8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “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—
Verses 8–13 describe the “better” of Hebrews 8:6 or the unilateral new covenant promised to Israel. The book of Hebrews references the new covenant more than all the other New Testament books combined.
8 Because finding fault with them [Israel],
God found fault with the nation Israel (physical descendants of Abraham) under the Mosaic Covenant. The nation did not live up to its conditions. He made a new covenant that would have the complete remedy for the sin problem of Israel.
After Solomon, the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel were divided for 200 years (931–722 BC). The timing of the quotation in Jeremiah was when the Babylonians were about to destroy Jerusalem in 586 BC and the people were led into exile. The northern kingdom (Israel) was already in exile by the Assyrians (722 BC). The prophet Jeremiah lived to see the captivity of Judah begin. God allowed this because of His “finding fault with them.” They did not live up to the conditions of the old covenant.
Verses 8–12 are a quotation from Jeremiah 31:31–34. This is the longest quote in the New Testament.
The word “behold” calls attention to an important announcement, the proclamation of the new covenant for Israel.
the days are coming,
The days that “are coming” reference in Jeremiah 31 hark back to Jeremiah 30:3, which is prophetical. These days are future from the writing of Jeremiah. Jeremiah 30:7 predicts that a future tribulation period will come upon the nation Israel. The remainder of Jeremiah 30 is millennial.
Other prophets regard the new covenant as prophetic (Isa. 55:3; Ezek. 16:60, 62; 20:37; 34:25–26; Hos. 2:18–20). Isaiah related the fulfillment of the new covenant to the return of Messiah and the forgiveness of Israel (Isa. 59:20–21).
Jeremiah’s prediction referred it to Israel’s restoration to the land (Jer. 32:37, 40–41). The point is that Israel as a nation will be regathered and restored to its land and then experience its blessings. The complete fulfillment of the new covenant requires Israel regathering as a nation under God at the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, the new covenant is not fulfilled in the church but in the Millennium.
Hebrews 8 does not quote Jeremiah 31 to show that the new covenant was now completely operative, but that the Mosaic Covenant was temporary and ineffectual. The new covenant is not fully in operation in the church.
says the Lord,
Jeremiah used this phrase two times to indicate that it was God who made the new covenant.
when I will make [conclude] a new [new in character] covenant
Note that the focus of the new covenant is God’s “I will.” The onus of keeping the covenant is upon God. The covenant depends on God’s faithfulness to keep His Word. The words “I will” occur six times in verses 8–12. God will personally carry out the terms of the new covenant; it will not be a two-party contract.
The word “new” means new in character. Since the new covenant was new in nature, it was qualitatively different from the old. This covenant will bring a permanent solution to the sin problem that the Mosaic Covenant did not. It was a covenant with Israel first.
The “new covenant” was a formal and unilateral covenant where the administration depended entirely on God (He 8:13; 9:15; 12:24). It is called the “eternal covenant” in Hebrews 13:20.
God established the new covenant when Jerusalem and the temple were about to be destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians, when the people were led into captivity.
This covenant assured that the nation Israel would be restored in the future. Jeremiah ministered before the nation’s two main captivities by other nations. At Jeremiah’s writing, their future seemed bleak, which was the reason for giving the covenant. Christ fulfilled the payment-for-sin aspect of it during the first century, but it will ultimately be fulfilled in the nation Israel in the Millennium.
with the house of Israel [northern kingdom] and with the house of Judah [southern kingdom]—
The new covenant of Jeremiah was made with two populations of Israel, not with the church. This covenant will be fulfilled with those to whom it was made, the physical descendants of Abraham. One day the nation will be restored and reunited under the Messiah. The church is not spiritual Israel, because both the northern and southern kingdoms are named in this promise. The original readers of Jeremiah would have understood that the covenant would be fulfilled literally.
God gives promises even in times of desperate despair.
The prophecy of Jeremiah 8 predicted the end of the Mosaic Covenant. God made that covenant obsolete (He 8:13). The old became old even before the time of Christ.
The purpose of bringing in the new covenant was not that the church would fulfill it because it was made with “Israel” and “Judah.” The full specifics of the new covenant will be fulfilled in the future Millennium beyond the church age. The church does enter some of the blessings of this covenant, however.
The time when God will save Israel is yet in the future (Isa 59:20–21; Ro 11:26–27). Hebrews applies an aspect of the new covenant to the church (salvation), but this does not deny its primary application to the nation of Israel.
In Hebrews 8:6 Jesus was Mediator of a “better covenant.” Verses 8 and following show that since the new covenant was prophesied, the first covenant was flawed, so believers in the church benefit from the blessings of the new covenant. Christ as High Priest and Mediator of the new covenant enables believers to “draw near” to God (He 7:25); we benefit from Christ’s priesthood and the covenant to which it was tied (He 8:1; 7:25–27).