Last Sunday we talked about the time-honored Passover meal of our Jewish ancestors and specifically about the Passover meal on the night before our Lord died. We talked about how that specific meal became what we Christians now call the Last Supper but it also, and much more importantly, served God’s purposes for the institution of the long-awaited covenant yet to come, just as long promised in our OT. We talked about how Jesus had used the occasion of the Passover meal to institute the Meal we Christians now call the first Lord’s Supper, the very same meal we Christians have been now celebrating at least weekly for going on two thousand years.
More specifically, we talked a little about how that Lord’s Supper grew out of the promise of a covenant yet to come in the story of salvation history that we read about in the OT. That promise of another, final covenant yet to come is found primarily in Jm 31 2734 but it’s also found in Ek 36 1636 and in Zc – plus there are some earlier intimations of the new covenant found also in the Psalms. This new covenant promised in Jm was core to the understanding of every Jew before Jesus and it remains core to what every Christian believes since Jesus. [At least to most right-thinking Christians it does.]
And so it is that Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took the Passover meal and made it his own. Jesus remade this Passover meal into his meal, the Lord’s Supper. In doing so Jesus also stepped in as God can only do. Only God can make this kind of covenant is the biblical understanding, and that’s exactly what the fully human and fully divine Jesus did on the evening of that first Maundy Thursday. As only God could do, Jesus made the long-awaited, long-promised final covenant – known to the people of Israel as the heart-transforming new covenant. This covenant was inaugurated by the Lord in the midst of his disciples on that evening. Additionally, this same new covenant Jesus made then will become fully consummated when Jesus comes again in glory to judge both the living and the dead. Everything is a process! Then, when Jesus does come again, we’ll meet Jesus himself! As scripture says, the heavens and the earth will be joined and Jesus will come down to earth from his throne in heaven, and all of God’s people will celebrate the great banquet in the kingdom of God just as promised in Is 25.
That now said, Passover celebrates the time when the God of Israel rescued the Jewish people from Egypt. That was all well and good, but when you read the OT you quickly see that things never went right for the Israelites for too long. Sooner or later things were going to once again unravel. So the God of Israel, YHWH, promised the Israelites, the people he dearly loved, through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel that he would one day set them free in a new way. YHWH promised them another covenant, a new covenant, a final covenant in which he, God, would deal with their problems once for all, and in the process of making this new covenant God would also call the whole world to be his people! In other words, one day the God of the Jews was ultimately going to include all peoples, not just his “chosen people, the Jews” into his kingdom. Then, finally, God would again rule in his now fully completed kingdom just as he had in the Garden of Eden before the “fall” of Ge 3.
So then, how did we get to this point in the story in the first place?
background: the story behind the Story
VERY briefly, in the original Creation human beings were created to live forever in fellowship with God. But our humanity was fractured through the “Fall” of Ge 3. Following the “Fall” humanity still had the image of God at work in them which is why they still had the human wishes and loves and longings for fellowship with God and for fellowship with one another, for life and goodness and truth. But they had been fractured in the “Fall” and they needed a restored relationship with God. They needed forgiveness and life.
Following their Exodus from Egypt the Israelites had eventually taken possession of the land long promised to God’s people in the Abrahamic covenant of Ge 12 and 22. Later still and because Israel had turned from God, the story of Israel’s first Exodus had ended in disaster and judgment and ultimately in Exile to Babylon (597-587 to 537 BC). Jerusalem, including the temple, had been razed to the ground, never to be returned to by the Jewish people ever again. That’s how exiling people from their homeland worked in antiquity. Once you were gone due to exile, you were gone forever. But, as it would turn out for the Israelites, God had a different plan for them.
As such, just when it appeared that the biblical story had been reversed and had been brought to an end, you had again something key in the story, perhaps the key thing in the story, come back into the picture, God’s covenant love. Remember, that it was God’s covenant love that had led to the Abrahamic covenant in the first place. And remember that it was an unconditional covenant. At the core of this Abrahamic covenant was that all nations would be blessed through Abraham. It was, in fact, God’ love that led to his Creation in the first place. And, despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God’s covenant love was again triumphant here. God was still going to fulfill his promises.
Thus, we begin to have these wonderful promises of the prophets of something that Israel could never had envisioned. What could God do greater than the Exodus? The answer to that would be God’s ultimate fulfillment of his promises – a new Exodus.
In the throes of that disastrous Exile and through his prophets God then promised a coming climax and fulfillment of the biblical story through what the biblical authors referred to as a new Exodus. In other words, God, who had brought his people out of Egypt the first time, was going to bring them even more gloriously out of the slavery of Exile in Babylon, and God was going to accomplish this through what our OT described as a new Exodus. This was God’s central promise of a new Exodus.
As stunned as the Israelites would have been when they heard about this new Exodus, they would have known exactly what God was talking about. Of course, everybody knew that the prophets had promised that God would eventually make a new covenant with Israel, his people, just like God had done when he had brought them out of Egypt in the Exodus. Everybody knew that with this new covenant, this final covenant yet to come, that would be when God finally forgave Israel’s sins once and for all, redeeming Israel from all their troubles, giving them their final, everlasting freedom. Every Jew assembled there knew what their scriptures said in this regard. The faithful knew their scriptures backwards and forwards and they would have made the immediate connection to the old Exodus and what that meant for them with respect to their Babylonian Exile. In other words, what had never before happened in history – exiled people being allowed to return to their homeland – was going to happen to the Israelites, and it was going to happen with this new Exodus, and this new Exodus was going to begin with the people of Israel being set free from Babylon so that they could return to Jerusalem.
In fact, all the prophets had described this new Exodus as being transcendently greater than the old Exodus because, just as the old Exodus had involved a covenant with God (the Abrahamic covenant as augmented by the Mosaic covenant and the Davidic covenant), this new exodus was going to involve a new – and final – covenant with Israel, a new and final covenant in which God was going to forgive Israel’s sins and bring about a transformation whereby the Israelites’ hearts of stone would be made into hearts of flesh as we read about in Ek and Jm. The period of Jeremiah’s ministry was during the years 626-586 BCE while that of Ezekiel was during the years 593-571 BCE. You see how they both overlap the time of the Exile as it was beginning.
