Bible verse meaning of Jeremiah 31:22

For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth—
A woman will encompass a man.” - Jeremiah 31:22

What does this Bible Verse mean?

Thank you.

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Hello Leny and great question.

Jeremiah 31:22 is quite an obscure passage that has spawned numerous interpretations. There appears to be very little consensus in the matter. To help understand the diversity opinions, let us look at some resources on the passage:

The classic Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Brown, Fauset and Jamieson states the following:

Calvin explains this: Israel, who is feeble as a woman, shall be superior to the warlike Chaldeans; the captives shall reduce their captors to captivity. Hengstenberg makes the “woman” the Jewish Church, and the “man” Jehovah, her husband, whose love she will again seek (Ho 2:6, 7). Maurer, A woman shall protect (De 32:10, Margin; Ps 32:10) a man, that is, You need fear no foes in returning, for all things shall be so peaceful that a woman would be able to take man’s part, and act as his protector. But the Christian fathers [Augustine, &c.]. almost unanimously interpreted it of the Virgin Mary compassing Christ in her womb. This view is favored:—(1) By the connection; it gives a reason why the exiles should desire a return to their country, namely, because Christ was conceived there. (2) The word “created” implies a divine power put forth in the creation of a body in the Virgin’s womb by the Holy Ghost for the second Adam, such as was exerted in creating the first Adam (Lu 1:35; Heb 10:5). (3) The phrase, “a new thing,” something unprecedented; a man whose like had never existed before, at once God and man; a mother out of the ordinary course of nature, at once mother and virgin. An extraordinary mode of generation; one conceived by the Holy Ghost without man. (4) The specification “in the land” (not “earth,” as English Version), namely, of Judah, where probably Christ was conceived, in Hebron (compare Lu 1:39, 42, 44, with Jos 21:11) or else in Nazareth, “in the territory” of Israel, to whom Je 31:5, 6, 15, 18, 21 refer; His birth was at Beth-lehem (Mic 5:2; Mt 2:5, 6). As the place of His nativity, and of His being reared (Mt 2:23), and of His preaching (Hag 2:7; Mal 3:1), are specified, so it is likely the Holy Spirit designated the place of His being conceived. (5) The Hebrew for “woman” implies an individual, as the Virgin Mary, rather than a collection of persons. (6) The restoration of Israel is grounded on God’s covenant in Christ, to whom, therefore, allusion is naturally made as the foundation of Israel’s hope (compare Is 7:14). The Virgin Mary’s conception of Messiah in the womb answers. to the “Virgin of Israel” (therefore so called, Je 31:21), that is, Israel and her sons at their final restoration, receiving Jesus as Messiah (Zec 12:10). (7) The reference to the conception of the child Messiah accords with the mention of the massacre of “children” referred to in Je 31:15 (compare Mt 2:17). (8) The Hebrew for “man” is properly “mighty man,” a term applied to God (De 10:17); and to Christ (Zec 13:7; compare Ps 45:3; Is 9:6) [Calovius].

However, the Faithlife Study Bible proposes that it might refer to Israel (the woman as Yahweh’s unfaithful) embracing Yahweh. According to that resource, the verb form translated as encompass in the passage is savav which could mean “encompass”, “encircle”, or “surround”. The Faithlife Study Bible further suggests that verse may have relations to a contemporary proverbial saying whose precise meaning has been lost over thousand of years.

Hope this brings some clarity (or at least a point for further investigation) to this passage.