JEREMIAH'S NEW COVENANT THEME IN HEBREWS 8-10
(Old Promise - New Covenant)
Texts: Jeremiah 31.31 - "I will make a new covenant." Hebrews 8.7-13; 10.13-18
The unifying themes that run from Hebrews 8.1 - 10.18 are Covenant, Sanctuary, and Sacrifice
1. Priesthood and Promise: 8.1-7. The summary (hephalsion, chief point) emphasizes the past argument. Perhaps the author also intends a transcendent character that is now opened to our eyes. The high priest now sits at the right hand of the throne of God. In the Old Testament structure no high priest did this. The crown of the argument is that Christians have a high priest who is enthroned at the right hand in the heavenly dwelling place not made by hands. This marvelous assertion distinguishes the new order as inaugurated by Christ from all other objects of worship. The earthly sanctuary was designed to be nothing more than 'copy1 or 'shadow* of the heavenly reality. This presents a radical contrast between Moses regarding the tabernacle in the wilderness.
2. The Old Covenant Superceded - 8.8-12. The speaker in the new covenant is God (oracle of Yahweh, Lord). The new covenant foretold by Jeremiah is set in contrast with the covenant that Yahweh made with the people of Israel when He delivered them from the land of Egypt (contrast Exodus 24.1-8). The Exodus passage is specifically referred to in 9.18-20. At that time, as Jeremiah on a previous occasion reminded his hearers the essence of God's covenant with Israel was "obey my voice and I will be your God and you shall be my people, and walk in all the ways that I command you, that it may be well with you." (Jeremiah 7.23) But his commandment was disregarded, his charge against his people reiterated in Jeremiah's day was "But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own council and the stubbornness of their evil heart (the Hebrew phrase s'ribut libbam hara is used by Jeremiah and only in Deuteronomy 29.29 and Psalms 81.12 used to disregard the divine covenant; found also repeated in the Qumran text eg. CD 3.5, in the context of the new covenant established "in the land of Damascus"). God had repeatedly sent His servants the prophets to a people "who did not listen to me - Jeremiah 7.24-26).
Prophet after prophet came to Israel and Judah, recalling the people to their covenant loyalty. Jeremiah himself was no exception. "Hear the words of this covenant, and do them," was his call (Jer. 11.6); and with that call went the assurance that the blessing attached to the keeping of the covenant would still be theirs if they were obedient, while persistent disobedience to it would bring a curse upon them as it had done upon their fathers.
This covenant theme was all the more topical in Jeremiah's day because of the solemn covenant that had been made by the king and the leaders of the nation in the eighteenth year of Josiah. The discovery by Hilkiah the priest of "the book of the law," probably the law of Deuteronomy, in the temple in that year (621 B.C.) was followed by a solemn act of national repentance and rededication (see II Kings 23.3, "And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before Yahweh, to walk after Yahweh and keep His commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all their heart and soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book; and all the people joined in the covenant, II Kings 23.3.
The king's repentance was not extended to the people. Jeremiah was quick to perceive this, and to recognize that there was no ground for expecting this covenant to be kept anymore than the covenant of Deuteronomy 29.1 of which it was essentially a reaffirmation. Jeremiah's attitude and relation to King Josiah's covenant and reformation have often been discussed (cf. J. Skinner, Prophecy and Religion (Cambridge, 1922), pp. 89-107; G.A. Smith, Jeremiah (London, 1929), pp. 134-61; H. H. Rowley, "The Prophet Jeremiah and The Book of Deuteronomy," in Studies In The Old Testament Prophecy presented to T. H. Robinson, ed.; H.H. Rowley (Edinburg, 1950), pp. 157-74; and John Bright, Jeremiah (Garden City, NY, 1965), pp. xci-xcvi).
The days were dark; national life was in collapse; it was "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30.7). But the people's lives would be renewed on a new basis, and a new relationship between them and their God would be brought into being. This new relationship would involve three things in particular: (a) The implanting of God's law in their hearts; (b) the knowledge of God as a matter of personal experience; (c) the blotting out of their sins (cf. Jeremiah 31.33, "I will put more torah within them.") The Hebrew Torah means more than statutory law; it embraces the idea of guidance, direction and instruction. The New Testament fulfillment of this promise is nowhere better expressed than in Paul's words in Romans 8.1-4 of the work of the indwelling Spirit of God in the believer.
A. The implanting of God's law in their hearts means much more than their committing of it to memory. The prescription of Deuteronomy 6.6-9, …these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your head, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes, and you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
B. The knowledge of God as a matter of personal experience is evidently regarded in Jeremiah's oracles as something beyond what the old covenant provided. Exodus - past generation who did not know God (Judges 2.10) Hosea 4.1-6 - no knowledge of God in the land (know God, known by God, perfection in Hebrews)
C. Blotting out his people's sins is essential in this new relationship (Micah 7.28ff. century before Jeremiah; Before Exodus 34.6, forgiving iniquity; forgiveness of sin not a new idea in Jeremiah.) Hebrews 10.3, annual reminder of sins - no reminder in New Covenant because sacrifice was offered once and for all on the cross.
