“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
This is not a short verse, unsurprisingly of verses in the books of the prophets, and in this verse alone there are several promises and various implications, like, the breaking of the old convenant (Jer 31:32) to the new.
John Piper defines a covenant in three simple points:
- promises, which God will perform if the people keep the covenant;
- commandments or terms, which the people must keep in order to receive the promises;
- warnings, of what will happen if the covenant is broken.
Focusing on the first point regarding promises, we will examine this new covenant that the Lord made – paying special attention to this line – I will be their God, and they will be my people. The context of this new covenant is simple – It is a new covenant made by the Lord because the Israelites have broken the previous covenant [Jer 31:32]. What is the previous covenant? Verse 32 tells us that it was the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt – thus referring to the covenant made at Mount Sinai [Exo 34:10].
To sum up the previous covenant in a few words, it was one that generally required the Israelites to fulfill many conditions – in other words, it was a covenant based largely on law. And because the Israelites were unable to fulfill some of these conditions, breaking several of these laws, and thus breaking the covenant – God has come up with a new covenant, and this time, it is one based on grace.
I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts – God wrote the commandments on the stone tablets (even though Moses was the one who wrote the second one) – recall Piper’s definition of a covenant, which includes commandments. Instead of having to follow a set of commandments that was inscribed on stone tablets, the new set of covenant still has law, but this time it will be written not on stone tablets but on our hearts. By grace, people will come to know of the Lord. By grace, people will willingly turn to him. By grace, God will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more [Jer 31:34] – we know in retrospect that it’s through the blood of Christ that our sins are forgiven.
I will be their God, and they will be my people – This promise is mentioned several times in the book of Jeremiah [Jer 24:7, Jer 30:22, Jer 32:38], and again referenced in the book of Hebrews [Heb 8:10]. I don’t know about you, but this is an immense promise to me – and one that wasn’t made only to the Israelites, but for Gentiles as well. We’re not talking about God as the universal natural God of providence. We’re not talking about the God as a sovereign but distant god who created the heavens and the earth but has nothing to do with us. We’re talking about God as the God of grace, who will be our God and have a personal relationship with each of us. A God who knows each and every one of us. God as the Father, our Father in Christ, whose love for us is abundant and overflowing like a father’s love for his child. As his people we will be high in his favour, we will have the citizenship of his Kingdom and there will be blessings showered upon us. We won’t have to fear any enemy, for the God Almighty is our Lord. Major connotations here, and perhaps a lot more.
We are told that the new covenant is better than the old – But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises [Heb 8:6]. These are huge words for us; great news for us. The first covenant could be broken, but the second one cannot – because only if the sun stops shinning in the day and the moon and stars stop shinning in the night will this covenant be retracted [Jer 31:35-36], and only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will God reject his people [Jer 31:37]. In other words, this covenant cannot be broken. The promises in this covenant will not be retracted.