THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
Part I: Oracles Against Jerusalem and Judah
(Oracles in the Last Years of Jerusalem) and
The Book of Consolation Continued: The New Covenant
and the Forgiveness of All Sins
Throughout salvation history, You have assured humanity of Your love and continued protection for those who seek Your justice and mercy. Since the time of the exile of our first parents from the Garden of Eden for their sin of rebellion, the path of life has not been easy because of sin in the world and Your necessary just judgment. The exile of the citizens of Judah was for the same reason: it was their continual and unrepented sins that made them unfit to live in the Promised Land. The exile was a lesson in obedience and a chance to atone for wrongs. You promised that after atonement was made that You would again receive them back into a loving, covenant relationship and allow them to return to the land You promised Abraham. It is our prayer, Lord, that You will show us our sins so that we might make atonement through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and return to the fullness of our New Covenant relationship with You that we celebrate in the Eucharistic banquet. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
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prophets I will prove that the Old and New Covenants have one Lawgiver. And
so, what does Jeremiah say? "I will give you a new covenant." Do you see
Jeremiah's prophetic reference to a new covenant that shines forth brilliantly
for so many years before Christ's coming? "I will give you a new covenant."
But how does it seem that he gave even the Old? When he said, "I will give you
a new covenant," he added, "not like the covenant that I gave to your ancestors."
St. Augustine, Homilies on Repentance and Alms giving, 6.4.15
Our lesson is a continuation of the poetic composition called "Jeremiah's Book of Consolation" that began in Jeremiah Chapter 30 (see the previous lesson). The Book of Consolation contains a message of comfort to the exiles in Babylon by looking forward to their return to the land and the good things God promises for His people (Jer 29:11-14). There is no apparent date for the composition. Since it looks forward to the return of Israel to the Promised Land, many scholars maintain that it is a postexilic composition. However, others maintain that it dates frin after Jeremiah sent his letter to the exiles in Babylon (chapter 29) and before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 587 BC. In its position following chapters 26-29, which focus on Babylonia as the instrument of Yahweh's divine punitive action, Chapters 30-31 support Jeremiah's message of consolation after the completion of the prescribed seventy years of the exile. This section of the continuing ten oracles of the Book of Consolation contains more of Jeremiah's ten Messianic prophecies. See the complete list of Messianic prophecies in the handout.
Chapter 31:2-40: A New Covenant and the Forgiveness of All Sins
Jeremiah 31:2-6 ~ Oracle 5: The Pardoning of the Covenant People
2 Yahweh says this: They have found pardon in the desert, those who have survived the sword. Israel is marching to his rest. 3 Yahweh has appeared to me from afar; I have loved you with an everlasting love and so I still maintain my faithful love [hesed] for you. 4 I shall build you once more, yes, you will be rebuilt, Virgin of Israel! Once more in your best attire, and with tambourines, you will go out dancing gaily. 5 Once more you will plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; those who plant will themselves enjoy the fruit. 6 Yes, a day will come when the watchmen shout on the mountains of Ephraim, "Up! Let us go up to Zion, to Yahweh our God!"
The covenant people will atone and receive pardon for their sins as they march across the desert to their exile in Babylonia. Although Yahweh seems far from the covenant people in their exile, He never stopped maintaining His faithful covenant love (hesed) for them.
4 I shall build you once
more, yes, you will be rebuilt, Virgin of Israel! Once more in your best
attire, and with tambourines, you will go out dancing gaily.
Notice the continued change in the masculine and feminine in referring to the covenant people.
For example, Jacob and Israel in the masculine in 30:5-7, 10-11; 31:7-9, 10-14 but also Zion and Virgin Israel in the feminine in 30:12-15, 16-17 and 31:4-6. In the Old Testament as in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, the redeemed people of the Church bear the image of the chaste Virgin Bride.
It is God's plan to restore His people to their covenant relationship as His Virgin Bride when they returned to the land as a redeemed people. The covenant people have played the role of the "adulteress/harlot" in running after pagan gods, and they have been humiliated and abandoned by the false gods who were powerless to help them in the conquest of the Babylonians. However, the restoration to covenant union with Yahweh is coming, even if the return from the exile is only a prelude to a full and complete restoration in the future era of the Messiah.
|Covenant Marriage||Israel Bride of Yahweh||Unfaithful adulteress/harlot||Humiliated, abused & abandoned by lovers||The Bride restored to her Bridegroom|
|[examples in Scripture]||
Jeremiah 3:6-8; 13:22-23, 26; 23:10;
Ezekiel 16:15-34; 23:1-12;
Jeremiah 3:1b-2; 4:30-31;
Ezekiel 16:23-61; 23:35-49;
2 Corinthians 11:2;
Revelation 19:7-9; 21:2; 9; 22:17
5 Once more you will
plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; those who plant will themselves
enjoy the fruit. 6 Yes, a
day will come when the watchmen shout on the mountains of Ephraim, "Up! Let us
go up to Zion, to Yahweh our God!"
Even in what was the apostate Northern Kingdom of Samaria, the watchmen/prophets will announce them coming to "Zion," to Yahweh's holy Temple in Jerusalem as a redeemed people. However, that prophecy was not fulfilled when the Jews returned from exile. The Gentile inhabitants of Samaria (2 Kng 17:24-41) remained hostile to the people of Judah and to rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple (Ezra 4:1-23). Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "You worship what you do not know; for salvation comes from the Jews. But the hour is coming, indeed is already here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father seeks" (Jn 4:22-23). The day will come when the people of Samaria and the Jews of Judah become one people, but not until the coming of the Davidic Redeemer-Messiah and the establishment of the new Israel and new Zion/Church of the New Covenant people of God.
Jeremiah 31:7-14 ~ Oracle 6: The Return of the Remnant of Israel
7 For Yahweh says this: Shout with joy for Jacob! Hail the chief of nations! Proclaim! Praise! Shout, "Yahweh has saved his people, the remnant of Israel!" 8 Watch, I shall bring them back from the land of the north and gather them in from the far ends of the earth. With them, the blind and the lame, women and children, women in labor, all together: a mighty throng will return here! 9 In tears they will return, in prayer I shall lead them. I shall guide them to streams of water, by a smooth path where they will not stumble. For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born son. 10 Listen, nations, to the word of Yahweh. On the farthest coasts and islands proclaim it, say, "He who scattered Israel is gathering him, will guard him as a shepherd guarding his flock." 11 For Yahweh has ransomed Jacob, rescued him from a hand stronger than his own. 12 They will come, shouting for joy on the heights of Zion, thronging towards Yahweh's lavish gifts, for wheat, new wine and oil, sheep and cattle; they will be like a well-watered garden, they will sorrow no more. 13 The young girl will then take pleasure in the dancing, and young men and old alike; I shall change their mourning into gladness, comfort them, give them joy after their troubles; 14 I shall refresh my priests with rich food, and my people will gorge themselves on my lavish gifts, Yahweh declares.
Oracle #6 in Jeremiah's Book of Consolation begins with Jeremiah expressing a "hope oracle" in Yahweh's name. It is the third of three "hope oracles" within the context of the book (see 30:4-7 and 31:1-6), and it is also another dialogue oracle. Jeremiah speaks first in verse 7, calling the people in exile to shout aloud with joy and praise that Yahweh promises to save a remnant of Jacob. Yahweh will answer in verses 8-9 (using the divine "I" four times), in reply to the joyous acclamation. "Jacob" in verse 7 probably refers to all Israelites; those previously exiled from the Northern Kingdom and those exiles from Judah. The use of the name "Ephraim" in verses 9, 18 and 20 supports this interpretation since "Ephraim" always refers to the tribes of the Northern Kingdom.
7 For Yahweh says this:
Shout with joy for Jacob! Hail the chief of nations! Proclaim! Praise!
Shout, "Yahweh has saved his people, the remnant of Israel!"
Jeremiah calls upon the people to express their joy as they hear the news of the future liberation. Israel is the "chief of nations" and God's "firstborn sons" of all the nations of the earth, as Yahweh told Moses in Exodus 4:23. The gift of the covenant people's salvation from exile by "Yahweh who saves" prefigures God's future gift of salvation to the faithful remnant of old Israel from sin and death by He whose name in Hebrew means "Yahweh is salvation" = Yahshua, Jesus.
