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Jeremiah 31:32

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake,

The majority of references I’ve come across assume the covenant they broke is the covenant referenced here in Jeremiah 31:32 (the Mosaic Covenant).

I'm not sure this assumption is correct.

According to my reasoning, Abraham obtained righteousness by faith, but the Mosaic covenant had righteousness via Law. Why change, other than the Israelites' lacked faith (trust in God), so the ‘agreement’ had to change in order for God to be able to ‘work’ for them?

Is my reasoning sound?

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  • It seems to me that you have answered your own question. Israel lacked faith and attempted to be religious by their own works. (Following Adam's transgression.) Predictably, Israel failed and broke the covenant of works. Abraham, on the other hand, ceased from his own works and believed in God, as you state. Paul supports everything you have stated in his epistle to the Galatians. Welcome to BH. Please see the Tour and the Help (both below, bottom left). +1 for a good question and a good answer.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 7:01
  • You are asking a different question : what's the reason of giving Mosaic covenant? Know the diff between Abraham Gen 15 it is not salvation covenant but unconditional national election, unilateral unconditional. Moses is conditional salvation with individuals.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 5:01
  • @Michael16 The Q is asking what I wanted to know. This verse is talking about two covenants - which you identified. I wanted to know which of those two covenants they ‘broke’. It’s an old question, one which I have now resolved. However the comment you left has opened a new Q to you - if the earlier covenant wasn’t about salvation - then what saved Lot?
    – Dave
    Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 18:13
  • @Michael16 And, one other point. The Mosaic covenant was not [just] for ‘individuals’ - the whole nation went into captivity for violating it.
    – Dave
    Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 19:49
  • @Dave what save Lot Adam Noah Job Abraham or anyone in the world is the same way how everyone else is saved or judged, by their works Rom 2:6-16. Search for "according to their works". In the Torah there's only one covenant they could break, the Mosaic covenant. Nobody can break Abrahamic national covenant as it's irrevocable and not about salvation.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 4:19

3 Answers 3

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Many people refer to the Torah as the "Mosaic Covenant". This is too simplistic as they are at least six covenants that God made with people, just one of which was "Israelite Covenant". Here are the six covenants that I found:

1. Noahide Covenant: Gen 8:20 – 9:17.

2. Abrahamic Covenant: Gen 15, 17, 18:9-15, 22:15-18 involving a miraculous son and the land of Canaan. It was a covenant of grace.

3. Israelite Covenant: Exodus 19-24, and expanded in parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – often called, “The Old Covenant”, or, “Moral Covenant”, or, sometimes incorrectly called, “The Mosaic Covenant”. It was a covenant of grace (see below).

4. Levitical Covenant – Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11. This is an eternal covenant (Num 25:12, 13, Ps 106:30) of salt, Num 18:19. The Levitical covenant is stated in Num 3:11-13 where God takes the Levites instead of the all the firstborn of each family, thus changing the (informal) priesthood from the firstborn of each family to the (formal) priesthood of tribe of Levi.

5. Davidic (or Regal) Covenant: 2 Sam 7, 23:5, 1 Kings 6:11, 12, 8:25, 1 Chron 17:11-14, 2 Chron 6:14-16, 7:17, 18, 13:5, Ps 132:11, 12, Eze 37:15-28. This involved the eternal kingdom of David and the permanence of his posterity on the throne.

6. Christian Covenant – often called, “The New Covenant”, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6-13, 9:15, 10:16, 29, 12:24, (Jer 31:31, 33), an eternal covenant (Heb 13:20).

All these covenants have the same pattern:

  • God promises to give a number of privileges
  • God sets out a series of requirements, almost always moral requirements for the people
  • There is some kind of token or sign of the covenant (more than one is some cases)
  • The covenant is initiated by "cutting" (hence the Hebrew word for covenant is "berith") always involving a sacrifice.