Additionally, this new covenant would be even greater than the covenant God had made with Abraham. Clearly, something greater than the Abrahamic covenant was dearly needed because in the covenant with Moses there had been the call to exclusive devotion to YHWH which should have been enough for the people of God. However, Israel had broken that covenant because their hearts had turned away from God. So the same problem that was present in the time of the “Fall” was now again present in this time of Exile. The people were no longer exclusively devoted to YHWH.
And so the faithful within the people of God asked what the solution was to be that would not only be the solution to Israel’s continuing waywardness but that would also ultimately be the very solution to the “Fall” itself? That solution was to be this new covenant in which their hearts would be forever transformed, the very same heart-transforming new covenant that we read about in Jm 31 and Ek 36. The heart-transforming new covenant is an amazing biblical concept and promise that is unique to the Bible. With God’s heart-transforming new covenant God would transform his people from within. God would transform their hearts to love and know him. And going along with that was this promise of the restoration of the Davidic kingship, a Davidic kingship that was going to be far greater than the original Davidic kingship, as all these things are. In other words, there would come this Davidic Messiah, this one ultimate Davidic king who would rule and reign on David’s throne forever. And this ultimate Davidic king would be a human who would live forever and so the people continued to ask, “How can this be? How can this be that a human king can live forever?” Stay tuned.
So the new Exodus would involve a new covenant. In fact, according to the prophets this new Exodus would also include much more such as the renewal of the whole created order. Not only would the hearts of God’s people be transformed and renewed but the whole of Creation was to be renewed and restored as well. And, the new Exodus would also include the resurrection of the dead as we see in Dn 12.
That new covenant was specifically described in Jm 31 and Ek 36 as transforming the hearts of God’s people. Further, that new covenant that God promised through the prophets would specifically involve the law. Now, the law was no longer going to be this external thing. Instead, it would be something written on their hearts so they would know it and follow it. As such theologians of our day and age refer to this final covenant as the heart-transforming new covenant. This is the same new covenant about which our Pastor speaks in our own Lord’s Supper liturgy where it is called the new testament in my blood. And it all was begun by our Lord long ago on the night before our Lord died for us.
historical / theological background
Throughout their history the people of Israel had been chafing under the oppression of the various evil empires surrounding them. They understood that the world in which they lived was enriched with good but that it was also pulsating with evil and tragedy. Still, in spite of the evil that pulsated around them, as creational monotheists they believed that God was in control (providential monotheism). And, they believed that their creator God would at last, one day and in God’s time, defeat and conquer evil and that the creator God would bring about his purposes for Creation. The faithful remnant always awaited and looked forward to the consummation of God’s divine project for the Creation that he loved, including most especially the pinnacle of that Creation, human beings whom he had created in his image and whom he had created to be stewards of his good Creation. The faithful always awaited the renewal and restoration of the whole created order.
They believed God would bring about his purposes for humanity through his people just as he had promised to Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant and as augmented by the Mosaic and Davidic covenants (covenental monotheism). The people of God believed that this one, true creator God had entered into a covenant with Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, and with the family of Abraham who would follow him, the Jewish people, in order to bring about God’s purposes for creation and the renewal of all things now broken in the “Fall” of Ge 3.
They believed God’s promise of a new covenant, a covenant not like the old covenant, but a new covenant in which the Spirit would be active, inspiring the prophets, empowering kings, illumining priests and dwelling in the temple. They believed that in this astounding promise of this new covenant to come, that the central glory and feature of this new covenant would be that God himself would come to dwell within his people in a new way, no longer in the temple – but in his people. This was and is the most important stream of expectation which courses its way through the OT: the coming of YHWH to Zion! They believed this promise of the new covenant would include the outpouring of the Spirit in the time of the new covenant. [Although most Christians don’t realize this, the promise of the Holy Spirit is a very big part of the OT story. This promise of the Holy Spirit is central to the story. For instance, see Jm 31 31-34; Ek 36 24-28, and Jl 2 28.]
Hence the people of God believed in the covenant, that this creator God was the God of Israel who covenanted with his people in order that he might through them bring about restoration of the entire cosmos, including humanity and the earth (eschatological monotheism). The people of God also, therefore, believed in eschatology. That is, they believed in fulfillment. Everything was moving toward a time of fulfillment. Eschatology. They had this linear understanding of history, not a circular or cyclical view as with all other religions and philosophies. They believed that history in human terms had begun with God’s good creation and that they were moving toward the time of God’s even better new creation. As such (moving forward in time for a moment), the Jewish people during the earthly time of Jesus, with one exception, universally still awaited God’s fulfillment of these promises of the new Exodus, the new covenant, the resurrection of the body, the renewal and restoration of all creation and the coming of YHWH to Zion.
So (moving back to the time of the Exile), another way of looking at the dilemma posed to the Israelites during this time of Exile was that they had “needs” to be fulfilled – JUST AS WE ALL NEED AS WELL!!!
1. They needed restoration of their relationship with God, to get back into fellowship with God, to love and know God.
2. They needed forgiveness. In other words, because they had become enemies of God in the “Fall” through human sin, they needed forgiveness, but they also needed to be turned from being enemies of God to be God’s friends.
3. They needed a transformed heart, the great promise of Jm 31 31-34 (the heart-transforming new covenant) that would come with God’s coming kingdom and reign. During this time Jeremiah had told them that there would be this new covenant and this transformed heart.
4. They needed the promise of victory over death. They needed liberation from death, to be freed from death so that they could have life, the way God had created humanity to be in Eden. In God’s original good creation people were not meant to die after so many years. They were meant to live forever with God.
So the Israelites had a condition and a need that meant they needed salvation, and the kind of salvation they needed would include restoration of their relationship with God; it would include forgiveness; it would include a transformed heart; and it would include the promise of victory over death.
According to Scripture God’s plan of salvation was to come to them, and us, in various ways. Restoring their broken relationship with God, their first need, would come through the new covenant. We know that in the new covenant that Jesus would transform the hearts of humanity to never again do anything but God’s will. We know that through his death and his suffering on the behalf of all people for all times – we know in doing this that Jesus had brought all people the forgiveness that was needed. So with Jesus, and what he had accomplished for humanity, people were no longer enemies of God. And we know that in raising Jesus from the dead that the great enemy, physical death, had now also been vanquished by Jesus. God’s original purposes for humanity, to be in everlasting loving relationship with God, had been accomplished and that, therefore, death would not have the last word but that life would – everlasting life in the consummated kingdom of God – forever and ever. The Incarnation. The death and resurrection. The Ascension. Through all of what Jesus accomplished for the humanity he had both created and redeemed, the Lord met humanity’s deepest human needs. This was that salvation that had come through the One who was incarnate as God and man – Jesus of Nazareth, and it had all come about through this atonement on the cross. Substitutionary atonement. Vicarious atonement. Not only was the Incarnation necessary but so also was the atonement on the cross, to bring us this new covenant and this new life.
