By Sam E. Stone
Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet” because of the sad news he had to bring to his people. But he also held out hope for them. Following 70 years in Babylonian captivity, a remnant would return to the promised land (Jeremiah 23:3). They would rebuild Jerusalem and be the source of great rejoicing (31:7-14). His message encouraged the captives to trust God and carry on with life as normally as possible.
In today’s text Jeremiah prophesied a better day, a time when God would create a new covenant with his people. The first covenant mentioned in Scripture includes the promises the Lord made to Noah (Genesis 6:18; 9:8-17). Later he made covenants with Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21) and his descendants, and with King David (Psalm 89:3, 4). While the people of God did not always keep their commitments, God always kept his!
New Covenant Promised
Jeremiah 31:31, 32
“The days are coming . . . when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah,” God declared. This was to foretell God’s future relationships with his people. This section is quoted in the book of Hebrews (8:8-12). There the writer contrasts the old covenant with the new. The Christian covenant is far superior to the Mosaic one.
The covenant God made with the children of Israel on Mount Sinai was full of outward signs and animal sacrifices. By contrast, the new covenant involves the hearts of the people and is made possible through the blood of Jesus.
God upheld his side of the covenant, but the Israelites did not uphold theirs. “They broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.” Although the Lord always did just as he said he would, the Israelites failed to keep their end of the agreement. Instead, they broke it (Isaiah 24:5).
New Covenant Described
Jeremiah 31:33, 34
While the Mosaic Law was written on tablets of stone, God would deal directly with the hearts of his children in the new dispensation. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” The heart directs what a person says and does (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:18). God wants to see changed lives in his children.
He promised, “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” This wonderful promise assures Christians a personal relationship with the perfect Father. This covenant fulfills all that was desired and intended in the first covenant. As Augustine said: “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”
No one need be ignorant of God. He is available equally to everyone—Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman, rich and poor. No human priest is needed to stand between a person and God. “They will all know me.” Christianity involves a personal relationship with God, made possible through Jesus’ death for our sins and with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
God promised, “I will forgive their wickedness.” What the blood of animals could never accomplish, the blood of Jesus did (Hebrews 10:4-14). This assurance of forgiveness for our sins should prompt our undying gratitude; it also calls for our unfailing obedience.
New Covenant Assured
The Lord’s decrees are unchangeable. James E. Smith observed, “The God who makes promises about the future is the God who established the laws of nature. The pattern of night following day, the changing ocean tides are part of a fixed order. . . . God could no more cast off the ‘offspring of Israel’ than a man could measure the heavens or search out the earth’s foundations. The outward form of Israel may change, but the nation continues. Because they rejected their Messiah, God took the kingdom from the Jews (Matthew 21:43) and bestowed it on a new nation (1 Peter 2:9), the church of Jesus which is the new Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).”
“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight . . . will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.” The new Israel of God is composed of Christians from every tribe, race, and nation. There is hope for the future. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28, 29).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.