The Old Testament text for the fifth Sunday of Lent, March 18, 2018, is written in the Book of the prophet Jeremiah. The text is Jeremiah 31:31-34 and is a very familiar pericope that finds its way into the lectionary frequently. Of strong interest is the language of “New Covenant” verse the Old Covenant that made its way down Mt. Sinai in the wilderness. This is the only place in the Old Testament where the idea of “New Covenant” is written. The language of “yada” (to know) is connected to this New Covenant, as it was in the Old, (though I was a husband to her…) and indicates an intimate relationship in this New Covenant. However, the New Covenant has qualities that distinguish it from the Old and are connected to the promised Messiah. The language of “husband” and the new relationship reminds us of Hosea 1-3 and the living object lesson that the prophet Hosea is subjected to in order to give the prophecy a picture.
The Sinai Covenant (Old) should not be thought of as strictly a “Law” covenant. It is also based on relationship. All of the rules, regulations, words, etc. that are given to Israel as God covenants with them at Sinai have the express purpose of making it possible for the Holy to dwell in the midst of the unholy. God desires to be with His wife, His bride, and these marks of the Old Covenant make this possible. Of course, the New Covenant has Christ Jesus the Incarnate Son of God dwelling in the midst of the people. The difference is that the Holy One (Jesus) takes on the sin of the world to make our hearts holy and acceptable in the eyes of God. This is written on the hearts of man by the Bridegroom.
The text speaks against those who would see the God of the Old Testament as different from the God of the New. Same God, different aspects of the Covenant—the Old which was fulfilled in Christ and the New under which we live in relationship with God.
Ambrose writes: “The number seven has gone. The number eight has come. Yesterday is gone. Today has come. That is the promised day on which we have been warned to hear and follow God’s Word. The day of the Old Testament is gone. The new day has come in which the New Testament is made perfect, of which Jeremiah says, ‘Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant…’’’
31:31 wekarati …berith chadashah “cut/make a fresh/new covenant”
31:32 hecheziyqiy—root: chazaq—hiphil “to take; take hold of”
lehotsiyam—root: hatsa (infinitive) “to bring them out”
hepheru—root: parar—hiphil “to break; to violate”
baaltiy—root: baal “to be husband over; to be lord over”
31:33 beqirbam—root: qarab “within them”
ectavenah—root: katab “to write”
31:34 yelamedu—root: lamad–piel “to teach; be a teacher”
lemiqtanam—root: qatan “small; least; insignificant”
eselach—root: salach “to forgive; pardon; to be kind toward”