“For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord” ( Hebrews 8:7-9 )
I’ve struggled in the past while reading these verses because what stands out to me is the last statement saying, “they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord” (vs. 9). The Amplified puts it this way, “for they did not abide in My agreement with them, and so I withdrew My favor and disregarded them, says the Lord” (vs. 9 AMP). These statements seem so foreign to the God I know. It is hard to imagine Him ever saying these things. Setting out to reconcile this idea in my heart has brought wonderful revelation of what this passage is truly saying.
The key lies in the idea that the first covenant was flawed because of mankind’s inability to keep it, not because of God. This is why he found fault with the first covenant and brought about a new one. The first covenant was based on blessings and curses ( Deuteronomy 28 ). It was not like the covenant that God made Abraham and it is certainly not like the covenant that God made with us through Jesus. It was behavioral based. If they kept the commandments they received the blessings listed in the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy. If they disobeyed the commandments they received the curses listed. It was all spelled out, the Israelites were well aware of the terms when they agreed to it ( Exodus 24:3 ).
Of course mankind, being one hundred percent flesh at that time, couldn’t live up to it’s rigorous guidelines. In fact the Israelites are the ones who turned away from their part of the agreement first. This released God from His part, although He always remained faithful to it. This passage in Hebrews is a quote from Jeremiah 31, with a slight difference near the end, “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them” declares the LORD” ( Jeremiah 31:31-32 ).
The relationship that Israel and God had, was akin to the marital relationship. The covenant agreement was a marriage agreement. Israel continually prostituted themselves with other gods even though the Lord was a husband to them. This led the Lord to give them a certificate of divorce ( Jeremiah 3:8 ). This did not annul God’s relationship with them, it merely made an allotment for Him to usher in a new covenant to include those outside the nation of Israel. Even though He divorced them, he told them to return. so He could establish a New Covenant with them still declaring himself as their husband. “Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” ( Jeremiah 3:14-15 ).
He did in fact give us this Shepherd, who is the radiance of God’s glory and exact representation of his being ( Hebrews 1:3 ). Jesus brought with him an understanding and revelation of God that was previously unknown ( John 1:14, II Corinthians 4:6, Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-3 ). In the first covenant, it was the Israelites themselves who caused all their suffering. God wanted to protect us from that because we could never live in the weakness of the flesh, which is why he sent Jesus to usher in a new covenant and give us the Holy Spirit so we could be born again not fashioned after the flesh but after the Spirit of God himself ( II Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:24 ).
The entire point is this; the first covenant had not been without defect. The weakness of the covenant was the people themselves. It wasn’t that God just disregarded them withdrawing His favor on a whim. God found fault with the people because their behavior showed how they choose everything else before God. The people broke the covenant agreement, not God. He is stressing in verse 9 that the New Covenant He ushered in will not be like the previous covenant. In other words, it will not be left to mankind to keep it, the covenant will entirely be dependent on God himself to bring it to pass, to ratify it and to uphold it for all eternity. Mankind can freely enter into it, but our behavior does not affect the terms or the outcome. This is why God found fault with the first in order to usher the second. Then He based the entire thing on His character and His ability to keep it. This is an amazing truth!