The Covenant in Prophetic Literature, Part 4

The prophet Jeremiah began his ministry around 630-620 BC. After the Babylonian’s failed to take Jerusalem in 598 BC, Jeremiah counseled against making an alliance with Babylon’s enemy, Egypt. The king ignored Jeremiah, and the price of ignoring his advice was to provoke Nebuchadnezzar to lay siege in 587. Jerusalem was destroyed, and its prominent citizens deported to Babylon.

Jeremiah reports that, during the siege of Jerusalem, the slaves were freed, presumably so they could help with the defense of the city. But when Nebuchadnezzar temporarily suspended the siege, the freed slaves were forced back into servitude (Jer 34:8-19). According to Jeremiah, God saw this as evidence of the insincerity of the inhabitants of the city, and Jerusalem eventually fell to the siege.

However, Jeremiah speaks of the restoration of Judah and Israel, as do all the Old Testament prophets. And he very specifically mentions (Jer 31:31-33) the covenant:

The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The prophet Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah’s, though Ezekiel was already in exile in Babylon when he began to preach about the fall of Jerusalem.  Though Ezekiel was a thousand miles away, he had visions of Jerusalem and reported them to his brothers and sisters in exile.  Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel speaks of the covenant and its restoration (Ezekiel 16:59-61)

For thus speaks the Lord God, I will deal with you according to what you have done, you who despised your oath, breaking a covenant.  Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were a girl, and I will set up an everlasting covenant with you.  Then you shall remember your conduct and be ashamed when I take your sisters, those older and younger than you, and give them to you as daughters, even though I am not bound by my covenant with you. For I will re-establish my covenant with you, that you may know that I am the Lord…

Covenant Reconsidered?
Jeremiah and Ezekiel emphasize that the Lord always remains true to the covenant even when his people are not necessarily true to it. Jeremiah suggests that, when Jerusalem is restored, the covenant will be written on the hearts of God’s people, not in stone. Perhaps this is an indication that a person may come to embody the covenant, rather than the decalogue. Jeremiah emphasizes that the covenant will have a relational, rather than a merely legal aspect to it.

Ezekiel tells us that the destruction of the Jerusalem is not the end of the covenant – it will be re-established. The Lord reminds Ezekiel that he will do so, though he is not bound to do so. As much as anything, this reaffirms the idea that the covenant is a free gift from God, and not something owed to us. Interestingly, Ezekiel tells his listeners that the elder and younger sisters of Jerusalem (Samaria and Babylon?) will become her daughters. Is there an implication here that the covenant will be extended to gentiles? Perhaps, but it is not completely clear from the text.

Covenant Affirmed
Jeremiah and Ezekiel re-affirm more traditional components of the covenant. After Jeremiah speaks of the law written on the hearts of his people, he promises the restoration of Jerusalem. The days are coming, says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt as the LORD’s… Never again shall the city be rooted up or thrown down. Notice, though, the eschatological character of the language. “The days are coming” is God’s language for a messianic age (see Amos 9:13).

Ezekiel 34:25-27 also promises a restoration of prosperity,

I will make a covenant of peace with them, and rid the country of ravenous beasts, that they may dwell securely in the desert and sleep in the forests… The trees of the field shall bear their fruits, and the land its crops, and they shall dwell securely on their own soil. Thus they shall know that I am the LORD when I break the bonds of their yoke and free them from the power of those who enslaved them.

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