Jeremiah 31:18
I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; You have chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn you me, and I shall be turned; for you are the LORD my God.
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(18) 1 have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself.—The prophet’s thoughts still dwell upon the exiles of the northern kingdom. They have been longer under the sharp discipline of suffering. By this time, he thinks, they must have learnt repentance. He hears—or Jehovah, speaking through him. hears—the moaning of remorse; and in that work, thought of as already accomplished, he finds a new ground for his hope for Judah. Ephraim at last owned that he had deserved the chastisement of the yoke that had been laid on him.

As a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.—The comparison is the nearest approach in the Old Testament to the Greek proverb about “kicking against the pricks” (Acts 9:5; Acts 26:14). In Hosea 10:11 (“Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught “), which may well have been in Jeremiah’s thoughts, we have a like comparison under a somewhat different aspect. The cry which is heard from the lips of the penitent, “Turn thou me . . . ,” is, as it were, echoed from Jeremiah 3:7; Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:14, and is reproduced in Lamentations 5:21.

Jeremiah 31:18. I have surely heard Ephraim, &c. — Here, still further to diversify the subject, and give it the greater force, the other personage referred to in the preceding note is introduced. Ephraim, representing the ten tribes, is brought forward, lamenting his past undutifulness with great contrition and penitence, and professing an earnest desire of amendment. And “these symptoms of returning duty are no sooner discerned in him than God acknowledges him once more as a darling child, and resolves to receive him with mercy.” The passage is intended to show the change necessary to be wrought in the hearts of the Israelites, in order to their obtaining this restoration from captivity, according to the conditional promises made of old to this people. See Leviticus 26:40-41. Previously to his conferring this great benefit upon them, God must hear them bemoaning themselves, or bewailing their miserable state, and the sins which had brought them into it, acknowledging that the chastisements which they had suffered had not been more or greater than their sins had justly merited, and praying earnestly for mercy and deliverance. Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised — Or, instructed by thy discipline, as אוסרmaybe properly rendered. As a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke — Whereas before I was as an untamed bullock, or heifer, that is not to be managed but by stripes and corrections. Turn thou me, and I shall be turned — Do thou turn my heart by thy preventing and renewing grace, and then I shall be effectually reformed, Lamentations 5:21. “Sometimes the Scripture ascribes the whole work of man’s conversion to God, because his grace is the first and principal cause of it. But yet, to make it effectual, man’s concurrence is necessary, as appears particularly from Jeremiah 51:9, where God says, We would have healed Babylon, and she is not healed; that is, God did what was requisite on his part for her conversion, but she refused to comply with his call. To the same purpose he speaks to Jerusalem, (Ezekiel 24:13,) I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged.”31:18-20 Ephraim (the ten tribes) is weeping for sin. He is angry at himself for his sin, and folly, and frowardness. He finds he cannot, by his own power, keep himself close with God, much less bring himself back when he is revolted. Therefore he prays, Turn thou me, and I shall be turned. His will was bowed to the will of God. When the teaching of God's Spirit went with the corrections of his providence, then the work was done. This is our comfort in affliction, that the Lord thinks upon us. God has mercy in store, rich mercy, sure mercy, suitable mercy, for all who seek him in sincerity.As a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke - literally, like an untaught calf. Compare the Hosea 10:11 note. Ephraim, like an untrained steer, had resisted Yahweh's will.18. Ephraim—representing the ten tribes.

bemoaning himself—The spirit of penitent supplication shall at last be poured on Israel as the necessary forerunner of their restoration (Zec 12:10-14).

Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised—In the first clause the chastisement itself is meant; in the second the beneficial effect of it in teaching the penitent true wisdom.

bullock unaccustomed to … yoke—A similar image occurs in De 32:15. Compare "stiff-necked," Ac 7:51; Ex 32:9, an image from refractory oxen. Before my chastisement I needed the severe correction I received, as much as an untamed bullock needs the goad. Compare Ac 9:5, where the same figure is used of Saul while unconverted. Israel has had a longer chastisement than Judah, not having been restored even at the Jews' return from Babylon. Hereafter, at its restoration, it shall confess the sore discipline was all needed to "accustom" it to God's "easy yoke" (Mt 11:29, 30).

turn thou me—by Thy converting Spirit (La 5:21). But why does Ephraim pray for conversion, seeing that he is already converted? Because we are converted by progressive steps, and need the same power of God to carry forward, as to originate, our conversion (Joh 6:44, 65; compare with Isa 27:3; 1Pe 1:5; Php 1:6).

