THE BROKEN COVENANT Jeremiah 11–15
“This is what the Lord says: ’Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity’ “ (Jer. 15:2).Relationship with God is marked by commitment—on both sides. When we fall short of our commitment to God, He remains committed to us. But God’s commitment includes punishment, in order that by discipline He might purify and restore.
Jeremiah announced Judah’s punishment for breaking her covenant with God (11:1–17). Jeremiah’s life was threatened, and God responded to the angry prophet’s appeal (v. 18–12:17). Jeremiah delivered five symbolic warnings (13:1–27) to a people who “greatly love to wander” (14:1–15), and then graphically portrayed the coming disaster (v. 16–15:9). But the prophet, who bore God’s name, would be kept safe (vv. 10–21).
Understanding the Text
“Proclaim all these words” Jer. 11:1–17. Most believe this sermon was delivered during the reign of Josiah, just after the lost Law of the Lord had been rediscovered in the temple. Despite Josiah’s active efforts at reform, the Prophet Jeremiah was called to remind Judah of the terms of her ancient covenant with God. If the people obeyed wholeheartedly, God said, “I will fulfill the oath I swore to your forefathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey.” But Jeremiah was also told to confront. God knew that the house of Judah had “broken the covenant I made with their forefathers,” and that their towns were filled with pagan idols. Because of the broken covenant the Lord had “decreed disaster for you.” Two themes we’ve seen before are repeated here. “Consecrated meat” (v. 15) represents superficial public religion. No mere reform of ritual without complete moral and spiritual commitment could help. And again Jeremiah was told, “Do not pray for this people” (v. 14). For them it was too late. It’s not too late for us. But our commitment must be more than settling comfortably into some Sunday pew, and putting our dollars in the offering plate. Only complete moral and spiritual commitment are appropriate to our own covenant relationship with God in Christ. “The men of Anathoth” Jer. 11:18–23. Jeremiah was shaken when God revealed a plot against his life by the men of Anathoth. The prophet was shocked: he never expected his preaching to provoke such a savage reaction. He said, “I was like a gentle lamb,” meaning that he was totally naive. It’s better for us to be naive than to be cynical. And it’s often better for us not to know the plots others may hatch against us. If we are as faithful as Jeremiah in doing God’s will, we may rest assured. The God who protected Jeremiah will guard us as well. “I would speak with you about your justice” Jer. 12:1–17. Jeremiah, as you and I often are, was in a “hurry-up” mode here. His query, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” really means, “Why don’t You act to punish the wicked now?” In bloodthirsty terms, Jeremiah cried, “Drag them off like sheep to be butchered!” In response God gave a full-orbed vision of what He intended. He knew the character of Judah well, and warned Jeremiah against trusting anyone—even in his own family (vv. 5–6). God would abandon this wicked people to become a prey to pagan nations (vv. 7–13). But He would “again have compassion” and restore His people in the end (vv. 14–17). What is striking here is the pain God felt at the prospect of punishing Judah. The Lord cried out in anguish, “I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies” (v. 7). God takes no pleasure in punishments. He disciplines because He must. And because, ultimately, discipline brings restoration to fellowship. Any time you or I feel God’s heavy hand of discipline, it’s important to remember what the Lord told Jeremiah. We are still “the one I [God] love,” even when we deserve and receive punishment. And divine discipline is not abandonment. The Lord will “again have compassion, and bring each of them back to their inheritance.” “The Lord’s flock will be taken captive” Jer. 13:1–27. The chapter lists five different warnings given Judah through Jeremiah. The first was by a symbolic act: the prophet’s linen “belt” was buried by a river representing the distant Euphrates (vv. 1–11). When it was dug up months later, it was rotted and ruined. This linen garment was most likely a thigh-length undershirt, worn next to the body. It symbolized the intimacy of the relationship God intended to have with Israel and Judah. But in Judah linen had come to represent luxury and pride. Only removal from the land, and symbolic burial in Babylon, would ruin Judah’s pride and make the people responsive to God once again. The second message was based on a popular saying associated with drunkenness: “Every wineskin should be filled with wine” (vv. 12–14). Here the “wineskin” was a nebel, a large earthen jar. Judah’s people and leaders would be as foolish as drunkards, and God would smash and destroy them all. The third warning was