaring waves, Whose name is LORD of Hosts:

36 If these laws should ever be annulled by Me — declares the LORD — Only then would the offspring of Israel cease To be a nation before Me for all time.

37 Thus said the LORD: If the heavens above could be measured, and the foundations of the earth below could be fathomed, only then would I reject all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done — declares the LORD.

31 “The day is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.

32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD.

33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

35 It is the LORD who provides the sun to light the day and the moon and stars to light the night, and who stirs the sea into roaring waves. His name is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, and this is what he says:

36 “I am as likely to reject my people Israel as I am to abolish the laws of nature!”

37 This is what the LORD says: “Just as the heavens cannot be measured and the foundations of the earth cannot be explored, so I will not consider casting them away for the evil they have done. I, the LORD, have spoken!

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,

32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.

33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

35 Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name:

36 “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever.”

37 Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,” declares the LORD.

Differences in Translation:

I have chosen the JPS-1985, the New Living Translation (2007) and the New American Standard Bible as the translations of choice, although I will tend to use the Hebrew where it is appropriate in the exegesis paper. While there is not much difference between the three, at least none that really matter, my attention is drawn to the final verses in which the NLT relates the passage as a positive affirmation of the God’s love for Israel. The affirmation in v36 and 37 is a positive one, and yet, the more literal readings has it almost as a threat. There is absolutely no possibility that the natural laws will disappear from the Cosmos and neither will the measuring of the heavens above be accomplished because as science tells us, the Universe is constantly expanding.

Significant Concepts:

YHWH is speaking about a day coming in which the Kingdom would be reunited, which is interesting noting that if the dating of the discovery of Deuteronomy is correct, and the sentiments that Deuteronomy is more of a northern kingdom book, then Jeremiah may be giving political cover to the use of the defunct Kingdom’s law.  I also note that the teaching of the Lord, the new covenant, will be placed inside the individual demanding, perhaps, a visual sign of deeds to express the community’s response to the Covenant. Noticeable as well is the fact that Israel is given the New Covenant out of God’s love, even after the terrible divorce and rebellion by Israel.

Creation is present in the New Covenant, at least as a backdrop. One of the common explanations of the miraculous Creation, as many understand Genesis 1 to mean, is that God ignored natural laws/natural order along the same lines as the Resurrection, although we have two very different things there. This discounts all of the theories (facts) about the speed of light, the size of the universe and other such things which must be denied in attempting to prove that the 6-Day interpretation is the only inerrant interpretation of Genesis 1. In essence, they seek to frame a literal interpretation of Creation as a miracle, something that is not actually seen in Scripture. Further, they require that God bend, break or destroy natural laws, such as the speed of light, in order to hold to their theories, although I doubt this will actually make it into the exegetical paper. However, what will make it into the paper is the fact that during the significant events in Israel’s life, the theme of Creation seems present.

If I were to choose this passage for exegetical work, and I doubt that I will, I would explore the use of Creation as a motif, divorce and remarriage between YHWH and Israel in context of social norms of the time. Of interest as well as the imagery of YHWH as that normative Canaanite divine husband. Further, I would investigate the use of future language, comparing to other such language in Jeremiah. Finally, I would examine the new Law/Teaching in regard to Deuteronomy.

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Post By Joel Watts (10,051 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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2 thoughts on Scratchpad – Exegesis of Jeremiah 31.31-37 – Suggestions?

  1. Don’t overlook some of the “fine print” in verse 37: “Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel FOR ALL THAT THEY HAVE DONE,” declares the LORD.

    All the old sins would be forgiven and forgotten. But what about future acts of disobedience?

    All of God’s promises would have been fulfilled; they were firm right up to the time when Israel rejected and crucified the Son of God, which brought on the VENGEANCE OF OUR GOD in AD70, the end of the covenant, and actually opened the way of salvation of Gentiles.

  2. Hi Joel,

    What has blown my mind is a study of the Book of Esther in the JewishEncyclopedia. They say that it is FARCE, a type of comedy that the down-trodden create to bolster their image. Now I’m asking, “How much more FARCE is included in the Old Testament”?

    I once asked a Christian,

    “What did the woman in Judges 19:25 die from”?

    I haven’t heard anything back.

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