June 27, 2022
A reader wants to know about Jeremiah 31:31-34, its original context and its use in Hebrews . . .
Good question. This is the KIND of question that I deal with in my “Essays in Intertextuality” and the first couple of chapters in my “New Heavens and New Earth” book.
The OT and NT have different eschatologies.
OT expects one coming of the Messiah, who is to be only a human king; they expect a political restoration, victory over the enemies and an eternal physical Israel as dominating the world.
NT expects a second coming of the Messiah, expects a bodily resurrection to an “otherworldly” place, expects an end of the cosmos and appropriately teaches that the OT saw the Messiah as BOTH a human and divine character (cf. Psa. 110:1-7, especially as it is used in Matthew 22:41-46).
That said, MOST of the OT prophets see THE IDEAL ERA and present it in terms to which the OT people could relate. They NEVER intended for all of the specifics to be taken literally/physically, but intended the metaphors (new king, new temple, reunited kingdom, etc., etc.) to form part of the BIG PICTURE (ie. The MESSIANIC/IDEAL ERA).
Jeremiah is one of those many prophets. (Daniel is a [the?] rare exception and is predictive, whereas the others are more imaginative [not the right word – it leaves the wrong impression, as if the prophets just “dreamt random stuff up”] but “imaginative” captures the right idea well, as far as being concept/idea.)
The OT Jews did NOT understand that 700 years had to pass before the Messianic kingdom would come.
Catch this IMPORTANT POINT: until Daniel’s text (AFTER Jeremiah, of course [see Dan. 9:1,2]), one would NOT have understood that the REDEMPTION from Assyrian/Babylonian exile and the era of the Messiah/the ideal, imagined era were separate. They thought those to be the SAME redemption, but Daniel came along to say that 4 world empires had to “come and go” before the Messiah would come (Dan. 2; 7).
So, the redemption from Assyria/Babylon is presented with the same language/terminology that the Messianic redemption is presented in. That is a very important point. It is not shocking, then, to read the prophets and hear an overlap; the redemption is always presented as “Messianic in idea,” but the physical restoration wasn’t what the prophets were ultimately concerned with.
NOW . . .
Let me say more . . .
The “COVENANTS” need a hard second look . . . We have the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12,15,17,22), the Mosaic covenant (Exo. 19:1-6) and the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7; Psa. 89; etc., etc. [see especially Jeremiah 33:15-26]). The Mosaic covenant IS the Abrahamic covenant NATIONALIZED. BUT, these each have their own “INDIVIDUAL” existence . . . The Abrahamic covenant – a worldwide commitment from God (“All nations of the earth . . .”) IS NOT REPLACED BY THE NEW COVENANT IN CHRIST . . . The MOSAIC NATIONALIZATION OF THAT COVENANT IS REPLACED IN CHRIST . . . BUT, the Abrahamic covenant CONTINUES (see Paul argue this EXPLICITLY in Galatians 3-4 all over). FURTHERMORE, the Davidic covenant is NOT replaced by the New Covenant in Christ but CONTINUES in Christ. (Too many texts to list them all; Jesus IS still reigning as king in David’s line [see Luke 1:31-33; Acts 1:6; 15:14-ff.].) . . . What is the point??? The “COVENANT” that is “done away” in Christ is the Mosaic NATIONALIZATION; it DOES NOT REMOVE the “covenants” with Abraham and/or David.
Now, how would the Jews have understood Jeremiah’s proclamation about a “new covenant” that was coming? Better yet, how would Jeremiah have understood his own proclamation about a “new covenant”??? AND, how might they have understood the word “NEW” (chadash)?
I think that they probably understood the word “NEW” as simply meaning “fresh” or “new” . . . But the HEBREW – catch this point – the HEBREW word DID NOT HAVE THE PRECISION that the Greek language has. What I mean to say is that they probably DID NOT UNDERSTAND that a complete overhaul of the OLD MOSAIC SYSTEM was intended. (Why, I can’t read Jeremiah 31:31-34 and see that HE [Jeremiah, himself] understood or intended that!) I think that they understood Jeremiah to say, “A fresh/new revision or resurfacing of the old Mosaic covenant will break forth . . .” In fact, let me show you what the text EXPLICITLY says . . .
Jeremiah 31:31,32 says this . . .
1) A NEW covenant is coming with both houses of Israel (vs. 31).
2) The NEW covenant is going to be “different” from the one made with their fathers in the Exodus (vs. 32).
3) The OLD covenant (made under Moses had been BROKEN), (vs. 32).
SO . . . Catch this . . . Jeremiah 31:33,34 outlines 4 WAYS in which the “new covenant” will differ from the FIRST/OLD . . .
(1) The law will be internalized (“I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it”) . . . See Deut. 6:6-ff.; 11:18; 30:14.
(2) The covenant relationship will be present (“I will be their God; they shall be my people”) . . . See Exo. 19:1-6; 24:3-8; Deut. 26:16-19; 29:12-15; Hos. 1:3.
(3) The personal relationship with the Lord will be present (“They will all know me from the least of them to the greatest of them”) . . . See Isa. 1:3; 54:13.
(4) Forgiveness of sins will be present (“I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more”) . . . See Exo. 34:5-7.
HERE IS THE POINT . . . NOT A SINGLE ELEMENT WITHIN JEREMIAH’S TEXT IS A RADICALLY NEW – A COMPLETELY NEW INTRUSION – TO THE OLD TESTAMENT SYSTEM . . . ALL OF THESE ELEMENTS ARE VERY FAMILIAR TO THE Old Testament JEWS. BUT, they had ABUSED God, rejected the covenant, and so, Jeremiah ENVISIONS a time where the OLD COVENANT (in its IDEAL form) is in effect.
The Jews knew that they had broken the covenant. The ideal goal/end/direction of God’s “old covenant” was not fulfilled in the Jews. Jeremiah ENVISIONS a time (imagines a time?) coming where the IDEAL is fulfilled.
My major point is that Jeremiah 31:31-34 could easily be read as not involving some new, complete overthrow of the Old System . . . This “new” covenant would BE EVERYTHING THAT THE OLD ONE WAS NOT . . . But it would involve the same particulars/specifics. (I think that this is how Jeremiah and his colleagues would have understood the oracle.)
NOW, what the New Testament does (in passages like Hebrews 8 and 10) is EXHAUST THE MEANING of the Old Testament text. Jeremiah and his contemporaries would not have understood that it was a complete overhaul of the MOSAIC NATIONALIZATION . . . But, through revelation, the Hebrews writer (Paul?) “got it” and understood that it’s goal/end/direction was fulfilled in Christ/Him and His body (see esp. Rom. 8:4; 10:4).
Hebrews’ use of Jeremiah, in effect, REVEALS to us that MORE than a mere “resurfacing of the old covenant of Moses” was intended. (One might’ve thought that from reading Jeremiah alone!) Hebrews tells us that the “new covenant” in Christ is to be FAR MORE RADICALLY UNDERSTOOD than just a “newer old covenant” – it’s a completely NEW SYSTEM. (As an aside, only 5 texts in Hebrews use the word “new” – see 8:8, 8:13, 9:15, 10:20 and 12:24 . . . All of them speak about the NEW SYSTEM in Christ. The first 4 all use the word “kainos” but the last one uses the word “neas” . . . The “covenant” in Christ is BOTH “fresh” and “radically new” [and BOTH of the Greek words are used as adjectives of it.] Max King made a blunder [AGAIN!] when he said that it was always a “kainos” covenant and NEVER a “neas” covenant; 12:24 rejects that whole nonsensical business.)
SO, I think that Hebrews’ use is TWO-FOLD . . .
(1) FIRST, it serves to say that THE IDEAL ERA UNDER THE MESSIAH is NOW present in Christ.
(2) SECOND, it serves the purpose of REVEALING that Jeremiah’s oracle should NOW be read as being FAR MORE RADICAL than simply a “resurfacing of the old Mosaic system, though now ideal” – it serves to say that a COMPLETE OVERHAUL of the SYSTEM would be effected in an ENTIRELY NEW (not just a “fresh”!) SYSTEM in JESUS . . . and the resurrection is the “hermeneutical key” to proving that (see John 2:18-23; 12:16, etc., etc.).
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© Copyright Drew Leonard 2019