Exodus & The Mosaic Covenant, Part 3

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(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.

The first chapters of the Book of Exodus are full of allusions to the Abrahamic covenant. Before He had even brought them out of Egypt Yahweh declared He would do so because of this covenant:

So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. (Exodus 2:24)

When God introduces Himself to Moses it is in the context of covenant remembrance (Exod. 6:1-8).1 The land is once more prominent:

And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD. (Exod. 6:8).

As the Mosaic covenant will be made with the people of Israel prior to them taking possession of the land (although there was a delay through unbelief, Num. 32:11), this indicates that that bilateral covenant was built upon the oath contained in the previous unilateral Abrahamic oath. It follows from this that if the provisions of the Mosaic Law were violated (cf. also Deut. 27-30)—which was sure to be the case—the Divine oath uttered to the Patriarchs would be unaffected apart from the time of its fulfillment.2

Conversely, if it is assumed that the Sinaitic requirements overrode the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then the Mosaic covenant would be the ideal way to frustrate the revealed plan of God up to this point in the biblical narrative. The Creation Project would have had to be rerouted so as to bypass human depravity and dereliction. But that was not the case. Moses knew that he could appeal to God’s covenant with Abraham and so ensure the survival of the disobedient nation. When God threatened to destroy the people after the episode concerning the golden calf, Moses successfully interceded for them by claiming the Abrahamic pledges.

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever. (Exodus 32:13)

Moses is careful to include both of the main strands of the Abrahamic covenant, that is, land and seed (descendants), which concern Israel as a new nation created by God. And we will see that this pattern repeated continually; one might say habitually, by the writing Prophets.

Even though Israel is spared through the intercession of Moses, and delivered through the waters of the Red Sea, there is no final salvation through the Mosaic covenant (cf. Rom. 3:19-20; 4:15).3 The covenantal nature of the Law, though it does not rule out an approach to God through sacrifice, does prohibit salvation on the basis of performance, cultic or otherwise (cf. Isa. 1:3-5). Whether one is reading the Old Testament or the New Testament, a redemptive approach to God is always via God’s grace. This is even more clearly true when one is referring to the eschatological salvation, that is, the telos of God’s covenantal plans.

Notes

1 Shortly afterwards we read about what at first sight looks like a contradiction. God says to Moses that “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them.” (Exod. 6:3). Of course, God had used that name and Abraham knew and used it in addressing God (e.g. Gen. 13:4; 14:22; 15:2, 8). But what was not made clear was the significance of the Name. I don’t agree with the view that the editor of the Pentateuch retroactively placed the Tetragrammaton onto the lips of Abraham (e.g. Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology, 92-94). Childs seems to argue similarly, although he does notice that the context lays stress upon the character of God and not the name itself.—Brevard S. Childs, Exodus, 112-115.

By contrast, Garrett believes “one could hardly more badly misread the text than to claim that Exod. 6 is the revelation of something new.”—Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus, 252-253. In his view God was saying that He was to be now known under the name YHWH. But Motyer is surely correct when he says that “the character expressed by the name that was withheld from the patriarchs and not the name itself.”—J. Alec Motyer, The Revelation of the Divine Name, 15-16. On top of this see Allen P. Ross, “Did the Patriarch’s Know the Name of the LORD?” in David M. Howard Jr. & Michael A. Grisanti, eds, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts, 323-339

2 Kaiser observes, “The connection is undeniable. The duty of obedience (law, if you wish) was intimately ted up with promise as a desired sequel. Therefore, the transition to the coming time of Mosaic law should not be all that difficult for any who had really adequately listened to the full revelation of the promise in the patriarchal era. But in no way was the promise-plan dependent on anyone’s obedience; it only insured their participation in the benefits of the promise but not on its maintenance.”—Walter C. Kaiser, Jr, The Promise-Plan of God, 61.

3 “Ultimately, the people had to look to God for forgiveness and could not expect pardon by mechanically fulfilling the external requirements (Isa. 1:11-17; Mic. 7:18-20).”—Willem VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 162

Great Paul

Paul, excellent as always and right on the money.

Regarding your footnote about Exodus 6 and Yahweh, I am with those who believe it is best translated as a rhetorical question: "And by my Name Yahweh, did they not know me?"

This makes perfect sense, and flows naturally within the greater context of the Books of Moses.

As you know, there are other passages in Scripture that could or should be understood as questions rather than statements and vice-versa.

