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Jeremiah 31:27–34

16 October 2022

Exploring the Scripture

Covenant is an important theme throughout the book of Jeremiah. The prophet understood the Mosaic covenant to be foundational to the identity and salvation of the people. God delivered the Israelite slaves from Egypt. Therefore, the slaves were obligated to follow God’s law and be faithful.

Obedience to this covenant resulted in blessing. Disobedience resulted in judgment and punishment. Jeremiah witnessed idolatry continuing into his day in the form of Baal worship. Internal greed, oppression and injustice also damaged the covenant relationship with God. Conquest and exile were how God punished the sins of Judah.

Today’s lectionary passage is a message of hope and restoration. It is part of a group of texts called “the little book of comfort” made up of Chapters 30 and 31. After all the prophecies of destruction and judgment, these chapters stand out as good news for the future.

The historical setting for today’s scripture is the Babylonian Exile. War has ravaged the land and decimated the population. The leaders, merchants, and artisans have been taken captive to Babylon.

But in verse 27, God promises to repopulate both Judah and Israel, with human beings and with animals. God has been engaged in violent actions of judgment, “to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil” (v. 28). But now God will watch over the people, build and plant anew.

Verses 29 and 30 refer to the idea that God punishes people for the sins of their parents, “to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me” (Exodus 20:5). The exiles had a saying that when the parents eat sour grapes, “the children’s teeth are set on edge” (v. 29). It meant they were suffering because of the sins of their ancestors, not because they had done anything wrong.

Jeremiah tried to combat that idea by pointing out how the people continued to sin against God. In verse 30, God promises in the future the cycle will be broken. Children will no longer be held accountable for the sins of their parents, but each person will be responsible for his or her own sins.

The heart of this passage is found in verses 31–34. God will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah and write it on their hearts. They will not forget it again, because the relationship with God will be at the very center of their being.

Because the people of that time understood the heart to be the location of the will, it meant the people will constantly yearn to be faithful to the covenant. The new covenant will come because of the suffering they endure during the exile. Judgment is not the final word, but rather salvation.

Once again, the traditional covenant language affirms the relationship between humans and God: “I will be their God and they shall be my people” (v. 33). There will be no need to teach one another about God, for they will know God directly, in an intimate, cherished relationship that arises naturally from deep inside. God will forgive their sins and forget their past misdeeds. What a powerful message of hope, forgiveness, and Divine love!

Central Ideas

  1. Jeremiah’s theology centered around the Mosaic covenant and his attempt to call the people to accountability for breaking their promises to God.
  2. God promised to hold each person accountable for their own sins, regardless of the sins of their parents. 
  3. God promised to write a new covenant on their hearts, which would cause them to consistently yearn to be faithful.
  4. The people would know God intimately in a relationship that arises naturally from deep God will forgive and forget their sins.

Questions to Consider

  1. How valid is parental crimes affecting the behavior and attitudes of children? How can that idea be helpful or hurtful?
  2. We often refer to Jesus Christ as the bringer of the new Is this the covenant that is “written on our hearts”? Does it cause us to yearn to be faithful?
  1. What is the content of the law that is written on our hearts? What is the source of your answer?
  2. How intimately do you feel you know God?

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