Lecture 16: Hebrews 8:7-13
Lecture: Hebrews 8:7-13
II. Superior Offering (Cont.)
For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. But showing its fault, God says to them, “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. “It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord. “For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. “And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ʻKnow the Lord,ʼ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.” When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear.
C. New Covenant:
We move into the argument on why Jesus’ offering is superior. The pattern that the author has been following is that first he will show the superiority of an Old Testament institution and then he will show how Jesus’ fulfillment of it is superior as it is based on that Old Testament institution. In 8:7-13, he is going to focus on an Old Testament institution and that is the New Covenant. The New Covenant is an Old Testament institution because that is where you find it. You find the Scriptures that are dealing with the New Covenant there in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Actually, it is in the Septuagint. The purpose and process of this unit includes the author making the case for the New Covenant being superior to the old covenant as being its purpose. His point is going to be that Jesus’ offering was a new covenant offering, not an old covenant offerings. This offering establishes the New Covenant with God. We will see the ways in which the new covenant is different from the old covenant. So the purpose is to establish the fact that the new covenant is superior to the old. He uses another rabbinic technique to make this argument. He quotes the passage from Jeremiah and this is the longest quotation of the Old Testament in the New Testament. So, he quotes the Jeremiah passage and then he focuses on one word from the passage. This is called the literal meaning of the word. So, you quote a passage and then you seize on a particular word and that makes the point that you want to make. The word he emphasizes is ‘new’. If there is something new then there is something old.
7 ει γαρ (For if) η πρώτη εκείνη (that first covenant) ην (was) άμεμπτος (blameless,) ουκ αν (would not) δευτέρας (for a second) εζητείτο (there be sought) τόπος (place.)
8 μεμφόμενος γαρ (For complaining) αυτοίς (against them) λέγει (he says,) ιδού (Behold,) ημέραι (days) έρχονται (come,) λέγει (says) κύριος (the Lord,) και (and) συντελέσω (I will complete) επί (upon) τον (the) οίκον (house) Ισραήλ (of Israel) και (and) επί (upon) τον (the) οίκον (house) Ιούδα (of Judah) διαθήκην (2 covenant) καινήν (1 a new;)
In his commentary on it, when he speaks about a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete and about to disappear. When you have something that is new, that means there is something that is now considered obsolete. He starts out introducing the quote. He says, if the first was faultless, there would not have been a place made for a second. If the first covenant had been faultless, then nobody would have thought about a second one being made. So, you have a textual variant in verse 8. He says for finding fault, you have a term altuse in one version of the text. The variant is altose which has strong witnesses as in p46 and a version of Sinaiticus manuscript and also in Vaticanus. So, there are strong witnesses. The two options, it is for finding fault or faulting, altuse. The case of this is accusative; so faulting them, he says. This is not the way the NET reads. The other variant, the case of altose is stative, for faulting, he says to them. So, for faulting them he says in regards to the wilderness wanderers. The other one would be, for finding fault, he says to them and then you have the quote of the passage. The difference in terms of the interpretative issue; it is bringing in the sense of where the fault actually lays. There is not an it technically in the passage. Is it the people who are at fault or is the covenant at fault? You could understand it textually either way; I think that the better reading is the altose which is p46 and the Vaticanus manuscript. It is the altuse that has it in the Alexandrines and others. Actually the altose has a stronger reading in terms of witnesses. It is understandable why a scribe would change it to altuse because is clear in the passage than in Psalm 95 and other places; there were problems with people obviously. But the whole context is on the inadequacy of the old covenant itself. It is like the Levitical priesthood that we saw just wasn’t going to work; for it had never worked. It wasn’t going to get people ultimately where God wanted them to be.
D. The New Covenant vs the Old Covenant:
The old covenant has built into it an inadequacy and it was never the ultimate intension for that to be all that God had intended. God was using the old covenant as a step toward what he ultimately would be accomplishing in the new covenant. Let’s look at the logic of what he does. So the introduction is interesting for finding fault, saying to them that the days are coming when I will establish a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt because they didn’t continue in my covenant. I had no regard for them for this is a covenant that I will make and establish with the House of Israel after those days says the Lord. Then he gives three characteristics of the New Covenant and these say something to us about how we think and talk about the Gospel and how we think about and do evangelicalism. These characteristics describe the nature of the new covenant. He says that he will put his laws in their minds and inscribe them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. Rather than something that is outside or external that you trying to conform your life to; there is now an internalization of the Law. It is written on the heart and the mind. The heart in the Old Testament is the seat of intelligence and emotion. There are several points of parallelism in this passage and I think this is a point of parallelism here. This is similar to what Paul says at the beginning of Romans when he talks about the internalization of the Law.
In 2nd Corinthians 3:1-6 Paul starts out with a statement as a question about commending himself verses having letters of commendation. This isn’t a negative here, nor do I think that it is a question. It is like Paul is walking a fine line here between boasting and commending. I think he is saying that he is beginning to commend himself to you again. This was a kind of slap to the Corinthians because self-commendation was very appropriate in the ancient world. In a number of places in Corinthians Paul says that we commend ourselves to all people using the term very positively. If you already had an established relationship with someone, the only time that you would commend yourself was if that relationship had gotten strained which was what had happened between Paul and the Corinthians. So, that is why he says that he was beginning to commend himself to them again even asking whether he needed letters to commend himself to them. Is this not enough for you that I am trying to reestablish our relationship that I would need letters to show you? I think he is alluding to the opponents there in Corinth. But he says that he shouldn’t need any letters because you are our letters written on our hearts, not with ink but written by the Spirit of God on human hearts. He begins to transition to new covenant language saying that part of the nature of an authentic ministry is that the spirit of God has begun a transformation of a person’s heart. The changing of the heart is a letter of commendation. It is a letter that is written by the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit that gives life; the letter kills is now referring back to the Law. He is mixing his metaphors here. So the letter kills but it is the Spirit that gives life. The nature of the old covenant was that the presence of God was limited to Moses. Moses was the only person that had seen the face of God. The dynamics of the new covenant was the ripping away of the veil so that the presence of God can be experienced by everybody. So the first characteristic of the new covenant; it involved the internalization of law and the will of God. People are being transformed from the inside out.
The second dynamic involves all being able to come to God from the least to the greatest. So, by definition, everybody in the covenant knows the Lord intimately. There is a personal, heart to heart, face to face intimate relationship with God. This is built into the covenant itself. So, to be a new covenant person, one has this heart to heart relationship with God. It is where a person experiences the presence of God in their lives knowing him. The third characteristic is that God will no longer remember their sins. It is almost like God has amnesia in regards to our past sins. Notice the parallelism here; in not remembering our sins, he means that he will be merciful to our iniquities. He no longer counts our sins against us. Our sins have been so dealt with that our sins are absolutely forgiven; we are no long guilty. All of our sins have been decisively dealt with. So then, a person of the new covenant is a person who has God’s laws written on their hearts; they have an intimate relationship with God and our sins have been decisively dealt with.
E. Practical Implications:
How do we communicate the Gospel to people? Relationship is at the heart of our communicating the Gospel. In dealing with a lot of people in our cultural context, we have to be discerning in where we start the conversation. People do understand the problems in their lives and the concept of relationships, people understand this. And, we must remember that only God can transform the human heart. I am not saying that we can’t start with the problem of sin and evil in the world as this can also be appropriate. But at the heart of this, there seems to be a step 1 2 3 approach in regards to these characteristics and dynamics. So, relationship may be at the heart in what we do in sharing the Gospel. People do struggle with the fact that their lives are messy; they have done wrong and have hurt other people. In Britain, one highly intellectual person once said that she envied the ability of Christians to forgive.
F. Old and New Covenant:
Another question involves the whole relationship between the old and the new covenant. One of the big issues that Jewish people are sensitive about is a perspective that Christianity is seen as replacing Judaism as a religion. There are unfortunate happenings in the history of the Christian church in regards to this in terms of anti-Semitism. For example, even Luther got into some bad anti-Semitism in his own life. He wrote some things that were really bad about the Jews. So, there is a history of unfortunate dynamics in the church where it was put forward as Christians against Jews where Jews were the ones who killed Christ. Even in the modern world, there is a great deal of sensitivity about anti-Semitism of Jews. It is clear that the old covenant is seen as something that has been taken up into the new covenant. The old covenant laid the foundation for what God would ultimately do in the new covenant. The old covenant wasn’t just cut off, not being relevant for the way the author deals with Old Testament Scriptures; there is a transformation that takes place where the new covenant is taking the dynamics of the old covenant up into itself and fulfilling them. Look at the tabernacle for example; it has been transformed into us. We are now the temple of God. Look at 1st Peter where it says that we are the building blocks of the dwelling place of God. In regards to sensitive theological issues, we ask are the Jews still significant? Yes, the Gospel still goes to the Jew first and then also to the gentiles. So, you have Judaism, not rejected but Judaism taken up into all of the people of the earth. God has always intended to bless all the people of the earth. This failed with the Jews in the Old Testament, but God will still ultimately accomplish this and fulfill this through Jesus. The dividing wall between Jew and gentile has
now been broken down as mentioned in Galatians. There is a transformation where the people of God now include the gentiles being graphed in. Well, to conclude, I think there is super-secessionism in the sense that you have something new going on here that is replacing the old. We have the realities of the
old being taken up, transformed and fulfilled in the new covenant. The impact has now moved beyond the Jews to all the people of the world being able to embrace the Gospel.