in plain words, condemning arrogance and announcing Captivity (vv. 15–17). The fourth called the king and queen mother to step down from their thrones and go into Captivity (vv. 18–19). The final warning was a denunciation of Judah’s sins, and again in plain words announced the coming Exile (vv. 20–27). Here the Lord specified the reason for the coming disaster. This people are so accustomed to doing evil that they don’t even know how to do good! (v. 23) They will be scattered like chaff because of their detestable moral and spiritual ways. The only way to be good is to practice doing good. We become what we do. Modern men and women, as well as the people of Judah, can become so used to doing wrong that doing good is foreign to them. “They greatly love to wander” Jer. 14:1–16. Jeremiah was again told not to pray for Judah. Because the people “do not restrain their feet” (from wandering) the Lord would “now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.” Jeremiah observed that the prophets of Judah had a different message. These recognized spiritual leaders kept preaching, “You will not see the sword or suffer famine.” God’s answer was that all promises of lasting peace were lies. Disaster had been determined, and even the most holy of Israel’s saints could not avert it if they were present (15:1–2). The prophets spoke, but God “did not send them,” and they were telling lies (14:14–15). “Popular” preaching isn’t something for spiritual leaders to strive for, or for you and me to seek out. Any popular message, of prosperity without perspiration, of blessing without battles, of success without suffering, of national greatness without social justice, or of divine approval without personal holiness, marks the speaker as one whom God has not sent, and the message as something less than God’s own.
Do Not Turn to Them(Jer. 15)
It hurts to be out there, visible—and alone. It always has. I understand that pressure I mentioned in yesterday’s devotional; pressure that’s reflected in our nine-year-old’s compulsion to be in style and just like the other kids in her class. Adults feel the same pressure. And Christian adults perhaps especially. Many Christians make a real effort to fit in, and not make too much of their Christian faith or convictions. Taking any stand, particularly if you seem to be the only one holding an unpopular position, is a painful proposition. Jeremiah felt the pain. He took a stand, and announced God’s message of judgment on his society. As a result he was isolated; “a man with whom the whole land strives and contends” and “everyone curses.” And it hurt. He “sat alone,” and as a result felt “unending pain.” I don’t suppose that any of us would choose to be in Jeremiah’s place, despite the fact that later generations have honored him. This chapter tells us, however, what motivated Jeremiah—and what sustained him. The motivation is explained in verse 16. “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear Your name.” The prophet took God’s words into his heart. They became part of his very being. As he digested their meaning, he was filled with joy and delight. And the more he feasted on the words of God, the more he realized what it means to bear God’s name. This is our primary source of motivation as well. We are to feast on God’s words: to “eat” them, digesting and applying their meaning. As we do we realize how wonderful it is to bear God’s name, and we are moved to honor Him in all we do and say. Because we do bear God’s name, we will often be moved to represent Him publicly by our words as well as by our way of life. And the more we “eat” and delight in God’s words, the more clearly we will see those issues on which we must speak out. But what sustains us if, as may happen, speaking out brings ridicule or social isolation? God promised Jeremiah, “I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze” (v. 20). No one and nothing could penetrate the wall of protection that God erected around His servant. But with that promise of protection came a warning. “Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them” (v. 19). Those who oppose us may very well find their way inside the wall, for God’s Word is an open door inviting them to enter. But you and I must never step outside the wall, by abandoning our complete commitment to Scripture, in order to adopt the values, beliefs, or ways of a lost world. Yes, often it does hurt if we take a stand for our faith and feel ourselves isolated from others. We all want to be popular and to fit in. Often we can, and without compromise. Yet when a conflict does come, let’s remember that we bear God’s name. Let’s be guided by His words. And, as we seek to represent our Lord, let’s be sustained by His words to Jeremiah: “I am with you to rescue and save you” (v. 20).
When we acknowledge the fact that we bear God’s name, His Word will guide us concerning those things about which we must make a personal stand.