Hebrews 8:6-13

“Jesus has now received a far superior ministry, due to the fact He mediates a better covenant established upon better promises. For if the former covenant had proven satisfactory, there would have been no need for a second one. But being dissatisfied with the people of that covenant, the Lord said, ‘Behold, a time is coming when I will establish a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah, a covenant very different than the one I made with their forefathers in that day when I led them out of Egypt. Because they did not abide by My covenant, I refused to listen to them - and let them go their own way.’ The Lord said, ‘This is the future agreement I will establish with Israel; I will implant my laws in their minds and inscribe them upon their hearts. I will be their God and they will be My people. And there will be no need for every man to instruct his neighbor, saying, ‘Get acquainted with the Lord’, because they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them, for I will forgive their iniquities and their sins I will not recall.’ By calling this covenant new, He has deemed the first one obsolete. That which is feeble and antiquated will soon vanish altogether.”  (paraphrased) 

The book of Hebrews is a treatise which epitomizes man’s struggle for effectual redemption. Clues to the solution are found in the treaties God made with the human race. The term “covenant” is commonly used to describe a promise, contract, or pact. Covenants involve vowing to keep the agreed-upon terms, God being invoked as witness, consequences for violations, and ratification by an emblem or symbolic act.

Although God is not obligated to form alliances with mankind, His covenants help regulate social order. They are clear statements of His intents and purposes. Since man never sets the terms, there can be no addendums or modifications. Both parties do not share equal covenantal responsibilities, for God is always faithful to His part of the agreement. “I will not break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God” (Lev. 26:44).

To better understand God’s viewpoint, it is helpful to review the primary covenants in God’s Word.

<> The Noahic
God promised Noah He would never again destroy the earth with floodwaters. The rainbow is the emblem of this covenant (Gen. 9:14-15).

<>The Abrahamic
God told Abraham he would be the ancestor of a great nation. His family was the conduit through which God’s blessings flowed into the world (Gen. 2:12). The Messiah would come through his lineage. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant (Rom. 4:11).

<>The Mosaic
After being freed from Egyptian bondage, the Israelites were almost impossible for Moses to manage. God helped to control this problem by instituting Levitical law (Ex. 20-24). Sacrificial blood was the sign of this covenant (Lev. 17:11).

<>The Davidic

God’s covenant with David was a more detailed form of the Abrahamic covenant. It affirmed the Messiah would incarnate by way of Davidic descent (II Sam. 7:16). Biblical genealogical records verify this became an historical fact (Mt. 1:1-17 & Lk. 3:23-38).

<>The Messianic
All former covenants were superseded by the new covenant. The laws which regulate it are not etched on cold tablets of stone but infused into the warm hearts of His children. The new covenant is better because it involves an increased opportunity to commune with God, forgiveness of sins, purging of the conscience, and the promise of heaven. Jesus explained His covenant in terms of His body and blood (Mk. 14:23-24). When Believers partake of the emblems of bread and wine, they renew their pledge to keep the new covenant (I Cor. 11:23-26).

v. 6
This verse connects the topic of Christ’s superior mediatorship (1:1-8:6) with the topic of His superior covenant (8:7-10:22). A mediator (mesites) is an arbitrator or intermediary. Because Christ is both God and man, He perfectly represents both parties to each other. The new covenant involves better:

Intervention: Christ versus Moses (v .6)
Quality: excellence versus inferiority (v. 7)
Effectiveness: a faultless covenant versus a faulty covenant (v. 8)
Intimacy: internal laws versus external laws (v. 9-10)
Communication: instruction by the Spirit versus instruction by the Law (v. 11)
Atonement: forgetting sins versus remembering sins (v. 12)
Endurance: permanence versus impermanence (v. 13)

As Judah was facing the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah announced a revolutionary covenant established upon better promises. Under former covenants, promises were invariably tied to earth, such as long life, good harvests, human fertility, peace, and prosperity. But the primary promise of the new covenant is tied to heaven and eternal redemption.

vv. 7-8
Here the writer references Jeremiah 31:31-34 as additional proof of the deficiencies of the old covenant. He quotes numerous passages in order to build his case, such as Psalm 8:4-6 (Heb. 2:6-8), Psalm 95:7-11 (Heb. 3:7-11) and Psalm 40:6-8 (Heb. 10:5-7).

If the former covenant had been effective, the introduction of a new covenant would have been superfluous. The old covenant was faulty because it demanded obedience, yet offered no power to overcome temptation. Although it provided sacrificial rituals, it could not secure eternal redemption. The writer’s logic is irrefutable: if the first covenant had been effective, there would be no need for another. The new, however, cannot coexist with the old. Six centuries before Christ, Jeremiah prophesied the old covenant would one day be superseded (Jer. 31:31). Jeremiah wrote this prophecy on the brink of the Babylonian captivity to encourage people with the hope of a future Messianic era. He later refers to this future agreement when he writes, “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten” (Jer. 50:4-5).

Although the old covenant was deficient, it was marginally adequate for its intended purposes. The fault was not in the covenant itself, but rather in the people who agreed to obey its terms: God “found fault with them.” The problem was not a defective covenant, but a defective people. Because God cannot be faulted, any deviation from the old covenant was an error on the part of the Israelites. There is no downside to the new covenant, for it offers the best possible solution for the problem of human sin. The proven success of the new justifies the abrogation of the former.

