A Prophecy and a Promise, Part 1

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

March 13, 2024

Scripture — Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV)

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says 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. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.


God may well call you to a time dwelling apart—or God may call you to a time dwelling in the very midst of the world. But God will never issue you a call that does not ask you to seek the welfare of all people.


What does it mean to have God’s law written on our hearts?

Today’s passage from the prophet Jeremiah, appointed for the upcoming Fifth Sunday of Lent, is one of the most famous passages in the entire book. It is possibly rivaled only by Jeremiah’s prophetic instructions a few chapters earlier to the exiles taken into Babylon—in Jeremiah 29, one of the founding texts of the faith and work movement tradition in which De Pree broadly finds itself:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

This is an indisputably public mission, though it hasn’t always been interpreted that way. If you are going to be in exile for a while—Jeremiah 29:10 prophesies seventy years for the Judean exiles—you might as well settle down, and folks who believe themselves to be to some degree counterculturally set against our modern world have often tried to follow the first part of that mission statement (Jeremiah 29:5-6). They have set up communities, built families, and passed on the teachings of their ancestors. What they have not always done is also sought the welfare of those around them (29:7) who were not part of their cloistered communities. (Despite my use of the word “cloistered” here, I’m not talking about monasticism. By and large monks and nuns prayed regularly for the welfare of the cities around them.)

A similar interpretation problem dogs Jeremiah 31. When I was eleven I got interested in one of those “read the Bible through in a year” charts that was in the back of my trusty RSV, which had been presented to me as a third grader in a United Methodist church. I did in fact read the entire Bible then, so I must have encountered the passage, but I don’t remember studying it at length until I went to college.

When I did pay closer attention to it, it was in a Bible study from our college’s InterVarsity chapter; the study did an admirable job of getting students into the Word, but a less thorough job at encouraging interpretations that focused on the community rather than the individual. In the past, I was told in this Bible study, people followed external rules and didn’t really know God. Now we could know God in Jesus for ourselves, and God would write the law on our individual hearts, and God would tell us, individually, what to do.

But just as Jeremiah 29 had a public mission, Jeremiah 31 has a public promise. God is making a covenant with the whole house of Israel here; the previous covenant was broken collectively (31:32), and now God is writing it anew on their collective hearts (31:33-34). Collectively, they will become God’s people; collectively God will forgive their sin; and collectively God will guide them. As the Apostle Paul tells us (Romans 11:17-24), these promises have never stopped being promises for the house of Israel, but now we, if we are Gentiles, are grafted into those promises too.

And if to the promises, then also to the mission. God may well call you to a time dwelling apart—or God may call you to a time dwelling in the very midst of the world. But God will never issue a call that does not ask you to seek the welfare of all people. When you find yourself seeking the welfare of all, you will know God’s law has been written on your hearts.


How has God forgiven you—collectively?

How has God called you—collectively?

How do you—collectively—know the Lord?


I’ve shared songs with you from The Porter’s Gate before—I think their album Work Songs is one of the greatest Christian albums I’ve ever heard. Today, the song “Christ Has No Body Now but Yours” from that album seemed appropriate. Lyrics and video are both here. (And take that “you” as a collective “you” while you’re listening, too.)


Lord, write your law in me for the welfare of all. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Editorial Coordinator

Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University; MSLIS, University of Illinois; MDiv/MA Asbury Theological Seminary) is the copyeditor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also senior editor of

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