Jeremiah and Covenant

Another excerpt from The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology

A Concern for God’s Covenants  

The prophet Jeremiah is certainly concerned about covenant.  He refers constantly to the Mosaic covenant (e.g. Jer.11:1-12), especially as understood in Deuteronomy.  But chapter 3 shows him to be focused also on the Davidic covenant (Jer. 3:17), and the land aspect of the Abrahamic covenant (Jer. 3:18. Cf. 25:5).  Having noted this there are still signs of God’s allegiance to Israel, as when in chapter 10 Yahweh calls Himself “the Portion of Jacob” (Jer. 10:16), and the prophet follows this up by calling Him “the hope of Israel” (14:8).  So even though God knows how they have “defiled My land” (Jer. 16:18), and He will drive them out of the land for seventy years (Jer. 25:11), He will bring them back to it (Jer. 16:14-15).[1]

Jeremiah is also, (not so coincidentally), the prophet of “the word of the Lord” (dabar Yahweh), referring to it “or similar phrases 157 times out of the total of 349 times such phrases are used in the Old Testament.”[2]

Jeremiah 11 contrasts the integrity of Yahweh in bringing Israel into the land, and the rebellion of the people to the terms of the Mosaic covenant.[3]  It is obvious from chapter 11 that God wants to gift the land to Israel.  In Jeremiah 11:3-5 it is made perfectly clear that God wanted to “establish the oath” that He swore to the Fathers[4].  Verse 5 might encourage those who teach the fulfillment of the land promises in either the time of Joshua or Solomon.  But this conclusion confuses the Exodus promises with the Abrahamic promises which preceded them.  Although the prophet is harking back to Deuteronomy 27-28, the covenants with Abraham, Phinehas, and David figure strongly in this book in at least a few places.  The Mosaic covenant was bilateral, in that both God and the people uttered oaths, whereas these three covenants were not.  We must see how Jeremiah handles the unilateral covenants before we make our minds up about whether the land promises still await final fulfillment.  Chapter 11 is a depiction of the people’s idolatrous state despite Josiah’s reform and despite Jeremiah’s warnings about defection from the Mosaic covenant.  It is both an announcement and a vindication of the coming captivity.

Kingdom Ground                       

We are very definitely on kingdom ground in chapter 23.  Jeremiah 23:1-8 contains one of the relatively few Messianic predictions in the book of Jeremiah.  It begins with the prophet denouncing the false shepherds who mislead God’s people (Jer. 23:1-2).  Then comes another prophecy of a great regathering of “the remnant” from different parts of the world.  They will be given better shepherds (Jer. 23:3-4).  Following this is a beautiful restoration passage in which the person of “the Branch” is central:

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.

In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell safely;
Now this is His name by which He will be called:
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” – Jeremiah 23:5-6

The Branch (tsemach) is again of the line of David, which links Him with the Ruler of Micah 5:2 and the Branch (netser) of Isaiah 11:1-10.  Just as in Isaiah 11:4-5 He is a righteous judge of the earth.  The mention of Judah and Israel reinforces the future unity of the divided peoples just as in Jeremiah 3:18.   Here the great King who is coming is called by a name: Yahweh Tsidkenu or “Yahweh our Righteousness.”  Present too are several of the same restoration ingredients that we have seen before.  What should not be missed is the eschatological reference to a reunited Israel dwelling safely (23:6).  This idea of peace and security is essential to grasp.  It is repeated in many prophecies of the coming aeon (e.g. Jer. 23:4; 32:37; 33:16. Cf. Mic. 4:4; Isa. 40:9; Zeph. 3:13; Ezek. 34:25, 28).  Until this pledge has been realized it cannot be said that God has fulfilled His oaths to Israel.

Jeremiah 23:7 and 8 contain a second Exodus motif such as the one we saw in Isaiah 11.[5]  This second Exodus is not, as is often claimed, a figurative contrivance.  It is rather a literal one; the surrounding context making this the wisest interpretation.  There is no reason, other than presumption, to consign these words to the pictorial-symbolic realm.  The future regathering of Israel (to be treated below) will feature another “exodus crossing” although not in the same place.  This time the people will come from the north (Jer. 23:8), as well as from the south and east (Isa. 11:11).

There is another possible reference to the future regathering in Jeremiah 29:11-14.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.

This passage appears to match similar eschatological passages in the earlier prophets.  Admittedly, it is settled within the context of the Babylonian Captivity (Jer. 29:10, 15), but the verses do not reflect the situation experienced by those who returned home, so they could well be proleptic (anticipatory), having to do with the final regathering before the second advent.

——————————————————————————————

[1] This return to the land appears to be the return from the Babylonian captivity (e.g. Jer. 29:10).  But some of the wording looks beyond the late sixth century B.C. and points us forward to a time when they will “search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13b); a sentiment which echoes the eschatological leanings of Deuteronomy 30:1-10.

[2] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Promise-Plan of God, 197

[3] I do not think the covenant referred to as “this covenant” in Jer. 11:2-3 is the covenant sworn under Josiah in 2 Kings 23:1-3.  The connections with Exodus and Deuteronomy seem too strong.

[4] In view of the description of the land as “flowing with milk and honey” and the mention of the fathers in connection with the Exodus (11:4, 7), it is best to identify these “fathers” as those of the time of Moses.

[5] It is also found earlier in Jeremiah (Jer. 16:14-15).

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