Jeremiah 31:9

9. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born.

9. Cum fletu venient, et in precationibus (vel, miserationibus) addiscam cos; deducam ad fluvios aquarum, in viam rectam, ubi non impingent (non impingent in ea, ad verbum, sed hb debet resolvi in relativum) quoniam ero Israeli in Patrem, et Ephraim primogenitus meus ipse.


The Prophet still pursues the same subject; but he adds, that though they went with weeping into exile, yet that would be no impediment, that God should not restore them again to their own country: for I take the beginning of this verse, in weeping shall they come, in an adversative sense. Some explain weeping as the effect of joy; for joy as well as grief sometimes brings tears. Some then think the meaning of the Prophet to be, that so great would be the joy on their return, that tears would flow from their eyes. But I, on the contrary, think, that the Prophet means what was afterwards repeated in one of the Psalms,

"Going forth they went forth and wept; but coming they shall come with exultation, carrying their sheaves." (Psalm 126:6)

For the Prophet compares the exile of the people to sowing; for except the seed cast on the earth dies, it remains dry and barren, and does not germinate: the death then of the seed is the cause of production. So also it was necessary for the people to be by exile thus cast on the ground, that their calamity might be a kind of death to them. But he says that the Jews when cast forth as a seed, that is, when driven into exile to be put to death by the chastening rod of God, "had come with weeping;" but that afterwards they returned with joy as in harvest, that is, when liberty to return was granted them. So also the Prophet here speaks, as I think, in an adversative sense, of the Jews; the particle though is to be understood.

It afterwards follows, With prayers, or mercies, will I lead them. The word Mynwnxt, techenunim, which is found mostly in the plural number, means prayers; and I know not whether this sense is suitable here. In Zechariah, the word being connected with grace, it cannot be otherwise explained than of mercy, (Zechariah 7:9) and I am inclined to adopt this meaning here, even that the weeping of the people would be no hinderance, that God should not at last shew mercy to them, and turn their weeping and tears into laughter and joy. But if any one prefers to render the word, prayers, the sense would not be improper; that is, that when they began suppliantly to confess their sins, and to flee to God's mercy, there would then come the time of joy. But weeping then must be applied to blind grief, for the Jews were not as yet subdued so as to submit to God, to be humbled and to repent. Hence weeping is to be taken in a bad sense, even for grief, mixed with perverseness, when they murmured against God; and the Prophet must have taken prayers as tokens of repentance, that is, when the Jews, having been truly convinced of their sins by many and continual evils, would begin to flee to God's mercy. But he seems rather to set God's mercies in opposition to the sorrow in which the Jews were involved when God hid his favor from them.1

He adds, I will lead them to fountains of waters, according to what is said in the book of Psalms, that they would find fountains and wells on their journey. (Psalm 84:6) For the Jews had to travel through deserts and sterile sands; so they thought that they lived in another world while they were in Chaldea: they remembered how vast was the solitude through which they had passed. Hence then was their despair, so that they refused every comfort when the Prophets exhorted them to entertain good hope. God therefore promises to be their leader on their journey, so that they should not want water in the lonely and barren desert. And we see that the Prophet, by the various figures he uses, means one and the same thing, even that whatever obstacles may meet us, to prevent us from tasting of God's goodness, and to embrace the promises of salvation, they will all vanish away, if we bear in mind the infinite power of God. I will then lead them by fountains of water.

Then he says, through a straight way, in which they shall not stumble, according to what is said in Isaiah 40:3,

"A voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight the paths of our God; let every valley be raised and mountain be made low, so that rough places may become plain, and the crooked (or tortuous) become straight ways."

We thus see how these prophecies harmonize, and ought to be regarded as teaching the same thing, -- that God surmounts all obstacles when it is his purpose to save his Church; for how much soever all the elements may unite against the salvation of the godly, God can by one breath dissipate them all, and cast down the loftiest mountains that may be in his way, and give rivers in deserts and dry lands; and thus he can constrain to obey him whatever may seem opposed to the salvation of his Church.

He afterwards adds, for I shall be a Father to Israel, Ephraim my first-born he, or shall be; for awh, eua, as it is well known, is taken in the place of a verb. Here Jeremiah points out the cause, and as it were the fountain of the deliverance of which he has been hitherto speaking, even because God would become reconciled to his people. He intimates also the cause of the exile and of all the evils that had been and would be, because they had provoked God by their sins. God had indeed adopted them as his people in the person of Abraham; but the Prophet intimates an interruption when he says, I will be, though the covenant of God had never been annulled. He was then ever the Father of the Church, but the benefit of adoption did not appear; as to outward appearance the people seemed as rejected, as it has been said in other places: and on this subject Hosea also speaks in these words,

"I will say to her who obtained not mercy, Thou shalt obtain mercy; I will say to the not beloved, Thou art a beloved people." (Hosea 2:23)

For nothing could have been said of the Jews when expelled from their inheritance, but that they were wholly alienated from God. He was therefore no Father to them at that time, that is, he did not appear to be so, although he did prove himself to be a Father really and effectually. He then began to be a Father when the people returned into their own country, because God's favor then shone forth, which for a time had been as it were extinct.2


Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast so often been pleased to receive into favor thine ancient people, though extremely provoked by their perverse wickedness, -- O grant, that mercy may also at this day be shewn to us, and that though we wholly deserve to perish eternally, thou mayest yet stretch forth thine hand to us and grant to us a testimony of thy favor, so that we may be able with a cheerful mind to call on thee as our Father, and ever to entertain hope of thy mercy, until we shall be gathered into that kingdom, where we shall perfectly render to thee the sacrifice of praise, and rejoice in the fruition of that eternal life, which has been procured for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son. -- Amen.

