Jeremiah | Our fickleness, God’s faithfulness

In our fickleness and faithlessness, God insists on renewing the relationship. (Listen.)

Who among us has never broken covenant? Who among us has been always and entirely faithful in thought, word and deed to family, to friend, to spouse, and to God? Who among us has kept every single aspect of our marriage vows, our baptismal vows, or our other significant promises? Who among us has meticulously observed all Ten Commandments? Who has always honoured the Sabbath, setting aside a whole day every week for neither working nor shopping, but only for worship, rest and play? Who among us has not once been jealous of our neighbour’s house or garden or car or life? Anyone?

The silence speaks truth: because breaking covenant is what we all do. And breaking covenant is how the prophet Jeremiah gave meaning to the invasion of his country. Because the people sinned, he preached, because they lived without justice or compassion, because they rejected the gift of Sabbath, because they were faithless, God sent invading armies to ‘pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil’ (Jer. 31:28). Houses were flattened; crops were burned; and bodies left lying in the streets. The elite were carted off to Babylon; refugees flooded into surrounding countries; and Jeremiah sought to make meaning of it all.

Yet even as he interpreted the devastation, the violence, the trauma as punishment for sin, he realized that one thing was constant. God was constant. The God who made covenant with the ancestors would persist with Israel through its faithlessness and beyond.

Perhaps you remember the covenant God made with Noah and his wife and family: a covenant bending a great bow away from the earth that promised God would never again do harm. Soon afterwards, the people sinned, and broke covenant with God; but God tried again.

Perhaps you remember the covenant God made with Abram and Sarai and all their descendants: and how, soon afterwards, the people sinned, and broke covenant with God; but God tried again.

Perhaps you remember the covenant God made with Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. The agreement was written in stone, and consisted of just ten commandments: yet even as Moses came down from the mountain, the people were worshipping their golden calf; indeed, they sinned, and broke covenant with God; but God tried again.

God made covenant with Saul, and David, and Solomon: one way or another they each were faithless; they each broke covenant; and God tried again. God made covenant through the prophets Isaiah and Hosea and Ezekiel; again and again, the people broke covenant: and God tried again.

Jeremiah saw the pattern and so, Israel’s time of terror and loss, he spoke it into a new generation. Yes, he said; the people had sinned, he said; but once again God would renew the relationship and make a new covenant with them. This covenant would not depend on carved tablets or written scrolls which could be smashed or stolen, desecrated or burned; nor would it depend on scholars, lawyers or priests who could be slaughtered or hauled into exile.

Instead, preached Jeremiah, this covenant would be written onto every person’s heart. It would be portable, invisible, egalitarian. The word of Torah would be made flesh, able to be embodied by every person, from the highest priest to the lowliest slave girl. And through this new covenant, the people would be brought into renewed relationship with God. In time, people and animals would be replanted in Israel and Judah; in time, the nation would be reborn.

Jeremiah was preaching six hundred years before Jesus walked the earth: but the word of God endures. It lives and speaks and continues to speak into new contexts, new cultures, new circumstances. And so, just as Jeremiah saw the pattern of God’s faithfulness and interpreted it for a generation, so do Gentiles hear Jeremiah’s words, and see parallels with the person of Jesus. For Jesus incarnates the God made known through Jeremiah’s preaching and many other Hebrew scriptures; and Jesus invites us into relationship with this God through a new and renewing covenant.

To be clear, this new covenant does not mean the former covenants are superseded, replaced or annulled. God is faithful, God is trustworthy: so the former covenants endure. As Christians, we must always remember that the gospel of salvation comes to the Jew first, and only then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16); as Jesus himself, a good Jew, says, “Salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22). As Gentiles, we are late arrivals, and it is only by grace that we have been adopted into the covenant and grafted onto the vine. It is only by grace that we share in God’s faithfulness to Israel.

But what faithfulness it is!

It’s the faithfulness in which God takes the initiative. God doesn’t wait for us to be faithful, nor does God wait for our repentance, or the turning around of our lives. Instead, God meets us where we’re at and simply offers Godself in enduring, loving relationship.

And God doesn’t cling to the hurt we’ve caused, the harm we’ve done, or all the times we’ve turned our backs on God or other people. God doesn’t measure us by our broken promises, our fickleness and failures. Instead, God chooses to forgive and forget, neutralizing our guilt and freeing us to live expansively into the new and renewing relationship.

And God is persistent. God’s been around for a while; God’s figured out by now that we will be faithless, that over and over we will break covenant with God and with each other; and yet, God keeps calling us into relationship. Indeed, Jeremiah preaches that God writes God’s word upon our hearts so that we can truly know God; as the prophet Ezekiel describes it, God takes our hearts of stone and gradually turns them into flesh, pulsing with life and love and longing for God.

Again and again, God makes a new covenant, a new beginning in an ancient and enduring relationship. Again and again, God reveals Godself through scripture and silence, through Christ and Country, through stranger, friend and enemy, and through the transformation of our hearts. Again and again, God works through the desolation of our lives, building and planting and renewing.

And as God works in us and we respond as a covenant people, we will be transformed. We will show each other the love and justice and mercy that God has already shown to us; we will reflect God’s gracious image to those around us; we will live into God’s good and hope-filled future.

Because despite our faithlessness, God insists: I will be your God and you will be my people. My word will be written on your hearts, and you shall know me fully. For I have forgiven your faithlessness; it is forgot (Jer. 31:33-34): and you are freed to live in newness and love. Thanks be to God. Ω

Reflect: How has God shown faithfulness to you? To us as a people? When in times of desolation have you seen new growth, new life, new possibilities?

A reflection by Alison Sampson on Jeremiah 31:27-34 (Year C Proper 24) given to Sanctuary on 16 October 2022 © Sanctuary 2022. Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash. Sanctuary is based on Peek Wurrung country; full acknowledgement here. This week, native bees have emerged and every nectar-rich flower is abuzz. The rivers are flooding; the main waterfall has become a great valley of water; and the vast sandbar at the river mouth has washed into the sea. The Hopkins River is now following its natural God-ordained course, rather than the narrow channel Europeans blasted out for it. Thanks be to God.


If this post stimulated your thinking or restored your equilibrium, why not share it on social media? And why not flick a double shot coffee our way, to support our ongoing thinking, writing and praying. We are a small young faith community seeking to revitalize tired faith. Your contribution helps keep us awake.


Comments are closed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: