Thursday, March 18, 2021

Broken Covenant

Week 11 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 11; additional reading Deuteronomy 27, 28



Background

“Covenants are one of the most important themes in the Bible because they act as the skeletons upon which the entire redemptive story is built. They’re like the backbone of the Bible.”[1] Covenants fall into the category of a promise or an agreement or a contract and can be either unconditional or conditional. In the Old Testament, we find the term many, many times, and covenant is used in the New Testament multiple times. A covenant identifies a relationship, whether between God and humankind or person-to-person. The one great truth is that the LORD will never break His covenants. 

A conditional covenant usually is between two equal parties with each party bearing certain responsibilities. Some examples are treaties, business partnerships, contracts, friendship, and marriage to name a few. The covenant or agreement formalizes the relationship. Of course, if the respective parties do not keep the terms of the promises, these covenants can be broken. Business partnerships can be dissolved, financial agreements can be terminated, and divorce breaks the legal, civil marriage contract.

Some covenants bring together two unequal powers, a greater power with a lesser power. We see these types in the Bible in various forms. An example of this type of conditional covenant would be the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 19-24). God gives the law to the Hebrew people after rescuing them from Egyptian captivity, providing them with guidelines for living in what we call the Ten Commandments. This Covenant is between God and Israel, both making promises, and helps define their relationship. God expects obedience, and the people pledge such, but many times the people’s disobedience threatens to destroy this conditional covenant bringing repercussions. In our lesson today, we see repeated examples of how the people break the covenant. 

An unconditional covenant, however, is found between Abraham and God. God promises Abraham a great land, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great. You shall be a blessing. I will bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12) He goes on to make a formal covenant with Abraham giving the land of Canaan to his descendants (Genesis 15). Yahweh makes this promise unconditional. This means that regardless of the people’s response, God considers the covenant binding. 

In covenants, sometimes stipulations are given, such as obedience to the Law. Also a sign of a covenant is sometimes seen. The annual sacrament of Passover for the Jews is a sign to remember that God delivers them out of Egyptian bondage, rescues them, and provides the Law for them. For Abraham’s descendants, circumcision is a sign of the covenant. These signs and symbols are not the covenant rather an outward demonstration of recognizing the covenant.

In our lesson today, we see Jeremiah talking about the “broken covenant” which is the Sinai Covenant. Their repeated disobedience and apostasy revoke their previous agreements. The unconditional covenant God makes with Israel, that they are His people, and He is their God, is not broken. Why? God does not break His covenant promises. God still chooses the Hebrew people as His chosen people and does not break the relationship.

God chooses us, too. We will see in a few weeks where Jeremiah will prophesy about a New Covenant. Jesus Christ is the new, irrevocable, binding, unconditional covenant. He comes for all people. His grace cannot be purchased or earned. The Old Testament covenants lead the Hebrew people and the Gentiles toward a Messiah, toward righteous living. While the Law could never redeem mankind, it simply points out the need for redemption, for a repentant heart.

Study 

As Chapter 11 opens, God tells Jeremiah to say “Hear the words of this covenant”referring to the Sinai Covenant. In Exodus 19:5-6 read, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” This covenant begins some 500 years before this, with continued and repeated breaking of the agreement, repeated disobedience of the Hebrew people. Written into the covenant, the blessings and the curses continue to be revealed. You can read these in length in Deuteronomy 27 and 28. 

God desires obedience, to recognize and worship Him as the One True God, yet the people assume the standards of their culture worshiping Baal and many other false gods. In verse 6 God tells Jeremiah to proclaim the message in the “cities of Judah” and the “streets of Jerusalem”. God says, “Obey My voice,” but the people continue to follow their evil hearts. This is likely not long after Josiah renews the Covenant with the people and “All the people” pledge their re-commitment.

Reading in 2 Kings 23(NASB) we see, “Then [King Josiah] gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. The king went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant.”

We find the word “conspiracy” in verse 9 revealing the people’s turning from God and refusing to hear God’s word. Both the House of Israel and House of Judah are accused of breaking the covenant. “The conspiring against the king was actually a hidden rebellion against God’s covenant and reforms that Josiah was busy to lead.”[2] Calamity is coming and there will be no escape. Still the people continue to burn incense and cry out to their empty gods. Again, God tells Jeremiah that praying for the people is not beneficial. The people’s empty rituals  and compromised worship guarantees the impending destruction. “The redeemed people were instructed in the covenant at Sinai concerning how they should live. Obedience to this law could not save them. But continual and hard-hearted disregard of it brought the consequent curses of the covenant upon them.”[3]

The Olive Tree represents fruitfulness, a symbol of economic prosperity. A storm is on the horizon that will bring “fire” and result in “broken” branches. Their own wickedness is the catalyst for the storm. In verses 18-20 we discover a plot to take out Jeremiah. This conspiracy against Jeremiah comes from the “rejection of God’s word.” In closing, we find God states His intention of protection, to protect His word and His prophet. “Throughout the book of Jeremiah and the books of the other canonical prophets we are startled by repeated reminders that the faithlessness of Israel and Judah cannot frustrate God’s sovereign grace. He has determined to have a remnant of faithful people among whom he will dwell in glory.”[4] 

Reflection

Warren Wiersbe writes that what and how we worship are essential in determining “the character of life itself.” Reflecting a lifestyle pleasing to God, the the Ten Commandments provide standards of righteous living, offer examples of visible, outward behavior. Ethical living defines integrity and exceeds head knowledge by calling for a heart response. Our inner character writes the story our living tells others.

In chapters 11-20 of Jeremiah, we find what some scholars call the confessions of Jeremiah. These reveal more of Jeremiah’s inner emotions, personal conflict, and spiritual wrestling. In today’s lesson in verse 19a we read Jeremiah’s heart, “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” We also read in that the “men of Anathoth” are seeking to take Jeremiah’s life. Even his own hometown is turning against him with plots to murder him. Jeremiah, despite his anxiety about this, did not stop sharing the message God gives him.

The Holy Scriptures reveal the character and holiness of God, record the history of God's prophecies and their fulfillment, teach the way of repentance and redemption through Christ, establish the guidelines for righteous and holy living, and define hope as God's promise of eternal life. With precepts and promises, prophets and parables, God's story of redemption and restoration enfolds us. Within the pages of this ancient text, we discover God's ultimate plan for humanity. Jesus Christ, His Word in the flesh (John 1:14), proclaims God's truth and love and hope for the world. Reading this holy and living book gives us a taste of eternity and the goodness of God. In reply, our lives tell the Jesus-story we hold most dearly.

Application

·         What are some of the things that interfere with or sabotage our prayers? Some of the problems of Judah are our problems, too! Examples: wrong motives, insecurity, hypocrisy, sinful habits, disobedience…

·         God desires to hear our prayers. Read Psalm 139. Explore God’s profound interest in our thoughts and lives.

Donna Oswalt

[1] BibleProject.com/blog/covenants -the-backbone-bible/

[2] Wiersbe Study Bible, Warren Wiersbe, Jeremiah 11 commentary

[3] Gospel Transformation Study Bible Notes, Jeremiah 11 commentary

[4] Ibid

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