Lecture One Hundred and Nineteenth

We explained yesterday how God began to be a Father to Israel when he restored him from exile. Adoption, with regard to God, remained indeed the same, as it has been stated; but as to the judgment of men, it was abolished. He then began anew so to collect his people, that they might really know him as their Father.

He afterwards adds, that Ephraim would be his first-born. Ephraim is no doubt taken here for the whole people; nor does the Prophet here make any distinction between the two kingdoms, but includes even the tribe of Judah in the name Ephraim, as it is done in many other places. But yet it is proper to observe, that Ephraim is sometimes taken for all the posterity of Abraham, sometimes for the kingdom of Israel, and sometimes for that tribe itself. When the kingdom of Judah is distinguished from the kingdom of Israel, then Ephraim includes only the ten tribes; but in this place the Prophet did not intend to mark the difference between the tribe of Judah and the ten tribes, because it would have in this case been very strange to call Ephraim the first-born; for we know that Ephraim had been rejected from a regard to David, as it is said in the Psalms,

"And God refused the tribe of Joseph, and rejected the tabernacles of Ephraim; he chose the tribe of Judah whom he loved."
(Psalm 78:67, 68)

There a comparison is made between the kingdom of Judah which God had erected, having added a promise, and the kingdom of Jeroboam, which was, as it were, spurious; for the revolt from the family of David had torn the body of the Church, so that it became as it were mutilated. For this reason it is said that Ephraim was rejected, that is, because God regarded David alone and his posterity with paternal favor; and of his whole family it was said,

"He shall call me, 'My Father;' and I will say to him
'Thou art my Son.'" (Psalm 89:26)

In this place then, the Prophet speaks generally of the people, as though he had said that it was only a temporary division when the ten tribes had formed for themselves a kingdom of their own, but that they would become one people, so that Ephraim would differ in nothing any more from Judah. To the same purpose is what is said by Hosea,

"When Israel was a child I loved him,
and from Egypt have I called my Son." (Hosea 11:1)

There the Prophet calls the people Israel; he does not, however, denote the ten tribes only, but he placed in the first rank David and his posterity. Indeed, the Prophets, when prophesying of the restoration of the Church, direct their eyes to the first unity which God had fixed among the people, for it was then only the true state of things, when the twelve tribes preserved a fraternal union. We now then perceive why the Prophet says that Ephraim was God's first-born.

But it may be asked here, "With respect to whom is he thus called? for it follows that there were other sons of God, if Ephraim was the first-born among them." But this conclusion is not well-founded; for Mary is said to have brought forth her first-born son, who was yet her only son, (Matthew 1:25) and Christ is called elsewhere the first-begotten with: reference to all the faithful,

"that he might be the first-born among many brethren." (Romans 8:29)

But Mary had brought forth her only son. Hence the word, "first-born," does not prove that others follow, the second and the third in their order; but we may say that Ephraim was called the first-born of God with reference to the Gentiles, who at length became partakers of free adoption: for we also are the children of Abraham, because we have been planted by faith among the elect people; yet this solution seems to me more refined than solid. I then give this simple interpretation, that Ephraim was called the first-born because he was preferred to all the Gentiles; God was pleased to choose them as his people. This then was the peculiar privilege of the seed of Abraham; for though the human race was one and the same, yet it pleased God to choose and adopt Abraham and his posterity. It now follows, --

1 The Targ. and the Versions, excepting the Vulg., give a similar meaning to these two clauses. They give the sense of "departing" to the first verb, while it commonly has the sense of "coming." It is also in the future tense, and therefore cannot refer to the departing of the Israelites, who are meant here, for they had already gone into exile. Their return is no doubt what is spoken of, which would be attended with "weeping," not for joy, but for their sins, as it is distinctly expressed in verses 18 and 19 (Jeremiah 31:18-19); and also with entreaties or supplications. And it is better with Venema to join the two words with "coming," --

With weeping shall they come and with supplications; I will bring them, I will lead them, By streams of water, in a straight way; They shall not stumble in it.

He promises two things, to "bring" and to "lead;" then the leading refers to the streams of water, and the bringing to the straight way; which is a kind of arrangement that is often to be met with in Scripture. Two things, especially necessary for travelers, are promised, water and a good road. "Straight" seems to apply to the surface of the road as well as to its sides; hence some render it "smooth" or even, such as would have nothing that might cause one to stumble. -- Ed.

2 What is here said is no doubt true: but the auxiliary verb is, "I was," not "I shall be;" and so it is rendered by the Sept., Vulg., and Targ.; and by the Syr., I am. Then the Versions, very incorrectly, give the next clause, in which there is no verb, in the present tense, while it ought to be in the past tense, like the foregoing. The words literally are, --

For I was (or, have been) to Jacob a Father, And Ephraim, my first-born he (i.e. was he.)

And to this purpose has Blayney rendered the passage. Whenever the auxiliary verb is understood, its tense must be regulated by the context. On "first-born," see Exodus 4:22, 23, and 1 Chronicles 5:1. -- Ed.


Back to

These files are public domain. This electronic edition was downloaded from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.