A woman shall compass a man - גבר תסובב נקבה nekebah tesobeb gaber, "A weak woman shall compass or circumvent a strong man." This place has given much trouble to Biblical critics. By many Christian writers it is considered a prophecy of the miraculous conception of the holy virgin; but as I am sure no such meaning is in the words, nor in the context, so I am satisfied no such meaning can be fairly brought out of them. Houbigant thinks there is a small error in the text, i.e., תשובב teshobeb, shall return, and not תסובב tesobeb, shall compass. This reading is found in two of Kennicott's MSS., and he contends that the passage should be read, "The wife shall return to her husband;" alluding to the conversion of the Jewish people, called above a backsliding daughter. This makes a good sense; but I do not see why this should be called a new thing in the earth. After all, I think it likely that the Jews in their present distressed circumstances are represented under the similitude of a weak defenseless female נקבה nekebah ; and the Chaldeans under that of a fierce strong man, גבר gaber, who had prevailed over and oppressed this weak woman. But, notwithstanding the disparity between them, God would cause the woman - the weak defenseless Jews, to compass - to overcome, the strong man - the powerful Babylonians. And this the prophet says would be a new thing in the land; for in such a case the lame would take the prey. The context favors both these meanings. Dr. Blayney gives a sense very near to this: "A weak woman shall repulse a strong or mighty man." It is most likely a proverbial expression.
The religious character of the restoration of the ten tribes. Chastisement brought repentance, and with it forgiveness; therefore God decrees their restoration.
Ramah, mentioned because of its nearness to Jerusalem, from which it was distant about five miles. As the mother of three tribes, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, Rachel is regarded as the mother of the whole ten. This passage is quoted by Matthew (marginal reference) as a type. In Jeremiah it is a poetical figure representing in a dramatic form the miserable condition of the kingdom of Ephraim devastated by the sword of the Assyrians.
Rachel‘s work had been that of bearing and bringing up children, and by their death she was deprived of the joy for which she had labored: but by their being restored to her she will receive her wages.
In thine end - i. e., for thy time to come (see the Jeremiah 29:11 note).
As a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke - literally, like an untaught calf. Compare the Hosea 10:11 note. Ephraim, like an untrained steer, had resisted Yahweh‘s will.
After that I was turned - i. e., after I had turned away from Thee. In Jeremiah 31:18 it has the sense of turning to God.
Instructed - Brought to my senses by suffering. The smiting upon the thigh is a sign of sorrow. Compare Ezekiel 21:17.
The reproach of my youth - i. e., the shame brought upon me by sins of my youth.
Moved to compassion by Ephraim‘s lamentation, Yahweh shows Himself as tender and ready to forgive as parents are their spoiled (rather, darling) child.
For him - Or, “that so often as I speak concerning him,” i. e., his punishment.
My bowels are troubled - The metaphor expresses the most tender internal emotion.
Waymarks - See 2 Kings 23:17 note.
High heaps - Or, signposts, pillars to point out the way.
Set thine heart - Not set thy affection, but turn thy thoughts and attention (in Hebrew the heart is the seat of the intellect) to the highway, even the way by which thou wentest.
Israel instead of setting itself to return hesitates, and goes here and there in a restless mood. To encourage it God gives the sign following.
A woman shall compass a man - i. e., the female shall protect the strong man; the weaker nature that needs help will surround the stronger with loving and fostering care. This expresses a new relation of Israel to the Lord, a new covenant, which the Lord will make with His people (Jeremiah 31:31 following). The fathers saw in these words a prophecy of the miraculous conception of our Lord by the Virgin.