Jacob’s Distress and God’s New Covenant
“I will conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant.”—Jer. 31:31.
1, 2. (a) What roles did Jacob and Rachel play with regard to the nation of Israel? (b) How was unparalleled trouble foretold for Jacob?
JACOB and Rachel were lovers. Jacob, who came to be known as Israel, became the father of the 12-tribe nation of Israel. Rachel, as his preferred wife, became the mother of the tribe of Benjamin. The tribe of Judah descended from Jacob’s less loved wife Leah. So the name Jacob became a symbol of the whole nation, and Rachel symbolized an honored motherly representative of that nation. Distress without any equal up till then was foretold for Jacob, and Rachel was to feel the grievous effects of it. At the prospect of such a distress happening in his day, the prophet Jeremiah, who lived in Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin, was inspired to say:
2 “Alas! For that day is a great one, so that there is no other like it [in previous history], and it is the time of distress for Jacob. But he will be saved even out of it.”—Jer. 30:7.
3. (a) Over what situation was Rachel foretold to weep uncomforted? (b) When did the “time of distress” overtake Jacob?
3 What this unprecedented “time of distress for Jacob” would mean for symbolic Rachel was foretold in Jeremiah 31:15 in these words: “In Ramah [a city in the territory of Benjamin] a voice is being heard, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping over her sons. She has refused to be comforted over her sons, because they are no more.” This meant, not that they had been killed, but that they had been captured and taken away from their homeland to an enemy country as exiles. Ah, yes! After 18 months of distressing siege by the Babylonian conquerors, Jerusalem, which lay at the northern border between the territories of Judah and Benjamin, had been demolished, its temple destroyed, the king, princes and priests captured, and the vast majority of the survivors taken into exile in Babylonia. By the middle of the seventh lunar month (Tishri) of 607 B.C.E., the whole land of the Kingdom of Judah was forsaken by the few Jews left behind and was left desolate without man and domesticated beast. This desolate, unoccupied state of the land was divinely decreed to continue for 70 years.
4. When was Jacob to be “saved” out of the foretold distress?
4 What a “time of distress” that was for Jacob! He was not spared it, he did not escape it, and it would not be until after those 70 years of complete desolation of the land that God would fulfill the comforting words that he added: “But he will be saved even out of it.” (Jer. 30:7) How was this salvation to be?
5. What did Jehovah say for the comfort of Rachel, and how did he fulfill his promise?
5 Jehovah enlarged upon this subject when, after foretelling Rachel’s bereavement of her sons, he added the words: “This is what Jehovah has said: ‘“Hold back your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there exists a reward for your activity,” is the utterance of Jehovah, “and they [your sons] will certainly return from the land of the enemy.”’” (Jer. 31:16) The “land of the enemy” was Babylon. (Mic. 7:8-10) So the Babylonian hold on the “sons” of Rachel was to be broken. As a reassurance of this to the bereaved Rachel, God went on to say: “‘And there exists a hope for your future,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and the sons will certainly return to their own territory.’” (Jer. 31:17) To the amazement of the unbelieving hostile nations, this return to their own territory, including Ramah, took place from 537 B.C.E. onward. (Neh. 7:30; 11:31-33) After such a distressing national “breakdown” in 607 B.C.E., what a miraculous “recuperation” Jehovah brought about!
6. In line with healing her “strokes,” how would Jehovah transform Zion, or Jerusalem, from being like a woman chased away for whom no man is searching?
6 Regarding this he said: “‘For I shall bring up a recuperation for you, and from your strokes I shall heal you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For a woman chased away is what they called you: “This is Zion, for which no one is searching.”’ This is what Jehovah has said: ‘Here I am gathering the captive ones of the tents of Jacob, and for his tabernacles I shall have pity. And the city [Zion, or, Jerusalem] will actually be rebuilt upon her mound; and upon its rightful site the dwelling tower itself will sit. And from them there will certainly go forth thanksgiving, and the sound of those who are laughing.’”—Jer. 30:17-19.
7. What about the utterance of Jehovah shows whether at the time of the “strokes” Jehovah would break off the Law covenant, but how had the Jewish people treated that covenant?
7 Jehovah is a “happy God,” and he wants those in a relationship with him by a covenant to be happy also. He himself laughs! His promise of future laughing for the exiled Jewish people proved that he had not broken off the Law covenant that had been mediated by the prophet Moses between Him and the nation of Israel. But O how the Israelites had broken the terms of that covenant! “Furthermore,” said Jehovah to them, “they built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of the son of Hinnom [to the south of the temple of Jerusalem], in order to make their sons and their daughters pass through the fire [as human sacrifices] to Molech, a thing that I did not command them, neither did it come up into my heart to do this detestable thing, for the purpose of making Judah [the Kingdom of Judah] sin.”—Jer. 32:35.
8. So after what deserved experience would the Israelites become a people to Jehovah?
8 For reasons like that the Israelites deserved to have trouble like an onward pressing tempest come upon the Kingdom of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem. But, after foretelling this, merciful Jehovah went on to say: “‘At that time [of Israel’s restoration],’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘I shall become God to all the families of Israel; and as for them, they will become my people.’”—Jer. 30:23 through 31:1.
9, 10. For the regathered Israelites to continue indefinitely in a happy relationship with him, what would Jehovah put into their hearts, with what effect?
9 Despite their past unsavory history, God would deal with them according to what they now proved to be. He would seek their welfare and would set before them the opportunity to continue in happy relationship with him indefinitely. As to this, he said:
10 “Here I am collecting them together out of all the lands to which I shall have dispersed them in my anger and in my rage and in great indignation; and I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell in security. And they will certainly become my people, and I myself shall become their God. And I will give them one heart and one way in order to fear me always, for good to them and to their sons after them. And I will conclude with them an indefinitely lasting covenant, that I shall not turn back from behind them, for me to do them good; and the fear of me I shall put in their heart in order not to turn aside from me. And I will exult over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land in trueness with all my heart and with all my soul.”—Jer. 32:37-43; also Jer 31:27-30.
A BETTER COVENANT
11, 12. (a) How long did Jerusalem last after such a favorable new start, and why was the fault not to be charged to Jehovah? (b) Did Jerusalem’s destruction nullify the Law covenant, and what did Jehovah indicate by restoring his exiled people to their land?
11 With such an excellent new start, how is it that rebuilt Jerusalem lasted only 606 years longer, or down to the summer of 70 C.E.? Certainly, in view of how Jehovah in the above words had covenanted to back up his people, the fault could not be laid at his doorstep. Not because of any shortcomings on his part could the need arise for making a new covenant. And yet by means of Jeremiah he announced that he would make a new and better covenant. Moreover, fleshly Israel could be first to take advantage of it!
12 In 1513 B.C.E. Jehovah had concluded a Law covenant with Israel by means of Moses as mediator. That was 906 years before Jehovah used Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to destroy Jerusalem and its temple. But that did not make his Law covenant with Israel null and void. So Jehovah did not need another covenant of a different kind in order to heal the wounded condition of the Jews by delivering them from the enemy land of Babylon and restoring them to their God-given homeland. However, by doing this he reasserted himself as being their God and he reassured them that they were still his people and that Zion, or Jerusalem, was no longer like a “woman chased away” for whom no one was searching.
13, 14. (a) How did those Israelites surviving the sword of the conquerors come to be in a “wilderness” condition, and where were they seeking repose? (b) With love to what extent did Jehovah love Israel, and so with what personal quality would he draw them to himself?
13 Jehovah purposed to make a surpassing demonstration of his loving-kindness to his covenant people. That is why he did not let the sword of their conquerors kill them off completely. There were to be survivors. These would find living in exile in an enemy land to be like tenting in a wilderness in which they found no real repose, for it was not their homeland, not their God-given land. By repentantly turning to Him in this “wilderness” condition, they would find favor in his sight, because he had not broken off his covenant with them. The happy results he foretold:
14 “‘The people made up of survivors from the sword found favor in the wilderness, when Israel was walking to get his repose [in his Palestinian homeland].’ From far away Jehovah himself appeared to me, saying: ‘And with a love to time indefinite I have loved you. That is why I have drawn you with loving-kindness. Yet shall I rebuild you and you will actually be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel. You will yet deck yourself with your tambourines and actually go forth in the dance of those who are laughing. You will yet plant vineyards in the mountains of Samaria [formerly occupied by the Northern Kingdom of Israel]. The planters will certainly plant and start to use them. For there exists a day when the lookouts in the mountainous region of Ephraim [the leading tribe of the Northern Kingdom of Israel] will actually call out, “Rise up, O men, and let us go up to Zion [Jerusalem], to Jehovah our God.”’”—Jer. 31:2-9.
15, 16. (a) According to that just-quoted prophecy, where would all 12 tribes of Israel renew their worship of Jehovah? (b) What would he afterward make with the house of Israel, and with what effects upon his people?
15 Ah, yes, all the southern and northern tribes of Israel would be regathered and would reunite in worshiping Jehovah in Zion! That meant that, because of God’s indefinitely lasting love, Jacob (all 12 tribes of Israel) would be saved out of the “time of distress” that culminated for him with the desolating of Jerusalem and Judah in 607 B.C.E. (Jer. 30:7) Yet, even before that “distress” occurred, Jehovah’s loving-kindness moved him to foretell something more wonderful than merely the regathering of his exiled people:
16 “‘Look! There are days coming,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I will conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant; not one like the covenant that I concluded with their forefathers in the day of my taking hold of their hand to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt, “which covenant of mine they themselves broke, although I myself had husbandly ownership of them,”’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For this is the covenant that I shall conclude with the house of Israel after those days,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people.’ ‘And they will no more teach each one his companion and each one his brother, saying, “Know Jehovah!” for they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.’”—Jer. 31:31-34.
A NEW MEDIATOR NEEDED
17. Why should we today still be interested in the new covenant, and how long ago was it that the Law covenant was already old and about to pass away?
17 Are we today interested in that new covenant? We should be, for it is still in force. But with whom has it been in force till now? The millions of Jews throughout the earth do not claim that it is in force with them. They believe that they are still under the covenant made with their forefathers at Mount Sinai. That was more than 3,490 years ago! Jehovah’s promise of a new covenant was made through Jeremiah more than 2,580 years ago. If those Jews are right, why has God been so long about putting the promised new covenant into force? Why, more than 1,900 years ago the Jewish Law covenant was already old and apparently due to pass away to make way for the new covenant. Did it do so?
18. (a) God’s promise of a covenant that was “new” indicated what concerning the Law covenant and put it in what age bracket? (b) How was that Law code transmitted to the nation of Israel?
18 On this point a Jewish student who used to sit at the feet of the famous Pharisee teacher, Gamaliel in Jerusalem, wrote: “In his saying ‘a new covenant’ he has made the former one obsolete. Now that which is made obsolete and growing old is near to vanishing away.” (Heb. 8:13; 2 Cor. 3:14) When the Jewish writer penned those words to Christianized Hebrews in Jerusalem, it was about the year 61 C.E. In an earlier letter to Christian congregations in the Roman province of Galatia, he wrote: “Why, then, the Law? It was added [to the Abrahamic covenant concerning the Seed] to make transgressions [by humans] manifest, until the seed [of Abraham] should arrive to whom the promise had been made; and it was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator.”—Gal. 3:19.
19. Because the Law covenant needed Moses as a mediator, what does this argue regarding the new covenant, which is also made between God and men?
19 That unnamed mediator was Moses. Now if the making of the old Law covenant required him as a mediator between God and imperfect, sinful men, certainly the making of the new covenant between God and men would call for a mediator, even though he is not mentioned in Jeremiah 31:31-34. By Jeremiah’s time Moses was long dead. Because he had acted as mediator, the Law of the old covenant was called “the law of Moses.”—Acts 15:5.
20, 21. (a) In foretelling the new covenant, how did God indicate its superiority over the previous covenant? (b) What would God make out of the Israelite covenanters if they faithfully kept covenant?
20 The new covenant, because of being a superior covenant, deserved to have a mediator superior to Moses. Let us now note how the heavenly Provider of the new covenant indicated its superiority over the previous covenant. He speaks of it as “not one like the covenant that I concluded with their forefathers in the day of my taking hold of their hand to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt, ‘which covenant of mine they themselves broke, although I myself had husbandly ownership of them.’” (Jer. 31:32) He had in mind to make something grand out of them by means of the covenant that he concluded with the Israelites after he brought them up out of Egypt. Hence, he said to them:
21 “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, [what then?] then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me. And you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”—Ex. 19:5, 6.
22. (a) Such a “kingdom of priests” would be what kind of government and suitable for whom? (b) To whom would that “holy nation” be a “special property,” and in what kind of relationship to him?
22 Certainly the words “a kingdom of priests” point to a government ideally suited to the needs of all mankind. Its priests represent and serve God the Savior of mankind. In itself, the “kingdom of priests” is a “nation,” a national group clean enough to be called “holy,” fit to be used by God. From all the other nations on earth God picked it out. It was meant to be God’s “special property,” just as a wife is the special property of her husband. In fact, God likened the redeemed Israelites of old to a national wife by saying that he “had husbandly ownership of them.” But, instead of rendering wifely subjection to him by keeping his sacred covenant, she ignored the special obligations of this favored relationship. (Jer. 3:1-3, 20) She deserved to be divorced!
23. Did the Mosiac Law covenant work, and what did God do about the purposed ideal government for mankind?
23 From the later history of that ancient covenant people of Jehovah God, we know that things did not improve permanently for them. So the fact that the Law covenant mediated by Moses did not work cannot be disputed. How glad we can be therefore that God did not give up in making arrangements in behalf of that desired “kingdom of priests”! Looking to that ideal government, he replaced the old covenant with the better one.
[Picture on page 16, 17]
Rachel weeping over her sons