This week we engage with the passage from Jeremiah that is one of the more unique passages in the Old Testament; Jeremiah 31:31-34. I say that it is unique not in its meaning, but in the fact that it is the only place in the Old Testament where there is the promise of a New Covenant.
Covenant is a central understanding that is found in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament the understanding of covenant was foundational for the ordering of society. It held the theological basis, liturgical order, and gave direction for the community.
It was foundational for society and became what people would proof text against. Thus, the law that was written was done so out of the covenant, but anything new or out of the ordinary begging the question: “does________ live up to the covenant.” As you know, the original covenant was something of an intellectual thing, or at least that is how it was received. It was based and resulted in laws, which were written. But the intent of God with the covenant was not that direct or narrow. As Walter Brueggemann states:
In its largest sweep, the covenant affirms that the God of all creation has made an abiding commitment of fidelity to this chosen people, Israel. This commitment, moreover, is not grounded in anything other than God’s own resolve to be in the relationship. (Brueggemann: Reverberations of Faith, 37)
Relationship being the foundation and connection being the guide, here in the passage we have the suggestion that a new covenant is coming but this covenant, while still being about that relationship with God, will be fundamentally different. Instead of the covenant being something of the mind, this covenant was going to be written on the hearts of all the chosen.
For the post-exilic Hebrews this is an important change since time and experience had taught them that the law was more of a goal than something which could be followed; thus, if the covenant was written on their hearts, the law was relegated to the role of how we live together as community, but salvation was guaranteed through God’s love for us and his desire to be in relationship.
No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)
As you prepare for worship this week think about the covenants that rule your life. God is at work offering forgiveness, showing mercy, and giving knowledge of life, death, and salvation. Where is God enacting that new life within or around you? What in your life must die so that you may flourish? What must fall away so that you can rise again in Christ?
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen