Hebrews 8:7–13

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second one. But finding fault with His people, He says:

Look, 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 like the covenant
that I made with their ancestors
on the day I took them by their hands
to lead them out of the land of Egypt.
I disregarded them, says the Lord,
because they did not continue in My covenant.
But this is the covenant
that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws into their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be My people.
And each person will not teach his fellow citizen,
and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,”
because they will all know Me,
from the least to the greatest of them.
For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing,
and I will never again remember their sins.

By saying, a new covenant, He has declared that the first is old. And what is old and aging is about to disappear. – Hebrews 8:7–13 (HCSB)


Our section today is again a relatively short and specific point being made by the author. As has been his pattern, he makes a point then supports it with an Old Testament quotation. Today’s reading focuses on the overview point, and the quotation itself.

Our authors teaching in this section is that God has made a new covenant with his people, and that this new covenant has been made because the previous one was ineffective for salvation. However, we must remember that this statement exists within a context. So when our author says “if that fist covenant had been faultless” he is not saying that the covenant itself was created imperfect, or ineffectual. He clarifies this in verse 8 when he locates the fault within the people. The first covenant, which we will see is a reference to the Mosaic Covenant, was faulted in that the people with whom it was made were faulted. This is one of the many reasons we must understand that the Mosaic Covenant was never intended to bring about salvation, but to show a people wrought with faults that they needed a better covenant with a perfect Mediator.

The author then proceeds to demonstrate his two related points (a second covenant is needed, God found fault with his people) with a relatively lengthy quotation from LXX version of Jeremiah 31. As a side note, this is one of the many places where the NT authors prefer the LXX over the Hebrew OT, likely because the Hebrew OT was not readily or widely available.

This proclamation of a coming New Testament is not unique to Jeremiah, but is most explicit in the quoted section. It contains several prominent points. As the rest of the book unpacks them, and this is not a commentary on Jeremiah, I will briefly enumerate them here. First, there is a new covenant which will be made with the house of Israel and Judah. [1] This covenant is not like the covenant which as made with the people of Egypt following the Exodus, (IE the Mosaic Covenant) which the Hebrews broke and suffered the sanctions of. Rather, this covenant will be made with all of God’s people and involves not only the giving of the law externally, but a regeneration of the heart such that God’s law is given internally. [2] Those under the substance of this covenant are assured that God will be their God, and they will be his people. God’s people will no longer have to admonish each other to piety and holiness, because God’s people will know him, and God will forgive and justify his people.

The author here closes by saying that the Mosaic Law is now called old, because something called new has replaced it. This old law has been made void by the coming of a new. There is a complex discussion that has to be had regarding the Mosaic Law and its obligatory nature for Gentile Christians. That, however, is a discussion for another day. At this point however it is sufficient to say that the moral aspect (as distinguished from the ceremonial and civil aspects) of the Mosaic Law was itself a restatement of the universal moral law which was instituted in creation itself. As such, we still are obligated to God’s holy moral standard, which was expressed in the Mosaic Law’s moral components. Thus the Mosaic Law still reveals to us what holy living and piety is and as Christians we are still bound by it. Notice that the New Covenant promise does not promise a new law, but that the laws of God would be internalized. We must remember here that what is “old and aging and is about to disappear” for the Hebrew readers of this letter, is the stipulations and sanctions of the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law could only condemn fallen humans, the promises of blessing were genuine for those who obeyed perfectly… but no one did. This was the arrangement God’s people were under. They were covenanted to a law they could not fulfill. The blessing of the New Covenant is that the Lord himself will fulfill the stipulations.

  1. Israel as a distinct nation had already been destroyed and would never return from its exile. The reference to both kingdoms here is usually seen as a merism to represent all of God’s chosen people. This is confirmed later when the phrase “house of Israel” which would represent all 12 of the tribes is used to reiterate this promise.”
  2. The internal giving of the law here is a reference to regeneration. The external law grants us no desire or power to obey it. However, the implication in this passage is that since the law is written on the minds and hearts of God’s people, that they are actually inclined and able to obey.