A New World

You have probably heard of Wordle which has become a very popular puzzle in 2022. But have you heard of Worldle? It involves a shape of a country coming up on the screen and then working out which country or island is represented. It’s a lovely way to become more familiar with the planet we live on! 

Today’s Worldle country was Mexico and it draws me to share a verse which our link missionaries in Mexico, Danica and Yosef, shared back at the start of the pandemic two years ago. It was right at the time when our nation was being hit by the implications of the virus. In March 2020, I looked with shock at the newspaper front page with the headline ‘Depression. Alongside it was a photo of a long queue of people outside Centrelink and a report that 100,000 people had lost their jobs almost overnight. I found myself feeling like we had suddenly been landed within John Steinbeck’s novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.

It was that same day, that I received an email from our friends in Mexico quoting part of Jeremiah 31:22 ‘For the Lord will do a new thing’. 

It wasn’t a verse that I was familiar with, and so I opened my bible to read the full verse:

“How long will you waver, O faithless daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing on the earth: a woman encircles a man.” (Jeremiah 31:22 ESV).

That only puzzled me even more. What was this notion of ‘a woman encircling a man’?!

I pulled out some commentaries and here’s some of my research:

Andrew Shead in his book ‘A Mouth Full of Fire’ notes that the passage forms an inclusio with Jeremiah 30:6 which reads:

Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labour? Why has every face turned pale?” 

Andrew explains Jeremiah 31:22 – “Such is the depth of Judah’s depravity that for restoration to be real it must be marked by a fundamental discontinuity with the present order. The word of the Lord must ‘create a new thing on the earth’ (31:22)”. (Shead, p99.).

The RSV translates the phrase as ‘a woman protects a man’. Derek Kidner observes that the Hebrew verb translated ‘protects’ is literally ‘encompasses’ and it has an affectionate tone in the comparable contexts. These are:

Deuteronomy 32:10 (ESV)

  “He found him in a desert land,
    and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye

Psalm 32:7,10 (ESV)

He found him in a desert land,
    and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lo

Kidner also notes that this Hebrew word is very similar to the Hebrew word translated ‘faithless’ in the opening of Jeremiah 31:22, and he suggests it might be a deliberate contrast. He concludes: ‘So, among the many suggestions offered for this saying, I am drawn to reading it as a foretaste of the new covenant of verses 31ff., with the new intimacy between the Lord and his bride – hitherto a one-sided cherishing of his unresponsive partner, but henceforth an affection that is fully mutual.” (Kidner, ‘Jeremiah’, IVP p 109).

Thompson and Harrison develop this new covenant link further as they note how church history has connected this verse to the incarnation:

JA Thompson in his commentary wrote on Jeremiah 31:22: 

“The exact meaning of the proverb is not clear. It was clearly intended to describe something very unusual or unexpected. Jerome in the fourth century believed it was a prophecy about the Virgin Mary’s protecting embrace of the Christ child. Some have regarded it as a sign of great security such as is displayed by a mother protecting a child. Israel will know such security during her return and resettlement in Palestine.” (Thompson, Jeremiah, p 575)

RK Harrison draws a link with the incarnation and John 1:14 – “In the new covenant the Lord descends to the level of his people, limiting Himself to the point where they can lay hold upon Him…God became what we are in order to make us what He Himself is.” (Harrison, Jeremiah, p 136).

As I look back to that email from Mexico and reflect upon the ensuing two years impacted by the pandemic Covid-19, it is not hard to look at the ‘shape of the nations today’ and see a new order has been created. Having just preached on the Transfiguration (2 Peter 1 and Matthew 17) last week, Harrison’s comment draws me to wonder whether the shake up which our world has experienced is that outworking of God’s restoration purposes. Those purposes forecast by Jeremiah, and begun with the Virgin conceiving and so a ‘woman encircling a man’, and now continuing even to our present day as the Lord brings in the new creation ‘in order to make us what He Himself is’.

You might like to try Worldle – maybe it will get you to look at the world differently. But far more important: look at Christ and you will be different! And, by faith, you will see the World being transformed.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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