Summary: This sermon examines the faithfulness of God to stick with His people through the first and second covenants.
April 2, 2006 Jeremiah 31:31-34
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
Jeremiah’s words to the Israelites concentrate on two different covenants. Our society doesn’t have much of a clue as to what a “covenant” is. We prefer terms like “contracts” or “agreements”. Covenant seems to have a stronger and more personal flavor to it. A contract can be rather dry - like when you sign a contract to pay off some furniture or buy a car. An agreement usually isn’t quite as strong of a term - it doesn’t have that bonding quality or sound to it. We like to say things like, “we agree to disagree.”
The most personal agreement, contract or covenant that we get into is in the bond of marriage. Even though people who down play marriage only call it a “piece of paper,” even they know it is more than that. If it is “just a piece of paper,” then we have to ask - “why don’t you just sign that piece of paper then instead of living together?”. In spite of what the critics say, marriage is probably our strongest agreement we have. I found it rather interesting that in an interview with Howard Stern - the radio show host with seemingly no conscience - the one thing that bothered this perverted man was not the fact that he was eying naked women on his show or anything like that - but the fact that his marriage didn’t work.
It is apropos then that God uses marriage as an example to His relationship with the Israelites. Jeremiah says that God was “a husband to them.” God took on the role of the provider and the protector in their relationship. He said to the Israelites - I will take you out of slavery to the Egyptians and into the Promised Land. I promise to give you a land flowing with milk and honey. Not too long after God did this, He led them down to Mt. Sinai. This is where the groom showed His bride what He wanted her to do for Him. Moses went up on top of Mt. Sinai where God gave him the Ten Commandments and also the ceremonial and civil law. She (that being the Israelites) was supposed to submit to Him - follow His laws - do exactly as He said. This was not an easy covenant they were agreeing to. If you look through Exodus and Leviticus you will see that their lives were micro-managed down to even what kind of clothing they were to wear.
Deuteronomy 22:9-12 Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled. Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together. Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together. Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear.
These laws were to be studied and learned by the Israelites so they wouldn’t unknowingly break any of them - since there were so many of them. It was meant to set them apart as a very individual people. It was also designed to drive them back to the LORD time and again with sacrifices. Inevitably, all of these laws were made to show the Israelites how sinful they were. God knew that the Law would do that, so within the law He also provided with ways to relieve their guilt, as they made specific sacrifices to “pay for” their sins - in the sense that these sacrifices they brought cost them money and effort. Ultimately, those sacrifices made under the Law were also supposed to point the people forward to the greatest sacrifice - that of the Christ.
If the Israelites of the Old Testament had lived under this covenant - studied the Law and lived by it, God promised them some great things. Listen for instance to Exodus 23:22-26