This posted article (a 17-minute read) is also available as a 37:45 streaming MP3 audio file "What is the New Covenant?" Listen to this no-cost-to-you audio file at: https://www.cominghome.co.il/audio.
I am Jewish by birth. Years ago, when I first began my journey into learning about “Jesus” and absorbing the tenets of Christianity, I was taught that the Old Testament was no longer necessary because, apparently, it was, in fact, an Old Testament replaced with a teaching called the New Testament.
As I began digging deep into my New Testament studies, I kept running into a lot of theological questions about Yeshua and Paul that, for me, had no clear answers at the time. This slowly started me on a different journey into what is commonly called Messianic Judaism which led me into a lifestyle of doing the Torah; that is, performing the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Shortly, thereafter, I began calling Jesus by the Hebrew name Yeshua which caused me to perceive him in a different, more Hebraic way.
Nonetheless, I found myself deeply perplexed about how I should relate to this so-called New Testament or New Covenant that I continued to believe in, even if my belief was, for a time, growing more superficial. Specifically, I needed an answer as to how to understand the New Testament as Yeshua defined it in Matthew 26:28 when he said:
“For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
Reading this, I asked myself the question, what is this New Covenant that Yeshua had introduced? Why would he speak such words when undoubtedly the Mosaic Law and the Old Testament, as the Christian world refers to it, should have been sufficient? At least, as a Jew who was becoming more attracted to the religious practices of Judaism, this is what I was thinking at the time.
To solve the quandary of my difficulties, I began calling the New Testament or New Covenant by the more distinctive and expressive term, the “Renewed Covenant,” reasoning within myself that there could not be a New Testament; that what I read as the New Testament was merely a freshened-up Mosaic Law, a body of divine instruction that the nation of Israel had already broken and invalidated since the beginning. I reasoned that the New Testament could not possibly be about the abrogation of Old Testament Law, which was to be replaced by New Testament Grace. In fact, I would not allow myself to commit theological and cultural suicide in saying that New Testament Grace had replaced Old Testament Law. Flat out, it just could not be. Confirming this, basic Judaism maintains what is called our Thirteen Articles of Faith, compiled by a Jewish medical doctor and philosopher of the 1100’s. He goes by the acronym “Rambam,” that is, Moshe ben Maimon or simply, Maimonides. Particularly, what caught my attention was the Rambam’s ninth article of our faith:
אֲנִי מַאֲמִין בֶּאֱמוּנָה שְׁלֵמָה, שֶׁזּאת הַתּורָה לא תְהֵא מֻחְלֶפֶת וְלא תְהֵא תורָה אַחֶרֶת מֵאֵת הַבּורֵא יִתְבָּרַךְ שְׁמו. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be another Torah given by G-d
Given this principle of the Jewish faith, I once again asked myself the questions, what is the New Testament or New Covenant that Yeshua was introducing? Was it, in fact, something new or was it simply a body of renewed laws that the Israelite nation had abolished because of our rebellion? I admit, it was only decades later when I found some solid answers to my questions.
The Hebrew Words “New” and “Renewed” from Chet, Dalet, and Sheen – חדש
Depending on local context in scripture, the Hebrew root for the English word “new” is chet-dalet-sheen (חדש). This three-letter root can mean something new and/or something renewed. For example, here is the chet-dalet-sheen root with some different vowels applied:
The idea of something new and fresh:
L'chdaysh לחדש: to innovate as if to introduce something novel. To invent something.
Chidush חדוש: a flash of insight, a fresh understanding of something (as it is used in Hebrew today).
Chadasha חדשה: a newly married woman or essentially, something fresh and new – see Deuteronomy 24:5.
The idea of something renewed, restored, and revived:
Chadaysh חדש: something renewed, restored, and renovated – see Psalm 51:10.
Chodesh חדש: to restore or revive what is already in existence such as the new moon – see 1 Samuel 20:5.
Chadash חדש: something fresh and newly refurbished – see Psalm 96:1, Deuteronomy 22:8.
