Lesson Focus: Our sin causes us to go into exile. God, who longs to be our father, comes to rescue us from exile so that our mourning might be turned into joy.
Lesson Outcomes: Through this lesson students should:
Become familiar with the basic theme of return from exile.
Make a connection between Exodus and exile.
Recognize that even in our exile God desires to be our father.
Desire to move from exile to homecoming as children of God.
Catch up on the story: The context for all of Jeremiah is Exile. While Jeremiah’s book spans a long time period, the basic theme and movement is the unfaithfulness of God’s people and their subsequent movement toward exile. Much of the tone of Jeremiah is somber and mournful. The news is not good. Despite his efforts, the efforts of those who have gone before him and contemporary prophets, Israel and Judah fail to turn from their unfaithfulness. Yet, in the midst of Jeremiah’s dark lamenting over Israel, the promise of redemption and restoration hangs in the air. Beginning in chapter 30 we begin to get hints that God has not completely abandoned Israel but will now turn again towards her to bring her home.
The Text: Our passage is part of a larger section, which some scholars refer to as the Book of Consolation (Jeremiah 30-33). Verse 7-9 and 10-14 make up two separate oracles of salvation, or divine sayings concerning Israel’s return from exile. We’ll examine each oracle in turn.
Oracle #1: I am your Father… This oracle begins with the familiar words, “For thus says the Lord.” Whenever we read these words in the Old Testament we know that God is about to speak, usually through a human mouthpiece. In this case, the human mouthpiece is the prophet Jeremiah. For most of Jeremiah these words have produced in the reader a sense of dread and foreboding. Now, however, these words usher the reader into a time of glad celebration.
Loud songs of praise are not often on the lips of people who are in subjugation to a foreign power, but this is precisely what God commands his people to do. They, as the “chief of nations” (v. 7) are to call out for God to save them. The phrase “chief of nations” refers to Israel’s place as God’s special and chosen people. While their chosen-ness has not spared them judgment for their infidelities, it has given them latent hope throughout the exile that God will once again restore them.
It seems odd, at first consideration, that God would instruct Israel to shout and sing the words, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.” Why would God do this, does he not already know that they are in need of salvation? Indeed, God does know Israel’s desperate situation and longs for them not to remain in it, but in uttering these words Israel declares its dependence on God for its salvation. It may be a bit like admitting to your spouse that you are wrong. You may not come to complete acknowledgement of your mistake until you vocalize it directly to him or her. For Israel, however, her acknowledgement of her inability to rectify her situation is not done begrudgingly. The tone is not sorrowful. Rather, it is done with a joyful confidence in their God. Their confidence is built on the knowledge that “God will as certainly do it, as if he had already done it.”
Israel’s salvation is return from exile. The people’s cry for salvation, their dependence on God for their deliverance will lead God to act for them in a way they could not act for themselves. He will bring them home. God will bring them home from the land of the north, from Babylon. The blind, lame, the pregnant woman who is in labor, together with all of God’s people, will be led home. A journey of this magnitude would be stressful for the healthiest of persons. It would be an even greater challenge, if not impossible, for those Jeremiah mentions explicitly. Their inclusion in the ones who will return from exile points to the grand scope of the miracle that is about to take place. Salvation will not be just for the strong or for those who are important. It will be for everyone, even the lowest of people.
The journey will be made with weeping. The weeping will most likely be a mixture of joy and sorrow. They will cry tears of joy because they are finally returning home. They will mourn because they have been so long in exile and there are many who perished in the events leading up to exile and in exile. Nevertheless, God will console them, leading them as he had done during the Exodus. This new exodus, however, will be a smoother journey; they will be led by streams of water in a path that is straight. The path out of Egypt was neither smooth nor straight for Israel. Unlike their journey from Egypt, Israel will have no want.
The ending line in this first oracle settles a question that might have plagued Israel as they were in exile: how is it that God will take care of them? The answer comes wrapped in the imagery of a family. God will not relate to Israel as it was common for other “gods” in the near east to relate to their people. Rather, God will be Israel’s father. Israel will enjoy all the benefits of having a father. Israel is “brought into close relationship with God, with all the intimacy that a parent-child relationship implies. They are God’s family with all the blessings of being a part of this household. Given the sharp experience of suffering, God as parent enters into the suffering of the children (see v. 20) and claims them for life and for freedom.” Israel’s future is secure. Her father is the God who created and sustains the universe.
God’s declaration that he is Israel’s father is even more striking when placed in contrast to God’s earlier comments in 3:19-20. God wonders out loud that he thought that Israel could be counted as among his children. He believes that Israel would call him father, but they have refused to do so. Instead, they have become like a faithless wife who leaves her husband. That God now insists that he will be Israel’s father points to his great steadfast love and faithfulness.
Oracle #2: Gather the Scattered As this oracle begins the audience shifts. It is not just Israel who will hear this word from God; it will be the nations of the world. The work that God is about to undertake on behalf of his children will be broadcast to lands that are far away, to the coastlands –the ends of the earth. The content of the message is that the one who has scattered the people will now gather them back together. The shepherd will bring together the flock once again. All through Jeremiah the nations to the north, the ones who bring God’s judgment on Israel, are referred to as bad shepherds. The good shepherd now comes to gather his flock together.
