In this episode, we continue exploring The Book of Hebrews by looking back to a passage in Deuteronomy. God has always wanted what is best for His people. Moving the law from a stuffy, external obligation into a matter of the heart is the big idea all of Scripture leads us to. To tease this out further, we go through an overview of the history of the Jews and take a look at the New Covenant. Jesus is the better priest and the better sacrifice because He helps move the law from something outside us to something within us. We are given a new heart.
So let’s look at Deuteronomy 31:9-14. “So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, saying: ‘At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which he chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you crossed the Jordan to possess.’”
So this idea of having the law in your heart is not anything new. That’s what God wants us to do now. It’s what he wanted the children of Israel to do.
The difference is when it’s actually written there by God, and that’s yet to happen in the future.
We have the opportunity, by faith, to place it there, and the benefits are immense. It’s unimaginable what the benefits of that are. And that’s the point. The benefits are incredible. That’s the blessing. And the detriment is enormous. What we get instead is the world. And the world’s system brings death. And that’s really the point of Romans. It’s the point of Hebrews. It’s trying to get us to see with the eyes of faith.
So there’s the background. So now let’s look at Deuteronomy 31:14. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold the days approach when you must die; call Joshua and present yourself in the tabernacle meeting, that I may inaugurate him.’”
Now just as a little aside here, what is God’s view of death here? Is he really torn up about this? He doesn’t seem to be, does he? You know, death is a welcome to God. It’s part of a continuation. Obviously it’s an enemy. It’s an enemy to be dispensed. It’s the last enemy that will be vanquished. Jesus had to die in order to defeat that enemy. So it’s nothing to be taken lightly. Jesus wept when Lazarus died, so, obviously, it’s not natural. But I think, in large part, from God’s perspective, he knew Moses before, and he’s going to know Moses after.
Deuteronomy 31:14. “So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tabernacle of meeting. Now the Lord appeared at the tabernacle in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood above the door of the tabernacle. And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake me and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured.’”
So that is the background of what we’re about to go into in Jeremiah a thousand years later. Now the Jeremiah-a-thousand-years-later is not the only time this happened. It’s the big, big, big time.
Let’s go ahead and look at 31:20. “When I brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they provoke me and break my covenant.”
You know, circumstances are really neutral. We tend to think of trials as difficult times when we’re not getting what we want. But the book of James doesn’t look at it that way. It says, “Let the lowly man glory in his exaltation, and let the rich glory in his humiliation.” And then it goes on to talk about the rich for some period of time. And really, when our circumstances are great is when we have the greatest trial. Because what do we tend to think when everything’s going our way.
I did it all, right? Look at me! I’m wonderful! And it creates the illusion of self dependence, which is just a non-reality.
All circumstances are a trial, and it’s an opportunity to trust God either way.
But he’s saying here when they have real positive circumstances they’re going to forsake me.
And then he teaches them a song. Chapter 32 is a song. The whole song is about what’s going to happen to you when you disobey. I would love to put this song to music in a modern term. It would be really interesting.
And I’ll just give you a few highlights here. Look at Deuteronomy 32:23: “I will heap disasters on them; I will spend my arrows on them. They shall be wasted with hunger, devoured by pestilence and bitter destruction.”
Look at verse 28: “For they are a nation void of counsel, nor is there any understanding in them. Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this!”
Verse 29. “That they would consider their latter end! How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had surrendered them? For their rock is not like our Rock.”
Look down in verse 35. “Vengeance is mine, and recompense. Their foot shall slip in due time. For the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them. For the Lord will judge his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees their power is gone, and there’s no one remaining, bond or free.”
So the Lord is going to allow these disasters to happen. But when they do, what’s he going to do? He’s going to have mercy on them and bring them back. Why? He’s not just trying to smash them. He’s trying to cultivate them. To grow them. To disciple them. And this is how you do it. With experience of cause and effect.
Now interestingly enough, as a little aside, this verse 35. Obviously from the context I’ve given you, that’s saying that the people of God—those who are elect and chosen—are eventually going to do some bad things, and when they do, negative consequences are going to transpire. So they will learn and come back, right?
This was the proof text for Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Totally taken out of context. It’s not talking about that God is dangling you over a fire like a spider and gleefully letting you roast, and the only thing that keeps him doing it is some sort of a spark of kindness that he takes you out.
This is talking about a loving father spanking his children for doing something that is self destructive.
Well, this happens. A thousand years later, 586 BC, the culmination—of course it happens a lot all through the Old Testament. You can see during the time of the judges, they go through this cycle where they disobey God, then they’re taken over by somebody. Then they have a judge come up after they turn back to God, and the judge delivers them. They go through this cycle over and over again. They have various wars and things. So it’s not unknown to them.
But the big culmination of it happens in 586 BC. The southern kingdom, Judah, from which we get the word Jew, has split off from Israel years before. And Israel has gone away. In 722, Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria, and those ten tribes disappear. We don’t ever know where they go. They are lost to history. They are known to God but lost to history.
And Judah is left, which is the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, and in 586 the Babylonians come, and Jeremiah is the prophet that’s telling people how to avoid getting smashed by the Babylonians.
Jeremiah Historical Background
So let’s go to Jeremiah 18. This is a real fascinating book. If you know the history, it’s really something. And the context of Jeremiah is that Jeremiah is—in part of this book, Jeremiah is prophesying how to avoid disaster from being taken over by the Babylonians; and part of it is him prophesying. And part of it is the history of what happens. And then part of it is him talking about it after the captivity has taken place.
Now what the Babylonians did is they came in and sieged Jerusalem, starved the people out, and people were eating dead people and eating their own excrement and so forth. This is part of what’s set forth. It was really disastrous. There were hundreds of thousands of people who died in this time period.
God is in Control
So in chapter 18, we’re leading up to that event. And this is kind of a famous chapter. Let’s look at 18:1. “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: ‘Arise and go down to the potter’s house—’”
Now you’ve probably seen a potter making a pot. And what do they do? The ancient way of making it, they’re on a wheel, the pot’s on a wheel and what do they do? They just put water on the pot, and what do they do with the pot? They just shape it with their hands, right? And how do they decide what shape to make? They just do! They just decide! How much input does the pot have? None. OK, so that’s the point here.
Jeremiah 18:2. “’Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear my words.’ Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel—” In other words, he’s making something, and he didn’t like it, so he just goes clump and puts it back in a wad again and starts making something different. OK? You get that illustration?
And he says, verse 5, “Then the word of the Lord came to me saying: ‘Oh house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ says the Lord. ‘Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand oh house of Israel! The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck it up, to pull it down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and plant it, if it does evil in my sight so it does not obey my voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.’”
You get the point? I’m in control here. And those consequences I’ve set forth, the way the world works, I’m going to see that those come to pass. But there’s cause-effect. If you do what I ask you to do, there’s going to be immense blessing. And if you do what’s opposite of that, there’s going to be tremendous negative consequences, guys.
In verse 12, “And they said—” This is the people hearing Jeremiah’s voice. “—they said, ‘That is hopeless!’” We don’t want to hear that. “So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.”
We want our way. We don’t want to hear—what you have to say there, Jeremiah, that’s not kind. That’s not nice. That doesn’t make us have self esteem. That doesn’t make us feel warm. We don’t want to put any offering in the plates when you say that. So we’ll just do what we want to do.
So they disregarded it.
Cause and Effect
Let’s go to chapter 19. God’s not finished. He’s going to give them multiple opportunities, you know, before the window closes for repentance, he gives multiple opportunities.
Jeremiah 19:1. “Thus says the Lord—” He’s talking to Jeremiah again. ‘—Go and get a potter’s earthern flask—” This time we’ve got an earthern flask that’s already made. “—and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests. And go out to the valley of the son of Hinnom—” This is known in the New Testament as Gehenna. Unfortunately, it’s often—I think it’s always translated Hell. So he’s saying, go out to Hell if you did the same thing you did in the New Testament. But it’s an actual, physical place.
Jerusalem’s kind of like a snow cone. It’s a triangular-shaped hill. And on one side is the Kidron Valley. On the other side is the valley of Hinnom, still to this day.
