Monday, May 23, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews Lesson 30

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

The New Covenant

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,

Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them.

For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.

When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Hebrews 8:7-13, NASB 95)

The Writer of Hebrews here quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is an important passage, because it prophetically defines what the New Covenant was to be about. I have written a full account of this passage in the paper Jeremiah: The New Covenant and I encourage you to read this. It is a published paper, and has more polish than these quick notes that I blog.

I think that it is important to know what the Writer means by "whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." Or to put this another way, "What does the word 'whatever' contain?"

  • Does "whatever" include the entire Old Testament?
  • Does "whatever" include the instructions in the Torah?
  • Does "whatever" include the offerings made in the Temple?
  • And so forth

I have Messianic Jewish friends whose affection for the Torah lead them to refer to the "New Covenant" as the "Renewed Covenant," as if all the old needed was a face lift. Such a sentiment hardly seems justified in light of what we have read in Hebrews, where at every turn the Writer is hammering home the superiority of the New over the Old. When the Writer says obsolete, he is talking about a new model.

On the other hand, a new model is not completely different from that which it replaces. To compare a Model-T Ford with Ford Windstar is to see how the latter has made the former obsolete as a family vehicle: color, safety, performance, style, maintenance requirements, etc. But they are both automobiles and share several things in common--but the new improves on the old at nearly every point.

The Old Covenant had an external Law--Torah--that failed because it had no effect on the hearts of men and women. The New Covenant has an internal Law--Torah--written in the hearts of men and women. The Old Covenant defined sin, the New Covenant solved sin. The affection for Torah among my Messianic Jewish friends is not unfounded, but they should not allow it to keep them from seeing the glory of the new.

As I see it, here is what is going away. The Old Covenant was established by the reading of Torah and the children of Israel saying, "All that this book of the Law says we will do." Moses laid out the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience, and the children of Israel signed. That system failed. The New Covenant has a solution for the heart. It is not that the Law was bad--and a careful reading of Paul's letters will show his affection for it. It is the heart of men that is.

It is not surprising, then , that this is where the Writer of Hebrews will now lead us.

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