For many years I struggled to understand the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. It has only been in the last year that it has begun to crystallize for me. Here’s what I understand about the relationship between these covenants at this point. It’s soooo exciting!
The Problem with the Old Covenant
The whole problem with the Old Covenant was the people not the instructions or laws themselves.
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says:
Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord,when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God and they shall be my people …” (Hebrews 8:7-10, emphasis mine)
This is a HUGE thing to keep in mind when reading about the problem of the Old Covenant.
The problem was that the people didn’t keep it in their hearts. They disobeyed the instructions and brought a curse onto themselves just as the law promised.
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.” (Deut 28:1-2)
“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statues that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” (Deut 28:15)
The Curse of the Law
The phrase “curse of the law” was another thing that caused a lot of confusion for me for a long time. When Paul said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Gal 3:13), I heard, “the law itself is a curse from which we are now freed.”
I’m pretty sure lots of people have this same idea. But that’s not at all what the phrase means.
As we read above, the curse comes in forsaking the wisdom of God’s instructions, not from walking in them.
The curse comes when we turn away and disobey.
And interestingly, the curse was always meant to drive the people back to God.
The entire chapter of Deuteronomy 30 is dedicated to showing how wonderful life will be for His people once they experience the curse, remember the covenant and return to it (30:1-2), gain the Lord’s compassion (30:3), are regathered (30:4-5), have their hearts circumcised (30:6) and walk in obedience (30:8).
So, yes, the letter of the law all by itself without love and faithful obedience will kill.
Yes, the covenant turns into a ministry of death when we stubbornly turn from it, refusing to obey.
Yes, the covenant condemns disobedience.
But this is not a surprise. God has always declared these truths. And He has always declared the promise of a changed heart that would obey His instructions joyfully, that would follow Him in love, that would rejoice in His wisdom.
But What About the Laws of the Old Covenant?
In the New Covenant, God writes His laws in our hearts. We get a heart transplant so that we will now embrace and love His righteous and gracious instructions. We now have hearts that do not want to turn away from His law.
The New Covenant doesn’t dismiss the laws of God. It can’t.
- The law is perfect (Psalm 19:7, James 1:25)
- The law gives us liberty (Psalm 119:45, James 2:12)
- The law is the way (Ex 18:20, Acts 24:14 if you only look up one verse, make it this one and keep in mind this is PAUL speaking!)
- The law is truth (Psalm 119:142)
- The law is life (Deut 30:15-16, Prov 6:23)
- The law is light (Psalm 119:105, 2 Cor 6:14)
Doesn’t it make perfect sense that when John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), he meant that the law of God, all of the words of God, took on flesh and became the man of Jesus (Yeshua) the Messiah? It all fits!
This is why He didn’t come to abolish the law. He WAS the living, breathing law. He taught and displayed it in its fullness, as it was always intended to be. He stripped away the fences that man had erected to “protect” the law, which actually hindered people from properly understanding it. He dismantled the traditions that had overturned the law. He restored it to its proper state and then bore the penalty we deserved for abandoning and spurning it.
The Glorious New Covenant
The New Covenant is what it was always promised to be: an internalization of the original law and instructions of God on a heart fully committed to loving God and His ways.
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declared the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. . . For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
Here is another great teaching on the New Covenant.