Series - Covenants

Exodus & The Mosaic Covenant, Part 3

(Continued excerpts from the book-in-progress. Read the series so far.)

The Relationship between the Abrahamic & Mosaic Covenants

The covenant with Abraham was, as we have seen, the source from which the people of Israel were created. But a people without a land can never truly be a nation, and Yahweh had promised that very thing (Gen. 12:2; 17:20; 21:18; 46:3; 48:4. cf. Deut. 7:6-8). A nation’s identity is tied to its surroundings; the familiar topography which is recalled in its literature, poetry and songs (e.g. Psa. 137:1-6). So God promised a specific territory to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for an everlasting possession (e.g. Exod. 32:13). In fact, the last mention of Abraham in Genesis is in tandem with Isaac and Jacob and the land (Gen. 50:24). There was an oath-based guarantee of Israel-in-the-land in existence hundreds of years before Moses brought the people to Sinai. Read more about Exodus & The Mosaic Covenant, Part 3

Exodus & The Mosaic Covenant, Part 2

Detail from Moses with the Ten Commandments (Rembrandt, 1659)

(Continued excerpts from the book-in-progress. Read the series so far.)

Relationship

The covenant Lord comes to establish a relationship. This relationship is not yet predicated upon the finished work of Christ at Calvary, so the judicial element demands law. Still, it also entails the fact that the God of the Law is the God also of grace. If He were not, there would be no hope of relationship and the covenantal purposes of God would be reduced to futility.

The laws found in Exodus through to Deuteronomy are given, for the most part, to restrain Israel’s sin and to proclaim an ethics of human value, regardless of social status, and of the unity of communal life.1 The commandments can be summed up in two: Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18.2 Read more about Exodus & The Mosaic Covenant, Part 2

Exodus & The Mosaic Covenant, Part 1

Detail from Moses with the Ten Commandments (Rembrandt, 1659)

(Continued excerpts from the book-in-progress. Read the series so far.)

With the Book of Exodus we bid adieu to the Patriarchal period and are thrown into the misery of slavery and hopelessness. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are long dead. The covenant promise is all but a forlorn hope. Even Joseph’s eminence in Egypt has been forgotten; at least by those who matter. Genesis ends with a small tribe of “Israelites” leaving their homeland and descending in to Egypt.

Yet the first half of the Book of Exodus contains some of the most compelling narrative ever written. Exodus is a book about redemption. The redemption envisaged in the early chapters is predominantly a deliverance from servitude. Many who came through the waters were not saved spiritually, as the incident with the golden calf (Exod. 32) proved. Read more about Exodus & The Mosaic Covenant, Part 1

Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 8)

Isaac Blessing Jacob - Govert Flinck, c. 1638

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Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob (Parts 2 & 3)

The sequel has Isaac making a pact with Abimelech after which the God of Providence gave him water. Since there had been quarreling over water sources the conflict was resolved by covenant (cf. Heb. 6:16), Isaac named the new place “Beersheba,” meaning “well of the oath.” God’s blessing came in conjunction with an oath which was clearly understood by both sides. The chapter ends by noticing Esau’s marriage to two pagan wives and the grief it caused to his parents. Notwithstanding, when it came time for the aged patriarch to pass on the mantle, his intention was to give it to Esau (27:1-4). It was only the subtlety of his brother, with the collusion of his mother, that prevented Isaac’s wishes from becoming a reality (27:11f.). Read more about Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 8)

Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 7)

Isaac Blessing Jacob - Govert Flinck, c. 1638

Read the series so far.

Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob (Part 1)

After Abraham

Having arrived at the crux of Abraham’s saga, which is the test of his faith as recorded in the twenty-second chapter, the story of Genesis moves to the death of Sarah and the purchase of a gravesite for her. Abraham bought the burial ground and the cave of Machpelah because although he had wealth, he was never a recipient of the land itself (cf. Gen. 37:1).

When the covenant was being solemnized God had told His servant he would go to his Fathers in peace, and his posterity would only claim the land after spending four hundred years in Egypt (Gen. 15:13-16, 18). This is the reason Abraham “waited for a city … whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). He knew that he himself would not own the land of promise. Genesis 25:7-10 records Abraham’s death and burial. Read more about Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 7)

Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 6)

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Abraham’s Temptation to Spiritualize?

With Abraham on Mt. Moriah

When we come to Genesis 22 we arrive at one of the key events in the Bible; the offering of Isaac, the son of promise to the Promiser. The retelling of this story by Kierkegaard in his book Fear and Trembling poses the question of how Abraham could possibly have justified his actions to himself or to his son. The philosopher’s conclusion is that he could not. Neither in the three days’ journey and especially in the final moments before the intervention of God could he have been absolutely sure that it was God who commanded him. For what was commanded seemed to fly in the face of what God had so deliberately promised. But, as Kierkegaard so poignantly puts it, “Abraham is not what he is without this dread.”1 Read more about Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 6)

Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 5)

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Problems with the Promise & Fulfillment Motif?

John Sailhamer is a critic of the common evangelical dogma that teaches a “promise-fulfillment” way of looking at the two Testaments, because by setting things up that way, the almost irresistible temptation will be to interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, and in particular with the first coming of Christ culminating in the Gospel. Such an attitude threatens to turn the Old Testament, the Bible of Israel, and of Jesus and the Apostles, in to a book of colorful stories and sermon illustrations for New Testament preaching. 1

This might sound very good. As a matter of fact it does sound good to very many evangelicals. So good in fact, that it has often been assumed by pious minds as a natural implication of having a New Testament. But the “promise–fulfillment” idea so frequently recommended cries out for a bit of careful examination. The received wisdom is that we don’t start by reading through the OT to find its meaning, but that we begin by reading the NT, with emphasis on Paul’s Gospel, and we then interpret the OT through our understanding of the NT, especially our understanding of the work of Christ. Essentially what is being urged on us is the hermeneutical priority of the NT. Without the interpretive mindset we have gained from the NT, so the thinking goes, we are not in a position to rightly understand the OT. Hence, the OT is to be interpreted, not on its own merits, but by the NT. An earlier quote from Goldsworthy again makes this clear: Read more about Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 5)

Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 4)

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Covenants & Promises

Two Abrahamic Covenants?

To make things a little more tricky, some scholars claim to see not one but two covenants made with Abraham by the Lord. This is the position of Paul Williamson as set out in his fine book Sealed with an Oath. Williamson believes that the thirteen year time lapse between Genesis 15 and 17, plus what he calls “significant differences … in terms of their covenantal framework and their promissory emphases” argue for two covenants.1

But the time gap is not in itself a problem for a divine covenant. Clearly it would take many generations for the descendants to appear. The issue is really over the repetition of covenantal language and what receives emphasis. What it boils down to for the two-covenant view is that Genesis 15 is said to be temporal and unilateral, whereas Genesis 17 is eternal and bilateral.2 Williamson sees the two covenants with Abraham as stemming from “the two separate strands set out in the programmatic agenda of Genesis 12:1-3.”3 Read more about Making a Covenant with Abraham (Part 4)

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