That brings us full circle to the new covenant which was instituted by Jesus on the night before he died, which was further instituted (Remember that everything is a process.) in Jesus’ death and resurrection and which fulfilled God’s covenants with Abraham (Ge 12 1-3 and 17 1-8), with Moses (Dt 28-30) and with David (2 Sam 7 1-17).
So then, who was this Jeremiah fellow and what was he all about? While we actually know more about Jeremiah’s personal life and struggles than that of any other OT prophet, we’re not going to discuss that aspect of his ministry here today. Suffice it to say that his ministry began in 626 BC and lasted until 586. He was immediately preceded in his ministry by Zephaniah; he was a contemporary of Habakkuk and probably Obadiah as well; and he was a late contemporary of Ezekiel himself. Also, Jeremiah was commanded by the Lord not to marry and raise children because toward the end of his ministry the impending divine judgment was going to sweep away next generation. As one reads through the text we see that Jeremiah was primarily a prophet of doom and that he had few friends. In fact, Jeremiah was so often characterized by anguish of spirit that he has been long called the “weeping prophet.” But it’s also true that the conviction of his divine call and the Lord’s frequent affirmations of his commission as a prophet made Jeremiah fearless in the service of God.
Toward the end of Jeremiah’s lengthy ministry he was called by God to the unhappy task of announcing the destruction of the kingdom of Judah which had long since become thoroughly corrupted by the long and evil reign of Manasseh and which had only been superficially affected by the reform efforts of Josiah. God commissioned Jeremiah to proclaim God’s indictment against his people and to proclaim the end of an era. At long last God was about to inflict on the remnant of his people the ultimate covenental curse that we read about in Le 26 31-33 and Dt 28 49-68. God was going to undo all that he had done for them since the day he had brought them out of Egypt. It would then seem to the people that the end had come, that’s Israel’s stubborn and uncircumcised (unconsecreated) heart had sealed her final destiny, that God’s chosen people had been cast off, that all of the ancient promises and covenants had come to nothing.
Still, God’s judgment of his people and of the nations, though terrible, would not be the last word, the final work of God in history, as the people had thought. God’s mercy and covenental faithfulness would in the end triumph yet one more time. Beyond the judgment of Exile would come restoration and renewal. Israel would be restored and therefore nations who had crushed her would themselves be crushed in return. And the old covenants would be honored. As promised, God would make a new covenant with his people in which he would write his law on their hearts and thus again consecrate them into his service. The house of David would rule the people of God in righteousness and faithful priests would serve God and his people. The people would again see that God’s commitment to Israel’s redemption was as unfailing as was the secure order of Creation.
So it is that Jeremiah would in the end foretell the punishment of Israel that was at hand which would include the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the whole land, and which would include the Babylonian captivity (the Exile) and the punishment of all nations as well. At the same time Jeremiah would give comfort to the people of God in promising that a some definite time in the future, after the punishment was over, the people of God would be released and returned to their land and to Jerusalem.
The 52 chapters of Jm comprise the longest book in the Bible. Jm contains more words than any other book. And, the oracles of Jm are not arranged chronologically.
Also, from a human standpoint scholars are agreed that books like Jm would never have been preserved for us except that their prophecies had come true. The prophet Jeremiah who prophesied the Exile and destruction was universally ridiculed and hated in ancient Israel. He was viewed as a troublemaker and a subversive. But his predictions came true to the letter! He predicted Exile and destruction in great detail and they were fulfilled; that’s why his book was preserved. So his predictions came true and the people were taken into Exile ending in 587. Jerusalem was destroyed; the temple was left in ruins; the people were taken into Exile, never to return in the ancient understanding of exile; and the Davidic king was removed from his throne and taken into Exile in Babylon.
That introduction now aside, we come to the new covenant text of Jm.
Jm 31 27-34
27 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will plant the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the offspring of men and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. 29 “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ 30 Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes– his own teeth will be set on edge. 31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
vv 27-28 are a repeat of the promise of the new exodus which is related to and will involve the promise of the new covenant of vv 31-34. These are promises about what God is going to do for the future. So this sowing the house of Israel back in the land and this building and planting is the promise of the new exodus. In other words, this devastated land will be restored; the people who are gone will be brought back. YHWH promises human fertility and animal fertility. They will multiply in the land. This renewed fertility in the land holds out hope for the surviving people. And as we’ll see in v 31, it’s not just this new exodus event but it’s going to involve a new covenant as well.
We can already tell from the tenor of these passages that this new Exodus will not be like the old exodus. When the prophet talks with God about the new Exodus he reminds God about the old exodus. But the new Exodus will be infinitely greater than the old Exodus because it will include a key promise within the biblical story, something the biblical writers call the new covenant. Once introduced by Jeremiah, here for the first time, except for its intimations in the Psalms, the new covenant will become an important part of the prophets and of the OT. So we know that the OT looks forward to the new covenant. The new covenant will be the fulfillment.
new covenant overview
The phrase “new covenant” actually has the same meaning as “new testament.” NT means new covenant. The Greek word diaqh,kh which both Jm and our NT use translates as either covenant or testament in the English Bible. Some, therefore, incorrectly assume that the concept of the new covenant is obviously something theologians get from the NT itself and not in the OT. Actually, the new covenant is a crucial concept found in several places within the OT. Even though we see important new covenant language in out NT, the new covenant is a concept given birth to in our OT. In fact, it’s in the OT itself that God promises a new covenant as we read in Jm 31 31.
While there are several OT passages that point to the new covenant, Jm 31 is the clearest and most central of them all. Among Christians this famous new covenant passage vv 31-34 is probably the most well-known and yet most misunderstood passage from the little book of comfort (Jm 30-31) in Jm.
