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Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Hebrews series, a look at Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant.  Here, the text has four questions we must answer.

1.  What is this “better covenant?”
It is the New Covenant, which is an expansion of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  The Bible has many covenants, including individual covenants (such as the one between David and Jonathan), as well as the great unconditional, unilateral covenants, that God initiated:  the Abrahamic covenant, and the Davidic covenant which expands on that.  The New Covenant is given in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31, also in Ezekiel), the last of Israel’s covenants, the one that provides the redemptive basis for the previous Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.

2.  “What are the better promises?” Hebrews 8:8-12.
The text answers it, in verses 8 through 12, including the words “‘I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.’”  The New Covenant provides the forgiveness of sins and Divine Enablement.  It could also be described as, “A new inner control center in the individuals who are the inheritors of this covenant.”

3.  “With whom was the New Covenant made?”
The Old Testament says that covenant was made with Israel and with Judah.  Again in verse 10, “with the house of Israel.”  The New Covenant was made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

We do not err to the side of amillennialists who blur distinctions and say that Israel and the Church are one.  Paul does say in Romans 9 that “not all Israel” is Israel — thus narrowing the field to only those Israelites who believe.  But Paul is not talking about Gentiles at all in that text, and he is not widening the scope to include Genties among that group of “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.”

On the other hand, we do not say, as some earlier dispensationalists, that the Church is completely separate from Jeremiah’s New Covenant, so that we Gentiles have our own New Covenant.  Scripture speaks of only one New Covenant, that one in Jeremiah 31, made with Israel and Judah.  Thus comes the fourth question.

4.  How then is the Church of Jesus Christ, or believing Gentiles, related to the New Covenant?
Gentiles are related to it, through the provision in the Abrahamic covenant, that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.  Romans 11 also describes it in the figure of the olive tree which we are grafted into.

A great summary from S. Lewis Johnson:  if you will look at the fundamental Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant together, as a covenantal program, you will know, you will surely know that in the Abrahamic Covenant provision was made for Gentile believers.  

Bible Reading: The Abrahamic Covenant’s Plural Offspring

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

In my recent reading through Genesis (list 2 in a modified Horner Bible Reading Plan), I noticed again the references to Abraham’s offspring, or “seed.”  Though Reformed Theology emphasizes the singular offspring (Christ), spoken of by Paul in Galatians 3, yet it is obvious from just reading Genesis 17 that some of the Abrahamic covenant texts use offspring in a plural sense, and a sense that clearly cannot be talking about God.  For instance, Genesis 17:7And 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.

I especially noticed the phrase “to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”  Of course this is not talking about Christ as the singular seed of Abraham, or of Christ being the true Israel — for that would be saying that God is “to be God” to Himself.  The very next sentence, verse 8, gives the land promise in terms that could not be plainer:  And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

Paul in Galatians 3:16 refers to “the promises” and Genesis 18:18, “and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”  Just because Paul cites one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant in no way invalidates other aspects of that covenant.  The same principle is at work in other oft-cited passages brought forth as “proofs” of Church Replacement Theology:  just because the writer of Hebrews cites the full passage of the New Covenant from Jeremiah 31 does not take away from its meaning in the original text or change its meaning.  Acts 15, with James’ citation of Amos 9, is similar.  All that James says is that the words of the prophets “agree with” what was happening — which is clearly not the same as having the meaning changed to some unexpected “new meaning.”

Barry Horner, in Future Israel  (p. 98) further expands on the issue of singular and plural senses of “seed”:

… the promise of Genesis 12:3 is not made to Christ as the mediator, but to Abraham, and this Scripture overwhelmingly affirms. Further, the seed of Abraham having application to Christ according to Galatians 3:16, this in no way invalidates the “seed” of Genesis 12:1-3 being the nation of Israel anymore than does “seed” in Genesis 13:15; 17:7. The exegetical reason is that God says to Abraham, your “descendants [seed]” shall be as the innumerable stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5). These references clearly refer to the nation of Israel, and not exclusively Christ as an individual. Paul’s employment of Midrash, distinctive Jewish, applicatory interpretation, incorporates Christ as the root of promised blessing without at all denying the obvious promise of national blessing, the plurality of “Abraham’s descendants [seed], heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).  Plainly the terms of the curse/blessing in Genesis 12:2-3 principally refer to the national seed here, notwithstanding the attempted textual manipulation which betrays a difficulty that the obvious sense presents. To be sure, Christ is the ground of covenant blessing, but this does not nullify national blessing as is plainly indicated.

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Future Israel: The Seed of Abraham

August 24, 2010 5 comments

I’m now reading through Barry Horner’s Future Israel, which includes many examples of the wrongs brought about by supersessionist eschatology.  I previously noted that often the people who are already prejudiced against Jews, upon conversion to Christianity, will choose a theology that suits their own ideas, and thus replacement theology is a natural fit for such individuals.  Yet I also see his main point, that we can judge a particular eschatology, discern whether it’s right or wrong, based on the type of fruit it yields.  Does the Augustinian Church replacement view produce Christians with the same fervency, passion and love that Paul expresses in Romans 11, that he almost wishes he were cursed and cut off, for the salvation of his people Israel?  Only a right biblical understanding of Israel’s place in God’s Divine Purpose can understand that kind of compassion for Jews.

In chapter three of Horner’s book he gives a point-by-point refutation of the points in an “Open Letter to Evangelicals” (p. 66 and following) by anti-Zionists, for a good contrast between the two belief systems.  Here he addresses the common mistake of confusing the unconditional Abrahamic covenant with the conditional Mosaic covenant.  (See my previous blogs about the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, from S. Lewis Johnson’s Divine Purpose series, for further information.)  The following is a good explanation concerning the different aspects of the Abrahamic covenant:

From Future Israel (page 72):

(From the Open Letter):  The inheritance promises that God gave to Abraham were made effective through Christ, Abraham’s True Seed (Gal. 3:16).  … Since Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the Abrahamic Covenant, all who bless Him and His people will be blessed of God, and all who curse him and his people will be cursed of God. (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:7-8)  These promises do not apply to any particular ethnic group, but to the church of Jesus Christ, the true Israel.  The people of God, whether the church of Israel in the wilderness in the Old Testament or the Israel of God among the Gentile Galatians in the New Testament (Gal. 6:16), are one body who through Jesus will receive the promise of the heavenly city, the everlasting Zion…

Horner responds by pointing out, first, that Jesus Christ is never said to be the “mediator of the Abrahamic covenant.”  But even if we grant that idea, that does not do away with the additional use of seed (in the Abrahamic covenant) in its national meaning:

Furthermore, the seed of Abraham has application to Christ according to Galatians 3:16, but this in no way invalidates the “seed” of Genesis 12:1-3 being the nation of Israel anymore than does “seed” in Genesis 13:15; 17:7.  The exegetical reason is that God says to Abraham, “your descendants (seed)” shall be as the innumerable stars of heaven (Genesis 15:5).  These references are to the nation of Israel, not exclusively to Christ as an individual.  Paul’s employment of midrash (a distinctive Jewish, applicatory interpretation) incorporates Christ as the root of promised blessing without at all denying the obvious promise of national blessing, the plurality of “Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).  Plainly the terms of the curse/blessing in Genesis 12:2-3 principally refer to the national seed here, notwithstanding the textual manipulation which betrays a difficulty that the obvious sense presents.  To be sure, Christ is the ground of covenant blessing, but this does not nullify national blessing as is plainly indicated.

Biblical Covenants, Typology, and S. Lewis Johnson

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Through my study of the biblical covenants — the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New — I now increasingly notice biblical references to these covenants, with greater appreciation for our covenant-keeping God, the One who will deliver us in keeping with His word.  Understanding the great, divine purpose of God, and His faithfulness to these covenants, helps me to bear up under personal struggles, realizing again God’s wonderful sovereign grace, trusting that He will yet deliver on these wonderful promises — though for now (for a short time, this life) we have our light and momentary afflictions.

