It was a good day at Oak Hill School of Theology yesterday. Former college principal, David Peterson, traced the biblical theological threads of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (new covenant, new heart, law written on the heart, knowledge of God and definitive forgiveness of sin) by demonstrating the origins of the threads in the whole of the book of Jeremiah and then following the threads into Luke-Acts, the epistle to the Hebrews and 2 Corinthians. These are my notes from the first session, the book of Jeremiah:
Lecture 1 – Transformation in Jeremiah.
People down the centuries have attempted to establish personal and communal transformation in and through various thought systems. Genuine and lasting change can only be found in Christ:
- Physical – resurrection
Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant – Jesus himself inaugurates the new covenant in his blood.
Jeremiah – New Covenant found in the book of comfort 6th century BC
chapters 30-31 the book of comfort.
Prophecy in Jeremiah 31 cannot be seen in isolation, but in context of all Jeremiah says is summarised in this section.
Jeremiah a prophet to the nations (ch1:10)
Pluck up and break down, overthrow, God will destroy the hierarchy of Judah.
Build and plant and restore the broken nation of Israel. This transformation is focused on Israel as a model to the world, so that the world will be transformed through Israel and the covenant.
The broken covenant.
The first main section includes many incitements of Judah’s covenant breaking behaviour. Jeremiah proclaims judgement:
- the destruction of the temple (ch7-10)
- exile (c11-17)
- destruction of the elect (ch18-21)
- failure of kings (c22-24)
Their idolatry was their ultimate betrayal of God, but also greed, immorality, etc.
Mosaic covenant – an imposition, obligation, the commandments of God, blessings and cursing.
Broken covenant central theme of ch11.
Listen to my voice, then I will be with you to bless you.
Everyone, however, walked in the ways of evil.
The heart needed circumcision because the circumcision of the flesh could not bring about the obedience to the law as required, because of stubbornness and idolatry of the heart.
The Lord will abandon his people to severe calamity before bringing restoration and transformation.
There is the message of hope.
Mercy – ch3:12 I will not look on you in anger, I am merciful to you.
The covenant people of God are to obey God as part of their restoration and repentance.
Ch3:18 – plans for wholeness and not for evil.
Ch46-52 judgments of the nations – the utter destruction of the enemies of the people of God.
Israel and Judah shall come together, weeping, with faces turned to Zion “come let us join ourselves to God in an everlasting covenant.
I will forgive the remnant ch50:20
Knowledge and understanding.
The leaders had led God’s people astray.
God’s faithless people would no longer need the ark of the covenant (ch3:16) which contained the law of God, the conditions of the covenant.
A new heart.
Israel and the nations had a heart problem.
A process of transformation would begin in Israel and extend to the nations.
A heart to know that I am the Lord ch24:6-7
New heart and return to God ch24:7
One heart and one way to fear God and follow him, not turning from him 32:38-41
God’s initiative to give his people his heart.
The nations will turn to God.
Gen 12 Abramic covenant – A blessing to the nations
The Book of Comfort (ch30-31)
God is about to restore his people.
- Re-establishment of his people.
- Rebuilding of the temple.
- Restoration fo the covenant.
God’s Davidic King will be the agent of this rule.
God will devour Israel’s enemies.
Dwellings and cities rebuilt, songs of thanksgiving.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I will continue to be faithful to you.”
New exodus, gathering his people from the far corners of the earth.
He will provide for them.
Israel and Judah and restored together. [remarkable given that Israel has already vanished and been intermarried with the nations.]
Material blessing and spiritual renewal.
Inside the national covenant, each generation and individual was to make a response to the covenant.
All that is background to prophecy of the new covenant, the covenant in context.
Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 – The themes of restoration and the covenant framework for all that.
Continuity and discontinuity. Is the new covenant “new” or continuity of the old?
Formal structure suggests both discontinuity and continuity.
discontinuity – “It will not be like the old covenant” and “no longer…”
Continuity – “I will write my law in their hearts” and relationship with his people.
The new covenant will surpass the old covenants in God’s surprising acts of grace and mercy and his work of spiritual renewal.
In ancient Hebrew thinking, the will is located in the heart, therefore a new heart is a heart of willing obedience to the law, now written in their will.
No conditional “if” but the new covenant obligates people to live for him by giving them a desire, and this is a collective desire, not just individual response.
Neighbours and members of the same community will “know the Lord” and will communally accent to the laws of God, with God as husband, “their God.”
Jeremiah 31:34 – God’s people will know him and relate to him in a new way which flows from the action of God to forgive his people and remember their sins no more.
The people of God knew God’s forgiveness in the past but the covenant had been so radically broken the people of God must have wondered if they will every be forgiven again.
Jeremiah said judgement would come and that a remnant would we forgiven and
When God remembers sin he punishes it ch4:10 so forgetting sin is an act of divine grace in not punishing sin. Pardon for sins past, present and future is necessary for God to remain in his covenant with those who go on sinning. How is this covenant going to make this possible? The answer is not found in Jeremiah. We must go elsewhere in the covenant to see the way God enables this forgiveness (e.g. Isaiah 53).
Radical forgiveness is the basis for the renewal, restoration and transformation of God’s people. Therefore we need to start with the end of the prophecy and work backward. Radical forgiveness is the what leads to a new knowledge of God which leads to a new spirit and a new desire to obey God.
Further messages of hope.
God commands Jeremiah to buy a field.
Jeremiah queries the commands.
Image of a city united in the fear of the Lord.
32:38 – will be their God and they will be my people
32:39 – one heart (will) and one way
32-40 – everlasting covenant
32:41 – plant his people in the land
Material and spiritual renewal – health and healing (33:6)
First this is the restoring the fortunes of Israel and cleansing and forgiveness (33:8)
Material blessing (33:9)
Transformation and joy (33:10-13) only thank offerings but no sacrificial offerings
Kingship and priesthood renewed (33:17-18), the kingship is an eternal one.
The covenant of day and night (33:19)
Parallels in other prophetic books.
Hosea ch2 – restoring his covenant renewal.
Isaiah 42:6 – covenant of the people – bringing in the Nations
Ezekiel 11 & 36 – remove heart of stone
God will ensure that history will not simply repeat itself.
The new covenant forms a centre people of a new act of hope of a new beginning in the divine human relationship:
- written in heart
- forgiveness of sin
Transformation is national and international, continuity and discontinuity.