KC Tsai—Toronto, Canada
The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: "Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore, with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” (Jer 31:3)
God spoke these words, through the prophet Jeremiah, to all the families of Israel (Jer 31:1). But who were these families of Israel? Who exactly are the recipients of God’s everlasting love?
Jeremiah was born in the southern kingdom of Judah, after Assyria defeated and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E. As part of the Assyrian campaign, many Israelites were displaced to Assyria, and the Samarian cities were repopulated by people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim (2 Kgs 17:24). The ten tribes that formed the northern kingdom were gradually assimilated by these peoples, and have thus disappeared. They are known as the Ten Lost Tribes. Judah was also later destroyed by Babylon in 586 B.C.E. Jerusalem’s walls were destroyed, the temple burned, and many of its inhabitants exiled to Babylon. Seventy years later, some captives returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and, subsequently, another group returned to reconstruct the city walls. But, primarily, they continued to be governed by foreign powers until 1948, when the nation of Israel was re-established. However, this present nation is a republic, governed by an elected president, prime minister and parliament—far from the Davidic kingdom that God promised to establish forever. As God revealed to David, through the prophet Nathan:
"When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. … And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever." (2 Sam 7:12–13, 16)
Regarding this everlasting kingdom, God later sent an angel to Mary, saying:
“You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." (Lk 1:31–33)
This is a kingdom established through Jesus’ blood, a new covenant offered to those who are willing to come to Him.
Before God concluded the writings of the Old Testament (OT), He sent the prophet Malachi to His people. The Book of Malachi opens with what sounds like a conclusion of God’s long-suffering love for His chosen people:
"I have loved you," says the LORD. "Yet you say, 'In what way have You loved us?' Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" Says the LORD. "Yet Jacob I have loved.” (Mal 1:2)
The physical descendants of Abraham were given the covenant to be God’s elect. But at the close of the OT, when God reminded them of His love, they appeared to be unaware of being loved. As Moses said to the chosen people, the faithful God keeps His covenant and is merciful for a thousand generations, towards those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deut 7:9). But His rebellious children broke the covenant which He established with their forefathers with their own hands.
This is why the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that God was ready to make a new covenant:
"Behold, the days are coming when 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 that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.” (Jer 31:31–32)
This new covenant was inaugurated through Jesus’ blood, and offered to all who are willing to come to Him.
Therefore, when God tells the families of Israel, “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” He is speaking to the spiritual family that includes those within this new covenant—the kingdom of Jesus. This is the spiritual church whose members were chosen by God before the foundation of the world, yet hidden in Himself until the apostolic era, as revealed to the apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit (Eph 3:5–11). So, aside from the OT saints and the apostolic believers, these words of everlasting love are also directed to us today.
God loves us with an everlasting love. However, our limited experience and knowledge make it difficult for us to understand this love. Take the case of the kingdom of Judah. Although God said, also through Jeremiah, that His thoughts toward His people were thoughts of peace and not of evil, He sent His servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to invade their cities and destroy the temple. This kind of peace is hard to comprehend. But He did so to give them a future and a hope (Jer 29:11).
The people of Judah had been living in spiritual darkness, worshipping Baal and other false gods alongside offering sacrifices in the temple of God (Jer 7:8–11). So it was out of love that God took them to a different environment for seventy years, to reflect on their past sins. While in exile, God’s children sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept when they remembered Zion (Ps 137:1). They yearned for the celebrative worship back home, and their hearts were again drawn to God in this foreign land. True to His promise, when God’s people returned to Him, He returned to them. Experiencing God’s love in this way, they realized that He had never been far from them—a realization that brought true peace.
We can never fully appreciate what everlasting love is, but we know that God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). He has “called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim 1:9). This is love beyond human comprehension—we were chosen purely because, in His eternity, He loves us. This is an unchanging and everlasting love. Not even calamities, such as Judah’s seventy-year captivity, could cast doubt on the beauty of this love.
Our time on earth is brief, while God’s love is everlasting. Through this everlasting love, God has drawn us to Himself. Since we have not lived forever, how can we appreciate everlasting love? In fact, God’s love transcends life and death, and cannot be measured by whatever is happening to us in the immediate present, or by the success of our secular pursuits in this physical life. His love for us lives on, even after we die.
God’s love may not be apparent at certain points in time, but when we look back at the path God has guided us on, we will see His mercy and will for us. For this, we cannot but give thanks, every moment of our lives.
As we experience God’s love, we also learn to patiently love others. Whatever the circumstances, if we love persistently, it will eventually bear fruit, even if it is unappreciated by the other party at the time.
[W]e have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:9–11)
We enjoy many blessings and joyful moments from God. However, even within God’s love, we experience pain and stress as He purifies us. Certainly, “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Time, and our commitment to walk with God all our lives, will produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
And when we finally reach the end of our life’s journey, we will surely see how He has loved us with an everlasting love!
 “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed April 1, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ten-Lost-Tribes-of-Israel.