The Old Testament Lesson for the Fifth Sunday in Lent is written in the book of the prophet Jeremiah. The text is Jeremiah 31:31-34 and is a very familiar pericope which frequently finds its way into the Old Testament lectionary. Of strong interest is the language of “New Covenant” versus the Old Covenant that made its way down the Mountain of Sinai in the wilderness. This is the only place in the Old Testament where the idea of “New Covenant” is written, although it is certainly alluded to in many areas. The language of יָדַע (yaw-dah) (to know) is connected to this New Covenant just as it was with Old and indicates there will be an intimate relationship in this New Covenant (with language like, “...though I was a husband to her...”). However, the New Covenant has qualities to distinguish it from the Old, connecting it to the Promised Messiah. The language of “husband” and the new relationship reminds us of Hosea 1-3 and the living object lesson the prophet Hosea is subjected to which provides a picture for this prophecy.

The Sinai Covenant (Old) should not be thought of as strictly a “Law” covenant. It is also based on the relationship between God and man. All of the rules, regulations, words, etc. that are given to Israel by God as He covenants with them at Sinai have the express purpose of making it possible for the Holy to dwell in the midst of the unholy. God desires to be with His wife, His bride, and these marks of the Old Covenant make it possible. Of course, the New Covenant has Christ Jesus the Incarnate Son of God dwelling in the midst of the people in an even more intimate way. The difference is the Holy One (Jesus) takes the sins of man upon Himself and carries them to the cross to make our hearts holy and acceptable in the eyes of God. This has been written on the hearts of man by the Bridegroom.

The text also speaks against those who would see the God of the Old Covenant/Testament as different from the God of the New. Same God, different aspects of the Covenant—the Old which has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus and the New under which we live in a restored relationship with God.

Saint Ambrose writes: “The number seven has gone. The number eight has come. Yesterday is gone. Today has come. That is the promised day on which we have been warned to hear and follow God’s Word. The day of the Old Testament is gone. The new day has come in which the New Testament is made perfect, of which Jeremiah says, ‘Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant...’”

Jesus takes the sins of man upon Himself and carries them to the cross to make our hearts holy and acceptable in the eyes of God. This has been written on the hearts of man by the Bridegroom.

31:31 וְכָרַתִּי (ve-cha-rat-Ti) root: כרת (kaw-rath) Qal: “to cut”
בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה (be-Rit cha-da-Shah) “A new covenant”

31:32 הֶחֱזִיקִי (he-che-zi-Ki) root: חזק (khaw-zak) Hiphil: “to take hold of; to be strong”
לְהוֹצִיאָם (le-ho-tzi-Am) root: יצא (yaw-tsaw) Hiphil, infinitive: “to bring out; cause to be brought out” With the 3rd middle plural suffix: “to bring them out” “cause them to be brought out”
הֵפֵרוּ (he-Fe-ru) root: פרר (paw-rar) Hiphil: “to break; violate”
בָּעַלְתִּי (ba-Al-ti) root: בעל (baw-al) Qal: “to be husband over; be lord over”

31:33 בְּקִרְבָּם (be-kir-Bam) from: קרב (keh-reb) “within them; inward part; midst”
אֶכְתֲּבֶנָּה (ech-ta-Ven-nah) root: כתב (kaw-thab) Piel: “to write”

31:34 יְלַמְּדוּ (ye-lam-me-Du) root: למד (law-mad) Piel: “to teach; instruct; be a teacher”
לְמִקְטַנָּם (le-mik-tan-Nam) from: קָטָן (kaw-tawn) “small; insignificant; least”
אֶסְלַח (es-Lach) root: סלח (saw-lakh) Qal: “to forgive; pardon; to be kind toward”

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Jeremiah 31:31-34.