“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)
In Jeremiah 31:31, the phrase "days are coming", usually introduces a special occasion of divine intervention in history. As contrasted with the Mosaic and Deuteronomic covenant, Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant with the house of Israel and house of Judah. According to Jeremiah 11:10, both kingdoms had broken God’s covenant by rejecting His words and by worshiping other gods.
Jeremiah is the only Old Testament prophet who speaks of the New Covenant that Jesus inaugurated (Matthew 26:28). Some readers, desiring to celebrate what is “new” in the “New Covenant,” might be tempted to disparage the former covenant, the Mosaic covenant. But we should be careful to avoid any implication that there was something wrong in the covenant God had graciously bestowed on Israel.
God had never designed the Law of Moses as a means to obtain salvation. Instead, forgiveness of sins has always been God’s gracious gift to those who have humbled themselves before Him in faith (Genesis 15:6; Micah 6:6–8; Romans 4:1–5:2; 7:13–25). The Law was God’s way of pointing out the pathway that believers should walk. Thus the problem with the covenant at Mount Sinai was not in God’s provision, but in Israel’s response. The Israelites had continually broken the covenant. Time and again through priests and prophets God called His people to repent, but any change of heart they underwent they soon abandoned. In the days of Jeremiah, King Josiah destroyed the idols that were in the land. But soon after this godly king died, the people turned back to worshiping the idols of the neighboring countries. The hearts of the people remained unchanged. Only God Himself could change hearts and minds: thus a New Covenant was needed.
The announcement of a New Covenant by the prophet Jeremiah would have been alarming to godly Israelites. After all, the old covenant had come from the very hand of God and had been accompanied by miracles and wonders. But the New Covenant would also be accompanied by the miracle of changed hearts and lives. The very Spirit of God would enter people’s lives in order to assure their adherence to the covenant (Jeremiah 31:34; Acts 2:1-4). No longer would intermediaries like priests or prophets have to stand between the people and God. The Holy Spirit would teach the people the knowledge of God—a knowledge that would be evidenced by faith, obedience, and devotion to the Lord.
Jesus fulfilled Jeremiah’s prediction of the coming of a New Covenant through His work on the Cross. By His death, the giving of His lifeblood for many, redemption and forgiveness of sins were attained (Jeremiah 31:34). While Jesus was on earth, He instructed His disciples in His Father’s ways (Luke 24:13–27). But after Jesus ascended to heaven, the Sprit of God was poured out on the believers gathered in Jerusalem, fulfilling the promise spoken by Jeremiah.
The old covenant demanded adherence to stipulations (Exodus 19:1–23:33) which the people were unable to keep. Above all other commandments, the people were commanded to love and serve God and abandon all others (Exodus 23:33; Deuteronomy 6:4, 5). This they did not do. From the wilderness period (Exodus 32:1–10; Numbers 25:1–9) until the days of Manasseh, the history of Israel was permeated with idolatrous activity, only occasionally broken by periods of true faithfulness to God. The people seemed incapable of acting in sustained obedience to the covenant
The new covenant would be initiated by God Himself, assuring its effectiveness. God would write His law on their hearts rather than on tablets of stone, as He did the Ten Commandments. In Jeremiah 17:1 their sin was engraved on their hearts so that they wanted above all to disobey. This change seems to describe an experience very much like the new birth, with God taking the initiative. When we turn our lives over to God, He, by His Holy Spirit, builds into us the desire to obey Him.
The old covenant, broken by the people, would be replaced by a new covenant. The foundation of this new covenant is Christ (Hebrews 8:6). It is revolutionary, involving not only Israel and Judah, but even the Gentiles. It offers a unique personal relationship with God Himself, with His laws written on individuals' hearts instead of on stone. Jeremiah looked forward to the day when Jesus would come to establish this covenant. But for us today, this covenant is here. We have the wonderful opportunity to make a fresh start and establish a permanent, personal relationship with God (Jeremiah 29:11; 32:38-40)
No longer would intermediaries like priests or prophets be needed to show the people how to know the Lord (Jeremiah 31:34). From youngest to oldest, from peasant farmer to kings and princes, all would know God. Knowledge of God is a major theme of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:8; 4:22; 5:4; 8:7) as well as of other prophets (Hosea 5:4). This knowledge is an intimate relationship with God evidenced by faith, obedience, and devotion. God will forgive and will purposefully not remember the sin and iniquity of His people who come to Him in repentance and faith. Jesus the Messiah fulfilled this promised New Covenant through His work on the cross (Matthew 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
References: NKJV Holy Bible, Life Application Bible (NIV), the Nelson Study Bible.