The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.
“I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.
“Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit.
“There will be a day when watchmen cry out on the hills of Ephraim, ‘Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’”
This is what the Lord says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’
“See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return.
“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, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.” (Jeremiah 31:3-9)
He loves it! The first Hebrew word God uses here for love has the same range of meaning as the English word. It gets used for everything from how Abraham felt about his son Isaac, to what Esau thought about his stew. But just as in English, it usually describes how husbands and wives feel about each other and about their children. Sadly, most human love is dependent upon performance and can fade with time or disappointment. Not so with God. His love endures without end and exists no matter how the loved one behaves.
God promised to bring his people back home. Samaria was the capital city of Israel’s northern kingdom. Zion was a hill in Jerusalem. Ephraim, the largest tribe of Israel, became a synonym for the nation as a whole. They would all return, no matter where or how far they might have wandered. No matter where they were, God could still find them.
A second word appears in this passage that is usually translated loving-kindness. Whereas people marry because they have “fallen in love,” once married, they have obligations to one another that go beyond mere feelings that can ebb and flow. The word loving-kindness is used exclusively in that context: the obligations that exist between those bound by a contract like a marriage. Unlike human contracts, however, the ones that God makes can never be broken and can never end. Thus, God’s loving-kindness endures forever. God always does what is best for us.