Jeremiah 31:10-14
God Scatters And Gathers

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  "O diverse nations of people, hear the word of the Lord.  Tell it and make it known to the distant islands.  'The one who scattered Israel will gather him and preserve him as a shepherd preserves his flock,'" (verse ten).

2.  The word of the Lord has to be made known to the people of different nations.  The word of the Lord has to be made known to the far away islands.  The word of the Lord has to be made known regardless of the distance, the time period, or even to the people of Japan so far away.  But, isn't the Lord the God of Israel?  The Lord has certainly revealed himself as the God of Israel.  However, the ultimate concern of the Lord is not limited to Israel.  God's interest is on the peoples of other nations.  The ultimate interest of the Lord is not on the erstwhile chosen people of God, but is on the entire world.  The attention of the Lord is on this nation as well.  It is on everyone who lives in this country.  It is more than just one part of this world that God is seeking for.  It's all the world [that he seeks].  God is looking for the world to turn to him.

3.  Therefore, the word of the Lord has to be made known to the distant islands.  What does it say here that is to be told?  "The one who scattered Israel will gather him and preserve him as a shepherd preserves his flock."  This is the contents of what is supposed to be made known.  But isn't it still about Israel?  It says it has some kind of connection to the peoples of the nations.  We thus read the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament the history of the people of Israel is recorded.  They have completely different roots from us and are a people with a completely different culture.  Even though it doesn't seem as if these things, [such as] the covenant, the law, worship, the hope of the messiah, or the promises of God which are written about in the OT, have a relationship with the peoples of the many different nations or with us, they do.

4.  But, the Lord says to make known how he himself has acted towards Israel.  God is pointing out to the peoples of the nations the relationship between him and Israel.  Because the kind of Lord he is is revealed therein.  We see in the history of Israel who God really is as a Lord who is interested in the world and is interested in us.

He Scattered Israel

5.  What kind of [person], then, is the Lord?  How should we understand the Lord God?  It says in scripture that he [is] "the one who scattered Israel."  "To scatter" means "judge."  The Lord is the one who judged his own people.  We should keep that in our minds first.

6.  The center of Israel was Jerusalem.  It was the hill of Zion, the temple.  In verse twelve it tells us that people returned to Zion.  This means that they had been scattered far from Zion.  That event took place historically in the Babylonian invasion in the sixth century before the common era (i.e. around 600 B.C.E.).  Jerusalem fell and the temple was destroyed.  Many persons were captured and transported out.  The people were scattered.  God allowed his own temple to be destroyed by a foreign people.  This seems very strange.

7.  However, this was already talked about.  Please open to Jeremiah chapter seven.  In Jeremiah, the temple has a special significance.  This was a platform on which Jeremiah spoke many prophecies.  He stood at the temple gates and spoke the following words:

8.

 "O people of Judah who go into the temple gates to worship the Lord, all of you, hear the word of the Lord.  The God of Israel, the Lord of hosts says this. Straighten your ways and deeds.  In so doing, I will let you live in this place.  Do not trust in vain* words saying, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.  At this place, correct your ways and deeds, carry out righteousness among one another, do not oppress foreigners sojourning [among you], orphans, or widows, and do not shed the blood of the innocent, and do not follow strange gods and invite calamity on yourselves," 7:2-6).

9.  It was a time of upheaval in which the structures of the authorities in the middle east kept changing a great deal.  Many persons felt ill at ease.  As a result, people en masse passed through the gates of the temple.  However, their concern was only in preserving their lives now, in keeping safe and in maintaining prosperity.  While going through the temple gates, their interest was not on God himself, nor on what God was seeking from them, nor on the will of God being fulfilled among them.  As a result, as they oppressed the weak and trampled down the will of God on the one hand, they repeated the words "temple of the Lord" like a mantra on the other hand.  There they had the belief that the capital city where the temple of the Lord was would not be destroyed.  But, the Lord said that without repenting of their sin and turning to God and even though they repeated just "the temple of the Lord" as an incantation, it was no more than empty words.  He said do not trust in vain words.