"The Midrash Detective"

NIV margin

The NIV has this as an alternate translation: "Or Almighty, and by my name the LORD did I not let myself be known to them."

My point is that, even if you can't go for it, consider that it is a mainstream possibility.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Everlasting

"So God promised a specific territory to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for an everlasting possession (e.g. Exod. 32:13)."

Does "everlasting" here mean (1) forever, eternal, and without end or (2) a long period of time?

In either case, I will set aside the question of when "everlasting" begins in this context. I appreciate your efforts to address that issue: "the Divine oath uttered to the Patriarchs would be unaffected apart from the time of its fulfillment."

JSB

Scripture uses the term

Scripture uses the term "everlasting" etc. to refer to a very long period of time or to speak of unending duration.  The context can help determine what is meant, although I think there is some indeterminacy with certain passages like Psalm 106:8 for example.  Plus, the state of affairs described in the prophecies comes into play.  I hope that is the sort of answer you were looking for.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

Three definitions of "forever"

Three definitions of "forever": (1) of unending duration; (2) a long period of time; and (3) from some indeterminate point in the future until the end of the world.

Will the land occupied by Israel in the New Creation be Palestine or some other geographic area?

Who will occupy this land?

JSB

Answers

1. There will be no such place as Palestine.  Palestine is a 2nd century Roman invention.

2. No one can say what exactly the New Creation will be like, although I believe it will be rather like this one - the way it was intended to be.  My view is that Israel will dwell in a designated land in the New Creation.

3. Lastly, how do you think Jesus will reign "forever"? 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

1. Palestine has several

1. Palestine has several definitions including the land in the Middle East between the Wadi el-Arish to the Euphrates River, the Holy Land, the Promised Land, Canaan, the former British Mandate, the present territories of Israel and Jordan, etc.

2. I agree that the New Creation will be rather like this one, only qualitatively better than the current creation, with a glorified New Earth. Gerhardus Vos employs the phrase "functionally analogous." How do you define the "Israel" who will dwell in a designated land in the New Creation?  What is the criteria for determining the individuals who will dwell there?

3. Jesus' reign over His people will be unending, not just for a long period of time or until the end of the world.

JSB

JSB

I'm not sure where you are getting your information from about "Palestine".  In the OT it refers to Philistia, not to Canaan or Israel.  The NT does not call the land 'Palestine'.  Hadrian dubbed the land 'Palestine' after the Bar Kochba revolution (135 A.D.) to spite the Jews. As you asked about 'Palestine' in the New Creation I answer with biblical designations.

Your questions about Israel in the New Creation can be answered by the concept of the Remnant (e.g. Zeph. 3:13).  The eternal reign of Christ is said to include His reign over Israel in Jerusalem (e.g. Isa. 9:7).  I see no problem with the continuance of the nation of Israel in the millennium and in the New Creation; no more than with Christ's reign spanning both eras.  Surely an eternal reign over Israel requires an eternal Israel to reign over?  

But I think you are driving at something.  Do you mind telling me what it is?  Are we going to hear about the same stuff you argued about in previous posts? 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

Where did I obtain my

Where did I obtain my definitions of Palestine? Dictionaries, including Unger’s Bible Dictionary. As with most words, Palestine has a range of meanings. Lexicons are useful in identifying the various possible meanings but the context will determine the meaning in a particular instance. In the context that I was using the word, I meant the land in the Middle East between the river of Egypt and the Euphrates River. I suggest that the fact that there were rivers named Tigris and Euphrates before the Flood and after is instructive in relation to the New Earth.

Your reference to Zephaniah begs rather than answers the question. As I asked before,

IDENTITY OF THE OFFSPRING: Who are the offspring? What is the definition of “your offspring”? In context, are they all of the physical descendants of Abram by natural generation?

Key components of the covenant set forth first in Genesis and then reiterated in Exodus 32:13 include the definitions of “seed,” “land,” and “forever.” Earlier in your series, I thought we had agreement that “The Abrahamic Covenant is perpetual; it is everlasting. This perpetuity applies both to the seed and the land promises.” Now, I learn that perpetual is not perpetual and everlasting is not everlasting. That it is a long period of time or from some indefinite time in the future to the end of the world. “God means what He says. … God’s word are to be taken at face value,” except when they are not to be taken at face value.

