In Jeremiah 30 we see the command to write prophecies in a book. “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 30:2). The chapter includes phrases like “days are coming” and “it shall come to pass in that day.” On that day “I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds…But they shall serve YHWH their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (Jeremiah 30:8-9). This chapter opens the Book of Consolation at the climax of the whole of Jeremiah. It is about the latter days.
Again we see the theme: “I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end” (Jer 30:11). The chapter ends, “In the latter days you will understand this” (Jer 30:24).
And chapter 31 begins, “At that time…” (Jer 31:1). This chapter gives us another poem concerning the latter days. The poem includes this famous line: “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more” (Jer 31:15). It is cited in Matthew 2:18.
Later in the chapter there is some prose: “Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast. And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares YHWH” (Jeremiah 31:27-28). And there is mentioned the proverb that will not be said any longer: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Jeremiah 31:29), the reason: “But everyone will die for his own sin. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge” (Jeremiah 31:30). Ezekiel 18:25 also quotes this proverb in order to contradict it. The people claimed that they were being punished for the sins of their ancestors and not for their own, but they themselves had failed to repent.
Jeremiah 31:31ff says this: “Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares YHWH. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHWH: I will put my Torah within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know YHWH,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares YHWH. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
This is the only reference in the Hebrew Scriptures to a “new covenant.” What you need to know about the adjective “new” (this is true both for the Hebrew word translated “new” in the Old Testament as well as the Greek word translated “new” in the New Testament) is that the idea is closer to what we mean by “renew.” Thus the “new covenant” is a renewal of the covenant of grace. The Mosaic covenant, a dispensation-administration of the covenant of grace, had been broken, but the covenant of grace would be renewed in the latter days. Moreover, the new is not a republication of the Mosaic covenant for us – it is a better covenant.
Not that the Mosaic Covenant was to blame – God found fault with the sinful hearts of His people (cf. Hebrews 8:7-8a). But we can say that there was something wrong with the Mosaic Covenant – a better covenant was necessary, a superior covenant founded on better promises was needed, in order to deal with the problem of sin. This New Covenant cannot be broken (as the Mosaic one was). The terms were met by Jesus, the curse was poured out on Jesus on the cross, and He gives the Spirit to His people.
Deuteronomy 10:16 said, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”
Deuteronomy 30:6 said, “And YHWH your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”
And Jeremiah has been preaching on this theme as we have seen throughout the book.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the foundation for understanding what Christ came to do according to the New Testament.
Heart circumcision = Writing the Torah on the heart (For Ezekiel, Heart circumcision = God will put His Spirit in their hearts). One basic improvement from the Mosaic to the New Covenant is that the former was written on stone and scrolls and the latter on the heart. This is an improvement because the written Mosaic Torah interpretation was external and the New Covenant Torah written on the heart is internal. Life transformation takes place from the inside out. Observing the written Torah on the outside was a good thing, but it needed to be done wholeheartedly. We might say that His people are authentic. This is only possible if it is written on the heart (or to put it differently: it is only possible if the Spirit of God is in your heart or we might say if Jesus is in your heart).
It is worth emphasizing that the moral law (though that is not all) is written on the heart of the believer in Jesus. While the moral laws written in the Mosaic interpretation of Torah, as well as elsewhere in Scripture, are not exhaustive, they are an accurate interpretation of God’s will for us too. The short summary of which is to love YHWH our God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength and our neighbor as ourselves. What it means to love one another is accurately described in the moral laws in Scripture. Having the written law reminds us that the Torah written on the heart is not at all subjective but objective.
Continuing to look at these verses – we have the fundamental promise of the covenant of grace: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Note the community dimension of this promise. Many argue that Jeremiah takes us in a much more individualistic direction, and he does stress that individuals have to take personal responsibility for their sins, but the text makes several corporate promises – promises for the people of God as a whole – promises for the church.
“No longer shall each one teach his neighbor…” – the kind of teaching you are getting today continues until we see Jesus. But there is a kind of teaching that does not continue in the New.
When we talk about “knowing YHWH” we are talking about relationship. Of course, to know a person you need to know about the person – but while we might be inclined to emphasize knowing knowledge, the Bible emphasizes knowing God.
The New Covenant is a better and fuller fellowship/communion with the Triune God.
The verse continues with “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares YHWH.”
This too is no throw away line. Earlier in the book when the phrase “from the least to the greatest” appears it was to say that both the leadership of Israel as well as the people of Israel were greedy for unjust gain (Jer 6:13, 8:10). So unlike the Mosaic covenant where the Spirit was poured upon the leadership (or at one time it had been) it will now be on both leaders and all the people.
“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
He forgives and forgets.
By remember/forget we do not mean intellectual knowledge. God does not forget in that sense. The word is being used relationally. Sin will no longer be a barrier to our relationship with God in the new covenant. He does not hold it against His people any more in the new covenant. This is why the new covenant cannot be broken. As you know, this is because of the death of Jesus.
In chapter 32 Jeremiah is challenged to put his money where his mouth is. The setting is year 10 of 11 of Zedekiah’s reign. It is the time when Nebuchadnezzar is besieging Jerusalem. And it is the time when Jeremiah was shut up in the court of the guard that was in the place of the king of Judah. This is the very definition of bad timing. And YHWH revealed to Jeremiah that his cousin would come asking him to buy a field in his hometown of Anathoth. Then his cousin came and said that very thing. Jeremiah says, “Then I knew that this was the word of YHWH” (32:8).
So Jeremiah bought the field. And he told his scribe Baruch to put the deed in an earthenware vessel so that they would last a long time. (Here is that emphasis again on how the exile period would be long – 70 years – and not short.) But then Jeremiah explains this symbolic action, “For thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (Jeremiah 32:15).
The rest of the chapter includes a retelling of the story of Israel to this point and then continues to tell about the future restoration of the nation.
A couple interesting verses because of the passage noted earlier:
“And though I have taught them persistently, they have not listened to receive instruction” (Jeremiah 32:33).
“And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul” (Jeremiah 32:38-41).
So putting the Torah in the heart is similar to the idea of putting the fear of God in the heart.
And in language that sounds like Deuteronomy: “Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promised them” (Jeremiah 32:42).
Jeremiah’s purchase of the field is an act of faith in the word of God. It is a prophetic sign that will build faith for all who read it and believe though they are yet in exile. His purchase of the field is much like Abraham buying a field for a burial ground in Genesis 23.
Then chapter 33 is given the same setting, Jeremiah is again spoken of in the third person, “The word of YHWH came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the guard:” (Jeremiah 33:1).
This story of Israel again begins with creation (cf. Jeremiah 32:17) but then fast forwards to the present siege and the future restoration.
Like the previous chapter the text is mostly at the prose end of the scale.
Jeremiah again uses the language of “the days are coming” (Jeremiah 31:31, 38, 33:14). So yet again the content of the message is about the latter days.
This time the theme of security is stressed (though it was mentioned in the previous texts as well) “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely” (Jeremiah 33:14-16).
Another interesting connection between these chapters is language like this:
Jeremiah 31:35-36 concerning the sun, moon, stars, sea – “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares YHWH, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”
Jeremiah 33:20-22 concerning YHWH’s covenant with day and night.
“If you can break my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken” (33:20-21).
This part is marked off by the following phrases: “The word of YHWH came to Jeremiah: ‘Thus says YHWH:’” (33:19-20a).
The next paragraph begins, “The word of YHWH came to Jeremiah:” (Jeremiah 33:23).
Thus the Book of Consolation ends: “If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them” (Jeremiah 33:25-26). “Restore their fortunes” is the language of return from exile. This is a great consolation to faithful Israel indeed.