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This Covenant of Jeremiah 11

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People are often confused by Jeremiah 11.  It talks of "this covenant", but seems to connect with events of Exodus 19-20.  It is worth taking a careful look at Jeremiah 11:2-12.

"Hear ye the words of this covenant, and speak unto the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem;" (Jer 11:2).  It seems apparent that the men of Judah are being warned to heed the words of "this covenant".  'This' replaces the Hebrew word 'zo'th '. "It is used to point out and designate certain objects in distinction from others." (emphasis ours) (The Complete Word Study of the Old Testament" p.2274)  'THIS covenant' is designated, as distinct from some other covenant.  So the simple use of 'this' in connection with 'covenant' assumes the existence of some other covenant.  Logically, the other covenant would have existed prior to "this covenant".

Moses was the first to use this designation in Deuteronomy.  Before doing this, he clearly refers to the covenant of the Lord of Exodus 20-24 in Deuteronomy 4.  There is also a reference to this previously made covenant in Deuteronomy 29:25.

"And the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. ". (Deu 4:12-13)

 "Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the LORD your God has forbidden you." (Deu 4:23) 

Moses makes another covenant in Deuteronomy with Israel. It is distinct from His Covenant made in Exodus 20-24, so it is called "this covenant", i.e. distinct from His covenant that was described in chapter 4:12-23 and with which they were all familiar.

"Therefore keep the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do."(Deu 29:9) "I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone," (Deu 29:14) "that you may enter into covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath, which the LORD your God makes with you today" (Deu 29:12)

"These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel.. " (Deu 1:1a) "These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb. "(Deu 29:1). "Observe and obey all these words which I command you," (Deu 12:28) 'and He said to them: "Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe--all the words of this law."'(Deu 32:46)

The words of 'this covenant' mediated by Moses in Deuteronomy are one and the same with the words of "this law", which He exhorts Israel to obey. They are the words Moses spoke that day. They are distinct from the words of His covenant of Exodus 20-24. "These are the words of the covenant ... besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb. "(Deu 29:1). One thing, besides another does not equal one thing, but two things jointly applicable.

"Words" in this context is actually a technical legal term for the legally binding official terms of a covenant. The Ten Commandments were the official terms of the Exodus 20-24 covenant. "So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments." (Ex 34:28). Virtually the whole book of Deuteronomy is the official document of "this covenant". "These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab..."(Deu 29:1). "Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever," (Deu 12:28)

So Jeremiah 11 exhorts Judah to "Hear ye the words of this covenant ". This is similar to what Paul did in Gal 4:21b "do you not hear the law?". He then proceeds to refer to the story of Hagar & Ishmael from the law. Jeremiah does the same thing. He reminds Judah of something directly in the official 'words' of "this covenant". "Cursed is the man who does not obey the words of this covenant" (Jer 11:3c). This is not a direct quote of the text as we know it, but the meaning is one and the same with "Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them." (Deu 27:26) This verse, of course, is from the same "this covenant" Moses mediated in Deuteronomy, not any made as of Exodus 24. "This covenant" and 'this law' are one and the same. So while the text is not perfectly identical, the thought is.

There is nothing similar in the words of any covenant documented as of Exodus 24. So the initial direct connection between "this covenant" of Jeremiah 11 appears to me to be with "this covenant" of Deuteronomy. This is a double connection with the designation "this covenant" along with the actually contents, terms or words of "this covenant".

Jeremiah 11 continues with additional information about "this covenant". "which I commanded your fathers in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, 'Obey My voice, and do according to all that I command you; so shall you be My people, and I will be your God,' that I may establish the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, to give them 'a land flowing with milk and honey,'" (Jer 11:4-5)

Certainly this reference is strong with the time of Exodus 19-24. "in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt" typically brings to mind a connection with the covenant of Exodus 20-24. However, it is a general reference to a general time. The exact day would connect us to Exodus 12:17. The events of Exodus 19, some of which seem to be included in Jeremiah 11:4-5 took place about 45 days later.

"Obey my voice" appears in Ex 19:5. On the other hand, "All that I command" appears twice in Deuteronomy 12. It isn't really used in connection with the Exodus 24 covenant. Actually the verse that seems to combine both these thoughts is Deuteronomy 30:2. "return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, " What Moses commanded was commanded by God. (Deu 29:1). The purpose for the covenant of Deuteronomy was to keep Israel in compliance with His covenant of Exodus 20-24, so Israel could be established as God had promised the Patriarchs. Similar words are used on both occasions.

What is important to remember though, is that the historical record left in especially the law indicates the covenant of Deuteronomy was in process on Moses second forty-day stay on Mount Sinai shortly after the episode of the golden calf. This is when He begins to clarify how He will reconcile Himself to Israel.

According to Exodus 19:5 everyone in Israel was to represent Him. It was likely within 50 days that He was set to destroy them.

"Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation." (Ex 32:10) "Then I took the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes. And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the LORD was angry with you, to destroy you. But the LORD listened to me at that time also."(Deu 9:17-19).

Somewhere during or after Moses fast for Israel God resolved to preserve them. He distanced Himself from the people, but talked to Moses far outside the camp. (Ex 33:7) It doesn't appear to be a long time until Moses goes up Mt. Sinai again. His first words to God on the mountain are: "If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance." (Ex 34:9) He's still pleading for a restoration of Israel's relationship with God.

God's response, "Behold, I make a covenant". This is present tense. It's in the process, and will result in awesome things being done with Israel. He then says, "Observe what I command you this day". The following 16 verses discuss topics already covered in Exodus 20-23. "for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel" (Ex 34:27b). His covenant was confirmed in Exodus 24. They were bound by oath to conduct themselves accordingly. That covenant, His covenant, was already made and still in tact. It was not in the process.

Moses was on the mountain for 40 days (Deu 34:28).  More was discussed than just what is recorded in Exodus 34. "Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai" (Ex 34:32).  In particular the curses of Leviticus 26 were given at this time "on Mount Sinai". "These are the statutes and judgments and laws which the LORD made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses." (Lev 26:46)  The instruction of Leviticus 27 came then (Lev 27:34) as well as the requirement for regular animal sacrifices (Lev 7:37-38, Num 28:6).

"Therefore He said that He would destroy them, Had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach, To turn away His wrath, lest He destroy them" (Ps 106:23). "Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments" (Mal 4:4). The covenant that resulted from the pleading of Moses was commanded while Israel was still in the area around Sinai also known as Horeb.

Some instruction may have come from the tent of meeting set up outside the camp (Ex 33:7), some on Mt. Sinai and probably some from the tabernacle once it was finished.  The plan was in motion from the first day of Moses second forty-day stay on Mount Sinai. "Behold, I make a covenant".  This could have been within 90 days or so of the speaking of Exodus 19:5.

Plus or minus six months or even a year from the speaking of Exodus 19:5 is insignificant considering Jeremiah was written some 700 years later.  The intention to add a second covenant was determined within that time and therefore certainly commanded within that time frame.  "This covenant" was not actually made until just before Israel went into the Promised Land, but the great bulk of it was communicated in the area of Sinai at the same approximate time probably within 100 days of Exodus 19:5.  Jeremiah 11:4-5 does not disqualify "this Covenant" of Deuteronomy, which is clearly indicated in verses 2-3 from being "this covenant" of Jeremiah 11:4-5.

Jeremiah 11:6 again exhorts Judah to heed 'these words' and 'the words of This covenant', which verse 8 indicates He "will bring upon them all the words of this covenant".  This is a direct threat that the nation will receive punishment according to their disobedience.  The only place general or national punishments are prescribed is in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28. These punishments, usually called curses, are not part of any covenant made as of Exodus 24.  The description connected with them and the timing according to the historical record of Leviticus and Deuteronomy place them after the confirmation of the Exodus 24 covenant.

"Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it." (Gal 3:15)  One does not add even to a covenant made by error prone men.  The words that would come upon them could not be added to any earlier covenant.  However, Deuteronomy 27-28 is obviously a part of "this covenant" of Deuteronomy.  The curses of "this covenant" of Deuteronomy are the only words that would fit the description of Jeremiah 11:8. They fit very well.

Daniel 9 records many of the problems Judah had.

"..O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments." (vs 4b-5) " We have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets. Yes, all Israel has transgressed Your law, and has departed so as not to obey Your voice; therefore the curse and the oath written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out on us" (vs 10-11) "As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us;" (vs 13a)

The problem is they disobeyed His covenant, His commandments His Judgments, His precepts, His laws and His voice, but the curse comes from The Law of Moses. It was not a part of His covenant. Deuteronomy and the Law of Moses were added as a second covenant, "this covenant", distinct from His covenant that allowed Israel to live even though deserving of death according to His covenant.  There is no positive identifier in "This covenant" of Jeremiah 11:6 or 8 that fits with any covenant made as of Exodus 24.  It fits well with the covenant of Deuteronomy made in Moab.

"For I earnestly exhorted your fathers in the day I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, until this day, rising early and exhorting, saying, "Obey My voice" (Jer 11:7).

Again we focus on 'Obey my voice'. He exhorted them to obey from certainly Exodus 19:5 'until this day'. This exhortation was repeated over and over again. It is not a blank check to allow God to add whatever He wanted to His covenant or any other covenant.

When used in Exodus 19:5 "obey my voice" is used in a simple Hebrew parallelism with 'My covenant'. It is simply a Hebrew speaker's way to reinforce the importance of keeping His covenant. Daniel 9 quoted above, shows it again in parallel connection to His Law, which again is one and the same with His covenant. (Hos 8:1, Ps 78:10) The fact that He was exhorting them 'to this day' also witnesses to it not being open-ended. Once would have been enough.

In fact "obey my voice' is simply another way of saying "do what I tell you". This is evident in Rebecca's use of the phrase three times in Genesis 27 (see vss. 8, 13, 43), which are also varying forms of parallel expressions like that in Exodus 19. She is just urgently exhorting Jacob to do as she is commanding. That is exactly what God had done 'until this day'. He wanted them to obey His covenant, which is clearly defined as to contents and timing of confirmation in Deuteronomy 4:12-23.

Verse 10 indicates the real problem is not the breaking of "this covenant", but the one confirmed earlier from which it is distinct, i.e. "My Covenant". As it turns out Jeremiah 11 echoes the imminent fulfillment of the prophesy of Deuteronomy 29:24-27.

"All nations would say, 'Why has the LORD done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean? Then people would say: 'Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt; for they went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book." (Deu 29:24-27)

"They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.  Therefore thus says the LORD: "Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them.  Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in the time of their trouble." (Jer 11:10-12)

It seems apparent that the calamity Jeremiah 11:11 threatens, will come from the curses written in Deuteronomy, "this covenant".  The words of "this covenant" will descend upon them.  It would not come from His covenant confirmed as of or before Exodus 24, but from "this covenant" (Jer 11:2), "this book" (Deu 29:27) and "this covenant" (Deu 29:9, 12, 14), which are the same.

So the positive connections indicate that the rather out of context phrase, "this covenant" is used because that immediately connects it with "this covenant" of Deuteronomy.  The designation of "this covenant" is not really out of context, because the other covenant from which it is distinct, is "My covenant" of verse 10. "This Covenant" of Jeremiah 11 is therefore not a covenant made as of Exodus 24, but is the same "this covenant" Moses defined in Deuteronomy.