Continued from Chapter 25

(Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Jeremiah declares: Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, says the Lord.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying: “Know the Lord”; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) Christians believe that the term “new covenant” means the implementation of a new religious obligation in the form of a new covenant, which is to take the place of the old. This new covenant they allege is Christianity in the particular form to which they personally adhere. In truth, Jeremiah’s prophecy says nothing of a new covenant that will supersede the Torah or contain any changes in God’s commandments to Israel.

What Jeremiah declares is that God will establish a new covenant with Israel that unlike the old will be faithfully observed by Israel, because it will become innately part of their being. God will then grant them freedom from subjection to their foes (Leviticus 26:44). God is to confer upon Israel a new covenant of protection, one which will never be broken by them once they are restored to their homeland. There is no reason to assume that the term “new covenant” means that there is a change in the eternal Torah. It is rather a reaffirmation of the commitment to the Torah given at Mount Sinai. It will resemble the covenant made by King Josiah to observe the Torah, which took place during the lifetime of Jeremiah: “And the king stood on the platform, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep His commandments, and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart, and all his soul, to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book; and the people stood to the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3). But, unlike this pledge to adhere to the covenant which, though well-intentioned did not last very long, the one Jeremiah speaks of will be everlasting. The prophet stresses the covenantal nature of the relationship between God and Israel. But, now, there is an emphasis on the permanent faithfulness that will occur on the part of Israel which will allow for God never having to neglect or forsake His people. The concept that the ancient divine law will be renewed as an everlasting inscription upon their hearts that will never be forgotten is not confined to Jeremiah’s prophecy alone. The same prophecy is similarly found in Ezekiel:

And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the stony heart out of their flesh, and I will give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk in My statutes, and keep My ordinances, and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20) The covenant made at Mount Sinai is ageless and is never to be superseded. It may be renewed and reinvigorated but never superseded by a new covenant that is the antithesis of the Mosaic Law. Thus, it is declared: And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:44-45)

Jeremiah reasserts this message: Behold, I will gather them out of all the countries, to which I have driven them in My anger, and in My fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever; for the good of them, and of their children after them; and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me. Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land in truth with My whole heart and with My whole soul. For thus says the Lord: Just as I brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them. (Jeremiah 32:37-42) The author of Hebrews totally disregards the plain meaning of the prophetic message reiterated throughout the Scriptures. He alleges: “In that he says, a new covenant, he has made the first obsolete. Now that which is being made obsolete and growing old is near to vanishing away.” This is a total contradiction of the biblical teaching which states: “The works of His hands are truth and justice and His precepts are sure. They are established forever and ever, they are done in truth and uprightness” (Psalms 111:7-8); “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). The scriptural message is clear: Gods enactments are eternally valid and immutable (see also, Genesis 17:7, 13, 19; Psalms 105:8-10; 1 Chronicles 16:13-18).

It is obvious that “new covenant” does not mean that there is a “replacement covenant.” The use of the word “new” accords with biblical poetic style to express a reinvigorating or renewal of that which is already in existence. Thus Isaiah could record God’s words, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17) and yet this does not contradict, “And the earth abides forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4); God is speaking metaphorically of His reordering of that which already exists. There is no literal new heaven and earth. So too Jeremiah’s “new covenant” is not to be viewed as a replacement of the existing covenant, but merely as a figure of speech for the reinvigoration and revitalization of the old covenant. Jeremiah records God’s words to His chosen people: And you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man that does not hear the words of this covenant, which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the iron furnace, saying: Listen to My voice, and do them, according to all which I commanded you; so shall you be My people, and I will be your God. (Jeremiah 11:3-4) The people of Israel possess a God given timeless covenantal relationship — an old covenant yet a new covenant — everlasting in its nature.

© Gerald Sigal