Jeremiah 31:9
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 firstborn.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(9) They shall come with weeping . . .—The present version agrees with the Hebrew punctuation, but a slight change would give, They shall come with weeping and with supplications; I will lead them; I will cause them to walk . . . The procession of those whom the prophet sees with his mental eye is that of those who weep tears of sorrow for the past, of joy for the present, and pour out prayers for the future. Of this we have a partial fulfilment in the memorable and touching scene brought before us in Ezra 3:12-13. A hand which they do not see shall lead them by the “rivers of waters,” both literally and figuratively. (Comp. Isaiah 35:7-8; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 48:21; Isaiah 49:10-11, for like promises.)

Ephraim is my firstborn.—Ephraim stands here, as often elsewhere (e.g., Hosea 11:3; Hosea 11:12; Hosea 13:1; Hosea 13:12) for the whole northern kingdom of the Ten Tribes, of which it was the most conspicuous member. The term “firstborn” is used, as an echo of Exodus 4:22, as marking out Ephraim as the object of the special favour of Jehovah, the birthright of Reuben having been transferred to the sons of Joseph (1Chronicles 5:1). The prominence of Ephraim over the other tribes is conspicuous throughout the whole history (Judges 12:1-3). The prophet apparently recognised it as taking its place once more in the restored unity of the people, when the king should be of the house of David, Jerusalem the centre of worship, Ephraim the leading tribe. (Comp. the contemporary prophecy of Ezekiel 37:19.) It is not without interest to note how the northern prophet looks to Judah as more faithful than Ephraim (Hosea 11:12), while Jeremiah turns from the sins of the princes and priests of Judah to look with hope on the remnant of Israel.

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.Weeping - For joy, not for sorrow.

Supplications - The conviction that God is guiding them, encourages them to pray.

Ephraim is My firstborn - The house of Joseph is thus to be restored to its old preeminence.

9. weeping—for their past sins which caused their exile (Ps 126:5, 6). Although they come with weeping, they shall return with joy (Jer 50:4, 5).

supplications—(Compare Jer 31:18, 19; Jer 3:21-25; Zec 12:10). Margin translates "favors," as in Jos 11:20; Ezr 9:8; thus God's favors or compassions are put in opposition to the people's weeping; their tears shall be turned into joy. But English Version suits the parellelism best.

I will cause … to walk by … waters … straight way—(Isa 35:6-8; 43:19; 49:10, 11). God will give them waters to satisfy their thirst as in the wilderness journey from Egypt. So spiritually (Mt 5:6; Joh 7:37).

Ephraim—the ten tribes no longer severed from Judah, but forming one people with it.

my first-born—(Ex 4:22; Ho 11:1; Ro 9:4). So the elect Church (2Co 6:18; Jas 1:18).

They shall come with weeping; some think that it had been better translated, They went weeping; for though the verb be the future tense in the Hebrew, yet that tense hath often the signification of the preterperfect tense; thus it answereth, Psalm 126:5,6, He that goeth forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, &c.; but there is no need of it here, for there is a weeping for joy, as well as for sorrow, as we have it in the instances both of Jacob and Joseph, Genesis 29:11 43:30; and thus the text correspondeth with that, Zechariah 12:10, I will pour upon them the Spirit of grace and supplications, and they shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and mourn. Weeping also here may be understood for their past sins. I will cause them to walk, by the rivers of waters; and they shall have no want as they had when they came out of Egypt, through the wilderness, where they often wanted water.

In a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble; neither shall they have any rough ways, nor turn backward and forward, as God made them to do in their passage through the wilderness.

For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born; for as I have the affection of a father for all Israel, so will I show the care and kindness of a father to them, and use them as a man useth his first-born; so God anciently called the Jews, Exodus 4:22, they being the first of all nations, whom God owned and took into covenant, and who owned God, and worshipped the true and living God only. They shall come with weeping,.... For joy, as Kimchi and Ben Melech observe; of which there are instances, Genesis 29:11; so the Jews will come to Christ, and to the Gospel church, as well as into their own land, with joy that they have found the Messiah, and are brought under his government, and into the enjoyment of the privileges of the Gospel, and the possession of their own land; or with tears of repentance for all their sins, original and actual, especially for their sin of unbelief, and rejection of the Messiah; they shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and mourn, when a spirit of grace and supplication is poured out upon them, Zechariah 12:10; with which agrees what follows:

and with supplications will I lead them; to Christ, and his church; and being drawn by the Father, and led by the Spirit, they will come to him with supplications and entreaties for mercy to be showed unto them; particularly for pardoning grace and mercy, and for salvation by him, which they will now see they stand in need of. Some render it, "with favours" (n), or mercies; blessings of grace bestowed on them; as a justifying righteousness; remission of sins; adoption; sanctifying grace; a right and title and meetness for eternal life; which are all owing to the free favour and grace of God:

