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The Guarantee of the Lord of Creation and Providence
Returning to where we left off in Jeremiah 31, after Jeremiah has revealed a New covenant to replace the Mosaic covenant, he is given revelation which underlines its validity.
Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name):
If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the LORD: “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD. (NKJV, Jeremiah 31:35-37)
As Thompson observes, this promise “declares the impossibility of Israel ever being forsaken again by Yahweh.”1 It is the God of creation and providence who is the Guarantor of Israel’s permanence. Just as He has established the fixed orders of the sun, moon and stars at creation week, so He will establish the descendants (seed)2 of Israel perpetually (Jer. 31:35-36). But it is the next verse that is really striking, at least to this writer. It appeals to the human investigation of the way God originally planned out the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1. Cf. Psa. 33:6, 9). That is to say, it appeals to God’s decrees; His secret thoughts and actions (Deut. 29:29). From this we can gather that God’s affectionate choice of Israel, despite “all that they have done,” is of the same substance (Deut. 7:6; Isa. 41:8). God has spoken. It is not for men to revise His words and reissue them to fit their theologies.
What function does Jeremiah 32 have within the set of chapters 30 through 34? It has to do with the prophet’s purchase of his cousin’s field at Anathoth. The field was worthless, since Nebuchadnezzar and his army were bearing down upon it at the time of writing (Jer. 32:24-25). Why buy a piece of land which in short shrift would become the possession of the Babylonian Empire? Even though they are included in what scholars refer to as “The Book of Consolation,” at first the chapter doesn’t seem to fit. The chapter declares that because of the continued sins of the people He is going to deliver them over to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians (Jer. 32:28-36). But at verse 37 the narrative turns suddenly to speak once more about a divine rescue where, after God’s fury has subsided, He will regather Israel and make them “dwell safely” (32:37). Then straight after we find Yahweh issuing His covenant refrain, “They shall be my people and I will be their God” (32:38), followed immediately by these words:
then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them.
And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.
Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’ (Jeremiah 32:39-41)
Here is a clear allusion to the spiritual transformation which will be wrought in the hearts of the remnant in accordance with the New covenant. The “everlasting covenant” which is mentioned in verse 40 is, I firmly contend, the same New covenant, since unlike the Mosaic covenant, this covenant insures the waywardness of Israel will be brought to its end and they will forever serve Yahweh as His special people. In this way the New covenant succeeds in fulfilling the purpose of God expressed in Exodus 19:5-6 where the old covenant, through unregenerate hearts, inevitably failed.
The kind of relationship which verse 41 describes Yahweh rejoicing over them in the same terms as we find in Isaiah 62:5 and in Zephaniah 3:17; both eschatological passages. It isn’t a far stretch, therefore, to see the making of the New covenant with the nation of Israel as occurring at the same time as their redemption and restoration to their land.
The final two verses of Jeremiah 32 (verses 43-44) provide the answer to why Jeremiah buys the field of Hanamel. It illustrates in physical terms the truth, unlikely as the circumstances made it look, that God’s covenants with Israel were yet fixed in His mind as the Babylonian Captivity was hard becoming a reality for Jeremiah’s contemporaries.
A Textual Anomaly
The so-called “Book of Consolation” is rounded off by chapter 33. But before I expound this crucial chapter a text-critical peculiarity has to be addressed. In the LXX of Jeremiah 33 the chapter only runs to verse 13. The golden section speaking of the “Branch” (33:14-26) is absent.3 At first glance this might look like an Old Testament parallel to the disputed ending of Mark’s Gospel.4 But the two omissions are of a different variety. As far as the Book of Jeremiah is concerned the LXX or “Septuagint” version is shorter and arranged differently.5 Most scholars believe that it reflects an earlier Hebrew strand other than the one we know from the Masoretic Text.6 There is no way of answering the question of what the original looked like, and it is probably not important since Jeremiah’s writings were originally written individually at different times in the prophet’s career and gathered together later. But none of this means that the differences between the LXX and the MT ought to be decided in favor of the Greek text rather than the Hebrew text.7 Hess, for example, notes that the LXX has examples of haplography (the omission of similar letters, syllables, etc) which indicates some sloppiness in copying from the Hebrew.8 In agreement with most believing scholars I assume that Jeremiah 33:14-26 are original to the prophet. The Jeremiah of the Hebrew Bible is correct. It is the “final form” of the text that God has given us.9
1 J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, 582
2 The word “seed” (zera) must be plural here because it refers to “nation” or “people” (goy). Therefore, it will not do to explain the promise as being fulfilled in one Person (Jesus Christ).
3 E.g., J. A. Thompson, Jeremiah, 600 n.1
4 On the authenticity of the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel, see e.g. Nicholas P. Nunn, The Original Ending of Mark
5 Other examples of missing verses in the LXX include Jeremiah 17:1-4; 39:4-13, and 51:45-58. Although critical scholars follow their own unbelieving theories, there is no reason to think any of these passages are unoriginal.
6 J. Daniel Hays believes that the LXX version is original, in which case, among other things, Jeremiah 33:14-26 is not authentic. See his essay “Jeremiah, the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Inerrancy,” in Evangelicals and Scripture, edited by Vincent Bacote, et al. If one takes this position it needs to be understood that one is asserting that our Bibles, and the Jewish Tanakh, are missing the real Book of Jeremiah! That wreaks havoc with the orthodox view of the Canon and (despite Hays) the idea of an inerrant Bible. The arrival at such a conclusion is a result, more of a positivistic approach to textual criticism than a due regard to the history of transmission as exhibited in Christianity and Judaism.
7 Further information can be found in R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 817-818, and Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 291-295. Cf. William Sanford LaSor, et al, Old Testament Survey, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 340-341
8 Richard S. Hess, The Old Testament, 540-541. Hess also calls attention to Jer. 36:32 which may help resolve the question of where the two texts came from. It is also possible that Greek copyists thought the section was a gloss from Jer. 23. Whatever the explanation, the final form of the text is the one we have in our Bibles.
9 See also John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 220-224, and careful explication of the intentionality behind the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament (influenced by Sailhamer) in Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope, 34-64
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.