Jeremiah’s revolution – new covenant

The lesson Jeremiah learned from the potter’s workshop: No matter how marred the clay had become in the potter’s hands, he was able to take it and make a new vessel.

Latin Bible 521 (photo credit: Wikimedia)
Latin Bible 521
(photo credit: Wikimedia)
Destined to hold the prophetic office even before he was born (1:4), Jeremiah instilled in his people a revolutionary idea – hope of a new covenant. While Ezekiel may allude to this idea (36:25-27), the fact remains that the Hebrew Bible is silent about the suggestion, leaving Jeremiah as the only one who explicitly states: “Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a brit hadasha (new covenant) with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah” (31:31).
The Christian biblical hermeneutic of “what is hidden in the old is revealed in the new” brings Christian readers of Jeremiah’s description of a “new covenant” straight to the Eucharistic words of Jesus in the Gospels. While this leap is valid from a Christian point of view, in this piece I wish to express the Jewish understanding of Jeremiah’s words and look at the passage in its original context.
The word “Torah” is often mistranslated as “Law.” It is true that the Torah contains laws, but it is more of a blueprint on how to live our lives.
Therefore, I prefer the translation “instruction.”
Jeremiah uses the term Torah 11 times in various contexts. With one exception (18:18), Torah means Divine instruction. In relation to the “new covenant,” the prophet imagines a situation in which the Torah is directly accessible to all – the “least of them to the greatest” (31:34). Unmediated access to the Word of God! With a simple wave of Divine grace, God gives equal access to knowing Him. No one is superior or lacks what is required.
For five decades, Jeremiah dealt with the “uncircumcised heart” of the Jewish people. Through the good times and bad, he was unable to penetrate the “heart of stone.” As alluded to in Haggai 1:12, prophets recognized two means of communication from God to people: (1) the spoken word of the prophet; and (2) God’s own discipline, pain inflicted for a purpose to produce correction. Jeremiah found neither effective. Not even God’s love could move the people (3:19).
If Jeremiah’s words fell on deaf ears, and God’s executing discipline and love left the nation unchanged, what room was there for hope? Jeremiah spoke of his people’s ruin, as Amos and Isaiah had done before him, but he spoke also of their eventual restoration. He hoped that Jerusalem would be rebuilt, although he was convinced that destruction was the city’s immediate fate. He even went so far as to purchase a field in Israel – evidence that he hoped for a restoration.
The key to understanding Jeremiah lies in his prophetic mission: “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, and to destroy and to overthrow; to build, and to plant” (1:10). He knew his people’s tomorrow would not dawn before a night had passed. However, it was the lesson that Jeremiah derived from what he saw in the potter’s workshop (18:1-6) that brought him to express the “new covenant” idea. No matter how marred the clay had become in the potter’s hands, he was able to take it and make a new vessel.
Jeremiah knew a radical step needed to be taken that would serve as a dramatic demonstration of who God is. Jeremiah does not state how this happens.
God’s graceful act serves not just to make His people know Him; it can be extended to others. Jeremiah had been able to recognize men deserving, by reason of the quality of their spirit, to come into the graces of God. He saw a faithful Baruch, his friend who shared his lot as fugitive, a trusting Evedmelech, the Ethiopian officer who rescued him from the pit, and loyal Rechabites.
May the complete fulfillment of Jeremiah’s revolution come in our day, and may all come to know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!
David Nekrutman is the executive director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat. Comments should be directed to