The Significance of Jeremiah 3:16

Glenn Addington By Glenn Addington, 2nd Jan 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Religion

The unthinkable statement of Jeremiah 3:16 is a prediction of the obsolescence of the Old covenant and a prediction of a new one.

Guarantees, contracts, and covenants

There are several types of agreements we are familiar with that could be described as covenants. A contract is an agreement between 2 parties. A mortgage is a type of covenant, with the home buyer being loaned the money to purchase a home, and the lender being repaid the amount borrowed, with interest. A guarantee is actually a covenant between 2 parties. You trust the maker of the new car you bought that it has been properly manufactured, and will last for the 5 years/60,000 miles they say. But you are bound to the conditions of properly maintaining the car as described in the agreement you signed when you bought the car. If you don’t change the oil, or have the transmission serviced at the proper intervals, you have violated the conditions of the guarantee, and the car maker no longer has responsibility to honor the guarantee. In each case, both parties are benefited, but there are obligations or responsibilities to be met.

Covenants in the Old Testament

Covenants in the Bible were sometimes between 2 men, but, most often, between God and men. The first was between God and Noah. This resulted in the saving of Noah and his family, and the perpetuation of the human race, Noah’s responsibility being to obey God and build the ark and fill it with the creatures of the earth. God’s covenant with Abraham required him to leave his hometown and go where God would lead him, and God would, through his descendants, bless all the nations on the earth. This covenant with Abraham would include his descendants, which would later be the nation of Israel. After the exodus from Egypt, God established the covenant with Israel, with the focus on obeying the law given to Moses. God said to Moses in Exodus 19:5-6: 'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel." In Deuteronomy 27 & 28, the demand to keep the covenant was repeated. There was the promise of many blessings on God’s people, their fields, their flocks, etc, along with severe consequences spoken of in the event of the people’s disobedience.

"It just wasn't possible..."

But a reading of the book of Judges shows that the people repeatedly disobeyed, and were punished each time. The situation in the book of Judges is described as a relentless cycle of sin, sorrow, supplication and salvation. And as the apostle Paul writes in the New Testament, the law couldn’t be kept perfectly by men, and in Romans 3:20, he says: :…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” And in Galatians 3:10, Paul says, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them." James in the book of James, in verse 2:10, tell us, ‘Whoever keeps the whole law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking the whole law.’ Both of these last two verses tell us that perfect obedience of the law was required for one to be acceptable to God. Paul also said that the law was a schoolmaster or tutor to show us we couldn’t keep the law – and that would serve to lead us to Christ. The inability to keep the law proved that a new covenant was needed.

Jeremiah 3 and 31: The Future Awaited God's People

Jeremiah 3 and 31 speak of future events. Though the people would be returning from exile, Jeremiah’s statements of a promised new covenant wasn’t for them at that time. Its fulfillment would come with the establishment of a new covenant, based on the offering of Jesus as the once for all sacrifice, and salvation would come by faith in His death on the believer’s behalf. As significant as the Ark of the Covenant was to the religion of the Jews, Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 3:16, ‘It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land," declares the Lord, "they will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the Lord.' And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again.’

The New Covenant Promised

Jeremiah 31:31 says, "Behold, days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” This is the only place in the Old Testament where the words ‘new covenant’ are found. But this phrase connects the Old Testament to the New. At the last supper, Jesus made the statement, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” God specifically outlines what He intends to do in the verses which follow. Here in verse 31, He states the first of 6 statements which begin with the words, “I will.” I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. When God says ‘new’, He doesn’t just mean new and improved. The old covenant was sealed by the sacrificial blood of animals, which dealt with the sin problem only temporarily. The new one would be sealed with the blood of His son, Jesus, and would be permanent. Also, it would be based not on law keeping, but on faith in the sacrifice of Jesus for sin as the means of forgiveness and reconciliation to God. Jeremiah goes on to explain the difference between the Old Covenant and that which is to come. “… not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. There are many places in the Old Testament where God compares His relationship to His covenant people with the marriage bond. Though God always acted like a faithful husband, the people of Israel often acted like an unfaithful wife, chasing other ‘lovers’ – worshiping the false gods of the Canaanites. This was the reason for God allowing them to go into captivity, because of their incessant forsaking of God and their constant idol worship.

