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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 31:8-9

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 14, 2015

8 For I will bring them from the land of the north
     and gather them from the ends of the earth.
There will be the blind and the lame,
  the pregnant woman together with the woman in labor.
  They will return as a huge crowd.

Isaiah had said many similar things at the time when Israel was going into exile into Assyria. Isaiah was looking ahead prophetically to the Babylonian crisis in which Judah (and Jeremiah) now found themselves, but both Isaiah and Jeremiah were looking forward to a spiritual restoration far greater than any physical restoration.

Notice that Jeremiah pictures everyone coming back, no matter what their difficulty; no matter what might have challenged them. The very distant will return; they will not be forgotten. Those who have been scattered and are no longer in the main group of exiles—they will be gathered once again. The blind and the lame will not straggle along behind, but they will be brought in, too. And the pregnant women—even the women in the middle of labor—will be brought. Not one will be left behind. No one will be lost.

9 They will come with weeping.
     They will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water,
  on a level path where they will not stumble.
For I am a father to Israel.
  Ephraim is my firstborn.

Here we see two or perhaps three different forms of worship. The people are praying as God brings them back, and prayer is always a form of worshiping God. But prayer is a very special form of worship, because God even invites little children to pray when they are all alone, with no one to direct or guide them. This is part of what Jesus meant when he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (Luke 18:16). He wants children to worship him with their songs, their prayers, and by learning about Jesus.

Being led by God is also a form of worship. It is worshiping with our lives. It is not rebelling against God. It is being obedient with our hearts and our souls and our minds and all our strength (Luke 10:27), which is Jesus’ summary of the first table of the Law.

Finally, God also invites weeping as a form of worship. In this case, the tears of joy that accompany a great release—release from bondage, release from sickness, release from fear or suffering. But tears of grief can also be a form of worship, when our thoughts turn to God even while our eyes and mouths have nothing to say at all (Psalm 126:4-6). But God hears and sees our grieving, too (Exodus 3:7), and his compassion reaches out to us.

The “streams of water” are not the same as the streams of water in Psalm 1:3. There, the streams are canals, crafted waterways placed especially for a purpose (the implications of that idea are a fascinating aspect of the First Psalm). Here, the streams are the mountain torrents or wadis that are suddenly filled by rainfall, but which will dry up later in the season. These are streams God leads us past, and which briefly refresh us, but which we don’t need to rely on; he will bless us in other ways later on. This is that attitude we should have toward any blessing in this lifetime. It is brief, and is to be used with joy, but we should trust in the Giver and not rely only on the gift.

Finally, God says that he is a Father to Israel, to Ephraim his firstborn. These are rare Old Testament terms. We expect to hear about God the Father in the New Testament, but there are only a few places in the Old where God speaks this way.  So the grace of the gospel promise is that our sins are forgiven, and we are given the full rights of God’s sons (Galatians 4:5). That means that we have a place in God’s kingdom, a place before God on his throne, a place with God forever in his heaven, and the right to come before him in service, in prayer, and even in tears.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.