Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. — Jeremiah 31:10
As a small child in Sunday school, one of my favorite pictures in my Bible storybook was the classic image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Having grown up in the city, I had little personal knowledge about sheep — other than that Old MacDonald had some on his farm! I had no idea that sheep are notorious for wandering, are quite helpless, or that they are not a particularly smart animal. But I really loved that picture of Jesus with the sheep clustered around His side. I was especially drawn by the tender expression on the Shepherd’s face as He gazed down at the little lamb in His arms. Somehow I sensed the love and security portrayed in that picture.
In our focus verse today, Jeremiah used the imagery of a shepherd to portray God’s ultimate regathering of His people, the Israelites. The simple phrase “as a shepherd doth his flock” would have brought instant understanding to those who heard the prophet’s words, for caring for sheep was a common occupation in their society.
Shepherds of that time were very familiar with their sheep, even calling each one by name. They knew which ones would wander, and which ones needed special care. Day and night, they would watch over their flocks, even risking their own lives to protect them. Every day they would lead their sheep to sources of food and water, and every night they would gather them into the safety of the sheepfold.
Though God would scatter His rebellious children because of their rejection of Him, in this passage the prophet declared to the people of the world that God would not make a full end of His chosen ones, but would someday bring them back to their land. This was a promise of a literal return of both Israel and Judah to the land God had promised to their ancestors. The imagery of a shepherd was expressive of the compassion God still had for His wayward people, offering a glimmer of hope in the midst of the terrible desolation that would soon be coming upon them.
God’s compassion, as manifested to Israel in this passage, is also available to all today who are willing to become a part of His spiritual flock and participate in the New Covenant described in this chapter. The tender care of our Good Shepherd is our source of security in a troubled world. How grateful we should be that we can look to Him to care for us, protect us, and provide for our needs!
In this chapter, the prophet continued with the theme of the restoration of Israel, and God’s establishment of a New Covenant with His people. God’s compassion was turned toward Israel as a nation, and He declared His intention of future blessing to the Jews in a series of promises, culminating in the pronouncement that the nation would one day return from exile and captivity. The passage is one of the most sweeping prophecies in scope in the Old Testament, as it relates not only to the Jews’ return from captivity, but also to their ultimate spiritual redemption through the coming Messiah.
The prophecy encapsulates specific historical landmarks of Jewish history from the time the prophecy was delivered, through today, and into the future. God told the people that they would return into the land and plant again. He brought this to pass when Persia conquered Babylon and King Cyrus allowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the return of the captives. Yet the second stage of the return, mentioned in verse 10 of the text, goes far beyond the initial return to Israel from Assyria or Persia, or even the formation of the Jewish nation in 1948. It includes the Jewish people’s return to Israel beyond our day.
Buried within the prophecy is a reference to the birth of Christ. The phrase “Rahel weeping for her children” (verse 15) alluded to the slaughter of innocent children in Bethlehem by the hand of King Herod when he heard of the birth of Jesus. Verses 16 and 17 indicate a two-fold application of this prophecy, as they point to the national restoration which will occur in the end times.
Verses 31 through 34 look ahead to a new and better covenant whereby God’s laws will reside in the hearts of His people, so no teacher will be required to chaperone obedience. In verses 35 through 40, God guaranteed the perpetual existence of His people, basing this promise upon the certainty that He continuously sustains His creation. God pronounced that the whole land would again be holy and that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and be His permanently.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The pronouncement of judgment against Judah
C. The consolations of the prophet
1. The prospect of restoration
d. The promise of loving care (31:1-6)
e. The promise of gladness (31:7-14)
f. The promise of comfort (31:15-17)
g. The promise of renewal (31:18-30)
h. The promise of a New Covenant (31:31-34)
i. The promise of permanence (31:35-40)
Are you part of God’s flock? If so, you can depend upon the compassion and tender care of your Good Shepherd!