Jeremiah’s Prophecy of a “New Covenant”

Isaiah is generally known as the “Messianic prophet” because of his numerous prophecies regarding both the Messiah and His approaching kingdom. In the same way, Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet” because of his warnings, through tears, of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the exile of his nation. Jeremiah was true to his God: he held back nothing God told him to speak. But what he saw and warned made him despised and hated by many, perhaps most of his nation. However, he was also a patriot. He loved his nation, its capital, and its temple. The message he was commanded to give his nation did not make him happy; he grieved over what he said and wrote.

The greatest bulk of Jeremiah’s writing consists of warnings to his nation and surrounding ones. Still, that is not to say he was silent regarding the Messiah nor of the changes which would be wrought by that Messiah’s coming: he was not. He spoke of the Messiah, identifying Him as the Branch (23:5; 33:15), a term used by Isaiah before him (Isa. 11:1) and Zechariah after him (Zech. 3:8; 6:12). Jeremiah said of the Messiah: “Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell safely in the land” (Jer. 23:5).

Coupled with Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding the Messiah is his prophecy regarding the new covenant the Messiah would make with Israel and Judah. Jeremiah wrote, “Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith Jehovah. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Jehovah: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write it: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah: for they shall all know me, for the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more” (Jer. 31:31-34). In both the prophecies of the Branch (23:5) and the new covenant (31:31), the focus was with Israel and Judah, yet clearly an Israel and Judah different from fleshly Israel. This Judah and Israel, coming in the unknown future, would have God’s law written in their hearts. All other true Israelites would be as they: they would know God’s law — it would be in their inward parts and written in their minds.

Hebrews 8:8-13 and 10:16-17 quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34. Jeremiah 31 is significant because it predicts the giving of a new covenant which implies that the first covenant was temporary. The Hebrew writer emphasizes that point when he said, “In that he saith a new covenant, he had made the first old, and that which is old waxeth aged and is nigh unto vanishing away” (Heb. 8:13). Some do not understanding the writer’s point. They think the law remained until the Hebrew letter was composed and was then in the process of vanishing away. But remember, when the writer said, “In that he saith a new covenant he hath made the first old,” he made the first old when he said, “I will make a new covenant …” It was not the Hebrew writer that said that. The Hebrew writer only quoted what Jeremiah said when he wrote it. When Jeremiah wrote, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel …” it was then that he made that statement. It was then that that covenant was in the process of vanishing away.

It has been said that Jeremiah made no converts. That may be true if we add “in his lifetime.” But the impact of Jeremiah’s words was immense in a rising generation. They could compare the words false prophets had spoken while Jerusalem yet stood, the prediction of those men that neither the temple nor Jerusalem would be destroyed, and the people would be spared captivity. They could read Jeremiah’s warning of the exact opposite and know which man spoke the truth. They could look at Jeremiah’s other words which predicted that the exile would last 70 years. And when they read that prophecy they could have hope! When the release from exile became real (once more validating the truth of Jeremiah’s words), they could read other prophecies from Jeremiah and read of an approaching Branch of David who would make a new covenant with Judah and Israel, and they could also believe those words. The proven veracity of Jeremiah’s words helped pave the way for physical Israel to believe and obey the gospel of Christ. They could understand Paul words: “So that the law is become a tutor to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:24-25).

Jim McDonald