I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters; or, "to rivers of waters" (o); to God himself, the fountain of living waters; and his everlasting love, that river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God; and to Christ, the fountain of gardens, and well of living waters; and to those wells of salvation, and fulness of grace, that are in him; and to the Gospel, its doctrines and ordinances, which are the still waters to it, by which the great Shepherd leads his flock. These rivers of waters may denote the blessings of grace which spring from the love of God, and flow through Christ in his word and ordinances, in great abundance; and it is very pleasant and profitable walking by these:

in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble; in a direct way to Christ, without going round about, by works of righteousness done by them, to render them acceptable to him; but they shall go directly to him as they are; or in a plain way, as it is to them that understand it, and in which men, though fools, shall not err: or in a righteous way, a way of righteousness; in a way that leads to Christ for righteousness; and in which men are taught to live soberly, righteously, and godly; and in which, though they may stumble and fall into sin, for "in many things we all offend", James 3:2; yet not stumble at the word, as some do; or at the stumbling stone, Christ, as the Jews' forefathers did; or so as to fall, be broken, and perish, Isaiah 8:14;

for am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn; and so very dear to him, as in Jeremiah 31:20. So the Targum,

"and Ephraim is beloved before me;''

all the blessings of grace which God bestows upon men, whether Jews or Gentiles, all flow from a prior relation he stands in to them; he first takes them into the relation of children, is a father to them in covenant; and then bestows children's blessings and covenant mercies on them. The allusion, perhaps, is to Joseph's having the birthright, and whose younger son, Ephraim, was preferred to Manasseh the elder, 1 Chronicles 5:2. Ephraim intends the same as Israel, the ten tribes, and includes the whole body of the Jewish nation.

(n) "cum beneficientiis", Tigurine version, Gataker; so Kimchi and Ben Melech. (o) "ad torrentes, vel fluvios aquarum", Munster, Tigurine version, Calvin, Cocceius; "ad fontes aquarum", Schmidt.

They shall come with {m} weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of {n} waters in a straight way, in which they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is {o} my firstborn.

(m) That is, lamenting their sins which had not given ear to the prophets and therefore it follows that God received them to mercy, Jer 50:4. Some take it that they should weep for joy.

(n) Where they found no impediments, but abundance of all things.

(o) That is, my dearly beloved as the first child is to the father.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
9. with weeping] tears of contrition, cp. Jeremiah 3:21. But LXX, “They went forth with weeping, but with consolation will I bring them back,” though giving quite a different turn to the passage, may well be correct. As Peake points out, the LXX are supported by the great prominence given in 2 Isaiah to the comforting of Israel.

by rivers] to rivers. Neither thirst nor roughness of the road shall trouble them as they traverse the desert homewards. Cp. Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 43:19 f., Jeremiah 48:21, Jeremiah 49:10; so Isaiah 40:4 (mg.), Jeremiah 42:16. Cp. also Isaiah 35.

Ephraim is my firstborn] It is remarkable, if this passage be not Jeremianic, that Ephraim should be granted by the writer the title of firstborn. But cp. 1 Chronicles 5:1-3.Verse 9. - With weeping; i.e. with a joy dashed with sorrow at the thought of the sin which has rendered such an interposition necessary (comp. Jeremiah 31:18). Cause them to walk by the rivers of waters. The reference here is primarily to the homeward journey of the exiles, which shall be free from the trials of the first Exodus, but not exclusively (see on next verse). The question arises how this prediction is to be reconciled with facts. For, as Kimchi has remarked, we find no reference to miracles performed for the Jews who returned from Babylon. A twofold reply seems admissible. We may say either that to those who enjoy a vivid sense of the favour and protection of God no trial is grievous, no circumstances exclude an undercurrent of joy (comp. Psalm 23.); or that the prophecy is still waiting for its complete fulfilment, Israel having still a great future reserved for it upon its recognition of the true Messiah. In a straight way; or, in an even way, i.e. one free from hindrances. Comp. Ezra's prayer (Ezra 8:21), and Psalm 107:7, in both of which passages "right" should probably be "even." Ephraim is my firstborn. It is doubted whether this simply means that Ephraim (i.e. North Israel) shall be in no respect inferior to Judah - a strong form of expression being chosen, on account of the longer continuance of Ephraim's captivity; or whether it implies a restoration to the tribes of Joseph of the prerogative conferred upon the sons of Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:1, 2; comp. Genesis 48:15). The former view seems hardly consistent with the dignity of a prophetic writer. "Forms of expression," i.e. rhetorical phrases, may be admitted in poetical passages, but hardly in solemn prophetic revelations. It was true that Judah had "prevailed above his brethren;" but the original "gift of God" to Ephraim was "without repentance." With regard to the fulfilment of this prediction, we must remember that the remnant of the northern tribes whose faith was strong enough to induce them to profit by the edict of Cyrus, was smaller than that of the southern. Hence the outward signs of God's favour to Ephraim could not be so great as they would have been had the moral conditions of the fulfilment of the promise been more fully complied with. The people already see in spirit how the Lord is accomplishing His purpose, Jeremiah 31:2. "From afar (the prophet speaks in the name of the people, of which he views himself as one) hath Jahveh appeared unto me." So long as Israel languished in exile, the Lord had withdrawn from him, kept Himself far off. Now the prophet sees Him appearing again. "From afar," i.e., from Zion, where the Lord is viewed as enthroned, the God of His people (Psalm 14:7), sitting there to lead them back into their land. But the Lord at once assures the people, who have been waiting for Him, of His everlasting love. Because He loves His people with everlasting love, therefore has He kept them by His grace, so that they were not destroyed. משׁך, to draw, keep, restrain; hence משׁך חסד, prolongare gratiam, Psalm 36:11; Psalm 109:12, but construed with ל of a person; here, with a double accusative, to restrain any one, to preserve him constantly by grace.
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