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SHOMER MITZVOT
Torah Observant

A Series of Practical Messianic Living (halakhah)

Towards Understanding the "New Covenant" and Yeshua’s term "New Commandment"

 
(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

Part One: What does the Bible really say about the New Covenant?

A verse taken out of the context of the whole of Scripture can put the wrong "spin" on what the passage actually means, even making it seem to contradict the rest. Here is a prime example:

"In that he saith, A new (covenant) he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away." (Heb. 8:13, ASV)

Many misconstrue this to be saying that the "New Testament" conflicts with the "Old". While there are some important differences, this is quite the wrong approach to take. In the original Greek, the word here for "new" means "fresh", in contrast to what is now "lack-luster" in comparison. (2 Cor. 3:7-11.)

But the phrase quoted is from Jeremiah 31 (written in Hebrew), so it is much more fruitful to study the meaning in Hebrew than in Greek. The Hebrew word for "new" is chadashah. Let's look at how this term is used most often:

The "new moon" is called Rosh Chodesh ("head of the month"). Chodesh is related to chadashah, and actually means, "renewing one". There is not actually a different moon there each month, but a "renewal" of the same one.

An often-repeated Hebrew prayer found in Lamentations 5:21 says, "Chadesh yamenu k'qedem". Again, the first word shares the same root as chadashah; here it is a verb. The rest of the phrase reads "our days, as of old" or "like the ancient time". If you want something to be "new" in the sense of "never seen before", you hardly want it to be just like something ancient! But "renew our days [to be] like those of old" makes sense. It is another occurrence of the same kind, which fills the same role or position. So B'rit Chadashah can just as properly be translated "Renewed Covenant" as "New Covenant".

Does this hold true in the way ancient covenants actually worked? Yes. In ancient suzerainty treaties, if the situation changed for one party, a covenant could be amended (or renewed) to adapt to the new circumstance. But only what no longer fit would be revised; everything else remained in effect exactly as before.

If a covenant is to be renewed, there must be a prior relationship between the two parties. With whom does our theme verse say the New Covenant is to be made?

"'Behold, the days are coming', declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the House of Isra'el and the House of Judah." (Jeremiah 31:31, KJV)

It is specifically to be made with both segments or "houses" of Isra'el! So to even be a participant in the New Covenant, we have to fit one of these categories, Isra'el or Judah. If we are not, why even bother to argue about covenants that have nothing to do with us? The sins the New Covenant addresses had to have been committed by someone who had been included in the first Covenant.

Once a covenant is violated, it is considered nullified. That's why a replacement was needed: because they had no covenant anymore! The covenant itself was not faulty, but because one of the participating parties, Isra'el, had broken it, and it could no longer remain in effect and thus had to be renewed. God had promised certain curses would come upon Isra'el if they violated the agreement they'd made with Him.

"And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were [committed] under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Heb. 9:15, NAS)

So the New Covenant does specifically address those who were party to the first. "Those who are called" refers to those whose "gifts and calling are irrevocable", that is, Isra'el. (Rom. 11:29)

Yeshua initiated the renewal of the Covenant at His last Passover, and set it on a firmer foundation the heavenly Altar instead of the earthly copy (Jn. 20:17; Heb. 7-9), and His untainted blood:

"for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matt. 26:28, RSV)

The Torah (the Law of Moshe) is the written substance of the covenant that the people of Isra'el took on as a never-ending agreement with God:

"But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:33-34, KJV)

Yeshua said, "Not one stroke of the Torah will pass away until all is fulfilled" (Mat. 5:18), so this new covenant must be another of the same kind. Unless we have gotten to the point yet of needing no one to teach us, the Torah is still in effect. All Scripture must be interpreted to agree with it. (Isaiah 8:20) God does not change His mind. The confusion lies in seeing the Torah as a means of justification. But "it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin." (Heb. 10:4) That was never its purpose. Galatians tells us it is meant to be our trainer until we see that God Himself is really all we need; after that it is to bring us to full maturity:

"Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as [coming] from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate [as] servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Cor. 3:5-6, NAS)

The "spirit" behind the letter is what the Torah being written on our hearts means. But we don't therefore forsake the vehicle that got us to that point! When we say something is "on our heart", we mean it preoccupies us. It is all but an obsession! So if the Torah is on our hearts, it hardly can mean it is something we no longer practice! It means we obey not because we have to, but because we long to.

"not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord." (Jeremiah 31:32, RSV)

Conclusion:

The "new" covenant spoken about in Jeremiah is actually the Hebrew word "chadashah" which refers not to something brand new in creation but rather something that has undergone a reformation in character and purpose, or a simple reappearance on a different scale. The New covenant is a compilation of the former covenants made with Avraham, Moshe, and Dah-vid. It does NOT supercede the previous ones in any way. It does however "improve" on the covenant responsibilities between the parties, by clarifying the purposes of the former covenants. It is better in many, many ways since Yeshua himself in fact inaugurated it.

I must now explain why I believe that the Biblical concept of "covenant" is synonymous with the Biblical concept of "commandment". I am NOT saying they are equal. Nor am I saying that they are the exact SAME things. I am simply saying they are inextricably linked to each other; they convey the same thoughts, intents, purposes, and meanings.

 

Part Two: Covenant and Commandment

In Hebraic thinking the term "covenant" is synonymous with the term "commandment". In the Bible these terms and concepts are interwoven in such a way as to render them inseparable. How can this be substantiated Scripturally? To quote Part One above:

"In ancient suzerainty treaties, if the situation changed for one party, a covenant could be amended (or renewed) to adapt to the new circumstance. But only what no longer fit would be revised; everything else remained in effect exactly as before."

What changed about the previous covenants that necessitated a renewal on God's part? Let's read the passage for the answer:

"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord." (Jer. 31:31-32, RSV)

How did they "break" the first covenant? By not keeping the commandments. Observe:

6. "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth.

7. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples;

8. but it is because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

9. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

10. and requites to their face those who hate him, by destroying them; he will not be slack with him who hates him, he will requite him to his face.

11. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you this day.

12. "And because you hearken to these ordinances, and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love which he swore to your fathers to keep;

13. he will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will also bless the fruit of your body and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the young of your flock, in the land which he swore to your fathers to give you.

14. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle." (Deuteronomy 7:6-14, RSV)

Before I get labeled as a legalist, let me explained God's view of TRUE commandment keeping:

‘For those who trust HaShem for the promises, the proper order for faith and obedience is set by the sequence in which the covenants were given. In other words, faith must precede obedience. But the kind of faith accepted by HaShem is one, which naturally flows into obedience. True obedience never comes before faith, nor is it an addition to faith. It is always the result of true biblical faith. To rephrase this in terms of the covenants: the covenant of promise (Avraham) must come before the covenant of obedience (Moshe). If we were to put Moshe first, attempting to secure those promises by obedience, we would be going against HaShem’s order. (This, by the way, is the key to unlocking the difficult midrash used by Sha’ul in Galatians 4:21-31.) All we could hope for would be a measure of physical protection and a knowledge of spiritual things. But we could not receive justification or a personal relationship with the Holy One through obedience to the Torah; it all had to start with faith. Avraham came before Moshe, but Moshe did not cancel out Avraham! The two complemented each other–as long as they came in the proper order.’ (Taken from Torah Rediscovered, Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz, FFOZ Publications)

So we see that "commandment breaking" was the reason that God needed to renew the covenant. In a sense, when Isra'el walked away from the covenant, when she forsook the commandments of God she was declaring to God that she had no interest in him and ultimately this unfaithfulness was seen as grounds for divorce. Observe:

Isaiah 54:1-10: the faithful husband (HaShem) is seen promising the unfaithful wife (Isra’el) reconcilement unto himself after a brief period of rejection (verses 7, 8). Why did he reject her? Because she willfully walked out of the covenant agreement in order to pursue alien love, causing HaShem to act in accordance with his own Torah and give her a bill of divorcement (see Deut. 24:1-4).

Jeremiah 3:1-20: God is the husband and Isra’el is the wife. Verse 1a reinforces what Moshe stated in Deuteronomy. Verses 1b through 7 show that the unfaithful bride did not remain pure, but adulterated with another "lover", spurning the sorrow and fury of her first husband HaShem. In verse 8, after desiring her to return to him, HaShem hands her bill of divorcement, based on her refusal to remain a faithful bride to him alone. In verses11-15 the faithful husband pleads with his unfaithful wife to return to him and find forgiveness but she persists in her adultery. Thus, the unfaithful bride walked out on the marriage covenant to pursue other sexual interests, causing the faithful husband to write her a bill of divorcement. Did HaShem wish to write her this bill? According to Genesis he desires unity for eternity. But hard-heartedness drove his wife to force, as it were, God’s hand of divorce upon her. She willingly left God; he always remained faithful waiting for her return.

Now you might say, where does grace fit in? Well, for one thing, grace steps in when we misunderstand the Torah as a document of legalism. We have a human tendency to pervert God's gracious document into something it was not meant to be used for. We read "do this…" and "don’t do that…", and we have a tendency to misunderstand the grace behind the words. Yeshua came to explain the gracious intent of every command, by explaining the primary thrust of the Torah in the first place: leading its reader to a genuine trusting faith in the Messiah–namely himself!

 

Part Three: Yeshua's NEW commandment

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34, NIV)

Hasn't the Torah always commanded us to love one another? Absolutely. Take a look into the book of Leviticus:

"V’ahavta l’reyach kamochah." [you shall love your neighbor as yourself] (Vayikra [Leviticus] 19:18b, Online TaNaKH)

The noticeable contrast or major difference here is that love is shown to be compared with "yourself" whereas Yeshua compared love with "as I loved you". So how are we to understand Yeshua's comparison and clarification of this basic command? How was Yeshua's love demonstrated to us? Again, lets let the Torah answer:

"And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour." (Ephesians 5:2, KJV)

And again,

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;" (Eph 5:25, KJV)

So we see that Yeshua's love has been fully manifest for us in that he willingly laid down his life for us. To be sure the Torah teaches:

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13, KJV)

So we should be in basic agreement that Yeshua's personal example is what was "new" about this command. But is this a completely "new" Torah feature? After all Moshe was willing to die for the sake of all Isra'el and even before that Yitz’chak (Isaac) was willing to die at the hand of his father Avraham. Yes, this type of love was "hinted at" all throughout the sacrificial system in the Torah, but was ONLY fully demonstrated in Yeshua's personal example.

But was Yeshua demonstrating this love on his own accord? Wasn't he in fact operating under the Perfect Will of the Father? Of course he was. Also, he did love us enough to willingly lay down his life for us. So it is both Yeshua's will to die and his Father's will that he should die. Father and Son demonstrated love in perfect harmony. In order to further understand Yeshua's willingness we only need to see what he also said about the love that has been demonstrated as first originating with his Father:

"And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare [it]: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:26, KJV)

But notice the bulk of 1 John chapter 4:

7. Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.

8. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.

9. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

10. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.

11. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

12. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.

14. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.

15. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

16. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

17. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world.

18. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.

19. We love, because he first loved us.

20. If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

21. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also." (1 John 4:7-21, RSV)

So we see that any attempt to recognize Yeshua's love apart from recognizing and understanding God's love is not possible. The love of the Father and the love of the Son are inseparably tied together. But of course you already know this. So allow me to come full circle by quoting what Yeshua referred to as the two greatest commands in the Bible:

"Sh'ma Yisra'el, Y-H-V-H Eloheynu, Y-H-V-H echad! V'ahavta eht Y-H-V-H Eloheycha, b'chol l'vav-cha, u'v-chol naf'sh'cha, u'v-chol m'odecha."[Hear, Yisra'el: ADONAI is our God; ADONAI is one! And you shall love ADONAI your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.] (D’varim [Deuteronomy] 6:4, 5, Online TaNaKH)

"V’ahavta l’reyach kamochah." [you shall love your neighbor as yourself] (Vayikra [Leviticus] 19:18b, Online TaNaKH)

There is little or no disagreement over the "concepts" explained by these mitzvot (Love God; love your neighbor) used by Yeshua and (at least the former) known in Jewish circles as the "Sh'ma" ("Hear!"). Every Jews knows that this is not the whole of the Torah, simply the hallmark of the Torah, the "cornerstone" of keeping the mitzvot. This is what Yeshua meant when he said that "all of the Law hangs on these two". Anyone, who correctly understands these two commands, is well on his way to keeping any of the rest that may apply to him (notice the context of the complete dialogue transaction, in the corresponding Scripture of Mark 12:28-34. The teacher of the Law is said to have been "not far from the Kingdom of God [vs.34]).

So now do you see that the "command" that Yeshua gave is the essence of the "covenant" that he ratified with them? Commandment and covenant are terms of equal importance and usage. Yeshua's command was not new in this sense, only renewed as I stated in Part One. The covenant with Isra'el is not new, only renewed. When we wish to demonstrate love to God we must envision love in God’s terms and that means to keep the commandment[s] or covenant[s]. To be sure, love without deed is empty love. Behold:

"If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15, KJV)

And again here in James:

8. If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well.

9. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

10. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

11. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," said also, "Do not kill." If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law.

12. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

13. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment.

14. What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?

15. If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,

16. and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?

17. So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." (James 2:8-17, RSV)

What makes this passage here in James so interesting is that James correctly ties together the Torah principles of LOVE, FAITH, and COMMANDMENT KEEPING. In their genuine forms these three are inseparable.

So we have seen that Yeshua quotes the two most important Torah themes in his answer given above (Love God, Love your neighbor). And we have now seen that James ties these two in to FAITH as well. The two that Yeshua quoted are not the only ones that make a person Torah-observant, yet they genuinely verify his change in status as a true (faith-filled) follower of HaShem. How so?

For if one truly loves HaShem, he will have no problem falling in love with Yeshua. Moreover, if he truly loves HaShem and Yeshua, he will have no problem loving his neighbor. The secret is unhindered love for HaShem, and all that he authoritatively represents! Anyone who genuinely loves the Father and the Son will have no problem wanting to keep the mitzvot. There is an unbreakable tie between the Father, the Son, your neighbor, and the mitzvot! Again, John agrees:

3. "And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

4. He who says "I know him" but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him;

5. but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him:

6. he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

7. Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.

8. Yet I am writing you a new commandment, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

9. He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still.

10. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling.

11. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (1 John 2:3-11, RSV)

John continues in chapter 3:

1. "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

2. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

3. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

4. Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

5. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

6. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

7. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous.

8. He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

9. No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.

10. By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.

11. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,

12. and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous.

13. Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you.

14. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.

15. Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

17. But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?

18. Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth." (1 John 3:1-18, RSV)

If our theology is weak in any one of these pillars of teaching (LOVE, FAITH, COMMANDMENT KEEPING) we will tend to be in an imbalance.

Conclusion:

By Yeshua emphasizing "as I have loved you" he was firstly giving us a personal example of what true love should look like. Secondly, he was reinforcing the love that the Father ALREADY had and has demonstrated for his own people by sending his Son to die for all humanity. And by taking what Yeshua states elsewhere about love being perfected in faithful commandment keeping (covenant keeping) we see that his perfect example of love is one that we can and should follow as believers in him. Thus to quote Part One:

The "new" covenant spoken about in Jeremiah is actually the Hebrew word "chadashah" which refers not to something brand new in creation but rather something that has undergone a reformation in character and purpose, or a simple reappearance on a different scale. The New covenant is a compilation of the former covenants made with Avraham, Moshe, and Dah-vid. It does NOT supercede the previous ones in any way. It does however "improve" on the covenant responsibilities between the parties, by clarifying the purposes of the former covenants. It is better in many, many ways since Yeshua himself in fact inaugurated it.

Love is what ties all of the covenants together, and love has always been the desired response of the Father. Avraham clearly loved God, Moshe clearly loved God, and Dah-vid clearly loved God. Yeshua would not come and teach anything less than what has already been taught in his Father's Torah: LOVE


Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy

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