37. The Second Covenant of the Old Testament

Meditations in Hebrews 8:   37. The Second Covenant of the Old Testament

Heb 8:8b   “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

We concluded the previous study at verse 6 noting, “the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.” It speaks about Jesus’ ministry as mediating or administering a second covenant that God promised in the Old Testament. In fact the writer is going to take up to a passage in Jer 31:31-34 which contains those ‘promises’ he has just referred to.

A Faulty Covenant:  But before he does that, he paves the way for it : “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” (v.7)  i.e. the fact that a second covenant is mentioned indicates that the first was inadequate or, as have quoted from the Message version a couple of times, ‘not up to the job’. This is made clear as he leads in to the Jeremiah passage: “But God found fault with the people and said….” (v.8a) i.e. the old had been kept by God but had been broken by the people. It was clearly not up to the job of helping the people maintain a relationship with the Lord.

The OT Quote:  “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” (v.8b) There it is, a bald statement of intent. The “time” which was coming would in fact turn out to be somewhere a little over 500 years, the period from Jeremiah’s prophecy to the death of Christ. Then he distinguishes the new form from the old: “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.” (v.9)  The old had been established at Mount Sinai after He had delivered them out of Egypt (To see this in detail go to our series on the Exodus)

The Nature of the New Covenant: He (our writer quoting Jeremiah) now explains how the New Covenant will be so different: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (v.10) The new will be all about an inner working. No longer will His people just be keeping external rules, but they will be changed from the inside. Their minds and their hearts will be truly changed. They will contain the will of God. It is left to other prophets to spell out that this will be because of the work of the Holy Spirit who will come into every new believer at the new birth, and witnessed on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). This inner transformation will knit them to God and so when He says “I will be their God and they will be my people”, He means they will truly by His people by hearts knitted to His, not merely by following a set of rules. That is how the two covenants are so different.

The Inner Transformation: He continues to explain the significance of this inner transformation: “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (v.11)  This covenant will not rely on outward teaching (as Moses did with Israel) but the indwelling Holy Spirit will teach each of us individually. How can such a thing come about? “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (v.12) The work of Christ on the Cross will mean that our failures, our transgressions, our sins have been forgiven and when we come to him we will have them forgiven and removed. The moral reason why the old people could not stand before a holy God has been removed. Christ has dealt with our sins.

Replacement: He concludes with this ‘dam-buster’ of a conclusion: “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (v.13) The Old Covenant is now outdated,  superseded,  outmoded and so will soon disappear! In that last comment he was perhaps speaking prophetically because in AD70 when the Temple was destroyed it ended the sacrificial system for ever. The Temple was the only place where sacrifices could be offered and as that has gone sacrifices cannot be brought. It was as if God was sealing off that period of history.

The Power of the New Covenant: The first big difference between old and new covenants was that the old system of sacrifices was merely typifying what Jesus would one day do, provide a real and genuine way of sins being properly dealt with according to justice. The second big different is that in the Old Testament (Covenant) the Holy Spirit would just come upon individuals to empower them for specific tasks. In the New the Holy Spirit comes an indwells EVERY believer.

In the Old Testament the prophet Joel said, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Joel 2:28). In the New Testament, Jesus said, speaking of the Holy Spirit, “he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17). The apostle Paul taught, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16,) and, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19)

The teaching is clear an unequivocal, God lives IN every believer and so the difference is that in the Old, teaching was done by rabbis while in the New it is by the Holy Spirit (but we reinforce that by our own ‘rabbis’ !!!) But this is the thing, if you ask Him, HE will bring His word alive and He will teach you all things. That is the wonder of this new covenant. Yes, we do have our teachers (and that is right) and we do have our books (as expressions of the teachers) but above all that we each have the Holy Spirit within us and He, said Jesus, “will teach you all things.” (Jn 14:26) Hallelujah!

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