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A New Covenant and New Heart

Jeremiah 30-33

I. The Future Restoration of Israel and Judah (30:1-31:40)

A. Jeremiah was instructed to write God’s words in a book (scroll) (30:1–3)—implication for biblical inspiration; The Bible throughout has an emphasis on the continuity between the revealed spoken message and that same revelation committed to writing ( Ephesians 3:4; 2 Peter 3:1, 2; 1 John 1:4; 2:26).

The sameness of the authority of the two mediums, both spoken by the apostles and written by them of their immediate company, was fundamental to the concept of canonical authority from the beginning (Joshua 1:5-8). 

B. In the midst of a severe chastisement, God will show his might and mercy (4-17).

  1. Strongmen will be filled with fear and pain and manifest the helplessness like women in labor – 4-7. The last part of verse seven inserts the beginning of hope and restoration. “Yet he shall be saved out of it.” The words of judgment throughout this prophecy have always given way to the promise of restoration. God himself must do it for the people had put themselves in the position of total destruction. No reason for their preservation may be found beyond God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham and his promise to David that one will come that will rule from his throne forever.
  2. The yoke will be broken from God’s people and they will serve only the Lord their God and David their King. 8, 9 -[Think about “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”]
  3. God assures them that their punishment is a discipline, not a full destruction; this is only by his grace, not because they are unworthy of a full work of wrath (12-15). “Your hurt is incurable and your wound is grievous . . . your guilt is great . . . your sins are flagrant.”
  4. Their discipline, therefore, is from the Lord; the nations that have plundered and despised them will themselves be plundered, devoured, and exiled.

C. God promised to restore Jacob, punish their oppressors, and be their God (30:18-24)

  1. The city shall be rebuilt. This took place partially at the return.
  2. Worship shall be restored, filled with joy and thanksgiving. Their numbers shall greatly increase after having been so diminished by this judgment.
  3. Their prince, ruler, will not be a foreign appointee but one of their own and the Lord himself shall make this prince worthy of approach to him (21).
  4. But the prophecy awaits its full manifestation in the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and the new earth. Only there will the full manifestation of the glory of God’s habitation among men be unsullied and irreversible, immutably established by divine sovereignty. Only there will the promise of verse 22 be finally confirmed (Revelation 21:1-3).
  5. The verses 23 and 24 indicate that there will be a display of divine wrath that will have full satisfaction. This can occur only in hell for the wicked and only on the cross for the redeemed.

D. God’s mercy on Israel (31:1–22)

  1. God’s everlasting love for Israel (vv. 1–7). Verse 1 seems to indicate that the time to which Jeremiah is referring is a time of deep, genuine, and pervasive conversion. Verse 7 indicates that this will be “the remnant of Israel.” His actions are the fulfillment of a covenant made on the basis of “everlasting love: (3).  “I have loved…; therefore, I have drawn” (3). This “everlasting love” is that which is celebrated so richly in the entire Scripture and is fundamental to the eternal covenant (Hebrews 13:20) that undergirds all of the actions of the triune God toward the people he intends to redeem. On the strength of it, he “gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16), he commends it to us in that “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), he shows its unbreakable strength and inviolable character in sending his Son “to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The manifestation of this eternal love has its display in time by his sparing not his own Son. This cross-work purchases everything that qualifies his chosen ones for eternity in his presence participating in his joy (Romans 8:32). The substance gained in this palpable manifestation of “everlasting love” transcends all that exists in creation so that nothing can separate the elect from it (Romans 8:37–39). “Therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3). A person may have such clear demonstration that he has received specific elements included in these covenantal provisions that he knows himself to be assured of all and that he is the object of this incorruptible transcendent love (Galatians 2:20).
  2. God himself will restore the people and bring them to him. They will be those that are the most unlikely and the weakest and the most needy, so that their eventual high position will be seen to be of pure grace. This will be of such a phenomenal nature that all the nations will be called upon to witness the undeniable fact of God’s intervention (8–11).
  3. The people will see God’s rich provision, have an unmitigated exuberance about his providing all that they need and be fully satisfied in God’s goodness to Israel (vv. 10–14). This sort of restoration that involved an extended worship of God and joy in him, uncorrupted by unfaithfulness in their midst or the perversion of worship through unfaithful priests, did not occur in the return from Babylon. It was only a dim type of a future more glorious call by divine grace.
  4. God consoled the weeping of Ephraim (Israel) and promised to ransom his people (vv. 15-22).
    • The sorrow provoked by this devastation was re-enacted when Christ was born and Herod, in fearful jealousy, killed the infants two-years of age and under (15).
    • This sorrow and grief, although the result of their own hard-heartedness will provide emotional, spiritual, and moral collateral out of which restoration comes for the continuation of God’s redemptive purpose through Israel. “There is a reward for your work,” wrote the prophet. Severe discipline was not for the purpose of utter destruction, but for training the nation to expect God’s rule through holiness and righteousness.

