God was sending Judah into exile because of their violation of His Law. He would certainly bring them back into the Promised Land after a time of discipline, but what if the people were restored to the land without any fundamental inner change in their souls that would yield a different life for Israel? What if there would be no communal experience of obedience? If God might still remove them from the land for their violation of His covenant, how long would it be before another exile would be necessary?
The Lord was very patient with His people. Though many lost their lives in the wilderness, the disobedience of the chosen people would continue over many centuries. The question became this: Was there anything better and more stable ahead? If not, then Israel could only expect a continual cycle of restoration, decline, and eventual exile, followed by another restoration, and the story would go on and on.
In Jeremiah 31 we are told about something that was truly different. The earlier promises of the Lord’s goodness were too big and too secure to find their ultimate fulfillment in an unending cycle of decline, exile, and restoration. God loved His people with an everlasting love. The people were pictured in various prophetic texts as having a full and happy obedience that had never been recorded in their history. In the accounts preserved for us in the Scriptures, the northern tribes represented by the name of the one tribe “Ephraim” had not provided any examples of a good spiritual record. How would it ever happen that watchmen from the hill country of Ephraim would be inviting everyone to go to the temple in Jerusalem? “Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.” How would such an unprecedented change of heart come to pass? There would be some who would be “ransomed” and “redeemed” by the Lord. They had once been in a bondage that was too strong for them to escape. “They shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.”
To be sure, the story of the Jews would not be absent of tears immediately. There would be weeping mothers in Bethlehem who would one day refuse to be comforted when Herod sought to stop the coming of a new kingdom. He tried to kill the new King who was born in that famous village. Though the Kingdom of God would have many powerful enemies, the world of the Messiah would ultimately prevail. The love of the Lord for His son “Ephraim” insisted that a resurrection era would come that would be much better than the distance and disobedience that mar this dying world of sin. It should be very obvious that only God could establish such a wonderful future.
How would such a refreshing way of life begin? “The Lord has created a new thing on the earth: a woman encircling a man.” That happens every time a baby boy inhabits the womb of his mother. Yet this would be different. Through the miraculous virginal conception of the Son of God, a grand beginning would ultimately change everything. The Child who would be born would not have the stain of original sin that touched all those who were merely descendants of Adam. Jesus would have the power to bring forth a world that would be free from the endless cycle of futility and death.
The Almighty would surely bless His people. Through the Son of God a great throng of weary souls would be satisfied. There would be a taste of the ultimate victory given to us in a new covenant announced in Jeremiah 31. This groundbreaking arrangement between the Lord and His people would not be like the one that God made through Moses. How so?
First, the stability of the Lord’s dealings with His people would not be a matter of their obedience, thus removing from the people of God the continual threat of a just curse upon us for their disobedience. We are told that “they broke” the former way of life under the Law. It was not merely a matter of fatherly discipline when God’s people faced the sanctions of the Mosaic arrangement. They broke the covenant. In this new life, it was not as if complete obedience on their part was immediately promised, but what was announced in Jeremiah 31 was a secure and abiding forgiveness of sins apart from an ongoing sacrificial system. This was because that One Man who would be at the very center of our restoration would be the Sacrifice that would so effectually remove the debt of our sin that no additional charge would remain against us. Christ’s obedience and death would secure their good standing with God forever.
Second and most clearly celebrated in Jeremiah 31, this new covenant would be characterized by the creation of a renewed humanity. They would have an increasing knowledge of God, more love for Him, and greater obedience to His Word. The Lord was determined not only to bring many the legal standing of being counted as righteous in Christ. We would actually be granted the hearts and lives of renewed human beings.
This plan for a new covenant is so full and so secure, that the Lord’s people must admit that we have not yet experienced all of its treasures ourselves. We should believe this Word delivered by Jeremiah. Our faith is aided by the fact that so much of what Jeremiah has announced has already been accomplished in the coming of the Messiah and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Come soon Lord Jesus! Bring the fullness of grace to Your people, that we might serve you with eternal praise as true citizens of the eternal Zion.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Sovereign Lord, Your plan shall surely be accomplished. Your church shall be perfectly adorned with the righteousness of Christ. You bring forth shouts of joy from the voices of Your people. You will bring us to the place of Your presence. You will gather Your flock and give to Your people a New Covenant. Built on the Rock, which is Christ, Your church will be blessed according to Your promise. Restore us again, O God. Let us not be put to shame. We will return to You from the land of unbelief. We will follow our great Redeemer. The answer for us has come in the child of a woman. He watches over us for our good. Build and plant, O Lord, for Your ways are marvelous. We have broken Your Law, but Your Son has obeyed every commandment. We look with joyful expectation to the coming day when we shall no longer disobey Your commandments. Your love for us is both strong and sure. Your Kingdom will be built up, and Your Son shall reign forever.