Cover image: The Cry of Jeremiah the Prophet, from an engraving by the Nazarene School.
Jeremiah, like Mormon, was called to labor among a people for whom there was little hope because they refused to repent. He was called to “root out, and to pull down” wickedness, but he was also called to “build, and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). In the dismal debris left by Israel’s rebellion, Jeremiah promised “a new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31) through “the Branch of righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:15). If the people would leave behind their superficial devotions and write God’s “law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts,” he promised he would “be their God, and they shall be [his] people” (Jeremiah 31:33). This promise is ours today. He is our God and we are his people. Though difficult times will come to each of us, the Lord has promised that if we will turn unto him, “I will turn their mourning into joy” (Jeremiah 31:13).
It was Jeremiah’s privilege (or burden) to predict and then live through the fall of Judah to Babylon. He is one of the few prophets who have been allowed to see the fulfillment of his major prophecies come to pass. At the time of his writing, Jerusalem was in the final stages of an eighteen-month siege which ended with its destruction by the Babylonians. And yet, in this dark situation he prophesied that after seventy years in Babylon, he Lord would “cause [them] to return to [Jerusalem]” (see Jeremiah 29:10). If they would call upon him, he would hearken unto them, and promised “ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13).
Restoration and Consolation
Jeremiah is commanded to write the words of the Lord in a book. Within it, hope is found in the promise of a restoration and a renewal of the covenant—a new covenant —and a gathering and return to the promised land. Jeremiah 30 looks to a day when Israel and Judah, referred to together with the name of their father Jacob, will be released from the yoke and bonds of their captivity (Jeremiah 30:2, 8) return to the land of their inheritance (Jeremiah 30:3), and “serve the Lord their God, and David their king” (Jeremiah 30:9). While these prophecies do deal with the Jews returning after seventy years of Babylonian captivity, they also refer to a later and greater restoration. This is especially indicated by the last words of this chapter, which tell us that “in the latter days you will consider it” (Jeremiah 30:24). Jeremiah is looking beyond his present day and near future to see the latter days.
Speaking of both Israel and Judah, Jeremiah poetically compares their terror to “a woman in travail,” so that “none is like it,” and yet they “shall be saved out of it” (Jeremiah 30:6-7). Jesus himself referred to these times in Matthew 24:21:
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.
Some have interpreted this “great tribulation” as the time when a great and terrible world leader and the government he represents will try to destroy the Jewish people. Through this catastrophe, God will work to bring salvation to the Jews. They are told that “foreigners shall no more enslave them,” pointing to something greater than return from Babylonian captivity, because many times since then the Jewish people have been enslaved to forced labor. Ultimately, the Jewish people will serve the Lord and his Messiah Jesus Christ. Although this promise seems impossible, it is repeated several times by other prophets in the Old Testament. (See Ezekiel 34:23-24, 37:24-25; Isaiah 55:3-4; Hosea 3:5.)[i]
“I will save thee from afar” (Jeremiah 30:10). We see the fulfillment of this in the “latter days” when foreign nations acted as “nursing fathers and nursing mothers” in restoring Israel to her promised land. “I will not make a full end of thee” (Jeremiah 30:11). God promised Israel that they would not become extinct as a people, either by death or assimilation. Although they would endure terrible affliction, they would yet survive.
Rather than “Thy bruise is incurable” in Jeremiah 30:12, the Joseph Smith Translation reverses the meaning of these verses. showing that Israel’s condition is curable and she is now ready, in the latter days, to be restored to her promised blessings.
JST Jeremiah 30:12-15:
For thus saith the Lord, Thy bruise is not incurable, although thy wounds are grievous. Is there none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up? Hast thou no healing medicines? Have all thy lovers forgotten thee, do they not seek thee? For I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquities; because thy sins are increased. Why criest thou for thine affliction? Is thy sorrow incurable? It was for the multitude of thine iniquities, and because thy sins are increased I have done these things unto thee.
The Lord will “break the yoke from off their neck,” and they will be free to serve the Lord. The imagery of return and restoration in this chapter is that of healing. The wounds caused by the Lord because of their iniquity will be healed, and their relationship be resumed. (see Jeremiah 30:14-20) There will be a great reversal of roles. Those that devoured and spoiled Israel will be devoured and spoiled. The first word of verse 16 is also changed from therefore to but by the JST. The Lord will “restore health” to Israel, and “heal [her] of [her] wounds.” She shall no more be called an Outcast, but will be called Zion. (Jeremiah 30:16-17) Jacob will be built upon her own heap (mound) (Jeremiah 30:18). Jerusalem would someday be rebuilt, and out of her “shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry.” God would multiply her and “glorify” her (Jeremiah 30:19). Israel has been established as a country, and Jewish refugees from all nations seek refuge within her borders.
The verses, Jeremiah 30:18-21 were quoted by Oliver Cowdery as being among those which the angel Moroni told Joseph Smith were about to be fulfilled (see Messenger and Advocate, April 1835, pp. 110-111). The Zionist movement began at the end of the 19th century and the Jews began to return and build up their homeland.
Jeremiah prophesies that their “governor shall be from their own midst,” foreshadowing that ultimately the one who will rule over them will be one of them. He would be “one who has engaged (pledged) his heart to approach unto me” (Jeremiah 30:21). He phrases it as a question to draw attention to the one person who could approach God the Father as a representative on behalf of his people, being perfect in obedience and pure in heart. Who but the Father’s own son was fit to do this? Having a heart filled with love for both his people and his God, he did what was necessary to restore the broken contract between them.
“And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Jeremiah 30:22). This verse is quoted in Doctrine and Covenants 42:9. The anger of the Lord and the destruction of the wicked at the Second Coming will not come before his people are gathered (Jeremiah 30:23-24). The time that these prophecies will be fulfilled is identified by the phrase, “in the latter days ye shall consider it.” The Revised Standard Version of the Bible says, “in the latter days you will understand this” (italics added). Both the quotation from Jeremiah and the Doctrine and Covenants reference should be thought of in connection with the latter-day restoration. In the first verse of the next chapter, Jeremiah tells us that God will be the “God of all the families of the earth, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:1).
God’s Covenant Love
The renewal of the covenant is the central message of Jeremiah. Hope is found in the promise of a restoration and renewal of the covenant—a new covenant—and a gathering and return to the promised land. Jeremiah sets the following words from God in context. “The Lord has appeared to me of old” (from afar in Hebrew). In a divine appearance, the Lord has told Jeremiah “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness I [have] drawn thee” (Jeremiah 31:3). Hesed is a beautiful word meaning “covenant love,” denoting his persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy. It express both God’s loyalty to his covenant and his love for his people, along with a faithfulness to keep his promises. Vine’s Expository Dictionary identifies “three basic meanings of hesed, strength, steadfastness, and love, and these three meanings always interact. Love by itself becomes universalized apart from the covenant. Strength and steadfastness suggests only the fulfillment of a legal obligation. Hesed refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between parties of a relationship, especially Jehovah and Israel. Hesed is not only a matter of obligation, but also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but of mercy. Hesed implies personal involvement beyond the rule of law.”
I loved what President Nelson said in his article, “The Everlasting Covenant” in the October 2022 Liahona.
Once we make a covenant with God, we leave neutral ground forever. God will not abandon His relationship with those who have forged such a bond with Him. In fact, all those who have made a covenant with God have access to a special kind of love and mercy. In the Hebrew language, that covenantal love is called hesed (חֶסֶד).
Hesed has no adequate English equivalent. Translators of the King James Version of the Bible must have struggled with how to render hesed in English. They often chose “lovingkindness.” This captures much but not all the meaning of hesed. Other translations were also rendered, such as “mercy” and “goodness.” Hesed is a unique term describing a covenant relationship in which both parties are bound to be loyal and faithful to each other.
Hesed is a special kind of love and mercy that God feels for and extends to those who have made a covenant with Him. And we reciprocate with hesed for Him.
Because God has hesed for those who have covenanted with Him, He will love them. He will continue to work with them and offer them opportunities to change. He will forgive them when they repent. And should they stray, He will help them find their way back to Him.
Once you and I have made a covenant with God, our relationship with Him becomes much closer than before our covenant. Now we are bound together. Because of our covenant with God, He will never tire in His efforts to help us, and we will never exhaust His merciful patience with us. Each of us has a special place in God’s heart. He has high hopes for us.
Ransom and Redemption
Jeremiah prophecies “that there will be a day that the watchmen on mount Ephraim will cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth. They shall come weeping: …they shall go, and seek the Lord their God.” “A great company shall return thither.” God promised to gather his people from all over the earth, a gathering so complete that it included even “the blind and the lame.” (see Jeremiah 31:6, 8, 9; Jeremiah 50:4). Could this be both physical and metaphorical? The watchmen of Israel would not need to warn of approaching enemies, but instead they would welcome pilgrims on their way up to Zion. This was such good news that it should be shared with the whole world. Oliver Cowdery said that these three verses were proclaimed by the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith as to be fulfilled soon, although he quoted them separately (with verse 6 preceding verses 8 and 9) and quoted other verses between all three (see Messenger and Advocate, April 1835, p. 111).
The statement, “Ephraim is my firstborn,” designates him as the birthright holder and primarily responsible for the gathering of Israel. The Lord will “gather him . . . as a shepherd doth his flock.” He has “redeemed Jacob and ransomed him” (see Jeremiah 31:9-11). The verb ransom was originally a term of commercial law and refers to obtaining freedom after paying off a ransom price. The verb redeem is often used in the context of family obligations according to Hebrew law. The “kinsman redeemer” or goel was required to redeem the property of a family member and even to avenge his death.
“Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord.” Jeremiah describes a restored, gathered Israel streaming into Jerusalem. They would be rich with the abundance of God’s provision, both materially and spiritually. “The young of the flock and of the herd . . . their soul shall be as a watered garden” (Jeremiah 31:12). Water is a symbol of revelation and the spirit, just as marrow is a symbol of life and vitality. “I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them” (Jeremiah 31:13).
Rachel’s bitter weeping in Ramah (near Bethlehem), where she was buried after giving birth to Benjamin, is a poetic image of her despair over the exiled tribes of Israel. Using this as a context, read this scripture in Jeremiah as the Lord giving comfort to Rachel’s weeping by fulfilling the prophecy of Israel’s restoration. “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears, for . . . they shall come again from the land of the enemy.” (Jeremiah 31:15-17) God’s comfort to Rachel was that there was a future reward and a restoration in which she could have hope. On another level, Matthew understood this as a type of the horrific slaughter of children in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas because of his fear of the birth of the King of the Jews. (see Matthew 2:16-18)
Gathering a Repentant Israel
Following Ephraim’s “bemoaning himself,” because he did not like to be confined by a “yoke” of God’s commandments, he is now ready to “turn” to the Lord and become the person he was born to be. (Jeremiah 31:18-19) He says, “restore me, and I will return.” “Turned” in Hebrew is shuv, and means to repent. To completely change directions. To be ashamed of your former lifestyle. In the manner of a person greatly moved or upset, they “smote themselves on the thigh.” Ephraim, representing Israel, has at last begun to mourn not for his fate, but for his sins. To make this transition is a big step forward for all of us.
Jeremiah recorded God’s wonderful response. He embraced Ephraim as his “dear son,” just as the father of the prodigal son embraced his disobedient son. He spoke of him as “a child in whom I delight.” God’s heart “yearns for him,” and will “surely have mercy upon him” (Jeremiah 31:20-21). This is the hesed or lovingkindness and covenant love that we spoke of earlier. The Hebrew text reads literally “my bowels rumble for him” but is better translated as “my heart yearns for him.” These word vividly describe this anthropomorphic God’s whose stomach is being churned up with longing for his son.[ii]
The next verses are quite perplexing and require extensive unpacking. As Israel sought to restore her covenant relationship with Jehovah, Jeremiah pictured a clear road with “waymarks” or signposts along the way. He admonishes them to “build high heaps” or piles of stones as they go into exile, in order that they may quickly return to the land by the path they went in. (Jeremiah 31:21) Maybe something like Hansel and Gretel left? The meaning? Even though you will be exiled, hope is not lost, and you are still destined to return to these your cities. Could this highway represent the way of the just and the path of the righteous as they journey toward their heavenly home? “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil” (Proverbs 16:17).
Jeremiah 31:22 is especially challenging. Jeremiah asks Israel, “How long wilt thou go about, thou backsliding daughter?” In light of the great restoration promised by the Lord, it made no sense for Israel to remain in her sinful condition a moment longer. They were promised great blessings, and they should make changes now rather than wait for an undefined return. The best sense of the difficult phrase “a woman shall compass a man,” is the promise that Israel would be so blessed and secure in God’s restoration that even the women among them could protect the men and the people as a whole, signifying the absolute security Israel will enjoy.[iii]
The next verses speak of a coming day when those who return to Zion would say, “The Lord bless thee, O habitation of justice, and mountain of holiness” (Jeremiah 31:23). This blessing indicates that Israel is now righteously governed by the Messiah, who makes Jerusalem “a home of justice, and mountain of holiness.” Christ extends his invitation unto all of us when he said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give thee rest” (Matthew 11:28). As we do this, healing takes place, just as the Lord promised through the prophet Jeremiah when he said, “I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. . . . I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul” (Jeremiah 31:13, 25).