The LORD‘s new covenant here in vv 30-37 proclaims a new way of interacting within the restored family of God. And all of vv 31-34 fulfills the Abrahamic covenant. That is, the new covenant is contrasted with the old covenant (the Abrahamic covenant as augmented by the Mosaic and Davidic covenants), and the new covenant will be the fulfillment of the old covenant. This promise of the new covenant in Jm 31 has now been fulfilled in Jesus, more specifically in his institution of the new covenant on the night before he died and in his Incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension.
The new covenant, of course, does not cancel God’s Abrahamic covenant with Judaism in favor of future Christians. Christians, of course, place great meaning on this short passage, using its language to indicate that faith in Jesus is in continuity with God’s covenant with Israel. Be mindful that when Jm speaks of the new covenant, he is speaking of a renewed relationship between Israel and God. The prose passage here in Jm promises that in some future day God will make a new covenant that is different from the covenant God made at Mt. Sinai Ex 19 – Nu 11, the Mosaic covenant which the people broke. The people broke that covenant even though the Lord was their husband. This language again reaches back to the divorce between the Lord and his wife Israel.
The Judeans in Babylon blamed their Exile on their ancestors who had broken the covenant established at Sinai. Here, the prophet looks to a future day when the people can no longer make such a complaint. In contrast to Judah’s sin, which Jm described as “engraved on the tablet of their hearts” (17 1), the prophet envisions a future day when the law will be written “on their hearts” (31 33). Therefore, there will be no need to teach the law because God will write the holy law in their hearts. As such, knowledge of God and of God’s laws will be a gift from God, written on the heart as we see in Jm 31 31-34; Ps 46; and as discussed, in part, through intertextuality in our NT at, for example, Ro 3 19-28 and Jn 8 31-36.
Obviously, to know God in this way will be to have a direct and profound connection to God. Hence, forgiveness of sins – which as we read in v 34 is so complete as to be forgotten – forgiveness of sins is the motivating force for keeping the law.
34 … for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Notice that there are two parts to the new covenant:
1. the forgiveness of sins and
2. the heart transformation.
We experience both. The new covenant will bring this forgiveness and this heart transformation. [Both of these are discussed below.]
Therefore, vv 31-34 is the classic new covenant passage, the great promise of the new, heart-transforming covenant in which God would write his law on their hearts and which would change the hearts of God’s people to know and love God.
The new covenant actually makes the Abrahamic covenant come to pass for the first time. For the first time God will really be their God and they will really be his people because their hearts will be transformed because God is going to put this law on their hearts.
The language here is very similar to the language we see in the whole of Dt 30 and it has the same conceptuality. Both texts (Dt and here in Jm) are about this new, transformed heart which will make them keep God’s commands and to love and know God – which is itself the new covenant. Dt does not use the ‘new covenant’ phrase precisely but it uses all that language about the heart and about the renewal of the heart, etc. so this is the new covenant that is envisioned in Dt as well.
new covenant in the NT
This new covenant language of the OT is echoed all over the place in the NT. For instance, Paul echoes the language of this new covenant in Ro 7 6 where he tells us that this new covenant meant to transform the hearts of God’s people has now come about in Christ. That promise of the new covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus, in his Incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension.
6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
As such, in Paul’s understanding God’s people in Christ have ventured into this heart-transforming new covenant. Since God’s people in Christ have entered into this new covenant that was promised, that means they are therefore the true restored humanity.
So the new covenant has been fulfilled in Christ. Christ said in the Last Supper this is my blood of the covenant Mk 14 24. And Luke gives it to us this way: this is my blood of the new covenant in Lk 22 20. Therefore, Christ has clearly fulfilled that new covenant long promised in our Hebrew scriptures. Further, we Christians entered into that new covenant through our baptisms. Just as in the story behind the Story where the old Exodus and old covenant went together, just as God delivered his people from Egypt and made a covenant with them, so also in the ultimate story, the great climax of the story, the new Exodus and the new covenant go together. Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about the new Exodus and the new covenant, and we Christians entered into this new Exodus and new covenant through our own baptisms.
Another way the go together is in the fact that in the new Exodus we have been set free from our slavery to sin in order to be slaves to God through the transformed heart of the new covenant. That’s what Paul is saying in Ro 6 7 as cited just above. We are no longer to be slaves to sin but we – as the baptized children of God – we are to be slaves to our new life in the Spirit, the very same Spirit who came to us in our baptisms. That’s the biblical idea here Paul is trying to get across to us. Free from slavery to sin; free to be slaves in our new life in the Spirit.
Notice how this whole biblical story hangs together. These old and new testament scriptures, written by dozens of authors over the course of thousands of years, all cohere. They all hang together. This promise of God’s new covenant is there in our scriptures, and you have that no where else anywhere in any literature or philosophy or religion anywhere else in the world. This promise of the new covenant is something only God can do. Only God can transform the heart.
That’s this incredible promise in the story behind the Story and even more incredibly, it’s already been fulfilled in Christ. Further, we experience that promise when we live in Christ. We draw power from Jesus’ death and resurrection through our baptism, united with mysteries of the church – the Eucharist, etc.
Ro 6 3 Do you not know that whosoever of us were baptized into Christ Jesus into his death were baptized? 4 so we were buried with him through our baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the Father’s glory so we, too, in newness of life might walk. 5 for if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we also will be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection.
We live that new Exodus, that new covenant life in which our hearts are transformed anew and afresh each day through our baptisms.
Baptism excursus from Catechism class:
Think about this for a moment. It is a very hard teaching. [That’s why I’m trying to explain it from a few different angles.] When babies, children, or adults are brought to Baptism, they are “put to death,” as Paul wrote in Ro 6 34. Through Baptism people die to their old sinful selves so that they may enter into the same resurrection that waited for Jesus on the other side of his death. Baptism is the death of the old life, and resurrection is the birth of the new life in Christ.
Every day the old Adam is to be drowned by daily contrition (being sorry for our sins) and by repentance (through faith) by which we resist and overcome evil desires.
Repentance is burial and forgiveness is rebirth according to Luther. In Holy Baptism our gracious heavenly Father liberates us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of a fallen humanity; then, in the waters of Baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life. By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the Church which is the body of Christ. As we live with him and with his people, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.
Lk 9 23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.
