Judah had failed to listen to Jeremiah’s preaching and had recently been exiled to Babylon. This was by no means the end of the story, since the Lord foretold they would return after seventy years and be restored in Jerusalem. The Lord would speak though Jeremiah to root and pull down, destroy and throw down and build and plant (Jeremiah 1:9-10; 31:27-28). This covenant followed on from previous covenants, including both conditional and unconditional ones.
A new and better covenant
There would be a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Note that the new covenant was made with literal Israel and Judah, not spiritual Israel, believers, except secondarily and as grafted into to the stock of Israel (Romans 11:25-27).[i] Radak states that “it’s newness is that it will be kept, and not broken like the covenant that b’nei Y’israel cut with God at Mount Sinai. Regarding this and it says, for the prophet (Yirmayahu) prophesies about a ‘new Torah’ which will in the future come to be.”[ii]
The Mosaic Covenant was conditional whereas the New Covenant is unconditional. The former was broken although the latter is unbreakable. The New Covenant emphasised what God would do, not what man would do. Notice five ‘I will’ statements from the Lord in verses 33-34 denoting His sovereign initiative and action. How can we determine when the New Covenant was brought into effect? Our Lord tells us. “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). How do we know the Mosaic Covenant was broken? Jeremiah states that in Jeremiah 11:1-10.
Also, the writer to the Hebrews in 8:7-13 explains, quoting Jeremiah 31.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 10 For 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 mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
An everlasting covenant
In Jeremiah 32:40 it is clarified that the New Covenant will be an everlasting covenant, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good: but I will put My fear in their hearts, so that they will not depart from Me.” Then they will return to the Lord. “Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me, with their whole heart (Jeremiah 24:7).”
The Lord has decreed this everlasting covenant and some of this is still future. What is happening now? Romans 11 helps us to make sense of this and the Lord’s plans for Israel and the nations. God has not cast of His people who He foreknew (Romans 11:1-2). Salvation has come to the Gentiles through Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah. The Gentiles are the wild olive tree grafted in (Romans 11:17). When the fulness of the Gentiles has come in then all Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:26). Lastly, “For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins (Romans 11:27).”
What does it look like to have the law in our minds and written in our hearts? It is one thing to know about the Lord and another thing to know Him. Jeremiah 9:24 tells us that the Lord wants us to know Him and understand Him. We can obey the letter of the law or the Spirit of the law for “The letter kills, but the Spirit brings life (2 Corinthians 3:6).” David delighted to do God’s will and His law was written on his heart (Psalm 40:8). Are you motivated by God’s grace or by legalism? Are you trusting in the Lord or yourself? There is a promise in the millennium, a time of peace on earth, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).”
The Lord will forgive their iniquity and their sin, He will remember no more. This was foretold (Isaiah 53:4-6), fulfilled (Luke 22:20) and will be fully realised (Romans 11:26-27). Only the sinless Messiah could forgive sins and make atonement for sins, through His shed blood. The blood of our Lord and Messiah cleanses the believer from all our sin and unrighteousness.
A certain covenant
The New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 ties in with both the Davidic and Abrahamic Covenants in Jeremiah 33:25-26. MacArthur adds, “The streams of the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants find their confluence in the Millennial kingdom ruled by the Messiah.”[iii]“Thus says the Lord: ‘If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, 26 then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.’ ”
We are told in Jeremiah 31:35, “the Lord of hosts is His name”, meaning, ‘The Lord of armies’. Israel has a remarkable army punching well above their weight, though the Lord of hosts has preserved them. The Lord of hosts is the Creator and everything else is created. Better to look to our Creator than to the arm of flesh for help in the day of trouble.
In view of God’s covenant to keep the ordinances of the sun for a light by day and the moon and the stars for a light by night and the sea (Jeremiah 31:35-37), has the Creator failed in enabling the sun to rise? Do the moon and the stars still light the starry sky? Do the waves continue to crash against the shore? Why does the Lord mention these ordinances? Because He ordained them, created them and sustains them and if he failed to do so, then we would all be in most serious trouble!
As long as these ordinances continue, then the seed of Israel shall continue and never cease to be a nation. Have the heavens been measured? Have the foundations of the earth been searched beneath? Well then until that time, the Lord shall not cast off the seed of Israel for all they have done, says the Lord.
The Lord has kept His covenant with His chosen people despite them breaking the Mosaic Covenant. That covenant was conditional and was broken. The New Covenant is unconditional. Which of us has kept the Ten Commandments? Who has kept the Law of Moses perfectly? Though you may sin, if you are trusting in the Lord and not yourself, He will keep you. Look up at the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore and remember God’s covenant with Abraham.
No doubt this covenant would have encouraged the Jewish people exiled in Babylon as it encourages us now. Those who formerly lived in Judah would live in Babylon for seventy years although the Lord had not forgotten them. He foretold their captivity and their return and true to His word, He brought them back. No matter where you reside in terms of your geographical location or even if you simply at times feel lost, look to the Lord and remember His great covenant promises and go to Him.
This New Covenant is so much greater. Could the blood of bulls forever remove sin? The Lord Jesus, the Messiah has taken our sin upon Himself and chosen to remember our sins no more. Trust in the Lord and do not run to Egypt or the world for help as some vainly did in Jeremiah’s day. Trust in the Creator of the heavens and the earth who knows the end from the beginning.
The whole world will be full of the glory of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. The heavens declare the glory of the God and the stars are His handiwork, so look to Him. If ever you should doubt the Lord, look at what He has created and the promises He has kept. Serve Him with His law in your mind and have it written on your heart. Make it your chief aim to know and glorify the Lord in everything you do.
[i] Jamiesson, Fausett & Brown Jamieson, Fausett & Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Zondervan, 1961; Harper Collins), p635
[ii] Radak on Jeremiah 31 https://www.sefaria.org/Radak_on_Jeremiah.31.31.1?lang=bi
[iii] John MacArthur The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 2005; Nashville), p868