E. God’s mercy on Judah (31:23-30)

  1. God will reestablish Judah as the home of justice and holiness (vv. 23-26)
    • No other nation had the Law revealed that established an unchangeable inscription of God’s standard of righteousness. They are, therefore, in an objective way, the “abode of righteousness.” Also, they will come to esteem the righteousness manifest in the law by their acceptance of its only complete earthly fulfillment in the obedience of Christ (2 Peter 1:1; Philippians 3:9).
    • It is there that God established his holy presence so they are the “Holy hill.” The temple, the Holy of Holies, the ark of the covenant, the ten commandments all are there. The infinite privileges of this people, to the exclusion of all other nations, was illy esteemed by them. God had asked, “How long will you go here and there, O faithless daughter?” (22). God will, under the new covenant seek a holy people—a peculiar people zealous of good works—and his dwelling will be in men (Titus 2:14; Romans 12:1).
    • Fulfillment certainly will include that chosen remnant of Judah and Israel who will all be saved. This plenary fulfillment, moreover, extends far beyond these to embrace God’s chosen from the Gentiles. See especially 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1, where Paul ascribes a number of covenantal passages from a variety of OT books, to the Corinthian church in his instruction for their separation from the wickedness of their past and the present culture. “You are the temple of the living God. … Therefore, having these promises beloved, let us cleanse ourselves.”
    • God will increase their population and their prosperity (27). This is according to his words in 29:11, “I know the plans that I have for you, … plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” He had instructed them, therefore through Jeremiah, to “multiply there and do not decrease” (29:6).
    • When he has accomplished the first four things that Jeremiah was required to prophesy (1:10) he will then do the two final things (28). Note that both the negative and the positive were superintended by God. “I have watched over them to pluck up … so I will watch over them to build.”
    • God will establish a new people whose well being will not be tied to the national and ethnic connections. Rather the new people will be dealt with individually (29, 30). This does not mean that there is no original sin or imputation of Adam’s sin. It means that every individual still is accountable for his own actions and will be judged accordingly. The days of God’s identifying his people through racial and purely ceremonial connections will end with the New Covenant. 

F. God himself will “make a new covenant” (31). 

He made the former covenant with Israel through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, establishing them as his people from whom redemption of sinners would arise. This was given physical identification ceremonially through circumcision.  This covenant was solidified through Moses as the people were delivered from Egypt and given status as an individual nation. They were governed by God’s moral law (Exodus 20:1-17) that was expressed nationally through a specific civil code and a prescription of sacrifices as a consistent reminder of sin and their dependence on radical divine intervention. Now, he reveals another level of this covenantal arrangement. In this he provides not only a Redeemer external to their sinful behavior, but an internal change of disposition from resistance, irreverence, and hatred, to compliance, worship, and love. The establishment of the New Covenant (31:31-34; See Hebrews 8:6-13) would benefit both Israel and Judah and would define the means by which the nations would move from “not a people” to being “the people of God.”

