The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says 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. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
A Covenant Remains
One of the foundational principles throughout Scripture comes into view in understanding the difference between a covenant and a contract. Whereas a contract is voided if one party violates the agreed terms, a covenant remains. God’s covenant with Israel emerges as a promise that endures despite Israel’s repeated follies. The text of Jeremiah 31 plainly acknowledges that the people have broken their promise—their covenant. And yet, here again, God acts to renew his promise that had been made in the past. God will be faithful even still.
In renewing this covenant promise, the text of Jeremiah speaks of what it would look like for Israel to take its pledge and promise to heart. With prophetic urgency, now is the time for the people to live with unwavering commitment. In the words of Walter Brueggemann, the intent is for this renewed covenant to be: “as readily accepted as breathing and eating. Israel will practice obedience because it belongs in Israel’s character to live in this way.”
In the end, the fact that the “new covenant” is not to be like the “old covenant” is not a word about God having given up on his people. God has always been faithful—the point is for the people to stay true to their word in their next iteration. Jeremiah’s text is a declaration that imagines what it would be like for the people to keep up their promises—to live out their love of God and neighbor in ways that are earnest and heartfelt.
Let us take Jeremiah’s proclamation to heart in our own age. Let us, too, renew our promises to be faithful in what we say and how we live.