27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.
31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
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.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people 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.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘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 31:27-34 NIV)
In today’s passage, we see a transition in Jeremiah’s message from the Lord. Verses 27 – 28 recount the Lord’s calling on Jeremiah from 1:10, where the destruction of the old, broken ways must precede building and planting of the new. We have studied the Lord’s desolation of the old (see 4:23-28 as one example); now He is promising to rebuild the new.
Verses 29 – 30 reinstate personal responsibility for sin. Passing the buck was nothing new; that pattern is traceable all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve tried to cast the blame on others and avoid accountability before God. The proverb Jeremiah cites as an excuse goes back to Exodus 20:5 where God says the punishment for the sins of the parents will be passed down to the children of succeeding generations. The Lord says that everyone will be responsible for their relationship with the Lord.
Verses 31 – 34 are the keys to Jeremiah’s ministry and his message from the Lord. In verses 31 – 32, we see a new covenant announced between God and His people. This passage is the only place in the Old Testament where this happens. Other passages allude to a new relationship (example – Deuteronomy 30:5-6, where the Lord says He will circumcise people’s hearts), but this is the only place where it is clearly spoken.
Notice the inclusiveness of the text – both Israel and Judah are called out, implying the healing of the nation and restoration of the rift between the two kingdoms. God identifies Himself as the faithful husband to the unfaithful wife of His people. A new covenant was needed, as the old covenant was broken, even though God kept His part of the deal.
Remember that the covenant was initiated by God, for His people. The only requirement from the people was for them to obey Him and follow His commands. The covenant was not started by the people, nor was it ratified by them – it was all God’s doing.
Verses 33 – 34 spell out the details of the new covenant. Notice in verse 33 the “I will” statements, all initiated by the Lord. God promises to move His commands from the external (signified by the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments) to the internal (writing them on the hearts of His people).
Once again, the Lord says, “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” The covenant is wrapped up in God’s relationship with His people. The focus is on “be” – a state of connectedness, communion, and presence. The relationship was not based on thinking or doing, but on being, on their relationship.
Verse 34 shows the result of the new covenant, of writing His commands on the hearts of His people. The people will all know the Lord – the intermediaries between God and humanity are no longer necessary. Prophets, priests, Levites, etc. are no longer needed. People can have direct access to God Himself.
Verse 34 also says that forgiveness will be complete because of the new covenant. Sins will be forgiven once and for all – no more sacrifices will be required to cover the sins of the people temporarily.
From our point in history, we know that the new covenant is found in Jesus. Jesus even said that He established the new covenant in His blood (Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). This new covenant changed everything – from our relationship with God to our relationships with each other.
May we grasp the enormity of this new covenant given to us by God and live out its implications in our lives each day.
May we love by relationship, not by feeling.
May we love by choice, not by reciprocation.
May we forgive by example, as we have been forgiven.