We all understand what it is to make a promise. When you were a little kid did you ever do a “pinky swear” with your friend? When I was in high school we used to “go steady” with that special guy or girl. If it was really serious you let her wear your class ring or your letter jacket (my HS girlfriend wore both my class ring and my letter jacket). To go steady was to make a promise, “I won’t date any other girl but you.” (note, in the 70’s dating in 7th grade might mean walking her from her locker to class, possibly holding hands publicly, and dancing exclusively with her at the sock hop… I know, times have changed.) When things got rough, you would “break up”. There would be tears and drama. After you broke up, it was understood that you no longer were going steady and were free to walk other girls from their locker or dance at the next sock hop.
Marriage is a more serious commitment. You make a public promise to God and each other before witnesses to love and be faithful to each other until one of you dies. That kind of promise is known as a covenant.
The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people. God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants Isaac and Jacob (who later became Israel). God promised to be their God, to protect them, to provide them with all that they needed: productive land to live in, abundant children and animals, and protection from their enemies. In return, God asked Israel to be faithful only to Him. To worship only God and to follow God’s teaching, God’s instruction, God’s rules for living in community. They were not to be unfaithful to God by worshipping false gods or man-made gods known as idols. God warned Israel that if they were not faithful to their covenant with God, they would suffer serious consequences. God might withhold rain, send plagues, or even allow their larger and more powerful neighboring countries to attack them and God would not defend them. It was a covenant, a kind of marriage between God and Israel. In fact, God referred to Israel as His bride.
The bottom line was clear- if you are faithful to God and to the covenant with God, you will be blessed, if you are unfaithful to God and to the covenant, you will be cursed (punished, not experience the blessings). Throughout their history, Israel frequently went through periods when they were unfaithful to God and violated the covenant. God would often punish them in some way, they would repent, which means they would turn away from whatever wrong they were doing and return to God, and then God would once again bless them. However, as time wore on, Israel’s unfaithfulness grew worse and worse, God’s punishments grew harsher and harsher and Israel grew more calloused and disobedient. Think of a toddler who absolutely refuses to obey his parents. Usually, a swift punishment will result in repentance. But after a long time, they had become rebellious teenagers who no longer repented, or as a better example, an unfaithful wife who continually cheats on her husband and doesn’t even bother to hide it from everyone. Something had to change.
Several hundred years passed since the days of Abraham and later Moses and even King David. Israel’s unfaithfulness to their covenant with God had grown more brazen as they worshipped Baal and other idols. Finally, God had had enough. God was sending his faithless bride into exile.
The prophet Jeremiah was one of several people God sent to Judah, God’s people who lived in the southern Kingdom, where God’s temple in Jerusalem was and from where God’s anointed King ruled. God told Jeremiah to warn his people that the time had come for them to face the full measure of punishment for breaking faith with God.
6 The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them. 7 From the time I brought your ancestors up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, “Obey me.” 8 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’”
9 Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. 10 They have returned to the sins of their ancestors, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both Israel and Judah have broken the covenant I made with their ancestors. 11 Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes.
This isn’t just, “I’m taking away your cell phone” or “I’m taking away your car keys for a week until you straighten up.” This is “I’m kicking you out of the house because you refuse to follow the rules.” It’s harsh punishment. It’s called “tough love.” Even loving parents are sometimes forced to have an “intervention” or in the South we say “come to Jesus meeting”.
To illustrate the point, in chapter 13 God tells Jeremiah to get a linen belt, go bury it near a river, then later go back and retrieve the belt, that by then was ruined, and then show it to the people as a visible illustration of what Israel did. God joined himself to His people symbolized by the linen belt, it was pure and spotless, and yet his people ruined that covenant by their unfaithfulness. Now, they must face the consequences.
If you are a Christian, you entered into a covenant with God as well. It was a new covenant, not based on your birth as a descendant of Abraham, but through faith in God’s son, Jesus Christ. Water baptism is a visible symbol of that covenant. When you entered that covenant you promised to worship God alone and follow Jesus Christ and keep his instructions. Have you stayed faithful to your covenant promise to God through faith in Jesus Christ? Or have you treated your promises to God like that linen belt that’s ruined and worthless. The good news is, if you’ve been unfaithful to your promises to God there is still time to repent. What are you waiting for? Will you do it today? Pinky swear?
Pastor Jeff Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 10-13, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+10-13&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 14-17 as we continue our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan