But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,
“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord. 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 into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. Heb 8:6-13
Their are seven covenants between God and man recorded in the Scriptures, so we ought to be certain which ones are being referred to here. The seven covenants are:
1) Eden: Gen 1.26-28, Gen 2.15-17; God’s blessing on His creation, man is to multiply and have dominion, and not eat the forbidden fruit.
2) Adam: Gen 3:14-19; curse on creation and serpent, punishment of work for mankind, but the promise of the seed of the woman given.
3) Noah: Gen 8:21-9:17; God will never flood the earth again, man is to multiply and establish human government as a deterrent to sin.
4) Abraham: Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15; God will establish descendants, land, and a blessing for Abraham.
5) Moses: Exo 19 – 24; God will be a husband to Israel, Israel is to obey the Torah (teaching) of the covenant.
6) David: 2 Sam 7:11-16; God will establish the son of David as the promised seed of the woman and the ruler of Israel.
7) Jesus: Isa 42:6, Jer 31.33, Luk 22.20; the son of Man, of David, and of God; the new covenant and the fulfillment of the covenants.
The first covenant referred to in Heb 8 is the Mosaic covenant, the one through which God gave His Torah, or His instruction in righteousness, to His people, and asked them to live according to it. This covenant is the first one which was exclusive to Israel. The new covenant, is of course, the one Jesus enacted with His own blood. Now, has the new covenant made the old covenant obsolete?
First of all, Paul teaches us elsewhere in Scripture that a covenant which was enacted later does not invalidate one which was enacted earlier:
“What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.” Gal 3:17
And we can see that each of the seven covenants build on one another, rather than replace the ones prior: the Edenic established God’s blessing on His creation, the Adamic established work (works?) as a curse, but promised the Redeemer in the seed of the woman to undo the effects of the curse. The Noahic established human government to deter sin so that mankind would not be destroyed wholesale before the time came for the seed of the woman. The Abrahamic established a set-apart family through which the seed of the woman could be born; the Mosaic established a Torah (Law, or teaching in righteousness) for the set-apart family to live by, to deter sin which brings judgment and death, and to promote life and prosperity for the set-apart family through which the seed of the woman would come. The Davidic established the ruling dynasty over the set-apart family, through whom the seed of the woman would come, who would be Redeemer. And Jesus, the seed of the woman, was born, and died, and was raised again, thus in Him the purpose of the covenants was met.
Secondly, this passage quotes Jer 31:31-33, where God says that the new covenant will not be written on tablets of stone, but He Himself will write His Law on the tablets of our hearts. This is the better covenant. The covenant of Moses codified God’s eternal standards of righteous living, what was right and what was wrong. It was written on tablets of stone, without us, while the sin nature we had inherited from Adam still ruled within us. We saw the Law written on tablets of stone, but we could not obey it from our hearts.
But in the new covenant, the better covenant, God has given us new hearts. He places His Spirit within us and writes His Law on the tablets of our hearts, so that it is now our nature to obey it from within, instead of being obligated to obey it from without. Thus the new covenant is a better covenant. It is not the Law, i.e., the instruction in God’s ways, His teaching of the paths of righteousness, the definition of right and wrong, that is abolished or obsolete, but the place where the Law is written that has changed.
Thirdly, what is meant by “obsolete?” I looked up “obsolete” as used in Heb 8:13 in the Greek. The literal Greek translation of this verse is:
“In that He saith ‘new,’ He hath made the first old, and what doth become worn out and waxeth old is nigh disappearing.” Blue Letter Bible Greek Textus Receptus with KJV translation
Notice the word “obsolete” is not in the Greek. But it does say that the first covenant is becoming worn out and ‘waxeth old’ (very interesting that the verb tense is one of continuing action, not accomplished action).
Why use the term ‘waxeth old’? The writer is referring back to the passage in Jeremiah that he quoted:
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 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—” Heb 8:7-8, quoting Jer 31:31
The Hebrew word for ‘new’ in “new covenant,” means “refreshed, renewed” as an abstract concept (as it is used in Jeremiah). But as a noun, it is the same word used for the new moon which is sighted every month to determine the start of the biblical months and thus when the feast days of the Lord are to occur. The writer of Hebrews is continuing to use the waning and waxing of the moon as a metaphor in referring to ‘new’ and ‘old’, in other words, as Jeremiah, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, originally did.
You see, the moon does not go away and is no more. It is always there. So the Law does not go away and is no more. But our relationship to the Law has changed. In the old covenant, that which ‘waxeth old’ and is getting ready to disappear is that we had to obey the Law by obligation against our nature. That is one ‘fault’ or deficiency of the old covenant. In the new covenant, we delight to obey the Law according to our nature, because it has been written on the tablets of our hearts. For in the new covenant, we are transformed by the new birth.
The old covenant is not obsolete as we saw that term was never in the Greek to begin with. But in the new covenant, now we can proclaim with the psalmist:
“I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.” Psa 40:8