A New Year Crowned with His Bounty
Read: Jeremiah 31:7-14
What comes to mind when you hear the word “promise?” Perhaps, like me, you think of promises you’ve kept…promises you’ve broken…promises others have kept…or promises they said they would keep and didn’t.
Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes wrote an article entitled “Controlling the Unpredictable—the Power of Promising.” He argues that we are largely who we become through making promises – and keeping them. Promise keeping is the means to freedom, he says, that when you make a promise with someone,
“…you have created a small sanctuary of trust within the jungle of unpredictability.”
I love that. And it seems like God is doing a similar thing in Jeremiah 31 when he makes fresh promises to his people. See, they come during a very dark and unpredictable time for Judah and for Israel, a time when they refused to listen to Jeremiah’s desperate and repetitive pleas to turn back to God (see chapters 1-29 of Jeremiah!). This eventually led to them being overtaken by their enemies and literally banished from living in their own land. They became exiles. Captives. Held as prisoners against their will in service to another enemy.
And it is at this point – when God’s people are living in captivity (of their own making) – where we get this fascinating interlude from God through the prophet Jeremiah speaking words of promise and hope to his people in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation.
Let’s spend a few moments taking a look at what these vivid promises are:
1. God promises… to gather them and bring them back from captivity (v8).
This word “gather” is often associated with a shepherd gathering up his lost sheep. And he makes it clear that it is not the strong and capable he will be gathering, but the blind…the lame…expectant mothers…women in labor. These are pictures of those are weak, vulnerable and helpless. God himself, like a great shepherd, promises to gather them up one by one and bring them back from captivity – not because they deserve it but because he loves them.
How often do we need to hear this promise – that it is nothing we do or deserve, but it is God’s love and initiative that compels him to save us and rescue us from our own places of captivity?
2. God promises…to turn them back to himself (v9).
Verse 9 says, “They will come weeping; they will pray as I bring them back.” There’s a timing to this. Not before, not after but as the Lord gathers them they will turn and pray. This is a beautiful picture of repentance.
It is interesting because for decades, Judah refused to turn back to their God despite all of the prophetic words of warning of the impending wrath and punishment that would come if they didn’t. It was only when God himself gathered them that they finally turn.
How often to we need to hear this promise – that even in our darkest times of feeling so far from God, even unable or unwilling to repent of our own sin – he already has a plan to rescue and restore us back to himself.
3. God promises…they will rejoice in and be filled once again with his bounty (vv 12, 14).
This promise of bounty is one of abundant provision. They will have all they need and all they have lost will be restored to them – grain, new wine, olive oil, flocks and herds. And not only that but they will be “like a well watered garden.” These are promises of both material and spiritual provision from a God whose sources never run dry.
How often do we need to hear this promise – that God knows our every need and has every intention of meeting it. Nothing is impossible for him.
For God’s people at the time Jeremiah was delivering this word, these were great promises of being rescued and restored to God’s bounty. But because it came while they were still captives living in sin, still exiled from their land and still far from God in their hearts, I can’t help but wonder how impossible it must have seemed to them and to Jeremiah even, that these things could actually come to pass one day.
I don’t know about you, but this resonates with me as I reflect on my own spiritual life. How easy it is to focus on the circumstances of our lives, especially our difficulties and troubles, our places of “captivity” and wonder: How could God EVER rescue, redeem and turn things around? It just doesn’t seem possible.
This week marks 2 years of my mom’s diagnosis of cancer. She is still undergoing treatment and we are all still enduring this trial along with her. If I am honest, I’ve had to wrestle with God’s promises in this season. Though I know in my heart and mind that God’s promises of healing and restoration are real and true, in reality it’s just…plain hard to trust sometimes. Isn’t it?
Maybe you can relate in some way in your own life. Where is it difficult for you to trust in God’s promises right now?
Just like the exiled Israelites, we are often called to wait—sometimes excruciatingly—in that period between when the promise is proclaimed…and when it is fulfilled. But the good news is that unlike the Israelites under the Old Covenant, we have something they didn’t have: Christ! I love it when Paul says to the Corinthians,
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”
It is in this this place of waiting…IN Christ…where we can cling to that “yes” to all the promises of God. And when we do, we are somehow given the grace to believe that they really will indeed come to pass… in his way and in his perfect timing.
So I ask: How might God want to awaken our hearts anew to his promises entering into this New Year?
Perhaps he is promising anew….to gather you (or or a loved one) up from that place of “captivity” – delivering you from that fear, worry, sin or sickness?
Perhaps he is promising anew… to help you (or a loved one) turn back to him from the far-off places of complacency, carelessness and distraction?
Perhaps he is promising you anew…abundant provision in that place of real need right now—relationally, spiritually or financially?
Whatever it is, let us be re-awakened this day to the awesome promises of God and let us rejoice that they never fade or fail but are ALL a big hearty “yes”…IN Christ! I pray that this New Year will indeed – perhaps in the most unexpected of ways – be a year, as the psalmist proclaims (65:11),
“…crowned with the bounty of the Lord.”