The author of Hebrews spent much of chapter seven identifying several deficiencies that were inherent within the Old Covenant. For instance, the Old Covenant was…
- Imperfect (Hebrews 7:11).
- Weak and unprofitable (Hebrews 7:18).
- Ineffective (Hebrews 7:19).
- Officiated by ever-changing ministers (Hebrews 7:23).
- Presided over by priests who had to atone for their sins before they were permitted to minister on behalf of others (Hebrews 7:27-28).
In contrast, Jesus is a sinless, eternal, perfect high priest who is “…able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). This is in addition to Jesus’ demonstrated superiority over angelic beings (Hebrews 1:4-14) and leaders such as Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6) and Joshua (Hebrews 4:8-9).Thus, “As a result, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22 CEB).
Our author will begin a new thought here in Hebrews chapter eight by turning to one of Israel’s most famous prophets: Jeremiah. God spoke through the pen of this Old Testament prophet to foretell the advent of a new covenant, one that Jesus initiated through His sacrificial death. But first, our author will set the stage for that discussion by distilling his message into one summary point in verse one.
Therefore, we can view Hebrews chapter eight much like we view the concepts of past, present, and future. This brief chapter will reach back to the past in referencing the prophet Jeremiah. It will establish a link to the present with a practical summary of the author’s message in verse one. Finally, it will look forward in establishing a foundation for the important teachings that will follow in Hebrews chapters nine and ten.
The following commentator thus prepares us for our upcoming look at Hebrews chapter eight…
“The writer to the Hebrews has finished describing the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek in all its glory. He has described it as the priesthood which is for ever, without beginning and without end; the priesthood that God confirmed with an oath; the priesthood that is founded on personal greatness and not on any legal appointment or racial qualification; the priesthood which death cannot touch; the priesthood which is able to offer a sacrifice that never needs to be repeated; the priesthood which is so pure that it has no necessity to offer sacrifice for any sins of its own.
Now he makes and underlines his great claim. ‘It is.’ he says, ‘a priest precisely like that that we have in Jesus.’” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, “The Way To Reality (Heb_8:1-6)”
“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1 ESV).
It is not unusual for a student to attend a course of study that seems to have little or no relevance to anything that takes place in the outside world. This inevitably leads to a common student lament: “When will I ever actually use what I am learning in this course?” That question may also reflect the view of some who have followed along with the challenging arguments put forth thus far in the Biblical book of Hebrews.
For instance, the author of Hebrews has spoken extensively regarding the Old Testament priesthood in earlier sections of this book. Hebrews chapter five detailed the Levitical priest’s basic responsibilities while Hebrews chapter seven discussed the priesthood of Melchizedek at great length. Given the demanding nature of these topics, some readers might be tempted to ask, “What’s the point?”
Our author may have had that question in mind here in the opening verse of Hebrews chapter eight. You see, these challenging subjects have been building to the conclusion we see here in Hebrews 8:1.
For example, the basic role of an Old Testament priest involved serving as God’s representative before the people and the people’s representative before God. Because of this, an average Israelite could not simply enter the tabernacle to offer a sacrifice. Instead, an authorized priest presented a sacrificial offering to God on his or her behalf.
With that foundation in place, the author of Hebrews transitions to a new thought by effectively stating, “here is a summary of everything we have said up to this point” in verse one. That summary is presented in a straightforward manner: in Christ, we have the ultimate priestly representative.
Unlike the Levitical priests, this priest is not someone who must offer a sacrifice for Himself before He can approach God on our behalf. Instead, we have a high priest who ministers for us in heaven from a position of authority “…at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” This priest will never commit a sin, can never die, and will always be there to intercede on our behalf.
This is the most important of all the points our author has made thus far. While the preceding arguments may have been difficult to follow, the summary is not: “Jesus, the ultimate priestly mediator, is interceding on our behalf.”
“Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1 NIV).
As with several of the teachings we have already encountered within the Biblical book of Hebrews, this passage reinforces a message from earlier within this epistle. In this instance, Hebrews 8:1 aligns with the following verse from the very first chapter of this book: “…when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3 KJV).
As mentioned previously, Jesus’ seated position “…at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (ESV) sheds some additional light on the finality of His sacrificial offering. While we might normally associate a seated position with a place of rest, this image conveys something very different. You see, unlike an Old Testament priest who stood to conduct the daily sacrificial offerings, Jesus’ sacrificial work is finished…
“The representation that Christ has ‘sat down’ is a testimony to the completed nature of his work. In the Jewish economy, the high priest did not sit down when he went into the Holy of Holies, there being no provision of a chair, testifying to the preparatory and temporal nature of the atonement that he made; but not so with Christ who having accomplished all things is seated at God’s right hand…” (1)
So this tells us that Jesus has assumed a place of supreme honor along with all the dignity and reverence that accompanies His exalted position. In fact, terms like “throne ” and “Majesty” convey the image of a sovereign, royal leader. Furthermore, the symbolism associated with the “right hand of God” is important, for it finds its origin in an ancient, cross-cultural symbol of authority and power.
Since the right hand serves as the dominant hand for the vast majority of people, the right hand (or right arm) eventually came to be associated with the greatest degree of skill and strength in the ancient world. This eventually led to a further identification with the concepts of favor, importance, righteousness, blessing, and sovereignty. In fact, we continue to acknowledge this ancient imagery today whenever we refer to a person who serves as the “right hand” of someone in authority.
This symbolic representation of Jesus’ preeminence is so important that Hebrews 8:1 represents the third time our author has referenced it within this epistle. Other New Testament authors employ this imagery as well, further attesting to the powerful nature of this metaphor.
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Hebrews 1”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hebrews-1.htm. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Hebrews 8:2).
The word “minister” is often applied to those who hold positions of spiritual authority. Therefore, it may be surprising to learn that the term “minister” is derived from a word that means “to serve” in the original language of this passage. With this in mind, we can define a minister as one who renders service. The term “ministry” subsequently denotes the minister’s area of service.
Hebrews 8:2 then follows with another descriptive word: sanctuary. In the context of this passage, the “sanctuary” refers to a place that is dedicated or set apart for God. For instance, Hebrews 8:1-2 references a heavenly sanctuary where Christ ministers (or serves) on our behalf. Those who are familiar with the Old Testament account of Israel’s exodus from Egypt may recognize the corresponding copy of this sanctuary that was erected during the Mosaic era. Each of these sanctuaries will be explored more thoroughly in the following chapter.
That brings us to this reference to the tabernacle, a word that is closely related to the idea of a sanctuary. The word “tabernacle” might refer to any tent, booth, or temporary dwelling. (1) However, we generally associate the Biblical tabernacle with “…that well known movable temple of God after the pattern of which the temple at Jerusalem was built.” (2)
While many are undoubtedly aware that Moses received the Ten Commandments when he ascended Mount Sinai, we should note that God also provided him with detailed construction plans for building this earthly tabernacle during that time as well. Those plans are described in the Old Testament book of Exodus (see Exodus 25-27) and will serve as a subject of further discussion in Hebrews 8:5.
This tabernacle featured two sectional areas. The first was the known as the Holy Place. The second was the Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place. It was there within the Most Holy Place that God manifested His presence during the Old Testament era.
However, the author of Hebrews is quick to differentiate between the human-constructed tabernacle of the Old Testament period and “the true tabernacle which the Lord erected” in this passage. Jesus serves within this true tabernacle, of which the earthly tabernacle was only a copy. Therefore, it is fitting that our author melds these images of a minister, the sanctuary, and the tabernacle in describing a place set apart for God where Jesus ministers on our behalf today.
(1) G4633 skene Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/skene
(2) G4633 skene Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4633/kjv/tr/0-1/
“For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer” (Hebrews 8:3).
One aspect of a priest’s role involved offering gifts and sacrifices to God. With this in mind, Hebrews 8:3 presents us with an intriguing question: “What gifts would Jesus have to offer as our priestly representative?” One commentator provides us with an informative answer to that question…
“According to Hebrews 8:2, Jesus serves the Father in the heavenly tabernacle; 8:3 teaches us that he offers to the Father ‘gifts and sacrifices.’ This language requires some understanding of the sacrifices in Leviticus. We can divide the sacrifices of Leviticus into three groups.
First, gifts include the whole burnt offering and the cereal offering. Second, sacrifices refer to the communion offering. These sacrifices were basically gifts offered to God, though they were based on the atoning death of the animal slaughtered. The sacrifices that focused specifically on atonement, however, were the sin and trespass offerings, which are grouped as the third kind of sacrifice. Hebrews 9–10 will show that Jesus opened the gate of heaven for his people by being our sin and trespass offering.
Here in Hebrews 8:3, however, the focus seems to be slightly different. Jesus, as a Priest in heaven, needs gifts and sacrifices to offer to the Father. We are those offerings. We are the living sacrifices. We are the whole burnt offerings, the cereal offerings, and the communion offerings that Jesus presents to the Father who accepts us.” (1)
We can associate this reference to a “living sacrifice” with the heartfelt exhortation of Romans 12:1: “…I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (NIV). As the Holy Spirit works internally within us to conform us to the image of Christ, we subsequently become better and more pleasing offerings to God through Christ
The author of Hebrews will expand upon this idea later in Hebrews chapter nine. However, this reference also previews the prophetic message that our author will present to us later in this chapter…
“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 in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10).
(1) Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries.
“For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law” (Hebrews 8:4).
Hebrews 8:4 reminds us that Jesus was prohibited from serving as a priest during His earthly ministry. During that period, the Levitical priests were the only ones who could serve within the Tabernacle, as the author of Hebrews reminded us earlier within this epistle. That prohibition remained in effect throughout Jesus’ earthly life, thus precluding His entry into that service.
This echoes a point made earlier within this epistle: “…if the priesthood of Levi, on which the law was based, could have achieved the perfection God intended, why did God need to establish a different priesthood, with a priest in the order of Melchizedek instead of the order of Levi and Aaron?” (Hebrews 7:11 NLT).
Since a new High Priest from outside the Levitical priesthood had come as a result of God’s promise, there was a necessary change in the priestly order. In other words, the law had to be changed to accommodate this new (and better) High Priest. That allows us to revisit several important insights offered by the following commentators…
“As long as the Mosaic law was operative, the fact that Jesus was of the tribe of Judah created an insurmountable obstacle. The Law never honored or allowed one from that tribe to function as priest. Conversely, when King Uzziah, a Judahite, took that role to himself, God judged him with leprosy (2 Chr 26:16–21).
As long as the Law was functional, Jesus could not serve as priest. But the Law promised another priest, one after the order of Melchizedek, who would replace the insufficient levitical priesthood and its law.” (1)
However, we should also remember that these earthly priests served in a tabernacle that was constructed by mere human beings. That structure represented a copy or facsimile of the genuine article in heaven where Jesus now serves (Hebrews 8:2). Hebrews chapter nine will go on to address this topic at greater length.
So why bring this subject up again here in Hebrews 8:4? Well, the source quoted earlier provides us with one potential answer…
“The author seems to desire to squelch any notion that if Christ did not have a priestly office on earth, how could He have one in heaven. The author’s point is that another levitical priest was not needed. They have enough. In fact, He would not qualify according to that order. Jesus is part of God’s new, heavenly order.” (2)
(1) Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, eds., KJV Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 2554.
(2) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M., eds. (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2556). Thomas Nelson.
“who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’” (Hebrews 8:5).
This reference to Moses and the Old Testament tabernacle draws our attention to the use of Biblical typology. This literary device is one that can help us enjoy a fuller, richer understanding of some important Biblical concepts.
You see, typology refers to the study of a figure, representation, or symbol of something else. It involves the use of patterns or metaphors in which one thing is used to represent another. For example…
- Jesus referenced the prophet Jonah’s experience as a type (or representation) of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matthew 12:38-40).
- Paul the Apostle presented Adam as a type of Jesus in Romans 5:14.
- Melchizedek, the king-priest of Salem (Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4) is said to be typical of Christ in Hebrews 6:20. (1)
Here is Hebrews 8:5, the Old Testament tabernacle (as well as the Temple that followed), served as a type, model, or replica that conveyed the presence of something else. In this instance, that “something else” represented the heavenly reality of such things. One source offers a helpful explanation concerning the “copy” and the “shadow” mentioned here…
“The book of Hebrews tells us that the priests of the tabernacle ministered in a copy [hupodeigmati] and shadow [skia] of the heavenly things (Heb. 8:5; cf. 9:23). When the writer of this epistle says that the tabernacle was a copy and a shadow, he means that it was derived from something else. A copy is made from an original and a shadow is cast from something of substance.” (2)
Nevertheless, one author presents us with an important reminder that should help prevent us from taking this analogy too far…
“This does not mean that there are actual buildings in heaven which were copied in the tabernacle, but rather that the heavenly realities were adequately symbolized and represented in the earthly tabernacle model.” (3)
This also explains why the author of Hebrews quoted Exodus 25:40 within this passage. The Tabernacle that Moses constructed would not serve its symbolic purpose if it deviated from this heavenly design. So just as we can follow a shadow back to the object that created it, so we can also follow the “shadow” of the Old Testament tabernacle back to its heavenly origin.
(1) See “Type”, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary Copyright © 1986, 1995 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(2) Daniel R. Hyde, God in Our Midst: The Tabernacle and Our Relationship with God Reformation Trust Publishing [pg. 46]
(3) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Heb 8:5). Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain’” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV).
The Biblical epistle to the Hebrews is rightly viewed as a theologically challenging book. Yet even while it may occasionally prove difficult to follow our author’s inspired thought process, that should not preclude us from prayerfully seeking to understand and apply these teachings. Remember that God rewards the diligent student of His Word and the work we put into studying these passages is well worth the effort.
In this instance, the observations made by the following authors can assist us in this process. Our first commentator will complete our look at this reference to the “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” from our previous study…
“A shadow has no substance in itself. It has no independent existence. It merely is proof of the fact that there is a reality back of it. It is not itself solid or real. Just so, the earthly tabernacle gave proof of the fact that there was a real one, the heavenly one where God Himself dwelt, where Messiah officiates as High Priest. The Aaronic priests performed their priestly rites in the representation of the heavenly tabernacle” (1)
So while Jesus was prohibited from serving as a Levitical priest during His earthly ministry, it is also true that those priests ministered in a copy of the heavenly reality where Jesus now serves on our behalf. Our next commentator expands upon that point…
“…when he states that Christ as high priest is in heaven, he is doing more than merely telling his readers where Jesus is now. He is telling them that His ministry is a ‘real’ ministry because its sphere of operation is the real world-the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man (2, cf. vv. 5 f. for the scriptural proof for the existence of the heavenly sanctuary).
Thus His ministry, as His person (ch. 7), stands in distinct contrast to that of the levitical priests. Their ministry was earthbound. Hence They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (s). They and their service, too, are but shadows cast by the good things which were to come, and not the very realities themselves (c£ 10:1)…” (2)
Finally, one source draws our attention to a practical application from this passage…
“Before you start building, and while engaged in building, your life-work, see that your eyes are fixed on the divine ideal and pattern.” (3)
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Hebrews 8:5) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) New International Bible Commentary general editor G. C. D. Howley, consulting editors F. F. Bruce, H. L. Ellison. Copyright© 1979 by Pickering & Inglis Ltd [pg. 1520]
(3) F. B. Meyer, B.A., Through the Bible Day by Day, Hebrews 8:1-13 The Mediator Of The New Covenant
“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).
The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy contains a summary list of blessings that God graciously agreed to provide the citizens of Biblical Israel. For instance, here is a portion of God’s guarantee to those who fulfilled the terms of the Old Covenant…
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).
The following verses go on to provide a lengthy list containing the physical, political, material, and financial blessings that God agreed to provide to those who adhered to the terms of that covenant (see Deuteronomy 28:3-14). Nevertheless, it is important to note that all of those blessings (as undeniably good as they were) had one thing in common: they were all external in nature.
Unfortunately, the people of Old Testament Israel consistently failed to adhere to the terms of the old covenant. As a result of their failure to observe these external regulations, they lost the ability to secure the blessings that were promised to them in Deuteronomy chapter twenty-eight. Of course, this was not only true of Old Testament Israel, for the overwhelming testimony of human experience is that human beings are incapable of consistently carrying out the terms of any such arrangement with God.
There was another problem as well. As we’re later told in Hebrews 9:9, “…under the old system, gifts and sacrifices were offered, but these failed to cleanse the hearts of the people who brought them.” In other words, the animal sacrifices offered under the terms of the Old Covenant had no ability to change the internal attitudes that created the need to offer those sacrifices.
Clearly, something better was required- a new agreement (or a “New Covenant”) had to be established between God and humanity. This is why Hebrews 8:6 can speak of a better covenant that is established on better promises. The author of Hebrews will go on to detail the terms of that arrangement (as predicted by the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah) in the closing verses of this chapter.
“But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6 NET).
A covenantal agreement may seem unfamiliar to modern-day audiences. Nevertheless, a covenant is not unlike certain other kinds of contractual arrangements in certain respects. For instance, a covenant resembles a modern-day contract in the sense that it identifies the responsibilities of those who enter it. And like many other types of contractual arrangements, a covenant often contains a list of penalties to be assessed against those who fail to fulfill its terms.
However, a covenant differs from other types of agreements in one important respect: the terms of a covenant are non-negotiable. In other words, the language contained within a covenant cannot be changed or revised to suit the desires of one party. Instead, a covenant must be accepted or rejected in its entirety without amendment. In the case of a Biblical covenant, God always initiates the terms.
While the covenant that God made with the people of Israel in Exodus 19:3-8 is in view here in Hebrews chapter eight, we should also note that God established several other covenantal agreements within the pages of the Scriptures. God instituted the first of those covenants with the very first human being…
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17).
God also entered into a covenant with Noah as detailed in Genesis 9:11: “Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Some time later, God initiated another famous covenant with the Old Testament patriarch Abraham, a covenant that was later renewed with his son and grandson…
“Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (Genesis 15:5).
In a modern-day setting, we can look to the sacred vows of a matrimonial relationship to illustrate the idea of a covenant. In addition, certain types of treaties offer contemporary examples of covenantal arrangements. This background information will prove valuable, as the concept of a covenantal agreement will become a focus of greater attention as we continue through chapters eight and nine of the epistle to the Hebrews.
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second” (Hebrews 8:7).
What happens when “the old way of doing things” is no longer good enough? For those who were used to the ritualistic observances of the Old Covenant, the idea that Jesus’ atoning work had opened the way into God’s presence may have seemed much too radical. But what if a portion of the Old Covenant foretold of such a change? What if a significant Biblical prophet served as the vehicle for that announcement? What if the Old Covenant spoke of an inherent structural weakness that mandated its own demise?
You see, the author of Hebrews opened this portion of Scripture by directing his readers to the main point of his argument. Now he will will close it with a bit of undeniable logic: “If there had been nothing wrong with the first covenant, there would have been no need for a second one” (GNB). As it turns out, our author wasn’t the first to make that argument…
“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—’” (Hebrews 8:8).
Hebrews 8:8 through 8:12 form a extended quote from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. That quote is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and dates to approximately six hundred years before Christ. Therefore, we can say that this reference to a New Covenant (one that was inaugurated by Jesus’ death on the cross) was foretold long before His earthly ministry.
Our author first identified the source of the issue: “…God found fault with the people” (NLT). In other words, the blame did not lie with the Old Testament Law, for as we’re told in the New Testament book of 1 Timothy, “…the law is good if one uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8). The problem was not with the Old Covenant, but with those who were living under it.
Although the Old Testament Law was admittedly weak and unprofitable in helping the people adhere to its terms, we cannot blame the Old Covenant for the people’s failure to live up to it. To do so would be like blaming the sunlight for illuminating dust particles in the air. Instead, the fault was with those who neglected to observe its commandments. Ironically, that was part of God’s intent for the Old Covenant, for as we read in the book of Galatians, “…the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).
“But God found fault with the people and said: ‘The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah’” (Hebrews 8:8 NIV).
Charles Dillon (Casey) Stengel was a 20th century professional baseball player and manager. Although he was widely recognized for his tortured use of language, Stengel was a respectable ballplayer who once hit an inside the park home run to help win a game in the 1923 World Series.
When his playing career ended, Stengel turned to managing with considerably less success. Over the first nine years of his major league managerial career, Stengel’s teams never held a winning percentage above .500 with one exception- and that was only by two games. But after a five- year stint in the minor leagues, Stengel was named manager of the New York Yankees baseball club in 1949 and subsequently began what is perhaps the greatest managerial stretch in major league history.
Stengel’s Yankees won seven World Series championships in twelve years, including an unprecedented five in a row from 1949 to 1953. Nevertheless, he was relieved of his duties following a loss in the 1960 World Series. Stengel later resurfaced as manager of the New York Mets, a newly formed team that went on to lose more games in a single season than any major league baseball club in history.
In seeking to explain his successes and failures as a manager, Stengel was widely quoted as saying, “I was once asked what it takes to be a great manager… my response? Great players.” You see, Casey Stengel did not lose his managerial abilities when he transitioned from a perennial World Series contender to a team that lost more games than any team in major league history. The difference was in the athletes he had to work with. As one of his former players stated, “I’m probably the only guy who worked for (Casey) Stengel before and after he was a genius.” (1)
That brings us to the following observation regarding Hebrews 8:8…
“…the trouble was not with the first covenant itself: ‘the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good’ (Rom_7:12). The trouble was with the people to whom it was given; the law had poor raw materials to work with. This is stated here: Because finding fault with them… . He did not find fault with the covenant but with His covenant people.” (2)
Image Attribution: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
(1) Warren Spahn, quoted in Sports Illustrated, “Scorecard – They Said It” August 20, 1973, p12 https://vault.si.com/vault/1973/08/20/43209#&gid=ci0258beb2c00026ef&pid=43209—012—image Retrieved 22 July, 2022
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers p.2182
“For he finds fault with them when he says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah’” (Hebrews 8:8 ESV).
As mentioned earlier, a covenant differs from other types of agreements in one important respect: the terms of a covenant are non-negotiable. In the case of a Biblical covenant, God always initiates the terms, just as we see here: “I will establish a new covenant…”
This covenant does not represent an updated or modified version of an earlier agreement. Instead, the word used to describe this covenantal arrangement denotes “…that which is unaccustomed or unused, not ‘new’ in time, [or] recent, but ‘new’ as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old.” (1)
We should also note that this covenant was established with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” This represents a poetic designation for the twelve sons of Jacob, the Old Testament patriarch, and their descendants (or “tribes”). Sometime around 922 BC, two of those tribes (Judah and Benjamin) broke away from the descendants of the other ten sons to form the house of Judah.
Nevertheless, God made certain to ensure that no one was excluded from this New Covenant- including those of non-Jewish heritage…
“You Gentiles by birth… remember what you were in the past. At that time you were apart from Christ. You were foreigners and did not belong to God’s chosen people. You had no part in the covenants, which were based on God’s promises to his people, and you lived in this world without hope and without God.
But now, in union with Christ Jesus you, who used to be far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ… It is through Christ that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are able to come in the one Spirit into the presence of the Father” (Ephesians 2:11-13, 18 GNT).
The following commentary explains the extent of this covenantal relationship…
“Though the New Covenant is specifically focused on Israel (cf. house of Israel and ‘house of Judah’ in Jer_31:31), it is clear that Christians of the present time also stand under its blessings (cf. Luk_22:20; 1Co_11:25; 2Co_3:6). This perception does not lead to an inappropriate confusion between Israel and the church. The New Covenant is God’s appointed vehicle for fulfilling the Abrahamic blessings to Israel. But the Abrahamic Covenant also promised universal blessing, so the New Covenant becomes as well God’s vehicle of salvation for believers since the Cross.” (2)
(1) G2537 kainos Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/dictionary/viewtopic.cfm?topic=VT0001914
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers p.800
“not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord” (Hebrews 8:9).
Corporate organizations often speak of the need to build a performance-based culture. This usually involves a commitment to implement the strategies, practices, behaviors, processes, and values that help drive a preferred outcome. However, the emphasis on a performance-based mindset isn’t only limited to corporate business cultures. You see, that attitude permeates virtually every area of life and includes many diverse fields, such as athletics, finance, academics, physical health, and beyond.
Although we may not realize it, this mindset extends to our personal relationships as well. For instance, whenever we decide that a person is incapable of completing a task (consciously or otherwise), we apply a performance-based standard to that person. This approach can be wise and prudent if there are valid, objective reasons for making that choice. However, such assessments are inappropriate (not to mention unbiblical) if they are merely based upon outward appearances or some other arbitrary, external factor. Fortunately, God is able to uphold and use even the least accomplished person who genuinely seeks to be used by Him.
The point is that “performance” is so ingrained within the human experience that it is often difficult to abandon it, especially when it comes to the area of spirituality. Even when faced with humanity’s complete inability to fulfill just ten of God’s directives, many still feel the need to “do something” in regard to their salvation. This helps explain why it is often difficult to accept God’s New Covenant. It also explains why it is so necessary.
Since people generally act upon their internal beliefs, the best way to effect genuine change is to replace a performance-based relationship with God (such as the one that existed under the Old Covenant) with a New Covenant that is based upon a God-honoring internal mindset. Even Israel’s king David recognized the need to facilitate this internal change when he wrote, “Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me” (Psalm 51:10 GNT).
That is precisely what God promised through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. While the Old Covenant was written externally, God’s New Covenant would be written internally. We’ll examine the covenant foretold through that great Biblical prophet in greater detail next.
“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 in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10).
The people of ancient Israel promised to prioritize God’s will for their lives on several occasions. For instance…
“…all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’ So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD” (Exodus 19:8).
“Then [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient’” (Exodus 24:7).
“And the people said to Joshua, ‘The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!’” (Joshua 24:24).
Unfortunately, those promises largely failed to materialize as evidenced by God’s message through the prophet Jeremiah…
“…this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward” (Jeremiah 7:23-24).
To overcome this issue, God initiated a New Covenant foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. This New Covenant is one that internalizes God’s laws along with the desire to obey them. This echoes a similar promise made through the prophet Ezekiel…
“I will give them a desire to respect me completely, and I will put inside them a new way of thinking. I will take out the stubborn heart of stone from their bodies, and I will give them an obedient heart of flesh. Then they will live by my rules and obey my laws and keep them. They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20 NCV).
Thus, as one commentator concludes…
“God once wrote his laws to his people, now he will write his laws in them; he will give them understanding to know and to believe his laws; he will give them memories to retain them; he will give them hearts to love them, courage to profess them, and power to put them in practice. This is the foundation of the covenant; and when this is laid, duty will be done wisely, sincerely, readily, easily, resolutely, constantly, and with comfort.” (1)
(1) Henry, Matthew. “Concise Commentary on Hebrews 8”. “Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mhn/hebrews-8.html. 1706.
“For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people” (Hebrews 8:10 NET).
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul wrote the following words in the New Testament book of Galatians: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). This tells us that God’s intent for the Old Covenant (at least in part) was that it should point us toward the new and better agreement foretold through the prophet Jeremiah and quoted here in Hebrews 8:10-12.
The Living Bible paraphrase of God’s promise through Jeremiah is presented in a form that is very accessible for contemporary audiences…
“‘The day will come,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new contract with the people of Israel and Judah. It won’t be like the one I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt– a contract they broke, forcing me to reject them,’ says the Lord.
‘But this is the new contract I will make with them: I will inscribe my laws upon their hearts, so that they shall want to honor me; then they shall truly be my people and I will be their God. At that time it will no longer be necessary to admonish one another to know the Lord. For everyone, both great and small, shall really know me then,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will forgive and forget their sins’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 TLB).
This new contract (or New Covenant) was fulfilled through Jesus’ sacrificial death as detailed here in Hebrews chapter eight and again in chapter nine. One important aspect of the New Covenant is that it is not based on what people do for God. Instead, it is based upon what God has done for us in Christ.
The people of Old Testament Israel made several good-faith efforts to fulfill the Old Covenant as mentioned previously in Exodus 19:8, Exodus 24:7, Joshua 24:24, as well as Nehemiah 10:28-29. But unlike those well-intentioned efforts, this New Covenant will never fail, for it does not depend upon fallible human beings to fulfill its terms. As we were reminded earlier in Hebrews 7:25, “…(Jesus) is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (NIV).
“None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Hebrews 8:11).
As new students of the English language quickly learn, there are many words that assume different meanings depending on their context. For instance, words like fine, watch, ship, park, and bark are among the words that carry alternate meanings depending on the way they are used. The same can also be said of the word “know” as seen in the passage quoted above.
You see, the word “know” appears twice in the span of eight words in the New King James version of Hebrews 8:8. However, a closer look at the original language of this passage reveals that this word carries two distinct meanings…
“In the statement ‘know the Lord, for all shall know me,’ there are two different Greek words for know. The first word (ginosko) means ‘to come to know’ or ‘to know personally.’ It can designate ongoing, personal knowledge, which implies a relationship between the knower and the person who is known. The second word (oida) is derived from the Greek verb meaning ‘to see.’ Thus, oida means ‘to perceive’ or ‘to know absolutely.’ It suggests complete knowledge, while ginosko means a growing knowledge.” (1)
This passage should thus encourage us to pursue a deep, personal, and growing knowledge of God. In keeping with the overall theme of this book, it should not be surprising to find that Jesus is the source of such knowledge…
“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27 NLT).
“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him’” (John 14:6-7 CSB).
“Righteous Father! The world does not know you, but I know you, and these [disciples] know that you sent me. I made you known to them, and I will continue to do so, in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and so that I also may be in them” (John 17:25-26 GNT).
God desires this kind of personal relationship with us- and this is the kind of relationship He offers under the New Covenant.
(1) Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1648.
“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12).
While most people likely associate the word “sin” with something bad or wrong, there are those who may find it difficult to define “sin” with any degree of precision. Nevertheless, a good understanding of this word from Hebrews 8:12 can help us grow in respect and appreciation for what God has done for us in Christ.
You see, the Biblical concept of sin doesn’t simply refer to the act of doing wrong. Instead, this word conveys the idea of “missing the mark.” One way to illustrate the meaning of this word is to consider the image of an archer as he or she prepares to fire an arrow.
In this illustration, the archer releases the arrow and sends it on the way towards its intended destination. However, the arrow falls short in this instance and lands on the ground in front of the target. Thus, we can say that our archer has missed the mark. In other words, he or she has “sinned” by failing to hit the target that was set for him or her.
Much like the archer in our illustration, the Biblical definition of sin also involves “missing the mark.” It means failing to live up to everything that God created us to be. As the New Testament book of James tells us, “…the person who keeps every law of God but makes one little slip is just as guilty as the person who has broken every law there is” (James 2:10 TLB).
We should also note that sin is coupled with a reference to “lawless deeds” here in Hebrews 8:12. This conveys more than just a failure to live up to God’s standards; it also implies a willing disregard for God’s intent, purpose, and/or design for the human family. Thus, we can be encouraged by the fact that God works within us to make us what we should be (Hebrews 8:10) and no longer remembers our “sins and lawless deeds” through Christ’s sacrificial work on our behalf.
The following chapter will further underscore the importance of Jesus’ atoning death in regard to sin: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). This is why 2 Corinthians 5:21 can say, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…” and also explains the Biblical references to Jesus’ death as both a “ransom” (Mark 10:25)” and a “redemption” (Ephesians 1:7).
“In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).
Much like an automobile, aircraft, or electronic device that has been superseded by something new and better, the Old Covenant became obsolete following Jesus’ death. Yet even though an obsolete device may continue to provide a useful function, there is a difference between a piece of antiquated equipment and the Old Covenant sacrificial offerings. The difference is that the Old Testament sacrifices no longer serve a functional purpose in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Thus, we can say that the Old Covenant has been completely displaced by the New Covenant. This may be difficult to appreciate in a world where there is very little that is truly “new.” The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes highlights this reality by reminding us that, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NLT).
Yet, unlike an advertiser who breathlessly promotes “new” versions of old products, the New Covenant completely invalided and abolished the Covenant that preceded it…
“From this it is clear that in the mind of the writer of Hebrews Jeremiah’s prediction of the new covenant now has found its fulfillment in the Christian era. He does not look forward to some future time when this will be true. It is true now. The laws of God are written on the Christians’ hearts (cf. Rom. 7: 22; 8: 4) and Christ is the perfect priest who makes it possible for God to forgive their wickedness, and to forget their sin (8: 12).” (1)
Finally, we should note the closing words of this chapter: “what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” This represented more than just a figurative statement, for it foreshadowed an actual historic event.
Beginning in AD 69 and continuing into AD 70, the ancient Roman army marched upon the city of Jerusalem with a military contingent of 30,000 soldiers. Their objective involved the elimination of all remaining pockets of resistance to the Roman Empire. The Romans subsequently began a siege of Jerusalem that leveled the city along with every major building structure, including the Temple.
That military action brought an end to the Old Covenant sacrificial system shortly after the Biblical epistle to the Hebrews was written. Thus, this passage foretold a literal fulfillment: “what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
(1) New International Bible Commentary general editor G. C. D. Howley, consulting editors F. F. Bruce, H. L. Ellison. Copyright© 1979 by Pickering & Inglis Ltd [pg. 1521]
“In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).
We will conclude our look at Hebrews chapter eight with a general comparison between the Old and New Covenants. For instance, God’s Old Covenant commandments were written on tablets of stone. His New Covenant commandments are written within the hearts of those who follow Christ.
We should also note that God continually urged His people to maintain their relationship with Him under the Old Covenant. For example, consider the following Old Testament admonitions…
“Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden” (Deuteronomy 4:23).
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day” (Deuteronomy 8:10-11 ).
“Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. Rather, worship the LORD your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies” (2 Kings 17:38-39 NIV).
Much like an authority figure who must externally motivate a student, athlete, or employee, God often had to take a similar approach with His Old Covenant people. On the other hand, the New Covenant governs our inner motives as we saw earlier in Hebrews 8:10: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.”
This New Covenant distinctive thus places the focus upon God’s internal work within our lives. While the Old Covenant emphasized the need to adhere to an external code of conduct, the New Covenant changes us from the inside out by internalizing God’s principles, standards, and morals within us.
Finally, the Old Covenant mandated a continual series of sacrificial offerings that followed a predictable pattern…
- A person engaged in a sinful behavior.
- A sacrifice was offered to cover his or her sin.
- A person engaged in a sinful behavior.
- The cycle continued.
In contrast, God sacrificed His Son once for all under the New Covenant. This aspect of the New Covenant is so important that our author will return to it again in chapters nine and ten of this epistle.