God promises a new covenant.
The prophet uses metaphorical language for Israel of planting
and nurturing and caring in order to renew their spirits following
the time of testing. This language may also be used literally.
Remember John Steinbeck's book The Grapes of Wrath which
emanated from the dust bowl years of American? New planting
and tilling practices helped to alleviate farming's loss of
moisture which resulted in blowing earth pollution in those
days. The book highlighted the plight of the poor and marginalized
who always suffer most in climate change and resulting inability
to feed themselves.
G. Gibbs, PhD
God's purposes are not limited
to human beings, much less to "I, me, and myself."
Much as the interior health of mind and soul depends on consciousness
of God's presence as the creator/redeemer and healer (forgiver),
also our entire bodily existence depends on the constancy of
God's grace toward all creation. Truth to tell, so does our
spiritual life depend on the same reality. "Even more,
given the close interrelationship of human beings and environment,
only when the natural order has been healed will human salvation
be fully realized. (Terence Fretheim, God and World in
the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Abingdon,
2005), p. 194 (italics his).
Estrangement exists not only between individuals, and not only
between human communities, but also between humanity and the
creation. God's new covenant addresses all these alienations.
It places the nexus between humanity and cosmic totality on
as sure a footing as the nexus between the creation and God.
The Sinai covenant is made new and as sure as God's covenant
with Noah and all creation (Fretheim, p. 325n47). The resulting
change in human beings has "positive effects on the natural
order" (Fretheim, p. 196; cf. Ezekiel 36:29-36), and a
"covenant of peace" is made between humans and animals
(Ez. 34:25-29). Hosea 2:28-23, Amos 9:11-15, Isaiah 11:6-9 and
other texts describe the same phenomenon. Jeremiah's vision
of the new covenant likewise includes the creation.
That inclusion of the creation
is all the more remarkable and illuminating when we recall that
Jeremiah wrote for exiles who knew too well into the marrow
of their bones the terror that Jeremiah accurately portrayed,
and needed desperately the rugged hope he brought to them. "This
artifact of hope, this artifact of terror," as Louis Stulman
describes the book of Jeremiah, "may indeed be as urgent
today as it was for a refugee community living under the shadow
of empire in the sixth century B.C.E. It may also be as disconcerting,
especially for citizens of the empire." That's us.
(Stulman's article in Interpretation, vol. 62 #1, p.
19, italics his)
The following comments are a slightly revised version of my
meditation for Proper 25, Year B in the Creation Season of 2009
(elsewhere on this website). We remain focused on the covenant
formula which is given its most well-known expression in the
"new covenant" text Jeremiah 31-27-34.
First, there is no covenant without creation. That may not
at first be apparent when one recalls Jeremiah's oft-repeated
covenant formula: "And you shall be my people, and I will
be your God" (Jer. 30:22; cf. Jer.7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 31:1,
33; 32:38). That formula appears to be focused solely on the
relationship between humans and God. However, as the prophet
makes clear, we do not live in a vacuum. We live in the creation,
within the space/time continuum. That is where God's covenantal
promise is made. There in the creation is where covenant comes
to life, becomes visible, and finds expression.
This covenant formula also does not exist in a vacuum. The
formula's context spells out blessings that covenantal living
brings to the creation. Our receiving "a land flowing with
milk and honey" depends on our hearing and doing the words
of this covenant (Jer. 11:5; 32:22). The continued "goodness"
of the world for us (Gen. 1) depends on our looking forward
rather than backward, and walking "only in the way that
[God] commands" (7:23-24).
Second, to live otherwise is to become a curse not only to
ourselves but also to the places where we live (24:1-10). That
is when "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's
teeth are set on edge" (31:29). That is when (from God's
perspective): "my people have committed two evils: they
have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out
cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water"
Broken covenant leads to devastated ecology. When the people
"are foolish and do not know [God]," that is when
the whole earth is "waste and void" and there is "no
light" in the heavens (4:23). "Because of this the
earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black" (Jer.
4:28). Broken covenant leads to broken groaning creation (cf.
This "eerie vision of the
order of creation returning to primeval chaos" (4:23-28)
is not scientific fiction, for it is hauntingly redolent of,
among other things: "global economic policies that breed
resentment, rage, and abject despair"; "rapid depletion
of non-replaceable natural (and cultural) resources"; "limited
access to basic health care, adequate food, and safe water among
the world's most vulnerable communities" (Louis J. Stulman,
"Jeremiah as a Messenger of Hope in Crisis," Interpretation,
vol. 62 #1 (January 2008), p.6).
Third, on the other hand, covenantal living, as Jeremiah describes
it in his Book of Consolation (30:1-31:40), brings "grace
in the wilderness" (31:2), "vineyards on the mountains"
(31:5), peace and restoration "by brooks of water"
where God's people may walk "in a straight path in which
they shall not stumble" (31:9).
The "new covenant" (Jer. 31:31-34) brings a future-oriented
perspective on all creation, and on our life within it. The
repeated emphatic promises of renewed covenant foresee not only
the city Jerusalem rebuilt, but also the fields renewed to the
point of being "sacred" (Jer. 31:40). Toward that
end this prophet puts his money where is faith is. Even while
the Babylonian army has Jerusalem under siege, and the surrounding
territory occupied, Jeremiah buys a piece of land under the
occupation forces at Anatoth (Jer. 32). If ever there was a
future-oriented perspective, this is it. If ever there was hope
for the creation, this prophesy-in-action brings hope for both
people and land.
Fourth, renewal of covenant leads of necessity not only to
new life within the People of God, but also to renewal of land,
animals, plants - the whole ecosphere. When the law (or will)
of God is within us, on our hearts, then we become a blessing
to the entire ecosystem of which we are a part. There is a correspondence
between the "fixed order" of creation and the reliable
perdurance of God's covenant with us (and with "every living
creature of all flesh that is on the earth," Gen. 9:16).
We know that what God does with and for us endures, for we know
the "fixed order" of "the sun for light by day"
and "the moon and the stars for light by night" (Jer.
"Everlasting covenant" is the one hope for our planet.
When we leave behind the cracked cisterns of an inhumane globalization,
when we forsake capital gains at the expense of impoverished
people, when instead we build eco-justice in place of systemic
injustice, when we embrace the interconnected web of life and
rejoice in this God's gift to us, when we rejoice to be included
within "the offspring of Israel" (Jer. 31:36-37) -
that is when we become a blessing to all creation, and a recognizable
image of God. The promise is then fulfilled: "You shall
be my people, and I will be your God."
Jeremiah's Book of Consolation expects a future when humanity
shall live in "new-covenant"-loyalty toward both God
and the creation. As exiles long ago returned joyfully to their
native land, so humanity today can leave behind its dry broken
cisterns, and drink from the gushing fountain of flowing water.
If we do that, Jeremiah's expectation will be fulfilled, the
"remnant" will be saved (31:7), and yet again "a
shall return" to harmony with their
native land, "and they shall be radiant over the goodness
of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over
the young of the flock, and the herd; their life shall become
like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again"
(31:12). What a day it will be for the creation when the promise
is realized: "You shall be my people, and I will be your