Ga 5 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
That is why Luther insisted that Baptism is something to be renewed and experienced every day. Day after day Christians are called on to enter into the death of Jesus through repentance, the process of recognizing sin, sorrowing over it, and seeking God’s forgiveness. Christians do this in the confidence that beyond repentance there waits resurrection, the experience of renewed life in the consummated kingdom of God!
Out of this comes the new man (the new humanity) which is the new spiritual life and nature which has been created in us by this washing of rebirth, in “the washing of regeneration.”
2 Cor 5 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;
The old Adam still lives in us but baptism creates a new person in us, a new heart which urges us to live in God’s commandments. Once we are a baptized child of God, it must be our daily care to let this new person in us rule our lives completely and to grow more and more in righteousness and in holiness. While it’s true that we will not succeed in leading altogether sinless lives until the consummation of the age at Jesus’ second coming, nevertheless, it must be our aim to be perfect as Jesus was perfect. In fact, in this regard we have these words from Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount: Mt 5 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
When Luther here talks about the old Adam being drowned and put to death and the new person rising in his place, he has in mind the picture of a person being baptized by immersion. For Luther the going down into the water and then the rising again out of the water signified – that is, served as an illustration – that it is the duty of every baptized Christian to daily put sin to death and to rise to a new and God-pleasing life. Luther began each day with the sign of the cross remembering his baptism as a forgiven child of God – along with his other prayers and readings.
It’s almost as if Luther was saying, “I’m a forgiven child of God; I have to, I must live my life that way!”
Out of all this the new person emerges and arises as we daily live and grow (progressive sanctification) before God in true faith and in doing good works.
Ep 4 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
In all of this, Baptism indicates the daily drowning of the old Adam and the emergence of the new person. It does this because by baptism we have been made to share in Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as Jesus was buried in sin (our sin, the sin of humanity), so we too can and must daily overcome and bury sin. Further, just as Jesus is risen from the dead and lives, enthroned at the right hand of the Father, so also we too can and must daily live a new life in him.
Ro 6 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Christians can hold to this new life even amidst all the trouble, trials, pain, and death of this world. Baptism into Christ does not remove us from this world; indeed, we die to it. For Christians, life moves from death to birth, from repentance to renewal, from Baptism into the death of Christ, from a date remembered to participation in his resurrection on a day yet to come.
Further, it’s with the words in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit that we regularly remember our baptism. These words come from Jesus’ original baptismal command of Mt 28 19. These words were central to the original baptismal creeds and are also known as the Trinitarian Invocation. Every time we repeat these words, whether by ourselves or in church, we recall, we claim and we confess before heaven, earth and hell everything that God the Holy Trinity has given to us in our baptisms.
Mt 28 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Ro 8 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Remember that in Ro 8 Paul is talking about the new creation that awaits all of the first creation, marred through sin, and us, humanity, the epitome of that first creation.
We also see another expression of the trinitarian nature of the Godhead at Lk 3 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Here Luke tells us of these three persons of the blessed Trinity who had revealed themselves at the baptism of our Lord.
Of course, our identity as a child of God is given in baptism where we are marked with the sign of the cross. Therefore, whenever the name of the Trinity is invoked, both in church and in our private prayer lives, it is right to accompany it by the sign of the cross, the very same sign made at our baptisms on our foreheads and hearts, the very same sign which marked us out as children of God now redeemed by Christ the crucified. It serves as a most powerful reminder of Jesus’ love for us and what he was willing to endure on our behalf. It marks us out as children of the Father.
*** end of excursus
As with most aspects of our OT story, even the new covenant is itself a process unfolding throughout the old and new testaments. For instance, it’s a process in the sense that the new covenant will not be fully fulfilled until Christ’s second coming, when we stand before Christ, fully perfected, no longer struggling with sin. Then the new covenant will be fully perfected. The process will have come to consummation.
Still, even now, we have already entered into the new covenant now with Christ and in Christ and through Christ in our baptisms. Even when we struggle with sins – sometimes we’ll feel very spiritually downtrodden and low because we are struggling with sin – even when we struggle with sin, that means the new covenant and the power of Christ is at work in us because, otherwise, we wouldn’t be struggling with sin!!! If Christ were not at work within us, we wouldn’t be having the struggle with sin. We struggle because it is Christ in us struggling against sin.
That’s what the participation in Christ is all about; that’s what sanctification is all about. The new covenant is this heart-changing, heart-transforming event that transforms God’s people as human beings. This is one of the great aspects of this new covenant hope that we learn about in the prophets in the OT. In fact, theologians / scholars would sum up the hope expressed in this passage as the hope of the new covenant.
So we continue to pile up key themes in the OT, crucial themes within this Jewish framework – in this case this theme of the new exodus, the coming of YHWH to Zion and now the new covenant.
Jm 31 31 behold, the days are coming (on the way) declares YHWH when I make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 … not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt [in the old Exodus]. They broke my covenant although I was their husband declares YHWH. 33 this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel in time (days) to come, declares YHWH. I will put my law (word) within them and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they will be my people. 34 no longer will each one teach their neighbor and each one their brother saying, “Know YHWH,” for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them,” declares YHWH; and I will forgive their sins (rebellion) and their inequity (sins) I will remember no longer.
v 31 behold, the days are coming (on the way) declares YHWH when I make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
We’re in the time of the old covenant when we first have the promise of a new covenant. This heart-transforming new covenant is a promise given in the time of the old covenant but it’s for the time of fulfillment. For instance, we see that fulfillment in our NT at various places such as He 9 15. Here in this text the prophet Jeremiah addresses that ongoing, unfinished story that is going to be fulfilled in the future. This is not something from Jm’s time but something God is promising through Jeremiah for the future. This is about the eschatological hope of when God’s kingdom will come. Always remember, the OT is all about eschatology; it’s what God is doing and going to do for Israel – and the world – as history moves relentlessly toward the time of its consummation in the second coming of Christ. That’s what was playing itself out in the time of Jeremiah, and that’s what continues to play itself out in our time. God’s divine drama. And we’re on stage in that divine drama.
In fact, this new covenant is going to address a basic need of Israel, and of all humanity, as it answers a question. You see, we have this divine problem. God had called the people Israel to himself. God had made them a people and God had brought them into the land. God had dwelled among them as their God. Yet, despite all the blessings and the nearness of God, the peoples’ hearts turned away from God so that they could worship other gods. The people were not faithful to the Lord. The people forsook their marriage covenant with God is the biblical idea. They committed spiritual adultery through their idolatry of other gods.
