Part of Christian life, is hearing terms being used which falls outside of the normal daily vocabulary. We don’t really use the term “righteousness” in our daily conversations, do we? “Covenants” equally is a Biblical term, though we do use covenants daily and call it “Legal agreements” or “contracts”. When I talk about the Biblical term “Covenant”, most of you immediately will be able to mention a number of places where this term is used and even broadly explain what it means.
And this is what I intend to talk about tonight.
Some of you at this point will groan: why do I have to listen to this? That belongs in the Old Testament! And if you are like most Christians, by far the majority of your reading of the Bible is done in the New Testament or Psalms.
But Covenants are foundational to our understanding of Scripture. Why is this important? Has the various Covenants got ANY bearing on us today? Does it not belong in the times where a person was stoned for working on the Sabbath? Did Jesus not take away any need for a Covenant? Am I digging too deep into Scripture and about to bore you with what is merely an academic exercise?
I intend to show you tonight that the Covenants of the Bible are foundational and critical to a deep understanding of God’s dealing with mankind, including us here today. A proper understanding of how these Covenants are connected to events throughout Scripture has got major benefits for the believer including:
· It shows you that you can trust God because He had been faithful to all the Covenants in the past.
· It makes you understand where YOU fall into the history of the world.
· Very important is that a good understanding of how this Covenants worked out in the past as it will give you a good understanding of what will happen in the future, even 2008 years after Christ!
· It gives you a good understanding of how modern day Israel fits into God’s plan and as the rest of Scripture explain, what will happen to them in the future.
· It binds the Scripture into one whole unit.
Irvine Busenitz (my professor in Old Testament Studies at Seminary next year) said the following: Covenants play a prominent role in OT life—socially, politically, and religiously. The covenant idea itself, first mentioned in Genesis 6 during the days of Noah, is intricately woven into the fabric of the biblical account all the way through to Revelation 11 where the “ark of His covenant” reappears in the temple. The word itself occurs in 27 of 39 OT books and in 11 of 27 NT books.
My search last week picked up 321 references to the word “covenant” present in 300 verses of the Bible. The prevalence of the term alone should mean that we ought to have a good understanding of what is meant by this term but there is a much more compelling reason to do a good study on the Covenants in the Bible:
· Covenants are always the means by which God relates to people, whether they are living in Old Testament times, or in New Testament times.
Or put in other words:
· Covenants describe the terms of the relationship between God and man
· It declares God’s will, His plan and is the means how He is fulfilling His purpose for humankind. From Biblical times, today and until the end of the Millennium kingdom and the New Heaven and New earth, every action of God’s dealing with His creation, fall within the parameters of the Covenants He made with man. Nothing of God’s dealings with mankind falls outside of these Covenants. Thus a good understanding of the Covenants would clarify God’s dealings with man in history, where you are standing in relation to it and how God will deal with man in the future. Understand the Covenants and you will have a much better understanding of the God behind these Covenants!
Can you think of any important Covenants? There are 6 dominant Covenant: can you name them? Noahic (gen 6), the Abrahamic (gen 12,15,18,22), the Priestly(num 25), the Mosaic (ex20), the Davidic (2 Sam 7:8), and the New covenant(Jer31.31). Now these Covenants do not stand as loose Covenants: they are related to one another and those that follow further expand on the one before.
OK: I said that the purpose for Covenants is that through these Covenants God’s purpose for man is brought about.
So: What is God’s purpose for mankind? Where do we begin in order to understand what God’s purpose is for mankind?
Turn with me to Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Now note this: In creating every other part of His creation we see that God speaks creation into being: “Let there be light; Let the land produce living creatures” and it was so, but when He created man He said: “Let us MAKE man in our image” This signifies something special. He made man in His own image, with a self consciousness, a moral being, able to relate to Himself, love Him, have fellowship with Him and CRITICALLY : HE BLESSED man v 28: God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
Here we have the intention why God created man: God created man for His own glory: He made them in His own image so that man could relate to God, to glorify God and His desire was, and is, to bless man. God’s word of blessing expresses His favor and desired good that leads to the fertility, prosperity, protection, and preservation of the one(s) blessed so that the blessed would function and produce at the optimum level, fulfilling their divine purpose of glorifying God.” However, instead of retaining God’s favor and exercising authority over creation on His behalf, man rebelled against the Creator who blessed him (Gen 3:1–7; 4:1–24). When man sinned, instead of experiencing God’s entire blessing, God’s “curse” fell upon mankind (Gen 3:17; 4:11).
But cursing mankind because of sin, did not take away God’s desire and purpose to BLESS man. Thus the rest of Scripture basically is penning down how God ultimately will fulfill His intended purpose of BLESSING man.
This leads us to the foundational Covenant in the Bible: God’s Covenant with Abraham. Gen 12 narrates the calling of Abram. The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Now Abram at that stage of his life did not know God. His father was called “Terah” which comes from the Sumerian word for “Moon”. He and his family served the Moon god of the Sumerians.(Joshua 24..other gods beyond the river). Now God called him from out of everything that gave him national identity: his religion, his people, his family, his land and promised to make him into a new nation and as we shall see, it is through that new nation that God’s ultimate purpose of blessing mankind, will be fulfilled.
To make Abram into a nation, obviously means that he had to have offspring, which he didn’t have!
In Gen 15 we see how God again appeared to Abram, Now you can look through the text yourself but to summarize it: God appeared to Abram again and blessed him. Abram replied and said basically: what good is your blessing as I have got no offspring to give it to! Sarai is barren, she is old, I am old..what good is your blessing and promise if there is no heir? God then promised him a SON and promised him that from this son his descendants will multiply to be as many as the stars in the sky! He further promised the LAND, Canaan and to make clear to strength of this promise, God, who cannot lie, confirmed it by oath through the Covenant with Abram. If you thought that the purpose of the Covenant with Abram was for the sake of Abram or even Israel that would come from Abram loins, think again!
In Gen 18: 18-19 we see the purpose of the Covenant : Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.
That is the purpose: to bless all mankind!
How will this blessing come about? Is there any circumstance that would trigger the fulfilling of this promise of God to Abraham?
19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him
The triggering factor for the full blessing to be enjoyed by Abraham’s descendents and ALL NATIONS is a generation of faithful obedient Israel. When this generation of Israel is there, they will be a witness and be a blessing to the nations. The nations themselves ultimately will also be obedient and will be worshipping Yahweh as God as revealed through the later prophets. The purpose of the Covenant therefore was not focused on Abraham or even Israel, but on God’s ultimate purpose for mankind as a whole: to bless all of mankind through the means of the seed that will come through Abraham.
Now I know that most of you know this, but in cutting the Covenant, that is passing through the separated animals, God alone passed through, signifying this to be a unilateral Covenant.
Note this though: the Covenant was unilateral and therefore unconditional in that God will fulfill His promise to Abram regardless of man’s behavior but it is conditional in the sense that it will depend on a generation that will keep the way of the Lord in order that ALL that God promised Abram will be fulfilled. This point is crucial to grasp: the Nation coming from the loins of Abram will have to be obedient to Yahweh before ALL of the Covenantal promises will be fulfilled. And as you will know from the history of Israel, they never were an obedient group of people at all! Their history is a history of rebellion and sin against Yahweh right throughout all of Scripture till today! So that the generation needed to make all of the promises of the Covenant to Abraham come to pass, has not yet arrived.
The clearest way we can see the physical effects of a nation not yet obedient to God, is in the outworking of the promise of land:
Remember that the Covenant and its fulfillment are inseparably tied to the possession of the land with its borders clearly marked out in Gen 15, and later. But Israel NEVER occupied the land to its full extend, even in the kingdom years of David, where the land had its widest occupation. Not even today is Israel occupying anything near the full extent of what God promised Abram 4000+ years ago.
Now, if God is as unchanging and as faithful as we believe He is, it must therefore mean that the full occupation of the land is yet FUTURE and because of the close link of the Covenant to both the land of Israel and the ultimate blessing of all of mankind, then this must by definition also imply that not all God’s purpose for the blessing that would come through the Seed of Abraham is complete even IF Jesus, the Seed through whom all the nations would be blessed, has already come!
Take note again: It was not the coming of Jesus that completed the Abrahamic Covenant. It is the future OBEDIENT generation of Israel that will create the right circumstance for all of the blessing of the Covenant to be fulfilled! There is more to come!
Now my friends: You know from your own experience and from clear teaching of the New Testament that no one can be obedient. All men are desperately wicked, rotten to the core and as of themselves totally incapable of obedience. That is exactly where the Mosaic Covenant comes in: The Mosaic Covenant was a bilateral Covenant whereby God promised to be the God of Israel and return, the nation Israel would be obedient to God. The terms of the Mosaic Covenant is contained within the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments Moses wrote down with the outworking of the Ten Commandments contained in the stipulations of the sacrifice, rituals, laws and regulations as written down in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Now we know that God knows everything: He knew Israel would be disobedient. In fact when Moses spoke to the nation before they entered into Canaan, he exhorted them to keep the commands of God, to keep the Covenant and then said: YOU WILL DISOBEY! God knew this even before the Covenant was made! Why make the Covenant if He knew there was no way they would be able to keep it? Turn with me to Galatians 3:19: What, then, was the purpose of the law (talking about the Mosaic Covenant and the laws contained in it)? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise(to Abraham) referred had come. 21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life(or you can use the word “blessing”), then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.
In short, the Mosaic Covenant was given to show us the Character of God and what is needed of Israel(and us), to come into the presence of such a holy awesome God, namely perfect righteousness, that is perfect obedience to the Law. Now there never was a generation of people on the earth that had more direct revelation of the glory of God, of the AWESOME holiness of God and had direct instruction of what God wanted of them.
Ex 20: 19 All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.
God not only gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, but He showed His glory on the mountain with fire, and smoke, darkness and gloom and even with an audible voice, so that the nation were filled with fear and awe and were in no doubt Who they were dealing with!
They KNEW! They had no doubt that they better obey! And what do they do? They broke the 1st and 2nd commandment and made an idol in the shape of a calf and bowed down before it within a few days of seeing the glory of God! As of themselves, they had no capacity of being obedient to the Law, even WHEN God was visible in their mist!!
People: knowing God does not make you a saint! There is no way that Israel in the Old Testament could be the obedient generation that is needed in order to fulfill all of the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant to all nations. Galatians shows us that! The Mosaic Covenant showed us that God has to step in to create that generation of Israel. The Mosaic Covenant shows us the need for God to change the heart! God has to prepare that generation!.
And that takes us to the New Covenant : Jer 31.31: Here God declares that He himself will change the heart. He himself will step in and make a Unilateral Covenant that will set the stage for a faithful, obedient generation of Israel, so that the full blessing to all people as promised to Abraham will be brought about.
This is where Christ comes in: He paid the price for every believing person so that that believer would stand without any guilt, in perfect righteousness with a changed heart before the Father. His blood sealed that New Covenant God made with Israel. The stage is now set….all that is needed now is for God to appoint that generation of Israel who will be the ones who will believe and be in perfectly righteous before Him so that the final blessing will be poured out and the full extent of the Covenant to Abraham will be seen. And to tie the land of Israel into this: it is only then that Israel will occupy the whole of the land of Canaan, with Christ as King in the Millennium Kingdom.
We even know who that generation will be, don’t we? Rev 7.4: And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
Rev14.1 Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.
When Christ returns to earth, God’s dealings with man as shown to us through the Covenants of the Bible, will be complete. The final piece will fall into place, the obedient generation of Israel will be in place and All of God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled!
The Seed, through whom all of the nations had been and will be blessed has come to established the Kingdom here upon earth. Israel will receive the full extent of the Land promised to them and wonder of wonders, us Gentiles will rule with Jesus in His Kingdom!
God’s ultimate purpose creating man will be fulfilled: TO BLESS man!
All praise be to the Lamb who was slain, and to the Father, majestic in Holiness. Who can even imagine the Works of His hands? He is so far above us yet so gracious to us.
To Him be the glory!