The New Covenant Promise Fulfilled (Jeremiah 31:31–34)

In Moses’ narrative to the Children of Israel, when he recounted the giving of the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5:1–22), he recalled something that we don’t often remember. God first spoke the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel and afterwards wrote them down on tablets of stone (Deut. 5:22). Starting in Deuteronomy 5:23, Moses describes Israel’s reaction, not to receiving the tablets of stone, but to hearing with their own ears the voice of the living God. They told Moses:

Surely the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God speaks with man; yet he still lives. Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? You go near and hear all that the Lord our God may say, and tell us all that the Lord our God says to you, and we will hear and do it. (Deut. 5:24–27)

Hearing the voice of the living God nearly scared them to death. They were not just faking it, and they were not exaggerating their fears either. The Lord Himself confirmed that their judgment was right (Deut. 5:28). They did not want to hear God’s voice anymore. So they told Moses to go speak with God on their behalf and report back to them, “all that the Lord our God says to you” (Deut. 5:27). Then they made an oath that they would hear and do whatever God told him.

Though God affirmed to Moses that their fears were justified, God Himself knew what was in their hearts. He knew that they lacked the capacity to fulfill their oath to hear and do everything He commanded them. The defect that prevented them from fulfilling their commitment was not the law itself but their sinful natures. This was no surprise to God, for He knew what was in man before He ever gave the law.

But God did not express His knowledge of their shortcomings with anger or condemnation but with love and compassion. He said:

Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever! (Deut. 5:29)

God’s statement to Moses showed us His heart’s desire for man. He longed for us to have hearts that are right with Him, hearts that would cause us always to keep His commandments, and hearts that would result in our eternal well-being. He knew mankind did not have hearts like that, but that’s what He wanted for us.

Now, fast-forward 840 years to the Book of Jeremiah. (J. E. Smith’s The books of history puts Jeremiah’s life in the 600 BC timeframe and the crossing of the River Jordan in the 1400 BC timeframe.[1] Adding forty years for wandering in the desert yields an educated guess of 840 years between the giving of the Ten Commandments and the words of Jeremiah.)

God’s message to Israel through Jeremiah was that from the day He brought them out of Egypt they had failed to observe all that He commanded them (Jer. 7:25–27). They had not obeyed His voice but had “walked according to the dictates of their own hearts” (Jer. 9:14). After 840 years of disobedience, God finally brought upon them the punishment they deserved for breaking the covenant (Jer. 11:1–8).

While Jeremiah was still living, a divided Israel (specifically, the tribe of Judah) was taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as part of their punishment (Jer. 29:1–3). But even then, God’s heart was with the children of Israel, and God promised to bring them back to their land (Jer. 30:1–3). Sandwiched between the promise of a righteous Savior for a restored house of Israel (Jer. 23:5–8) and the reiteration of the same promise (Jer. 33:14–18), we find the promise of a new covenant:

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. (Jer. 31:31–34)

Now, fast-forward another 700 years or so to the first or second century AD. We see the promise of a new covenant repeated almost verbatim in the Book of Hebrews (Heb. 8:8–12). The writer of Hebrews explains that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of Himself paid for the people’s transgressions under the first covenant and made Him the Mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 9:13–15). All along, Jesus was God’s plan to deal with the unrighteousness of man’s rebellious hearts. Jesus fulfils God’s promise of a new covenant:

I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts (Jer. 31:33): When Jesus comes to live in our hearts, He indelibly writes His passions and desires (and everything else about Himself) onto our hearts, and we become full-fledged partakers of the new covenant.

“I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:33): Jesus living in us makes us God’s children and gives us His divine nature. With new hearts, we are the rightly aligned people God always wanted us to be.

“No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord (Jer. 31:34): From inside our hearts, Jesus personally reveals Himself and His will to us. By Spirit-to-spirit communications, He leads us, guides us into all truth, and teaches us everything He wants us to know.

“For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34): God knew that to accomplish these things, He would have to deal with the sins that separated us from Him. So He prepared a human body for His Son, sacrificed Him on a cross for our sins, and conquered death on our behalf by raising Him from the dead.

Let’s look at these great promises one at a time.

  1.   Smith, J. E. (1995). The books of history. Joplin, Mo.: College Press.