Summary: A look at Jeremiah's promise to the nation of Israel of the coming new covenant.
It is really unfortunate that our bible is divided into “old” and “new” testaments, as though there is a disconnect between the two. We hear testament and we think of something akin to a will. It’s like a last will and testament—it’s about something that is supposed to happen after we’re dead. But, the word “testament” when used in relation to the Bible means “covenant.” Covenant is what we’ve been exploring through this Lenten season. There really is no disconnect between the “old” and the “new.” I’ve heard it said this way—“the new is in the old concealed, the old is in the new revealed.” Though we call it old and new, it really is one covenant. The persistent thread that runs throughout is the One who makes the covenant—God. God is the covenant maker and God is the covenant keeper.
So, what of this promise of a “new” covenant that we read about in the prophecy of Jeremiah? If God is the covenant maker and covenant keeper, why do we need a new covenant? Perhaps a review is in order to understand the context. There are numerous covenants in the Old Testament. This series has covered a number of those covenants: God’s covenant with creation through Noah, God’s covenant with Abraham and God’s covenant with the nation of Israel through Moses, which we know as the Covenant of the Law.
As we said earlier in the series, we tend to think of covenant more like a contract, but biblically, the idea runs deeper than that. This covenant God makes reads in the Old Testament like an ancient treaty that a prevailing king would offer to his recently defeated adversaries. The victorious king would offer his terms to the defeated in what was then called a suzerainty treaty. The victor would state, “I’m going to do this, this and this,” and then the treaty would say in relation to the defeated, “You will do this, this and this.” That’s the form of each of the treaties we’ve looked at over the past few weeks. The victorious king was maker of the treaty. It was not a contract between two parties. It was a one-way thing. All the second party had to do was be obedient. The obedience would lead to blessing.
We’ve seen over the past several weeks that the nation of Israel had a problem with being obedient. As a result, they missed all of the blessing. We know that before the ink was dry on the deal, the people were involved in all sorts of sin…including idolatry. They had no sooner been the recipients of the greatest miracle of salvation when God parted the Red Sea, than they started making golden calves to worship. The books of Exodus and Numbers record the nation’s inability to keep the covenant.
Fast-forward several hundred years to the sixth century B. C., to the prophet Jeremiah. He was a prophet to the nation of Judah, which was the remaining remnant of God’s covenant people. The people, even several hundred years later, did what they had always done. They had forsaken God again. They were living in idolatry, greed and pride, and were neglecting the poor and widows among them. Jeremiah's prophecy is filled with doom and gloom and warnings to Judah. Jeremiah has even been called “The Weeping Prophet.” He wept over the nation and its sins. He had the unenviable task of calling the nation back to God. The people wouldn’t listen to Jeremiah, though. They ridiculed him. They beat him. They made fun of him—called him a bald little man! Finally God said, “Have it your way!” God allowed the Babylonians to attack, defeat, and deport them from their homeland for 70 years. That is the historical backdrop of Jeremiah’s account.
Don’t be too hard on them, though. We’re the same way. The disobedience started all the way back in the Garden of Eden when Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat the forbidden fruit. She and Adam yielded to the temptation, and it’s been downhill ever since. Someone said, “Opportunity knocks but once, but temptation bangs on the door every day.” Unfortunately, we like they, don’t handle temptations very well.
Let’s face it. It was the “old” covenant that put them (and us) in that situation. The “old” covenant could only convict of sin. It could not convert one from that sin, or control the sin in one’s life. So, God says, “You know what? I’m going to make a ‘new’ covenant with my people.” When we say “new,” we don’t need to think He did away with the “old” one. He didn’t discard the old covenant, but rather offered the new and improved version. Like the iPhone, right? Remember a long time ago when the iPhone 4s came out? It was the best ever…until the iPhone 5 arrived. Here’s the thing: the essence of the iPhone is the same, but something has been added to it that makes it better. That’s the kind of new Jeremiah is talking about. That’s the kind of new God is working in His covenant.