I have a message of hope for all parents who are deeply saddened that their children do not believe. It is a text from Jeremiah, “There is hope for your descendants,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.” (Jeremiah 31:17, NIV) Other translations have “There is hope for your future”, which might be a better translation, but this actually does not change the meaning of the text. For the central truth is the hope that the children will return to their own land.
I want to explain why I believe the Lord God wants to encourage you with this text about your children who have left Him. In order to do so, we need to take a closer look at what this chapter is about.
Hope for the Israelites
Jeremiah is prophesying at a time when the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel has been in exile for almost 150 years. In that situation, Jeremiah gives a message of hope. He must have been shocked by it himself. For decades he warned the people. For decades he was grieved over the unbelief of the people. “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1). That’s typical of Jeremiah. But now God is asking him to bring a message of hope.
God’s love for Ephraim
That message is largely intended for the ten-tribe kingdom, also known as Israel or Ephraim. Jeremiah 31:3-22 is all about the prophesied conversion of the ten-tribe kingdom. In verse 5 it says “Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria.” Samaria was the capital of the ten-tribe kingdom. Verse 9 says: “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.”
No one was expecting this anymore. For so long Israel had resisted the Lord God. For so long Israel had said it didn’t need God. For so long it had lived in sin. Finally, it was taken into exile. That was a judgment from God. But 150 years later, the Lord God says, “I have not forgotten you. Israel, I am your Father. Ephraim, you are my firstborn.” That’s odd, because Ephraim was not the firstborn at all. That was Reuben. And Judah got the blessing of the firstborn. But here the Lord God says it to Ephraim: precisely because you have been so disobedient my heart goes out to you. I love you so much. I think about you all the time. And after 150 years comes the promise: I am going to bring you home (Jeremiah 31:8).
Then, further on in Jeremiah 31:15, it says of Rachel, the grandmother of Ephraim, as if she were still alive: Rachel, how you have wept over your children. Rachel, how sad you are over the sin of your children. How sad you are that they have forsaken God and that they are now being carried away from God’s land. The Lord God says: be still, Rachel, it will be all right. No matter how much they have sinned, how long it has been going on, how all hope seems to be gone: it will be alright. “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
Isn’t that exactly your situation? Your voice may not be heard outside your bedroom, but is your voice not “lamentation and bitter weeping”, just like Rachel’s? Do you not weep over your children and refuse to be comforted because they are no longer in the house of God? And is not this message of hope exactly what you want to hear from the Lord?
Does this apply to you?
But can you apply these words to your own situation? May you be comforted by them? Does this apply to you? This promise is addressed at Israel. Yet I say, yes, this is also a comfort to you. I see two reasons for this.
The first reason is this: these verses show us who God is! God’s love is from eternity and lasts forever. Israel’s behavior does not affect that. Parents understand this. The more your child goes the wrong way, the more you are aware of your love for him or her. God says to the children who say goodbye to Him, “You may think you are separate from Me, but I have not yet let you go. I am drawing you to Me” (cf. Jeremiah 31:3b). This God is our God. Just remind Him of His eternal love for your children, and ask Him to draw them with kindness.
The second reason you may be comforted by these words is because Jeremiah 31 is not just about Israel. It is a description of the new covenant. We know this because it is said in Hebrews 8 (cf. Jeremiah 31:33 and Hebrews 8:10). And in the New Testament, all the blessings of the new covenant are for all who believe in the Lord Jesus. “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
That believers from the nations may plead the promises of God in the new covenant is perfectly clear. Whether the children of believers also belong to that covenant can be debated and has been discussed many times. Whatever view you take, one thought is important to me. The new covenant is much more glorious than the old covenant.
Imagine someone explaining the new covenant to an Israelite from the old covenant, and then trying to explain that in the old covenant there were promises for his children, but not in the new one. Then he would get pretty confused. “The new covenant better? In what way?” I don’t understand all the details about covenant theology. But I do know this: our children are not strangers to God. He loves them. And that’s why I tell you as a promise of the new covenant: “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
There is hope! There is hope for our children. It’s going to be okay. The pain is real and the tears keep coming. Because even here with Israel, it’s not about every last Israelite who will return. It’s about “the people who survived the sword” (Jeremiah 31:2) and “the remnant of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:7). So not everyone. But nevertheless, “a great company” (Jeremiah 31:8). So keep praying for your children and speaking to your children. There is hope.