Hebrews With A Hebrew – Part 19

Written by Neil Silverberg

September 13, 2023

For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them,
declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write
them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying,
‘Know the Lord,’  for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is
becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Hebrews 8:8-13

The writer of this letter quotes Jeremiah’s great prophecy in the second half of Hebrews chapter eight (8:8-12). This section highlights the nature of the new covenant in comparison with the old. The old covenant was the covenant God made with the children of Israel upon leaving Egypt. It is really more of a will or testament (It is called such in chapter 9). It consisted of certain blessings and privileges promised by God, conditioned on certain moral requirements being fulfilled. These things were written in a book and sprinkled with blood so that both the book and the people were bound upon death to keep the covenant.

The basis of this covenant was simple: “This do and you shall live.” The flip side was “this fail and you shall die.” At the end of Deuteronomy, there is a long list describing the curses that would come upon them if they failed. Ultimately, the wrath of God came upon them for their disobedience to the covenant.

This is the covenant with which most people relate. They think of their relationship with God as an exterior code of ethics they must keep. It is also the covenant of which most Christians gravitate. They think that to obtain God’s blessing, they must be obedient, spend more time in prayer, fast, give their money, etc. If we fail to do these things, we feel like failures, rejected by God, and must try harder next time.

That is the message we all preach to our own hearts and hear from the pulpits. What is lacking? There is nothing wrong with the old covenant; it is the perfect standard of God for man. The problem is that we are fleshly, and no matter how we try, we can’t live that way. It is simply not native to human beings to live like this. What happens is that the child of God tries to live under a covenant that cannot give life and under which he is doomed to fail. The writer then introduces us to the fact that the old covenant was made obsolete with the introduction of the new.

Long ago, under the old covenant, God prophesied the introduction of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  That covenant, like the first, is not arrived at by mutual consent. It is a testament whereby certain benefits are conferred on those who meet the conditions. Only when we look for the conditions we discover there are none.  In fact, the conditions of the old are now the promises of the new. The great condition for the old was “if you will obey my voice.” Under the new God says, “You will obey my voice.” Under the old, obedience was demanded; under the new, it is secured. God knew that we couldn’t produce them so he promised to do it Himself.

The nature of this new covenant is that God promised to write God’s laws on our hearts. That means that it is no longer just an exterior code but something put within us. Now we obey because it is part of us, something we want to do. Holiness and love are principles that are native to us. God, through the prophet Ezekiel in the 36th chapter, promised to cause us to walk in his statutes (Eze. 36: 26-27). The promise was that under the new covenant, the law would be written, not with ink but with the Spirit of God. The principle is clear: Grace puts into us what God wants out of us.

God now promises that under the new covenant, he has now taken us to be a people belonging to God. As a result of their departure, God had divorced his people (Hosea 1:9). Now, the very place where there was failure is the very basis of acceptance.

One teaching the real saint does not need is to know the Lord. Now, under this new covenant, all are privileged to know the Lord.  The real saint knows Him already and does not need such teaching. The knowledge of God is available to everyone on the same basis, from the least to the greatest.

This fourth one is the basis for all the others. The only way to know the Lord is by knowing him as a forgiving God. That means that we must continue to take our place as a sinner and receive his mercy and forgiveness. It is only by many experiences of his mercy that he writes his law on our hearts. He keeps dealing with me on one issue and then another, and as I keep confessing, he keeps being merciful to my unrighteousness. He now remembers them no more. This way of humility is the way to true fellowship with the Lord. Oswald Chambers called this “conscious repentance leading to unconscious holiness.”

The eighth chapter closes with these words: “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (8:13).  This statement probably refers to the fact that the temple in Jerusalem was about to be removed. This lends credence to the dating of the book of Hebrews being written before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

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