Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 31)

31This chapter is the high-watermark of the “Book of Consolation” (30-33) and the book of Jeremiah. It could be the high point of the entire Old Testament!  It contains an extended description of the joyful re-gathering and resettlement in the land after the exile.  Beyond that, it gives the promise of a coming New Covenant—a covenant later instituted by Jesus and applied to Gentiles as well as to “the house of Israel and . . . the house of Israel” (31).

new cov 2God’s abiding purpose in all this is reiterated in the opening verse:  “I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they will be my people.”  Here is another instance of the refrain the plays through the symphony of Scripture: God is seeking a people for Himself. The final chapters of the book of Revelation indicate how that, in the New Jerusalem, this ancient desire is finally, and fully fulfilled (Revelation 21:3).

The realization of this divine desire requires God’s enduring commitment to His own purposes.  Fueling that faithfulness is His “everlasting love” (“I have loved you with an everlasting love”—3).  This everlasting love is grounded in His glorious nature not the goodness of His people. Jeremiah has chronicled the spiritual defection of Israel in graphic and jarring words.  Certainly, God had every right to reject and destroy this wayward, rebellious nation.  But because He does not change, His compassions never fail and His people are not consumed (Lamentations 3:22). After uprooting and tearing them down (1:10; 31:4, 27-28), He still pledges “to build and to plant” (28).  His love, though not undiscerning, is unfailing and everlasting.

The blessings of God are pictured in physical and spiritual terms.  God gathers the people He has scattered among the nations (10). He strengthens and supports them as they stream, weeping, back into the land (9).  Once returned, they dance and sing for joy, rejoicing in the crops and herds that God has given (12-14).  Realizing that all this goodness is the blessing of God, they praise Him (7) and speak blessings in His name (23).  They enjoy His gifts without forgetting the Giver (see Deut. 8:11).  They are His people and He is their God (1, 33).

The nation is pictured as God’s “firstborn son” (9).  Though Israel is “the child in whom I [God] delight” (20), the nation admits it was “disciplined” for acting like an “unruly calf” (18). God also refers to His people His “daughter” (a “Virgin” daughter and “unfaithful” daughter—21-22).  As Israel’s father (9), the Lord “often speaks against” His wayward nation, but “still remembers him” (20).  His heart “yearns” with “great compassion” for Israel (20).  Here we see what the Fatherly love of God is like:  it does not condone disobedience but denounces and disciplines it severely.  However, God’s heart of compassion does not change.  He loves Israel with a covenantal love and stays faithful to them in spite of their infidelity towards Him.

The promised blessings of a national return to a peaceful, prosperous land produce singing, dancing and great joy.  Still, these are not the greatest promises made in this chapter.  The summit of God’s grace and goodness is reached in verses 31-40 where the Lord promises He will “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (31).  A covenant with Israel that will endure forever (35-37).This New Covenant will “not be like” the Mosaic covenant which Israel had broken in spite of God’s loving care (“though I was a husband to them”—32).  This new covenant will accomplish God’s relational goal:  “I will be their God and they will be my people” (33).

The New Covenant, like Israel’s return from exile and rise to international prominence (“foremost of the nations”—7), will be God’s doing.  Five times in verses 31-34 the phrase “I will” is used:  I will make a new covenant; I will make; I will put my law in their minds; I will be their God; I will forgive their wickedness. The Lord Almighty is the initiator and source of all these blessings.  God’s incredible grace is revealed in the New Covenant as it is made with a people who have broken His former covenant and His heart.  The first two “I will” statements promise a new covenant; the final three explain three key blessings of it:  a new heart for God (33a), true knowledge of God (33b-34a); full forgiveness from God (34b).

new covThe heart of the New Covenant is a new heart for God (33a). Whereas the Old Covenant was external, written on tablets of stone, the New Covenant is written on “minds” (literally “inward parts”) and “hearts” (33).  This does not mean God’s people no longer need to study or learn His Word, but that there will be an inner inclination to obey!  Ezekiel adds that God removes the old, stony heart and replaces it with one made of flesh, a heart shaped by His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The New Testament expands on this distinctive feature of the New Covenant—the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to enable closeness with God and empower obedience to Him (John 14; 16).

The result of the New Covenant is a true knowledge of God (33b-34a). God’s long-standing desire (“I will be their God and they will be my people”) is realized as a result of the New Covenant.  This relationship is characterized by a true knowledge:  “they will all know me from the least to the greatest”(34).  New hearts have a true desire to know God, a desire that is internally produced not externally enforced (“No longer will a man teach his neighbor . . . saying, ‘Know the Lord’”—34).

new cov 3The basis of the New Covenant is full forgiveness from God (34b).  The Lord promises to “forgive” sins and “remember their sins no more.”  While there was a kind of forgiveness under the Old Covenant (a covering for sin), full forgiveness comes under the New Covenant that was inaugurated by Jesus’ death. At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).  His death makes possible full forgiveness for our sin (1 John 2:2).

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