"Myth #4: Biblical theology is in competition with systematic theology....Systematic theology needs biblical theology so that it doesn’t devolve into mere proof-texting. We may quote verses to support our doctrines, but we may miss what those verses actually mean in their original context." - Drew Hunter
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Having just uttered what is undoubtedly one of the most unambiguous promises in literature, and coming on the back of an entire extended portion on the subject of Israel’s eschatological hope (Jer. 30 – 33), Jeremiah switches gear to relate an incident under the quickly ebbing reign of king Zedekiah.
The background to the story is the desperation of the king and his nobles over the engagement with the overwhelming forces of Nebuchadnezzar, and what was sure to follow (Jer. 34:1f.). In a last ditch effort to stave off the inevitable, the king and his courtiers turn to Yahweh and, in a fit of religious zeal, they make a covenant before Him in the temple to implement the command contained within the Mosaic covenant (Jer. 34:13-14) to release Hebrew slaves (see Exod. 21:1-11; Deut. 15:12-18). Dishonorably they went back on their oath and took the slaves back (Jer. 34:8-11); an action that provoked the following response:
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Jeremiah 33 opens by referencing the destruction that has been made upon Jerusalem (“this city” in v.4), where the inhabitants had to demolish houses to build fortifications (Jer. 33:1-4). Yahweh declares that, although He will not save them from the Babylonians, He does intend to heal the city and bring to it “an abundance of peace and truth” (33:6). This will involve a return from captivity (33:7), which to the prophet’s hearers would put them in mind of their eventual return from Chaldea. But again, just as with 32:28-41, we should hesitate to reach that conclusion because God also promises redemption and national preeminence for Israel among the nations of the world (33:8-9).1
There is a return to the theme of rejoicing (Isa. 35:1-2; 61:10; 65:18; Jer. 31:13; Zeph. 3:14), but it incorporates cultic elements; the “house of the Lord” being prominent (Jer. 33:11). These features of salvation, national ascendancy, and celebration push the prophecy into the time of covenant consummation. What one chooses to do with the temple in verse 11 will depend on the level of sufferance one has for a temple and priesthood in the post-advent kingdom era.
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Returning to where we left off in Jeremiah 31, after Jeremiah has revealed a New covenant to replace the Mosaic covenant, he is given revelation which underlines its validity.
Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name):
If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the LORD: “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD. (NKJV, Jeremiah 31:35-37)
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Then we arrive at the prophecy about the New covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). The verses are immediately followed by a Divine guarantee of future fulfillment (Jer. 31:35-37). So it behooves us to look at it carefully:
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
Excerpts from the book The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology (forthcoming)
As far as biblical covenantalism goes, the prophecies in Jeremiah 30 through 33, supported by chapters 34 and 35 are critical.1 After the prophet is heard in his own right, the covenantal picture that has been forming so far really starts to take shape. When Jeremiah’s historical situation is considered the covenantal picture is only reinforced all the more.2
The series begins when Jeremiah is commanded to “Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you.” (Jer. 30:2). A written record of his utterances is required. The reason given for this is that,
‘…behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, `that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,’ says the LORD. `And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.’ (NASB, Jeremiah 30:3)
The phrase “the days are coming” is often connected with the eschaton, just as are the promises of peace and safety. This verse predicts a return from captivity. Most interpreters assume that by this the prophet has in mind the return from Babylon (Ezra 1 – 2). But as the oracle proceeds more than this is in view.