Now, just as a marriage cannot continue if one partner is unfaithful, so also God cannot be Israel’s God if they will not be his people. So the Exile inexorably followed. It was then that God revealed more of the divine drama with the new Exodus, God’s wondrous promise of salvation.
Still, what is to keep Israel from doing the same thing all over again? How could God save and deliver a people and bring about the new Exodus for people whose hearts were constantly turning away from him anyway? What good was this law of Moses which said they were to be exclusively devoted to God, if the hearts of the Israelites kept turning from the law of Moses? It’s in that context that we are to read that God will answer this seemingly insoluble problem with this astounding biblical concept of the new covenant.
house of Israel and the house of Judah
In the time of Solomon and Naamah’s son Rehoboam, the kingdom was split between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Rehoboam was the last king of the united monarchy of David and Solomon, and the first ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah after the northern tribes made Jeroboam I their king.
v 32 … not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt [in the old Exodus]. They broke my covenant although I was their husband declares YHWH.
The new covenant won’t be like the covenant under Moses which followed the old Exodus. In the Mosaic covenant Israel was given the Torah – God’s law, God’s revelation and teaching of himself – which told them how to live in relationship with God and one another. How could it have been more wonderful than that? All they had to do was follow the recipe! And then came the “Fall” and eventually Egypt. Then with the (old) Exodus you had the threefold act of redemption with
1. the Exodus itself from Egypt, then you had
2. the fulfilling of the Abrahamic covenant – along with the giving of the law of Moses (the Mosaic covenant) – and then you had
3. the giving of the land.
So with the (old) Exodus the people had been given the Mosaic covenant. Therefore, if you were going to have a new Exodus, it was only logical – within this biblical framework – that you would have a new covenant. In other words, the old Exodus had its covenants so the new Exodus would have its covenant, the new covenant.
So YHWH was here promising this new covenant through his prophet Jeremiah but this new covenant was going to be very different. The new covenant would not be like the old covenant. The new covenant would not simply be a reaffirmation or a confirmation of the old covenant but it was instead going to be something very new. But how so? How would the new covenant be different from the old covenant? From our reading of the scriptures we know that:
With this promise of a new covenant, God would heal and transform the hearts of his people.
Human slavery to sin would be removed. Human beings would no longer be enslaved to sin; they would do God’s will willingly from their hearts. Theologians call this divine synergy in which the heart is now transformed to follow, worship and serve God. Divine synergy means working together with God so that no longer is it like the old covenant in which God gives commands to an unwilling heart. Instead, in the time of the new covenant it will be Christ giving his commands to a willing heart that wants to do the will of God. In the time of the new covenant it will be people of faith working together with the will of God. Divine synergy is the great truth that results from the new covenant.
The OT prophets had promised this, and it had all been fulfilled for us, now, in Christ. So we now had this healing and transformation of the heart; we had been changed by Christ so that we were no longer enslaved to sin; we had this divine synergy working together, joyfully, with the will of God. However, the people still needed forgiveness. So what was new here with respect to sin with this new covenant? Remember, they had forgiveness in the old covenant too. So what was new about the new covenant with respect to the forgiveness of sins?
Under the old covenant forgiveness was accomplished by doing the Levitical sacrifices over and over. In the biblical understanding of these sacrifices we are to understand that these sacrifices were, therefore, not full and complete because you had to do them over and over. Therefore, the forgiveness of sins was never full and complete. However, the OT sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins always pointed forward to the time when there would be this one, final sacrifice for all people of all times and places. The OT sacrifices always pointed forward to the time of an ultimate sacrifice, once and for all. So in this new covenant as we see in v 34 we have this full and perfect forgiveness. God will not remember their sins any longer.
So we see that the new covenant addresses the deepest needs of humanity. Humanity has this need that their hearts need to be transformed. Humanity has this need that their consciences must be set at rest by true, full forgiveness. The text tells us this new covenant that Jeremiah promises was to meet all of these needs.
Of course, the Abrahamic covenant was the basis for the whole new covenant! The new covenant was not something made to replace the Abrahamic covenant but the new covenant was the way the Abrahamic covenant was to reach it’s full fulfillment of this covenantal relationship between God and his people. The law given through Moses – the old covenant – was supposed to confirm that Abrahamic covenant but there was a breakdown which we read about here in v 32. The law of Moses was not a mistaken thing to have been given to the people through Moses, but the old covenant did not work because the people kept violating their covenantal relationship with God through spiritual adultery. The law was not the problem; the people were the problem. The law said you must love and follow the LORD and reflect that fully in your life, and, quite simply, the people did not do that.
That is why the old covenant was not enough and why the new covenant would do something the law of Moses could never do. That’s why God had to promise a new covenant. Within the context of the story behind the Story we’ve talked about why this new covenant was needed following the fall of Ge 3 at which time humanity was separated from God and had become enemies of God.
1. The need of the people was therefore for a restored relationship with God which was exactly what the new covenant brought, a restored relationship with God. Israel was in Exile because they had turned from their God due to idolatry. This heart-transforming new covenant would get at the root of humanity’s problem and separation from God.
2. Because the people were enemies of God they also needed forgiveness. I will forgive their sins and remember their sins no more v 34 below.
3. The need of the people was also for a healed, changed, transformed heart, to be renewed and transformed from within which is exactly what this heart-transforming new covenant does. From v 33 below: I will put my law (word, revelation, commandment) within them and I will write it on their hearts; …
4. The peopley needed the promise of victory over death. They needed liberation from death, to be freed from death so that they could have life, the way God had created humanity to be in Eden. In God’s original good creation people were not meant to die after so many years. They were meant to live forever with God.
So this new covenant would transform the human heart so that it would turn back to God, and all of this would be done through the Holy Spirit which we also read about in Ek 36 24-28.
