Paul Williamson on the New Covenant

Paul Williamson explains his take on the new covenant in his book, Sealed with an Oath. Williamson first begins by pointing out that the concept of the new covenant appears in several places in the Old Testament, even though the actual phrase is only used in Jeremiah 31:31 (146). But since Jeremiah 31 is the only place where the phrase actually occurs, it is a good starting point for expositing the new covenant. Williamson is careful to place Jeremiah 31:31-34 in its literary context, something which many other scholars fail to do. Many critical scholars see Jeremiah 31:31-34 as only speaking to Jeremiah’s immediate historical context (148-49). Williamson points out that the preceding chapters of Jeremiah (25-29) present Jeremiah as the a true prophet of the Lord and are leading up to the climactic Book of Consolation in chapters 30-33 (150). The entire Book of Consolation contains magnificent restoration promises for Israel (150-51). Thus, more is anticipated than merely hoping that the people of Jeremiah’s day would repent and somehow avert judgment. God would provide a climatic (eschatological?) restoration for the people.

After surveying the context of Jeremiah 30-33, Williamson delves into the details of the new covenant. He asks the prominent question concerning the covenant, “What is new about the new covenant?” First, what is new is the overwhelming emphasis on God’s initiative in the covenant (153). There are no “if” clauses or responsibilities laid upon the people. Of course, God’s people aren’t exempt from obeying God, but the implication is clear: “God himself is going to facilitate such obedience” (154). Second, what is new is that God would write the law on the heart. The law will not on tablets of stone (154). Of course, the old covenant dealt with the heart too, but now the people would have motivation to obey (154). Third, what is new is the scope of “heart change” in the community: “The internalizing of Yahweh’s law would affect the entire covenant community” (154). Fourth, what is new is the extensive forgiveness Yahweh would provide (156-57). While the basis of the forgiveness is not stated in the tex, sins would be thoroughly removed unlike under the old covenant. Jeremiah probably foresees the end of the sacrificial system for Israel too (157). Fifth, what is new is that there would be no possibility for the people to break the covenant (157). As Williamson writes, “Sin cannot imperil the divine-human relationship guaranteed by this new covenant, for sin will not be brought into account” (157). God will remember sin no more. Therefore, it is the quality of the bond which is essential to the new covenant (157).

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