Read Jeremiah 31:27-34 and 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5.

In those days, they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins. (Jeremiah 31:29-30a)

The day is surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel later those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The most fundamental direction or motion in the Bible is from the old covenant to the new. In the old covenant, the law was given by God through Moses. Israel was to be God’s people, but they rejected him and followed other gods. Israel was taken into captivity, into Egypt, into Babylon, into the world. The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

In the new covenant, we don’t die for our parents’ sin, we die for our own. Much better! (Wait, what?)

The new covenant of course involves Jesus’ incarnation and life and death and resurrection, forgiveness of sin, and a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Jeremiah gives a little preview in this passage. But it’s interesting to note the aspects of the new covenant that he highlights.

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” If you are a part of the new covenant, you do not need to hear the law from Moses, to have it read to you by a priest in the temple. It is within you. You know right from wrong, good from bad, God’s will from the will of the world, if you will only listen to your heart.

But surely old covenanters had consciences as well. They had heard the law, so they would have known right from wrong. What is different in the new covenant? It is this: that not only is the law within you, but it is written on your heart. The desire to fulfill it is also given. God gives the desire for holiness. He gives the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah also points out another difference in the new covenant: “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me.” Not only does God give a desire for holiness, he also gives a direct, inner knowledge of God that is not dependent on hearing about God from others. God is with us.

In view of these things Paul makes a plea to Timothy. Paul musters all the solemnity and motivation that he can: “In the presence of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you.” And what is the grand task that Paul urges for his apprentice, his co-worker? “Proclaim the message. Be persistent. Convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

This must be one of those paradoxes one hears about. “No longer shall they teach one another”…”Proclaim the message.” Its resolution is left as an exercise for the student.


Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of ccel.org and hymnary.org.