Naming the Covenants (2): Moses through Jesus

The Jesus or, maybe, the ‘Jesaic’ Covenant isn’t really a thing, but to make it fit my blog entries I made it a thing. The final covenant in the Bible is the New Covenant and it’s the one associated with Jesus, it’s also the one most people already know by it’s purpose. I should have made it clear that the “purpose” of the covenants we’re considering is a theological purpose mostly in terms of how it further reveals God’s gracious character. The most basic way these covenants reveal God’s gracious character is in the revelation of the covenants themselves. We should never forget God’s grace in his self-revelation, when we do, and I often do, we fall into a trap of beginning to think God owed us something. Even something as basic as telling us who he is.

The Mosaic covenant, as it is often called, is what God established with the descendants of Abraham after He redeemed them from Egypt. This covenant was inaugurated at Mt. Sinai, so it is also called the Sinaitic Covenant. I propose we would do better calling it the Covenant of Nationhood. It is this covenant that makes Abraham’s family, as big as it was it was still his family, into a nation. It did this with the laws God gave them. God first gave them the moral law in written form–the Ten Commandments. Then he also gave them the ceremonial law which served to remind them of His gracious presence with them as well as their religious duty before Him. It was the ceremonial law, en toto, along with the Sabbath (Ex. 31:13) which served as the sign of the covenant. There was also the civil law that really served to form this family into a nation with the unique (to the Ancient Near East) idea that everyone in the nation submits to the rule of law. There is one law for everyone, the law of God, like God himself, isn’t a respecter of persons. In these three purposes of the laws God gave (not to b e confused with the “three uses of the moral law”, i.e. the Ten Commandments) we see a broad brush of how Jesus fulfils this covenant, thus pointing to God’s grace again. First, Jesus fulfills the moral law by keeping it for us. This is also understood to be Jesus’ work of fulfilling the covenant of works. Second, Jesus fulfills the ceremonial law because he is the nearest presence of God with humanity, cf. John 1:14 “The word became flesh and tabernacled (ESV, “dwelt”) among us”. Third, in Jesus’ completed work we are made into citizens of heaven (Php. 3:20) and as such we have the same ideals to live by as Israel received in the Covenant of Nationhood.

The Davidic Covenant, so-called, came next, but it is better thought of as the Covenant of Peace. The kingdom of Israel was God’s creation and it is specified in this promise God made to David and his descendants. 2 Sam. 7:8-16 8 Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ”

As you look at the promises above, notice vv. 10 and 11. “I will appoint a place for [them]… that they may be disturbed no more” in v. 10. And “I will give you rest from all your enemies” in v. 11. The kingdom God promises isn’t any normal kingdom, but a kingdom marked by peace. And this is fulfilled not first in David, but in David’s son, Solomon. Solomon is the first Son of David, with all of its Messianic connotations. 1 Kings 4:22-25 “22 Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty cors of fine flour and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, a hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fattened fowl. 24 For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates. And he had peace on all sides around him. 25 And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon.

Look at how Solomon’s reign is described. V. 24, “peace on all sides” and v. 25 “every man under his vine and under his fig tree…”. Peace on all sides is a direct reference to the rest promised to David, which was always a part of the promise of land (place) to Abraham. What good is a place if you’re always having to fight in it and for it? The other reference to vines and fig trees points to a redemptive concept in the OT that connotes prosperity in the absence of the curse. Of course, in the day to day operations of life they never expected sin to be removed, but the effects of sin1 will be diminished by God’s gracious providence for his people that is superior to his providence for the rest of the world.

As the writing prophets come to prominence in Israel they have two common themes: to tell the nation to stop sinning in numerous ways, and to tell the leaders to lead like God, with love and concern (like the command given to Adam and Eve, “take dominion and subdue the Earth”) rather than take advantage of their positions. See Ezekiel 34 for the passage par excellence in this respect. The leaders, called shepherds ( a typical biblical designation for political leaders, kings, priests, and heads of groups), are condemned for fattening up the sheep (the people), shearing them for their own use (a metaphor meaning using the people’s goods and work to line their pockets), and even eating them (not being afraid to even cause the Israelites to go into destitution, possibly to death). Then God goes on to say he will be their shepherd, because no one else will lead them correctly (because of their sin, though this is unspoken) then in 23-24 “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.” Finally he promises the Covenant of Peace, “I will make with them a Covenant of Peace.”

Jesus fulfills this: “I am the Good Shepherd” and the “Son of David” along with “he will be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ” Misunderstanding the incomplete nature of David and Solomon’s reigns, the earthly expectations that can’t hold up to sinful natures in human kings, and simply not hearing the prophets correctly led Israel’s leaders to miss the Son of David, the Greater Solomon, and the Prince of Peace when he came.

The New Covenant refers to what Jeremiah called it in 31:31-34 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

This is a New Covenant. Jesus affirms it when he institutes the Lord’s Supper, “this is the New Covenant in my blood”. Looking at the highlighted sections above, briefly, it refers to all God’s people by saying “with the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. Following Solomon’s reign the kingdom was divided into Israel (northern) and Judah (southern), but this New Covenant will bring all of God’s people together (cf. Eph. 2:11-212. The Second feature is the work of the Holy Spirit writing God’s law on the hearts of his people, because the stone tablets weren’t cutting it! Of course, it’s no coincidence that Ezekiel says God “will replace the heart of stone with a heart of flesh”, this promise is referring to a more active and prominent role of the Holy Spirit in the age of the New Covenant. And when God says “I will forgive their iniquity…” this doesn’t mean he hadn’t forgiven in the past, just like to refer to the Spirit’s work in writing the law on the hearts of his people infers the Spirit hadnt’ been at work in the OT. All we need to do is look to one of our typically used “Calls to Confession”, Psalm 103:11-12, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” God has been forgiving sin since Adam and Eve ate the fruit, but in his justice there had to be satisfaction. The statement about forgiveness in the New Covenant points to the final sacrifice that metes out God’s holy justice, the final, perfect sacrifice of Jesus.

I hope this is of help in thinking about the covenants of the Bible. Get in touch with me if you’d like further clarification.

1Ge. 3:17-19 “And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Under his vine and fig tree points to the redemptive reality that a man’s work will yield what it should and produce goods for his effort as if there weren’t the possibility of thorns and thistles.

2Eph. 2:11-22 “11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Through Jesus all believers are made into God’s covenant people.