May 30, 2017: Verse of the day

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31:34 No more shall every man teach: No longer would intermediaries like priests or prophets be needed to show the people how to know the Lord. From youngest to oldest, from peasant farmer to kings and princes, all would know God. Knowledge of God is a major theme of Jeremiah (2:8; 4:22; 5:4; 8:7) as well as of other prophets (Hos. 5:4). This knowledge is an intimate relationship with God evidenced by faith, obedience, and devotion. God will forgive and will purposefully not remember the sin and iniquity of His people who come to Him in repentance and faith. Jesus the Messiah fulfilled this promised New Covenant through His work on the Cross (Matt. 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; 1 Cor. 11:25).

31:35 sun … moon … stars: God, the Creator of all things, entered into covenant with His people. sea … waves: The Hebrew people learned from their Canaanite neighbors to fear the sea (Ps. 93). But God is Master of the sea, as He is Master of all things (Is. 51:15).[1]


31:34 The word translated “forgive” (salah, Heb.) can mean “send away” or “let go,” and is one of several O.T. words for forgiveness (v. 34; 36:3; cf. Is. 55:7, note). Another term is kaphar (Heb.), basically meaning “to cover” (Prov. 17:9; Is. 1:18) and most often associated with the various aspects of the atonement, which is impossible without God’s forgiveness. A third word is nasa˒ (Heb.), meaning “lift up or away” (Gen. 50:17; Ex. 10:17). In the N.T. there are four Greek words rendered “forgive”: (1) aphiēgmi, meaning “send away” or “let off” (Mark 3:29; Acts 5:31; 13:38; 26:18; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14) and also rendered “liberty” (Luke 4:18) or “remission,” which indicates a permanent removal of deserved punishment and condemnation (Matt. 26:28; Mark 1:4; Luke 1:77; 3:3; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 10:43; Heb. 9:22; 10:18); (2) paresis, meaning “remission” (Rom. 3:25); (3) apoluōg, literally “to loose away from” or “away from destruction” (Luke 6:37); and (4) charizomai, meaning literally “be gracious to” (Luke 7:43; 2 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). The latter word is enhanced by its relation to the noun charis, meaning “grace.” Forgiveness is the demonstration of God’s mercy and grace (Ps. 86:5; 103:10, 11), the sovereign act of God which reflects His very nature. Sin breaks the fellowship between God and man just as it breaks the harmony among men. Fellowship is restored only through forgiveness. If God is willing to forgive man, how much more should man forgive man (cf. Matt. 6:12). Those who have been forgiven should then become the forgiving (Luke 7:40–47; 17:3, 4). Divine forgiveness is marked by its unlimited scope (cf. Ps. 78:38; Luke 17:3, 4), its absolute erasure of sins (cf. Ps. 103:12; Mic. 7:19; Heb. 10:17), its abundant and gracious pardon (cf. Is. 55:7), and its automatic forgetting simultaneous with forgiveness (cf. Is. 43:25; 44:22). Though human forgiveness is inferior to divine forgiveness, the pattern is available and worthy of imitation (Eph. 5:1). The fruits of forgiveness include (1) peace (Gal. 5:22), (2) healing (2 Chr. 30:18–20), (3) restoration (2 Cor. 2:7–10), and (4) cleansing (James 5:15, 16). The forgiveness of their sin will assure a personal relationship with Yahweh. Likewise the law will not be relegated to written material only, but also will be known by the indwelling of the living Word in individual believers. In the new covenant it is God Himself that initiates and executes His blessings toward Israel. The people of God have hope in: (1) a coming day of restoration (v. 31); (2) personal fellowship with the living God (vv. 32, 33); and (3) the forgiveness of their sins (v. 34).[2]


31:34 There will be no need for a faithful remnant within the covenant people to teach the unfaithful majority to know God, for all covenant partners will know him. This covenant will include only those who know him, and he will remember their sin no more.[3]


31:31–34 a new covenant. In contrast to the Mosaic Covenant under which Israel failed, God promised a New Covenant with a spiritual, divine dynamic by which those who know Him would participate in the blessings of salvation. The fulfillment was to individuals, yet also to Israel as a nation (v. 36; Ro 11:16–27). It is set 1) in the framework of a reestablishment in their land (e.g., chaps. 30–33 and in vv. 38–40) and 2) in the time after the ultimate difficulty (30:7). In principle, this covenant, also announced by Jesus Christ (Lk 22:20), begins to be exercised with spiritual aspects realized for Jewish and Gentile believers in the church era (1Co 11:25; Heb 8:7–13; 9:15; 10:14–17; 12:24; 13:20). It has already begun to take effect with “a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (Ro 11:5). It will be also realized by the people of Israel in the last days, including the regathering to their ancient land, Palestine (chaps. 30–33). The streams of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants find their confluence in the millennial kingdom ruled over by the Messiah.[4]

A new covenant (31:31–34)

Commentary

31–32 It is only fitting that the weeping prophet from Anathoth, who spoke of death and destruction for more than forty years, would be the one entrusted with the glorious new covenant oracle—an oracle whose words were surely in Yeshua’s mind at the Last Supper (cf. Lk 22:20), an oracle repeated in Hebrews 8:8–13; 9:15–22; 10:16–17, and an oracle whose theme ultimately became the primary name given to the Greek Scriptures as a whole. (Though Lundbom, 2:474, claims that “it comes as somewhat of a surprise … to find so little said in the NT about a new covenant,” it cannot be denied that the entire NT is permeated with the understanding of the new realities of the new covenant God has made with his people.) The significance of these verses cannot be overstated. (According to Carson, “Matthew,” EBC, 8:538, “It appears, then, that Jesus understands the covenant he is introducing to be the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies and the antitype of the Sinai covenant,” with earlier reference to Ex 24:8. As to the word “new” in this context in some NT manuscripts, cf. Luke 22:20.)

As in v. 27, both the houses of Israel and Judah are addressed in v. 31, and the divine announcement to them is momentous: Yahweh will make a new covenant with his people! It was Jeremiah who witnessed the valiant efforts of Josiah to renew the Sinaitic covenant—efforts that ultimately failed and the last such efforts of a Judean king—and it was Jeremiah whose calling as a prophet received undeniable confirmation by the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Judah (cf., similarly, Eze 33:21–33). It will receive even more confirmation with the return of the exiles after seventy years.

This man had the credibility to deliver such an oracle and declare (v. 31): This covenant will not be like the covenant made at Sinai! The new exodus—also combining a demonstration of the Lord’s power and his tender care—will have a new covenant (compare the description of the first exodus here, “when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,” with descriptions of the second exodus [31:7–9]), since God’s people broke the Sinaitic covenant (prr, “break, annul,” occurring with berît, “covenant,” as early as Ge 17:14; see also Lev 26:15, 44; Dt 31:16, 20; Isa 24:5; Eze 16:59; 17:16, 18; 44:7; in Jeremiah, see esp. 11:10, “Both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers”). They did this despite the fact that Yahweh had been a husband to them (bāʿaltî bām; cf. 3:14; for other renderings, see Notes).

On his end, Yahweh did everything he could; yet the people violated the covenant to the point of making it null and void (cf. Clemens; Brueggemann states, “The old covenant from Sinai was resisted until it was broken and abrogated”). Without a new covenant the same pattern of disobedience, judgment, and transitory repentance followed again by disobedience and judgment would be endlessly repeated. God’s only redemptive recourse, then, was to change the nature of the covenant and thereby change the nature of his people.

33 The character of this new covenant is described as one that will be made “after those days” (NASB), referring back to v. 31a and possibly back to v. 27 or even earlier and apparently meaning after they have been planted again in the land (cf. Metsudat David, “after they return from exile”). Interestingly, reference is made here only to the house of Israel, but this must certainly be understood inclusively as referring to both Israel and Judah (mentioned in vv. 29, 31); it may also reflect the fact that the Sinaitic covenant was made with one people, Israel, before there was such a thing as the northern and southern kingdoms. In the same way this new covenant will be made with one people, Israel (cf. esp. 1 Ki 18:31; see also Holladay with reference to Eze 39:15–17).

In this new covenant God’s tôrâ (“teaching, law”) will be put within his people (beqirbām, lit., “in their midst/interior”; the NIV’s “in their minds” is too interpretive) and will be written on their hearts, in obvious contradistinction to the Sinaitic covenant, which was written on tablets of stone (Ex 24:12; 34:1, 4, 28; Dt 4:13; 5:22; 9:9–11; 10:1, 3; see Eze 36:26–27; 2 Co 3:3; cf. further Pss 40:8[9]; 51:6, 10; note Dt 10:16; Jer 4:3–4). Thus it will become Israel’s very nature to keep the commandments of the Lord as their automatic, natural response; this is expressed more fully in the (clearly parallel) new heart passage in Ezekiel 36:26–27, as well as in Jeremiah 32:37–42 (see discussion there; cf. also Eze 11:17–20).

