Have you ever noticed there are things God cannot do? For example, “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18, NET). When we talk about serving a God who can do anything, what we really mean is that He has the power to accomplish anything He promises and to work things out which seem impossible to us.
The fact that there are some things God simply can’t do is reassuring when we look at what those things are. It isn’t just that God chooses not to lie–He can’t do it. Deception simply isn’t in His character. That means we can trust Him completely. When He makes a promise He’s going to keep it. He might adjust His plans in response to something we do (the way He delayed Nineveh’s destruction when the people repented) but He will never go back on His promises. One of the promises that He’ll never break involves the covenant relationships He establishes with people.
No Chance of God Forgetting
I’ve been writing about covenants again recently. I hadn’t planned to stay on this topic, but one verse read in a sermon last Sabbath caught my ear and got me digging deeper again. To get some context, this verse comes from Deuteronomy when Moses spoke to Israel before they entered the promised land. He recapped their journey so far, reminded them of times they’d disobeyed God, recalled military encounters, and spoke of Joshua taking over after his death. Then, he says, “Now, Israel, pay attention to the statutes and ordinances I am about to teach you, so that you might live and go on to enter and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you” (Deut. 4:1, NET). Now, he starts to remind them of the covenant promise they made.
Again, however, pay very careful attention, lest you forget the things you have seen and disregard them for the rest of your life; instead teach them to your children and grandchildren. … You approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, a mountain ablaze to the sky above it and yet dark with a thick cloud. Then the Lord spoke to you from the middle of the fire … he revealed to you the covenant he has commanded you to keep, the Ten Commandments, writing them on two stone tablets.Deuteronomy 4:9, 11-13, NET
Moses will recap this covenant as the book goes on, but first He talks about what will happen if Israel forsakes this covenant. If they break their relationship with God “and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be removed … you will surely be annihilated” (Deut. 4:25-26, NET). That’s a serious consequence, but it’s also not God’s final say in the matter.
In your distress when all these things happen to you in future days, if you return to the Lord your God and obey him (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them.Deuteronomy 4:30-31, NET
Notice the wording here: God “cannot forget the covenant.” Many translations say “will not” here, but the NET translators understand the Hebrew’s “imperfect verbal form to have an added nuance of capability here.” Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon say this Hebrew word lo means “no” or “not” in a way that’s an “absolute prohibition.” In other words, there’s no chance–not in a billion years or under any circumstances–that God could possibly forget His covenant.
What About Us?
That covers one side of the covenant. God’s not going to back out, break His promises, forget He’s in a relationship with us, or decide we’re not worth it. But we’re in this covenant, too. What about us?
You people of this generation,Jeremiah 2:31-32, NET
listen to the Lord’s message:
“Have I been like a wilderness to you, Israel?
Have I been like a dark and dangerous land to you?
Why then do you say, ‘We are free to wander.
We will not come to you anymore?’
Does a young woman forget to put on her jewels?
Does a bride forget to put on her bridal attire?
But my people have forgotten me
for more days than can even be counted.”
God knows we’re not perfect. We are capable of breaking covenants, going back on our word, forgetting Him, or letting our relationships slip down on our priority list. Forgetting God is an insane thing to do–like a bride forgetting to put on her wedding dress and not even noticing. But people still forget Him over and over. That’s why, in His mercy, God built in a way for us to come back into covenant with Him.
Let’s read Moses’s words one more time: “if you return to the Lord your God and obey him (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them” (Deut. 4:31, NET). Remember that, through Jesus, we inherit the covenants God made with Israel’s ancestors. This promise includes us today, and we can come back to covenant with Him if/when we stray by following the same steps: return and obey. When we do that, He covers up our covenant breaking with His abundant love, faithfulness, and grace. He’s incapable of abandoning His covenant, and He makes it so that we can be counted faithful too.
Keeping Covenant With God
Did you notice the sharp contrast between us and God here? He’s incapable of breaking covenant; humans have never been 100% faithful to Him. He’s committed to never walking away from us; people walk away from Him all the time. He’s holy and perfect; we’re fleshy and flawed.
A proper understanding of this contrast leads to an attitude we need in order to return to God and obey Him. We need humility. When we realize that our ability to keep covenant with God is a result of His mercy, there’s no room for feeling puffed up about ourselves. It’s His faithfulness that enables our faithfulness. When we have an understanding of how much we owe to Him and how highly He values us, it results in humility coupled with a sense of security.
For the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity,Isaiah 57:15, WEB
whose name is Holy, says:
“I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
While we do have obligations as participants in this covenant, we don’t have to be afraid that God will cut us off if we make a mistake. We just need to humbly recognize that we can’t do this on our own and accept the same thing God told Paul: “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9, NET). We’re all weak compared to God, and when we acknowledge that weakness it opens up opportunities for Him to work in us powerfully.
God highly values His covenant with us. He promises to live with us when we’re humble and trust Him. He doesn’t hold our weakness against us. Rather, He loves us so much that He died to take away the death penalty humans earned for covenant-breaking and welcomes us into His family with open arms. We can trust Him. We can love Him without fear. And we can keep covenant with Him even though we’re flawed knowing that, with Jesus, “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10, NET).
Featured image by WhoisliketheLord Studio from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher