The Heart of the New Covenant

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

For many people, the new covenant is believed to be the 26 books of the Bible known as the New Testament.  For others, the new covenant replaces something ‘old’  they refer to as the ‘the law’ for a something new they call ‘grace.’   Often times, it is taught that the old covenant was God’s law (Torah) and the new covenant is the removal of the Torah from a believer’s life.    What do the Scriptures actually teach?

The Original Covenant with Israel

A covenant, according to dictionary.com is,  an agreement, usually formal,  between two parties to do or not do something specified.   What was the ‘old, formal agreement’ that constituted the ‘old’ covenant?  How was it made? Who were the two parties?  What were the formalities?

“Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the House of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.  Now then, if  you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel….  When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do”(Exodus 19:4-5,8).

With this positive affirmation from the people, Moses goes up onto the mountain.  God writes the specifics of the covenant with His own finger.  Moses goes down from the mountain with two stone tablets on which are written The Ten Commandments.  He reads all the words of the covenant that God made with his people.   

Covenants are formally sealed with blood and this unique covenant between God and Israel was no different.   Moses sacrificed bulls and sprinkled the blood on the altar and on the people.  Through the blood,  this original covenant with Israel was instituted and they entered into a covenant relationship.  A second time, the people respond that everything God has commanded in the Book of the Covenant, they will do.

“He [Moses] got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”

“Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:3-8).

Broken Covenant

Then, the worst happened.   Within a short time,  these very same people broke their part of the covenant with God by taking His name in vain and worshipping idols.  They made a golden calf, dedicating it to Him, and worshipping it as they would have in Egypt with drunkenness and immorality (Exodus 32). 

Angered by several instances of their faithlessness, God punished those who came out of Egypt and their offspring for an entire generation.   He forced the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. 

At the end of the 40 years before entering the Promised Land, Moses spoke the commandments of God again to a new generation of Israelites.  He tells them to fear God, walk in His ways, love Him, serve Him and circumcise their hearts.

And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the  LORD’s  commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?  To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.  Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer” (Deuteronomy 10:12-16).

Imagine being one of these second generation Israelites.  After wandering in the wilderness and watching your parents and grandparents die as the penalty for disobedience, you now need to circumcise your heart.   What did that mean?  How did one do such a thing?  The task must have seemed confusing and unattainable. 

Moses gives them hope. He promises that God will circumcise their hearts which will cause them to love Him with their whole being.  In other words, he promises that God will not only hold up His side of the covenant, but make it possible for them to keep their ‘I do’.

“The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love theYahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Even with the all of the lessons that a whole new generation of Israelites had learned while being refined in the desert, the covenant still had a problem.  The people constantly disobeyed.    It wasn’t God’s Torah that had the problem, it was the hearts of the people.

“For if there had been nothing wrong with that first [covenantal agreement]  no place would have been sought for another.  But the LORD  found fault with the people and declared I will make a new covenant ….”(Hebrews 8:8).

Because God found fault with the people, something had to be done.  He could not change His Torah, the standard for His holiness and the essence of Himself.  He could not remove the Torah because it will exist until there is a new heavens and new earth (Matthew 5:17-19).   He could, however, as Creator,  modify His creation.  After all, He is the potter and the people were His clay.  The change He made would have to enable His people to return to Him in faithfulness.  The change  He made would have to ‘renew’ the covenant relationship that had been broken.

Nothing New ‘under the sun’

In Hebrew, the word ‘new’ is chadashah – חדשה.  Chadash or a form of it is also used in the terminology for the beginning of each new month, Rosh Chodesh.  Chadash is an interesting word to use with the moon.  Does the earth actually receive an entirely new moon each month?  Does the old moon fall out of the sky and become replaced with a completely new one?  Of course not, and herein lies a nuance of the word ‘new’ in the Hebrew.  It also means ‘renew’.  Thus, every month as the moon goes through its lunar cycle, it is ‘renewed’.

The same word chadashah is used for ‘new’ when referring to the new covenant or Brit Chadashah.  It is not a completely ‘new’ covenant where something old is thrown away to be replaced by something completely new.  It is a ‘renewal of the covenant‘ that would deal with the fault of the people.

Prophets and the Re-Newed Covenant

After Moses’ prophecy in Exodus, God used other prophets, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to elaborate on the renewed covenant.

“The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD.  This is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

These verses in Jeremiah prophesy of the renewed covenant specifically with the House of Israel and the House of Judah.  Renewing the original covenant with Israel became necessary because it was the Israelites as a nation who had broken the original covenant.  According to Jeremiah, in  God’s eyes, breaking this covenant was the same as breaking the “I do” marriage contract between a Husband (Himself) and a wife (His people).

Even after all of Israel’s faithlessness and idolatries, God still desired that Israel be His treasured possession, His wife.  Because of His lovingkindness, mercy and grace, God promised to renew the covenant that His people had broken.  He promised to renew the ‘marriage contract’ also known as a ketubah.

“I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations ….  I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  Moreover, I will give you a new (renewed) heart and put a new (renewed) spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:24-27).

The renewed covenant was more than just forgiving Israel’s wicked, lawless ways and forgetting the sins they committed.   God was going to gather His chosen people from the nations where He had dispersed them and bring them back to the Promised Land.  He was going to sprinkle clean water them and cleanse them from their filthy idols.   More importantly, He was going to change their hearts.  Instead of just having an outward flesh circumcision, the foreskins of their hearts would be cut and removed.

The Hebrew word for ‘cutting’ is brit.  It means to ‘seal a covenant through cutting.’  It is most familiar in the brit milah, the terminology used for a baby boy’s circumcision when he is eight days old and his foreskin is cut. The child enters into the covenant of the word.  Brit is also used in the Hebrew rendering of the ‘new covenant’ or Brit Chadashah meaning the new cutting (circumcision).   The new circumcision would be done by God’s Spirit and change the stoney heart of a rebellious people into a heart of flesh bringing obedience and life.

This prophecy was not just good news, it was great news.  Whenever God instituted the new circumcision, the House of Judah and the House of Israel would no longer have to struggle to obey the commands.  God would cause them to walk in His ways and uphold their side of the marriage ketubah through a circumcision of their hearts.

Salvation and the New Circumcision

In Luke chapter 22,  Jesus celebrates a Passover seder with his disciples.  He lifts a cup of wine and says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Can you imagine how these men would have received those words knowing in the context in which they were spoken?  They were the Jews waiting for the prophecy of Ezekiel.   They were the Israelites wondering when the prophecy of Jeremiah would happen.

In Greek the word ‘new’ is kainos. It means ‘unprecedented and unheard of.’  To have the Rabbi you have followed for three years lift a cup of Passover wine and and proclaim it to be the cup of the new covenant was definitely unprecedented and unheard of!

The disciples understood mediation of covenants.  Moses had been the mediator of the original covenant with blood from animals.  Now Jesus would be doing the same thing; however, there were differences.  The blood would not be of bulls or calves, but the blood that flowed in his veins.  The blood would not be sprinkled, but poured out.  Jesus, whose Hebrew name is Yeshua and means ‘salvation’ was the promised one to bring redemption to Israel.  He was renewing the broken covenant and bringing reconciliation between a Husband and His Wife.

With Yeshua’s death on Passover,  followed by his resurrection three days later on Feast of Firstfruits, the new circumcision became a living hope in the disciples’ lives.  Forty days later at his ascension, Yeshua tells them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the promise.  They knew what that promise was.  He told them on that Passover evening: “If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15).  They obeyed. 

Ten days later on the day of Pentecost, on the memorial day of the giving of the original covenant,  God poured out His Spirit on the the House of Judah and the House of Israel.   As Jewish people from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem, a violent wind came from heaven and filled one of the areas in the Temple.   The disciples who were gathered there saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  They were all filled with the Spirit of God and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2).   Through the flames of a refining fire, God transformed the hearts of 3000 Jews and Israelites on that day from stone to flesh.   Through the violent wind of His Spirit, God forgave their wickedness and forgot their generations of sinfulness.   The new covenant promised to Israel had become reality.  The new covenant of circumcision instituted by Yeshua had begun … with Israel.

