Jeremiah’s consolation for the crestfallen.
A glimpse at the corporeal initiative of God to redeem his people from the grave.
There is, perhaps, no more unnerving book of the Old Testament (OT) than that of Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s prophecy is one which deals with an assortment of bleak and dismal happenings all stemming from the blatant rebellion of God’s people against God himself (Jer. 5:23–31; 6:13–15; 7:1–10). Judgment is coming. A foreboding sense of doom permeates the narrative because of generations-long defiance and indifference to the things of God (Jer. 11:6–13). “The dominant message of the book,” L. C. Allen affirms, “is the interpretation of Judah’s downfall through military defeat and exile in terms of a theology of retribution for religious and moral failings.”1
Be that as it may, the readers of Jeremiah’s prophecy, Allen argues, “are meant both to take its grim history to heart and to hold on to its hope.”2 And such is what makes this prophetic behemoth so profoundly resonant: the feasibility of hope which it offers. Like a daisy that blooms in the ashes of apocalyptic ruin, such is the prevailing message of Jeremiah’s oracles, in which one is imbued with the tension of devastation and deliverance and the concomitant hope of the Lord’s disastrous judgment. The severity of God’s wrath was certainly surging towards the people of God like a “churning storm” (Jer. 30:23–24), the fury of which was inevitable. Yet, even still, contained within this dolorous oracle is the divine assurance that restoration, liberation, and healing are also on the horizon (Jer. 30:3, 8–9, 16–17). “The book looks round the corner of military defeat, interpreted in terms of divine judgment, toward prospects of eventual hope.”3
One is able to ascertain this optimistic eventuality in the prophet’s articulation of Israel’s post-judgment hope in Jeremiah 31, in which one reads of the “new covenant” that God was soon to make with his people.
“Look, the days are coming” — this is the Lord’s declaration — “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt — my covenant that they broke even though I am their master” — the Lord’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days” — the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them” — this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” (Jer. 31:31–34)
Here, in this most critical of passages in Jeremiah’s “Book of Consolation,” one is furnished with the fullest expression of God’s covenant purposes. One, therefore, should pay careful attention to the prophet’s wording that this is designated a “new covenant” — which should not be read as though God were doing something entirely “new” because of some inherent flaw with the old covenant. Rather, this new work of Yahweh is here differentiated in order to “indicate that it will have new features not included in the previous covenants.”4 Namely, the personification of the Godhead’s initiative to redeem and restore in the form of the consummate Davidic successor (Jer. 33:17, 22). Yahweh takes it upon himself to intervene and mediate his desired ends to give his people consolation and “bring happiness out of grief” (Jer. 31:13).
By employing language akin to the covenants made with Abraham (Gen. 15:18) and Moses (Exod. 34:10; Deut. 5:2), Yahweh tethers his work of redemption to his overriding redemptive and restorative interest in creation itself (Gen. 3:15). The promises of nationhood and kingship, which so defined the covenants made with their ancestors, were now to be embodied and enfleshed. “The Servant of Yahweh, the embodiment of God’s covenant,” writes T. Rata, “is the agent through whom God’s covenant blessing will be extended to all people . . . [and who] will inaugurate a new covenant that has the Davidic covenant as its basis, thus one that is linked to messianic hopes.”5 Despite the failure of the Davidic monarchy, it is God’s prerogative that there would always be a Davidide “sitting on the throne of the house of Israel” (Jer. 33:17). And it is in this way, then, that the sweeping consolation and originality of Jeremiah’s crestfallen oracle is fully realized: through the corporeal initiative of God to redeem in the person and work of the Messiah (Jer. 31:31–34; cf. 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8:8–13; 10:15–17). It is Christ himself, then, who is representative of the “new” and better covenant God makes with his people.
Jesus is the embodiment of who God is. He is the tangible epitomization of God. Jesus Christ is the visible manifestation of the invisible God. In him we see heaven’s eternal heart walking around on two legs in time and space. When we see the heart of Christ, then, throughout the four Gospels, we are seeing the very compassion and tenderness of who God himself most deeply is.6
L. C. Allen, “Book of Jeremiah,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 432.
Allen, “Book of Jeremiah,” 440.
Allen, “Book of Jeremiah,” 423.
T. Rata, “Covenant,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 104.
Rata, “Covenant,” 103–4.
Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 133.