The Lord promised Jeremiah from the beginning that he would “hasten” to perform his word (Jeremiah 1:12), and Jeremiah witnessed the fulfillment of many of his prophecies in his own lifetime—including the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of his people. The fulfillment of these prophecies stands as a solemn witness to the certain fulfillment of the word of the Lord regarding building and planting in the days to come (Jeremiah 31:27-28), including the restoration of the “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31) and the gathering and reuniting of Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 30:3).
The New Covenant
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers. . . which they brake . . . But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they will be my people (Jeremiah 31:31‑33)
Paul was probably referring to this ancient covenant when he wrote to the Corinthian Saints of their being made ministers of the new testament “written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)
The law will be written on our hearts by the Holy Ghost. With the Holy Ghost, we will govern ourselves by the Spirit. The new covenant brings inner transformation, enlarging obedience into holiness. What did Joseph Smith say about this? “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” The Holy Ghost will teach us how a gospel principle should be lived. When the principles taught by the Holy Ghost break down, we will be left with a bunch of nit-picky rules similar to the oral law created around the law of Moses.
According to Oliver Cowdery, the verses in Jeremiah 31:31-33 were paraphrased and quoted by the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith as about to be fulfilled. In Oliver’s account this preceded the quotation:
For this happy situation and blessed state of [restored] Israel, did the prophets look, and obtained a promise, that, though the house of Israel and Judah should violate the covenant, the Lord, in the last days, would make with them a new one (Messenger and Advocate, April 1835, 110).
The new covenant brings a personal aspect to one’s relationship with God. They shall be my people. . . for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest” (Jeremiah 31:33-34). I love Jeremiah’s idea of a one-to-one relationship with God, where he “will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” The new covenant brings forgiveness so complete that it could be said that God no longer remembers the sins of those connected to him through this covenant.
The message from God is powerful. In Jeremiah 31:35-37, God cites totally impossible situations to show how surely he intends to keep his promise to gather Israel. He will stop dealing with Israel as a nation when the sun, moon, and stars stop giving light and when the sea stops roaring. As long as those things continue, God will continue regard Israel “his people.”
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the city [of Jerusalem] shall be built to the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:38-40). Jeremiah then gives several specific geographical markers.
“Ashes” refers to Tophet, where children were sacrificed and garbage was burned. Jeremiah makes an incredible prophecy about the restoration of Jerusalem. He says that “Jerusalem will be built on her own heaps.” That is, it will be built on its original foundation. When I was in Jerusalem, I saw archaeologists working feverishly to get down to the original foundation of Jerusalem. Even here, God’s hand is at work.
Jeremiah Prophesies from Prison
In the tenth year of the reign of Zedekiah, the army of Babylon besieged Jerusalem. Jeremiah the prophet had been put in the royal prison, inside of the king’s house. It was probably part of the palace area set apart for prisoners, and the soldiers who guarded the palace had their quarters there. King Zedekiah didn’t like Jeremiah telling the people that the Babylonians would succeed in conquering the city he and others were trying to defend. The king was so angry that he imprisoned Jeremiah, as if that would change anything. Jeremiah not only prophesied that Jerusalem would be conquered, but that the king himself would be captured. He would “surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes” (Jeremiah 32:4).
While he is shut up in prison, Jeremiah received the word of the Lord. He told Jeremiah that his cousin Hanamel would visit him in prison and ask him to buy a field in their hometown of Anathoth. He would do this because Jeremiah had the right of redemption, that the land remain in the family, as he had “the first right of refusal” in today’s terms. If his cousin wanted to sell the land, he had to offer it to Jeremiah before it was offered to anyone else. (This is similar to Naomi’s land in Ruth 4:6 needing to be offered to the closest relative before Boaz could buy it.) According to the Law of Moses, (Leviticus 25:25-34) the promised land was a sacred inheritance and property was not to leave the family. If they fell into debt, one of their own kin was supposed to redeem their property.
When his cousin appeared and asked him to buy the land just as God had predicted, he said, “Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord” (Jeremiah 32:8). Perhaps you have had similar experiences receiving an impression from the Spirit to do something unusual, and when you learned the whole story, you knew it was “the word of the Lord.”
Some have suggested that Hanamel was short of money due to the Babylonian siege and that this sale was an obvious solution. But the land itself, at Anathoth, three miles outside Jerusalem, was utterly worthless, since it was already in the hands of the Babylonians, and Jerusalem’s days were numbered. This was not a purchase that a rational man would make. Only a fool would buy such land, or expect another to buy it, in such circumstances.[iv]
Because God so clearly told him to do it, Jeremiah bought a piece of property that was, in normal terms, an unwise investment. He knew that the Babylonians would succeed in conquering the whole area, and when they did, his title to the land would be useless. Yet he bought the property anyway. The keepers of the prison and everyone else must have thought Jeremiah was crazy. Hanamel must have thought this was the easiest and best seventeen shekels of silver he ever made, especially when people needed every bit of money possible to buy food at the much higher prices during a siege. Jeremiah was putting his money where his mouth was. He had prophesied that the land would be restored and blessed. His purchase was his testimony. He complied with all the legal customs of his day in making the purchase. He signed the purchase deed in the presence of witnesses and all the Jews who sat in the court of the prison.
The proper legal procedures were observed as though the land were at peace. The deed consisted of a sealed copy comprising the contract and the conditions of sale as well as an open copy. (See Jeremiah 32:6-12)
What was the lesson of the property deal from prison? God will restore. Jeremiah told Baruch to preserve and hide the title deed and details of the transaction so that they could be read later. This was something of a time capsule, holding items meant to be read in the future. The storage of the deeds in earthenware jars to ensure their preservation was demonstrated historically in the preservation of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumram in similar containers for over 2,000 years. For Jeremiah to buy land controlled by one of the world’s conquering powers, and then to take meticulous care of the title deeds, was a strong affirmation that God would bring his people back to their inheritance. God had promised to do this, and through revelation, Jeremiah was absolutely sure that although he knew the Babylonians would conquer Jerusalem, he was also certain that God would restore the promised lands to his people and they would possess them again. (See Jeremiah 32:13-15)
The next verses record Jeremiah’s beautiful prayer where he acknowledged God’s omniscience and omnipotence. “Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee: Thou shewest lovingkindness unto thousands” (Jeremiah 32:17-18).
God responds by saying, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). God affirmed again the promise made many times before that Jerusalem and Judah would fall to the Babylonians. The Lord reminded Jeremiah of all the sins that had invited the punishment of God. They had turned their backs on the Lord and had practiced idolatry of different forms, even going so far that they actually participated in the Canaanite cult of child sacrifice. How could such things not be a provocation of God’s anger? (See Jeremiah 32:36-41)
But this same God who promised and fulfilled judgments also promised restoration. One was as sure as the other. The promise to gather Israel from the nations back into their own land looked well beyond what was fulfilled in the return of the Jews under Ezra and Nehemiah some 70 years after the Babylonian exile. God has promised a personal relationship with him under the “new covenant.” “I will give them one heart, and one way” (Jeremiah 32:39), and this inner transformation would bless their posterity for generations. He promised to make an “everlasting covenant” with them, and “rejoice over them to do them good” and he does this “with my whole heart and my whole soul” (Jeremiah 32:40-41). I love hearing that God will put his whole heart and soul into blessing his people.
The covenant will not only be “new,” but also “everlasting.” (see Jeremiah 32:40) As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, we are very familiar with the term “the new and everlasting covenant.” We might ask how it can be both new and everlasting. It is “new” whenever the Lord renews or restores it, and it is “everlasting” because it does not change. “It is new every time it is revealed anew following a period of apostasy. It is everlasting in the sense that it is God’s covenant and has been enjoyed in every gospel dispensation where people have been willing to receive it. It contains sacred ordinances administered by priesthood authority—such as baptism and temple marriage—that provide for man’s salvation, immortality, and eternal life.” [v]
President Russell M. Nelson shed light on the “new and everlasting covenant in the October 2022 Liahona:
The new and everlasting covenant and the Abrahamic covenant are essentially the same—two ways of phrasing the covenant God made with mortal men and women at different times.
The adjective everlasting denotes that this covenant existed even before the foundation of the world! The plan laid out in the Grand Council in Heaven included the sobering realization that we would all be cut off from God’s presence. However, God promised that He would provide a Savior who would overcome the consequences of the Fall.