10.  Rather than repent, turn to God, and seek a new life, people would prefer to trust in empty things and try to keep their old lives going as it were.  But, God will not let human rebellion remain that way.  When a person turns his or her back in rebellion against God, God brings through his judgment the reality of that person in rebellion into the open.  When a person trusts in vanity, he will make it clear that it is only an empty thing.  The Lord puts a stop to the lifestyles of those who trust in vanities.  He brings their lifestyles of an empty lie to an end.  For that reason, he would think it right to destroy even his own temple.  It means that he is a God who will judge his people even as he continually bears their pain on himself.  This is how the Lord is a God who scatters his people.  He is a righteously judging God.

The One Who Gathers Israel

11.  In this way, Israel experienced an end by the judgment of God.  But, since it was the Lord who brought the end, the end will not stay the end.  It says in the written text that, "The one who scattered Israel will gather him and preserve him as a shepherd preserves his flock."

12.  The Dutch theologian, Van Ruler**, said in a sermon on Zechariah that, "...  The living God will not give us a dead end at the end to anything.  If seen from a human perspective, when the end has come, nothing stays.  The end seems final.  But, the living God breaks through the end and leads everything further on into its future.  Similarly, the Israelites have been lead into their future via captivity."

13.  The Lord who scattered Israel will assemble them again.  If being scattered means judgment, being gathered means forgiveness of sin.  Through forgiveness of sin an end becomes a new beginning.  The text is showing us here that God doesn't have a judgment free forgiveness or a judgment that lacks forgiveness.  He who scattered will regather them again.

14.  Also, in verse eleven and so the imagery of a forgiven and assembled people is illustrated.  God preserves the people as a shepherd preserves his flock.  What is God trying to give to a person by his forgiveness and work of restoration?  When a person is restored by God, what will he have him or her experience in that new life?

15.  The first thing is the power of God that sets one free.  The Lord wants to set a person free through his mighty hand.  "The Lord released Jacob, and redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he," (verse eleven).

16.  "Him who was stronger than he" --  It was Assyria who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and ruled those people.  It was Babylonia who destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah and ruled them.  The weak ones were ruled by "him who was stronger than he."  The stronger rule the weaker.  That is how this world is made.  To the naked eye it seems only that the connections to the ruling powers put the world in motion.  And if more be said, [the powers] that control this world are the power of sin that won't let a person free and the power of death that won't let a person live.  No one can overcome these strong ones.  Ultimately, it seems only that these powers of sin and death are making the world head for destruction.

17.  However, the Bible turns our attention to one more power.  It is the power of the one who "redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he."  The living Lord is the Lord of deliverance.  In the first place, the history of Israel began with the experience of the mighty hand of God that freed them from Egypt (Exodus 13:3).  The Passover they celebrated is a memorial to that.  The people, who had their sins forgiven by God, came to know the mighty hand again.  The Israelites were "redeemed from the hand of him who was stronger than they."

18.  Secondly, [the experience] is true abundance from God.  "While they sing with joy they will come to the hill of Zion and come flowing into the grace of the Lord.  They will receive cereal, wine, olive oil, sheep, and cattle and their souls will become as a watered garden and there will be no more withering ever again," (verse twelve).

19.  Here "the grace of the Lord" is expressed as cereal, wine, olive oil, sheep, and cattle.  They are specific things.  As we see here, God is not an ascetic at all.  He not only gives his people specifically what they need, but approves of their taking pleasure in the world's abundance.  A person should delight in the things they are given in this world and should enjoy his or her life.  The problem is not in the things themselves.  It is in making a mistake in what the abundance is.

