THE NEW COVENANT– KNOWING THE LORD: AN EXPOSITION OF JEREMIAH 31:31-34 (PART 6)

Christ in the Old Testament, Scripture, The Church, The Gospel, Theology

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)

THE NEW COVENANT– The Law and the Heart: AN EXPOSITION OF JEREMIAH 31:31-34 (PART 4)

Law, Scripture, The Church, The Gospel, Theology, Uncategorized

The Law and the Heart

These next four posts are the most important for getting a handle on the covenant recipients. Though my own views of baptism do not depend upon the answer to this question, this has certainly been a very important question in the baptism debate. Jeremiah (and Hebrews) do not have baptism view, but there is no question that they do have in mind certain recipients of the new covenant. We have seen that these recipients are Christ and, via union with him, his church. Now we want to be more specific regarding the church. For in the (visible) church there are both true and false believers.

We will unfold these four posts by taking a look at the biblical meaning of three positive phrases about the new covenant, each of which is followed by a positive effect. The first involves the law on the heart its effect. The second involves teaching the law and its effect. The third involves breaking the law and its effect. Notice then that law is involved in the new covenant. It isn’t that the new covenant is without law. I would argue that all covenants, by definition, involve law. Law is the “stipulations” of a covenant. Law is what you have to “do” in order to “keep covenant.” Instead of having no law in the new covenant, it is our relationship to the law because of Christ The Law-keeper that now marks the “newness” in this regard. But his law-keeping does something else. It marks a newness in the recipients of the covenant from old to new. This is what we will look at now.

This post and the next are about the law and the heart. The phrase is, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jer 31:33). Hebrews puts it this way, I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10). Hebrews takes Jeremiah’s “law” and makes it plural. Perhaps it does this so that you know it is talking about the actual commandments within the Torah.

Of course, this begs the question, “Which laws?” This is a difficult question to answer. Hebrews clearly has in mind the ceremonial laws, which I believe come via the post-Sinai/Golden-Calf covenant referred to as the Levitical covenant (Neh 13:29; Jer 33:21; Mal 2:4, 8). But would God write ceremonial laws on our hearts when he says that the ceremonials laws like washings and animal sacrifices are done away? A different NT passage talking about the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3) seems to have the Ten Commandments of the Mosaic covenant in mind. In that passage, it talks about the Corinthians as actually being letters written by Christ, not on stone, but on flesh (2Co 3:2-3).[1] Yet, some will make the same charge even about moral law. “We are not under law, but under grace,” as they try to apply this “no law” view even to Moses. “Why would God write these on our hearts now? That would seem to defeat the whole point of not being under law.”

Here is my answer to which laws. First, simply put, it says that God will write the law(s) on our hearts. Jeremiah is talking about some kind of laws in the OT, therefore it has to be some kind of OT laws. A blogger has said, “Anyone claiming to be in covenant with G-d under the New covenant has had the Torah written on their hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:31-33)! We cannot accept Torah being written on our heart and mind while summarily rejecting Torah as old & nailed to a cross.”[2] Whether this blogger understands how the Torah has been nailed to a cross is one thing, but the point being made is another—and it is correct. New covenant Christians want to keep the law.

As it regards the moral law, I don’t see how you can read 2 Cor 3 and come away with an answer that doesn’t at least include these. The Ten are now written on our hearts. Second, we have to realize that even civil and ceremonial law are kept in the church. But they are kept differently in the church than they were in the OT nation. Paul applies the “do not muzzle the ox” (civil law) passage to paying the pastor. He is taking an eternal moral principle and applying it in the NT economy. Paul also uses all kinds of ceremonial language and applies it to us with perhaps the most well known being, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices…” (Rom 12:1). So it isn’t that all law ceases, it is our stance towards it that is different.

Our stance is now understood through the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. The law demands obedience. Jesus obeyed. The law promises life when there is obedience. Jesus was raised from the dead because he is The Law-Keeper. By his death through faith alone, God pardons our law-breaking because he is pleased with The Son. Therefore, the law no longer condemns us, because Jesus put that work to death on the cross. Now, we are free to obey the law not out of guilt or fear of punishment, but for another reason. But this begs the question of who has the law written on their heart? Everyone in the whole world? Infants born into Christian families? The elect prior to faith? The elect after coming to faith?

What might it mean to have the law written on your heart, and how would this be a new thing? Recall King Josiah of whom it is said that he “turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses” (2Kg 23:35). Or David who says that the law is in his heart (Ps 37:31; 40:8). I see three possible differences in the new covenant from what we see here. One thing that is not different is if someone concluded that Jeremiah is predicting that finally, in the new covenant, people will be saved. No. David and Josiah were saved. They were regenerated by God, justified by faith, and they loved God’s law.

The first difference could be the people in the covenant. No longer is God keeping the writing of the law within the bounds of the nation of Israel and the elect within her (i.e. Josiah and David). No, now he is extending it to Gentiles. Very importantly, the Apostle Paul does say something about the law in relation to Gentiles. He says that they “do what the law requires” even though they do not have the law and this makes them “a law to themselves” (Rom 2:14). He adds, “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (15). Critically, Paul’s “work of the law” is different from the law itself. The work of the law is to condemn or show a person to be right in their actions. All men know God’s law. All men have this work of the law already on their hearts. But this is different from personally deeply longing do obey and do God’s law. Gentiles know it and do it because they can’t live with a dirty conscience as it were. But do they love God’s law? If they are in the new covenant they sure do. This is what it means to have the law now written on your heart.

A second difference would be the place where the law was kept. In the OT, the law was “kept” on tablets of stone in a tabernacle of wood and gold. In the new covenant, the law is now “kept” in the people’s hearts. This is part of the implication that believers are God’s “temple.” The Holy Spirit descends on the church at Pentecost, and the “place” of God’s dwelling, and thus the law, thereby changes as well.

A third difference is the percentage of people within the covenant that want to keep the law. If this is correct (and Baptists and Infant Baptists disagree on this point), I believe it is very significant. God seems to be saying that he will write the law on the hearts of 100% of those who are in the new covenant. Not everyone who is in the visible church per se, but everyone who is in the new covenant. The church is the vehicle through which the new covenant is received, but it is not the new covenant itself anymore than Abraham was a covenant. No, he was a person through whom the promises of his covenant came. We will see this better as the next three posts unfold more of the meaning of the language of the promises of the new covenant to us.

— — — —

[1] Is this an interesting allusion to how Christ is the one who originally wrote the letters on the stone on top of the mountain with Moses?

[2] Messianic Jewish Blogger ShaliachShalom, in a comment at: https://standingonshoulders.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/where-did-the-term-old-testament-and-new-testament-come-from/

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

THE NEW COVENANT–Covenant Recipients: AN EXPOSITION OF JEREMIAH 31:31-34 (PART 3)

Christian Education, Scripture, The Church, The Gospel, The Lord's Supper, Theology

Declaration: The Covenant Recipients

Who are the recipients of the new covenant? While not wanting to get into the baptism question (because Jeremiah isn’t talking about baptism in the slightest), without question this is one of those very disputed questions in Reformed circles. Let’s look at what the text says, rather than go to this or that system for an answer.

It is clear from history that the unfolding of the three parts of this passage (see Part 2) take place chronologically. The new covenant has been established because the Jews were brought back to their land. Our passage continues, “I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jer 31:31; Heb 8:8). It might seem evident who this is talking about. Some think it is literal biological Jews only. Others think it is Christians and their infants. Other think it is “the elect” (some taking that to mean even the elect before they are born). What is it talking about?

First, we have to see that Hebrews isn’t applying this to the nation of Israel, but to the Church. Somehow, Hebrews has interpreted “house of Israel” and “house of Judah” as the Church. There is no other explanation for how he could apply the new covenant to the church unless this is what he was doing. So how can that be?

Judah and Israel: Jesus as Covenant Recipient

Here, we have to remember that covenants are always mediated by covenant heads. When God made a covenant with the world, he made it with Adam and then Noah who both represented the world. When God made a covenant with Israel, he made it with Abram who represented his people, and so on. We have seen that Jesus is the one making the new covenant with his bride. In Part 2, we saw that he did this with his blood. But to have blood means that you are a human being. Gods don’t bleed! But the God-man bled. It is this humanity of Jesus that becomes so important in a new way.

