Thursday, August 05, 2021

A New Covenant

Week 31 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 31


As the Summer Olympics fill the TV with images of the strongest and fastest and most accurate, life is happening around us. Positive Covid tests and hospitalizations, debates about the vaccine and mask mandates swirl around and affect our families and friends, our communities and events. Swimming and gymnastics, track and field, cycling and skateboarding, volleyball and soccer and more are played out before no crowds, medal ceremonies are rarely televised, but athletes give their best efforts and set world records. History will one day tell this story to the next generation.

The first Olympic Records date back to 776 BC, nearly twelve centuries before. Initially, the event is one day event until 684 BC, then three days, and eventually four days. “ The Olympic Games, like all Greek games, were an intrinsic part of a religious festival”[1] in honor of Zeus. Every four years, the games play out in the ancient city of Olympia in Greece, until they are banned in 393 AD by the Roman Emperor, Theodosius, as pagan cults. Then 1,503 years later, the first modern day Olympic Games are held in Athens, Greece, in 1896.

Initially the competitions include one event, a long “foot race”. Over time, other races of varying lengths are added in, and in 708 BC wrestling and pentathlon, which includes foot race, long jump, disc throwing, javelin throw, and wrestling, are added. Boxing joins the games in 688 BC and chariot racing in 680 BC. All the competitors are men. Most compete in the nude, and although many explanations are given, no real reasons are known.

The first exiles are taken to Babylon in 609 BC, and the Olympic Games are held in 608 BC. Training for the athletes continues for the 596 BC games, while in 597 BC the second group from Judah is taken into captivity. As Nebuchadnezzar executes his final attack on Jerusalem, the 588 BC Olympic Games come to close. The final captives are taken to Babylon in 587 BC, with the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC. The prize for the Olympians is a crown of olive branches. For Israel and Judah, the exiles will find spiritual restoration and a promise of a new covenant. 


In Chapter 31, the most famous passage of Jeremiah, the promise of a new covenant, occurs. Opening the chapter with words to those who are in exile, those who survived the sword and found grace in the wilderness. The words are like Israel’s exodus experience, escaping death and finding grace in the desert. God is promising to be the covenant partner to the Hebrew people, to love them beyond the temporary, to love them in the age to come. God will pull them out of their situation with mercy and goodness. He will return them to Jerusalem to sing and dance and rejoice, to rebuild, to plant vineyards. They are the remnant God will bring home to find comfort and joy.

“The perceived incurable wound makes way for the peaks of grace and mercy that culminate in the repetition of God’s ancient promise and the renewal of the covenant, called the new covenant.”[2] This is written to “all the families of Israel” suggesting a new start. Israel has been divided since 931 BC, at the end of Solomon’s rule, when divided into the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. The remnant will come from the whole nation (vs 7-14). God will ransom and redeem His people. God’s goodness is seen in the blessings of new wine, olive trees, cattle and sheep. “Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden.”

A reference to Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob and mother to Joseph and Benjamin, recalls a time of sorrow, a lamentation. The prophecy continues with stop weeping and rejoice. Ramah, a town in the tribe of Benjamin located about 5 mines north of Jerusalem, is “where the Northern tribes were assembled to begin their exile”[3] after their 722 BC defeat by the Assyrians. “God promises that Rachel’s children will return from exile.”[4] A reference to the land of Ephraim, named for the second son of Joseph, describes this tribe as becoming “tens of thousands”.[5] “Setup signposts, make landmarks” because this will mark your way home. There is hope for the future.

The next section introduces a new way to respond to God. “Everyone will die for his own sin.” Each individual will be held accountable for his or her own sins. Just as God allows them to go into exile, He will bring them home to rebuild, to plant again, but this time, there will be a renewed way to come to Him.

The section of verses 31-34 define the Messianic Promise. “With this text, we have reached the apex of biblical theology for both Testaments.”[6] These are perhaps the most important and influential passages in Jeremiah. “I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” Again, the repentant heart, the circumcised heart appears. God’s law initially is written on stone tablets, but this new way is an internal relationship.

The covenant God gives at Mt. Sinai, the giving of the law, asks the Israelites to agree to and follow the terms. The people break their promise of only worshiping the One True God. The Ten Commandments represent God’s standard, but humanity is flawed and can never achieve this. “The fault with the old covenant was not with the covenant but with the people.”[7] This human inability to sustain that level of commitment reveals just how much God is needed. A new covenant, a refreshed version, will include Israel, Judah, and the Gentiles, an offering for all peoples. “The initiative and the responsibility for carrying out this covenant is altogether Yahweh and not with the people of Israel.”[8]

This New Promise does not depend on people. God’s grace will forgive and redeem any who believes. This Covenant in recorded in the New Testament as fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Clearly, Christianity benefits from this same covenant, with its deep Jewish roots and fulfillment of a Divine Promise.

The ending restates God’s almighty power, His abilities that are beyond anything we can imagine or measure. God is in control of the sun and the seas and the stars. God chooses His people with faithfulness and forgiveness.  Giving the boundaries, “the days are coming” when Jerusalem will be rebuilt. (Can read more about this in Nehemiah) God’s promises are enduring, permanent even to this day. 


[Jesus to His disciples] Likewise He also took the cup after supper saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” Luke 22:20 NKJV

Four cups of wine celebrate Passover. Following the “Blessing After the Meal” comes the third cup, the cup of blessing, sometimes called the Cup of Redemption, which symbolizes the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:13). When Jesus lifts the third cup, this Cup of Redemption, He says, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” With His crucifixion, Jesus becomes the true Passover Lamb, the blood sacrifice for eternal redemption. “This is My blood, shed for you.” 

Establishing a New Covenant, Jesus calls the people to a new way of living. The body of Christ is a community of believers, all believing in one faith, one baptism, one Spirit. The cup symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Prophesied by Jeremiah some 600 years before, Christ travels up to Jerusalem, the fulfillment the Lord’s promise of a New Covenant, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33) The cross tells a new story of redemption to the world, a story of everlasting hope, a story of grace.

Jehovah, El Shaddai, Adonai ~ ancient names, holy names… Your promises capture my needs, anticipate my fears, prepare my future. Broken bread and a cup of blessing call to me centuries after You blessed them, after You surrendered for me, after You settled my debts. Lord, always give us this bread and this cup of blessing to remind me of Perfect Love. 


Recently, many Olympic athletes landed in Tokyo, Japan, with hopes of going the distance, enduring the difficulties, winning a medal, gold or silver or bronze. Like them, we can be intoxicated with the adrenalin of achieving a goal, surviving an illness, earning success. Like the Jewish exiles, we can find ourselves in the depths of life – searching for a job, moving to a new place, treating an illness, weeping for the losses, struggling financially, managing a family, battling an addiction, and more. Everyone is looking for hope and a better future.

  • How do you find hope for the future? Where do you look?

Donna Oswalt



[2] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C, p 357

[3] Ibid, p 360

[4] ESV Global Study Bible notes Jeremiah Chapter 31

[5] Ibid

[6] Walking the Ancient Paths, p 368

[7] Ibid, p 369

[8] Ibid, p 370

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