Summary: How is the New Covenant better than the Old?
A better covenant(Reading Jer. 31:1-14;31-34)
This chapter continues the argument of the previous chapters about Christ’s priesthood. We have seen that He was not a priest of the Levitical order, but of the order of Melchizedek. He pursues this thought here to shows that it also involved a change in the nature of the covenant between God and His people.
The word covenant has a heavy, theological sound and may put you off, but it contains depths of meaning and interest for us all. It is an old fashioned word, yet it is relevant to our everyday lives. When you promise to do certain things, on condition that someone else does something else in a legally binding way you enter into a covenant. Although the term is still used by lawyers we normally use the term contract nowadays. We make a contact when we buy and sell a house or car and we sign the papers to make them binding. If we change our minds after signing we can be sued by the person that we had the contract with.
God adapted Himself to our practices so that we might better understand His purposes. Theologians have identified several covenants in the Bible, but we will just consider two covenants, the Old and the New, mentioned in this chapter.
The Old or Mosaic Covenant
The Old or Mosaic Covenant was basically an agreement that the People of Israel would obey God’s commandments and God would treat them as His own, special people; and He would make them a holy nation (Ex. 19v5, 6). The people unanimously promised “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” v8. God went further and promised them their own land, protection from their enemies, good health, a fertile land and many decedents. Ex 23: 20–33. Again the people gave a unanimous shout of assent 24:3. They confirmed their promise again when the Book of the law was read publicly. “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” 24:7
How little they knew themselves! Very soon they were dancing wildly around the golden calf. The history of Israel in the Old Testament is one of failure. They forgot God and His laws and He punished them for the failure. They rarely enjoyed the blessings that He promised because they did not live up to the contract that they had entered into.
But what else could be expected of them? There were two great defects in that old covenant, which arose out of the weakness of human nature; firstly it gave them no power to do what they promised; and, secondly, it didn’t really deal with their sins the law made nothing perfect Heb 7:19, cp 9:9. The same is true of all of us.
Why can’t the law make us perfect? Think about the speed limit for a minute. There is a 30MPH speed limit in much of this county, the law says that we must not exceed it, but does that mean that we all, always drive at 30MPH or less when we should? Of course not! Even those who try to keep the law loose track of their speed at times and go faster. That makes us all lawbreakers. You try telling a Police Officer that you have never broken the speed limit before and that driving at 40 was a moment’s aberration!
It is the same with God’s law. It tells us that it is wrong to covet our neighbour’s wife, or Ox or house or BMW, but it doesn’t give us the power to do what it says and condemns us when we fail to keep it. The writer used some strong language about the law. He said that it was ineffective and useless, v18 (JB Phillips)! The NKJ isn’t much more moderate in its language, it says that the law is weak and unprofitable.
Does this mean that God made a mistake by instituting the law? Is that what the writer is saying? No, not at all! He is laying it on thickly to make a point. Paul made similar points in Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.
The New Covenant (established on better promises)
How was the New Covenant established? We haven’t entered any agreement with God as the Jewish people did in Moses time. In contrast Jesus Christ mediated “negotiated and agreed” the covenant on our behalf, but more than that He fulfilled for us all its conditions. He bore the penalty of human weakness and sin. He met all its demands for perfect obedience. He then gives us the Holy Spirit to produce a holiness in us which we could never have achieved on our own. In other words it is a better covenant because it has a better mediator, Jesus, than Moses with the Old Covenant – v6.