|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
31:1-9 God assures his people that he will again take them into covenant relation to himself. When brought very low, and difficulties appear, it is good to remember that it has been so with the church formerly. But it is hard under present frowns to take comfort from former smiles; yet it is the happiness of those who, through grace, are interested in the love of God, that it is an everlasting love, from everlasting in the counsels, to everlasting in the continuance. Those whom God loves with this love, he will draw to himself, by the influences of his Spirit upon their souls. When praising God for what he has done, we must call upon him for the favours his church needs and expects. When the Lord calls, we must not plead that we cannot come; for he that calls us, will help us, will strengthen us. The goodness of God shall lead them to repentance. And they shall weep for sin with more bitterness, and more tenderness, when delivered out of their captivity, than when groaning under it. If we take God for our Father, and join the church of the first-born, we shall want nothing that is good for us. These predictions doubtless refer also to a future gathering of the Israelites from all quarters of the globe. And they figuratively describe the conversion of sinners to Christ, and the plain and safe way in which they are led.
Verse 2. - The people which were left of the sword, etc.; literally, the people of those left of the sword. The expression clearly implies that the Jews at the time spoken of had escaped, or were about to escape, in some great battle or some other kind of slaughter. Hence the finding grace in the wilderness cannot refer to the sequel of the passage through the Red Sea, and we must perforce explain it of the second great deliverance, viz. from the Babylonian exile. This view is strongly confirmed by Jeremiah 51:50, where the Israelites who escape the predicted slaughter at Babylon are called "escaped ones from the sword," and exhorted to remember Jehovah and Jerusalem "afar off." The "wilderness" of the present passage, like the "afar off" of ch. 51. (and of the next verse) seems to mean Babylon, which was, by comparison with the highly favoured Judah, a "barren and dry land" (comp. Psalm 63:1), a spiritual Arabia. It may be objected that the tense here is the perfect; but there is abundance of analogy for explaining it as the prophetic perfect. The restoration of the chosen people to favour is as certain in the Divine counsels as if it were already an event past. (It seems less appropriate to understand "the wilderness" of the country which separated Assyria from Palestine. It was in Babylon that the covenant of Sinai was renewed to God's repentant people.) Even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest; rather, when I went to cause Israel to rest (literally, to cause him - Israel - to rest; but the pleonastic pronoun need not be represented in the English). Another possible and perhaps preferable rendering is, I will go to cause, etc. "Rest" could only be had in the consciousness of God's favor. With all the outward property of many of the Jews in Babylon, there was no true "rest." Comp. chap. 16, "Ask for the old paths.., and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (the same verbal root in the Hebrew for "rest" in both passages).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Thus saith the Lord, the people which were left of the sword,.... Which were not consumed by the sword of Pharaoh, who perished not through his cruel edicts, and by his sword, when drawn at the Red sea; nor by the sword of the Amalekites and Amorites; or of their own brethren, who sometimes, for their sins, were ordered to slay many, as on account of the molten calf, and joining to Baalpeor: but there was a remnant that escaped, who
found grace in the wilderness; in the sight of God, who went before them, protected and defended them from their enemies; gave them his holy law, his statutes, and his judgments; fed them with manna and quails; clave the rocks, and gave them water to drink; and supplied them with everything necessary for them, Psalm 78:5;
even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest; went before him in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night; and in the ark, the symbol of his presence; and not only to search out a resting place for them for a few days, but to bring them to Canaan, the land of rest, which he had promised them, Exodus 13:21; now this past instance of divine goodness is mentioned, to encourage faith in the fulfilment of the above promise. The whole is paraphrased by the Targum thus,
"these things saith the Lord, who gave mercies to the people that came out of Egypt; he supplied their necessities in the wilderness, when they fled from before those who slay with the sword; he led them by his word, to cause Israel to dwell in a place of rest.''
Some render the words in the future, "shall find grace", &c. "shall go to his rest", &c. and so apply it to the Jews that escaped the sword of the Chaldeans, and found favour in the wilderness of the people into which they were brought, and as they returned into their own land from the captivity. And it, nay be also applied to the Jews that were left of the sword of the Romans in their last destruction, who have found much favour among the nations; as they do in ours, and others, now; and who in time will return to their own land, and be in rest, Jeremiah 30:10. Yea, it is applicable enough to the church and people of God in their present state; who are left of the sword of the Papists, and are now in the wilderness, where they are nourished for a time, and times, and half a time; and before long will be brought into a state of settled rest and tranquillity.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2. Upon the grace manifested to Israel "in the wilderness" God grounds His argument for renewing His favors to them now in their exile; because His covenant is "everlasting" (Jer 31:3), and changes not. The same argument occurs in Ho 13:5, 9, 10; 14:4, 5, 8. Babylon is fitly compared to the "wilderness," as in both alike Israel was as a stranger far from his appointed "rest" or home, and Babylon is in Isa 40:3 called a "desert" (compare Jer 50:12).
I went to cause him to rest—namely, in the pillar of cloud and fire, the symbol of God's presence, which went before Israel to search a resting-place (Nu 10:33; Isa 63:14) for the people, both a temporary one at each halt in the wilderness, and a permanent one in Canaan (Ex 33:14; De 3:20; Jos 21:44; Ps 95:11; Heb 3:11).
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