Summary: To whom does this new covenant apply, to Israel or Everybody?

A New Covenant

Jeremiah 31:31-40

This prophecy of Jeremiah is one of the important prophecies of the Old Testament. It is the only prophecy of the New Covenant in it. It has been widely quoted in the New Testament, and is used in the debates concerning end-time prophecy. So it is profitable to take a look at the prophecy itself to see what it does say as well as that which it does not.

Jeremiah the prophet was born somewhere around 650 BC. He was from a priestly village names Anathoth. He is often referred to as “the weeping prophet” as he was sorrowful over the impending destruction of Jerusalem by the LORD God through the hands of the Babylonians. Most of his prophecies came to him before the fall of the city, but the book named after him records that he survived the fall of the city and was later taken to Egypt against his will by the remnant who were allowed to remain in Judah.

Jeremiah’s prophecies against Jerusalem and Judaea got him into a lot of trouble. He was even cast into a miry dungeon, presumably to die there of starvation and disease but was released. He stood alone against the prophets who said that God had made an eternal covenant with Judah and would come to their rescue. Instead, Jeremiah sees and tells the inhabitants that he saw the LORD get up from His temple and left the city to the east, towards Babylon, showing that the city was indeed going to be delivered to the enemy and the survivors would go out into exile.

The prophecies of Jeremiah are not arranged in chronological order, but it seems that the passage at hand was recorded while the city was still in possession of the Jews but under siege. The prophecies of the previous chapters switch to one of long term hope of restoration, both of Judah and Samaria. This promise of the restoration of both is continued in this prophecy.

The passage begins with the LORD directly addressing the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Even though Judah was hanging on to its national identity, the house of Israel had lost hers over one hundred years earlier when they were taken into exile by Assyrian and dispersed among their clients states far away. A few were allowed to return, to keep the land from going to the wild beasts who intermarried with pagans and became the Samaritans. Josiah’s Passover also indicated that a few had escaped and lived in Judah. In the book of Luke, it mentions that Anna was of the tribe of Asher. But for the most part, the ten tribes were lost to history because they wanted to be like the pagan nations around them, and the Lord granted them this at the expense of their identity.

Jeremiah’s prophecy promises the restoration of both houses, so in some manner, God will have to return the members of the house of Israel to their former identity. It was also a promise that God would preserve some from the house of Judah. They would go into exile, but in the future would return to the land. The prophecy goes on to state that a new covenant would have to be written. The first one was written in tables of stone, and resulted in the Israelite’s having stony hearts. This time, God will write a new covenant with new laws inscribed into a fleshy heart. At this time, all Israel will know Him from the greatest to the least. The Hebrew sense of “know” indicated the knowledge of personal relationship and not just head knowledge. And this covenant will last for ever.

The word “covenant” in Hebrew has the meaning of “cut.” This could mean cut in stone, but covenants in the Ancient Near East were made in blood. When the LORD made the first covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, animals were slain and divided with their blood running into a tench. The covenant partners walked through the bloody trench to seal this covenant. However, Abraham fell into a deep sleep and the LORD walked through the blood alone. In Genesis 17, circumcision ratified the second covenant God made with Abraham. This time it was the blood of Abraham and the males in the household. What is important that the covenant was made in blood. The next thing to know about covenants made with God is that God remains absolutely faithful to the stipulations of the covenants He makes, even if His covenant partners are not. Thirdly, God never changes His mind, so a new covenant cannot annul previous covenants which were made. The only thing that can annul God’s covenant is the disobedience of the covenant partner, and only if the stipulations are written. There were no stipulations to the Genesis 15 covenant, and there are none in the new covenant either. There is an “if” in the Genesis 17 covenant.

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