We now enter the "better promises" on which the New Covenant is established: (1) I will put my laws in their minds; (2) They shall all know me; (3) I will remember their sins no more. The covenant at Sinai involved Divine Promise, but not promises like these. The New Covenant gives new meaning to "I Will be their God, and they shall be my people." The covenant concept with its contractual obligation is often assumed to be inadequate to convey the religious relationships subsisting between God and his people. This position fails in distinguishing between form to the exclusion of substance. The biblical covenant has close affinities with the treaties which bound vassal states to their imperial overlords in the second millennium B.C. But it makes all the difference in the world to the substance of the covenant when it is God who takes the initiative in His grace, bestowing his promise freely on those who He has called to be His people, and binding them to Himself with bands of love (of. for vassal treaties see G.E. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Israel and The Ancient Near East (Philadelphia, 1955); J.A. Thompson, The Ancient Near Eastern Treatises and The Old Testament (London, 1964); and D.J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenants (AnBib 21.A, Rome, 1978).
The Qumran community (second century B.C.) sought to realize the promise of the New Covenant. The members of the Qumran community are described as "entering the covenant in the land of Damascus" (CD 6.19; 8.21; esp. 10.12). Jesus, on the night that he was betrayed, gave his disciples the cup and said, "this is my blood of the covenant, shed for many" (Jn. 4.23ff. Worship is liberated from external restriction of time and place). In Jeremiah's oracle, the New Covenant is to be made "with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah." In the New Testament fulfillment it is not confined to them, but extends to all believers and every nation, and indeed, in the Old Testament itself indications are not lacking that it was to have this all- embracing character. (Isa. 42.6 - Servant is given not only "for covenant to the people" but also "for a light to the nations" (Isa. 49.6, 19.24ff; Romans 15.9-12, "God does not abolish physical Israel, but in saving it transcends it; just as He does not abolish this earth but renews it." (H.L. Ellison, Men Spoke from God (London, 1958), p. 92).
The very words "a new covenant" antiquate the previous one. In saying this our author does not go beyond Jeremiah, who explicitly contrasts the New Covenant of the future with the covenant made at the time of the Exodus and implies that when it comes the New Covenant will supercede that earlier one. Paul speaks of himself as a "minister of a new covenant," not in a written code, but in the spirit and by contrast with this New Covenant refers to that associated with Moses as "the Old Covenant" (II Cor. 3.6,14; both Jesus and Stephen foretold the downfall of the temple, a priesthood and the sacrificial system).
The inadequacy of the old order compared with new is now compared with the wilderness sanctuary worship (note, not the Temple; the Mosaic tabernacle which was introduced in Exodus 25.1 was immediately after the inauguration of the covenant in Exodus 24.(See Philo, Who is The Heir of Divine Things? p. 221 and Josephus, Antiquities 3.146 - seven branches of the menorah represent the seven planets. The seven branched menorah on the arch of Titus has been adopted as the coat of arms of modern State of Israel; J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (E.T., London, 1969).
The author proceeds to enlarge upon the use which was made of the ancient sanctuary on the annual Day of Atonement (9.6-10). In this section our author exposes a Temporal Ritual. Some of the services within the temple areas were discharged by any member of the priesthood, but none except the high priest was permitted to enter "the second tent"- the holy of holies; and even he was permitted to enter it only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and the conditions of his entering it were strictly prescribed. These conditions are set out in Leviticus 16 where the holy of holies is called "the holy place within the veil", vs. 1. Only the Aaronic high priesthood could enter (L. Morris in "The Day of Atonement and The Work of Christ" RTR 14, 1955), pp. 1-19). The meaning of the tabernacle can now be understood, in the light of the work of Christ, the relationship of perfection and conscience, see C.A. Pierce, Conscience in the New Testament (SET, 15 London, 1955; J. Stelzenberger, Syneidesis im Neuen Testament (Poderson, 1961).
"The good things that have come" for Christ has appeared, and in him the shadows have given way to the perfect and abiding reality. The New Year, The Day of Atonement and the Feast of the Tabernacle (the first, tenth, and fifteenth days). (See L. Morris, Apostolic Preaching of The Cross (London, 1965, esp. 11-62; and N.Y. Young of Tisbei, "The Gospel According to Hebrews 9"
The Mediator of The New Covenant: 9.15-22.
