THE NEW COVENANT WITH ITS BETTER PROMISES NECESSITATES THE ABANDONMENT OF THE INADEQUATE OLD COVENANT
[We covered verse 6 in the last section … but it is the perfect transition and must be included in this second half of the chapter as well.]
As we progress from the discarding of the obsolete Old Covenant to the embracing of the New Covenant, we need to investigate the advantages and superiority of the New Covenant. Just because something is new does not necessarily make it better. The author wants us to especially focus on four very special promises embodied in the New Covenant that make it superior and more desirable. There is no way that Jewish converts should be tempted to revert back to the religious system of the Old Covenant.
Kent: This is the same sort of argument as pursued in 7:11. There the author argued that the Levitical system must have been envisioned by God as inadequate, inasmuch as He announced a replacement with a different kind of priest. Here the reasoning is that the Mosaic covenant must not have been able to accomplish all that was needed, since God saw fit to plan another covenant.
Constable: The writer proceeded to explain the superiority of the New Covenant that Jesus Christ ratified with His blood (death) that is better than the Old Mosaic Covenant that He terminated when He died. He first explained the reason for the change in covenants (Hebrews 8:6-9), then he quoted the four superior promises of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:10-12), and finally he underlined the certainty of the change (Hebrews 8:13).
(:6) TRANSITION: THE NEW COVENANT IS SUPERIOR
A. Better Ministry
“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry,”
Better Ministry is proved by:
B. Better Covenant
“by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant,”
Better Covenant is proved by:
C. Better Promises
“which has been enacted on better promises.”
This is the heart of this particular section
Hewitt: The weakness of the Israelites and the imperfection of the old covenant are the reasons given for the inauguration of the better covenant which is established upon better promises.
– By the promise of forgiveness of sins man’s deepest spiritual need is met (12)
– By the promise of an inward power man’s weakness is overcome (10)
– By the promise of possession security is assured (10)
– By the promise of a fuller and deeper revelation direct fellowship with God is guaranteed (11)
I. (:7-9) THE OLD COVENANT HAD LIMITATIONS WHICH REQUIRED A NEW COVENANT
A. (:7-8a) Negation of the Limited Old Covenant
1. (:7) Introduction of New Covenant Proof of Limitations of Old Covenant
“For if that first covenant had been faultless,
there would have been no occasion sought for a second.”
Kent: Although the first covenant was inferred to be faulty in verse 7, the actual fault lay not in the covenant itself but in the people who did not keep their part of the agreement. The inadequacy of the covenant was its inability to insure that the people could live up to it.
F. F. Bruce: The new one must be better, for there would have been no point in replacing the old covenant by another no better than itself.
2. (:8a) Limitations of the Old Covenant Rooted in the Inability of Obedience
“For finding fault with them,”
B. (:8-9) Need for a Superior New Covenant
1. (:8) Announcement of Coming New Covenant with United Nation of Israel
“He says, ‘Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;’”
Clear indication that despite the divided kingdom at the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy (with Judah’s captivity just beginning), the two kingdoms would be united in the future since the new covenant applies to both.
Kent: It would be accomplished when the people were regathered to their land (Jer. 30:1-3), after the time their greatest suffering known as “Jacob’s trouble” (30:7). All their enemies would be destroyed (30:16), and their ancient homeland would be rebuilt (30:17, 18). The new covenant would bring about a spiritual transformation individually as well as nationally. The prophecy was thus a ray of hope for a downtrodden people.
Zane Hodges: It is clear that Christians of the present time also stand under its blessings (cf. Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6). This perception does not lead to an inappropriate confusion between Israel and the church. The New Covenant is God’s appointed vehicle for fulfilling the Abrahamic blessings to Israel. But the Abrahamic Covenant also promised universal blessing, so the New Covenant becomes as well God’s vehicle of salvation for believers since the Cross.
2. (:9) Admission of the Failure of the Old Covenant Based on Historical Testimony
“Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord.”
Richard Phillips: the chilling cause-and-effect relationship so well displayed in the Old Testament . . . That is what happens when people reject God – he turns away from them. The result for Old Testament Israel was military defeat, the vast destruction of their society, ad national enslavement. If salvation meant deliverance from slavery in Egypt, rejection of God meant a return to bondage in the form of the Babylonian captivity.
II. (:10-12) THE NEW COVENANT PROVIDES BETTER PROMISES THAT ARE INWARDLY AND SPIRITUALLY FOCUSED –
4 BETTER PROMISES:
A. (:10a) Superior Power — Promise of Regeneration and Inward Transformation
“For this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws into their minds,
And I will write them upon their hearts.”
Kent: Compliance would thus be by inner desire, not by outward compulsion.
Hewitt: This dynamic was lacking in the old covenant, for though the law could reveal with vivid clearness the ways of good and evil, it failed to give to the Israelites the power which would have enabled them to do the good and resist the evil. On the contrary, as the forbidden fruit held real attractions for Eve, so the forbidden ways of the law held similar attractions. Romans vii shows that it is possible to delight in the law of God with the inward man yet at the same time submit to another law which makes war against the law of the mind. A new power was needed and is supplied under the new covenant. This power is not impersonal, but is in fact the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who enables the believer to resist the attractions and overcome the power of evil. It is the authority of the Spirit of life who through union with Christ Jesus makes us free from the power of sin which ends in death (Rom. viii. 2, 3). It is possible that the mind covers the intellect, and the heart the will and affections, for the new law of God was to be effective in the whole spiritual life of the Christian.
