“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
    and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
    and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’

—Jeremiah 31:10 (ESV)

Why is the masculine pronoun "him" used to describe Israel in this passage? Why doesn't Jeremiah refer to the people of Israel with the plural pronoun "them"?

  • 3
    Hi Kristine! It sounds like you have a great question, but because it's so terse, I can't tell. Can I persuade you elaborate a bit more about why the masculine pronouns are unexpected to you in this particular passage? It also helps to provide a quotation so that we all are on the same page and don't need to look it up. Thanks and welcome to the site. Sep 24, 2012 at 20:01
  • It looks like the NJPS translation uses "them". It might be a translation question... @GoneQuiet: I do see "Israel" in the English translations I've checked. Is the word not in Hebrew? Sep 24, 2012 at 20:45
  • 2
    Since there's a lot going on here, I'm closing the question until we can clarify what's being asked. There might be several strange things going on in this verse and we don't want to have people misplace answers! (See: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/147896/…) Sep 24, 2012 at 21:25
  • Jer 31:9 in the Mesorah, start of the open "parashah". The OP question is probably why "he/him" and not "them", referring to the people of Israel, especially as a flock is in general plural. Answer is that "Israel" here is the a.k.a of the patriarch Jacob, who represents the people of Israel in prophetic writing, plus OT Hebrew in general does not stand on consistency of person or number so that he/flock does not sound odd in OT Hebrew. As an aside, there is some room to translate יקבצנו as "collect them", because of the diacritic. Sep 25, 2012 at 14:34
  • 1
    @Eli Rosencruft: It sounds like you've got a good idea what the question might be asking. If you won't mind contributing an edit to clarify, I would appreciate it. Thanks! Sep 25, 2012 at 16:22

5 Answers 5


This answer offers a subtle but significant adjustment to Joseph's helpful offering.

OP's main question is:

Why is the masculine pronoun "him" used to describe Israel in this passage?

The central answer to this question is that "Israel" is always "masculine, singular" in biblical Hebrew. One of the basic studies of this phenomenon is by J.J. Schmitt, who writes:1

The Hebrew Bible does not know a feminine Israel. The dictionaries consistently and coherently give the gender of Israel as masculine. In the tradition the word 'Israel' names a people. Names of peoples are masculine, while names of countries are feminine.

And, it can be added, cities are "feminine", which accounts for the depiction of Jerusalem as "Daughter Zion" (among others) in the Hebrew Bible.2 This is often a helpful "diagnostic" when reading prophetic texts, in fact: cities have feminine referents (see, e.g., Ezekiel 16 and 23 for prominent examples), while masculine referents are used for "peoples" (what we would think of as "nations").3

So, in this sense, it does not matter that "Jacob" lies behind the name "Israel", although in this passage, there is as it happens a fair degree of alteration between these two in verses 1-14, the section in which this verse (31:10) appears.

Excursus - There is one apparent exception, the phrase בְּתוּלַת יִשְׂרָאֵל (bĕtûlat yiśrāʾēl) often translated "Virgin Israel", or the like. It is found only four times in the Hebrew Bible: Amos 5:2; Jer. 18:13; 31:4, and 21. Schmitt devotes some technical discussion to this (p. 119), considering it either to be an "appositional genetive" (cf. Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley, §128k) in which the gender of noun and adjective are not shared, or as extending the "city" imagery present in each context. However you slice it, it remains somewhat "novel", and in no way typical.

In sum, "Israel" will typically be referred to as "he", and even in this chapter there are quite a few other examples. Where English translations offer "them", it is because they are more interested in accommodating to English style (making concessions to the "target" language) than representing the pattern present in the Hebrew text (the "source" language).


  1. J.J. Schmitt, "The Gender of Ancient Israel", Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 26 (1983): 115-125 (quote on p. 116). Schmitt has written a number of related articles subsequently, the one most closely connected to this question being: "Gender Correctness and Biblical Metaphors: The Case of God's Relation to Israel", Biblical Theology Bulletin 26/3 (1996): 96-106.
  2. This also explains (in answer to a comment on OP's question) why the feminine is not used here: that might be English usage, but it isn't the pattern in biblical Hebrew.
  3. For those who have access to an ESV Study Bible, the general "Introduction to the Prophetic Books" has a helpful section on this matter, "Pronouns in the Prophets". FWIW.

Verse 10 starts a paragraph in the Hebrew, and the following verse (v. 11) mentions "Jacob" in parallel... That is, Israel = Jacob, which is a masculine name. So the context of verses 10-11 refers to the faithful remnant of Israelites in both the northern and southern kingdoms (="Jacob"), who will be reestablished through the New Covenant (Jer 31:31).

In other words, "Jacob" is masculine, which refers to the faithful remnant in both the northern kingdom and southern kingdom, and so the pronouns for "Israel" in that chapter are masculine in gender.

  • I am not the original person with the question, but I too was struck when I came across the masculine pronoun as I read Hosea 11:1. The reason for my questioning was that Israel (Judah in the northern Kingdom) is compared to the unfaithful prostitute, a female. Also in Revelation 12 the pregnant woman giving birth is usually interpreted as Israel giving birth to Christ/Jesus. This certainly does not impact my faith, but it is confusing. The above response I find most helpful. But as a rule of thumb, I have always remembered Israel being referred to as a feminine entity.
    – Sonia
    Oct 7, 2014 at 12:38

I think the use of the male pronoun casts Israel into an image of God's loved 'son'. It is the same but maybe more clearly used here:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (Ho 11:1, ESV)


I am very surprised at your comment Israel is male , Hos 2:1-4 have the 10 tribes of Israel as the son Jezreel, then Judah as feminine , Hos 2;2 have israel as the mother , then in Hos 2;19-20 as the bride.

2 Kgs 19:21 This is the word that the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.

Math 21:5 Tell the daughter of Zion behold your King is coming John 12:15 Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King comes, sitting on an ass's colt. Luke 23:28 O daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me but weep yourselves.

Are you saying that is not Israel, and then we have Israel as the bride of John 3:29

John 3:29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.

That can only be Israel as there are no Gentiles at this stage, see Math 10:5-7 and 15:24

Hope to hear from you , Doug Belot .

  • Welcome to BH. I don not see that is an answer to the OP. The question was specific to a particular text, not a general enquiry.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 6, 2020 at 22:08
  • I agree - that does not answer the question - it does not address the Hebrew grammar nor Hebrew idiom.
    – Dottard
    Sep 6, 2020 at 22:20

Because men wrote the Bible. In Exodus 4:22 "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Israel is my first born SON'".

Jeremiah 3:8 " Because Rebel Israel had committed adultery, I cast HER off and handed HER a bill of divorce..."

When Israel does right Israel is male, when Israel does wrong Israel is female. Hmmmmmmmm.....

Or perhaps: Hosea 11:1 "When Israel was a child I loved HIM, and called my SON out of Egypt...."

Contrasted with: Jeremiah 31:22 "How long will you wander Unfaithful DAUGHTER ISRAEL?"

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour and in particular what constitutes a good answer. We aren't a discussion board, so answers are expected to 1) answer only the question asked and 2) do more than just state your opinion. Your answer would be greatly improved by citing references or providing some additional analysis.
    – ThaddeusB
    Oct 31, 2015 at 21:03
  • 1
    You might take a look at the references in the first footnote on another answer here. Unfortunately, neither is available for free in full text, but the answer has provided the gist.
    – Susan
    Oct 31, 2015 at 21:37

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