[ theologia ]
Theologia Cross Logo
Apologetics Bible Church History Miscellaneous Sacraments Soteriology Sermons Worship

& the New Heart


Copyright © 2004

“And it shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,” declares the Lord, “they shall say no more, ‘The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord.’ And it shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they miss it, nor shall it be made again. At that time they shall call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of the Lord,’ and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord; nor shall they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance” (Jeremiah 3.16-29).

The Ark of the Covenant was the heart and center of Israel’s identity from the time of Moses until the people of Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel) were taken away into exile in Babylon. Within that specially constructed box, among other things, were kept the Ten Commandments engraved in tablets of stone. The Ark was kept in the Holy of Holies, the inner room of the Tabernacle and then Solomon’s Temple, where only the High Priest was permitted to enter, and then only once a year and only if he was sprinkling blood in order to appease God’s wrath.

The Tabernacle, and then the Temple, was the center of Israel’s worship. When the Ark was taken away from the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle ceased to be the exclusive place of God’s presence in Israel, and therefore the prohibition on worshiping elsewhere ceased for Israel. When the Ark was recovered from the Philistines and eventually brought to Jerusalem, David offered worship there even though the Tabernacle was elsewhere. When Solomon built the Temple and restored the Ark of the Covenant into it, God’s presence visibly entered the Sanctuary as a glorious cloud. From that time on it became unlawful to worship anywhere else.

It is common to think of the Ark as God’s Throne, but that is not quite right. It did mark the place of access to God’s throne, but not because it was itself identical to God’s throne. The Ark was God’s footstool (Second Chronicles 28.2). Golden sculptured cherubim overshadowed the pure gold lid of the Ark, and God was said to be enthroned “above the Cherubim” (First Samuel 4.4; Psalm 80.1). Solomon’s own throne had a golden footstool (Second Chronicles 9.18) and Solomon was especially an image of God.

The Ark was God’s footstool, marking the place of his throne. It was housed by the Tabernacle and then the Temple and was the reason why the Israelites gathered there to worship.

But Jeremiah prophecies that they won’t miss it after they return from exile. Jerusalem will still be important. And we know from other Scripture that they continued to worship at the rebuilt Temple, being promised that God was present there (Haggai 2.3-5). Jeremiah himself gives the rationale for this arrangement. He prophesies a shift in emphasis from holy furniture to a holy people, from God marking his presence by a thing to marking his presence by a people, the city of Jerusalem.

Thus, God says later through Jeremiah: “’But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” (31.33). God tells Ezekiel the same thing: “And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances, and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God” (11.19, 20).

This promise undoubtedly entails that many individuals will be moved by God’s Spirit into a renewed commitment to the Lord. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the promise concerns a corporate group of people. The nation of Israel was judged for idolatry and God promises that the nation of Israel will be free of idolatry when they are returned to their land. It is quite possible that the absence of the Ark of the Covenant (and the two stone tablets) meands the heart of Israel’s worship will no longer be centered on a law carved in stone, but on a Spirit-led community (Jerusalem). The law will be written on human hearts and God will make them, not the Ark with its tablets, his very throne.

Finally, we need to go one step further. The New Testament repeatedly treats the return from exile (and therefore prophecies of that return) as pointing to the death and resurrection of Jesus with the church that was formed by the preaching of that event. Looking at the new covenant of the Christian Church, where do we see the law carved on stone replaced by a new heart of flesh that has the law written on it?

I think one answer to that question would have to be God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ. Jesus was “the word made flesh” (John 1.14). All Scripture, including the Ten Commandments originally written on two stone tablets, is the Word of God and thus a transcription of his character. By being incarnate as a human being, God the Son became the “new heart” of the community of faith, the person whose presence means that God is with us.


One of the obstructions to understanding what the prophets were promising is the way many habitually “individualize” the passages about the new heart or the new covenant. A text like Jeremiah 31.33 highlights this issue: “’But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” This passage is often “individualized” as if it was speaking directly to a change within a person.

There is no doubt that the passage implies a change in devotion, attitude, and/or a new orientation, etc, on the part of individuals. But while all that is implied, it is implied by what is directly stated–that the people of God will be transformed into a new community. So, for example, in Jeremiah 24 God shows the prophet two baskets of figs, one filled with good fruit and the other with rottenness.

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. And I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart. But like the bad figs which cannot be eaten due to rottenness indeed,’” thus says the Lord–“‘so I will abandon Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials, and the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and the ones who dwell in the land of Egypt. And I will make them a terror and an evil for all the kingdoms of the earth, as a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse in all places where I shall scatter them. And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and their forefathers’” (Jeremiah 24.4-10).

The new covenant and the new heart are something promised to a nation in exile. We see in Jeremiah 24 the same emphasis on the heart and on knowing the Lord (31.34). This is all obviously a promise of a national deliverance from exile. This is reinforced by God’s promise that their return from exile will be a new and better Exodus–the even in which God originally made his covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai: “‘Therefore behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when it will no longer be said, “As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,” but, “As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.” For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers'” (Jeremiah 16.14, 15; c.f. 23.7, 8). A new exodus means a new Israel with a new covenant.

While the return from exile was an important fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the New Testament Church saw itself as the new community that was the true New Covenant people. The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians that, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (Second Corinthians 3.2-4).

While God wants to see individuals transformed by his grace, he wants to see those individuals form a renewed community in the Spirit, which acts as a letter from Christ to the world. Jesus is uniquely the Word made flesh–the heart of flesh with God’s covenant written upon it. But in and through him, the Church is a Spirit-filled community that is a living letter of the Gospel for the nations.

God calls every believer to be incorporated into such a community.

Copyright © 2004

1 Comment »

  1. Mark,

    I wanted to ask a question indirectly related to this post. I hope you don’t mind.

    The first explicit prophecy of the “new” covenant is in Deuteronomy 30, and there Moses says that when the exiles return they will obey all the laws in the book of the law.

    This is where I get confused: what Moses says would seem to imply that the High Priest would be fulfilling his yom kippur duties as in the Mosaic administration (sprinkling the ark, etc.), but then Jeremeiah/Ezekiel/Ezra/Zechariah seem to be saying that such a thing never happened.

    Is there any hint in the Torah itself that such a significant change would occur in the way the “book of the law” would be kept by the generation prophesied about in Deuteronomy 30?

    Comment by Andrew — July 5, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment