Biblical Covenants: Part 2
Intro: Binding on your bible is like the Covenants we find in the bible.
Progressive revelation: God’s process of revelation whereby He, by his spirit and through the revealed word, exposes a deeper and richer understanding of himself as time progresses so that what we know at the conclusion of his revelation is more richer than what we could understand at the beginning of his revelation.
Can I Trust the Bible? (Article V: Progressive Revelation)
All that has been revealed of God in the totality of Scripture is not found, for example, in the book of Genesis. Much of the content of God’s redemptive activity in Christ is hinted at in part and addressed in shadowy ways in the earlier portions of the Old Testament. But throughout sacred Scripture, the content of divine revelation is expanded, ultimately to the fullness reached in the New Testament. That is what is meant by progressive revelation in this context—that the revelation within Scripture unfolds in an ever-deepening and broadening way....The Bible is to be regarded as a holistic book in which the Old Testament helps us understand the New Testament and the New Testament sheds significant light on the Old Testament.
R. C. Sproul, Can I Trust the Bible?, vol. 2, The Crucial Questions Series (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009), 17.
Progressive covenantalism- Movement through covenants as God’s structure of revealing his grace in the world, culminating in Christ.
Gen 1-2 Creation Covenant
Gen 3 Fall into sin, covenant breaking
Gen4-Gen6:8 Effects of the rebellion on the world
Gen 6:9-9:17 Creation Covenant reaffirmed with Noah
Gen 9 - 11 The rebellion continues and effects of the rebellion with the Tower of Babel
Gen 12 serves as a New Creation with Abram serving as the new Adam and the promise of a new Eden in Canaan.
Looking deeper into Abrahamic Covenant
Looking deeper into Abrahamic Covenant
Relationship and Responsibility
God and man for the blessing of the Nations(just like with Adam and Noah)
Four chapters of significance in regards to Covenant with Abraham:
Ch 12- Promise of a covenant
Ch 15- Cutting of the Covenant
Ch 17- Affirming the Covenant with sign
Ch 22- Reflection of the Covenant Relationship
Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV)
1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Subjects of the covenant promise:
The Lord : I will show you land, I will make you, I will bless you, I will make your name great, I will bless those, I will curse those, (I will) bless families of earth through you.
The Lord shows his mighty power and love in the covenant with Abraham as the God who seeks out a relationship with his creation made in his image. Just like Noah and Adam, God is the one who pursues and calls Abraham out of the nations to make a covenant with him.
His sovereign grace is clear in all the promises of ch 12 as God is the one who initiates the relationship and the one who empowers the work in that covenant relationship to flourish.
2 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
The Lord could have chosen any person to make his nation in and through and He chose Abram, a pagan man, unaware of the God of Israel. He was content in his sin living in Ur, unaware of God’s plan for him. We can’t assume Abram was looking for a change since all of us are content in our sin
Likewise, out of all the people in the world, why did God choose to save you and use you for his glory? It wasn’t some great quality in you that existed but instead it was because of his immeasurable love and sovereign grace. The Lord could have left you and I wading around in the cesspool of our sin but instead he awakened our eyes and drew us to see Jesus as worthy to worship and the only rescue for our depravity in sin.
This truth leads us to unhindered worship of the Lord...
And Can it be?- Charles Wesley
V 4 Long my imprisoned spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature's night; Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee.
Abraham/Israel: The two main recipients of God’s covenantal work is Abraham’s family and the nations. Abraham’s name will be great, which includes the promise of the land that the Lord will give Israel and the promise of a people who will be born from Abraham and Sarah who will bear the name of Abraham as his children.
The promise of offspring for Abraham is another act in which God creates something out of nothing. Abraham and Sarah were old and Sarah was barren. Instead, of using the child born from Abraham with his servant Hagar, God chooses to once again show his power of creation by making a nation of people from something that is dead and is given new life…Sarah’s womb. Instead of the land being made new like creation and after the flood, a holy nation of people are born out of new life that God places in Sarah by the new vitality he gives to Sarah’s body. Out of those children born to Abraham and Sarah, a nation of Israel will rise up to worship the Lord and make his glory known and seen across all nations.
This covenant is also established with Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 26), his grandson Jacob in Gen. 28. It is an everlasting covenant that the Lord made to Israel as it is communicated in Ps 105:7-12
7 He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. 8 He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 9 the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, 10 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
The land of Canaan, that the Lord has shown to Abraham will be the next Eden on the earth. It will be Eden because the Lord will make his presence known there, where He will be worshipped by the people, just as Noah worshipped the Lord after coming off the ark into the remade creation.
Both the name, children and land are blessings of God to Abraham solely by God’s act of love towards him, calling him from paganism in Ur to follow him and worship YHWH alone.
Also, the promise also extends beyond Abraham to all the people of the earth. God will use Abraham, like he used Adam and Noah, to be an ambassador to represent God to the nations across the earth.
(Connection to Ezra/ Nehemiah: Ezekiel 36:33-36 “33 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. 34 And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by.
35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”
Here is the prophet Ezekiel referring to Jerusalem which was built in the land of Canaan, being rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah. Jerusalem, which was barren because of the conflict and capture by Babylon and Assyria is now reestablished like Eden where God dwells with men.
The Nations: Finally the Lord will use Israel, through Abraham to be a blessing to Israel as Israel is a blessing to the nations for God’s glory. This fulfillment is both immediate and eternal. The immediate way in which God blesses Israel is through the covenant relationship with them. They are fulfilled most completely in knowing God and being known by him. He places them strategically along the major trade routs of Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Stephen Wellum writes,
In modern terms, Abram and his family are to be settled along the central spine of the Internet in the ancient world. All of the communication, commerce, and trade back and forth between Egypt and Mesopotamia will pass through Canaan. And when it does, what are they supposed to see? They are supposed to witness a group of people who demonstrate a right relationship to the one and only true God, a truly human way of treating each other, and a proper stewardship of the earth’s resources- Stephen Wellum
Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 115.
This would be the opportunity for Israel to show the intimacy with the Lord and therefore love their neighbors who resided around them and passed through their lands. As these nations came to Abraham and his descendents, the true fulfillment as God’s people is by the way that worship the Lord. They had a true opportunity to make the Lord known by their worship of God and love for the stranger. Pointing others to YHWH as the one true God, then even the nations could see the salvation that was promised in the God of the Jews. Therefore the ultimate blessing is the reconciliation and forgiveness is found in the Jewish Messiah who was to come!
We can see then the connection with Christ who is perfect way in which the Nations can truly see the Lord. Jesus steps out of heaven and comes down to man. He is the image of the invisible God so where Abraham and Israel failed to truly see the glory of the Lord in them, they can see it in Jesus the Messiah. He actually radiated the glory of God for a select few on the Mt during his transfiguration, but he also displayed it in his words and power. He would heal in ways only the Lord heals. He could forgive sin as only the Lord does. This how the nations were able to see and experience the Lord.
Now as the church, who are the body of Christ, we live out as his representatives the glory of God to the nations, in the church. Like the Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are remaining in that war-torn country, giving aid, sharing the gospel to those fearful of death. This is the church giving hope to the nations by the power of Christ in them.
There is a clear tension from Old to New testaments about the work of the Lord as being a grace, not dependent on man’s ability, and yet calling men to be responsible and obey the Lord. In that tension, we see the covenant of Abraham play out in chapter 15 where the cutting of the covenant occurs.
Notice the summary verse of chapter 15,
7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.
Once again we see the important language KARAT BERIT where God is cutting the covenant with Abraham. What is added is the spectacular demonstration whereby a covenant is made. the Lord instructs Abraham to take a young cow, a goat and a ram and cut the animals into halves. He also lists a turtledove and pigeon which would also be part of the sacrifice but too small to sever in two. He would take those animals, with the blood spilling out all upon the ground, and traditionally the covenant parties would walk in between the severed halves to symbolize the importance of the covenant keeping while promising that if one should break that covenant, then the slaughter of those covenant breakers should also occur. What is astounding in the story with Abraham is that the Lord, revealing himself in a glorious way via a smoking pot and a flaming torch, walked alone through the ritual to show his sole faithfulness in keeping this covenant. This was not the Lord absolving man from obedience to the covenant but a declaration that the Lord would be faithful to this covenant even when man fails to keep it.