Peter tells the crowd of gathered Israelites from every nation, “God has raised Yeshua to life, and we are all witnesses of it.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:32).

Those Who Are Far Away, Peter’s Perspective

On the day of Pentecost when Peter is speaking to the crowd in Jerusalem, he says “The promise (of the Holy Spirit) is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

Peter acknowledges two different types of people who would receive the Spirit of God: those Jews who were  standing there in Jerusalem and those Jews who made up the scattered tribes of Israel who didn’t have the means to trek all the way to Jerusalem. Those who were in the city, whose hearts had been transformed by the Spirit,  would take the message of redemption to all the Jewish people living in the surrounding nations. 

I don’t believe Peter was referring to the gentiles as far off.   I don’t believe he was thinking in that moment that the Spirit of God could move Philip from one place to another where there was an Ethiopian eunuch reading the book of Isaiah.  I don’t believe he was thinking about a Pharisee named Paul who would first persecute and murder Messianic Jews before becoming born again on the road to Damascus.  Peter’s understanding of far off had to do with proximity with the Land of Israel and the Jewish people in the surrounding nations. It wasn’t until many years later when he had the vision of  unclean animals in the sheet that he understood the message of salvation going to the gentiles. 

Far Away Another Perspective

There is a serious ramification for non-Jewish people if the renewed covenant spoken of by Jeremiah is only given to the House of Israel and the House Judah.  If you were not Jewish or did not know from which Tribe of Israel you hailed, then you were one of the nations, gentiles by birth.   The message of the new covenant that the Jewish people around you were excitedly talking  about was not for you.  It was not made with you, a gentile, or with the nations in which you lived, or even so-called Christians because there was no such group of people. 

“Therefore, remember that … you who are gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands) – remember that … [you are] separate from Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world… (Ephesians 2:11-13).

What if  those who were far away weren’t the Jews, they were the gentiles, the people of the nations who were uncircumcised in the flesh?   As gentiles, they were without the God of Israel.  They had no understanding of the covenants between God and Israel because they were foreigners to the promises and covenants.  Everything about Jewish life in Israel was strange in concept and action.  Being far away meant that they could only look at a distance at these chosen people who had a God that made promises and kept them.

Though gentiles may have wanted to have a relationship with the God of Israel and worship Him, there was one huge barrier.  In the Temple it was called the ‘wall of partition’.  They could not pass that wall and draw near to God unless they went through something called a ritual conversion to become a legal Jew.  If they did not choose to become legally Jewish, they had no hope for receiving a renewed covenant because they never had an original covenant. 

That didn’t mean they didn’t break God’s commands and sin.  It didn’t mean they felt no guilt when they  wronged another person.  It didn’t mean they didn’t hope that their sacrifices to their gods, surrendering of their children to the fire,  would somehow appease their gods and set them free from a cycle of death.

Then, a  Jewish man named Paul began traveling through their cities telling them that peace with the God of Israel was being offered to them.  This  peace would bring them near to all those things they desired, but didn’t know how to receive.  This peace would bring reconciliation between them and their Creator.  This peace would bring forgiveness and their guilt would go away.  The ‘wall of partition’  that separated them from the promises and covenants of Israel would be removed and they could worship the God of Israel with the Jewish people, like the Jewish people. The best part of this news of peace – it was not hostile, it did not require the ritual of cutting the foreskin of their flesh.  This peace came by faith. 

“He [Yeshua] came and preached peace to you who were far away [gentiles] and peace to those who were near [the Jews]” (Ephesians 2:17-18).

Faith, Abraham and His Children

“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law [ritual conversion through circumcision].  Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,  since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised [Jews]  by faith and the uncircumcised [gentiles] through that same faith” (Romans 28-30). 

Abraham was promised by God in Genesis that all nations would be blessed through him.  What was so special about Abraham that God would bless in in such a powerful way?   He had faith in God and God’s promises.