Jesus’ death is the climax of three plus years of priestly ministry acted out to perfection (indeed, his entire life was one of perfect obedience). Matthew is a good example of how Jesus’ life is set up to emulate Israel’s life. Born from the stock of Jewish kings (Matt 1), he is a Hebrew of Hebrews. When he is two, a king tries to kill him, so he goes down to Egypt (Matt 2). He returns from Egypt and goes through the waters of baptism, as Israel was led through the Red Sea out of Egypt (Matt 3). He goes into the wilderness and is tempted for a period of “forty,” but he obeys and does not fall into temptation (Matt 4). He goes up to a mountain where he gives the law, just as Moses went up the mountain and received the law (Matt 5-7). He comes back down and never disobeys his God, not even to the point of death on a cross (Matt 8ff).

The point Matthew is making is that Jesus is True Israel. If Jesus is True Israel, then he is the True Recipient of the new covenant. Among several reasons, this is a significant one that led early Reformed Baptists to see the new covenant as the historical manifestation of that eternal covenant made before time (sometimes called the Covenant of Redemption). Jesus is being given “the covenant of grace” (a theological, not biblical phrase) because of his perfect obedience and fulfillment of all the old covenants. If you want to know what “Israel” or “Judah” means, look no further. Until we come to accept that Jesus Christ is true Israel, we will never be able to understand what he actually did for the whole world. The new covenant won’t make any sense.

Judah and Israel: The Church as Covenant Recipient “in Christ”

Now, remember that in the OT, the house of Israel is called the vine (Isa 5:1-7). But in the NT, Jesus is called The Vine (John 15:1-5). Why? Because Jesus is True Israel. But then Jesus says something amazing. Any who are branches in the Vine have abundant life. The idea is that to be in the Vine is to be part of the Vine. Christians have their life “in Christ.” To put that another way, they have their life “in True Israel.” Thus, the Church is actually what is being predicted by Jeremiah. Let’s look a little more carefully to see how.

Using a different metaphor, listen to what Jeremiah said earlier in his book. The prophet lumps the two houses in with all of the nations. They are no different in this respect: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh–Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart” (Jer 9:25-26). Circumcision is obviously hugely important for the covenant God made with Israel through Abraham. But if you do not have a circumcised heart, then to God, you are as good as a pagan. And this is found in the OT!

Just here, I want us to move ahead for a moment to Jer 33:33/Heb 8:10, and one of the promises found regarding the new covenant. “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.” “On their hearts” language is closely related to being circumcised in heart, and other new covenant prophecies confirm this. This idea of being circumcised in heart is found in Jeremiah 4:4, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” This is in turn found in Deuteronomy. “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deut 10:15).

But of course, it isn’t possible for a man to circumcise his own heart. Moses told the people that it was in God’s power to do so, but as of the end of Deuteronomy, he hadn’t done it yet. “But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (Deut 29:4). God refused to do that in those days in order that the new covenant promises might come to us today. Moses foresaw this and prophesied, “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6). This is a new covenant prophecy.

Now let’s think about Ezekiel. This prophet talks about the same new covenant, only he calls it a “covenant of peace” (Ezek 37:26-28).[1]I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:25-26).

Take all of this and come to the NT and suddenly you start seeing the fulfillment in the church. Listen to the language of being a Jew from this passage in Romans, “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Rom 2:28-29). This is what Jeremiah was driving at, and in the first part actually said. This is what Ezekiel was looking forward to as well.

But Paul is talking about the Gentiles being True Jews. This was in accordance with many prophecies. Isaiah puts it this way, “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance” (Isa 19:23-25). This goes all the way back to the covenant promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations.