The meanings new or renewed are totally dependent on local context when interpreting the biblical texts and narratives. Regardless, I think that King Solomon said it best when he spoke about something NEW versus something RENEWED:
Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 1:9-10: That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us.
In this passage, the term “new” is from chadash. One biblical text that boldly stands out from scripture is the word of the prophet Yirmeyahu or Jeremiah who said in 31:31 of his written scroll:
NKJV: “Behold, the days are coming, says YHVH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
Here, in Hebrew, the phrase “new covenant” is בְּרִ֥ית חֲדָשָֽׁה (b’rit chadasha). What exactly is this speaking about? Is this brit chadasha a new set of laws that have never been in existence before? Is it a body of law renewed and restored from what was previously in existence? Is it a combination of both? I will come back to these questions shortly.
The Concise Analysis of a Covenant from the Hebrew Term Brit
The term “covenant” in Hebrew is brit (ברית). It appears well over a couple of hundred times in scripture. But rather than rely on my own ideas or Judaism’s ideas about what “covenant” should mean, I want to dig a bit deeper and go to the core meaning of brit from Hebrew.
An Agreement Through Choice
In Hebrew, brit (ברית) is linked to the term barah. Barah from Genesis 1:1 is spelled with its third letter as an alef ברא whereas barah from brit is spelled with its third letter as a heh ברה. Nonetheless, due to certain grammar rules of substituting certain Hebrew letters, there might be a link between the barah ברה of a covenant and the barah ברא of creation but we can save this grammar discussion for another time.
In Hebrew, brit and barah are relational or relationship words. These two Hebrew words are about choice or choosing to establish a relationship between A and B such as what we see from 1 Samuel 17:8 in the story between the Philistine Goliath and the army of King Saul:
Then he (Goliath) stood and cried out to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves (In Hebrew: ברו לכם איש - b’ru lechem ish), and let him come down to me.”
Here, the English word “choose” is linked to the Hebrew verb barah (ברה), which gives us the noun ברית brit – the making of an arrangement, an agreement, or a covenant. In other words, this is ultimately an agreement not only between two warriors but also between two nations. Essentially, the idea is, “we both agree that if you send me a man that can fight on behalf of the armies of Israel, then we can settle everything between us right now.”
An Agreement Through Eating
The Hebrew verb barah ברה, which gives us the word brit ברית, also presents us with the idea of eating food unto one’s health and strength. We generally interpret health and strength as something physical. However, I believe that barah as a word for eating food could also be for emotional and ultimately spiritual health. It is interesting to note that in scripture, we often see covenants, contracts, and deals cut or made between two parties with the eating of a meal; that is, two parties having table fellowship. In ancient biblical days, two parties would share a meal as a result of an arrangement or agreement but if they could not come to an agreement then there would be no sharing of a meal to seal the arrangement.
Today, in the everyday business world, many relational deals are cut or made over a restaurant lunch or dinner meeting. Thus, we still have remnants of the ancient biblical practice of agreeing to a deal except for one thing; today, a meal is often shared between two parties regardless of whether the two conclude an agreement or not.
Getting back to the biblical idea of barah. In Israeli Hebrew, if you eat food in a private home or in a restaurant, you will often be met with the statement l’briut—to your health! The root of l’briut is connected to barah ברה, which gives us the relational expression brit ברית. In other words, l’briut is an arrangement, an agreement, or covenanting towards one’s health. Consider some of the many biblical examples of arrangements, agreements, and covenants as each of them conclude with the sharing of a meal:
Genesis 2:16. This was the first agreement of the Bible when Yehovah made a covenant with the man Adam. He told him about all the available food that he could eat from in the Garden and in this, Adam and Yehovah had table fellowship so-to-speak. But, later, Adam and his woman made a choice to leave the table and dine relationally at another’s table instead, producing devastating results.
Exodus 12:8 and 12:48. Yehovah offered a relational covenant with the Hebrew nation based on precise acceptance conditions. And this relational covenant was offered to anyone else that wished to join in the arrangement also based on precise acceptance conditions (see Exodus 12:48), all culminating with the eating of a Passover meal in the home with the blood of a lamb on its entrance threshold and door frame.
Leviticus 24:5-7. Yehovah regularly remembers his relational covenant with the 12 families of Jacob through the weekly twelve loaves of bread that are called the “Bread of the Presence” (lechem hapanim). In other words, Yehovah and Israel both are represented as in agreement at the table in Yehovah's house through the presence of a reminder - 12 freshly baked bread loaves.
Genesis 31:54. Jacob and Laban made or cut a relational agreement concluding with the eating of a meal together on the Golan Heights.
2 Samuel 9:7-13. King David honored a relational covenant that he had made with Jonathan resulting in Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth who was always permitted to eat at the King’s table.
John 21:12-13. After Yeshua’s resurrection, he established a relational trust in who he was. In what his disciples heard and saw, they all sat down and ate breakfast together, confirming the covenant made between Yehovah and Israel.
Acts 2:42. The local body of believers came together to regularly break bread in table fellowship.
Acts 27:35. Paul spoke to the local community of believers in Ephesus and afterwards with his conclusory remarks, he sat down to eat a meal with them.
1 Corinthians 10:21. Paul spoke to a local community that had been eating with each other all the while remembering the new covenant cup of the Master’s table.
Revelation 3:20. Yeshua offered an arrangement that if he knocks and we relationally open our door, he will come in and eat with us and we with him.
Revelation 19:9 and Luke 14:15. Yeshua reminds us that we are blessed because we are called to the relational covenant meal (the wedding banquet) on the Last Day resurrection marriage supper of the lamb.
An Agreement Through Relationship
Relationships are designed to keep us healthy on many levels. In other words, we are not meant to be physical or spiritual lone rangers. Our Creator chose for us to be relational. Yehovah wants us to pursue health through relationships and this is supposed to be achieved through a bond of shalom that is made vertically between YHVH and man and horizontally between one another. This is why Yehovah said that it is not good that man should be alone (see Genesis 2:18).
These examples are all the relational ideas of a brit – an arrangement and agreement, a sense of barah; that is, making a choice to enter into a relationship towards one’s health. It is an idea of unity for the purpose of adding strength and health to a relationship. Perhaps you are familiar with the English expression of what it means to be in a toxic relationship”? Indeed, relationships, covenants, contracts, agreements, and arrangements of all kinds can be damaging to our health if they turn toxic. So, we should seek to keep all of our associations healthy through barah, choosing good relationships and sharing table fellowship with those that we choose to build relationships with.
The Relational Concept of a Brit in Jeremiah 31:31
In principle, we can now better comprehend the idea of the Hebrew phrase brit chadasha. At its core, it is a relational idea between two parties who choose to accept an arrangement or an agreement, giving us the models of choosing, selecting, cutting a deal, and yes, even eating together for the purpose of sealing and establishing the deal in health – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Given that we now have a solid biblical definition for the Hebrew word brit, let us revisit Jeremiah 31:31.
Behold, the days are coming, says YHVH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
The declaration, “I will make a new covenant” can more accurately be interpreted as Yehovah choosing to build a relationship collectively with the house of Yehuda and the house of Israel. Said differently, it is his desire to sit down and dine at the table with Israel. In this, he is making a brit; that is, entering into a new and even a renewed relationship that involves our health on many levels as we eat from the fruit of a healthy tree in the Garden of Eden instead of the fruit of a toxic tree. “I will make a new covenant” means A chooses a relationship with B and through choice, B then responds to A’s relational proposal. This reminds me of the statement that was made in 1 John 4:19 –
We love him because he first loved us.
Why the Need for A New and Renewed Relationship With YHVH?
I now want to return back to my earlier questions:
What exactly is this Jeremiah 31:31 new covenant relationship speaking about?
Is this a body of law that was never previously in existence? Is this a body of law that was previously in existence and now it needs to refreshed?
To answer these questions, I suggest that we follow a trail back to the beginning of all scripture when man was first formed and made. Let us turn to Genesis chapters 2 and 3.
