Scripture: Jer 8:18–9:1; 31:31–34
Jeremiah’s Despair over Judah (Jer 8:18–9:1)
The prophet Jeremiah had the unpopular task of making the Lord’s legal case against his own people. God told him, “You will stand against the whole land—the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah” (Jer 1:18). That job description eventually led Jeremiah to lament, “My grief is beyond healing … I hurt with the hurt of my people … If only my head were a pool of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for all my people who have been slaughtered” (Jer 8:18, 21; 9:1). And he pled, “Is there no medicine in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why is there no healing for the wounds of my people?” (Jer 8:22).
Jeremiah’s Hope for Israel (Jer 31:31–34)
Jeremiah, who could see far into the future of God’s people, promised a positive future: “I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah” (Jer 30:3). “My people will serve the LORD their God and their king descended from David—the king I will raise up for them” (Jer 30:9). But for the present, Jeremiah had to announce God’s judgment: “Your wound is incurable … I have wounded you cruelly, as though I were your enemy. For your sins are many and your guilt is great” (Jer 30:12, 14). He might announce God’s promise to heal and restore (Jer 30:17), but he would have to warn, not yet: “The fierce anger of the LORD will not diminish until it has finished all he has planned” (Jer 30:24).
Those who eventually “survive the coming destruction” would someday celebrate restoration (Jer 31:2–30). The original covenant promise had been, “I will be your God.”1 That promise was sure, so “In that day” the Lord would renew that relationship: “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people” (Jer 31:1).
Even though the covenantal promise remained the same, Jeremiah described something far greater than just a return to the original covenant arrangements: “‘The days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah’” (Jer 31:31). The Lord said, “This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors … They broke that covenant” (Jer 31:32). The difference would be this: “‘This is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,’ says the Lord, ‘I will put my instructions deep within them, I will write them on their hearts’” (Jer 31:33).
This would finally correct the fault Jeremiah kept finding in God’s people: hard hearts that were stubborn,2 uncircumcised,3 and desperately wicked.4 Jeremiah described this correction as “circumcision” of the heart (Jer 4:4). The law had promised such a circumcision,5 but it came only with the work of Jesus Christ (Rom 2:29). Only this radical change would empower God’s people to observe God’s law.6
Same Core Covenantal Promise
But as I said, the covenant promise remained the same: “I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jer 31:33). And it didn’t entail a new law; it was the same law that Jeremiah repeatedly accused them of breaking.7 What would have changed is their inner commitment to the law, which would only come with the new heart and new life in Christ Jesus (Jer 24:7; 32:39).
When that time came, the people would no longer need priests and scribes to teach and enforce the law. Instead, “‘Everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,’ says the LORD” (Jer 31:34a). This is the Holy Spirit–taught condition promised by Isaiah (Isa 54:13), Jesus (John 6:45; 17:6), Paul (2 Cor 4:6), the book of Hebrews (Heb 8:10–11), and John (1 John 2:20; 5:20).
Fulfilled in Christ
Thanks be to God, that promise of a new heart has come in the regenerating work of Jesus Christ (Heb 8:10; 10:16). And the reason God can say, “I will never again remember their sins” (Jer 31:34) is that Jesus Christ has made the final sacrifice, so that “there is no need to offer any more sacrifices” (Heb 10:18).
Questions, Reflections, and Commitments
- What better response to this branch of the Jesse Tree than for you and those you love best to thank God for the gift of a “new heart” or offer up your prayer asking for it.
- Offer a prayer of thanks to God that we no longer live in bondage to a law that we could never fully observe, that only declared our guilt. Thank him that the law was completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and thank him for the new heart that enables you to follow his will.
Ornament for the day
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