Jeremiah 31 and the New Covenant
How do you understand the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31? Doesn’t that supersede God’s original covenant with the Jews? In fact, Jeremiah earlier speaks of Israel having broken its covenant with God (11:10). It seems to me that as a result, God fashioned a new covenant, with all mankind. I’m writing this as a friend, by the way, and am sincerely interested in the Jewish point of view.
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Thank you for raising your important issue. Before I begin, I would just like to note that Christian and Jewish Bibles number the verses of Jeremiah 31 differently. The Christian Bible begins Chapter 31 one verse earlier than the Torah, beginning with what in the Torah is the final verse of Ch. 30. Thus, when Christians raise the issue of the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31, they are speaking of what to us is 31:30. Below I will follow the Jewish numbering.
Jeremiah (11:10), as well as Ezekiel (16:59) do say that as a nation, Israel broke its covenant with God. But the Torah clearly states that even so, God held firm in His relationship with us, renewing it in spite of Israel’s failings. Although Ezekiel 16:59 states that God will deal as harshly with us as we did with Him, verse 60 concludes: “I will remember My covenant with you of the days of your youth, and I will establish it for you as an everlasting covenant.”
A similar theme appears in Leviticus 26. God enumerates terrible punishments He will inflict upon Israel for breaking His Torah, including annulling His covenant (v. 15). Yet at the end of the chapter (vv. 44-45), He promises:
“And even with this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not be disgusted with them, nor will I abhor them to destroy them and break My covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. And I will remember the covenant with the first ones, whom I took out of the Land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be a God for them. I am the Lord.”
This in fact is a recurring theme throughout the Prophets – that in spite of Israel’s lapses, God will never let go of us nor allow us to lose sight of our cosmic mission. See especially Ezekiel 20:32-37, as well as Isaiah 54:8-10, Psalms 105:8-10 and Genesis 17:7.
Jeremiah 31:30 follows this same pattern. Although it does state that God will create a new covenant, it clearly states that it will be with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. It further continues that as part of the covenant God would place His Torah upon our hearts (v. 32). Thus, even though we had broken our original covenant with God, He will create a newer stronger one in its place – but still with Israel and again commanding us to observe His Torah. The new covenant did not abrogate the original one to keep the Torah nor was it directed towards all the nations. As vv. 34-35 continue, Israel will continue to be God’s nation so long as the sun shines, the moon rises, and the surf breaks upon the coast.
In addition, as is clear from the verses, this renewal of the covenant will be with both the houses of Judah and Israel (i.e., with both the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of the Ten Tribes). This clearly did not occur in Jesus’s time, when the Ten Tribes had already been dispersed. Jeremiah also states that at the time of this renewal, there will be universal knowledge of God (“for they will all know Me” (v. 33)). This too did not occur in Jesus’s day but is rather a reference to the End of Days.
For a further discussion on this and related topics, please see these articles: