A Jewish male was circumcised the eighth day of his life and that act was a sign that the child was already bound by the covenant God had made with Israel (Ex. 34:28; Gen. 17:11-14). But an eight day old baby has no knowledge or understanding of being in the covenant, either of it’s requirements or of it’s promises. As the Jewish child grew, he was then taught the covenant by his parents. This training was to be meticulous, from the time of rising in the morning till the lying down at night (Deut. 6:7-12; Ex. 12:26,27). But the instruction came after the child was already in the covenant.
Under the New Covenant, before one is ever added to the kingdom of God, he must be taught. While all men are amenable to the New Covenant (Matt. 28:18,19; Mark 16:15,16), not all are in the position to obey it. For example, a man who does not believe that Jesus is the Christ cannot obey the Lord. Nevertheless, the Lord calls all men to submit themselves to His covenant or will (II Thess. 2:14). This call comes in the form of hearing the gospel. Paul wrote, “how shall they hear without preacher…faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:13-15)? Of their own volition, then, men either choose to obey or reject God’s will.
In contrast, Israel was largely a reluctant, disobedient, gainsaying and stiffnecked people (Ex. 32:9; Rom. 10:21). Today, every person truly obeying the gospel does so willingly. It is a personal choice made out of free will. No man or woman can be coerced to be a Christian by sword or gunpoint. No one can twist your arm because obedience comes from the heart (Rom. 6:17). You do not inherit salvation from your parents (cf. Ezek. 18:20). You are not born into the kingdom of God by natural birth but by a new birth (John 3:3). This new birth is one that is out of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), or, freely and willingly obeying the Spirit’s command to be baptized (Mark 16:15,16). It is the answer of a good conscience toward God (I Pet. 3:21).
When Jeremiah prophesied that they “shall no more teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother saying Know the Lord: for they shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them” he was describing this characteristic of the new birth. The Jew had to be taught later that he was a Jew and what all that meant. But the Christian is made aware before he becomes a Christian and submits himself to God’s covenant willingly. It is true that Christians must still grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (II Pet. 3:18; Matt. 28:20) but they have already been born into the kingdom willingly.
Another component that needs to be seen is that those who know the Lord, in Jeremiah’s prophecy, know Him because He forgives their iniquities and remembers their sin no more (Note the word “for” in Jer. 31:34). Under the Old Covenant sins were remembered again every year (Heb. 10:1-4). But with the blood of Christ remission of sins were found even under the first covenant (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15).
Now Jeremiah also wrote that God was going to write the law in the heart and in the inward parts (Jer. 31:33). We should be careful not to misunderstand this. It should not be understood here that this was going to be something entirely new. For God had already required of the Old Testament saints that they keep the word of God in their heart. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment in the law, He did not give something new but quoted the Shema Israel (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:29,30; Deut. 6:4,5). The Shema required of the Jews that they love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul.
God has always required that the saints’ heart be involved in the sincere and effectual service of Jehovah. Quite often God had said that the words of the law should be laid up in their heart. For example: “Lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul” (Deut. 11:18); “Bind them continually upon thine heart” (Prov. 6:21); “write them upon the table of thine heart” (Prov. 7:3); “the law of God is in his heart” (Psalm 37:31); “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8); “ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law” (Is. 51:7).
Their gifts for the building of the tabernacle was to be made from items the children of Israel gave willingly from the heart (Ex. 25:1,2; Ex. 35:5). The law required that one should not hate his brother in his heart (Lev. 19:17). God through Moses warned them to guard their heart against deceit (Deut. 11:16). He warned them that if they did not serve the Lord with joyfulness and gladness that curses would come upon them (Deut. 28:45-47). David was a man after God’s own heart (I Sam. 13:14). On and on the list could go.
It is wrong, then, to understand Jeremiah’s prophecy to say that God puts His word directly in the Christian’s hearts in a way different from that under the Old Covenant. We, too, can harden our hearts just as Israel of old did (Heb. 3:8). Paul expressly warns Christian’s against an evil heart of unbelief (Heb. 3:12). If our heart-soil is not good and honest, the word will not take hold (Luke 8:15). In short, we can fall under the same condemnation Israel did if we reject His word (Heb. 4:11, 12).
Generally speaking, there was a veil on Israel’s heart to keep them from seeing the truth (II Cor. 3:13-16). They rejected Him (John 1:11). They gave Him over to wicked hands to have Him crucified and slain (Acts 2:22-24). They were stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears and always resisted the Holy Ghost (Acts 7:51).
But we have a new and living way made possible by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19,20). Therefore, we are to draw near with a true and in full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:22). “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 10:14-17).
Eric L. Padgett