Of course, you are correct, words can have a range of meaning, even in Scripture, and one must look to the context, how the word fits within the phrase, the phrase, within the sentence, the sentence within the paragraph, the paragraph within the chapter, the chapter within the book, the book within the testament, the testament within the Bible, to determine the meaning in the context. This goes for seed and land, as well as time. “Face value” just means the meaning that fits your particular paradigm, whether covenantal or dispensational. One must do the heavy lifting. If time is relative here, then the Abrahamic Covenant was fulfilled in the Old Testament. If time is absolute, it is fulfilled in the New Creation.

JSB

Sorry

Your logic is dizzying.... Too discombobulated for me.  Your understanding of context could be described as "universal context".  And Exodus 32:13 has nothing to do with "Egypt to the Euphrates."  

Yes, you had asked about the offspring (along with a bunch of other questions).  You again ask:  

"Your reference to Zephaniah begs rather than answers the question. As I asked before,

IDENTITY OF THE OFFSPRING: Who are the offspring? What is the definition of “your offspring”? In context, are they all of the physical descendants of Abram by natural generation?"

I reply: you can't read Zeph. 3:9ff. in context (immediate context that is) and find out?  

Of course, not ALL physical descendants of Abraham inherit the covenant promises.  That is why there is a doctrine of the Remnant.  

 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

I could cite sources for my

I could cite sources for my understanding of context, which is a sound and established approach to Biblical hermeneutics specifically and literary analysis generally. However, I will merely note that the answer to the question, “Who are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who will inherit the land as recounted in Exodus 32:13?” is to be found in the immediate context of Zephaniah 3:9ff., which was written over 800 years later.

JSB

I'm confused

Are you saying that the Israelites of Zephaniah's time (let's confine them to godly people) are not descendants of Jews from Moses' time?  I am well aware of the current fad of a three-ringed context (immediate; book; whole Bible), but to call the Bible a context is to say precisely nothing of hermeneutical significance.  In fact, it presupposes that one knows the entire Bible well enough to cite it as a context.  But that is question-begging because to understand the whole Bible one must first understand each verse in the Bible, and you cannot do that by first claiming to interpret via the whole Bible.  And as any reader of the best commentaries knows, what is always at issue is the interpretation of the sentences and paragraphs.  So the 'three-ringed' approach is guilty of what is called affirming the consequent.  Same holds for calling a whole Bible book a context.  

Too, this plays right into the hands of those who practice "theological interpretation" as a first-order hermeneutical discipline.  This again begs the question since the only way a theology can be said to be biblical is if it agrees with the Bible.  But the Bible must be understood "line by line".  So whatever Messrs Beale, Gentry & Wellum. Blaising & Bock, Kostenberger, Vanhoozer and the rest say, I am not convinced.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

I actually cited you.

I was not thinking of citing any of the worthies you mentioned in support of the traditional approach to hermeneutics. I actually cited you. I agree with you that Zephaniah 3:9ff. informs and clarifies what appears at first blush to be the plain meaning of Exodus 32:13, even though Zephaniah was written over 800 years after the Pentateuch and nearly 1500 years after God made covenant with Abraham.  In Exodus 32:13, Moses invokes this covenant before God on behalf of the people of Israel:

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, “I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.”

Many Jews (and Gentiles) have interpreted this to mean all of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and Sadducees, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” As you rightly point out, “not ALL physical descendants of Abraham inherit the covenant promises.” Only a righteous remnant, not each and every descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will inherit the covenant promises. In Zephaniah, God advises, “I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, those who are left in Israel.” (Zeph. 3:12-13a). There are clues in the context of Exodus 32:13 that not all Jews will inherit. What is not said is as important as what is said. The promise is to the seed, to the offspring, to the descendants. It does not say to each and every one of them.  Zephaniah and the Gospel of Matthew clarify and explain what was meant in Exodus 32:13 even though they are not even close to the immediate context either temporally or canonically.

This does not presuppose the necessity “that one knows the entire Bible well enough to cite it as a context.” Nor is it saying that “to understand the whole Bible one must first understand each verse in the Bible.”  Rather, this reasoning is based upon the view that there is only one author of all of Scripture who will be consistent is His treatment of any particular topic or usage of a word or phrase.  There is also a sense that an author’s first mention of a topic or idea will be foundational and lay the groundwork for what the author later develops and builds.

In conclusion, I appreciate your use of Zephaniah to shed light on the meaning of Genesis and Exodus, and I am not denying that the godly Israelites of Zephaniah’s time were descendants of the Jews from Moses’ time.

JSB


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