Genesis 15:17–20 (ESV)
18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,
This is where stop and marvel at the glory of God demonstrated in his faithfulness. He never abandoned his people and He never will. He has walked alongside those who follow after him and he cares for them and provides their needs. He saves them from sin and death through the sacrifice of his own Son.
Notice the shadow of Jesus Christ in the making of this covenant. It is the Lord who faithfully walks through the severed pieces to display his faithfulness and then as the Son of God comes into the world and bears the judgment for the failures of men and therefore He bore the wrath for their covenant breaking.
In Chapter 17, with the affirming of the covenant, we recognize that the same covenant is being affirmed and not a new one made or cut.
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
But the responsibilities are present for Abraham, for the Lord calls him to live a life that represents God to man.
Gen 17:1-2 “1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.””
The failure of Abraham and his decedents to do this is a reoccurring burden on the text that is only lifted by Christ. The command to walk blameless is clearly violated for Adam, Abraham, and Noah all fail to be the obedient son that represents the Lord well. Only Christ will be the truly obedient son who will walk blameless before God and man.
But in Abraham’s life, we do see the responsibility to obey and the obedience in him. In Gen 15 :7-9
4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Abraham was frustrated that the Promise in ch 12 had not occured and he assumed that only his servants could be his heir but God told him that his promise to Abraham would come to fruition and he took him outside to see and number the stars. Abraham believed God in this moment with faith in God’s faithfulness. Abraham doesn’t portray consistent faith in the Lord. He lies on two separate occasions about Sarah being his sister out of fear of man and not faith in the Lord. But chapter 22, the final reflection of the covenant made with the Lord is Abraham being obedient to the Lord’s call, even if it meant killing his only son. At this point, Abraham’s faith has grown and he knows that no matter what, God’s purposes will be fulfilled in making his lineage a great nation.
But Abraham’s wavering lack of faith is all too familiar to our lives as well. Our faith wavers, our obedience is sloppy and yet God’s loves us in grace and He saves by His mercy, not our consistency. Are we called to and expected to live lives of holiness- YES. Will we accomplish that perfectly- NO.
Paul states famously,
Romans 7:18-19 “18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
Chapter 17 also gives us a sign of the covenant similarly to the sign given with the bow in the sky. Circumcision seems like an odd practice to display a life set apart for the Lord but it actually is a brilliant way to display God’s glory among the nations. Circumcision was already practiced by pagan nations like Egypt but it was reserved for priests only. It was a setting apart of holy men. The Pharaohs would also be circumcised since they were considered king-priests who were known to Egyptians as sons of God.
But for Abraham, his descendants would formulate a holy nation of priests, a nation of people who as Israel were God’s sons, who are set apart from the rest of the world as people, special to the Lord. They are his people and He is their God. Circumcision was an act of faith, having a child circumcised was putting faith in the Lord to protect that child and his ability to be fruitful in his adulthood so that many more faithful sons could be taught about the glory of God among the nations.
Circumcision also became a metaphor for obedience as a result of faith. Faith(trust) in the Lord leads to obedience of Abraham to circumcise his children on the 8th day or sacrifice his son as the lord instructs him.
This is the point of Paul in Romans 4:13-18
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
Therefore the covenants are to show the relationship of God and man, whereby God shows his glory in entering into a relationship with man by his grace, not based on works or obedience. While man is responsible to obey the lord through this covenant relationship by faith in Him, and face the consequences of breaking that covenant agreement as Israel faced, the focus of the covenants throughout Bible is about God’s grace, and not works of man.
This is the grace of God that you are called you understand and rest in for your salvation. It is a salvation that is found only in the Lord who seeks you out, opens your eyes,