Jeremiah’s New Covenant

Jeremiah’s New Covenant

Heb 8.6–13 But he has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one. God finds fault with them when he says:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their god, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.

In speaking of a new covenant, he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.

The author of Hebrews argues over the course of the book that Jesus has rendered the ‘first’, ‘old’ covenant ‘obsolete’ by replacing it with a ‘better’, ‘second’, ‘new’ covenant. In chapter 8 he claims this was in fulfillment of something God himself spoke, which the author quotes from Jeremiah 31.

The law code in the Book of Deuteronomy closes with warnings that Israel will face increasingly severe punishments from God if the people persist in disobeying his commandments. The ultimate punishment is conquest from a foreign enemy and exile from their homeland. This is closely followed by the promise that God will eventually restore the people to their homeland after the punishment has run its course.

Deut 30.1–10 When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where Yahweh your god has driven you, and return to Yahweh your god, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, then Yahweh your god will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom Yahweh your god has scattered you. Even if you are exiled to the ends of heaven, from there Yahweh your god will gather you, and from there he will bring you back. Yahweh your god will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. Moreover, Yahweh your god will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love Yahweh your god with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. Yahweh your god will put all these curses on your enemies and on the adversaries who took advantage of you. Then you shall again obey Yahweh, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and Yahweh your god will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For Yahweh will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey Yahweh your god by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to Yahweh your god with all your heart and with all your soul.

The Book of Jeremiah, in large part, is concerned with the imminent conquest of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The book’s prophecies of restoration are completely immersed in this context, and cannot be removed from it. The language of restoration draws heavily from the Deuteronomistic school of thought. Several parallels in ideas and phrasing can be seen between the talk of a ‘new’, ‘eternal’ covenant in Jer 31–32 and the restoration promised in Deut 30.

Deuteronomy 28, 30

Jeremiah 31–32

But if you will not obey Yahweh your god by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you:

But they did not obey your voice or follow your law; of all you commanded them to do, they did nothing. Therefore you have made all these disasters come upon them.

Yahweh will make the pestilence cling to you until it has consumed you off the land that you are entering to possess. Yahweh will afflict you with consumption, fever, inflammation … Yahweh will bring a nation from far away, from the end of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle

See, the siege ramps have been cast up against the city to take it, and the city, faced with sword, famine, and pestilence, has been given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it.

When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where Yahweh your god has driven you, and return to Yahweh your god, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today,

Indeed I heard Ephraim pleading: ‘You disciplined me, and I took the discipline … For after I had turned away I repented

then Yahweh your god will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you,

I will bring upon them all the good fortune that I now promise them. … I will restore their fortunes, says Yahweh.

gathering you again from all the peoples among whom Yahweh your god has scattered you. Even if you are exiled to the ends of heaven, from there Yahweh your god will gather you, and from there he will bring you back.

See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth … See, I am going to gather them from all the lands to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation; I will bring them back to this place, and I will settle them in safety.

Yahweh your god will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.

Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. Thus says Yahweh: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Yahweh: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says Yahweh: your children shall come back to their own country.

Moreover, Yahweh your god will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love Yahweh your god with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.

The days are surely coming, says Yahweh, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says Yahweh. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their god, and they shall be my people.

Then you shall again obey Yahweh, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and Yahweh your god will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil.

Fields shall be bought in this land … Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, of the hill country, of the Shephelah, and of the Negeb; for I will restore their fortunes, says Yahweh.

For Yahweh will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey Yahweh your god by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to Yahweh your god with all your heart and with all your soul.

Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he the child I delight in? As often as I speak against him, I still remember him. … I will rejoice in doing good to them, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

Jeremiah had no problem displaying messianic expectations (23.5; 30.8–9; 33.15–26), but there is no mention of any such figure in chapters 31–32. There is no concept in Jeremiah that a messianic figure would nullify the ‘obsolete’ covenant of Torah-observance by means of his own sacrificial death. The passage from Jeremiah which Heb 8 quotes is emphatically concerned with the renewal of obedience to the law code, not its elimination. Hence, the ‘new covenant’ (31.31) or ‘eternal covenant’ (32.40a) was supposed to be—upon the return of the Israelites and Judeans to their homeland after the Babylonian exile—the imprinting an innate desire to obey God’s law code within each individual (31.33–34; 32.37–39, 40b).

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