THE BOOK OF CONSOLATION Part 2
A NEW COVENANT
Chapters 30 through 33are sometimes called the Book of Consolation. After speaking of punishment and exile for the previous chapters, God gave Jeremiah the message of hope for Israel after the end of the exile and beyond.
We have noted that the Book of Consolation has four parts:
1. God will restore the nation (30);
2. God will make a new covenant with Israel (31);
3. God will bring Israel back to the Promised Land (32); and
4. God will honor the Davidic covenant (33).
Today we will concentrate on chapter 31, verses 27-40 as they deal with the prophecy of the new covenant.
Within this passage there are three sections, each marked by the words “behold the days are coming” in verses 27, 31 and 38. If you have the New International Version, you might miss this because it omits the word “behold” and uses “days” in two verses and “time” in another. The English Standard Version, New American Standard, Kings James Version, New King James Version and Revised Standard version all use the phrase “behold the days are coming”. We will look at the passage by looking at these three sections.
A New Start
These verses continue the thought of God’s restoration of Israel. In verse 7, God says he will enlarge the population of Israel. He will increase both people and animals, such as livestock. The land will be repopulated.
It was always God’s desire for mankind to increase over the earth. He continually said to be fruitful and multiply. He recognized that men and women could not exercise dominion over the land unless there were a sufficient number of them. That is why he gave Canaan to them in stages, so that the animals would not overrun them where they were sparsely populated. A modern example of this is where Indian villages are attacked by tigers or African suburbs are attacked by families of baboons.
But expansion of the population was also a sign of God’s blessing and of prosperity. Verse 28 bears this out as God says he will turn from tearing them down to building them up. It will be a new start.
Verse 29 deals with a Jewish proverb that God disapproves. The proverb said that when a father ate sour grapes, his children’s teeth were set on edge. It means God punishes children for the sins of the fathers. There is a sense that this was said to imply that God was unjust for punishing Israel for sins of a past generation. Of course, they ignored the fact that the present generation sinned as well.
God made a statement about this proverb in more detail in Ezekiel 18:1-4. He makes clear that an individual is responsible for his sins. We know God deals with people corporately. He made a covenant with Israel as a nation. But the individual covenant members had to keep the requirements of the covenant. In verse 4 God makes plain that the one who sins will die. This is the teaching of Romans 6:23 also.
There is also a sense here of a new beginning. The nation would not rebel again as a whole. But individuals who sinned would suffer the consequence of death.
The New Covenant
In this passage, God said a time would come when he would make a new covenant with all of Israel, Judah and Israel. (31) This covenant will differ from the covenant made with Israel at Sinai. (32) That covenant is the covenant we read about starting in Exodus 20 and restated in Deuteronomy. We often call it the Old Covenant.
What was the problem with the Old Covenant? Why would God want to make a new one? In verse 32, he says Israel broke the Old Covenant despite the fact that he redeemed them and was faithful to them as a husband. So, the first reason is that the Old Covenant was broken.
Underlying the fact that Israel broke the covenant was the fact that Israel was incapable of obeying the covenant. They rebelled against God immediately and continually. They made an idol while Moses was still on the mountain. They complained about his care of them in the wilderness. They balked at going into the Promised Land initially. They failed to cast out all of the Canaanites as God commanded. They worshipped idols continuously. They lost the book of the law. They defiled the Temple. So, the second reason is that Israel was incapable of keeping the Old Covenant.
There is a third reason we see in the New Testament. Paul taught us that the law (or Old Covenant) was not intended to be permanent. It was temporary. In Galatians 3:19, he said the law was added “for transgressions” or to reveal sin and the need for a savior to prepare for the coming of Christ.
In the New Covenant, God would cure the problem of Israel, their inability to live up to God’s standards. It is the problem of all men and women. He would put his law inside his people and he would write it on their hearts. (33) These are two ways of saying the same thing: God would put something inside his people to allow them to live in a way that was pleasing to him. He went further in verse 34, saying no covenant member would have to tell his brother or sister to know the Lord, for they will all know him.
Originally, God wrote the law on tablets of stone. (Exodus 34:1) The Israelites were to write it on their hearts, or internalize it, by studying it and teaching it to their children. Read Deuteronomy 6:4-9. They failed to do this. So, this time, the Lord himself will write it on the hearts of the covenant members.
This will apply to all members of the covenant community, from the least to the greatest (34) This is not to say we will not have teachers, but that we will not need priests to keep the law for us or to keep it to themselves for us, but that all members will have hearts inscribed with God’s law.
So, this covenant is between God and those who know him. Those who know him are identified by their seeking and keeping God’s standards, in other words, those who pursue holiness. They are propelled by the fact that God forgave their sin and remembered it no more. (34) They are justified and sanctified.
I cannot look at a person and tell if he or she is justified. But I can look at a person and tell if he is sanctified, for he lives to please God not to please himself. He bears the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) She seeks to become like Christ.
In verses 35 through 37, God takes an oath of sorts. He says that he will no more break this new covenant than he will allow the natural order of the universe to be changed.
One side note of a theological nature is in order. Notice that God initiates this covenant as he initiates all of the covenants. He said “I will make”, “I will put” and “I will write”.
The result of this New Covenant is that he will be the God of this covenant community and that community will be his people. (33) Therefore, Peter could say the church is a holy nation and a people of God’s possession. (1 Peter 2:9)
Even more telling, the writer of Hebrews quoted this very passage in Jeremiah and applied it to the church in Hebrews 8:8-13. The New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant and has made it obsolete.