This was an astounding promise of a heart-transforming new covenant that only God could do and which itself restored humanity’s relationship with God. It was God’s promise to change the human heart, to heal the human heart, to transform the human heart. This, of course, went to the heart of the dilemma stemming from Ge 3. At the core of the “Fall” was and is human hearts turning from God. In the biblical understanding of these matters, the sin, misery and sorrow we see in the world is all about human hearts turned from God. So this is really the ultimate promise that God himself will bring – that of a healing and a transformation of the heart. The old covenant did not bring that which is why it didn’t “take.” The old covenant was God being faithful to Israel and telling Israel of his ways but Israel had an untransformed heart. The problem was not with God but with Israel. So with this promise of a new covenant, God would heal and transform the hearts of his people.
Covenant is a most important biblical theme in the OT, this concept that the relationship between God and his people is a marriage, a relationship between husband and wife, and like a marriage it requires mutual faithfulness. God had been their faithful husband but the people had turned from God. This concept of covenant was not expressed in any other ancient or modern text of a religious or philosophical bent, of whatever nature. It was unique to the Bible. The law said Israel was to be faithful to God. You shall have no other gods except me (Ex 20 3). Israel, because of the problem with their hearts, strayed repeatedly from God and broke the covenant; she committed spiritual adultery. Although God was their faithful husband, Israel was unfaithful and turned from God and broke his covenant. In other words, it was not that there was anything wrong with the old covenant itself; it was that Israel kept breaking the covenant with her evil and sin.
We see a good example of this in Ho where God actually calls Hosea to marry a woman who is going to become unfaithful to him. God, of course, knew this. Hosea was to serve as a living sort of dramatization of Israel’s relationship with God.
A marriage, of course, takes two in faithful relationship with one another; you cannot have a marriage in which only one is faithful. They both have to be faithful. That’s where the covenant broke down. God was their faithful husband but Israel was unfaithful.
So a covenant which they broke was the central problem with the old covenant. The old covenant was this covenant through the Ten Commandments calling the people of Israel to faith and holiness but their hearts were not transformed. So they broke the covenant. The new covenant, on the other hand, would bring a transformed heart so that the holiness to which God called his people could be realized, so that God’s people could never stray again.
Hence, it was Israel’s unfaithfulness to God that led to a new covenant. But how can there be a covenant between God and Israel, if Israel always turned away? Who was to say that Israel wouldn’t turn away again in the new covenant God was making? In other words, Israel breaking the old covenant raised the question, “Even if God through his grace and mercy were to overlook to forgive their sin in breaking the old covenant, what was to stop Israel from breaking it again and again and again?” The answer to these questions was this new covenant. In fact, that’s what the whole of the OT story is about. Israel kept breaking the covenant and God kept redeeming them. On the other hand, this new covenant would be entirely different from the old covenant as we see with the words not like the covenant which I made with their fathers.
That was the dilemma Jeremiah was addressing here. However, this dilemma was an even bigger problem than that because Israel mirrored the problem of all humanity, the problem of idolatry. What is to be done? They had this theological problem. A covenant between God and his people required two sides to be faithful but Israel has shown herself to be continually unfaithful. In fact, that’s what brought about the Exile in the first place. How could there even be a new covenant in which the same thing wouldn’t happen again? Hence, we get this simply revolutionary new concept here which we had not seen in the Bible before, this concept of a new covenant that would solve the problem of Israel constantly going astray from God. The new covenant is a concept found only in the Bible, and here it’s a promise God made through Jeremiah that we read about in vv 33-34.
v 33 this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel in time (days) to come, declares YHWH. I will put my law (word) within them and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they will be my people.
God was promising to do something miraculous for Israel. God was promising to make a (new) covenant (in the future) that would be a covenant that transformed the peoples’ hearts. Their hearts were to be transformed. Therefore, God would truly be united with his people, and they would truly be his people, and he would truly be their God. This would be something internal, in the heart.
In this verse law is an inadequate translation of the Hebrew word Torah which should be instead translated as instruction, teaching, revelation. Torah really means God’s whole revelation and truth and glory and goodness for life. Following the old Exodus God gave them his law. God gave them his Torah on Mt. Sinai. They were to be exclusively devoted to and worship only God. They were to express that in their lives by following all of the commandments of God. But Israel turned from all of that.
This new covenant of v 31 was to go together with the new Exodus. So we ask what exactly was new that was being promised in this new covenant that would be different from the old covenant? It would still be the same God requiring his people to be righteous and holy and to serve him only. Although all of that was to continue to be the same, there still was to be something new.
With the covenant formula (from the Abrahamic covenant) of I will be your God and you will be my people this new covenant was to bring about the covenantal relationship that was promised in the Abrahamic covenant. They were to be in relationship with the living, creator God. Hence, the new covenant actually made the Abrahamic covenant come to pass for the first time. For the first time God would really be their God and they would be his people because their hearts were to be transformed from within because God was going to put his law on their hearts. God would transform their hearts from within to know and love God so that they could be his covenant people. God would transform their hearts so that they could really keep God’s law and know and love God.
The unique promise here was that while the old covenant was written on tablets of stone, the new covenant was to be written on their hearts from within. This is what the new covenant did that the old covenant didn’t do. The new covenant was therefore an incredible heart-transforming covenant. This almighty creator God was not only going to give a covenant that Israel’s hearts should follow; he was going to transform their hearts to follow the covenant. He was actually going to reach into the depths of the human heart and transform it is the biblical understanding here. God would put his law within them. By way of comparison, the law of Moses had come from without and said know the LORD. The new covenant, however, would work from within and would change from within the heart to know the LORD. The new covenant would be a divine transforming act that would transform the hearts of the Israelites.
This problem of the heart turned away from God went all the way back to the fall of Ge 3 where humanity rebelled and disconnected itself from God and idolatry ensued. Adam and Eve had been tempted by Satan with Satan’s words: you shall be as God knowing good and evil (Ge 3 5). Thus, instead of knowing and loving God they had turned from God. So idolatry was at the heart of the biblical story, this tragic story of Exile in which Israel had turned from God. And idolatry was at the heart of humanity’s story as well.
Within the biblical framework there is this claim that “people are made to run on God” just like a light bulb runs on electricity. Since the people had been made in the image of God and had now separated themselves from God, therefore, their humanity had self-destructed is the biblical idea here. Hence, within that larger biblical framework humanity needed this transformed heart. Therefore, the new covenant was God’s divine answer to the need of humanity, both Israel and the nations, for a transformed heart, a heart that would truly know and love God.
