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God's Covenant - the Old and New Compared
What's the Difference?

God's covenant established at Mt. Sinai has been known as the Old Covenant. "Old" is often thought of as inferior in some way and there was a problem with that covenant but the problem was not on God's side. This passage identifies where the problem was:

"But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:" (Heb 8:6-8)
gods covenant

Remember, a covenant is an agreement. The law we associate with it was not the covenant or the agreement but it was the subject of the covenant. There was no problem with the law of God:

"The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple." (Psa 19:7)

"But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed." (Jam 1:25)

The problem was not with the law, the subject of the agreement but with the agreement itself - the people's side of it. They had agreed to God's covenant and promised to abide by it before they had even heard the terms. Notice what they said in Exodus 19, before the giving of the Ten Commandments which comes in chapter 20:

"And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD." (Exo 19:8)

We know they did not keep that covenant for very long:

"Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:" (Jer 31:32)

Hundreds of years after Sinai, Jeremiah related God's proposed new agreement, a new covenant, as the basis for His relationship with His people:

"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer 31:33-34)

Many people, when they talk of the new covenant, are ready to throw out the law of God without realizing that the law is only the subject matter of the covenant not the covenant itself. An illustration of this would be when a land owner decides to build a house. He decides what kind of house he wants and contacts a building contractor to build the house for him. The subject of the contract that results is the building of a house. The agreement is, on the owner's side, to pay for the cost of the house and, on the builder's side, to provide the construction according to the owners' wishes. The covenant is the agreement about the house. The house is not the covenant.

The new covenant is a new agreement based on better promises. While the moral law - the subject of the covenant - is the same, there is a difference between the old and new covenants (the agreement) as the Bible describes them.

To compare the new covenant with the old, let's identify the main elements of this covenant from the passage above:

I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts I ... will be their God, and they shall be my people. they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more

We will go through each of the elements of the new covenant identified above to see if we can find what is different.

Proposed in the new covenant is that He " ... will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer 31:33) However this is not new. The same was said of the covenant at Sinai:

"That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the LORD thy God, and into his oath, which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day: That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." (Deut 29:12-13)

So that part of the Old Covenant was not different from the New Covenant proposed in Jeremiah. But here's something additional to consider: "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer 31:34)

Again, we find that this element of the New Covenant was not new or different from the Old Covenant. Forgiveness was readily available under the Sinai covenant also. Again and again we read statements such as:

"And he shall do with the bullock as he did with the bullock for a sin offering, so shall he do with this: and the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them." (Lev 4:20)

People will sometimes say that what was new about the New Covenant was that it would be written on the heart instead of just in stone: "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts" (Jer 31:33)

The Ten Commandments, the subject of the Sinai covenant, was written on tables of stone but note what God had said about this:

"For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it." (Deut 30:11-14)

While the Ten Commandments were written in stone they were also meant to be "in thy heart" even within God's covenant at Sinai so that they would be obeyed. This is not the point of difference between the old and the new covenants.

So what is new in the new covenant compared to the old? The difference seems to be this:

"... they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them" (Jer 31:34)

This, of course, relates to the theme of the character of God. The subject matter of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is basically the same. What is different is that under the New Covenant God proposes that his people shall know Him, shall understand and appreciate His character to the extent that they fall in love with Him to the point where they will be fully motivated to render complete, willing obedience. This will be the means of being able to keep the law of God. It has always been the purpose of God's covenant that there be a relationship based on knowledge of Him and His character. Unfortunately, His true character has been obscured ultimately due to the efforts of His archrival, Satan.

Herein - having a true knowledge of God - is the difference relative to the Old Covenant. It requires a greater understanding about the true character of God that careful Bible students are, in recent years, beginning to understand. See the covenants of God illustrated.  


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The Greek has multiple words for forgiveness? God forgives (charizomai) whether we ask or not. Receiving forgiveness (apheimi) is by our choice.
God always forgives!
   

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