Bible Study, Ah-hahs, and Jeremiah

Bryan CribbBryan Cribb, Leadership

The old saying goes, “Every time I read the Bible, I discover something new.” Well, here’s the thing about old sayings: they are often true.

Indeed, for me, probing the Scriptures is like quarrying an endless diamond mine, with truth-encrusted veins continually extending beyond sight and reach. And with every turn of the page, one may unearth some new theological treasure.

If anything should make our spiritual discipline of Scripture study more stirring, it is the excitement of what I like to call the “Ah-hah” moment.

Often, these instances of instant Spirit-led illumination occur for me in class, while investigating the intricacies of the biblical text with my students.

One such “Ah-hah” moment happened last week. We were tackling Jeremiah 31, the “so-called” new covenant passage, because it is the one place in the Old Testament where that specific phrase “new covenant” is explicitly employed.

In the last verse, I noticed what scholars call a chiastic structure—an A-B-B’-A’ pattern in the text. Literally, in the Hebrew it poetically reads: I will forgive (A) – their sin (B) – and their iniquity (B’) – I will no longer remember (A’). 

In many cases, these chiastic structures pair lines that are mutually interpretive. It’s easy, for instance, to see how sin=iniquity; the two words are basically synonymous.

But what does “forgive” have to do with “not remembering”? Here, for me, was the “Ah-hah” moment. You see, in the Old Testament, “to remember”—especially in the context of God’s covenant with Israel—means to call something to mind in order to act on it. God doesn’t “remember” things because He forgets them. Instead, He acts. He responds. He works providentially.

For instance, in Genesis 8:1, the text states, “God remembered Noah” on the Ark. Did God forget His soaked servant? Of course not. God was acting on His covenantal promises to Noah in order to bring about Noah’s—and humanity’s—salvation. 

How about in our passage—in Jeremiah 31:34? What will happen in God’s new covenant with us? Among other things, God will forgive His people. How? Do you see it? He forgives by NOT calling our sins to mind in order to act based on them. It is not as if God forgets anything. But He will not punish His people based on recalled wrongs. He will forgive.

But how can a just God do this? How can He forgive? How can He not justly punish us for sin and iniquity committed? Here is what is “new” about the new covenant. We have a better “once for all” sacrifice. A great High Priest. One who takes that punishment on Himself. Jesus our Savior.