Challenging Covenantalism: The True Covenantal Structure of God’s Redemptive Plan
At this point in the series, we must move to the offensive. We have been challenging Covenant Theology (CT) and attempting to show its invalidity. However, what I want to do at this point is to explain, in positive terms, what the Scripture does present as a covenantal structure of history and redemption.
I must say, first, that Scripture is not silent on these things. It is not as though the Bible does not specify clearly the covenants that it does contain. On the contrary, God has revealed them, and done so sufficiently for us to understand and appreciate. It is a falsehood to say that you must have any kind of theological structure, Covenantal or Dispensational or anything else, in order to understand the Scripture. If that were the case, how would Jesus and the apostles have handled the Prophets apart from that framework?
In the interest of maintaining this topic in one post, I will only review with the true biblical covenants with comments explaining them and their pertinence to history and/or Scripture in general. This is also a series that we are conducting at our church, Berean Bible Church of Kalispell, Montana (www.bbckalispell.org). It has been a very wonderful series that has opened our eyes to the plan for the history of the world and God’s eternal plan of redemption.
From the beginning I will say that history does not make sense unless a correct understanding of the covenants to Israel has been gleaned from Scripture. In one sense, we must be covenantal in our understanding of Scripture. However, we must get our understanding of the covenants from the Scripture itself, plainly spoken, and not our own philosophical dispositions:
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 1 Corinthians 4:6 (NASB95)
Paul and Apollos, two major preachers in the life of the Corinthian church, took the posture of slaves of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). They spoke to the Corinthians in such a way that the Corinthians were capable of passing judgment upon them. However, in taking the posture of a slave and steward, Paul and Apollos (who were both capable orators and teachers), exampled the posture we should all take-we are only managers of another man’s possessions. It is not our word that we are preaching, but God’s. He has entrusted His truth to us and we dare not go beyond what has been written in it. Otherwise, if we do, we WILL become proud and boastful against one another. The church, then, will be divided into the ‘have’s and the have-not’s.’ The Corinthians are a perfect example of that kind of schism.
Therefore, by not adding nor taking away from God’s Word, we can, and must, arrive at an accurate conclusion about the truth, which CT has not done concerning the covenants.
Let’s begin with an overview of each covenant, and then we will demonstrate how they coincide.
The Noahic Covenant:
9 “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you;
10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth.
11 “I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.”
This covenant is the first covenant that God made with any man. This “covenant” actually reads like a promise. However, because of Noah’s sacrifice on the altar after coming after the ark, God spoke within Himself that He would never again curse the ground for man’s sake. We still live in light of this “everlasting covenant” (cf. Genesis 9:16) that God made between Himself and “every living creature” that came out of the ark “for all successive generations” (Genesis 9:12).
The Abrahamic Covenant:
17 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.
18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying,
“To your descendants I have given this land,
From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:
This next covenant is a focal point for the rest of the covenants. This covenant that God initiated and promised to fulfill is the foundational covenant for redemption. Its extent is vast and eternal. Further, it is built upon the promise of Genesis 12:1-3, which itself is and extension of the promise of Genesis 3:15. For our purposes, it is critical to understand that the nature of this covenant was the inheritance of the world (Romans 4:13), a world in which righteousness dwells (Hebrews 11:8-16). This covenant secured an eternal dwelling-place for the descendants of Abraham in the land outlines above. There are further components of this covenant given in the chapters following Genesis 15. However, the heart of that covenant is here. The sign of the covenant, that God would give them the land, was circumcision, which was given while Abraham was uncircumcised (Romans 4:11), thus identifying the faith that he had apart from circumcision as more “creditable” than the works of covenant-keeping (Romans 4:16-25). In this covenant, the seed of Abraham would “possess the gates of his enemies” (Genesis 22:17), which teaches us that this singular seed (Galatians 3:16) would conquer all who oppose Abraham and his descendants. By the way, the seed of Abraham would include believing biological Jews as well as believing Gentiles (Galatians 3:28-29; cf. Romans 4:16). However, that does not nullify a covenant previously ratified, e.g. the covenant of the land. Biological descendants of Abraham will receive the land which was covenanted to them. Being “in Christ” does not make that covenant based upon a promise null and void. It only secures its possibility.
The Mosaic Covenant:
3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!”
4 Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.
5 He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord.
6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.
7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”
8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
God introduced Himself to the newly-formed Israel on Mt. Sinai as recorded in Exodus 19:16-19. Israel trembled, and rightly so. Holy God took up residence upon that mountain and would then reside in a soon-to-be-constructed Tabernacle. Because of the righteousness of God, these people needed the Law in order to live righteously before Him (Genesis 20:2). The commandments of Almighty God were given and a covenant ceremony secured this agreement between God and Israel. That day Israel, national Israel, made a covenant with God to obey all that God had commanded (Exodus 24:1-8; cf. Ex 19:8; Deuteronomy 5:27). This covenant ritual included the blood of an animal that instructed the people that if either party, God or Israel, should renege on this covenant, may what happened to this heifer happen to them. It needs to be understood that this is a binding covenant dependent upon the obedience of Israel. Just because Israel never truly accomplished this agreement, does not mean that God will simply throw it out. Otherwise, God’s integrity is at risk because not only did Israel make a covenant to God, but God made a covenant to Israel! Further, as part of the Law, the day that Israel repents from her sins and confesses their iniquity and the iniquities of their fathers, is the day that God will enact the covenant based upon the promise to Abraham (Leviticus 26:40-46). This is why Jesus came preaching repentance (Matthew 4:17). Until Israel repents and submits to God, that they might be God’s people and He their God in reconciliation, none of the covenanted promises which were given to Abraham will occur. So, we wait for God’s nation (Deuteronomy 7:6-9) to repent. However, since they can’t repent and “circumcise their hearts",” God must do it, and He will (see Deuteronomy 30:6).
The Zeal of Phinehas
10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy.
12 “Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace;
13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’ ”
Phinehas, a grandson of Aaron, checked God’s wrath against sinning Israel by killing two people in the midst of their sin (Numbers 25:6-9). This zeal was commendable. In fact, because of this zeal, God made a covenant with Phinehas to have one of his descendants serve Him in the Temple forever (Number 25:10-13). God also confirms this in the Millennial Temple with a descendent of Zadok, himself a descendant of Phinehas (1 Chronicles 6:48-53), serving as High Priest (Ezekiel 40:46; 43:19; 48:11) and will be eternally fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:3).
2 Samuel 7:16
16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” ’ ”
The line of the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) continues and includes David of Bethlehem. David, replacing the enigmatic Saul, as king of Israel, had it in his heart to build a permanent dwelling place for God (2 Samuel 7:1-2; cf. 1 Chronicles 17:1). However, God’s plan did not include that kind of Temple, which is made with human hands (cf. 2 Chronicles 2:6; 6:18; Isaiah 66:1). Instead, God communicated to David, through the prophet Nathan, that He, Himself, would establish a “house” for David. this house would include the eternal lineage of the name of David, as well as the Davidic Dynasty, including his throne and nation (kingdom-2 Samuel 7:13, 16). That is to say, the place of rulership over a nation called Israel would be secured for eternity (see Genesis 35:10-12). So, this establishes forever the nation of Israel, as well as a “throne” which God Himself will establish. That indicates that the rulership of a Son of David will continue eternally upon a throne over the nation of Israel, and they themselves would possess all the gates of their enemies (Genesis 22:17-18). Further, that Son, being also the seed of Abraham, will rule over not only Israel, but also the world (see Romans 4:13). Again, God made a covenant with Israel to be their God, and they His people forever. Their dwelling-place is secure, regardless of the turmoil in the Middle East. God is righteous and has promised and covenanted that the nation of Israel will dwell before Him forever and He will not change (Psalm 89:30-37). Jesus Christ Himself is that Son of David who will reign upon that throne from Jerusalem forever (Luke 1:32-33; cf. Revelation 21:10-22:5).
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Finally, God’s redemptive plans are consummated by the promise of a New Covenant to the house of Israel. Remember, all these covenants are interwoven, not separate. That is, they build upon one another. However, all of them depend upon this New Covenant to begin their fulfillment. Why? Because, in order for the Abrahamic Covenant based upon the promise of restored Edenic conditions, which itself is the reversal of the curse upon the earth (Genesis 3:17; see esp. Romans 8:19-22), Israel must repent and have their hearts circumcised. Then, they will obey God’s statutes and ordinances (see Ezekiel 36:27). However, since they are not able to regenerate themselves, it would seem impossible for these blessings to come to fruition. To God’s glory, though, God Himself will institute a New Covenant that will accomplish a new heart and new spirit for the house of Israel. The Lamb slaughtered to inaugurate this covenant is none other than God’s own Son (Luke 22:19-20). Israel’s greatest need is what God will provide, and thus will bless the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:8). They will look upon Him whom they have pierced (Acts 2:22-23) and will have the Spirit of supplication poured out upon them and thus all biological, national, Israel will be saved (see Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:26). This will display the power of God and thus God’s name will be vindicated among the nations for His work with the salvation of the entire nation of Israel (see Ezekiel 36:21-32). To deny the forgiveness of sins of the entire nation of biological Jews is to serious defame the power of God and to blaspheme His righteous character. He will do it, whether we believe it or not.
I will leave us to review this information from the Scripture. All that I ask is that the Word of God be examined to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11).