Covenant and The Center of a Person, PART 2
Nicki Habecker continues from PART 1 of her book response homily.
In Exodus 34:6 Moses asks to see the LORD. The LORD passes before Moses declaring who He is. "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…" God is long-suffering. As Moses warned almost a thousand year later, Judah is carried into exile. But not before a last-ditch effort to turn the hearts of Judah back to Himself. The year is 641 B.C. and young King Josiah takes the throne. His heart is for the LORD. As he is rebuilding the temple of the LORD the workers find an obscure book that looks important. It is taken to the king and as it is read to King Josiah, he grasps how deeply angry the LORD is and that He has determined to bring disaster on Judah because of their long history of sin and covenant violation. He promotes a massive revival by renewing the covenant and having the people pledge themselves to the covenant. He tours Judah and Israel destroying shrines of false worship and stopping the sins committed on behalf of the idols. However, the colossal attempts at reform were inadequate because of people's hypocritical worship. The outward appearance changed, but the heart did not.
God also calls a young prophet, Jeremiah, to be the voice of God. He calls people back to covenant. His primary purpose is to provoke the people to repentance, to return to and rededicate themselves to their covenant relationship with the LORD. His call to the people comes out of a deep love and understanding of the covenant and the necessity of returning to the covenant of Deuteronomy. To Jeremiah, the book, and language, of Deuteronomy, is an immovable force and describes a genuine relationship with God, one that is based on the heart and not the law.
Throughout the book of Jeremiah, he depicts people's hearts as "deceitful above all and desperately sick" (17:9). He exposes some of the persistent sins of the people including: pride and ingratitude toward God's loving kindness, idolatry ( 44:1-30); adultery ( 5:7-9; 7:9); oppressing the foreigners, orphans and widows ( 7:5-6); lying and slander (9:4-6); and Sabbath-breaking (17:19-27). He continues to call the people back to the covenant, to repentance, to a true change of the heart, to treat other with dignity and respect, and to turn from idol worship.
But the people of Judah and Jerusalem had lost the capacity to truly worship God. Worship had become a ritual that emphasized the place and not the Person. The people believed that as long as the Temple of the Lord was standing, they were safe. (Jer. 7) Temple worship was little more than a good luck charm that had deluded the people into trusting in physical buildings. The people forgot this very important thing. To God, the inner spiritual reality is much greater than the outward form. While the people sacrificed to God inside the walls of the Temple, outside the walls they worshiped many gods and idols. And so the Lord says (Isaiah 29:13)...
"These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote".
Covenant assumes people will carry God's nature; they will become like the God they serve. Gentry state this. "The worship of God and human ethics should go hand in hand". Instead of caring for the destitute among them, they exploited and murdered. Instead of faithful love and care for one another they lied and slandered. It's significant that Jeremiah not only pointed out how Judah broke covenant with God, but how they also broke covenant with one another. Instead of following the ways of Yahweh, they treated each other according to the nature of the gods they worshiped. They committed spiritual adultery with God and treachery with one another.
It is well documented that the worship of Baal, who was believed to be the "giver of life", incorporated worship of nature, sexual orgies, self-mutilation, and child sacrifice. All things that categorically contradicted the nature of God and the covenant God created for His people to follow. God's only choice was to "reset" His people by bringing about a catastrophic event that would motivate them to return to the covenant and to seek God alone.
The fall of Jerusalem is the final major event in Jeremiah's career. It comes after an eighteen-month agonizing and futile defense of the city, and forty years of Jeremiah's joyless call to repentance and impending judgment. The full force of the curse prophesied by Moses lands squarely on the people of Judah. As Moses warned, eventually their rebellion led to their exile. In 586 B.C. the Babylonians came, thoroughly ravaged and destroyed Jerusalem, and carried thousands into exile.
Because of the people's misunderstanding of covenant and true worship they naturally concluded that when Jerusalem fell, the LORD would abandon His people forever. They believed that because He destroyed His home (the temple), He could not return. But, as Jerusalem falls and the people are taken into exile, Jeremiah’s message changes. No longer is it a message of repentance, sword, famine and the plague. It is now a message of salvation, restoration, rebuilding, replanting, redemption, grace, healing, mercy, comfort, gladness, and good fortune (Willis, 2007).
Willis states in Reading Jeremiah,
"The book of Jeremiah was not written to justify the Lord's destruction of Jerusalem, but to aid the exiles in living righteous lives. To do so, they must learn to look beyond the physical to the spiritual. The people deluded themselves into believing that God lived in Jerusalem and the Temple. These had to be destroyed so the people could see where the Lord truly dwells—in the hearts of His followers."
Both Deuteronomy and Jeremiah point to a time in the future where people's hearts would no longer be stubborn, deceitful, and indifferent to God's words. Moses promises that the Lord would circumcise their hearts so that they would love God with all their heart and soul. Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant which would be written on people hearts. It would no longer be a covenant that could be broken as the tablets were or cut into pieces and burned as King Jehoiakim did to Jeremiah's prophecies.
As fair and as good and as light giving as a covenant was that the people ratified during the days of Moses, it still was flawed. Not because of any failure of the covenant, but because of the defective heart of mankind which leads people away from the things of God, gravitates towards legalism, and misuses the redemptive provisions of the Covenant.
Jeremiah states "For thus says the Lord, 'Your wound is incurable and your injury is serious. There is no one to plead your cause; no healing for your sore, no recovery for you (30:12-13.)'" Like someone suffering from a terminal illness that leads to certain death, so it is with God's people. But God promises, “Behold I will bring it to health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth (33:6)."
It is the heart of mankind that preempts the blessings intended by the Old Covenant, so a different path to righteousness is needed to accomplish this healing. Some fundamental change must happen to the heart. Through Jeremiah, the Lord says,
"In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the Lord is our righteousness" (3:16).
This is recognition that the deceitful heart of mankind can never stand on its own righteousness, but the Lord Himself could supply that righteousness.
“I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it...they will know me…and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer 31:31-34) It wouldn't be on tablets of stone or written on a scroll but instead would be an operating principle in the heart, God would not be forgotten, and sin would no longer be remembered.
In Roman 8:3,4 Jesus clearly accomplishes what the law failed to do. Through the death of Jesus, our sins have been forgiven. Through the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, sin and death are defeated. He gives His Holy Spirit to us to generate the fruit of Spirit, to have a heart to know God, and a life lived in the great gift of grace knowing our sins are no longer held against us; they are remembered no more. And our response to God is to be a covenant people who love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love one another.
The beauty of the New Covenant is that it is rooted in the ancient path (6:16) Jeremiah was calling the people to return to. This path finds its source "from before the world began". For from before the foundation of the world, God had already predestined us to be adopted as sons and daughters and Jesus had already committed to die for the sins of His wayward creation (Ephesians 1:4-5, 1 Peter 1:18-20). His entreaty from Adam and Eve to present day believers has never changed. His purpose is steadfast. His love is everlasting. His faithfulness is enduring.
His commitment to covenant is eternal. Since the rebellion of Adam, every covenant, every Temple, every interaction between God and mankind has been with this ultimate goal in mind— full restoration and fellowship between God and mankind. And a return to the most fundamental aspect of covenant: "I will be your God; you will be my people".