The prophet in this verse showeth the change that should be wrought in the hearts of the Israelites preceding this turn out of their captivity. God had made an ancient promise to this people in their enemies’ hands, Leviticus 26:40-42, If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that they also have walked contrary unto me; and that also I have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. The Lord, to show his faithfulness to his word, and also to mind them of what must first be done before the aforementioned promises could be fulfilled, and made good to them, and to quicken them to their duty, speaks of a thing yet to come as of a thing past, foretelling that before their deliverance should come he should hear Ephraim, that is, the ten tribes, or rather, those of all the twelve tribes that feared the Lord, bemoaning or bewailing their miserable state, or themselves, both for that and their sins, which had brought them into such a state, and acknowledging not only what God had done unto them, that it was he who had chastised them, and that justly; for they were as wanton bullocks not used to the yoke, which ordinarily are very unruly when they are first put into it, but by use are more quiet under it; and praying to God that he would both change their hearts and also their state; for without him it could never be done, and by him it would be done easily; and to this purpose laying a claim to God as their God, and owning him as their God, promising him that though other lords had ruled over them, yet hereafter he alone should be owned, acknowledged, worshipped, and obeyed by them. I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus,.... Not Ephraim in person; though, as he was a very affectionate and tenderhearted man, as appears from 1 Chronicles 7:22; he is with like propriety introduced, as Rachel before; but Ephraim intends Israel, or the ten tribes, and even all the people of the Jews; and the prophecy seems to respect the conversion of them in the latter day, when they shall be in soul trouble, and bemoan their sins, and their sinful and wretched estate, and especially their rejection of the Messiah; when they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness, as one that mourns for his firstborn, and which the Lord will take notice of and observe, Zechariah 12:10; and it may be applied to the case of every sensible sinner bemoaning their sinful nature; want of righteousness; impotence to all that is spiritually good; their violations of the righteous law of God; and the curse they are liable to on account of it; their many sins against a God of love, grace, and mercy; and their ruined and undone state and condition by sin; all which the Lord takes notice of: "hearing I have heard" (s); which denotes the certainty of it, and with what attention he hears, yea, with what pleasure; it is the moan of his doves, of those who are like doves of the valley, everyone mourning for his iniquity; he hears, so as he answers; and sympathizing with them, he sends comfort to them, and delivers them out of their troubles:

thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised; this is the case bemoaned; not so much the chastising hand of God, as unaffectedness with it, and not being the better for it; the Lord has indeed, as if Ephraim should say, chastised me, and I have been chastised by him, and that is all; it has made no manner of impression upon me; I have not received correction, nor has it been of any use to me; and this he bemoaned: and this will be the case of the Jews when they are converted; they will then reflect upon all the corrections and chastisements of God under which they have been ever since the rejection of the Messiah, and still are; and yet are now stupid under them, and take no notice of them, and are never the better for them; and this they will lament when their eyes are opened: and so it is with particular persons at conversion; in their state of unregeneracy they have been chastened and corrected by the Lord, by one providence or another, by one disease and disorder or another, and they have not observed it; it has not wrought upon them, nor awakened them to a sense of danger; God has spoken once, and twice, in this rough way, and they have not perceived; he has stricken them, and they have not grieved; beaten them, and they felt it not; but now being made sensible, they bemoan their former stupidity and inattention, and wonder at the forbearance and goodness of God:

as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; or to draw the plough; as senseless and as stupid, yea, as thoughtless of danger, as that creature is when led to the slaughter; as "untaught", as the word (t) signifies; as ignorant of divine and spiritual things; knowing nothing of Christ, or God in Christ, or of the way of salvation by him, and of the operations of his Spirit and grace; as unruly as that to bear the yoke of the law, or the yoke of Christ; and as impatient under the yoke of affliction, kicking, tossing, and flinging, like a wild bull in a net; all which give concern to an awakened mind, that now sees its need of conversion, and prays for it, as follows:

turn thou me, and I shall be turned; which designs not a mere reformation of manners, or conversion to a doctrine or doctrines; nor a restoration after backslidings; nor a carrying on of the work of grace on the soul, and a daily renewing it; but the first work of conversion; which lies in a man's being turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God; is a turn of the heart, and not of the head and action only; of the will, affections, and bias of the mind; it is a turning of persons to the Lord Jesus Christ, to look to him for righteousness, life, and salvation; and in such sense will the Jews be turned in the latter day, 2 Corinthians 3:16; and this being prayed for, not only shows a sense of need of it, but of inability to work it; that it is not in the power of man to do it; that he is not active, but passive in it; that it is the Lord's work, and his only; and that when he does it, it is done effectually:

for thou art the Lord my God: the "Lord", the mighty Jehovah, and therefore able to do it; "my God", covenant God, who has promised to do it; and by virtue of covenant grace will be the conversion of the Jews; and to which the conversion of everyone is owing, Romans 11:25; or, "for thou shalt be the Lord my God"; I will own, acknowledge, fear, serve, and glorify thee as such, being converted to thee; see Genesis 28:20.

(s) "audiendo audivi", Vatablus, Pagninus, Montanus, Schmidt. (t) "non instructus", Munster; "non doctus", Montanus.

I have surely heard {u} Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a {x} bull unaccustomed to the yoke: {y} turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God.

(u) That is, the people who were led captive.

(x) Which was wanton and could not be subject to the yoke.

(y) He shows how the faithful used to pray, that is, desire God to tame them as they cannot turn of themselves.

18. The Lord declares that He has heard Ephraim confessing that his punishment was the just consequence of his sin, and praying for acceptance.

as a calf unaccustomed to the yoke] that has not been tamed.

I shall be turned] rather I will turn in the neuter sense (not the passive, which modern English usage implies). See Dr. p. 366.Verses 18, 19. - The ground of this hope, viz. that Ephraim will humble himself with deep contrition. Verse 18. - As a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; literally, as an untaught calf (comp. Hosea 10:11). Turn thou me, etc. Jeremiah has a peculiarly deep view of conversion. Isaiah (Isaiah 1:16-20) simply calls upon his hearers to change their course of life; Jeremiah represents penitent Ephraim as beseeching God so to prepare him that he may indeed "turn." Thus led by the Lord through the wilderness (Jeremiah 31:9), the redeemed shall come rejoicing to the sacred height of Zion (see on Jeremiah 17:12), and thence go in streams, i.e., scatter themselves over the country like a stream, for the goodness of the Lord, i.e., for the good things which He deals out to them in their native land. "To the goodness of Jahveh" is explained by "because of corn," etc. (על for אל), cf. Hosea 3:5. As to the good things of the country, cf. Deuteronomy 8:8. Their soul will be like a well-watered garden, an emblem of the fulness and freshness of living power; cf. Isaiah 58:11.
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