God will be able to gather the flock together because God has “ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.” The two words “ransomed” and “redeemed” figure prominently in the Exodus narrative. They are also used in combination in Isaiah. For Israel, one of the dominant images associated with “redeemed” had to do with the process of caring for a widow. When a man died and left a widow the nearest male relative would take this widow as a wife and provide for her, even providing her with a male heir if necessary. (For two stories about this tradition in Israel see Genesis 38-39 and Esther 1-10. In the first story, the part of the redeemer is neglected, while the second story has a happy ending.) A widow in Israel, or in any other near east culture, who did not have someone to provide for her was likely to end up caring for herself and her dependents through prostitution. A widow had no possibility of a future apart from the providing care of a man.
If we shift the imagery of this passage a little bit, at this point in Israel’s history she is like a childless widow. Her husband has died and she now has no one to care for her. God will act as her kinsman redeemer and will now take her as his wife. Her needs will be met and she will now have a future.
Because Israel has been gathered and redeemed she now has a future. In verses 12-14 we are met by a series of phrases that depict what Israel will experience because of this gracious redemption by God. Israel will sing on top of Zion, the Temple. They will have grain, wine, oil, and livestock. The barrenness of a destroyed land will be reversed. Is mold removal covered by insurance? The barrenness of a shamed people will be undone. They will be like a garden that has a constant supply of water so that growth happens. The completeness of this reversal will be met with the singing and dancing of young women and the merry shouts of old men. There will be none who are left out.
Before exile, Israel had a false joy in her unfaithfulness. God promised to turn her joy into mourning. Now, in a great reversal, God will turn Israel’s mourning into joy.
So What? Our sin always leads to some kind of exile. Sin scatters. The Greek word for the devil, diabolos, has a root meaning of thrower. Sin/the devil throws us about, scattering us. It may be the exile of a broken relationship. It may be the exile or addiction, which causes us to sacrifice everything we love for the thing we are addicted to. Whatever the case may be, our sin and resulting exile leaves us lonely, alone and neglected. Like Israel, we begin to wonder if God cares for us or will once again turn to save us.
Even though sin requires judgment, God longs to reverse the barrenness of our exile and replace it with rich blessings (rarely monetarily). In our exile God comes to us and encourages us to sing aloud and to shout in confidence that the God who sometimes gives us over to the consequences of our sin now wishes to bring us home, to offer us forgiveness and grace. God does not just want to give us a home, but to fully and completely welcome us and establish us in his home. We become children of God. John, speaking centuries later, will declare that those who accept Jesus “receive power to become children of God” (John 1:12). The wonderful part of this declaration by both Jeremiah and John is that it is not the ones who have it all together to get adopted, but the ones who are insignificant, who are broken and lame. In our exile, God moves toward us, calling us, redeeming us so that we may become children of God. So we pray,
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, Forever and ever. Amen
Critical Discussion Questions: How does this text reveal to us the nature and character of God/What is God doing in this text?
Over and over again in the Old Testament we get the picture that God has not abandoned his people. While they may sin and live terribly unfaithful lives, God desires to bring them home again.
God is drawing and bringing us back to him. God comes to us as a father. In our sin and exile we are fatherless and provider-less. God comes and takes us home again.
God comes to us as a redeemer. We are widows who have been left to fend for ourselves because of our own selfish ambitions. God steps up and takes ownership of us, providing for us so that we might have a future.
What does holiness/salvation look like in this text?
Our response to God’s declaration of the salvation he will bring for us is to call on him to be saved. God moves toward us but we must respond by admitting that we are unable to save ourselves from our current situations.
How does an encounter with this story shape who we are and who we should become?
The grief and mourning that has taken place in our lives because of our self-imposed exile will be replaced our Father. As a people who have been redeemed we can now joyfully stand. Our mourning is turned to joy because God our Father has redeemed us.
Specific Discussion Questions:
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Why does our passage refer to Jacob (Israel) as the “chief of nations?”
Why is Israel encouraged to proclaim in joy, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel”? Why doesn’t God just save them?
The passage makes specific mention of the blind, lame and pregnant woman making the journey back to Israel. Why is this important?
At the end of verse 9, God declares that he has become a father to Israel. Go back and read Jeremiah 3:19-20. How are God’s comments in that passage different? What do these two passages tell us about God’s nature?
What are some of the ways we experience our own exile today?
God brings even the lowest and most broken people in Israel back from exile. What does that say to us about how God might bring us back from our own exiles?
God longs to be our father. Jesus shows us who the father is. God as our father wants to teach us, guide us and help us grow. In what way might you need help allowing God to be your father?
God is at work in the world, gathering people from all different kinds of exiles. How do we as the church participate in God’s work of gathering people?
When God gathers people from exile, it is a joyous event. When we as the church participate in God’s work of gathering, we should do so joyfully. Exiles are coming home! How does joy become an ongoing reality in the life of the church?
 John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the Old Testament, vol. 3 (Bristol: William Pine, 1765), 2210.
 J. A. Thompson, A Book of Jeremiah, 2nd Revised edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), 570.
 Wesley, 2210.
 Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah: Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2002), 431.