The new covenant

The captivity of Judah brought an end to God’s original plan of salvation for his people, known as the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was based on God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and entered the wilderness, they became an independent people group that was later referred to as the nation of Israel. Everything that happened between God and his people was done collectively as if all the people were a single entity. When the Old Covenant was brought to a conclusion, God began to look at every person on an individual basis to determine their life’s course.

The captivity of Judah was the result of a national failure to obey God. Even though every person was guilty of sinning against God, it was their collective guilt that brought condemnation on God’s people. Describing the new approach God would take, Jeremiah declared, “In those days they shall say no more, the fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity” (Jeremiah 31:29-30). God make his new covenant “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The reunification of Jacob’s family and rebuilding of the nation of Israel was an important aspect of God’s revised plan that showed he did not intend to start over or abandon his chosen people in his attempt to save the world.

A critical difference between the old and new covenants was the type of relationship God intended to have with his people. Initially, God acted as a husband to his people (Jeremiah 31:32), and desired an exclusive relationship with them based on a binding legal agreement. After Israel betrayed him and Judah sought military assistance from foreign nations, God determined another way to deliver his people from their sinful behavior. Rather than expecting them to make sacrifices to him, God would enable his people to be forgiven of their sins once and for all. Based on his sovereign right to show favor to whomever he chose, God designated all who accepted his free gift of salvation to be completely absolved of their sins (Jeremiah 31:34).

A description of the new covenant was given to Jeremiah in order to clarify God’s intent in restoring the nation of Israel. He said, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). God’s ability to transform the human heart was the hallmark of his new covenant. A desire to do the will of God would be evidence that a person had been converted. Not only did God intend to bring his people back to their homeland, but he also intended to live among them (Jeremiah 31:34).

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God’s power

God’s ability to control the world we live in is due to his active, sovereign, and mighty involvement in the affairs of men. Not only does God rule directly over his people, but he also governs them through every person in authority that affects their lives. The LORD told Jeremiah, “I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me” (Jeremiah 27:5).

God gave Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon all the land in and around the nations of Israel and Judah to rule over while his people were in captivity. God described Nebuchadnezzar as his servant, a term usually reserved for his chosen people. It would have been fair to say that Nebuchadnezzar was nothing more than a hired hand, but as the king of Babylon, he had more power and control than probably any other individual in history. Nebuchadnezzar was the first king to rule over what was considered to be at that time the entire civilized world.

Jeremiah was told to warn the kings of the world that God was going to subject them to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority. He declared, “And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant…And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the LORD, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand” (Jeremiah 27:6,8).

The symbol of the yoke was used to convey the idea of having an attitude of submission to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority. It was unlikely Jeremiah’s message was taken seriously because false prophets were contradicting everything Jeremiah said (Jeremiah 27:9). As a sign of his sovereign control, God promised he would bless those who obeyed his command. Jeremiah declared, “But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the LORD; and they shall till it, and dwell therein” (Jeremiah 27:11).

Babel

Not long after Noah and his sons were saved from the flood that destroyed every living creature on earth, a rebellion against God was led by the descendants of Noah’s grandsons. The sons of Noah were divided into nations, but everyone spoke the same language and understood things in the context of God’s will for mankind (Genesis 10:32-11:1). It says in Genesis 10:9 that Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod was a mighty hunter “and the beginning of his kingdom was Babel” (Genesis 10:10). Babel stands for Babylon and Nimrod’s kingdom represents the beginning of the Babylonian empire (894).

The intention behind the construction of Babel was to establish a permanent structure or fortress that would be impenetrable, such as Fort Knox where the U.S. gold reserves are located. It says in Genesis 11:5-7, “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they many not understand one another’s speech.” The Hebrew word translated confound, balal means to overflow or to mix. In other words, the people’s language was useless, it was a wasted effort for them to try and communicate with each other.

The Babylonian empire was in some ways a fulfillment of the original intention with Babel. The wall surrounding Babylon was of double construction. The outer wall was 12 feet thick and was separated from the 21 feet thick inner wall by a dry moat that was 23 feet wide. Entering the city seemed impossible. The LORD said of Israel, “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms” (Jeremiah 51:20). Babylon was symbolic of a world system that operated outside of God’s control. God intended to use his people as a means of judging the rebellion of all mankind. Because the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, God would destroy them.

Jeremiah expressed the heart of God when he said, “The violence done to me and to my flesh be upon Babylon” (Jeremiah 51:25). God’s vengeance was personal, he attributed Babylon’s violence to an attack against his own sovereign will and Lordship over the earth. Jeremiah proclaimed, “Therefore behold, the days come, that I will do judgment upon the graven images of Babylon: and her whole land shall be confounded, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her” (Jeremiah 51:47).

Potter and clay

The parable of the potter and clay is a common, and probably the most popular, illustration of God’s sovereign control over mankind. Isaiah used this illustration in his message of doom to the city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 29:15-16). The LORD told Jeremiah, “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words” (Jeremiah 18:2). Jeremiah was given a first-hand account of the LORD’s plan to change his people into a different kind of “vessel” for his use. Jeremiah said, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it” (Jeremiah 18:3).

One of the key points in the message Jeremiah received was shown in the actions of the potter. It says in Jeremiah 18:3, the potter “wrought a work.” He was making a valuable object that he intended to sell for money. The Hebrew word translated work in this verse is derived from the root word malak, which means to dispatch as a deputy; a messenger (4397). The purpose of the vessel the potter created was most likely a container for storing and preserving important documents. The LORD was depicting his people as receptacles, perhaps, of the gospel. They were to be used to transport his message around the world. The fact that the vessel was formed on “wheels” indicated the potter was using motion to facilitate the process of his work.

The illustration of the potter and clay may have suggested that Israel was no longer fit to be used by God as messengers of the gospel. After Jeremiah’s life was threatened a second time for speaking God’s word, he was told to “Go and get a potter’s earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests and go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom” (Jeremiah 19:1-2), the place where human sacrifices were made. There, he was instructed, “Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee. And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again” (Jeremiah 19:10-11).

The breaking of the clay bottle signified not only the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s temple, but also the breaking of the covenant between God and his chosen people. The Hebrew word used for break in this passage is the same word used in Exodus 32:19 where it is recorded that Moses cast the stone tablets that contained the Ten Commandments out of his hands when he saw the golden calf that Aaron had made the people worship. The clay bottle, as well as the stone tablets, were not merely broken, but completely shattered. The LORD’s reference to the bottle not being able to be made whole again indicated that the clay bottle also may have signified the heart’s of his people. To be made whole meant you were healed or cured of a disease (7495). Apparently, the hearts of the people of Judah were so hardened toward God that he could no longer cure them of their idolatry.

 

A new status

From the time of Abraham, until the time of Jesus Christ, God did not have a relationship with any other people than the Israelites. Even though other nations had heard  about the God of Abraham, they were unable to receive his blessing and had no right to claim salvation. As the people of Judah were being prepared to be taken into captivity, Jeremiah was instructed to tell them that their special status was being removed. No longer would Israel’s children be entitled to God’s lovingkindness and mercies (Jeremiah 16:5), instead the LORD said, “Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers: and there shall ye serve other gods day and night, where I will not show you favour” (Jeremiah 16:13).

As God shifted his focus from the land of Israel to the entire world, he set out to sow his people like seed in a field that could be gathered at the time of his harvest. God’s people were told, “Therefore behold the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them:  and I will bring them again into their land that I gave their fathers” (Jeremiah 16:14-15). Although the remnant of Judah would return to the Promised Land after their captivity had  ended, the restoration of the nation of Israel wouldn’t take place until the Messiah began his rule over the entire earth.

In between the time when Christ was born and his reign on earth began, God intended to make himself known as the one true God that is sovereign over all mankind. Jeremiah was told, “Therefore behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The LORD” (Jeremiah 16:21). The Hebrew word translated know, yâda’ (yaw – dah´) means to know by experiencing. “‘To know” God is to have an intimate experiential knowledge of him” (3045). While his people were in captivity, God would use them to witness to the Gentiles in such a way that his authority would make it evident to everyone that there was no power on earth greater than his.

The elect

One of the issues God had with the children of Israel being his chosen people was their attitude of entitlement. In spite of their disobedience to God’s commandments, the Israelites saw themselves as better than the rest of the world, because they were consecrated to the LORD (Isaiah 65:5). God’s judgment of his people was intended to bring an end to their bad behavior (Isaiah 65:6-7).

God’s primary objective in the captivity of his people was to preserve the Messianic line of descendants until Christ was born. Although the nation of Judah was destined to spend 70 years in captivity, it took much longer to purge the idolatry from the people’s systems. Isaiah described this process in terms of wine making. He said, “Thus saith the LORD, as the new wine is found in the cluster: and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants’ sake, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and mine servants shall dwell there” (Isaiah 65:8-9).

The “mine elect” (Isaiah 65:9) Isaiah was referring to in this passage was the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Upon his birth, Jesus became the heir to the throne of God’s  kingdom, which in Isaiah’s time encompassed only the Promised Land. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, a new covenant went into effect that determined God’s elect or chosen people would no longer be those born into the household of Jacob, but those who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Isaiah declared of those who rejected Christ, “And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord GOD shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name” (Isaiah 65:15).

The millennial reign of Christ that begins at the end of the great tribulation will be a time of transition from temporal to eternal life. During that time period, there will still be sinners alive on earth (Isaiah 6:20), but a new system of government will exist that mandates submission to God (Isaiah 32:1). It will be evident at that time that God’s elect are “chosen ones” (972) that have been called into the service of God on an individual basis rather than collectively as a group, as with the nation of Israel. Isaiah declared of these people:

They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and whiles they are yet speaking, I will hear. (Isaiah 65:22-24)

Sennacherib

Sennacherib king of Assyria was referred to as “the great king” (2 Kings 18:19), a title often used by the imperial rulers of Assyria, in order to intimidate and break the resistance of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This title was associated with the LORD in Psalms 47 and 95 where it says, “For the LORD most High is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2), and “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:3). It is likely the Assyrian rulers intentionally used the title “great king” to mock God and to elevate themselves above his authority.

Sennacherib sent a message to king Hezekiah in the Hebrew language and made sure it was read publicly so that everyone in Jerusalem would be aware of his contempt toward their God. It said, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria: thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand: neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria…Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?” (2 Kings 18:28-30,35).

Sennacherib implied that the LORD was unable to deliver Jerusalem out of his hand. In essence, saying that he was more powerful than God. Sennacherib’s claim revealed his arrogance, and his willingness to say anything in order to intimidate his adversary king Hezekiah. When Hezekiah turned to the LORD for a response, Isaiah told him, “Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him and he shall hear a rumor, and shall return to his own land: and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:6-7).

God wanted to demonstrate not only his ability to deliver his people from Sennacherib’s army, but also his sovereign control over all the kingdoms of the earth. Sennacherib’s position as king of Assyria was subject to God’s will. If he decided to remove Sennacherib from power, God could do it in an instant. It says in 2 Kings 19:36-37, “So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went and returned, and dwelt in Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sherezer his sons smote him with the sword.”