Yesterday, I read Jeremiah 31:21-22 (ESV):
“Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities. How long will you waver, O faithless daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing on the earth: a woman encircles a man.”
Now, I don't know what to make of the final line, "a woman encircles a man." It seems clear the woman is a reference to "virgin Israel" and closest reference to a man is "Ephraim my dear son" (Jeremiah 31:20). Other suggestions for the man seem possible depending on the meaning of the stanza.
The word translated "encircled" by the ESV, has many possible meanings (05437):
a primitive root; to revolve, surround, or border; used in various applications, literally and figuratively (as follows):-bring, cast, fetch, lead, make, walk, X whirl, X round about, be about on every side, apply, avoid, beset (about), besiege, bring again, carry (about), change, cause to come about, X circuit, (fetch a) compass (about, round), drive, environ, X on every side, beset (close, come, compass, go, stand) round about, inclose, remove, return, set, sit down, turn (self) (about, aside, away, back).
With so many choices, it seems possible that the word is used in some metaphorical sense. The NET Bible, for instance, uses the phrase "a woman protecting a man". The translator's note to the phrase justifies the choice:
The meaning of this last line is uncertain. The translation has taken it as proverbial for something new and unique. For a fairly complete discussion of most of the options see C. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” EBC 6:571. For the nuance of “protecting” for the verb here see BDB 686 s.v. סָבַב Po‘ 1 and compare the usage in Deut 32:10.
Unfortunately, I don't have access to Dr. Feinberg's commentary on Jeremiah. The reasoning seems thin without knowing what other choices were considered. It seems safest to stick with a more literal translation.
Given those parameters, I assume the line refers to fact that Ephraim is contained within Israel. But that renders the first half of the stanza insensible. Ephraim has always been a tribe of Israel. What is this stanza trying to communicate?