“A woman shall encompass a man” – What does this mean?

A question from Salpy:

Hello dear brother,
Could you please explain Jeremiah 31:22: Does this verse refer to woman and man hierarchy issue or it’s about the Israelites/the Bride and God?
Thanks.

Let’s first quote Jeremiah 31:22:

“How long wilt thou wander about, thou backsliding daughter? For Jehovah hath created a new thing on the earth, a woman shall encompass a man.” (Jeremiah 31:22)

You know that in the Old Testament Israel is presented as the wife of God who was in a Covenant with her. Jeremiah 31 is a chapter of encouragement and promises to this woman Israel that was in rebellion against God and was bearing the consequences of that rebellion. This chapter begins with an interesting expression: “At that time” (Jeremiah 31:1). This refers to “the latter days” of the previous chapter (Jeremiah 30:24). After God had begun to promise restoration for the repenting remnant of Israel in chapter 30, He continues to talk about that promise here in chapter 31. So those latter days are when God will restore His Old Covenant people to be in right relationship with Him. And this promise of restoration goes beyond a mere restoration to the Land of promise; it goes even to the day when the Messiah will complete this restoration by saving the people from their sins and by bringing them close to God as His people. We see this in verses like Jeremiah 30:21 where there is a promise about the Messiah King who would come to lead this people. And we will see this in our study here. So keep in mind that this chapter 31 is about a promise of restoration, and in it we read about HOW God will restore Israel. And the verse about which you ask is a main point about this “how”, as we will see.

As I said above, Israel was the Old Covenant people of God. However, look how chapter 31 begins:

At that time, saith Jehovah, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:1)

Were they not already the people of God? Yes, they were. Then why does God say that they will be His people in the future, “at that time”?  Because they were His people according to the Old Covenant, and they have broken that Covenant, as we read in the same chapter:

“not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day of my taking them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, saith Jehovah.” (Jeremiah 31:32)

Actually, were they able not to break that Covenant? When God made that Covenant with them, look what they said:

“Cursed be he that confirmeth not the words of this law to do them! And all the people shall say, Amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:26)

With this “Amen” they accepted to receive the curse of the Law on them, as no human can do perfectly and always all what the words of that Law say. In other terms, this woman Israel had decided to have her strength in self-righteousness, and that made her boast and fall instead of being humble before God. And the whole history of Israel with God shows how they couldn’t keep their promise to fulfill the whole Law, and they even went in greater sins than the nations that were around them. Thus this woman Israel has become weak, wandering from her Husband (God). And in this chapter 31, God tells her that she has chosen the wrong way, and that her restoration will not be by the way of her faithfulness and ability to keep His Commandments, but by the way of His love towards her that restores her by Grace:

“Jehovah hath appeared from afar unto me, [saying,] Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

In the verse that you quoted, He says: “How long wilt thou wander about, thou backsliding daughter?” (v. 22) “Backsliding” means that she’s unfaithful. She has wandered from her Husband, and the way to restore her is not by her strength, but by the strength of God, through her repentance:

“They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them; I will cause them to walk by water-brooks, in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble; for I will be a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” (Jeremiah 31:9)

“Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after I knew myself, I smote upon [my] thigh. I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, for I bear the reproach of my youth.” (Jeremiah 31:19)

Indeed, Israel is a weak woman. In the Bible, God makes it clear that the woman is weaker than man, but that she’s equal to man concerning the Grace of life (cf. 1 Peter 3:7). And this weak woman (Israel) had wandered from her Husband, and thus she was overcome by sin and by her enemies:

“For Jehovah hath ransomed Jacob, and redeemed him from the hand of one stronger than he.” (Jeremiah 31:11)

So it is clear: the restoration of this woman will not be through her strength, as she’s not able to keep the Law perfectly and always; therefore the way of her restoration is by REDEMPTION. As she was not able to have a sufficient self-righteousness in order to be on the level of a good relationship with her Husband, so she needed her Husband to be her Righteousness by redeeming her:

In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell in safety; and this is his name whereby he shall be called, Jehovah our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:6)

This is about the complete fulfillment of those latter days about which we read above: the days of the Messiah who is God incarnated to become the Righteousness of His people, i.e. of those who believe in His Name.

After I have explained the above, now the verse that you quoted will be very easy to understand in this context. So let’s quote it again, and see how it explains this whole thing:

“How long wilt thou wander about, thou backsliding daughter? For Jehovah hath created a new thing on the earth, a woman shall encompass a man.” (Jeremiah 31:22)

1. “How long wilt thou wander about, thou backsliding daughter?”: This shows that God doesn’t want her to wander about anymore, so He will now promise her a way of restoration, as He was talking about this restoration all along this chapter.

2. “For Jehovah hath created a new thing on the earth”: First, the verb “hath created” is in the past, and this makes it clear that it’s a sure promise that will surely happen. God says that He has created a new thing on the earth. This new thing, God had been talking about it since a long time, and it refers to the New Covenant about which He will talk after a few lines. In Isaiah, God had already promised: “behold, I do a new thing; now it shall spring forth: shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the waste.” (Isaiah 43:19) This is a clear promise about Grace that came through Jesus Christ. So this new thing will be different from the Old Covenant that the children of Israel had broken; it will be the Covenant of Grace, the New Covenant about which God will talk a few lines later, and even in the next point. After Isaiah expressed this new thing with a way in the wilderness and rivers in the waste, look how Jeremiah describes this new thing:

3. “a woman shall encompass a man.”: The weakness of this woman had come from her rebellion against her Husband as she wandered away from Him. The only way to restore her is by making her love her husband and encompass Him with her love. So as she doesn’t have a personal self-righteousness in order to be strong, she needs the strength (the Righteousness) of her Husband. When she receives Him in her heart and loves Him, she has His Righteousness. This Righteousness God gives it for free as a Grace, so it will be according to a new way of things, and not according to the Old Covenant. Therefore, there should be a New Covenant by which this woman can encompass her Husband with her love. The Old Covenant could only command her to love her Husband; the New one will put that love in her heart! We read: “Behold, days come, saith Jehovah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day of my taking them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, saith Jehovah. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith Jehovah: I will put my law in their inward parts, and will write it in their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33) You see that in this verse we find all what we have been talking about since the beginning (I have underlined the parts about which we have been talking). So this woman Israel will encompass her Husband by her love when HE will put His Law in her heart and make her love Him. And in order to communicate this Righteousness (strength) to this woman, He would be incarnated and would come from her as the Messiah to be her Righteousness. Thus she will be able to receive this Righteousness which is a Person (Jesus Christ — read Jeremiah 23:6 and 1 Corinthians 1:30). This is indeed explained in passages such as Micah 4:9-10, Isaiah 9:6-7, and Revelation 12. And thus, her Husband has come from her as a man whom she can encompass as her Husband with her love. Today, the Church is this pure virgin engaged to this Man whom she encompassed with her love, and she’s waiting for the day of the wedding of the Lamb to meet her Husband. This is the strength of God’s people: the Lord our Righteousness whom we received by faith. For more details about how to be justified before God and thus have a right relationship of love with Him, please read our article: How to be justified before God?

Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ

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One Response to “A woman shall encompass a man” – What does this mean?

  1. Salpy says:

    Glory to God.
    God’s word is so deep that one can not take an only verse.God bless you richly for reminding us of God’s love.

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