Jesus is "mediator of a better covenant." The New Covenant foretold of Jeremiah has already been stated in 8.6. But now the basis of his mediatorship is made clear; that basis is his sacrificial death. By virtue of his death, redemption has been provided for those who had broken the law of God, the life of Christ was the costly price paid to liberate them from their sins. The costly grace expressed in Christ's death now includes Gentiles (the goyim, the ethnics, Acts 17.3;, Romans 3.25). The close connection between God's effectual calling of His people and the heritage which is theirs as his sons and heirs, joint heirs with Christ, is set out more fully by Paul in Romans 8.14-30.
But why was the mediator's death necessary for the ratification of the covenant? The Greek word is diatheke, which has the sense of settlement (see esp. J. Behm and G. Quell in TDNT, II, pp. 106-34; and J. Guhrt and 0. Becker, IDNTTT, p. 365-76). In vss 16 and 17 of chapter 9 it is used of another kind of settlement, a last will and testament, in which property is bequested by the owner to various other persons only understanding that they have no title to it until he dies. Because the New Testament word diatheke takes its meaning from the Hebrew berith rather than classical Greek. The New Testament sense is not usually testament. B.F. Westcott seeks to retain the meaning covenant even in Hebrews 9.l6f (Epistle to the Hebrews (London, 1903) reprinted by Eerdmans, and G. Vos, "Hebrews, The Epistle of The Diatheke" Presbyterian Theological Review 13 (1915), p. 6l4ff.; K.M. Campbell, "Covenant or Testament? Hebrews 9.16,17 Reconsidered" (Evangelical Quarterly 44 (1972), pp. 106-11; E. Rigenbach, "Der Begriff der Diatheke im Hebraerbriaf" in Theologische Hudren Theodor Zahn Zun 10, Okober 1908 (Leipzig 1980), p. 289ff; G.D. Kilpatrick, "Diatheke in Hebrews," Z.M.W. 68 (1977), pp. 263-65; E.W. Nicholson, "God and His People: Covenant Theology in The Old Testament (Oxford, 1986); R.T. Beckwith, "The Unity and Diversity of God's Covenant" Tyndale Bulletin 38 (1987), pp. 93-118. The diatheke and berith imply the death of the testator. The death of its author is implied, i.e., Christ's death on the cross. Everything cleansed requires "blood" - "apart from the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (e.g.. Lev. 17:11).
The cleansing of inward and spiritual defilement required a perfect sacrifice. Where was a perfect sacrifice to be found? Only through the Incarnation of God could such a demand be met. God's holiness demanded sacrifice; God's grace gave the sacrifice. God alone could pay the price!! Jesus as God incarnate paid the sacrificial demand. Following out this conception, we can well imagine him saying that the book of The New Testament, the eternal gospel written in the heavens, of the Christian sanctuary, the heavenly Zion (cf. 12.18-23), and in heaven, have all been consecrated by the blood of Christ. The stamp of the cross is on all of them "after all the things in heaven represent realities which have a present existence for Christians through Christ." (N. Manson, The Epistle to the Hebrews (London, 1951), pp. 14ff. Men and women die once, by divine appointment, and in their case death is followed by judgment. Christ died once by divine appointment, and His death is followed by salvation for all His people. This is so because in His death he bore "the sins of many" offering up to God as an atonement on their behalf (eg. Isa. 53.12, "he bore the sins of many, also vs. 10).
But when He appears the second time to those who expect Him, it will not be to deal with sin once more. Sin was dealt with decisively at his first appearing. Therefore, let them not grow faint and weary but persevere in patience and faith. All the promises of God are yes in Jesus, the promise of eternal life. On this promise our hope as Christians rests secure.
"How to acquire the fulfillment of the promise of God made with Abraham" is the central theme that held the interest of the author of the first twelve chapters of Hebrews. God promised Abraham the land of Palestine, although he did not intend for Abraham to receive it during his lifetime. It was intended for Abraham's posterity. All the patriarchs dwelt in the land of promise as strangers. All the males except Joshua and Caleb would die never seeing the Promised Land. Later Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, but the fulfillment of the promise was not yet. God spoke through David in Psalm 95 as if the rest had not been received. Israel has never had lasting and secure possession of the land, thus the promise of God was still pending.
The good news given to Israel through Moses had again been renewed through Jesus whose life and death prepared a new way, for a new Israel could be recipients of a New Covenant and the fulfillment of the Old Promise. Only through Jesus could Israel have received and renewed the possibility of receiving the promise. The Dead Sea Scrolls (“Rules of the Community”) and the Christian community were the only ones who depicted the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham (See D. Flusser, "The Dead Sea Sect and Pre-Pauline Christianity" Scripta Hierosolymitana 4 (1958) p. 236-64;266-66; H. Kosmala, Hebraeer, Essener, Christian (Leiden, 1959), p. 1-3; Y. Yadin, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and The Epistle to the Hebrews," Scripta Hierosolymitana 4 (1958), 38). Only the People of God remaining in our postmodern culture receive the promises of God in Jesus. All other aspiring groups are historical relics!!!
Dr. James Strauss
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656-2111