So Jeremiah said the new Exodus would be infinitely greater than the old Exodus because it would include a key promise within the biblical story, something the biblical writers call the new covenant. It would be greater in every way. This coming climax and fulfillment of the biblical story was going to involve the restoration of the Davidic kingship and the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. To see all about that see Is 11 1-10.
This new covenant, therefore, was this incredible promise that not only solved Israel’s problem but it solved humanity’s problem as well. Therefore, this new covenant addressed Israel’s deepest need, her unfaithfulness, but it also addressed the larger cosmic problem of all humanity’s hearts turned from God. That is, while it’s not explicit in this passage, the new covenant would be not only for Israel but for all the nations, something which we understand through in other passages. When God’s kingdom comes, all nations would be included in the worship of the one, true God – just as it had been promised in the Abrahamic covenant.
The new covenant also points forward to God’s purposes for creation, the renewal / restoration of all creation, something we’ll read next about in Is 25.
v 34 no longer will each one teach their neighbor and each one their brother saying, “Know YHWH,” for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them,” declares YHWH; and I will forgive their sins (rebellion) and their inequity (sins) I will remember no longer.
No longer shall they teach one another,
In other words, God is going to directly teach the people so that their hearts are transformed so that they live this highest righteous, holy way. We’re dealing with the same heart problem that was put in place since Ge 3 onward when people’s hearts turned away from God in the “Fall”. Other texts in Jm and Ek actually talk about God teaching his people, as do NT texts. No where else in Hellenistic pagan thought do we see this. There is nothing like this anywhere. For instance, Aristotle never talks about people’s hearts being transformed by direct instruction by the divine. This is very much a Jewish thought coming from passages like Jm 31.
This is what lies behind this whole tradition in Paul’s letters where he says, for example, to the Thessalonians in 1 Th 4 9 concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you have no need for me to write to you for God himself teaches you to love one another. Paul’s words are part of the whole tradition of the new covenant in which this promise of God – who teaches people in the time of fulfillment – has now come.
However, notice the difference between Jm and Tt 2 12. See notes there. Jm says the new covenant is coming while the writer of Tt says the new covenant has now come v 11. This fits right in with this whole fulfillment idea – the new exodus and the coming of YHWH have come and as one would expect, the new covenant has also come.
These vv from Jm are another expression of the expectation of the new covenant. When this new covenant happens the covenant formula of the Abrahamic covenant will really come true. We see the covenant formula of the Abrahamic covenant being fulfilled in the new covenant. The covenant formula that God had made with Abraham had been broken and it had not worked because Israel had been unfaithful. When the new covenant comes about, the covenant formula will really be true: I will be their God and they will be my people. In the time of the new covenant God himself will teach his people; God himself will transform their hearts himself so that they will love him and know him. That will bring about the true fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant and the included covenant formula of you will be my people and I will be your God.
[This is never spoken about in Scripture as though the new Exodus and new covenant are canceling out the old. Instead, it’s always spoken about in terms that the new covenant is bringing the old covenant and its promises to fulfillment. It’s bringing the promises of the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants to fulfillment. It’s the new covenant which tells us about Jesus’ identity, that he is God. See Mt 26 28 notes.] —
Notice God has promised in this new covenant to transform their hearts so that they know him because this is going to bring a transformation of Israel. It’s going to be God writing the law within the heart. We get this incredible promise of a transformed heart. Ek 36 26 also talks about taking their hearts of stone and making them into flesh.
This is an incredible promise that this covenant is going to be internalized in God’s people by this miraculous activity of God in such a way that the commandments become internalized so that their hearts will be transformed, so that God’s people will do the will of God from the heart. Israel will know God from the heart and no more stray from God as in the past. All who fall under the new covenant, us, will do so as well. So the biblical understanding here is that the new covenant does not take the law away from the people but that YHWH will write it on their hearts. God’s law will be internalized in the hearts of all believers. This is truly an incredibly revolutionary claim being made here.
And that, within the new covenant passages in the OT and as noted previously, that was the problem with the old covenant. It wasn’t that the law or God were the problem; it’s that the people of Israel always turned from God. This new covenant was to change that by transforming God’s people’s hearts so that they love and know him and serve him. It’s an incredible, miraculous, supernatural sort of thing, something that reaches down into the depths of human beings. That’s what this new covenant is all about.
Know the LORD
know YHWH know y d ´ is the relational word in Hebrew which means to know personally. It’s like the word that was used in Ge that Adam knew Eve his wife. It’s not intellectual knowledge but it’s knowing and loving God personally. They won’t have to do that anymore; they won’t have to say, “know YHWH” …
You can now see why this new exodus is something like the old Exodus in which God is going to bring them into the land and restore them. But the new exodus is something totally new and more encompassing because it involves this new covenant which will turn Israel to God from the heart forever. Notice also that this will not only solve the problem of Israel which is a microcosm of the larger problem that occurs with the fall – the problem of human rebellion in which humanity turned against God and therefore turned creation upside down. This new covenant solves that dilemma with God giving a new heart to the people. But this new covenant also solves that problem for all of humanity.
Therefore, now at last the covenant formula of the Abrahamic covenant can be really fulfilled. I shall be their God and they shall be my people. That is the same covenant formula Jeremiah included above in v 33. The new covenant will finally make the covenant – and its covenant formula – work because now Israel will be part of the covenant because God will transform their hearts to know him. So the people of God won’t have to say it and teach each other anymore, saying, “Know YHWH.” They will all know him from the least to the greatest.
So what makes this new covenant new is that God is not only going to fulfill his part of the bargain but God is going to fulfill Israel’s part, too. God fulfills Israel’s part by transforming their hearts so that they can fulfill their part of the covenant.
forgiveness of sins
Notice that the new covenant climaxes with this promise of forgiveness of sins which goes along with the new covenant. In the OT we have this concept in this fulfillment time of an eschatological turning of Israel to God and an eschatological forgiveness of sins. [To see more about this turn to Ek 36 24-27. See also Mi 7 18-20.] The new covenant not only brings this new transformed humanity with a new transformed heart but the new covenant also brings this full and perfect forgiveness of sins that Jeremiah cites here in v 34. The two go together. We receive forgiveness of sins through all the mysteries of the church – in baptism, in the Supper – in rich ways over and over. It’s as though God can’t tell us in too many ways that he’s forgiven our sins.