Genesis 2:7-8. And Yehovah Elohim formed the man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Yehovah Elohim planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there he placed the man whom he had formed.
This describes a relationship that Yehovah wanted to make with the man and, therefore, his first covenant with the man was most certainly relational. Genesis 2:7-8 describes the idea of a brit as Yehovah made a choice to establish a connection with the man when he put him in the Garden of Eden. Now, let us continue and have a closer look at Genesis 3:22.
Then Yehovah Elohim said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, to know good and evil.”
The Disconnected Relational Link Between YHVH and Man
I now want to speak about the divine declaration of Genesis 3:22 which was said after the man and the woman made a choice to disconnect from their relationship with Yehovah and accordingly, they decided to eat from a different tree which was not of the Tree of Life. They ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as it is written:
Genesis 3:22. Then Yehovah Elohim said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, to know good and evil.”
When YHVH Elohim said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, to know good and evil,” he was expressing his deep sorrow over a relationship that turned toxic. The man chose to break his relationship with Yehovah and enter into a different relationship with one called the Nachash (see Genesis 3:1). This was done by eating his food from a different table instead of continuing in the relationship that the man once had with his Master and Creator.
The Intimacy of Knowing
In biblical Hebrew, the concept of knowing is not about thinking. Rather, it is uniquely about relational intimacy. We would call this “oneness” such as what happens when two become one through marriage. For example, consider Genesis 4:1:
וְהָ֣אָדָ֔ם יָדַ֖ע אֶת־חַוָּ֣ה אִשְׁתּ֑וֹ וַתַּ֙הַר֙
Now the man knew his woman (his wife), and she conceived.
Even in today’s Israeli Hebrew, it would be considered quite odd to say to another person in everyday conversation, “do you know so and so.”? In English, we can certainly get away with it but not in Hebrew. In Israeli Hebrew, if we were to ask, “do you know so and so?” it would be like asking them, “have you been intimate with so and so?” To avoid that kind of connotation (unless the conversation is meant to be understood that way), we would say something like, “are you acquainted with so and so?” which carries the meaning, “do you have a familiarity of so and so?” In Hebrew, this replaces the general English idea “do you happen to know so and so?”
In Genesis 3:22, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, to know good and evil,” it gives us a snapshot into YHVH’s relationship that he once had with the man. It was a relationship that was good but then turned toxic because the man made the choice to bond with another. This is the biblical foundation for what adultery is all about as Yeshua mentions it numerous times. In the same way that the Man (Adam) came to be relationally intimate with YHVH so, now, the Man had come to be relationally intimate with Good and Evil. At least, the Genesis 3:22 statement appears to explain the situation in exactly this way. The man was attracted to a new relational oneness with another. His oneness was just as intense and intimate with good and evil as his relationship was with Yehovah Elohim's life and good.
In comparing the two relationships, there seems to be no difference between the two separate relationships except for one thing: the man covenants with a difference partner – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Therefore, allow me to paraphrase Genesis 3:22 as I might understand it from Hebrew:
The man has become intimately and relationally one in a marriage to good and evil in the same type of oneness and unity that he once had with us. He left the unity that we once had and transferred it to a new master. He has given himself over in relational intimacy to a new partner and has the same type of intimate oneness that we had. He is now in fellowship with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and is eating from the fruit of Sin and Death in the same way that he was in fellowship with us where I would have given him food to eat from the Tree of Life.
This dreadful condition could be called man’s brit with death in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This was his “new relationship.” The man was no longer one with YHVH. Now, he was one with a different master – good and evil. This leads me to the prayer that Yeshua spoke in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was recorded in John 17:20-23 when he said,
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word; that they all may be One, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be One in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them, that they may be One just as we are one: I in them, and you in me; that they may be made complete in One.
Broadly, as a paraphrase, I wish to offer you my understanding of Yeshua’s prayer as to express it through my current Hebraic understanding:
I desire Father that you will repair man’s broken relational oneness with us and restore him back to how and what he was when he was one with us. In all mankind, please renew man’s previous relational oneness and put it back together again with us in our unity; make him whole and complete again as he was in the beginning before his treachery, that all of man may also may be one as in us just as we are one: I in them, and you in me. This is my prayer Heavenly Father.
The restoration and renewal of relational oneness between YHVH and the man as it was in the beginning in the Garden of Eden is what I believe to be the key to understanding the prayer of Yeshua in John 17:20-23 as it is linked to Yehovah’s decree that “man has become like (or “as”) one of (“a handover of oneness from”) us to know good and evil” in Genesis 3:22.
In Jeremiah’s day, YHVH’s heart was still the same as it was in Yeshua’s day; to choose the house of Israel and the house of Yehuda as a collective unity in Yehovah. Through the testimony of his brit through one unified nation, the house of Israel, YHVH could then relationally “partner” with the one healthy house of Israel in order to restore all mankind to himself, by shining the divine Light of his Word to the world through his intimate relational oneness established with one unified nation that he would come to call “Israel.” However, for this to happen, he had to first heal the sickness in his people and then call them into a relational brit chadasha with himself. Therefore, here is my paraphrase of John 13:34-35, according to my Hebraic understanding:
A renewed relational directive I give to you, that you serve one another; as I have served you, that you also serve one another. By this all will understand that you are my disciples, if you initiate acts of service by making it your priority to give to one another.
To accomplish this renewed relational directive – a new and renewed brit, Yeshua instructed his hearers in the act of barah, the root of a brit – to make a choice for health on many levels by eating together, not only physically but also spiritually, which is the deeper aspect of the lesson taught by Yeshua in John 6:55-56:
For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
This would be my understanding of the core essence of Jeremiah 31:31 when Yehovah spoke through Jeremiah saying:
Behold, the days are coming, says YHVH, when I will cause a relational event to happen: the establishing of a new oneness with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah but without all the toxicity that was clinging to him from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
With This New Established Relationship, How Should We Then Live?
Since we have been sanctified in this prophesied Jeremiah 31:31 renewed relationship, how should we then live? This is not a trick question and this is not so complicated that we cannot easily understand it. Now, based on my understanding of the Hebrew words brit chadasha and barah, the answer to the question comes to us from the Word of Yeshua:
John 14:15. If you love me, keep my commandments.
John 15:10. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
1 John 2:7-8. Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the Word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.
The New Covenant or “New Testament” relationally revolves around four points:
1. Yehovah’s choice to have a relationship with each of us long before we ever recognized that we were and are loved, causing us to respond relationally to Yehovah.
2. Messiah’s actions that break the earthly bond that we had when we were born into this lower world (see Psalm 139:15). As our bond was broken in this lower world, a renewed bond could be made in the upper world through being born from above (see John 3:3). This is our conveyance or transfer from an earthly toxicity in the family of man, to a heavenly family of health and healing in the eternal Word of Heaven and Earth above (see Philippians 3:20-21, Colossians 1:13-14).
3. Eating and table fellowship with the Sent One – Messiah – who makes all this possible for each of us (see Revelation 3:20).
4. Performing Messiah’s collective body of ancient kingdom laws (the Mosaic Torah) a body of laws that define what we are now on the inside and who we will become later on the outside (see Romans 3:23).
All this is reflected in the words from Matthew 26:28.
“For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
Therefore, let us rejoice in this new relationship with Yehovah by eating the food of a new and a renewed covenant, that it would give to each of us what we need for our physical, emotional, and spiritual health, as Yeshua spoke saying:
John 6:47-48. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me has everlasting life. I am the Bread of Life.
Through this relational oneness and choosing to eat from Yehovah’s Tree of Life Torah, he therefore, renewed his Garden of Eden brit with Adam and all his descendants. This restoration relates to the Hebrew phrase brit chadasha (a renewed relational oneness) and barah (choosing to eat from the Tree of Life through a renewed relational oneness established through Yeshua). With this, Yehovah has spoken to all of us with his declaration of the New Covenant:
L’briut – To Your Health!
Avi ben Mordechai