  1. The New Covenant is critically distinct from the Old Mosaic Covenant (v. 32).
    • That Mosaic covenant promised blessings suspended on the obedience of the people to all the laws, statutes, and ordinances that governed the religious, civil, and social life of Israel. See Deuteronomy 6. “I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke” (32).
    • Though impossible to fulfill because of corruption of heart of Israel along with the same in all nations, it was entirely just in that it required a fitting submission to the revealed stipulations of Jehovah based upon his intrinsic and immutable holiness and his undeniable intervention and powerful activities on their behalf.
    • Though just in all its requirements, it did not promise or provide the change in affections necessary for fallen creatures to pursue the law with love and earnestness. The promise, because of the righteousness implicit in the delineation of the law, is that “those who do them shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5). With just as much absoluteness in the demands for righteousness, we read, “Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them” (Deuteronomy 27:26). The reality that eternal life in the presence of God’s glory depends on a perfect obedience to the moral law does not change.
    • It required that these things be done from a heart of love for God and thus served to reveal that that was the most profound and basic issue – lack of love for, and fundamental disaffection toward God. That Jesus was perfectly righteous includes, not only the perfect obedience in the Law’s stipulation for conduct before God and man, but for it to be done out of a heart of delight in each step of obedience. 
    • The sacrifices of the altar did not provide true forgiveness (Hebrews 10:3, 4) but forecast that sacrificial death for forgiveness was necessary. The sacrifice must be a morally perfect, infinitely excellent being made in God’s image who could represent both God and man. The mission of Jesus was to fulfill this requirement (Hebrews 5:7–9; 7:26–28)
    • To the intrinsic moral demands Jesus conformed with love and exuberant delight and to the virtually impossible positive demand, “Die the just for the unjust; love your enemies even though it will mean dying as their substitute under divine wrath,” Jesus was perfectly obedient. He was obedient all the way to and through death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8). This he did for the “joy that was set before him” of enthroning his people along with himself in the eternal love of joy of the triune God (Hebrews 12:2; John 17:24, 26; Ephesians 2:4–7). In this way, Jesus is “the Mediator of the new covenant by means of death” (Hebrews 9:15).
    • The Covenant of Grace denotes the prerogative of the Father in electing a people unto salvation (John 6:37–40; Romans 1:7; 3:24; 11:5; 2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 1:3–6; 2:7, 8). “He chose us in Him [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, … having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ.” When Paul greets the Ephesians with “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” he refers in order to the electing prerogative of the Father and the consequent reconciling work of the Son. This necessarily means that the work of the other persons of the Trinity in salvation also are infused with grace as their work is in the service of the covenant of grace. Because of the “election of grace” (Romans 11:5), every part of what constitutes the whole of salvation must be of grace and involve a full consent of all three persons within the Godhead. Though one action in this covenantal salvation may be more directly the operation of one of the persons, each person of the Trinity infuses certain elements of his own person and work so that the whole truly is trinitarian in every part. (This trinitarian truth was termed circumincessio by the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers). Thus, the entire transaction in eternity may be called the covenant of grace. Because, however, it originates in the “election of grace” (Romans 11:5) by the Father, it may be more immediately seen in terms of election.
    • The Covenant of Redemption concerns more directly the work of Jesus Christ by his death ransoming sinners from their slavery to sin and susceptibility to divine wrath. This concerns precisely the “redemption that is in Christ Jesus” which came by way of his being made a propitiation for our sins (Romans 3:24, 25; 1 John 2:2). Paul wrote, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood he entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. … He is the Mediator of the new covenant by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:12, 15). Because this work of Christ is absolutely consonant with the Father’s decree of election, we may speak clearly of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” both by word and by context. (John 1:14, 17; Acts 15:11; Romans 16:20, 24; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 4:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:28). For the Father’s determination of electing grace to be effected, the Son embraces that same gracious purpose in his redemptive work (Romans 3:24; 1 Cor 1:4). For the impetration of his redemptive work into the souls of the elect, one must look to the covenantal commitment of the Spirit in calling.
    • The Covenant of Calling specifies the grace of the Holy Spirit. To this Paul refers when he wrote, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb [eternal election] and called me through his grace [the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit], to reveal his Son in me … [both the experiential and the propositional knowledge of Christ’s redemption]” (Galatians 1:15). This special work of the Spirit in which he, by covenantal arrangement, operates graciously in calling, sealing, and sanctifying the Father’s elect and Christ’s purchased people is referred to in the following passages (John 3:5–8; 4:24; 6:63; 15:26; 16:7-15; 1 Corinthians 1:9, 24; 2:3, 4, 12, 14, 15;Galatians 4:4-7; 5:4, 5; Ephesians 2:5; 3:3–5; 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Christians are those who are “the called” (Romans 1:6, 7; 8:28, 30; 9:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9, 24, 26; Ephesians 4:1, 4; Colossians 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 5:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Peter 1:15; 2:9, 21; 5:10). This calling is in the context of the Father’s eternal purpose, the Son’s work of redemption, the preaching of the gospel, the content and intrinsic worthiness of the gospel and may be attributed to any of these in specific contexts. The calling to the faith of salvation, however, is effected with power by the internal operation of the Holy Spirit. Paul points to the necessity of the work of the Spirit for any success of gospel preaching: “You are our epistle written … by the Spirit of the living God … on the heart.” “God … made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit;…The Spirit gives life… If the ministry of death…was glorious,…how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?” (2 Corinthians 3:2, 3, 6, 8). This is the “new birth” spoken of by Jesus in John 3 and is fundamental to the new covenant.
    • Paul summarized this trinitarian operation in Galatians 4:4–7: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, burn under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