The Israelite covenant was set out primarily in Ex 19-23 but later expanded in some chapters of Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

The ancient Israelites were often reprimanded for assuming that God’s covenant with them was a mere matter of ceremonies, the stone tablets and the temple. 1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, etc. That is, they confused the Levitical and Moral Covenant. More particularly, the Israelites were repeatedly told that the conditions of the Covenant were a matter for the heart and NOT external regulations (Deut 6:5, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28), because God initiated the covenant to save Israel; it was a covenant of grace and forgiveness! Isa 59:21 says the covenant is the eternal gift of the Spirit.

That this Israelite Covenant was still a covenant of grace is confirmed by several ideas:

  • The Old Covenant was a covenant initiated entirely by God alone, to save Israel. God alone set out the requirements and blessings. God makes it clear that they were selected as the chosen people, NOT because of any Israelite merit, but simply because God wanted to. Deut 7:7, 9:5, 6, 10:15.
  • The Old Covenant was a matter of the “heart” (Deut 6:5, 10:12, 16, 11:18, 22, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28) and NOT mere regulations (1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8). These references make it clear that the Old Covenant did not really include the animal sacrifices, and that they could not define nor atone for sin. (Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22). The animal sacrifices and the sanctuary ritual were part of the Levitical covenant which acted as teaching device that anticipated, and was a type of, the High Priestly ministry of Messiah.
  • The Ark of the Covenant, containing the Covenant stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, was constructed in a highly symbolic way. The 10 Commandments were inside the box and the “atonement cover” or “mercy seat” was placed above them. Ex 25:17-22, 26:34, 30:6, 31:17, 37:9, 40:20, Lev 16:13; see also Heb 9:5. This arrangement was placed in the Most Holy Place, in the sanctuary, and always remained at the center of God’s Covenant people.
  • In Solomon’s prayer of dedication, he describes the (Israelite) Covenant as God showing “lovingkindness”, or, “steadfast love”, to people. 1 Kings 8:23, 2 Chron 6:14, See also Neh 1:5, 9:32, Ps 89:28, 33, 34, 103:17, 18, 111:4, 5, 9, Isa 54:10, 55:3. This suggests that the Law of God, or the Moral Law, is an expression of God’s love and is just as eternal.

Note: Most of the confusion about the various covenants arises because people confuse the Israelite Covenant with the Levitical Covenant, or, assume that the Levitical Covenant and the Davidic Covenant are part of the Israelite (Old) Covenant.

It is this "old" (Israelite) covenant that the Israelites failed to properly understand; it is also the covenant referred to when unqualified in the OT. Note that the Old Covenant is called eternal (1 Chron 16:17, Jer 50:5, Ps 105:8).

The New Covenant is discussed in several places and always in a language that makes it the continuation of the Old Covenant. According to Heb 8:7, 8, the New Covenant was created, not because the Old was defective but because the people (literal Israelites) did not understand, rejected the old covenant and a New Covenant was made with new people, Christians, who accept the promises by faith. Jesus made the same point in Matt 21:43, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” See also Gal 3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise”. Paul makes the same point in Rom 9:6-9, 11:11-22 where the old covenant was not revoked (it was immutable, Jer 31:35-37) but Christians, people of faith, were grafted into the original “olive tree”. This is also confirmed by Eph 2:12 where Paul discusses Gentiles being absorbed into spiritual Israel becoming part of the ancient covenant promises, all by faith.

CONCLUSION

The covenant referenced in Jer 31:31-34 is the Old Covenant, or Israelite Covenant as first described in Exodus 19-24, and expanded in parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. [The Abrahamic covenant was a promise of a son, increased posterity, the land of Canaan; it included no provisions as listed in the Old Covenant with Israel.]

The Old Covenant or Israelite covenant was established in Ex 19-23 with a very specific purpose in mind: God declared, “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession … a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Ex 19:5, 6. Earlier, God had also said, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, … ” Ex 6:7. Because the Israelites sinned consistently they were rejecting Jehovah as their God.

