Sign of the New Covenant

We saw from the Prophet Jeremiah (PBUH) in the previous article that sin is, among other things, a sign of our thirst.  Though we know sinful things are wrong and will lead to much shame, our thirst still drives us to sin.  The Prophet Jeremiah (PBUH) lived at the end of the period of the Israelite Kings – just before the judgment of Allah – at a time when sin was abundant..

By the Prophet Jeremiah’s time (600 BC – PBUH) almost a thousand years after the giving of the Law by the Prophet Musa, the lives of the Israelites had unraveled. They had not kept the Law and were thus going to be judged as a nation. Religion had proved a  disappointment to both Allah and to the thirsty people. But the prophet Jeremiah (PBUH) who was the messenger of judgment also had a message about something … someday in the future …what was it?

“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.

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  (Jeremiah 31: 31-34)

The First Covenant – The Law given by the Prophet Musa (PBUH) – had been a failure not because the Law was not good.  No the Law of Musa was (and still is) very good.  But the problem was that the Law had simply been written on tablets of stone.  With thirst in their hearts the people had been unable to obey the Law.  The problem was not with what was written in the Law, but where it was written.  The Law needed to be written on the hearts of the people so that the people would follow it, not on tablets of stone.  The Law needed to be written inside people, so they would have the power to obey it.

But did they fail to keep the Law because they were Jews?  Many people, for a variety of reasons, are quick to blame the Jews for their failures.  But on this point it will do us well to examine ourselves first.  After all, on Judgment Day we will only be answering for our own failures and successes before Allah, we will not be concerned about other people.   As you survey your life do you feel that you keep the Law – is it written in your heart so you have the power to obey?  If you feel you are keeping the Law as required you may want consider your deeds in light of the teachings of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH).  Or is it for you like it was for the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day – that the Law is Good – but it is simply written on stone tablets without giving you the power to obey?  Remember the standard that we learned from the Prophet Musa (PBUH).  It is not enough to obey most of the law often.  We must obey all of it, all the time.

If you judge yourself to fall short of the Law in some way, if you feel shame about some of your actions, take heart.  Allah, in His Mercy, in the message above has made another promise, of a New Covenant – to come in a day future from that of the Prophet Jeremiah (PBUH).  This Covenant would be different because the requirements would be written ‘inside’ the people of this New Covenant, giving them the ability to live by its decrees.

But notice that this new Covenant seems to be for ‘the house of Israel’ – the Jews.  How are we to understand that?  It seems that the Jewish people have at times the worst, and at other times the best of situations.  Here the other great prophet of the Zabur, Isaiah (the one who prophesied of the Masih coming from a virgin – PBUH) had another prophecy that links with this one from Jeremiah (PBUH).  These two prophets, though they lived 150 years apart (as you can see in the Timeline below) and thus did not know each other, were given messages by Allah that so complement each other that we can know that there messages originated with Allah.

The Prophet Jeremiah shown in Timeline with other Prophets of Zabur

Isaiah, also looking to the future, spoke of a coming Servant.  Here is what he prophesied

And now the Lord says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”  (Isaiah 49:5-6)

In other words, this coming servant, would extend the salvation of God from the Jewish people to Gentiles (ie non-Jews) so that salvation will go to the ends of the earth.  Who was this coming servant?  How would he do this task?  And how would Jeremiah’s prophecy of a New Covenant written in our hearts rather than on stone be fulfilled?  We continue looking for answers (they are there!) in the further prophecies of Zabur.

 

The Sign of Our Thirst

We saw in The History of the Israelites that though they were given The Law their history through the Bible (al kitab) was largely one of disobeying and sinning against this Law. I mentioned in the Introduction to Zabur that the Kings which followed Dawud and Suleiman (PBUT), though physical offspring of these godly Kings, most of them were very evil. So Allah sent the many prophets of Zabur to warn them.

Jeremiah – Prophet of Warning

The Prophet Jeremiah shown in Timeline with other Prophets of Zabur

The prophet Jeremiah (PBUH -see him in the Timeline of Prophets) lived at the close of the period of Kings, when sin and evil was very great. The sins he lists are ones that are also very common today: adultery, drunkenness, sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft, corruption, fighting, violence, dishonesty, the rich exploiting the poor etc. But Jeremiah starts his Book by giving a summary of their sin and groups all their many sins into just two:

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

The prophet Jeremiah uses a metaphor to help us understand sin better. Allah (through the prophet) is saying that they were thirsty people. There is nothing wrong with being thirsty – but they needed to drink from good water. Allah himself was the good water which could satisfy their thirst. However, instead of coming to Him to satisfy their thirst, the Israelites, went to other cisterns (i.e. water containers) to satisfy their thirst, but these cisterns were broken and thus could not really hold any water. In other words, their sin, in all its many forms, could be summarized as turning to other things apart from Allah to satisfy their thirst – but these other things could not quench their thirst. In the end after pursuing their sin, the Israelites were still thirsty, but now without Allah, holding only their broken cisterns – i.e. all the problems and difficulties caused by their sins.

The Wisdom of Suleiman reveals our ‘broken cisterns’

In fact, this was also experienced and explained by Suleiman (PBUH). As I described in The Wisdom I learned in submission to Allah’s Mercy it was the writings of Suleiman that made a deep impact on me. He described his life as one where he had everything one could want, but in the end he was still ‘thirsty’. Here is how he describes his attempts at drinking from the ‘broken cisterns’ that are available all around.

I, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven… I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

I thought to myself, “Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained.

The wisdom of Suleiman and the warning of Jeremiah were written for us today. This is especially so because we live in an age with more wealth, entertainment, movies, music etc. than previous generations. Our modern society is by far the wealthiest, best educated, most traveled, entertained, happiness-driven, and technologically advanced out of any age. So we can easily turn to these things – and the other things that come in our age: pornography, illicit relationships, drugs, alcohol, greed, money, anger, jealousy – hoping that perhaps this will satisfy our thirst. We know from the Law of all the Prophets that these things are wrong, but we think that they will satisfy the thirst in our hearts so we ache for them. This was true in Suleiman’s day, in Jeremiah’s day, in the days of the other prophets, and also in our day.

The warning of Jeremiah and Suleiman are sent by Allah to cause us to ask some honest questions of ourselves.

  • Why in our modern age with so much do we struggle with depression, suicide,  obesity, divorce, jealousy, envy, hatred, pornography, addictions?
  • What ‘cisterns’ do you use to satisfy your thirst? Do they hold ‘water’?
  • Do you think you will ever get as much wisdom, love, wealth accomplishments as Suleiman? If he was not satisfied with his achievements, do you think you can satisfy your thirst through these things?

Sin is not keeping the commandments, but it is also something else – something we should pay attention to. It is a Sign of our Thirst. Once we recognize this thirst for what it is we have gained some wisdom. Allah included this in Zabur because He is fully aware of our thirst – and He desires that we be aware of it as well. Because He will quench our thirst – He wants to. And He starts in His usual way – by giving a special prophetic promise – and again through Jeremiah. We look at this in our next post