by Sammi Si-Hoe
Place your hope in a faithful God who keeps His covenant: Lessons from the book of Jeremiah
Jeremiah’s ministry was set against the backdrop of the last four rulers of Judah – Josiah, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. The nation’s independence came to an end when Jerusalem fell captive to the Babylonian empire in 586 BC. Henceforth, things were never the same again for the people of Judah. Likewise, with the Covid-19 pandemic, our world has suddenly come crashing down all around us. After the pandemic is over, many anticipate that our world will never be the same again.
Jeremiah’s message of hope for the future, in a faithful God who keeps His covenant with His people, is the same for us today. In Jeremiah’s time, the land of Judah was devastated by the conquest of the Babylonians and the people of Judah had to live a new normal as exiles in a foreign land under distressing and unsettling circumstances. Even when the pandemic is over, we too will have to adjust to a new normal way of life which, likewise, could be distressing and unsettling. This new normal could involve inconveniences to daily routines such as having to adhere to social distancing measures, not meeting in large assemblies and having to wear masks outside of home. On top of daily inconveniences, this new normal could include even more drastic changes such as job losses, financial crisis and economic recession. These could result in strained relationships and increased mental health issues in society.
THE BASIS OF HOPE
As Christians, we have hope in a faithful God who keeps His covenant with His people to see us through distressing and unsettling circumstances. The basis of our hope is God’s Word which, once spoken, will certainly be fulfilled. At the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry, God told Jeremiah that Jeremiah’s ministry was not only to uproot, tear down, destroy and overthrow,” but also to “build and plant” (1:10). God’s faithful promise is also seen in Jeremiah 29:11 where God declares to the people of Judah in exile in Babylon: “I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
When the people of Judah refused to change their ways, God’s plan was to bring salvation to them after judgement. This pattern can be seen in Jeremiah 24 where God promised not only to bring His people whom he sent to exile back to His promised land but also “give them a heart to know me… for they will return to me with all their heart.” Our refuge must be in God.
This would be likened to taking our problems into our own hands by running to unhealthy addictions
Let us not be like those exiles who sought refuge in Egypt (Jeremiah 40-45) and found themselves worse off. This would be likened to taking our problems into our own hands by running to unhealthy addictions like alcoholism or pornography to deal with our distress. Instead, let us trust in God that He will eventually save us from our difficult circumstances.
A NEW COVENANT
This theme of God’s judgement and salvation can also be seen in the book of Jeremiah’s chiasmic structure – a literary device that presents a series of ideas, and then repeats them in opposite order. The chiasm opens with judgement against Judah (1-25) and closes with judgement against the Nations (46-51). In contrast, at the heart of the chiasm is the section on “Consolation” where God speaks of the new covenant (30-33) which will be written on people’s hearts (31:33). In other words, God will work to change people such that they will not simply be compelled by the law but will desire to keep it. In doing so, the new covenant people will know God intimately and be a faithful community. God will put their former sins behind, turning judgement into salvation.
God can also help us through any mental and psychological anguish when we turn to Him.
In our present circumstances, as in Jeremiah, God has already taken the initiative to effect this new covenant by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, who has borne all our sins as the perfect sacrifice and by sending His Holy Spirit to indwell and transform us. We should therefore boldly appropriate these graces in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in – even in the most dire circumstances post Covid-19 pandemic. For example, healthcare workers may have to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorders; and others with strained finances or relationships may find themselves facing depression or other mental health issues. In all our struggles, let us remember that even when we cannot cope by ourselves, we have a faithful covenant-keeping God with whom “Nothing is too hard …” (32:17). If God could effect the new covenant and bring salvation out of desolation, and obedience out of stubborn rebellion (32:39-40), surely God can also help us through any mental and psychological anguish when we turn to Him. After all, He is the originator and giver of the “Consolation” found in the heart of the book of Jeremiah.
RESPONDING TO GOD
Finally, in response to God who reaches out to us, let us as the Church – the chosen people of God having a covenant relationship with Him – choose to turn away from “falseness” when facing the new reality of living after the pandemic. May every individual, from national and religious leaders to the congregant that quietly slips in and out of church every week, sincerely worship God and show their devotion by obeying Him.
Choose to turn away from “falseness” when facing the new reality of living after the pandemic.
Let us not have the false sense of security that by being “Christians” we can find safety when our hearts are actually far away from God, where there is no truth in our worship of Him and where His commandments are openly flouted (7:9-11). Instead, let us love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, all strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves as He has commanded us to do.
Just as Jeremiah purchased the field belonging to his cousin (32:6-15), let us invest in the lives of others. Let us help each other post Covid-19 – feed the migrant workers, look out for the elderly and the destitute, give shelter to those who face domestic abuse.
God is faithful and will keep His covenant to bless His people and land. We can hope for a better tomorrow because God is able to usher in His righteousness and transform whole nations. He is a covenant-keeping God who keeps His Word and His promises to those who love, trust and obey Him!