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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 11:1-5

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Broken Covenant
11 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2“Listen to the terms of this covenant, and tell them to the men of Judah and to those who live in Jerusalem. 3 Say to them that this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: A curse on the man who does not obey the terms of this covenant, 4 the terms I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace. I said ‘Obey me and do everything that I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God.’ 5 Then I will ratify the oath I swore to your ancestors, that I would give them a land flowing with milk and honey—as it is today.”
     I answered, “Amen, LORD.”

Today we talk about contracts. In the Old Testament, they talked about covenants. We agree to pay a bank or a loan agency $20,000 in 15 years for a car, or $200,000 in 30 years for a house (prices may vary in your area), but those contracts come with consequences. If you don’t pay, you lose the item and you pay a stiff fee (a penalty). With a covenant, you agreed to something with another person. Usually covenants were about military help in return for protection or grazing rights—land and food or access to water in exchange for weapons and soldiers as needed. Or there might be other details in the contract. The vassal might promise the overlord a yearly number of calves, lambs, chicks, or a percent of a harvest, all in exchange for protection from those pesky Philistines. They would take an animal, perhaps a goat, and kill it and cut the carcass in half. Then the vassal and his overlord (the two men entering into the covenant) would walk together between the halves of the slaughtered animal in a formal ceremony. The act would be a way of saying: “May what happened to this goat happen to me if I fail to keep my side of this covenant.” Both sides were responsible to keep their part of the bargain. Today, we grumble about having to pay our mortgage or the car payment—but who would even tolerate a bank that called and said, “We got caught using counterfeit money when we paid for your car, and so it’s being repossessed. Sorry!”? A covenant was even more binding and serious than a financial contract. To break a covenant meant death.

When God entered into a covenant with Israel, he promised to give them everything that they would need. His side of the covenant included drinking water, farmland, pastureland for grazing, cities, and plenty of room for the entire nation (two million people). He would even drive out the pagan people living there so that the Israelites could possess the whole land of Canaan for their own. Israel’s side of the covenant was obedience. God gave them specific commands, especially about their religious life, and demanded that they be faithful and true to him. “Have no other gods beside me,” he said (Exodus 20:3). There were a lot of other commands, all given by God on Mount Sinai, but the most important one was that one: “Have no other gods.” That’s why Jeremiah keeps coming back to the sin of idolatry again and again. The people had been unfaithful, and God wanted them to repent and return to trusting in him alone.

Besides all of this, we need to remember another covenant. God had made an unparalleled one-sided covenant with Abraham and all his spiritual descendants. God had Abraham (still called Abram) cut up a bunch of animals and arrange them in the usual covenant-making pattern (“in halves, opposite each other,” Genesis 15:10). But then God went through the covenant ceremony alone, while Abraham was sleeping. Just God. He promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants, and he told Abraham what would happen to his family in the years to come. God also promised that the Savior would come from Abraham’s family (Genesis 18:18, 22:18 and 26:4). That one-sided promise is the promise to send Christ to save us all from our sins. If we were to rely on ourselves to be saved, we would be like the people Jeremiah condemned—people who broke their side of a contract. But we were given Christ as a gift: our greatest Christmas present. Jesus come to rescue us, and we didn’t do anything in exchange. We respond, like anyone does who receives a gift. We say “Thank you” to God with our lives. But the gift was free. And that gift is ours forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.