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Jeremiah 31:33: The Written Law

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Jeremiah 31.31-34 says,

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.

33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:

I will put my law within them,

and I will write it on their hearts.

And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”


In his book Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, John Walton explains the metaphor of “writing on the heart.” This phrase is important to the theology of both the Old and the New Testaments. As he points out, some Old Testament texts speak of writing the law or a parents’ instructions on one’s heart. 

Proverbs 3:1-3, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments… write them on the tablet of your heart.” (see Prov 7:1-3). The Psalmist (Ps 1:2) delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. Joshua was to meditate on God’s law day and night (Josh 1:8). The king was to read God’s law all the days of his life (Deut 17:19). Reading the law would lead to practicing the law and transforming the person. 

Ps 37:31 says, 

The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

This isn’t what Jeremiah 31:33 says. There, God will write his law on the hearts of those in the new covenant. Walton says, “The difference in who is doing the writing is significant in that the force of the metaphor inherent in the ‘tablets of the heart’ passages is lost if someone else is doing the writing. It would be contrary to everything else in the prophets if the suggestion were being made that God was going to cause them to keep the law against their own desire or inclination” (234). 

The Lord will be the one to communicate his law by placing/writing it on Israel’s hearts so that he would be known. Walton compares this text to literature found in surrounding cultures about how priests would look for omens from the gods in the animals they would sacrifice. It’s not as strange as it sounds, for Jeremiah doesn’t take part in searching for omens, he merely uses similar language. The other cultures look for omens to know their gods’ will. Israel doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) perform omen rituals. God is going to reveal his will to them in such a way that he will write his law on their hearts. Walton says, “He would be providing the same sort of guidance” that they know his will and intentions for them (235). Walton continues ,”The torah on the heart would give Israel guidance in major decisions and in understanding the intentions and will of Yahweh” (235). 

So, instead of having the law written on stone tablets, “God would be known through his people, who would be living out the law faithfully” (235-36). This fits with what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

The Corinthians (may have) wanted letters of recommendation from the Apostle Paul, their own father in the faith. The fact that the Corinthians had become Christians, even though they weren’t perfect, 


Related Posts

Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament John Walton

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