02 December 2012

"I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah" (v. 31)


When Christians read about a 'new covenant', their minds can immediately jump to Jesus and the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). But Jeremiah's original intention was different. He was referring to God doing something new for his ancient people in the foreseeable future. God would restore God's own people to Palestine from wherever they had been exiled and dispersed. (Jeremiah had seen for himself the exile of Judah to Babylon in 586BC. And a return began in 538BC., after his death).

The 'new' covenant would be remarkably like the old covenant, which God established with his people through Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-6). God's law never changes, for instance. What would be different would be the learning of the law. God's people would no longer be dependent on kings, teachers and prophets of varying effectiveness. God would write the law in every heart. The law would be thoroughly internalised. Each Israelite would know God's presence and power in the depths of their being and would be inspired to do God's will,

Jeremiah stressed that the new covenant would mark a radical break from the unsatisfactory relation of Israel to their God, from Moses to the exile. God would forgive the people's sins (verse 34) and make a new start with them. Like a farmer and a builder, God would develop thriving, peaceful rural communities in the barren desert (verses 27-28). The new society would last for ever (verses 35-36).

Of course, it did not happen as Jeremiah hoped. When Israel returned from exile, life was as tough, muddled and morally ambiguous as it had ever been.

So perhaps it is worth jumping ahead to Jesus. Christians believe that hints of the 'new covenant' which Jeremiah envisaged were visible in Jesus' life and ministry; and sometimes they may be glimpsed in the Church. The Church is the community of the new covenant. But the transformation of the whole world, as we now know it - which is the coming of God's kingdom - is for the future. We live in hope.

To Ponder

  • What in your experience, or in your awareness of life in the wider world, most threatens to undermine your hope that God will bring in the kingdom? How is hope sustained within the Church?
  • If God writes the law in your heart, what place is there in your pilgrimage for learning and Christian education?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Deeks


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