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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

What About Israel and The New Covenant?


'“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,”

declares the Lord, “will Israel ever cease

being a nation before me.”' Jeremiah 31:36

On Sunday we were thinking about the redemptive-historical plan of God and the significance of Jesus in that plan. His significance became apparent to us as we considered his own words - especially those about a new patch pulling away from old cloth and new wine bursting old wine skins.

We noted that Jesus has come as the new wine and created a new wineskin called the New Covenant which we celebrate at the Lord's table. In his own words, Jesus said, 'this is the new covenant in my blood'.

We even went back to the one explicit place in the Old Testament where this new covenant in promised - Jeremiah 31:31 - and saw how different this new covenant is because of the radical way God works in the hearts and minds of his new people by his Holy Spirit.

Jesus showed us by his eating with sinners, his identity as bridegroom, and his actions in the grain field on the Sabbath day, that by his arrival, God's redemptive-historical plan really is about to reach its apex.

But as I read aloud the passage from Jeremiah 31 on Sunday morning, I found verse 36 weighing particularly heavily on me. In that verse God says through Jeremiah, '"Only if these decrees vanish from my sight", declares the Lord, "will Israel ever cease being a nation before me"'. And verse 37 has a similar sentiment.

What struck me was the profundity of the pledge, and specificity of the object of God's promise.

The profundity is that God underpins his promise with decrees that will never vanish; not until the day the world physically ends. Things like the sun shining and the moon and stars giving light at night. These are enduring decrees, and therefore he surely wants us to understand that his promise endures by the same degree.

And then there's the specificity of the object of his promise, underlined by the express reference to Israel as a nation. If God had not chosen to say 'nation' here, a simple translation from physical to spiritual would be much more palatable. But he says 'being a nation', that narrows the interpretive options considerably, I think.

The connection between God as bridegroom to Israel in Isaiah 62, and Jesus as bridegroom to the church in Ephesians 5 is unmistakable. And the wider teaching of the New Testament, I have no doubt, demonstrates a new people of God under a new covenant - namely the church.

But, based on what I said on Sunday morning, it may have sounded like I was advocating that the church replaces Israel as God's chosen people and that, apart from a smattering of elect Jews, the nation is done-with in God's purposes. Some believe that.

However, Jeremiah 31:36 gives me pause for thought, as do a few other passages, like these:

'I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”' Romans 11:25-27
'“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”' Matthew 23:37-39
'“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.' Zechariah 12:10

These are just a few texts, there are others that give pause for thought too. Perhaps, just maybe, there's a double fulfilment of Jeremiah 31:31. Perhaps a day is coming when the desert will bloom and those whose ancestors pierced the Lord of Glory will come forth in great number and say 'blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'.

Perhaps a day is coming when those who, after a long period of hardening, will see the light of the new covenant, and forgetting what went before, and looking to Jesus, will believe. And God will write his law on their minds too and put it in their hearts also. No longer Israelites in flesh alone, but true Israelites - enjoined enmass to the Ecclesia of God.


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