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But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Cor. 4:7 NIV)

Hebrews: A New Covenant (8:7-13)

The last post ended with a passage that referenced the covenant that Jesus had mediated. The author of Hebrews now goes on to describe this “new” covenant. And he looks back to Jeremiah and his prophecy concerning a covenant that would replace the one broken by Israel. This covenant is quoted in full here, and later a part of the quote is repeated.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The Old Covenant

The book of Exodus records God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery. After leaving Egypt, God brought Israel to Mt Sinai. And there he established a covenant with them.

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.

Exodus 19:5-6 NIV

After God invited them into this covenant relationship he gave them the terms of the covenant that they were to obey. These included the 10 Commandments as well as several chapters of additional laws. Moses took all of this to the people and they responded with “Everything the LORD has said we will do” (Ex. 24:3).

Moses took their answer back up the mountain to God. While there he received directions for building and furnishing the tabernacle. But, while he was gone, the people crafted a golden calf and began to worship it. No sooner had they agreed to this covenant than they broke it. And that became a pattern for the rest of their history. They seemed incapable of living up to their end of the covenant.

The Reason for a New Covenant

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:
“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.

Hebrews 8:7-9 NIV

If the people had lived up to their end of the covenant there would have been no problem with it. But their failure to obey its terms was a constant problem. Even though the people constantly failed, God remained faithful to his end of the covenant. But that was not a condition that would last forever. Eventually, God would cancel that covenant. But he would also establish a new one, unlike the first one.

This new covenant would be with the people of Israel. It might appear that it was to be made with the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ethnic Israelites. But this covenant, unlike the first one, is actually made to spiritual Israel. To all of God’s people whether they are ethnic Jews or Gentiles.

God’s Covenant People

The author of Hebrews makes little mention of the union of Jew and Gentile together as the body of Christ. But it is clear from other places within the Scripture that Christ’s work includes both. And that the covenant he mediated by his blood is inclusive to all who will believe, both Jew and Gentile.

In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul points out that the work of Christ on the cross destroyed the dividing wall that had separated Jew from Gentile. And that now they are one new humanity, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. And rising to become a holy temple to the Lord.

In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter uses some of the same language to describe the believers as was used in the first covenant. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession. While at one time we were not a people, now we are the people of God. This includes both Jew and Gentile. But especially the Gentiles. Those who once were not the people of God.

The Nature of the New Covenant

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

Hebrews 8:10 NIV

This new covenant is both like, and unlike, the old one. It is like it in the sense that in both, the people of the covenant give their allegiance to God. And that we are his chosen people.

But the covenants are also unlike each other. The old covenant was written on tablets of stone. Its terms were external to the people of the covenant. But the terms of the new covenant are written on our hearts. They have become a part of us. And this is a fundamental change. I am changed when those terms are written on my heart. I am not the same as I was before.

A New Relationship

No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

Hebrews 8:11-12 NIV

There is a significant consequence of having the terms of the covenant written on our hearts. In that condition, I know the Lord. That does not mean that I know everything there is to know about him. Or that I initially know much at all about God. But I do know him in a personal way. When I come under this new covenant, I enter into a personal relationship with the God of the covenant. I know him in a way that would otherwise be impossible. And in a way that no amount of head knowledge could ever approach.

What enables that personal relationship with God is his forgiveness. It is Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for my sin that mediates the covenant on my behalf. And Jesus’ atonement for me is effective. God forgives my sin, and I can stand clean before him. There is no longer the barrier of my sinful nature that keeps me from him.

Outdated and Disappearing

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Hebrews 8:13 NIV

This verse acts as a commentary on Jeremiah’s words concerning the new covenant. If, as Jeremiah says, this is a new covenant. Then it stands to reason that it is replacing the older one. The one that Israel repeatedly broke. That old covenant is being superseded by this new covenant. When Jeremiah wrote, the time of obsolescence for the old covenant was foretold. But now that Christ has come and mediated the new covenant, that time of obsolescence has arrived. The old is no longer in effect. It has been replaced.

Hebrews Post List

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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