The New Covenant Described

In verses 33 and 34, Jeremiah gives a description of the promised new covenant. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it.” The Old was written on stone tablets and on parchment. But it wasn’t internalized by the people. It didn’t seem to make it into their hearts. In Jeremiah’s day, the Ark of the Covenant, in the temple, was the resting place of the stone tablets of Moses. In the days to come, God intended that the word would be an inner code at the core of our being. The Holy Spirit, living in the believer, would be working within the believer’s life and heart, helping to understand the word of God and to produce the fruit of the Spirit.
“I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” This was God’s desire for His people in the Old Testament, but it never happened. Israel was called out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Under the New Covenant, He calls them to freedom from the bondage of slavery to sin. Read Romans, chapter 6.
"They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the Lord’. Under the Old Covenant, a person was born into the covenant relationship. The children were taught by their mothers during their early years. They weren’t born knowing the Old Testament laws, or the God who they were to worship. Under the New Covenant, they would all know God, because they would be taught the realities of God’s existence, what His expectations were, and would realize that they were sinners and needed a savior. They would be told of Jesus’ death on the cross for their sin, and know that forgiveness came because of that.
“ I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." To forgive and remember no more are the same thing. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we are continuing to confess our sin and repent of it, with the determination to obey God and do what is right in His sight, we can trust God to forgive us. Jesus was the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ In II Corinthians 5:21, we are told, “God made Him {Jesus}, who knew no sin, to be sin in our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God through Him.” When God sees the truly repentant believer who is striving to live a holy life, He sees the righteousness of Christ, rather than the sin of that believer.

The Covenant’s Permanence

In verses 35-37, God makes a promise regarding this covenant's permanence, and His commitment to His people. Their requirement will be acceptance of it and obedience to it, ‘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.’ The God who has created the sun, moon, stars, and all that is, is the Lord of hosts, an expression which means, ‘the Lord of the heavenly hosts of armies.’ This expression tells of God power and might. The God who has made this promise of a new covenant is all powerful – no one can undo His works or plans. If He has said He will do something, it will come to pass. The reference to the moon and stars reminds us of His creative power and imagination, and His eternal nature. The sun by day and moon by night speaks of the orderly nature of the creation, and the orderliness of the God who created it all. These thoughts are to impress on those hearing these words of the permanence of the new covenant that is being promised.
"If this fixed order departs From before Me," declares the Lord, "Then the offspring of Israel also will 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 searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done," declares the Lord.
The likelihood of God abandoning Israel is as likely as His allowing the orderliness of the world He created to vanish. He goes on to say that if it ever becomes possible to accurately measure the entirety of the universe, that will be the day I will no longer keep my promises to you.

A New Covenant, and "One New Man"

Though some might tend to think of the Old Covenant as bad, and the New Covenant as good, that isn’t the case. The Old Testament gives us the background to understand the New Testament. We learned of God’s creation, nature and character in the Old Testament, and became acquainted with the Law He gave to Israel. This told us of His demand for righteousness and obedience. The New Testament has as its foundation the Old Testament. It is the sacrificial system of the Old Testament that enables us to understand the atoning, sacrificial death of Jesus – a central doctrine of the Christian faith. The old covenant was replaced by a new covenant which is not based on law keeping or biological descent, but on faith. Later, Jesus would say, in John 10:16, "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” There had been a great deal of animosity between Jew and Gentile, and it continued on into the first century. This statement of Jesus speaks of the Gentiles being granted salvation in addition to the Jews. This is reinforced by Paul's statement in Ephesians, chapter 2." For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups Jew and Gentile] into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace. When Jesus later said to the 11, ‘Jerusalem, Judah, Samaria and to the remotest parts of the earth’, it was evident that this new covenant was intended, not for the Jews alone, but for every tribe and tongue, for all who would hear of this new covenant, and of the Savior who came to save them from their sins.


Covenants, Jeremiah, New Covenant, Old Testament, Old Testament Prophecy

Meet the author

author avatar Glenn Addington
I am an American, former Viet Nam veteran, and a Christian, living in East Tennessee. I am now retired and am pursuing a writing career. I would welcome writing assignments.

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