F. F. Bruce: What was needed was a new nature, a heart liberated from its bondage to sin, a heart which not only spontaneously knew and loved the will of God but had the power to do it.
B. (:10b) Superior Relationship — Promise of Secure Relationship with God with No More Apostasy
“And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”
R. Kent Hughes: This was one of the formula expressions of the goal of the Old Covenant.
Ex. 19:5; Ex. 6:7
Leon Morris: The God who saves people in Christ is the God of His redeemed in a new and definitive way. And when people have been saved at the awful cost of Calvary, they are the people of God in a way never before known.
C. (:11) Superior Knowledge — Promise of Universal Revelation and Knowledge of God based on Personal Experience
“And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ For all shall know Me, From the least to the greatest of them.”
No class system with God; the blessing of a personal relationship with God and intimate knowledge of Him is not limited by education or race or social status
F. F. Bruce: Such knowledge of Him by whom they are known, increasing until it attains its consummation in knowing even as they are known, is of the essence of that “perfection” to which our author invites his readers to press forward.
Peter O’Brien: At one level the people of Israel knew their God, because he had revealed himself to them, in contrast with the surrounding nations, which did not know him. But Hebrews recalls that the works God performed for Moses’ generation (Heb. 3:9; Ps. 95), which displayed his power, did not result in the people knowing his ways (Heb. 3:10). After the generation that entered Canaan under Joshua died out, the following generation ‘did not know the LORD’ (Jdg 2:10). Later Hosea complained that there was no ‘knowledge of God in the land’ of Israel (Hos. 4:1, 6). Jeremiah’s prophecy envisages not simply a national knowledge of God. Rather, it is a personal knowledge of him that is in view, such as Jeremiah himself possessed. God promised that every member of the new covenant community would know him directly and personally, from the least of them to the greatest. This is the result of his writing his laws on each heart or, in the words of Ezekiel, because each would be given a new heart and spirit by God. The expression, no longer will they teach their neighbors, is not a rejection of leadership or teaching as such. It is a powerful rhetorical device that underscores ‘the universality of this unmediated knowledge’. The emphatic words, ‘all of them’ will know me, demonstrate this. To know God is to recognize him, to trust him, and to obey him. Every believer is able to approach God in a personal and direct way ‘with confidence’ because Jesus has made this possible through his high-priestly work (Heb 4:16; 7:25; 10:19–22; 12:22–24). Such intimate knowledge increases until it reaches its consummation, when all of us will know fully as we are fully known.
D. (:12) Superior Forgiveness — Promise of Permanent Forgiveness of Sins Based on Finality of Sacrifice of Christ
“For I will be merciful to their iniquities,
And I will remember their sins no more.”
R. Kent Hughes: This is precisely what the Old Covenant could not do. Under the Old Covenant, sins were never completely forgiven because they were never truly forgotten. They were covered, awaiting and pointing to the true forgiveness through Christ’s death.
A. M. Stibbs: The foundation act of divine mercy on which all else is built is therefore the priestly work of putting away sin. The High Priest who does this, and makes it possible for men to draw near to God, thus becomes the one who mediates this new covenant.
Hewitt: By the use of “for” the suggestion is made that the promise of forgiveness is the foundation of all the other promises. The words I will be merciful to their unrighteousness show that the source of forgiveness is not human merit but God’s mercy and grace. The ground of forgiveness is not man’s repentance but the sacrifice of Christ. It is the new covenant which gives full and complete assurance that God will remember our sins and . . . iniquities . . . no more.
F. F. Bruce: Under the old sacrificial system, there was “a remembrance made of sins year by year” (Ch. 10:3); if no such remembrance of sins is made under the new covenant, it is because of a sacrifice offered up once for all (Ch. 7:27).
Warren Wiersbe: What does it mean that God remembers our sins and iniquities no more? (Heb. 8:12) This important statement is quoted again in Hebrews 10:16–17. Does it mean that our all-knowing God can actually forget what we have done? If God forgot anything, He would cease to be God! The phrase “remember no more” means “hold against us no more.” God recalls what we have done, but He does not hold it against us. He deals with us on the basis of grace and mercy, not law and merit. Once sin has been forgiven, it is never brought before us again. The matter is settled eternally.
Craig A. Blaising: new covenant promises are not yet fully realized. The promises in Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel describe a people who have the law written in their hearts, who walk in the way of the Lord, fully under the control of the Holy Spirit. These same promises look to a people who are raised from the dead [cf. Ezekiel 37], enjoying the blessings of an eternal inheritance with God dwelling with them and in them forever.
III. (:13) THE OLD COVENANT HAS BECOME OBSOLETE
A. Obsolete by Pronouncement of Replacement
“When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete.”
B. Obsolete by Historical Transition
“But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”
At the time of the writing before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, the old covenant was winding down and becoming obsolete. By now it is totally obsolete.
Leon Morris: the old one is obsolete. And that in turn means that it is close to disappearing. It is not something people should go back to with nostalgia. The words used of it emphasize that it is ineffective, unable to meet people’s need, outworn. . .
[The New Covenant] also points to continuity. The new arrangement retains the term “covenant” and it is established on the basis of sacrifice. It refers to the fulfillment of what is superseded rather than outright opposition to it.