Well, every town on the downwind side—that’s where you put all the dead stuff. All the sewage went there. And that was the valley of Hinnom. This Gehenna. They also, in this Gehenna, would, when they went into idolatry, that’s where they practiced the child sacrifice and all the sort of horrific things that were there. So this image of dead, burning, worms, constant fire, smoldering—this is the image that the Bible uses frequently for the consequences of sin.
So you have to use from context the consequences of sin whether that’s now or whether that’s in the future. And it can apply to anybody. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Lake of Fire. Although it can.
19:2 “And go out to the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate—” one of the gates in Jerusalem, “—and proclaim there the words that I will tell you, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabits of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring such a catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle.’”
This is not sort of how to win friends and influence people. This is the truth. Your actions have consequences, guys; and this is what’s about to happen if you don’t do what I’m going to tell you to do.
And, basically, the whole thing in this whole Jeremiah is they had made a covenant with Babylon—the nation of Israel had made a covenant with Babylon, a treaty we would call it. And they were in the process of breaking that treaty because Egypt told them that they would protect them. And God says don’t do it! Honor your treaty with Babylon. Don’t trust in the Egyptians. If you do, you’re going to get smacked. Don’t do it. Honor that treaty! Don’t trust the Egyptians. I always told you, don’t trust the Egyptians. Don’t do it. Don’t do it!
They do it. Whack. They get invaded.
And then he goes on to say, this whole valley is going to be filled with dead bodies. That’s what’s about to come on you. Which is exactly what happened in this catastrophe of the Babylonians sacking the city and destroying the temple, by the way. This is the first time the temple was destroyed. It was a catastrophe.
Now, that is the context for Jeremiah 29 which has this very famous passage that is the bumper sticker and stitching thing. Many of you might have this in your house. And this is the context for chapter 29. Look at verse 1. “Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive.”
So now we’ve gone from Jeremiah warning the nation how to avoid the catastrophe, and now he’s advising the nation on what to do after the catastrophe. The catastrophe is that many were deported to Babylon. Many died and most of who were left were deported to Babylon.
And he says, let’s go to verse 9, “For they prophesy falsely to you in my name. I have not sent them, says the Lord. For thus says the Lord: after seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and go pray to me, and I will listen to you.”
You know, this is a real friendly and happy verse. We all love to quote it. The context of it is in the middle of a total catastrophe that God warned them of and they chose for themselves.
Now, let’s look at 31:23. We’re about to get to the quote that we’ve been running up to. So you get that you’re in 1500 BC, God puts out these blessings and cursings. We have seen the blessings and cursings take place all through the Jewish history. And finally we get to a point where it culminates in the destruction of the temple, the extraction of the people from the land, and the placement in Babylon.
So let’s look at 31:23. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘They shall again use this speech in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I bring back their captivity.”
Remember they’re going to go to Babylon, and how long are they going to stay? Seventy years. Interestingly enough God says the reason I picked 70 years was what? Anybody remember? It had been 490 since they had given the land a rest. Every seven years they were supposed to leave the land fallow and give it a rest. And he said I’m taking my rest for the land. I’m getting all 70 years at once. Just one of the many things you didn’t do to obey me. That’s how I picked 70 years.
31:23. “—The Lord bless you, O home of justice, and mountain of holiness!’ And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and all of its cities together, farmers and those going out with flocks—” Now why is that important? Well, there aren’t any right now. This place has been decimated.
31:25. “For I have satiated the weary soul, and I’ve replenished every sorrowful soul.’ After this I awoke and looked around, and my sleep was sweet to me. ‘Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beasts—”
The land is unpopulated now. I’m going to bring animals and people back.
“And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and plant.’”
I’m going to repopulate this land.
“’In those days they shall say no more: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’” There was this ancient thing that we see in Job all the way through that what you do on earth makes God bless you or not bless you, and it’s not heart things, it’s external things. And he says they’re not going to say that anymore.
“But everyone shall die for his own iniquity….Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel.” Verse 31. This is the verse that we saw in Hebrews. So now you’re getting the full context of where this verse comes from.
“Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—”
Now interestingly enough, this new covenant that he’s going to bring is disconnected from the bringing of the people back to the land this particular time. How do we know that? They were deported to Babylon. They were brought back 70 years later. What happened after that? 70 AD. Jerusalem was crushed again, and they were dispersed again! The nation was not a nation again until 1948 when the U.N. cast the one and only pro-Israel vote it’s ever cast, and by one vote they voted to make Israel a nation out of response to the Holocaust.
32. “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord….I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’ for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
So this is the context of Hebrews. Let’s just go back to Hebrews chapter 8. So you can see this quote in verse 10. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. In that he says, ‘A new covenant,’ he has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
Now the context of that goes back to verse 9 which is, “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord.”
So just to review: You’re 1500 BC and Moses comes out and brings the children of Israel—you know, Charlton Heston brings the children out of the land of Israel. They go to the mountain. They do all that stuff. They try God ten times. He finally says you can’t go in. So you’ve got Numbers, where they wander in the wilderness for 40 years. They actually experience this cause-effect thing during that time period, some, but not to the degree that they experience it later.
And then they go before the land, and you have Deuteronomy, and Moses gives them the command the second time, and Joshua takes them in. They take the land. They only partially take the land. They allow the Canaanites and other people to stay, which ends up being a stumbling block to them. But they have the law. There are a couple of generations that are faithful.
Then they go into Judges. They go through this cycle of disobedience, repentance, deliverance, which is, again, this cause-effect thing happening.
And then they ask for a king, which God didn’t want them to do at that point and time. But they get one. So they get a bad king followed by a good king. David becomes the prototype of a good king, a man after God’s own heart because the prototype is somebody that has a heart for God. And then you go through this whole period of the kings, and Rehoboam.
They split. The northern and southern kingdoms split. 722, the Assyrians take the northern kingdom out. We never see those guys again. In 586, Nebuchadnezzar comes in and completely decimates the kingdom, and who’s left, they deport to Babylon.
So Israel is empty for 70 years. They bring them back. Ezra and Nehemiah bring them back. And that’s pretty much the history of the Jewish people that Paul has encompassed here, all the way from Egypt to Babylon. And what he’s saying here is the covenant that administered that whole time period was insufficient. It was insufficient because it wasn’t written on people’s hearts.
So there’s coming a time when we’re going to have a full fulfillment of this. And, actually, this is a promise to the house of Israel which we are grafted into by virtue of faith. So this time is coming when we get a full fulfillment.
Meanwhile, why don’t we take advantage of that very same thing which we can do by faith. We can enter the holiest of holies in Heaven, not just the Levitical priests once a year going in to sprinkle. You. Me. We can enter the holy of holies ourselves when we go before God in prayer, when we go before God in our hearts.
And when we face God there, we can have our conscience cleansed. Why can we have our conscience cleansed? Because that high priest has given a better sacrifice. Once for all. For all time. And there’s nothing we can do that is better than that sacrifice. We can’t out sin that sacrifice.
I think one of the reasons we have guilt is because we have pride that what we’ve done is better than what Jesus did for us. And we can say look, look at what I did! You can’t overcome this.
Well, no he can. And has. He has overcome every sin. And we can approach and say I am dirty. I have an unclean mouth, and he gives us comfort by burning our lips off with a piece of coal. It hurts, but it cleanses.
A better priest. A better sacrifice. And a new heart. That’s what we’re after here.
So you see these Jews who had this orientation towards external compliance had started drifting away from the new heart back towards external compliance. And what Paul’s saying here is that’s a dead end, guys.
And I think the challenge for us is to examine ourselves and ask what is it that we do that we rely on to justify ourselves, to say I’m OK because— And how do we say, well, I must be doing OK, and set that aside and instead approach this throne of grace, to find help in time of need?
So next what we’re going to do is really dig in to this tabernacle in Heaven and what Jesus is actually doing for us there, and get into the part where we can see with our mind’s eye what is actually transpiring there, and I think you’ll find it to be really unbelievable.