Connecting the promises of Jeremiah’s purchase of land to these promises of restoration, the Lord promises that “fields shall be bought in this land, whereof ye say, It is desolate without man or beast” and shall pay money, and give “evidences, and seal them, and take witnesses,” just as the imprisoned prophet had done. (see Jeremiah 32:43) He simply acted out what was to be done later. When God brought about the restoration, life would be so secure that real estate transactions would again take place. Regarding this verse, Elder LeGrand Richards has said:
The Holy Land was a land of desolation when Elder Orson Hyde went there in 1841 and dedicated the land for the gathering of the Jews. We now know that the Jews are returning from all nations to purchase fields and the land as Jeremiah saw so many centuries ago. (LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, 223.)
A Second Appearance in Prison
The word of the Lord coming the second time, while Jeremiah was shut up in prison, may have been given as an assurance to him that the promised restoration would still come. (see Jeremiah 33:1-5) The Lord promised to bring “health and healing” to his people. “I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth. [I] will build them as at first. . . I will pardon all their iniquities” (Jeremiah 33:6-8)
In verse 11 there is a reversal of the curse which was to come upon Judah, a curse Jeremiah had repeatedly reiterated (see 7:34; 16:9; 25:10). “The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness, . . . the voice of them that shall say, Praise the Lord of hosts: for the Lord is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” These words were part of the liturgy sung by the Levitical singers in the temple service, implying that the temple would be rebuilt.
In the context of the new covenant promises, God declares that a descendant of the line of David would be the “Branch of righteousness.” “In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 33:15). Although he does not reveal as much about the coming Messiah as Isaiah does, Jeremiah nevertheless provides glimpses of Christ as the “fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13), the “good shepherd” (Jeremiah 23:4; 31:10), the “righteous branch” (Jeremiah 23:5), the “redeemer” (Jeremiah 50:34), and the “lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6).
In order to communicate the permanence of the covenant, God placed the sun and the moon on the bargaining table and offered the heavenly bodies as a security deposit for his covenant promise. In other words, nature would utterly collapse before God would go back on his promises to his people. (see Jeremiah 33:25-26) The restoration of Israel is as certain as is the establishment of Christ’s reigning upon the throne of David. (Jeremiah 33:20-22)
Cutting a Covenant
Although chapter 34 is not one of our assigned chapters, I want to point out something that fascinated me when I discovered it. In the Ancient Near East, covenants were made in a very graphic way—by cutting. In fact, the word for to “make a covenant” in Hebrew is carat berit, or to cut a covenant. We can see the remnants of this language when we “cut a deal.” In Genesis 15:8, Abraham asks God how he will know that God will honor his promises to him. God tells Abraham to cut several animals in half—three heifers, three goats, three rams, a turtledove, and a pigeon. Then, the Lord himself passed between the halves of the animals to seal the covenant.
And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land (Genesis 15:17-18).
Apparently, this process was continued throughout the generations, but we have little evidence verifying this except in Jeremiah 34:15-18. In this chapter, Jeremiah is reproving the people for not keeping their covenant to release their slaves after seven years. He reminds them that they had made a covenant before him in the house of the Lord to do this. They had “not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof.” They had cut a calf in two, and walked between the two halves to signify that they were bound by covenant to release their slaves after seven years, or they would suffer the same fate as the calf.
Anciently, the cutting of the covenant involved blood. Abraham was taught the law of circumcision as a token of the covenant between him and the Lord. He and all his household were to be circumcised and this law was passed down to all those who were part of the Abrahamic covenant. We might ask how “passing through the parts thereof” connects to circumcision. I learned this from Gerald Lund at BYU Education Week decades ago. He explained that the seed of Abraham, the circumcised, passed through the token of the covenant as a new human being was conceived. I was thus powerfully made aware of the symbolism of “cutting a covenant.” The fulfilling of the covenant would also involve the shedding of blood, and I began to understand the potency of the symbolism of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
Carolyn Custis James expresses her own views about circumcision, which had long been a question in her mind. I need to offer a disclaimer here. This quote is very long, but I predict that you readers will understand why I chose to include it. It offers a woman’s view of the rite of circumcision, which is unique in and of itself, but it offers many poignant insights as well.
We [as women] want to know why the sign of God’s covenant was so male? What is God trying to tell us? Was his covenant for men only? Are men more important in his covenant than women?
