Written Upon Our Hearts

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. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

So far as we know, Jeremiah had no other work during his life than that of prophet. His role as messenger of Yahweh was his life. Jeremiah lived at a time of deep upheaval in Jewish history prophesizing in the midst of tumultuous events ending in the invasion and destruction of his country. Much of the Book of Jeremiah is a lengthy outrage against the people for their faithlessness and dire warnings of the destruction to come if they do not mend their ways. Jeremiah himself was scorned by the people to whom he preached, arrested, beaten and left in a pit. King Zedekiah, the last ruler of Judah, had him imprisoned for warning of the fall of Jerusalem. At the end of his life he was taken to Egypt by a band of refugees who fled there for their safety. The Jewish people became such a scattered community living in different parts of the world it is a marvel that under these circumstances anything at all has survived, much less a book the size of Jeremiah.

More than anyone else Jeremiah steps out of the Old Testament, a type and model of Jesus Christ. As we glance through his prophecy, so many details parallel the life and ministry of Jesus that it is not surprising to hear the disciples answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? “ They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13-14)

Jeremiah 34:31-34 is one of the most important sections in the book of Jeremiah. Indeed, it represents one of the deepest insights in the entire prophetic literature in the Old Testament. The background to this announcement of a new covenant was the prior covenant between God and Israel at Sinai in the Book of Exodus. Integral to that covenant and its continued existence was Israel’s’ obedience to the laws it laid down-the terms of the covenant. Failure to obey the covenant laws would entail judgement upon the nation and fail they did. Deuteronomy – 2 Kings records how down through the centuries Israel had persistently failed to live in accordance with the terms of the Sinai covenant and so incurred judgment -first the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C. and finally Judah in 587 B.C..

Here is the key and the great shift. Central to the very existence of Israel as God’s people was the question of her obedience to the law. What became apparent, to those of who looked back over Israel’s past was that the nation had not merely refused to obey the law but was in fact quite simply incapable of obeying it. It was the realization of this that produced one of the greatest crisis of faith: how could Israel be God’s holy people if by her very nature she was incapable of being holy?

The new covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-34 supplies God’s answer. God will take the initiative and begin to move in a new way, manifesting God’s very self in a new way; within the hearts of those he has called and so loves. God will do for the people he has created, what they just cannot do for themselves. God will write his ways upon their hearts; providing both the path of life to walk and the power to walk it.

For Reflection:
What do you have in common with the prophet Jeremiah?

How is your heart’s journey just like those of the people of ancient Israel?

When has God done for you that you just could not do for yourself?