We all interact with unreliable people. We are disappointed at times when someone fails to follow through on something they have agreed to do. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can’t be too hard on them, because we aren’t perfectly reliable ourselves. We’re all imperfect, falling short even when we do the best we can.
But when we enter a covenant relationship with God, we have a different experience. We receive promises from a perfectly reliable Being, someone who will never let us down and who will never fail to follow through. As He told Joseph Smith, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). He will not deviate from His promises.
Jeremiah teaches this principle vividly by pointing to natural processes which we take for granted most of the time: the motion of celestial objects and our predictable experience of day and night:
Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name:
If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.
Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.Jeremiah 31:35-37
In other words, if the sun stops rising every morning, like it has done your entire life, or if the moon and the stars don’t appear at night, then maybe you may have cause to doubt the promises I have made to you. The rising of the sun is a daily reminder of the constancy of God.
Two chapters later, Jeremiah makes the same point in different words:
Thus saith the Lord; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season;
Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers.
As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me.Jeremiah 33:20-22
In the first passage, Jeremiah refers to the motion of the sun, moon, and stars as “ordinances.” An ordinance is the process of setting something in order. (See “ordinance,” Online Etymology Dictionary.) Once God established the motion of those heavenly bodies, they became reliable. We can count on them behaving in a predictable way. In the second passage, He refers to day and night as His covenant with us. Likewise, when we participate in priesthood ordinances and make sacred covenants with Him, our relationship with God is set in order. He makes promises to us which He will not break. He is bound to fulfill them, just as the sun is bound to rise every morning and set every evening.
On very rare occasions as recorded in scripture, these cycles have been broken, at least from our perspective. Twice in the Old Testament, the day was lengthened miraculously (Joshua 10:12-14, 2 Kings 20:8-11; see also Habakkuk 3:11). When Jesus Christ was born, as prophesied by Samuel the Lamanite, a group of people on the American continent saw the sun set, but it remained light all night (3 Nephi 1:15-20, Helaman 14:3-6). Then, when He died, they experienced three days of darkness, which Samuel had also prophesied (3 Nephi 8:19-23, Helaman 14:20-27). Numerous prophets have told us that similar disruptions will occur before the Savior returns to earth. (See Isa. 13:10, Joel 2:31, Matt. 24:29, Doctrine and Covenants 29:14, 34:9, 45:42.)
But the sun didn’t actually stop rising, even though the Nephites couldn’t see it. After three days, the thick darkness disbursed, and they could see that the sun was still there (3 Nephi 10:9). They could relate to the Savior’s analogy when He appeared to them and used the sun as evidence of God’s reliability:”he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good” (3 Nephi 12:45).
Today, I will be grateful for a perfectly reliable God who is willing to make covenants with me and who has provided ordinances to order my relationship with Him. I will be grateful for the ordinances of sun, moon, and stars and for His covenant of day and night, which provide a daily reminder of His constancy.