The Covenantal Landscape of the Old Testament, Part 2

A view of the Valley of Jezreel as seen from Mt. Carmel

Read the series.

The Old Testament gives us a picture of a coming great Deliverer who will one day defeat the serpent and break his power (Gen. 3:15). We have seen that this prophetic picture is quite extensive, providing one puts the pieces of the “Scepter,” the “Star,” the son of David, the despised substitute Sufferer, the Branch, the donkey Rider, the Messiah, etc. together in one person. This portrait of the coming King of the Earth, who reigns in Jerusalem, is there so that He can be identified when He appears. And when He is identified through these prophecies it will eventually be seen that the Old Testament was spot on. The only question in light of for example, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and Zechariah 12 would seem to be, when would His own people recognize Him? This problem deepens because of the perceived mismatch between the victorious Ruler and the suffering Servant referred to above.

In similar fashion, what the Prophets have to say about the divine covenants paints a vivid picture of the Kingdom that is to come. The Prophets develop the unilateral covenants; the Noahic, Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic, and weave them together. The instrument they use to do this is the New covenant, which does not alter a word of the oaths which Yahweh took in the other covenants, but instead revitalizes these great covenants as they pass through the redemptive grace within it. This revitalization guarantees the literal fulfillment of the oaths of Yahweh, there being no sin standing in the way of their full realization.

But the New covenant is not just a means, it is a Man. It is none other than the promised One, the coming King Himself. This amounts to saying that the entire Creation Project, propelled by the covenants of God, is dependent upon this Man! Our comprehension of the Creation Project depends a lot upon our reading of God’s covenants, not to mention the nature of those covenants.

What, therefore, is the picture drawn by the Prophets? I think it best if I break the prophetic picture down into basic categories.1

a. A Future Time of Intense Trouble for Israel

Amos in the 8th century B.C. says that Yahweh will sift Israel (Am. 9:9), but after that He will “raise up the tabernacle of David,” that is to say, the reinstitution of the Davidic monarchy that would fizzle out at the Babylonian Captivity with Zedekiah of Judah will be seen. This sifting is tied to the Mosaic covenant, especially its elucidation in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 30:1-6 is pertinent here, as is Leviticus 26.

Having said this, nothing is solid enough in Amos’s time for a reader to determine whether there will be an end-time tribulation upon the Jews. Hosea 2:9-13 indicates a punishment upon Israel followed by an era of kingdom blessing (Hos. 2:14ff.). If I am correct in placing the two acts of God together, this necessarily puts us in the last times. Hosea 5:15 and 6:1-3 could well be referring to this same situation.

The theme of a future intense affliction upon Israel is not to be found stated plainly until Jeremiah 30:5-7 where something called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” is mentioned. The difficulty in the “time” is that it is not dated, other than in relation to the raising up of David and Israel being told that she will have no cause to fear anymore (Jer. 30:9-10). Is this the Holocaust? That might reasonably qualify as the time of Jacob’s trouble (cf. Hos. 2:6-13; 5:15; Isa. 1:25). But no restoration of the Davidic monarchy followed World War II. The only way that David, whether personally or through his heir, could rule over Israel is in the resurrection era (Isa. 26:19? Ezek. 37:12?). Terrible as was the Holocaust, something worse yet awaits the people of Israel.

The book of Daniel furnishes more information on a future time of tribulation. As brought out in Daniel 7 and 11, a mighty foe will persecute Israel for three and a half years (“a time, times, and half a time” – Dan. 7:24-27), during which time Israel will have to endure it’s greatest travail (Dan. 12:1). Ezekiel 38 refers to distress brought upon God’s people by a person named Gog. And Zechariah 11:15-17 is an oracle about a careless shepherd who is to be recognized by certain marks upon his body. Whether all of these passages apply to the end time of trouble is uncertain, but a fair case can be made in the affirmative.

b. The Regathering of Israel to their Promised Land

Many times, the Old Testament predicts the restoration of the Jews to their land. The ten northern tribes were carried off by the Assyrians, and no leader ever issued a decree for their return. But many from the north would have been dwelling in Judah long before Tiglath-Pileser defeated Hoshea of Israel in 723 B.C.2 Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy about the reunification of all the tribes in their books. Daniel’s reading of Jeremiah 25:11-12 persuaded him to expect the southern nation to return from Babylon, which led to him beseeching Yahweh on behalf of his people (Dan. 9).

Another Exile

But closer study of the Prophets reveals that another exile and a greater regathering is to come, and it is to be looked for at the close of history. For example, if the “little horn” of Daniel 7 persecutes the Jewish saints (Dan. 7:21) when they are in their land (cf. Dan. 11:39), and the limit of the persecution in Daniel 7:25 corresponds to Daniel 11:36 (cf. Dan. 9:26-27), this would entail that they are driven out of the land again before being regathered at the time of Messiah’s arrival to set up His Kingdom (Dan. 7:22). They will return in repentance (Jer. 50:4-5). Ezekiel 37:11-14 has God bringing Israel into the land and granting them the Spirit. Earlier, in the context of God’s blessing on their productivity, Amos 9:14-15 refers to the same thing. Zechariah 8:8 has a great promise of return and blessing. In Isaiah 11:11-16; Jeremiah 16:14-15, and Jeremiah 23:7-8 there is a second exodus promise that is non-figurative.

The literal physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are entitled to the land of “Palestine” on the basis of the ratified unconditional promises of God (Gen. 15; 17; 22). In fact, their eventual entitlement will be considerably larger in extent than Palestine (Gen. 15:18-21).3 This covenant promise regarding the land is repeated throughout Old Testament history (e.g. Gen. 12:7; 15:7-21; 17:7-8; 22:15-24; 24:7; 28:13-15; Exod. 12:25; 33:1; Deut. 1:8; Isa. 5:25-26; 11:11-12; Jer. 12:14-17; 23:5-8; 30:18; 31:27-40; 33:10-13, 18-21; Ezek. 34:11-31; 37:1-14; Hos. 13:9-14:9; Mic. 2:12; Zeph. 2:19-20; Zech. 12:10-11; 14:16-21).4 This land is to be perpetually theirs once the nation repents and receives Jesus as Messiah (e.g. Deut. 4:29-31; 28:40-41, 44-45; 30:1-2, 10; Jer. 16:14-15; Ezek. 11:14-20; Amos 9:14-15). Also, like it or not, the Old Testament teaches that Israel will become the head of the nations (e.g. Deut. 15:6; 28:1,13; Isa. 60:10-13; 62:1-12; Zeph. 3:20).

Some biblical scholars have made their imaginations work overtime in their attempts to cauterize the land promises given to Israel in the Hebrew Bible. They will admit that “land” is a major theme throughout the Old Testament, but will then do their utmost to deflect the words of God away from their covenant implications. But some things are just obvious. Genesis 12:1, 7 and 15:17-21 do not change their meanings when over 1,400 years later Zechariah uses their land covenant stipulations as the basis for his doctrine in Zechariah 14:10-11.

Notes

1 One of the striking facts about much biblical prophecy is the amount of detail that is crammed into a single oracle. For example, Amos 9:8-16 predicts tribulation on Israel, yet the restoration of the Davidic dynasty, and of Israel’s permanent possession of their land, amid scenes of hyper-productivity and Gentile salvation. This should be kept in mind when reading cross-references.

2 E.g., 2 Chronicles 11:14-17; 15:8-9; 19:8.

3 This could cover an area of some 300,000 square miles. See Ronald B. Allen, “The Land of Israel” in H. Wayne House, Gen. ed., Israel: The Land and the People, 24.

4 On Jeremiah 31:10, Larsen asks, “must not the scattering and the gathering, both immediate and ultimate, be understood in this context as comparable in genre?” – David L. Larsen, Jews, Gentiles, and the Church: A New Perspective on History and Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1995), 24-25.

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