“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah 31:31
New – You and I are part of the family of Israel and Judah. We are part of the family by adoption (unless you are Jewish, of course). We have been grafted in. That means that this promise in Jeremiah is also ours. The announcement of the new covenant applies to us. The only question left is this: what is this new covenant?
The answer is not as difficult as it might seem. God actually describes the effects of this new covenant. Of course, if we don’t pay attention to the words that He uses, we won’t understand what it really entails. So, let’s start at the beginning (always a good place to start). Let’s find out what it means to say that this is a new covenant.
The Hebrew word is hadash. It is certainly the same word that Jesus used when He spoke about the new covenant in His blood. It’s a crucial word. When we look at other instances of this word, we discover something startling. The word hadash is most often connected with the idea of the new moon. In fact, in example after example, the word hadash is not about something absolutely new, but rather about something renewed. It’s the moon seen again after a period of darkness. It’s used to describe the psalms of renewal and the new song to the Lord (Isaiah 42:10). It’s even used to describe the rebuilding of ancient ruins (Isaiah 61:4). The conclusion is inevitable. The new covenant is not a change in the content of the covenant itself. It is a renewal of the covenant by placing the old covenant in a new venue. The original covenant, the same one given to Moses, is renewed because it is moved from tablets of stone to inscription on the heart. In other words, God is going to move the covenant from an external declaration of right living to an internal orientation toward right living. Obedience will become a matter of the heart.
Isn’t this exactly what Jesus said? Religion is not a matter of outward compliance. It is a matter of inner submission. It is attitude that generates action, not simply living according to an external set of rules. Jesus shows us what this new covenant will be like. It will be like total submission to the will of the Father. It will be loving God with all your heart, mind and strength. When Jesus says that He is the new covenant, He points us toward His relationship with the Father as the paradigm case of renewed relationship.
But – there’s always one of these, isn’t there – this renewed covenant does not put away the content of the original. The moon is not recreated each month. It’s only seen again in a fresh way. The covenant instructions, the right way to live before God, are exactly the same. The only thing that changes is where these instructions reside. Once they were written on stone. Now they will be written on the heart. Once they were external prescriptions. Now they will be internal desires. Under the new covenant, men and women will live according to God’s instructions because they desire to.
There’s a lot more to say here. Hold onto your hat!
Topical Index: New Covenant