Both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah are mentioned because the writer foresaw the reunification of the entire nation. The combined use of the terms Israel and Judah signifies the entire Jewish race. However, this phrase is more easily understood in a global context which includes both Jews and Gentiles. Christians are now “the house of Israel” (Mt. 28:19 & Rom. 2:28-29). Believers are “true Israelites” who inherit the promises made to Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8). Christians are grafted into Abraham’s spiritual family tree (Rom. 11:16-24 & Gal. 3:7-9). Those who belong to the household of faith have allowed God to engrave the law of Christ on their hearts (II Cor. 3:3).

v .9
Like a schoolmaster leading a child, Jehovah walks hand in hand with His children. But this passage in Jeremiah specifically states that Israel broke the covenant (Jer. 31:32). The primary conditional clause in the Mosaic covenant was: “If you will obey My voice and keep my covenant, then you will be a treasure unto Me above all people” (Ex. 19:5). Failure to comply with the Lord’s directives resulted in the withdrawal of His blessings. “Continue” means to “persevere and abide by.” Their refusal to adhere to the terms of the covenant released God from His commitments. He simply let them go their own way. Without Jehovah’s protection, they were swept into the Babylonian exile and assimilated into pagan cultures. The seventy years of captivity dealt the Levitical system a crippling blow from which it never recovered.

v. 10
Turning from Israel’s failures in the past, the writer focuses on their future. God chose to make a new arrangement with both Jews and Gentiles. In the context of Jeremiah 31, “after those days” means sometime after the Babylonian captivity. Because the old covenant continued in effect after the exile, this new covenant can only refer to New Testament era (Mt. 26:28). 

The phrase, “I will put My laws in their minds and write them in their hearts” is a Hebrew parallelism. These terms are later employed - but inverted to read, “I will put my laws into their hearts and in their minds will I write them” (Heb. 10:13). The two phrases are nearly synonymous. Ezekiel reiterates this prophecy when he speaks of God exchanging stony hearts for hearts of flesh (Ez. 36:26). An internal covenant, rather than an external one, was essential to help God’s children obey His directives. While Moses was still on Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites made the golden calf.  Upon discovering this, Moses smashed the stone tablets in anger. The people broke God’s spiritual laws before Moses broke the physical tables of the law (Gen. 32:19). The old covenant was made with Israel on Mount Sinai, but the new covenant was made with the world on Mount Calvary.

God initiates and sustains a personal relationship with each Believer through Jesus. His love makes obedience voluntary rather than obligatory. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). The Holy Spirit causes our human spirits to cry “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). Christ often referred to God as “our heavenly Father,” but such an intimate relationship was unimaginable in Old Testament times. Christ’s directives are unlike external Levitical observances because they impact the conscience.

v. 11
In Moses’ day, offering a sacrifice required the services of a priest. Because of the complexities of the Levitical laws and ordinances, it is probable that even priests struggled to comprehend them. In contrast, an intimate knowledge of God through Christ is a fundamental characteristic of the New Testament. Such knowledge was never intended to be an exclusive Jewish privilege. The necessity of priestly instruction is today unnecessary. The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth and teach us all things (Jn. 16:13 & 14:26). Experiential knowledge of God was impossible under the old covenant, but personal communication with Him is the heart of the new. A universal understanding of God is now available, for “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9 & Hab. 2:14). 

The desire and disposition to love and obey God is now freely available to everyone. To really “know the Lord” means entering into a personal relationship with Him through Christ. Believers know God in a way inconceivable to those who lived in former dispensations. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, you will all be taught by God” (Jn. 6:45). We have an anointing from the Spirit who teaches us all things (I Jn. 2:27 & Jn. 14:26). Rich and poor, children and elders, famous and defamed, educated and illiterate—all now have equal opportunity to know the risen Jesus through firsthand knowledge. Those who become born again have “the mind of Christ” (I Cor .2:16).

v. 12
A certain limited atonement was available under the old covenant, but the concept of God’s personal pardon is a prominent feature of our current dispensation of grace. God’s mercy is now extended to all nations by the propitious sacrifice of Jesus. Under the former system, there was “a remembrance of sins made every year” (Heb. 10:3). Old Testament sins were never actually eliminated because they were never actually forgotten. Although God cannot literally forget anything, He treats those who repent as if they had never sinned. The forgiving and forgetting of our sins is our only protection against His judgment. Sins forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ will not be held against us.

v. 13
Christ’s covenant is new dispensationally, but it is also new in quality and endurance. “Decaying” is palaioumenon, picturing that which is worn out and obsolete. “Growing old” (geraskon) concerns the covenant’s aging process and indicates it is antiquated. The concept of “vanishing away” (aphanismou) means a complete disappearance, obliteration, and abolishment. These combined terms picture something that cannot exist much longer. The temple, the priesthood, the ark, and the holy place have all faded into obscurity. God planned the old covenant’s inadequacies and impermanence while anticipating the perfection and eternality of the new covenant.


Hebrews 8:6-13

1. According to Exodus 19:6, what did Jehovah want the nation of Israel to become?

2. What words are used to describe Christ’s church in I Peter 2:9?
3. According to I Corinthians 3:3, where does God want His laws written?

4. Covenants involve:
A. vowing to keep its agreed-upon terms
B. God being invoked as Witness
C. consequences for covenant violations
D. ratification by an emblem or symbolic act
E. all of the above

5. Man has equal opportunity to establish the terms of a covenant with God. True or False?

6. List the four basic covenants in the Bible:

7. The new covenant is better because it provides:
A. forgiveness of sins
B. increased opportunity for communication with God
C. the promise of heaven
D. cleansing of the conscience
E. all of the above

8. Jesus explained the new covenant in terms of:
A. the vine
B. healings
C. miracles
D. tithing
E. His body and blood

9. Because His people broke His covenant, the people in Jeremiah’s day were taken captive by what nation?         

10. Marriage is a covenant between a man and woman. God desires that they become what?
      (Mark 10:8)       

11. According to the Biblical concept of matrimony, when does a marital covenant end? (Romans 7:2)


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