Last Shabbat, as we were reading Jeremiah 31 (one of the traditional readings for Yom Zichron Teruah), a verse from this chapter that exploded into my life back in 1976, was illumined in a surprising manner. The 1976 experience is described in my testimony book, Return to the Land - an Ephraimite Journey Home*. But little did I know at that time that there was far more to the episode…
The aforementioned incident occurred when a friend and I drove a motor home from San Francisco to Ohio. Here is a quote from the book: “We were now out of the mountains and were crossing the Wyoming Plains. Wanting to get an early start, I woke up that morning at about 4:00 a.m., walked into the kitchen area, and saw my Bible open next to the sink. I was somewhat surprised, as I did not remember leaving it there. The flashlight lit up the open page and these verses jumped up at me as if they were on springs: “Set up for yourself road marks, place for yourself guideposts, direct your heart to the highway, the way by which you went. Return, O virgin of Israel, return to these your cities. How long will you go here and there, O faithless daughter?” (Jeremiah 31:21, 22).
"Tears started streaming down my face. I couldn’t help but wail as if I had lost a loved one. I think my travel partner thought I had “gone off the deep end.” How could I explain to her this longing in my heart for the Land of Israel?” End quote.
Fast forward almost 45 years. Here I was, sitting in my living room in Aviel ("God is my Father") Israel, with my wife, son, and his pregnant wife reading these very words, when Rimona pointed out a peculiar word from the above-mentioned verse that was used in Hebrew for “guideposts”. In sort of a nonchalant way, as if it is just natural for a Hebrew speaker to make these connections, our son pointed out that the same word - “tamrurim” – also appears in a previous verse (15), which is translated as “bitter” (8564), “Thus says YHVH: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children because they are no more’" (Jeremiah 31:15, emphasis added. The Hebrew reads: "he is no more", referring to Joseph's disappearance in Gen. 37:30; 42:13;32,36). However, in verse 21 “guideposts” (8563) is the translation of the same word, "tamrurim". Why would the prophet (Holy Spirit) connect these two verses with the same word, albeit each having an altogether different meaning?
My thoughts immediately went back to that strange experience in the Wyoming desert. Was my bitter weeping a reaction to something so deep within that it reached back to the very heart of Joseph’s mother, Rachel? I too felt as though I had lost a loved one, as she did over the loss of her firstborn Joseph. Was Jeremiah using the one-word - “tamrurim” - as a guidepost for the sole (soul) purpose of directing us/me back to our/my identity as Rachel’s lost beloved son and in some mysterious way, comforting her and giving her hope? “Thus says YHVH: ‘Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says YHVH, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future,’ says YHVH, ‘that your children shall come back to their own border’” (Jeremiah 31:16-17). Examining the respective roots of those two identically written and sounding words, one finds that bitterness is rooted in m.r.r. whereas guidepost is rooted in t.m.r. which means "tall", hence a high heap of stones, a (tall) palm/date tree, as well as the fruit "date" – tamar. Breaking up "tamar" into "tam-mar" reveals that "mar" (bitterness) has come to an end and is therefore gone, that is, "tam".
Interestingly, an episode in our forefathers' desert experience also brings these two words together. “They moved from Marah and came to Elim. At Elim were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there” (Numbers 33:9 emphases added). Originally there were seventy Israelite souls who went down to Egypt, and now their progeny was moving from the bitter waters (that were made sweet) to an oasis that provided them with seventy palm trees loaded with sweet fruit.
It is no coincidence that Jeremiah 31 presents the New Covenant immediately after all those verses that speak of Ephraim and Rachel’s “tamrurim”. The prophet Amos addresses those who do not grieve “for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:6), warning them of the punitive measures that will be taken against them. Perhaps the sages of old made no mistake when they chose the following readings for the feast of the first of the seventh month: 1st Samuel 1 -2:10; Jeremiah 31:2-21; Hosea 14; Micah 7:18-20. Was it the wording of Psalm 81 that influenced their choices, since the House of Joseph is charged in this text to blow the shofar on that particular day? “Blow the shofar at the time of the New Moon, at the covered moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the Elohim of Jacob. This He established in Joseph [Yehosef] as a testimony” (Psalm 81:3-5). This the only instance where Joseph's name in Hebrew is spelled Yehosef (rather than Yosef). Why Yehosef? Is it because he has been hidden and now, through the New Covenant, is brought out of darkness and concealment into the light by the power of resurrection life in Messiah Yeshua? The letter hey added to his name indicates the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
I would like to end this letter with the apostle’s exclamation from the end of Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of Elohim! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33). "But if you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness all these things [understandings] will be given to you" (Matt 6:33 emphasis added).