The Law and Teaching: To Know the Lord
We are continuing now with the second of three phrases in Jeremiah’s new covenant that we are exploring. The last two posts looked at the phrase, “I will put my law on their minds and hearts,” and its effect that, “They will be my people, and I will be their God.” We saw that the the language of both has rich OT background, and that both point to the idea that these covenant people are not only outwardly called, but inwardly called as well. This post looks at the second phrase, “They shall not teach saying know the Lord,” and its effect, “For they shall all know me.”
In the old covenant, you clearly had some people who were in covenant with God who were not elect, who died, and went to hell. Jesus refers to them as children of Satan, not Abraham (John 8:39, 44). A question in the baptism debate is whether or not this is also true in the new covenant. Are there some people in the new covenant who will nevertheless eventually be in hell? But this question should not be determined by presuppositions about who should receive covenant signs or by systematic frameworks that deal in continuity or discontinuity. The proper way to figure this out is through exegesis of the Scripture.
The statement is, “They shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’” (Jer 31:34). We will focus on “teaching” first. Under the old covenant, God sent mediators who would teach the law. Moses and the firstborn of the tribes of Israel did this under the Sinai covenant, and this was followed by the priests whose job it was to teach the law, as Ezra did, under the Levitical covenant. Other teachers included the fathers who were to teach the children, “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 11:19). The important thing to realize here is that even under the new covenant, we still have teachers (1Co 12:28; Eph 4:11; etc.). Therefore, if the new covenant is somehow “not like” the old, then the “teaching” it has in mind isn’t merely helping people grow in knowledge. Rather, it is knowledge of a more basic kind.
The content of the teaching is to “know the Lord.” This is not mediated knowledge “about” the Lord. It is immediate, personal, and direct knowledge “of” the Lord. Therefore, the declaration is that they will “no longer teach, telling people to know the Lord.” This will now be done immediately by the Holy Spirit. He will circumcise the heart and write the Commandments on us as living tablets of flesh. The effect of this promise is radically different than it was in prior covenants: “They will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” “All” is an important word, for this is how the new covenant differs from the old.
“Knowing the Lord” also has a rich OT background and Jeremiah is drawing up it. First, like the laws on your heart, to know the Lord is to obey him. “They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the LORD” (Jer 9:3). “For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are ‘wise’– in doing evil! But how to do good they know not” (Jer 4:22). “Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the LORD” (Jer 9:6). “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD” (Jer 22:15-16). It is evident then that this kind of knowledge of the Lord is, as the Proverbs say, “the fear of the Lord” (Prov 1:7).
But before this can happen, you have to have Christ revealed to you. In order to get to the point of the fear of the Lord, you have to have two different kinds of revelation happen to you. The first is objective, and comes from outside of yourself. “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him” (1Sa 3:7). This knowledge comes to a person from the outside, not the inside. Samuel was called externally. He heard a voice. The context of the knowledge here is not mere head knowledge, but knowledge of a very specific person. Here, the One calling is called “the Word of the LORD.” The OT knows this person as the Angel of the LORD. The NT knows him as Jesus Christ. In the OT, very few people know Christ in this way. The Angel simply didn’t appear to very many people. They had to trust the prophets like Samuel who actually did know him and who spoke with him and talked to him. But in the NT, there is an objective sense in which everyone “knew the Lord,” because they could see him walking around all over Israel. He had followers, disciples, enemies, friends. He was physical, embodied, incarnated.
Now, today, he is no longer walking around. That is why it is so vital to tell people about him. The NT roots these events in the physical, the tangible, the sensory, and in history. People can only come to an inward knowledge of the Lord Jesus if they first recognize his outward coming, even as Samuel did with the Angel and then the disciples did with Jesus. He has to be revealed to people. In this sense, he was revealed to people–many people all at the same time. Because he has come in the flesh, the new covenant is clearly a better revealing of Jesus than the old was.
But new covenant knowledge of the Lord does not stop here! In the new covenant, necessarily, this external works its way into the internal. This is what the language means. We have already seen this with the “heart.” “The LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them” (Isa 19:21). Why are Egyptians sacrificing to him? Because they want to! Because they know him now. This is a prophecy of Gentiles coming to faith in Christ.
We have seen how Jesus takes a bride. In the OT prophecies, to know the LORD is to be married to him. This is an intimate knowledge of husband and wife. “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD” (Hos 2:20). To be married to him means that you have been called and equipped by him. “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me” (Isa 45:4-5). Andrew once asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you’” (John 1:48). When you are called like this, you follow. Period. It is irresistibly impossible not to. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). Can you hear the language of the new covenant in Jesus’ words? Are you hearing his voice even now?
People who are called and equipped and married to the Lord recognize his authority over them. Pharaoh didn’t. He said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (Exod 5:2). He didn’t recognize Christ’s authority, therefore he would not obey. So God did mighty works in Pharaoh’s presence. Thus, people who know the Lord recognize his mighty works. “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals” (Jdg 2:10-11). Is not the greatest work of all the resurrection of Jesus? “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hos 6:2-3).
In the “infant in the covenant” debate, sometimes people will say, “Yes, but there is the already/not yet of the covenant.” I completely agree. There is. But we are see the already/not yet in different places. Infant baptists see that in the new covenant, it is not “yet” true that everyone knows the Lord. They put this promise out in the future, basically in heaven. But this is not what Jeremiah or Hebrews say. Where I agree with the already/not yet is at this point: Not all of the elect are in the covenant yet. Why? Because not all of the elect have yet believed. Nor have many of them even been born. According to Jeremiah, you are simply not in the new covenant until you “know the Lord,” and knowing the Lord means fearing him, having faith in him. You are to look to Christ alone for salvation, not to election. That is for your sanctification.
(by: Doug Van Dorn)