Ep.224: How God’s Covenant Went Wrong.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

The book of Hebrews makes this comment about the covenant Moses mediated with God at Sinai: “If there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, there wouldn’t be a need for another” (Heb 8:7). That’s strong language. Something was wrong with the covenant God organized? So he had to abandon it? And make a new one? 

To describe what was wrong with the covenant, Hebrews quotes the prophet Jeremiah,
    The days are coming, declares the Lord,
        when I will make a new covenant
        with the people of Israel. . .
    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 (Heb 8:8-9). 

Did you notice: the author used that quote to turn a hidden corner in his argument. Instead of telling us what was wrong with the covenant, he tells what was wrong with the people who agreed to the covenant. That’s a big difference.

Then, Hebrews tells us what the new covenant will look like, again quoting Jeremiah:
    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. . .
    No longer will they teach their neighbours,
          or say to one another, “Know the Lord,”
    because they will all know me,
          from the least of them to the greatest (Heb 8:10-11).  

I have three observations about the new covenant. 

First, it was promised to Israel, not Gentiles. So does the new covenant belong to the Church? Jesus and the New Testament do not clarify how the transition from Israel to the church worked. The church has discarded parts of the old covenant, like animal sacrifice, and claimed other parts as its own, such as God’s promise to bless the whole world through Abraham. The church has consigned much of the Old Testament to the category of “stories about God from which we can learn lessons”. What we learn is not to repeat Israel’s wars, its politics, or its religion. Instead, we want to reproduce something of the relationship with God which Israel expressed through the prophets and the psalms. 

A second observation on the new covenant: it has not yet been fulfilled in the way Jeremiah explained it. For example, he says,
    No longer will they teach their neighbours,
      or say to one another, “Know the Lord,”
    because they will all know me (Heb 8:10-11).

If you’ve attended church or browsed some Christian books recently, you’ll notice that a frequent topic is, “How to know God better”. Clearly, we’re not yet where Jeremiah promised, where it’s no longer necessary to preach that sermon. 

My third observation on the new covenant is a personal question: “Has God put his law in your mind and written it on your heart?” Or does your heart, like mine, keep going astray? As far as I can tell, God has not given me one life-changing event in which he wrote his law on my mind and heart. Rather, he writes it bit by bit, day by day, as I meditate on scripture and engage in spiritual disciplines.  

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we want to receive the new covenant you promised Israel. We want your law written on our hearts and in our minds. Help us grow out of our immaturity, out of our need for constant teaching and reminders. Help us grow into the place where we know you in a deep and permanent way. 

We pray the Anglican collect, “Grant us so to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest [the scriptures] that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. . .” (Book of Common Prayer, collect for Second Sunday of Advent).

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.