20.  Even though it is the same material abundance, what is being depicted here is not a wealth obtained by oppressing sojourning foreigners, orphans, or widows.  It is different from getting your satisfaction from stepping on and hurting others and inflicting pain in God's heart.  What is being depicted here is true wealth given by God.  In addition, that's why the text reads their souls will be as a watered garden.  A satisfaction not from God of one's mistaken desires will make a soul dried up like a mummy.  Only through God does one become a person with a spring of life and turn into a person who lives in a new life without ever withering up again.

21.  Thirdly, it is a joy based on comfort from God.  "At that time, virgins will dance and celebrate with joy; both the young and the old will dance together.  I will turn their grief to joy, and will comfort them, and instead of sadness I will make them celebrate with joy," (verse thirteen).

22.  There are all kinds of grief in this world.  Some will pass his or her whole life in grief and sadness over a misfortune that has befallen him or her.  Some will go through years of sadness and sighing as they count all their losses.  When Jerusalem fell and they lost their homeland, those who only saw it as the result of a policy error by a statesperson probably lamented their fate that they were citizens of such a nation.  But, there is no hope in sorrowing over such a calamity, cursing others, and only begrudging the past.

23.  The sighing spoken of here is not like that.  The word "I" appears here in the text.  "I" stands for the Lord God.  This sigh is when one is with the Lord God.  It is the sigh of those turning to God.  It is precisely the kind of sigh one makes when one is sorry for his or her sin which has been put into the open under the judgment of God.  And such a sigh does not end by staying a sigh; because we have him who comforts those who turn back and repent of their sin and him who says, "I will turn their grief to joy."  The Lord Jesus also said, "Those who sorrow will be blessed, they will be comforted," (Matthew 5:4).  The comfort of God is power to turn sorrow into joy.  Times of grief will be over.  People will throw away their sackcloth and wear their best.  The virgins, the youth and the aged, who used to be sunken in sorrow, will celebrate together in joy and will soon dance.

24.  Also, the last thing written about is the recovery of true worship.  "The Lord says, I will enrich the life of a priest with marrow, and I will satisfy my people with good things," (verse fourteen).

25.  What is translated as "marrow" is the oil of a sacrificial animal.  When the life of the priest is enriched with marrow it means that the Lord will be worshipped again in his temple and many sacrifices will come to be offered up.  It is an offering of thanksgiving.  The temple once was destroyed under the judgment of the Lord.  But, when it will be rebuilt in the Lord's pardon, the worship offered up then will no longer be like it used to.  It simply can not be a worship where the people present [offerings] ignorant of repentance and where they offer up with their hands sacrifices just to seek for their own benefit and the public peace all the while they have been walking over others.  Afterwards, sacrifices of thanksgiving and dedication will come to be presented up by men and women who have begun to live brand new according to God's forgiveness.

26.  "The one who scattered Israel will gather him and preserve him as a shepherd preserves his flock."  This is the image of the Lord God shown in a relationship with Israel, and it is the will of God.  This is the very same God who ultimately showed judgment and forgiveness for the sin of humanity in the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This very God is the God of other different nations of people; he is even our God.  The word of this God has been communicated to us way out on the remote side.  We have to be told as well.  He said, "The one who scattered Israel will gather him and preserve him as a shepherd preserves his flock."

End Notes

*The Old Testament Hebrew word "vain" can mean "empty" or even "idol."  An idol is a vanity, that is, a spiritually empty thing with no substance.  The Japanese word munashi mono also conveys these same meanings.

**Arnold van Ruler wrote a book entitled "Heb Moed voor de Wereld" which has been translated into English with the title "Zechariah Speaks Today."  The actual translation from that book will be given here in this end note.  Rev. Mike Furey's translation actually follows the Japanese.  Rev. Kiyohiro translated it from Dutch into Japanese and Rev. Furey translated from Kiyohiro's Japanese into English.  Here is the official English citation:

"But for the living God the end is not a deadlock from which there is  no way out. From the human point of view, when things have reached their end, there is nothing left to hope for. The end is just the end, and there is nothing more to be said. But the living God leads things onward through their end. Thus He led the people of Israel onward through their captivity."

 
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