This verse is the reason why the books about Jesus and the first Christians are called the ‘New Testament’. Those words are another translation of ‘new covenant’, which appears in most English Bibles.
A covenant really means a peace agreement. But the Bible often uses the word ‘covenant’ to mean its promises, or the relationship that it brings about. Later, there was another meaning: the record of those promises. And that was why, about 150 years after Jesus’ death, Christians began to call those books ‘the New Testament’. Those books contain our record of the promises that God gave by Jesus.
But it was Jeremiah who originally used the words ‘new covenant’. Hebrews 8:8-12 contains a copy of Jeremiah 31:31-34. In fact, that passage is not Jeremiah’s own words. God told Jeremiah to write it.
The meaning of Jeremiah’s original passage was that God would establish a new and better relationship with his people. It was a promise that brought comfort at a terrible time in Israel’s history. Long before Jeremiah, the nation had divided into the two parts called Israel and Judah, which Jeremiah mentions. But the rulers in both parts neglected their covenant with God. They refused to obey his laws. They chose other gods instead of the real one. And the people in both nations copied their rulers’ evil behaviour.
In the end, God allowed enemies to destroy first Israel, and afterwards Judah. Jeremiah lived at the end of this period. Enemies were destroying the whole country – but God still gave a message of hope to his people. God would establish a new covenant and a new relationship with his people. And it would be better than anything that had existed before.
Next part: Wrong attitudes (Hebrews 8:9)
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© 2014, Keith Simons.