Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
35 Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name:
36 “If this fixed order departs
from before me, declares the Lord,
then shall the offspring of Israel cease
from being a nation before me forever.”
37 Thus says the Lord:
“If the heavens above can be measured,
and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel
for all that they have done,
declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 31:31-37
Jeremiah is the only Old Testament prophet to use the phrase, “new covenant.” This new covenant is spoken about by other Old Testament prophets, but they don’t use the phrase.
Jeremiah’s first point in his “sermon” is that this new covenant won’t be like the covenant he made with the fathers when he brought them out of Egypt, that is, the Mosaic covenant. Remember the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works, “Do this and live.” The new covenant will not be like that.
In this new covenant, God says he will put his law within us, in our hearts instead of in stone as he did with Moses. This implies another important distinction without stating it explicitly; the desire and power to obey God will be a part of the covenant. This is also a powerful statement of grace. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” This is an action initiated and completed by God, an act of grace and a unilateral promise.
And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. This isn’t new. This has been God’s intent all along, but now, it will be a greater reality. Because God’s word is internalized in the new covenant, God’s people are better able to respond to his love.
Another difference between the Old Covenant that Jeremiah lived under and the new covenant is the fact that every partaker of the new covenant will know the Lord. Under the Old Covenant, there were many who were Israelites and were circumcised in the flesh but were not people of faith. They were considered part of the covenant community but needed others to teach them to know the Lord. The new covenant is made up of people who are born again and know the Lord. That doesn’t mean everyone who goes to church knows the Lord. Those who attend church but are not born again are not partakers of the new covenant even though they may be recipients of some of the benefits by associating with believers.
As we saw elsewhere, the Mosaic covenant is not permanent; it is temporary. This new covenant will be permanent. As long as the fixed order of the sun, moon, and stars continues, so will Israel, or the recipients of the new covenant. Another rhetorical statement follows. If you can measure the heavens and explore the depths of the earth, then I will cast off Israel. This is not intended as a scientific statement about the size of the universe and the earth, it is meant as a poetic way of saying that God will never cast off his people of faith.
Jeremiah’s take on this new covenant is bold. God is declaring that he will do this regardless of any obedience on the part of his people to bring it to pass. Does that mean that obedience doesn’t matter? No. It means that God will do a heart-work that will cause people to want to obey. That is the glorious work of God on our behalf. We know the results as the fruit of the Spirit.
If you would like to do more indepth reading on the concept of covenant in Scripture, I recommend this book, Sacred Bond. Click on the book and you will be taken to Amazon where you can purchase a copy.