Once again, God knew exactly what he was doing. The rite of circumcision is rich with symbolism intended to distinguish God’s people from the rest of the world. Circumcision teaches us our need for soul surgery – the radical, costly, and bloody process of removing our sin that Jesus accomplished when he bled and died on the cross. It is a reminder of the painful battle against sin and the awful price of victory – for God and for his people. But there is much, much more to the sign of God’s covenant.
Circumcision takes us back to the beginning – back to God’s great creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply. God was to reiterate the glorious creation mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” in a way that included, but went beyond, the call to reproduce physically. When he first called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans, God promised to make a great nation from Abraham’s descendants. Now God revisits the subject and reveals the kind of nation he plans to produce through Abraham: a nation of people who walk with God. The rite of circumcision came with the call to “walk before me and be blameless . . . you and your descendants after you for generations to come.”
Circumcision cuts in a man’s flesh a permanent reminder of his call to walk with God. Through circumcision, Abraham affirmed his personal intention to walk with God and do everything in his power to ensure that his children after them followed the same path. Far from excluding women, the rite of circumcision made women indispensable. Obviously no man can reproduce physically by himself. But Abraham’s need for Sarah went well beyond sexual intimacy and the physical birth of a child. According to God’s word in Genesis, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Abraham needed Sarah’s help for the bigger and even more impossible job of reproducing spiritually.
If God were trying to exalt men or show his preference for men over women, there were better, more visible ways of doing so. He could have made the sign of the covenant a symbol on the man’s head – like a crown letting everyone know the man was chief, that he was supposed to do all the thinking, deciding, and leading. Or he could have marked a man’s arm – symbolizing strength, power, and rule. Instead, God chose circumcision, not as a symbol of manhood, but of intimacy, vulnerability, and fruitfulness. Circumcision spoke of a man’s intimate relationship with his wife and of their union in producing children, both physically and spiritually.
Rather than being excluded, a woman could actually be represented twice by circumcision – first, as her father’s descendant and one he guided to walk with God, and second, as a wife who united with her husband in fulfilling the call to raise up the next generation to follow God. By circumcising Abraham’s household servants too, God’s covenant broke the boundaries of biology, extending the Abrahamic covenant laterally to encompass Gentiles even at this early stage. Both Abraham and Sarah had responsibility to direct the hearts of their servants and their servants’ children toward God. Circumcision isn’t male-centered, but descendant-centered and community-centered. The sign of the covenant impressed upon the man his enormous spiritual responsibility to walk before God and be faithful and to influence others, especially those under his roof, to do the same. This burden was too great for any man to shoulder alone.[vi]
Everything about God’s covenant is descendant-centered. After all, the descendants of Abraham are meant to bless “all the families of the earth.” They would be the instruments of bringing all of his children the gospel message.
The book of Lamentations is a collection of poems written after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. The word lamentation means “weeping” or “crying with great sorrow.” Each chapter is a separate poem. The first four chapters are acrostic poems with each succeeding verse beginning with the next letter of the 22-consonant Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 3 gives three verses to each of the 22 letters.[vii] Many Old Testament authors used this device to aid in memorization.
Because the Israelites had not repented, Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed. Because of this, she weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks” (Lamentations 1:2, 16). Because of this, Jeremiah writes that “the comforter that should relieve [his] soul is far from [him].” They must have felt hopeless. I love how the Lord does not leave them comfortless. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). We too might feel that we have lost all hope because of the choices we have made. I love knowing that the Lord’s mercy has no expiration date, and is “new every morning.”
The “new covenant” promised by Jeremiah would be written “in fleshy tables” of our hearts by the Holy Ghost. With the Holy Ghost, we will govern ourselves by the Spirit and be inwardly transformed, bringing us closer to the holiness of our Father in Heaven. He wants us to become like him so that we can inherit all that he wants to give us. We are the recipients of his hesed or covenant love and lovingkindness. President Nelson elucidated the blessings of keeping the covenant. He said, “Do you see the significance of this? Those who keep their covenants with God will become a strain of sin-resistant souls! Those who keep their covenants will have the strength to resist the constant influence of the world.”[viii] What a great blessing to be “sin-resistant” in the world today! These are the inoculations we desperately need to keep us from the pandemic of worldliness so prevalent in the society in which we live.
[i] See commentary on this chapter at Enduring Word available online.
[vi] Carolyn Custis James, Lost Women of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), 74-76 (emphasis in original)
[vii] Revell Bible Dictionary, 620.
[viii] “The Everlasting Covenant,” Liahona, October 2022.