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Chapter 18—Yearning Bowels

Key passage

Nations, hear the word of the Lord,
and tell it among the far off coasts and islands!
Say, “The one who scattered Israel will gather him.
He will watch over him as a shepherd guards his flock,
for the Lord has ransomed Jacob
and redeemed him from the power of one stronger than he.”
They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
they will be radiant with joy
because of the Lord’s goodness,
because of the grain, the new wine, the fresh oil,
and because of the young of the flocks and herds.
Their life will be like an irrigated garden,
and they will no longer grow weak from hunger.
Then the young women will rejoice with dancing,
while young and old men rejoice together.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
give them consolation,
and bring happiness out of grief.
I will refresh the priests with an abundance,
and my people will be satisfied with my goodness. This is the Lord’s declaration.

This is what the Lord says:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
a lament with bitter weeping—
Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted for her children
because they are no more.

This is what the Lord says:
Keep your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for the reward for your work will come—this is the Lord’s declaration—
and your children will return from the enemy’s land.
There is hope for your future—this is the Lord’s declaration—
and your children will return to their own territory.
I have surely heard Ephraim moaning,
“You disciplined me, and I have been disciplined
like an untrained calf.
Take me back, so that I can retrun,
for you, Lord, are my God.
After my return, I felt regret;
After I was instructed, I struck my thigh in grief.
I was ashamed and humiliated
because I bore the disgrace of my youth.”
Isn’t Ephraim a precious son to me,
a delightful child?
Whenever I speak against him,
I certainly still think about him.
Therefore, my inner being yearns for him;
I will truly have compassion on him. This is the Lord’s declaration.

Set up road markers for yourself;
establish signposts!
Keep the highway in mind,
the way you have traveled.
Return, Virgin Israel!
Return to these cities of yours.
How long will you turn here and there,
faithless daughter?
For the Lord creates something new in the land—
a female will shelter a man.

This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: “When I restore their fortunes, they will once again speak this word in the land of Judah and in its cities: ‘May the Lord bless you, righteous settlement, holy mountain.’ Judah and all its cities will live in it together—also farmers and those who move with the flocks—for I satisfy the thirsty person and feed all those who are weak.”

Jeremiah 31:10–25

Quotes from Chapter 18

My heart yearns for him.

Jeremiah 31:20

God reveals to his people in Jeremiah chapters 30–33 his final response to their sinfulness, and it is not what they deserve. Expecting judgment, he surprises them with comfort. Why? Because he had pulled them into his heart, and they cannot sin their way out of it. “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” he assured them (Jer. 31:3).

Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child?
For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still.
Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:20

“Ephraim” is just another term for Israel, God’s people, though it appears to be a sort of divine term of affection for Israel throughout the Old Testament. And God asks, “Is he my darling child?” God is not wondering. It’s a declaration, clothed in the gentleness of a question. His people are his “dear son” and even his “darling child.” Does your doctrine of God have room for him speaking like that?

Remember here is covenant language. It is relation. This is remembering not as the alternative to forgetting but as the alternative to forsaking.

Heart in Jeremiah 31:20 literally refers to the insides of a person, the guts.

God, of course, does not have guts. It is his way of speaking of his innermost reflux, his churning insides, his deepest feelings of which our emotions are an image—in a word, as the text renders it, his heart. Calvin reminds us that to speak of God’s bowels or heart “does not properly belong to God,” but this in no way dilutes the truth that God is communicating truly “the greatness of his love towards us.”1

“My heart yearns for him.” What is it to yearn? It is something different than to bless or to save or even to love. God’s capacious affections for his own are not threatened by their fickleness, because pouring out of his heart is the turbulence of divine longing. And what God wants, God gets.

Whom do you perceive God to be, in your sin and your suffering? His saving of us is not cool and calculating. It is a matter of yearning—not yearning for the Facebook you, the you that you project to everyone around you. Not the you that you wish you were. Yearning for the real you. The you underneath everything you present to others.

However long we have been walking with the Lord, whether we have never read the whole Bible or have a PhD in it, we have a perverse resistance to this. Out of his heart flows mercy; out of ours reluctance to receive it. We are the cool and calculating ones, not he. He is open-armed. We stiff-arm. This deflecting of God’s yearning heart does not reflect Scripture’s testimony about how God feels toward his own. God is of course morally serious, far more than we are. But the Bible takes us by the hand and leads us out from under the feeling that his heart for us wavers according to our loveliness. God’s heart confounds our intuitions of who he is.

There is comfort concerning such infirmities, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… Christ takes part with you, and is far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that has leprosy, he hates not the member, for it his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more. What shall not make for us, when our sins, that are both against Christ and us, shall be turned as motives to him to pity us the more?2

Thomas Goodwin

And he, loving your persons, and hating only the sin, his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his affections shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not.3

Thomas Goodwin

Some of us separate out our sins from our sufferings.

If the intensity of love maps onto the intensity of misery in the one beloved, and if our greatest misery is our sinfulness, then God’s most intense love flows down to us in our sinfulness. Yes, God has hated, Goodwin says—toward sin. And the combination of love for us plus hatred for sin equals the most omnipotent certainty possible that he will see us through to final liberation from sin and unfiltered basking in his own joyous heart for us one day.

At the height of human history, justice was fully satisfied and mercy was fully poured out at the same time, when the Father sent his eternally “dear Son” and “darling child” to a Roman cross, where God truly did “speak against him,” where Jesus Christ poured out his blood, the innocent for the guilty, so that God could say of us, “I remember him still.” Even as he forsook Jesus himself.

On the cross, we see what God did to satisfy his yearning for us. He went that far. He went all the way. The blushing effusivness of heaven’s bowels funneled down into the crucifixion of Christ.

  1. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, vol. 4, trans. J. Owen (repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 109.
  2. Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2011), 155-56.
  3. Goodwin, Heart of Christ, 156.


  1. Can a Christian sin their way out of God’s heart? Why?
  2. What does God call his people in Jeremiah 31:20?
  3. What does God mean by the word remember in Jeremiah 31:20? Does God forget us?
  4. What does the word heart mean in Jeremiah 31:20? What is God revealing us about himself by speaking of his heart?
  5. What does it mean when the verse says God’s heart yearns?
  6. What is the significance of God’s yearning?
  7. Whom do you perceive God to be, in your sin and your suffering?
  8. Does God’s heart of us waver?
  9. How does Thomas Goodwin compare our sins?
  10. Are sin and suffering completely separate things?
  11. What is our greatest misery?
  12. What does God’s combination of love for us plus hatred for sin equal?
  13. How is God’s compassion and mercy manifested towards us?
  14. What does it mean to receive God’s mercy?
  15. What do you need to repent of? How can you receive God’s mercy?

This article is adapted from: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund and Gentle and Lowly Study Guide by Robert Zink.


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