Jeremiah's Oracle


More than a hundred years after Isaiah, the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah uttered another prophecy of Christ's virgin birth.

How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter? for the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man.

Jeremiah 31:22

Liberal critics have strained mightily to explain this verse. Most confess that they do not understand it. Their puzzlement has led them to offer a plethora of conflicting interpretations. The most common is that the woman Israel will return to and embrace her estranged husband, Jehovah (1). The most bizarre and ridiculous is that the woman Israel will so recover from her weakness that she will be like a woman who takes the initiative in sexual relations (2). The only interpretation that dispels the fog recognizes that Jeremiah is foreseeing the Virgin Birth.

Whether in this text he is consciously recalling the earlier prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, we cannot tell. But the two texts are similar, as if the later was intended as a companion to the earlier. Both announce a great wonder to be wrought by the Lord. Isaiah says, "The Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold." Jeremiah says, "The Lord hath created a new thing in the earth." Both presage a man's novel dependence upon a woman. Isaiah says, "A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son." Jeremiah says, "A woman shall compass a man." "Compass" means "encompass" or "surround" (3). The reference is evidently to an unborn male child in the womb of his mother (4).


Demonstration That the Prophecy is Messianic


The proof rests on three principal arguments.

1. The context is Messianic. The prophet introduces a Messianic motif some verses earlier.

Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.

Jeremiah 31:15

According to the New Testament, this oracle foresees Herod's slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:18). Bethlehem, near Ramah, was Rachel's burial place (Gen. 35:19). In the next verses, both before and after the prophecy in verse 22, Jeremiah assures the nation of Israel that although God is removing them from their homeland and making it desolate, someday He will in gracious condescension bring them back.

16 Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.

17 And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border. . . .

31 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:

33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:16-17, 31-34

Elsewhere, Jeremiah sets Israel's restoration in the future Messianic age.

14 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

15 In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.

16 In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness.

17 For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel.

Jeremiah 33:14-17

The prophecy would be fulfilled by a single descendant of David (v. 15). Who is the Branch, the descendant of David who will reign forever? He is the same One whose birth is foretold in verses 15 and 22 of chapter 31, both quoted above. Verse 15 speaks of the conflict that would erupt at His birth, as Satan sought to swallow up the child. Verse 22 reveals the child's identity to assure us that the attack would not succeed. He would be the man compassed by a woman—in other words, the woman's seed celebrated from the dawning of time as the coming victor over Satan.

2. Jeremiah says, "The Lord hath created [bara] a new thing in the earth." Bara is the word used five times in Genesis 1 to denote God's creative activity during the six days of creation. Nearly all of its remaining forty occurrences in the Old Testament also refer back to these six days (5). The word distinctly means "create" rather than "make"—"create out of nothing" rather than "make from something." Thus, the mysterious words of the prophet foresee a creative miracle, not simply an unusual event in the natural course of things. His subsequent statement implies that the new thing will appear when a woman holds a male child in her womb. We are thus led to understand that the child will be conceived by an act of divine creation.

3. The word for woman is neither of the common ones, ishshah or nashim, but rather neqebah. Often used of animals, neqebah means simply "female" (6). The word for man is also not the usual one, but rather geber, which connotes a mighty man (7). So, Jeremiah's prophecy says in essence that a mighty man will be conceived in the womb of a mere female. In light of Isaiah's more explicit prophecy, we understand what Jeremiah means. He also is predicting that an unworthy mortal will be the mother of Almighty God in the flesh.

Footnotes

  1. Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 215.
  2. J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. R. K. Harrison (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), 576.
  3. Ibid., 575; Feinberg, loc. cit.
  4. A. R. Fausset, Job-Isaiah and Jeremiah-Malachi, vol. 2 of A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments, by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown (n.p., 1866; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 2:108.
  5. Wm. B. Stevenson, Index Lexicons to the Old and New Testaments, in Analytical Concordance to the Bible, by Robert Young, 22d American ed., revised by Wm. B. Stevenson (repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 7; Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, 22d American ed., revised by Wm. B. Stevenson (repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 210, 628.
  6. Young, 341.
  7. Thompson, loc. cit.