“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name:
“If this fixed order departs
from before me, declares the Lord,
then shall the offspring of Israel cease
from being a nation before me forever.”
Thus says the Lord:
“If the heavens above can be measured,
and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel
for all that they have done,
declares the Lord.”
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.” – Jeremiah 31:31-40 ESV
There is a day coming – a future day when things between God and His people will be different. While they have been His covenant people ever since the day He called Abram out of Ur, and made a promise to make of him a great nation, the people of Israel had long ago broken that covenant. They had failed to live up to their end of the bargain, consistently breaking their word and refusing to live in obedience to God. They had pursued other gods. Not only that, they had failed to pursue justice, righteousness and mercy. While they had gone through the motions of keeping God’s laws, their hearts had been far from Him. Their allegiance to Him had been nothing but a show, a facade of religious ritualism, but lacking in any kind of true devotion to Him. God had spoken through the prophet, Isaiah, to indict the people of Judah for their hypocrisy.
And so the Lord says,
“These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” – Isaiah 29:13-14 NLT
But God tells Jeremiah that He is going to make a new covenant with His people. It is not that god is going to break the old one, but that He is going to do something even better than before. The people had violated the old covenant. They had failed to keep it. But God had remained faithful to maintain His commitments to them, including His promise to punish them for their sins if they failed to remain obedient. But this new and future covenant was going to be different.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:33 NLT
This covenant would not be left up to the whims of the people. It would not be dependent upon their ability to remain faithful and obedient. Instead, this time, God is going to do for them what they were incapable of doing on their own. He is going to change their hearts. He is going to give them the capacity to remain faithful to Him, because this covenant will not be based on external law-keeping, but an internal transformation of their entire beings – their hearts, souls, minds, and emotions.
“The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!…Then you will again obey the Lord and keep all his commands that I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 30:6, 8 NLT
Heart change is only possible through the work of God. Men cannot change their hearts. God had made this perfectly clear to the people of Judah earlier in this book.
Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin?
Can a leopard take away its spots?
Neither can you start doing good,
for you have always done evil. – Jeremiah 13:23 NLT
Their hearts were evil. Their sin natures were too powerful and stood in the way of them listening to and obeying the commands of God. So, God was going to do for them what they could have never done for themselves.
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:252-7 NLT
True, lasting heart change is a work of God. Anything else is nothing more than behavior modification. Anyone can correct their external behavior for a time, but unless their hearts are changed, they will eventually find themselves resorting back to their old ways of living. It was Jesus who said, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you” (Matthew 15:19-20 NLT).
Earlier in the book of Ezekiel, God made a plea to the people, begging them to change their ways.
“Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!” – Ezekiel 18:30-31 NLT
But God knew that what He was asking was impossible for them to do. He knew they could not change their hearts. He knew they couldn’t alter their behavior, at least not on a permanent basis. But God was letting them know that, for them to escape His ultimate wrath and permanent destruction, they were going to have to have new hearts and new spirits. Without them, they were doomed. But that’s what makes God’s good news so good. In spite of all they had done to sin against Him, God was not going to desert them. He was not going to break His covenant commitments to them.
“I am as likely to reject my people Israel
as I am to abolish the laws of nature!” – Jeremiah 31:36 NLT
That doesn’t mean they were going to escape His judgment. He isn’t saying that they were going to be held accountable for their sins. But He is promising that a day is coming when they will be restored and He says, “I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins” (Jeremiahs 31:34 NLT). Not only that, He promises, “I will not consider casting them away for the evil they have done. God is going to restore the people to favor with Him and rebuild the city of Jerusalem, making it holy once again. And it never be under threat of capture or destruction again.
When would this all take place? How would this new covenant be instituted? Jesus gives us insight into these questions when He said to His disciples at the Passover meal He shared with them: “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT). The author of Hebrews provides further insight into this new covenant:
But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.
If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said:
“The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.” – Hebrews 8:6-8 NLT
He goes on to write:
Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant. – Hebrews 9:13-15 NLT
Jesus is the source of the new covenant. He will be reason the Jews receive new hearts and the internal capacity to live in obedience to God the Father. It will because they place their faith in Him as their Messiah, that a remnant of God’s chosen people will be renewed and restored. The prophet Zechariah tells us of that day.
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” – Zechariah 12:10 ESV
In the very next chapter of Zechariah, God makes it clear that not all of Israel will be saved. Not all will receive new hearts and a new spirit. God, in His mercy and sovereign grace, will save some. He will spare a remnant. None deserve His mercy. All are worthy of destruction. But God will save some.
“They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” – Zechariah 13:9 ESV
They will call on Him because He will give them the capacity to do so. He will change their hearts so that they can respond to His offer of mercy, grace and forgiveness. It is God who saves. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot redeem ourselves. The new covenant will be based on the sacrifice of God’s own Son, and will be available to all those who place their faith in Him. A new day is coming for the people of Israel because a new covenant has come.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.