On a practical level, this means that what the psalmist experienced on a temporary and individual level in Psalm 40—delighting in God’s will and having the Torah in his heart before being overwhelmed by the consciousness of his still-present sins—will become Israel’s experience on a corporate and permanent level. Because there will be harmony between Yahweh and his people, the covenantal promise expressed first in Jeremiah in 7:23 and repeated again in 11:1–4 will finally become the reality. As Keil notes, “the essential element of the new covenant, ‘I will be their God, and they shall be my people,’ was set forth as the object of the old; cf. Lev 26:12 with Ex 29:45,” but it is only through the new covenant that it will be realized. As Heschel, 1:128–29, observes, “Prophecy is not God’s only instrument. What prophecy fails to bring about, the new covenant will accomplish: the complete transformation of every individual.” For a thorough interpretive study, see Fẹmi Adeyẹmi, The New Covenant Torah in Jeremiah and the Law of Christ in Paul (Studies in Biblical Literature 94; New York: Peter Lang, 2008).

34 The impact of all of this will be so great that the knowledge of God will become completely pervasive (cf. esp. Isa 11:9), eliminating the need for ongoing instruction and exhortation to know Yahweh—the foundation for obedience, worship, and blessing (cf., e.g., 9:24; contrast 2:8; 4:22)—since everyone will know him (according to Metsudat David with reference to 22:16b, to know the Lord means “to fear him and to walk in his ways”). In contrast with Judah’s preexilic state, as expressed in 6:13; 8:10 (“from the least of them to the greatest all are greedy for gain”), in the new state of things “they will all know me, from the least to the greatest.”

This will come about because Yahweh will utterly and completely forgive and forget his people’s sins and wickedness—an unprecedented gesture on his part toward his chronically disobedient people (cf. 33:8; 50:20, for a reiteration of this; contrast 5:1, 7). This, of course, does not mean that he will forgive them so that they can continue to sin; rather, it speaks of: (1) a cleaning of the slate and a complete removal of the guilt of the past; and (2) the internalized nature of the new covenant, in which Israel will no longer seek to disobey—the byproduct of being forgiven (cf. Lk 7:47). As Brueggemann notes, “All the newness is possible because Yahweh has forgiven.” Compare also Radak, who explains that God will forgive them for the sins “they committed while still in exile,” adding, “and I will give them a new heart so that they will know me.”

While these verses do not state categorically that God’s people will never sin again (though Malbim says the possibility of sinning will not even exist), they do strongly imply that they will no longer be characterized by disobedience and wickedness but rather by obedience and righteousness. For further discussion of what is “new” in the new covenant, compare Bertrand Pinçon, Du nouveau dans l’ancien: Essai sur la notion d’alliance nouvelle dans le livre Jérémie et dans quelques relectures au cours d’exil (Lyons: Profac, 2000; conveniently summarized in OTA 23 [2000]: 2084). For the usage of tôrâ in this passage, compare Untermann, 98–102, who renders tôrâ as “divine legal instruction.” Huey lists Isaiah 41:18–20; 42:6–13; 43:18–21, 25; 44:3–5, 21–23; 45:14–17; 49:8–13; 51:3–8; 54:9–10; 55:3; 60:15–22; 61:1–9; 65:17–25; Jeremiah 50:4–5; Ezekiel 16:60–63; 34:11–31; 36:8–15, 22–38; 37:11–14, 21–28; Joel 2:18–32 as containing new covenant ideas, with reference to Walter C. Kaiser, “The Old Promise and the New Covenant: Jeremiah 31:31–34,” JETS 15 (1972): 11–23. For additional references, see http://www.askdrbrown.org/bibliography/jeremiah.[5]


[1] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (pp. 923–924). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[2] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Je 31:34). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1431). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Je 31:31–34). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Brown, M. L. (2010). Jeremiah. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah–Ezekiel (Revised Edition) (Vol. 7, pp. 395–398). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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