Question: In what four ways does God use the divine "I" in His
promise to redeem the faithful remnant of His exiled covenant people in verses
The four ways the divine "I" is used in God's promises to redeem the faithful remnant of His exiled covenant people in a "new exodus" out of Babylon in Jeremiah 31:8-9 recalls His four promises to the children of Israel in exile in Egypt in Exodus 6:6-7:
|Promises in Jeremiah 31:8-9||Promises in Exodus 6:6-7|
|1. I shall bring them||1. I shall free you|
|2. I shall lead them||2. I shall rescue you|
|3. I shall guide them||3. I shall redeem you|
|4. I am a father to Israel||4. I shall be your God|
8 Watch, I shall bring
them back from the land of the north and gather them in from the far ends of
the earth. With them, the blind and the lame, women and children, women in
labor, all together: a mighty throng will return here!
Their return will be a miraculous event because even those unfit for travel will receive the strength and the means to return. The promise recalls Moses' message to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 1:30-31, Yahweh your God goes ahead of you and will be fighting on your side, just as you saw him act in Egypt. You have seen him in the desert too: Yahweh your God continued to support you, as a man supports his son, all along the road you followed until you arrived there.
9 In tears they will
return, in prayer I shall lead them. I shall guide them to streams of water,
by a smooth path where they will not stumble. For I am a father to Israel, and
Ephraim is my first-born son.
The faithful remnant will return in tears of repentance and joy, and Yahweh will lead them in prayer through His priestly representatives. He will watch over their progress, guiding them to water in the desert and on a path that will not cause them to stray on the journey. This journey will be a second Exodus to bring Israel back from their exile in a foreign land.
Question: What is the significance of the statement in verse 9b,
"For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born son"? Who
is Ephraim? Hint: "firstborn son" does not necessarily refer to birth order; it
is the title of the heir of the father. See Gen 48:8-20; Ex 4:23;
1 Kng 11:26-39; 12:20; exile of Northern tribes:
2 Kng 15:29; 17:5-6.
Answer: Through Jacob's blessing, Ephraim became the "firstborn" and heir of Joseph instead of his elder brother. It was a Jeroboam, a prince of Ephraim, who became the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The statement shows God has not forgotten the exiles of the Northern Kingdom who are still His sons (and daughters) and continue to be "firstborn" among the pagan nations where the Assyrians scattered them in the 8th century BC.
10 Listen, nations, to
the word of Yahweh. On the farthest coasts and islands proclaim it, say, "He
who scattered Israel is gathering him, will guard him as a shepherd guarding his
Just as the Gentile nations witnessed the procession of Israel out of Egypt in their journey across the wilderness to the Promised Land, they will now witness the return of Israel from another exile in Gentile lands. God will shepherd His people on their journey. Shepherding is a frequently used metaphor in the Bible, describing the rule of kings and the rule of God, the Divine King. Yahweh guards and leads His flock as their Divine Shepherd, and Jesus will describe Himself in the same way (Ps 23:1; 77:20; 80:1/2; Is 40:11; Ez 34:1-10; Jn 10:1-16).
In verses 11-14, God describes His redemption of His people from oppression, another reoccurring theme. In the Old Testament, it is mostly the redemption of the covenant people Israel, and in the New Testament it is the redemption of the world (Mt 20:28; 1 Tim 2:6; Jn 3:16).
The Jerusalem Temple sat on the heights of Zion (2 Chr 3:1; Ez 20:40) where Yahweh communes with His people in the liturgy of worship. The gifts of wheat, new wine, oil, sheep and cattle (verse 12) are the principal crops and domesticated animals of the land upon which the people depend for their livelihood (see Dt 7:13; 8:8; 11:14; 12:17; 14:23; 18:4; 28:51).
they will be like a well-watered garden, they will sorrow no more ... I shall change their mourning into gladness, comfort them, give them joy after their troubles ... suggests the people's restoration both materially and spiritually.
14 I shall refresh my
priests with rich food, and my people will gorge themselves on my lavish gifts,
The priests are the exiled priests from Judah. When the two kingdoms split apart, the king of the Northern Kingdom apostatized from the true faith as given in the Sinai Covenant. He created his own rituals of worshipping Yahweh with a priesthood appointed by him from ordinary men instead from the descendants of Aaron (1 Kng 12:26-31). Yahweh promises to spiritually refresh the returned priestly descendants of Aaron and to provide for their welfare.
Jeremiah 31:15 ~ Oracle 7: The Tragedy that is Messianic Prophecy #5
15 Yahweh says this: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly: it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
Question: What site, important to the children of Israel, was at
Ramah on the outskirts of Bethlehem and on the border of the tribal territory
of Benjamin? See Gen 35:16-20, 24; 48:1-5; 1 Sam 10:2; Jer 40:1. What is the
connection to the tribes in exile?
Answer: The tomb of Rachel, wife of Jacob/Israel and mother of Joseph and Benjamin, was located there. Joseph was the father of Ephraim and Manasseh. Their descendants were two of the ten tribes of Northern Israel. The younger son, Benjamin, was the ancestor of the only tribe of the Southern Kingdom unified with Judah. All of the children who were the descendants of Rachel are in exile. The Babylonians gathered the defeated Jews at Ramah, the site of Rachel's tomb, before sending them into exile after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC.
Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin and was buried at Ramah, about six miles north of Jerusalem. It will be the site where the Babylonians gathered the people in preparation for their exile into Babylon in 587 BC (Jer 40:1). The prophecy anticipates Rachel, symbolizing the mothers of the people, crying for her children going into Babylonian exile. St. Matthew will quote this verse as one of his fulfillment statements from the Old Testament in Matthew 2:17-18.
Question: For what event does Matthew use this quote from
Jeremiah 31:15, recalling the lament of mothers for their lost children?
Answer: He will link this verse to the murder of the innocent children by Herod the Great in his attempt to kill the baby Jesus.
Jeremiah 31:16-22 ~ Oracle 8: The Restoration of Israel and Messianic Prophecy # 6
16 Yahweh says this: Stop your lamenting dry your eyes, for your labor will have a reward, Yahweh declares, and they will return from the enemy's country. 17 There is hope for your future after all, Yahweh declares, your children will return to their homeland. 18 I have indeed heard Ephraim's grieving, "You flogged me, I took a flogging, like a young, untrained bull. Bring me back, let me come back, for you are Yahweh my God! 19 For, since I turned away, I have repented; having understood, I beat my breast. I was deeply ashamed, I blushed, aware of the disgrace incurred when I was young." 20 Is Ephraim, then, so dear a son to me, a child so favored, that whenever I mention him I remember him lovingly still? That is why I yearn for him, why I must take pity on him, Yahweh declares. 21 Set up your signposts, raise yourself landmarks, fix your mind on the road, the way by which you went. Come home, Virgin of Israel, come home to these towns of yours. 22 How long will you hesitate, rebellious daughter? For Yahweh is creating something new on earth: the Woman sets out to find her Husband again [a woman shall encompass a man]. [...] = IBHE, vol. IV, page 1817.
Question: Why should the people stop their lamenting? What is
Israel's "labor" that will be rewarded in verses 16-17? See 2 Chr 36:21-22;
Jer 25:11; 27:7; 29:10; 30:15
Answer: The suffering of the people, described as Israel' labor in exile, is to atone for her sins. However, when Israel/Judah, symbolically imaged as a woman, completes the "labor" of her seventy years of atonement, she will be forgiven and rewarded for her "labor" by the return of the exiled people's children to the Promised Land.
In verse 18-19, Yahweh says He hears the pleading of the exiles of the Northern Kingdom not to be forgotten as they express their repentance. In verses 20-21, Yahweh proclaims His love for the lost tribes of the Northern Kingdom and invites them to return to Him and to the land promised their ancestors. The years of atonement for Judah will be approximately seventy years, but for Israel/Ephraim's sins, the exile when completed will be 183 years since their deportation into Assyrian lands 722 BC.
22 How long will you
hesitate, rebellious daughter? For Yahweh is creating something new on earth:
the Woman sets out to find her Husband again [literal translation: a
woman shall encompass a man].
St. Jerome saw this verse as a Messianic prophecy of the Virgin Mary and the birth of the Son of God. The "something new" is not the birth of a man encompassed or enclosed in the womb of a woman. The "something new," in the context of the "new covenant" in Jeremiah 31:31, is the advent of a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) in which the promised Redeemer-Messiah comes forth from a woman "a reversal of the old creation event in which Eve came forth from the body of Adam (Gen 2:21-22). Jerome wrote, "The Lord has created a new thing on earth; without seed of man, without carnal union and conception, a woman will encompass a man' within her womb "One who, though He will later appear in wisdom and age through the stages of infancy and childhood, yet, while confined for the usual number of months in His mother's womb, will already be perfect man" (Jerome, Commentarii in Ieremiam, 4.31).
Jeremiah 31:23-30 ~ Oracle 9: The Restoration of Judah
23 Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this, "In the country of Judah and in its towns, they will use these words once more, when I bring their captives home: Yahweh bless you, home of saving justice, holy mountain!' 24 And in this country, Judah and all its towns, the ploughmen and those who wander with their flocks, will live together, 25 for I shall give the weary all they need and satisfy all those whose strength has gone [I shall saturate the thirsty soul and every languish soul I will fill]." 26 At this, I awoke and saw that my sleep had been sweet to me. 27 "Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall sow the House of Israel and the House of Judah with the seed both of people and of cattle. 28 And as I once watched over them to uproot, to knock down, to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so now I shall watch over them to build and to plant. Yahweh declares. 29 In those days people will no longer say: The fathers have eaten unripe grapes; the children's teeth are set on edge.' 30 But each will die for his own guilt. Everyone who eats unripe grapes will have his own teeth set on edge. [...] = literal Hebrew, Lundbom translation, Jeremiah, Anchor Bible vol. 2, page 457.
Jeremiah received the ninth oracle in a dream. The focus of the oracle is on the restoration of Judah or a united Israel and Judah (as in Jer 31:27). He heard Yahweh promise the return of the exiles to their towns and the prophecy that the people would once again invoke the blessings of Yahweh and worship on His holy mountain. The phrase in 23b can be translated two ways: either as "holy mountain" or "mountain of the Holy One."
24 And in this country,
Judah and all its towns, the ploughmen and those who wander with their flocks,
will live together, 25 for I
shall give the weary all they need and satisfy all those whose strength has
gone [I shall saturate the thirsty soul and every languish soul I will fill]."
26 At this, I awoke and saw
that my sleep had been sweet to me.
The imagery in these verses is the same as in verses 31:12 and 13 where Yahweh more than promises to satisfy the hungry and thirsty with His goodness "physically and spiritually. Jeremiah is the speaker in verse 26.
Verses 27-30 contain three future-oriented prophecies:
Yahweh declares. 29 In
those days people will no longer say: The fathers have eaten unripe grapes;
the children's teeth are set on edge.' 30
But each will die for his own guilt. Everyone who eats unripe
grapes will have his own teeth set on edge.
Verse 29 is a proverb quoted in Judah and also in Babylon among the exiles (see Lam 5:7 and Ez 18:2). Unripe grapes are what is not good (as in God's condemnation of the people who were like unripe figs in 24:8-10), and to set "children's teeth on edge" means children resenting or rebelling against their fathers.
The prophecy associated with the proverb may refer to Israel's corporate responsibility for sin (Josh 7:24-26; 1 Sam 22:16-19; 2 Sam 21:1-9) or to learned sin passed on in families (Ex 20:5; 34:7; Num 14:18; Dt 5:9; Ps 79:9; 109:14; Job 21:19). That same concept of inherited sin and judgment is in Jeremiah's oracles where we are told that judgment finally came upon Judah because of the sins of Manasseh in the sacrifice of children to Baal (Jer 15:4; also see 2 Kng 21:10-15; 23:26-27; 24:3-4). Blood feuds based on family guilt were common in the ancient Near East and in the Middle East today. Yahweh, however, always rejected the idea that children who are innocent should suffer for the sins of their parents.
30 But each will die for his own guilt. Moses' Deuteronomic Code states this same principal in Deuteronomy 24:16, Parents may not be put to death for their children, nor children for parents, but each must be put to death for his own crime.
However, the future aspect of the words "In those days people will no longer say" may refer to the forgiveness of original sin in the Age of the Messiah. It is sin transmitted from father and mother to son or daughter, but in the New Covenant, the Sacrament of Christian Baptism has the power to remove the stain of original sin (CCC 402-5).
Jeremiah 31:31-34 ~ Oracle 9 continued with the promise of two
Messianic Prophecies: The Promise of a New Covenant and the Forgiveness of Sins
31 "Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, 32 but not like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, even though I was their Master, Yahweh declares. 33 No, this is the covenant I shall make with the House of Israel when those days have come, Yahweh declares. Within them I shall plant my Law, writing in on their hearts. Then I shall be their God and they will be my people. 34 There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, Learn to know Yahweh!' No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind."
This passage from Jeremiah is quoted and interpreted in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:16-17. The Old Testament is the story of God's dealings with individuals/families and with a united group of people (Sinai Covenant) through the family bond of seven covenant relationships:
See the chart Yahweh's 8 Covenants. It was the Covenant at Sinai that gave the children of Israel the Mosaic Law, establishing the Israelites as the vassal people of a Divine God-King. In this passage, there is a definite prediction that the Mosaic Covenant at Sinai will be superseded by another covenant: a new covenant (Jer 31:31) that will bring about a spiritual regeneration in the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal salvation.
Question: In verse 31, Jeremiah says the new covenant is unlike
the covenants made with the ancestors. How is the promised new covenant
different from the Sinai Covenant? See Jer 31:31-34; 32:40; 50:5, and Heb 13:20.
Answer: It is an eternal covenant that promises the forgiveness of all sin and a new spiritual awareness of God.
Question: When did Jesus announce the fulfillment of Jeremiah's
prophecy of a new covenant? See Lk 22:20; also see 1 Cor 11:23-24.
Answer: Jesus announced the New Covenant at the Last Supper when He said, This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you (Lk 22:20).
Displacement of the Mosaic Covenant by the New Covenant in Christ Jesus is the main thesis of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews. See Jeremiah 31:31-34 quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:16. In Hebrews 8:13, the inspired writer interprets the Jeremiah passage and announces that the New Covenant has displaced the old Sinai Covenant, writing: By speaking of a new covenant, he implies that the first one is old. And anything old and ageing is ready to disappear. Also see our study of the Letter to the Hebrews.
33 No, this is the covenant I shall make with the House of Israel when those days have come, Yahweh declares. Within them I shall plant my Law, writing in on their hearts. Then I shall be their God and they will be my people.
This verse signals a new relationship with God. Throughout salvation history, God called His people to demonstrate circumcised hearts that are undivided in the loyalty to Him (i.e., Lev 26:41; Dt 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 9:26). He promises in the future new covenant that He will spiritually circumcise their hearts so that His laws are not only followed externally, but His people will have a spiritually inward commitment that was not demonstrated in the past. This transformation will be possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The phrase I shall be their God and they will be my people is covenant language using the image of covenant marriage when the groom makes a similar statement to his bride in the covenant marriage ceremony. In the New Covenant, God will take His corporate people back as the chaste Bride of the Divine Bridegroom: the Virgin Bride of the universal Church of Jesus Christ.
34 There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, Learn to know Yahweh!' No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind."
Verse 34 contains another Messianic prophecy: the complete forgiveness of sins in the new covenant. To "know" is symbolic language for the new covenant relationship with God. Under the old Sinai Covenant, sins were only covered by the blood of the sacrificial animal to bring about God's forgiveness for unintentional sins and restoration of fellowship (Num 15:27-31). However, animal sacrifice was not capable of removing the stain of intentional sin or original sin inherited from our original parents. It only concerned inadvertent temporal sins. In the new and eternal Covenant, complete forgiveness from all sin is granted through God's grace along with the blessing of a more intimate relationship with God.
Question: Who has the power to forgive sins? How
will Jesus bring salvation through the forgiveness of sins? See Ps 32:5;
Mk 2:7, 10-11;
Lk 5:21, 24.
Answer: Only God has the power to forgive sins (Mk 2:7). Since Jesus is God, He has that power and authority (Mk 2:10).
Read Zechariah's Benedictus in Luke 1:67-79. Notice that he defines salvation in terms of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, reflecting the promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34. In Luke 1:76-79, filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah bless his son, John, and says: 76 "And you, child [son], will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us 79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (NAB). Zechariah's statement that his son will "give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins" recalls God's promise through the prophet Jeremiah that in a new covenant I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more (Jer 31:34).
Jeremiah 31:35-36 ~ Israel will Endure
35 Yahweh who provides the sun to shine by day, who regulates moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs the sea, making its waves roar, he whose name is Yahweh Sabaoth, says this, 36 "Were this established order ever to pass away before me, Yahweh declares, then the race of Israel would also cease being a nations for ever before me!"
This section of Chapter 31 goes from prose in verses 31-34, to poetry
in verses 35-37, and returns to prose in verses 38-40. The point of these
verses is, if God has the power to control the cosmos, He also has the power to
control the destiny of the children of Israel.
Question: What is God's promise concerning the existence of the descendants of Jacob/Israel?
Answer: So long as the heavens and earth endure, the people of Israel/the Jews will endure because they have Yahweh's divine protection.
Jeremiah 31:37-40 ~ Oracle 10: The City of God Rebuilt
37 Yahweh says this, "Were the heavens above ever to be measured, the foundations of the earth below ever to be fathomed, then I too would reject the whole race of Israel for all that they have done, Yahweh declares." Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when the City will be rebuilt for Yahweh, from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. Then once again the measuring line will stretch straight to the Hill of Gareb, turning then to Goah. And the whole valley, with its corpses and ashes, and all the ground beside the ravine of the Kidron as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, eastwards, will be consecrated to Yahweh. It will never be destroyed or demolished again.
Question: What amazing prophecy of hope does Jeremiah give the
exiles in verses 37-40?
Answer: When they return, the exiles will rebuild the ruins of the destroyed city of Jerusalem.
The Tower of Hananel was on the northeast side of the city walls (Zec 14:10; Neh 3:1; 12:39). The Corner Gate was on the northwest between the eastern hill and the Temple esplanade (2 Kng 14:13; Zec 14:10; Neh 3:20). The Horse Gate was on the southeast (2 Kng 14:13; 2 Chr 26:9; Neh 3:28). The location of Gareb is unknown and is mentioned only in this passage. The location might have been at the intersection of the three valleys: the valleys of Ben Hinnom (Gehenna), Tyropoeon, and the Kidron, where the corpses and ashes of the sacrificial victims were deposited (Lev 1:16; 4:12; Chapters 40:5-48:35 and mentioned about seventy times).
However, what about the prophecy that Jerusalem "will never be destroyed or demolished again" in verse 40? It cannot pertain to the rebuilt Jerusalem after the return from exile. In 70 AD, the Romans will destroy the city of Jerusalem and the Temple; the Temple will never be rebuilt. This prophecy, therefore, may refer to a new dispensation when the holy city is consecrated to God and plays a key role as the new Zion of the universal Church. Or, it might be the promised new Jerusalem and the new Temple at the end of the Messianic Age when a new Heaven and earth are created in Revelation 21:12-13 and 22:3.
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: What are the differences between the Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant in Jesus Christ?
Question: Why was it necessary for the fulfillment of the Sinai Covenant and how does Jesus make that announcement from the Cross with His statement: "It is fulfilled/accomplished" in John 19:30?
Question: What does the Letter to the Hebrews say about the New Covenant as opposed to the old Sinai Covenant in Hebrews 8:13 and 10:8-10? How does this teaching apply to Jesus' parable of the new wine in old wineskins in Matthew 9:14-17?
Question: Is salvation still possible under the
laws of the old Sinai Covenant? What does St. Paul say about obedience to the
old Law in Romans 3:20 and how does he identify the true heirs of Abraham in
Answer: No. It could only be possible if all the laws of the old covenant could still be followed, but that is impossible since the Temple no longer exists and sacrifices for sin and communion offerings reestablishing fellowship with God cannot be made. Scripture records that it was God's plan that it should not continue. The Sinai Covenant, that was good for its time, had to make way for a more perfect New Covenant with greater blessings in the power to forgive all sins, to make eternal salvation and entrance into Heaven possible for purified souls, and in giving the faithful the indwelling, sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. See CCC 1961-1968.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson (* indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the catechism citation):