3. The New Covenant includes the Law written on the heart (v. 33).

    • The Law, formerly an external standard on tablets of stone, but foreign to the propensities of the people, will be placed within them and written on their hearts. “On the heart” means that the affections will be tuned to the Law and run harmoniously with its letter and its spirit. These newly generated, Spirit-born affections will consent to the necessity of forgiveness and justification by mere grace and lay no claim to righteousness or worthiness of any saving efficacy. These affections, however, will love righteousness and hate wickedness and pursue the one and flee from the other.
    • This very action on God’s part will establish the abiding purpose of God’s covenantal arrangements, “He shall be their God and they shall be his people.”

4. It includes true knowledge of God and forgiveness of iniquity (34)

    • This work of God initiates that true knowledge of God about which Jesus spoke when he prayed, “And this is life eternal that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
    • Not only does the new covenant give corrupt sinners a new heart, it establishes the means by which God is justified in the forgiveness of iniquity. He remembers our sin no more, (34) not by an arbitrary decision simply to do so, but because it has actually been removed from before him as a cause for wrath by Christ’s substitutionary, propitiatory death. In Christ’s reconciling work, God was “not counting their trespasses against them,” that is, those elect people all over the world included in the everlasting love of the Covenant of Grace.

G. The certainty of God’s enduring love for Israel (31: 35–40)

  1. The created order serves as a testimony to the unchanging love of God (vv. 35-37). More easily can God alter the rational relations of all items in the created order than he could change the moral connections of the covenant of grace built on his everlasting love.
  2. God will rebuild Jerusalem, so that it will not be uprooted or overthrown any more. (vv. 38-40) Surely this must refer to that city spoken of in Hebrews 12: 28 “A kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Look at Hebrews 12:22-24. See also Revelation 21:9-27.

II. God commanded Jeremiah to buy a parcel of land in Anathoth (32:1–44). 

A. Jeremiah was falsely charged and incarcerated by King Zedekiah (vv. 1-5).

B. Jeremiah purchased land from his kinsman as a testimony that the land would eventually belong to the Lord’s people again (vv. 6-15).