Israel broke the Old Covenant and so God rejected them. Jer 31 simply states that God would ultimately find a people who would keep the covenant (the new covenant) which as we now know is the Christian Church who now inherit the promises (Gal 3:29, Matt 21:43)

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  • For thought ... did God actually expect them to [be able to] keep it?
    – Dave
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 1:00
  • @Dave - I do not see why not - there is no suggestion that they could not or should not have. The big problem was that they confused the ritual of sacrifices with the covenant. The ceremonial duties were only a teaching device to inculcate the ideas of salvation by grace.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 1:51
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Matthew 12:7 (Jesus Quotes) Hosea 6:6&7 Says God wants mercy not sacrifice. Now my suspicious mind says verse 7 explains why Adam was brought into the picture (who broke his covenant with God). What covenant is that? What if it was the connection between Genesis 1:29 and Jeremiah 7:22-23 (where God said through Jeremiah that he never gave instructions with regard to sacrifices when He lead the Israelites out of Egypt)? If Moses then implemented a sacrificial law, it was of his own doing, not of God. Israel's biggest problem started when they refused a simple relationship with God with Righteousness (Compassion & Love) and chose a sacrificial system as the Gentiles did in Egypt. They never gave their own hearts and lives because they had a cop-out (sacrifices for their sins), which Moses gave which God never wanted.

What were the skins that God used when He clothed Adam & Eve in the garden? Did Eve and the snake sacrifice an animal (which was not allowed in the Garden of Eden - as Eden was vegetarian?) Some spread the myth that God killed an animal. I have never heard anything more perverted than that. God, who made Adam out of dust, cannot miraculously clothe Him with something He spoke into being.

No, I believe the sin of all sins that Adam, Eve, and the snake committed in the Garden of Eden was the killing of an animal (bloodshed) No matter how much the Jews and Christianity try and cover this up, it is very clear that sacrifices never pleased God in Moses' time, neither does he find pleasure in the blood and guts of the beautiful animals he created in the beginning and their offspring in this age.

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    – agarza
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 13:53
  • And the covenant referred to in Jeremiah 31:32 is.......?
    – Lesley
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 13:32
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The OP has two questions in here;

  1. Which covenant was broken referring in Jeremiah 31:32
  2. Why there is a change of righteousness "by faith" (Abrahamic Covenant) to "by law" (Mosaic Covenant).

Question 1

The covenant referred in Jeremiah 31:32 is the Mosaic Covenant, that seems to be quite strict forward when Jeremiah wrote "the Covenant was made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt", that is, the time of Exodus. Though it seems to be obvious, but the OP did make a good question worth of thinking.

We may note that for the five major covenants (six when Levitical covenant included) that God had made, only the Mosaic covenant is a binding covenant, that had the Israelites agreed to bind in. The others are God's promises, that for sure God will not break them (the Levitical covenant is another issue, not to be discussed in here)

The initiation of the Mosaic covenant was seen in Exodus 19. God called Moses to tell the people

5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine,

6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (NIV)

The people responded positively;

8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord. (NIV)

Then Moses spend his time on Mount Sinai, to receive the law from God (Ex 19:16 - Ex 24:4). He then read the covenant to the people.

24:7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”

24:8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Therefore the Mosaic Covenant is a binding covenant, that the Israelites agreed to bind in. This is the only covenant that they can break. Breaking the covenant came with consequences, that Moses had warned the people in Deuteronomy 28-30. Keeping or turning away the obedience of the Covenant will bring Life and Death, Blessings or Curses.

Question 2

Both Paul and the author of Hebrews had used "shadows" to describe what was before. We may elaborate that the exodus is like a Christian leaved the sinful world and go to the promise land (salvation).

Paul brought us the enlightenment that righteousness by Faith is God's desire. It started from Abraham, and fulfilled in Christ. Paul had discussed faith vs law in Galatians 3;

17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant (Abrahamic covenant) previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.

18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed (Jesus) to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.

20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.

22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.

24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. (NIV)

Righteousness is never meant that it could be achieved by law, it is always by Faith.

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