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law [circumcised] but also to those who have the faith of Abraham [uncircumcised] . He is the father of us all.   As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.   He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not” (Romans 14:16-17). 

“Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.  Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:7-9).

A gentile enters the new covenant the same way as Abraham, by putting their faith in God and his plan of salvation demonstrated on Mount Moriah.  They have to believe that Yeshua is the Promised Seed, the One who became a substitute sacrifice for us like the ram that took the place of Isaac.  Like Abraham they have to  believe that God is the giver of life and can resurrect people from the dead as He did Yeshua and ‘figuratively’ did with Isaac.  Like Abraham and his physical descendants through Isaac and Jacob, they have to put their faith in the blood of the one called the ‘Lamb of God’.  They have to believe Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel and that salvation to the nations comes through the Jews (John 4:22).

Two Covenants or One?

“For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people…” (Hebrew 8:7).

This verse is often ignored when the new covenant from Jeremiah is reiterated in Hebrews.  The reason for a new covenant had nothing to do with abolishing an old one, especially when ‘the old one’  is considered God’s teachings and instructions.  This is a gross misunderstanding of prophetic Scripture and the new covenant itself.  The problem of sin was not God’s Torah, the problem of sin was in the hearts of mankind.  Their stoney, rebellious, hearts kept them from obeying God’s original covenant.

Paul says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”  Everyone, whether Jew or gentile, needs a new heart in order to leave their rebellious ways and idolatrous lifestyle contrary to God’s commands.   Just like Israel, when gentiles enter into the new covenant by faith in Yeshua, they receive the Spirit of God which transforms their hearts from stone to flesh.   It is on these new hearts that the God of Israel writes His laws, the same laws found in the Torah He gave to Israel. 

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Messiah Yeshua himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

One of the most over-looked aspects regarding gentiles coming to faith in the Messiah of Israel is their becoming members of God’s household and part of the commonwealth of Israel.   Faith brings more to the life of a gentile than just ‘being saved’ from the ‘law of sin and death’; it brings a whole new identity within a holy nation that is united by a Sovereign King and His commandments.  Through faith in Yeshua, gentiles are grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel and receive the same life nourishing sap from its roots as do the Jews (Romans 11:17).

According to Romans 11,  if the gentile branches which are grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel by faith become arrogant over the Jewish branches, as has been the case for most of church history, they will be cut off, lose their nourishment and die. Gentile believers in Yeshua must always make sure that they have not become arrogant over the natural branches because a holy root supports them both.

Gentiles need to accept their Biblical heritage within the Hebrew Scriptures and be at peace with Yeshua’s Jewish brothers and sisters.  They are not to put up a new covenant wall of partition that excludes God’s chosen people by abolishing that which established them as God’s covenanted people.  Gentiles must remember that adoption into God’s family as children was given to Israel first.  God revealed His glory to Israel.  All of the covenants, the Torah, the Temple services,  the priesthood, and the promises of a world to come were given to Israel.   Through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and King David is traced the human ancestry of our salvation, Messiah Yeshua (Romans 9:4).

When gentiles understand that the new covenant is not a set of 26 books found in the backs of their Bibles, it is not a new religion called Christianity started by a man named Jesus, and it doesn’t just contain one verse from the gospel of John, they will come into their fullness as citizens in the commonwealth of Israel.  When gentiles understand that God wants to write His Torah filled with His promises, covenants, and outline for living a set apart life for Him, there will finally be peace in God’s household.    When gentiles understand the all-inclusiveness of the renewed covenant instituted by Yeshua’s blood on the cross, they will finally put to death the hostility between their two religious systems and become the one new covenant man they are supposed to be.  The Torah will be written on their hearts of flesh as it is on the hearts of Jews and, will one day be written on the hearts of all Israel.

“For he himself [Yeshua] is our peace, who has made the two groups [Jew and gentile] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility [in Temple worship],by setting aside in his flesh the law [of ritual conversion] with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,  and in one body to reconcile both of them  [Jew and gentile] to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility [their religious differences]” (Ephesians 2:11-16).

©2010 Tent Stake Ministries Book Nosh (Chapter from Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Olive.)

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