We have only looked at the prophecy of a new heart and circumcision, but this one idea can help us see why the NT uses all sorts of “Israel” language to talk about the Church. It calls us “true Jews” (Rom 2:29), “the circumcision” (Php 3:3);[2]the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16),[3]the temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16),[4]Abraham’s children” (Rom 4:16);[5]the new Jerusalem” (Rev 21:2),[6]the bride” (Eph 5:25),[7]a kingdom of priests” (Rev 5:10; cf. Ex 19:6),[8] and even the term Ekklesia (Church) are straight out of the OT language used of “Israel.”[9]

Thus, when Jeremiah says that God is going to make a new covenant with the house of Judah and Israel, we have to understand the organic relationship between the nation of Israel and the church. The church is Israel “in Christ.” The first stage of the prophecy was with the nation of Israel—they were brought back to the Land. The second stage comes once the Gentiles are grafted into the vine, which is not the nation of Israel, but Jesus Christ who is True Israel. The nation is a type of Christ. This is why Hebrews can take a prophecy that seems to be for the nation only, and apply it to the church of Jesus. The NT everywhere sees the church as the eschatological fulfillment of national Israel. That doesn’t mean the biological people called Jews cease to be Jews anymore than Italians or Chinese cease to be those. It does mean that in Christ, all are one nation—there is no Jew or Greek (Gal 3:28).

We have now taken the first of two important steps in identifying the recipients of the new covenant. We have seen that it is Christ who receives this covenant and who then cuts it in his own blood for his bride. Next time, we will look at what this means regarding the oldness and the newness of the new covenant and how this helps us further identify the covenant recipients.

— — — — — —

[1]I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezek 37:26-28). “Covenant of peace” is the language of the Phinehas priestly covenant. Ezekiel’s language here is completely temple focused, as is the ritual of sprinkling. See last week’s sermon for more on the priestly covenant and its relation to the new covenant.

[2]We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

[3]And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

[4]Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

[5]… not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”

[6]And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

[7] See n. 14.

[8]You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:10); “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6).

[9] See Deut 4:10; 9:10; 18:16; 23:2-4; 31:10; etc.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

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)

The New Covenant: An Exposition of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Part 1)

Scripture, The Church, The Gospel, The Lord's Supper, Theology, Uncategorized

A Most Talked About Topic

I’ve been preaching through Hebrews, and this past week did a sermon on the new covenant. Hebrews 8:8-12 cites Jeremiah 31:31-34 (mostly using the LXX). In this series of blogs, I thought I would take us through a tour of the very important new covenant, for this is the covenant we are under as Christians.

In the Reformed world between Baptists and Paedobaptists (Yeah, I know, many paedos don’t think we can really be “Reformed,” but a few of them do), I can think of fewer topics that are discussed more often than the new covenant. This is because the new covenant has become the bulls eye for arguments and debates about baptism and covenant membership. Sadly, though Jeremiah might legitimately be used to touch on this question in an after-the-fact way, it should be admitted by all that this passage has nothing to do with baptism. This is why, when I argue for credobaptism, I refuse to use Jeremiah’s new covenant.[1] This series of posts is therefore not going to be about baptism, though it might touch a little upon it.

In this blog, I do not want to answer modern questions, but ancient questions. Only then can we understand what Jeremiah is talking about. Those questions would include, who is the new covenant given to, and what kind of people does it say that they will be? While baptism in our own context may be a related question that shoots off of these answers, in the original context of Jeremiah and Hebrews, better questions would be how do these people get this way and what does it mean for their lives?

The Days are Coming

Let’s start with the first question that arises in the passage. When is Jeremiah’s new covenant? The text is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and again in Hebrews 8:8-12. The passage is a prophecy. “Behold, the days are coming…” (Jer 31:31). “The days” is an eschatological time frame. So when are these days? In the six hundred or so years between Jeremiah and Hebrews, the passage is only used one time that we know of as far as the time frame is concerned. The Jews at Qumran by the Dead Sea believed that they were living in the new covenant 100-200 years prior to Jesus (CD-A VI, 18–19; 1QS I, 16, 18, 20, 24; II, 10).

But according to Hebrews and the NT, this was impossible. If we remember the way Hebrews began it said, “In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:2). This is talking about Jesus in the flesh, and that didn’t happen in the days of Qumran. Because of Jesus’ coming, the main thing you have to know about the “when” of the new covenant is that what was future for Jeremiah is now past for us. The days are no longer coming when God will make a new covenant. The days are past. If this is true, then it means that this covenant is for Christians in a way that no other covenant in the Bible is. For we are under this covenant. Therefore, to understand it is of paramount importance for our lives, for this establishes our relationship with God.

[1] For my views of baptism, I’ve written a whole book on the subject from a credobaptist, covenant theology perspective that never once refers to Jeremiah 31. It is called Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)