  1. God told him how it would happen that he would purchase the land.
  2. The events conspired in such a way that Jeremiah knew that this was God’s revelation.

C. Jeremiah is confused by God’s command to purchase the land (vv. 16–25). In light of God’s certain judgment and his extreme wrath against the nation, this transaction seems fruitless and unwarranted. 

D. Although God was showing his displeasure with Judah, Jeremiah’s purchase would show God’s intent to restore the people (26-44).

III. God’s Plan for Judah (33:1–26)

A. Subsequent to the Babylonian outrage, God will restore the people by forgiveness and a full life in home, temple, agriculture, and commerce (1–13).

B. David’s throne will be restored (vv. 14–18).

  1. The new covenant is inextricably related to God’s covenant with the house of David. [14, 17]
  2. One will arise from the house of David, a “righteous Branch,” to execute justice and righteousness in the land.
  3. Peculiarly in this one, the demands of both kingship and priesthood will be fulfilled; This is done in such a way that the one in whom it is done will be called “The Lord our Righteousness.”

C. God’s Faithfulness to the Davidic Covenant (vv. 19-26) and the Levitical priesthood is affirmed.

  1. The certainty of the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant again is made analogous to God’s determination of order within the natural sphere (19, 20, 23–26).
  2. Christ is the righteous king who has completed the priestly sacrifice being appointed after the order of Melchizedek.
  3. His people are a kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:5, 6).

V. The New Covenant in Salvation History

A. The conditional arrangement of the old covenant gave a true picture of the moral image of God and the legitimate expectations that God has for righteousness in all his rational creatures but particularly those that have benefited by the special revelation of his moral law. 

B. Prior to Pentecost, the Spirit operated in regeneration; otherwise, none can have saving faith. The operation in sanctification, however, while necessarily present seemed greatly diminished for at least three reasons. 

  1. One, the amount and fullness of Scripture truth available was not as great. As the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit sanctifies by the word that he has revealed; As the amount and fulness of the internal relations of revealed truth increased, so did the reality of the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
  2. Two, the teaching and example of Christ were not available. For example, though Jesus did not change anything concerning the law, he emphasized, in the sermon on the mount, its true spiritual implications. Also, he showed how certain civil applications of the law would not be fitting in the personal lives of his new covenant people. He showed what it means to love one’s enemies. He showed why and “eye for an eye” is not an aspect of personal action, but only applicable in the civil realm.
  3. In addition, because of the moral and legal issues involved in the atoning work of Christ, and how that relates to the internal relations in the Trinity, the operations of the Spirit could be more full subsequent to the atoning work of Christ and move those united with Christ toward conformity to Him in his glory (See Hebrews 1:3, 4; Philippians 3:10, 14, 20-21). 

C. The New Covenant, therefore, announces a fuller operation of the Spirit and establishes a new identification of the people of God, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, not solely of the people of Israel, but of the adoption of sons. (Philippians 3:3; Galatians 4:4–7). 

D. It involves the true knowledge of God, by the work of the Spirit and actual cleansing of conscience by the completed work of Christ (1 John 2:12–14;18–24, 27; 2 Cor 1:15-22; 3:5-11; Hebrews 7:22; 8:6, 13; 9:15ff.; 10:9–18).

The wound is incurable from grievous sins
The punishment comes on us from a just cause.
Men groan and turn pale in distress
A sword from without and deep pain from within
Will multiply horror and tears without pause,
Harsh chastening without redress.

But God does not remove his pledge to restore;
For sins of our sires he will no longer chide.
Each one for his own sin will pay.
Where judgment has come, we his mercy implore;
In mountains and rocks we will no longer hide,
New hearts and new minds find the way.

The truth now is taught to us by the True God,
A knowledge that comes from His presence within,
More clear than the sun and the moon.
Righteousness covers us, shields from his rod;
Sonship stirs love for him, hatred for sin
Till heaven eternal is home.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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