The New Covenant: An Exposition of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Part 2)

Scripture, The Gospel, Theology, Uncategorized

I Will Make

As we continue in our exposition of Jeremiah’s new covenant, after learning about the time frame (“the days are coming,” see last post), the next thing that arises is the maker of the covenant.… declares the LORD [Yahweh], when I will establish a new covenant…” (Heb 31:31; Heb 8:8). Who is Yahweh? Obviously, he is the God of Israel. But the God of Israel is Triune, not Unitarian. Of course, the covenant is with the Triune God. If you are in a covenant with God, then you are in a covenant with the Three Persons. But how might this work?

Speaking very generally of the Persons, the Father is the one who plans such things as covenants. The Spirit is the one who seals the covenant promises. The Son is the one who is particularly given a people as an inheritance, and this is covenantal language. The Father gives the Son the people of his choosing (Deut 32:9;[1] Jer 10:16/51:19;[2] etc.) as part of an eternal covenant (Luke 22:29[3]). This “giving” to the Son is understood in Jeremiah to be a marriage (Jer 3:1-11).[4] Marriage language occurs in Jeremiah 31:32. “My covenant which they broke, although I was their husband.[5] As such, the Son is the one who has a special relationship with Israel, even as it is Christ—not the Father—who takes a bride in the NT. That bride is his Church (Eph 2:25; Rev 21:2). We will see in a later post how intimate this relationship between Israel and the Church actually is.

I Will Make

The way Christ takes his bride in the new covenant is by “giving himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), “an offering and a sacrifice” (5:2), and “by his blood” (Rev 5:9). Oh, how closely related the new covenant is to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus! To see how, we need to understand that the way covenants are made. The Bible says that they are literally “cut.” The Hebrew word is karath in Jer 31:31. This becomes the Greek diatithemi (“to grant” LXX; Jer 8:10; “to make” ESV; also sunteleo or “establish” in Heb 8:8 ESV; and poieo of “made” in 8:9 ESV.)[6]  In the old covenants, it is the blood of animals that cuts the covenant (as they were themselves “cut” into pieces, see Gen 15). In the new covenant, it is the blood of the Lamb of God when he dies on the cross. This is exactly what we “remember” when we take the Lord’s Supper and the “new covenant in my blood.”

Now, when a covenant is cut or established or made, that means that it has gone into effect. However, that does not necessarily mean that all of its blessings have gone into effect. For example, God cut a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. One of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant was that he would have a son, and through that son he would inherit the world. However, Abraham does not actually have a son until many years after Genesis 15. So it took some time to realize that blessing. So let’s go back to the time frame (“the days are coming”) again.

The prophecy where Jeremiah 31:31-34 occurs takes place within a larger context of vv. 27-40. This context is framed by three specific things that God says he will do in the future. Each is marked with the phrase “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD” (vs. 27, 31, 38).

  • The Future Planting of God’s People in the Land (31:27-30)
  • Future New Covenant with God’s People (31:31-37)
  • Future Rebuilding and Permanence of the Holy City (31:38-40)[7]

The first section tells us that in Jeremiah’s future, God will replant his people in the Promised Land (27-30). When we remember that they are presently in exile in Babylon and then go to prophets after Jeremiah, we see that this was fulfilled in the OT. This replanting is not part of the new covenant per se, but it did mean that the new covenant was on the horizon.

The last section is a promise to rebuild Jerusalem so that it will last forever (31:38-40). Obviously, though they were rebuilding the temple after they returned from exile, that temple did not last, and the city was devastated in 70 AD. So this promise is yet to be fulfilled in its completeness. The Second Temple was a type, but not the reality. However, we have to see that this is part of the promise of the new covenant. It is the new covenant that will bring about a permanent Jerusalem. This promise is being presently fulfilled in a literal, albeit spiritual way. (Some want “literal” and “spiritual” to be opposites, but the opposite of “literal” can’t be spiritual, since the spiritual world literally exists). It is fulfilled in the meaning of words used to describe the recipients of the new covenant. This takes us back to our passage, which is the middle of these three sections of the larger context. We will look more specifically at the covenant recipients in the next post.

— — — —

[1]But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” The context here is of Elyon (“the Most High”; vs. 7) giving the nations to the “sons of God” (vs. 8). In vs. 9, Elyon (the Father) gives Israel to Yahweh (the Son). When we come to Psalm 2:6 for example, the Son will then “ask” the Father for a greater inheritance, and the Father will give him “the nations.”

[2]Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the LORD of hosts is his name.

[3]Just as My Father has granted (diatithemi) Me a kingdom, I grant (diatithemi) you” (Luke 22:29 NAS). The context is the Last Supper. Jesus is talking here about a covenant grant that he was given. Now, in his own blood, he grants a covenant (i.e. the new covenant) to his disciples.

[4] This is contrary to the Dispensationalism I grew up in which sees the Father marrying Israel. No, it is the Son who does that. He becomes the husband. In the ancient world, no son presumed to just marry a woman. She had to be given to him.

[5] The LXX has a couple of differences from the Hebrew of Jeremiah. Most notably “I was their husband” (31:32) becomes “I did not care for them.” (Other variants of the LXX read, “and I am the one who ruled among them” and “I was restraining them.” See George H. Guthrie, “Hebrews,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007], 972). Hebrews follows the LXX in its quote of Jeremiah’s new covenant, with minor stylistic exceptions that are not worth noting here.

The word in Jeremiah for “husband” is ba’al, and is related to the name proper name of the god Ba’al (Lord). It can be translated as “lord” or “ruler.” However, most popular English translations (KJV, ESV, NAS, NIV, etc.) opt for “husband.” The LXX (above) translated it as something like “did not care” or “neglect.” This kind of idea certainly fits the idea that the LORD was their husband, but because of their actions, he no longer cared (i.e. he divorced her). It also fits with the idea of a Lord over Israel. Thus, it is a neutral translation.

[6] See also note 4.

[7] The main parts of the Jeremiah structure here and below I take from Richard Pratt, “Jeremiah 31: Infant Baptism in the New Covenant,” IIIM Magazine 4:1 (January 7 to January 13), 2002. http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/ric_pratt/TH.Pratt.New.Covenant.Baptism.pdf. Though Pratt does a fine job of outlining Jeremiah, I do not agree with some of his application.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

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