31 “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, 32 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. 33 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. 34 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.” (Jeremiah 31)
What is New about the New Covenant
Yet the fact that Jeremiah calls the covenant new requires that there be some discontinuity between the covenants. What then is new here? What sets the new covenant apart from God’s previous covenantal dealings with his people? How does the new covenant represent an advance in the covenant story?
What is new is that God is going to address the issue of Israel’s inability to keep the covenant. He will cure the disease of sin. Sinful hearts have been the problem from the beginning. Remember that when the ark came to rest upon the mountain, God started over again with eight regenerated people. But they were still sinners, as Noah’s sin in the vineyard displays.
The failure of Davidic kings, the massive apostasy and corruption of the people, and the inevitable covenant curse in the expulsion of Israel from the land dramatizes the covenant breach of Israel under the old covenant. This sad history also highlights the need for a greater work of God. Clearly the covenant as it was envisioned and administered under Abraham, Moses, and David was insufficient in effecting either the promised covenant intimacy or the creation of Israel as a model of the kingdom of God. “Because of the radical incapacity of man to keep God’s covenant, no lasting purpose will be served through a future reestablishment of the same covenantal relationship.”
The new covenant, however, will know such a full forgiveness of sins that Yahweh will remember sin no more. The sin problem will be finally and definitively dealt with. Sin will no longer be a problem. Covenant breach will come to an end. While the new covenant shares much of the substance of Mosaic covenant, it differs radically in its ability to effect the goal of covenant intimacy and obedience. The obedience of God’s law that did not come about under the Mosaic covenant will be realized under the new covenant. Ezekiel describes God’s future work as a cleansing of the people of God (Ezek 36:237:33).