Returning to the biblical references, I note something S. Lewis Johnson has pointed out, that the term covenant appears over 300 times in the Old Testament, yet only 33 times in the New Testament — and over half of these are quotations from the Old Testament.  Yet recently I noticed one of the “covenant” references, in Ephesians 2:12 — we (Gentiles) were once excluded, foreigners to “the covenants of the promise” — an excellent New Testament reminder of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.

2 Samuel 7, the main passage dealing with the Davidic covenant, includes David’s wonderful praise (verses 18 – 29), in which David prays “O Lord God” — Adonai Yahweh in the Hebrew, and the same words used in Genesis, in reference to the original covenant with Abraham.

Exodus includes a few references to covenants, including an interesting one in 29:9, a promise to give the priesthood to Aaron’s descendants forever.  This one I can see as having ultimate fulfillment at the Second Coming, with the millennial temple and priestly service described in Ezekiel 40-48 and mentioned by other prophets such as Zechariah.

Exodus 31:17 is another strong covenant statement that mentions the covenant with Israel — and a statement of fact that God created  heaven and earth in six days:  “It (the sabbath) is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”  Something so simple and straightforward, yet how many profess the name of Christ yet want to reject the very beginning of God’s word and argue that Genesis 1 is poetry.  In reading Exodus 31, it also strikes me as interesting that often the same people who scoff at the Genesis creation are the very ones who write off Israel and declare that God is finished with them.  Yet here the two ideas are inextricably linked:  the fact of God’s creation in six ordinary days, as a sign “forever” between God and “the people of Israel.”  Again, how obvious can something be and so many professed believers just don’t get it?  Israel still exists as a distinct, separate ethnic race, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies such as Baalam’s prophecy (Numbers 23:9: behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!), and (from my recent reading) Ezekiel 20:32 (“What is in your mind shall never happen-the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations…’).  For as Psalm 89 assures us, the promise to David is sure — Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.

Another interesting Old Testament covenant is the one between David and Jonathan, begun in 1 Samuel and fulfilled in 2 Samuel 9 with Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.  S. Lewis Johnson again teaches good typology, pointing out the requirements of such types — historical, and with correspondences between the historical object and the New Testament equivalent.   Here, the parallels include:

  • David’s covenant purpose –> God’s eternal purposes — David as a type for God the Father
  • Jonathan (which means, “the Lord has given”) as God the Son
  • Mephibosheth — a name which means shame; one in shame, and crippled, representing us.
  • Delayed fulfillment of the covenant:  many years had gone by since David and Jonathan made the original covenant, yet just as surely as this covenant was later fulfilled, so will God’s covenant reach its fulfillment in the future
  • David’s search for those who are the object of the promises –> the Divine Initiative, that God is the one seeking us out.

The Davidic Covenant in the New Testament

July 16, 2010 2 comments

I’ve now completed the mini-series (within Lessons from the Life of David) on the Davidic covenant, so here are some more study notes and observations concerning this great covenant, itself an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant:

The New Testament has many references to the Davidic covenant, including:

  • Luke 1:31-33
  • Matt. 4:17, 21:43, 22:41-46, 26:29
  • Acts 13:29-37, and 15:15-16
  • Romans 1:3-4 and 15:7-13
  • Revelation 3:7, 5:5, and 22:16

Revelation 3:7 makes a reference to Isaiah 22:22, the “key of David.”  Revelation 22:16, the end of the New Testament, sums up the truth of the Davidic promises with Jesus’ sure words, “I am the root and the offspring of David.”

To those who would re-interpret references to David as meaning the church (as with the Acts 15 text:  David is mentioned 54 times in the New Testament, and always the word refers to David, not the church.  Furthermore, the Amos text cited in Acts 15 talks about “rebuilding” the tabernacle of David.  When is the Church ever referred to as something to be RE-built?  (No, Christ told Peter He would “build” His church.)  Or as something to be rebuilt from ruins, “as in the days of old”?  What does one do with the beginning phrase “after this”?  As always, we look at the context, which is talking about Gentiles being saved, and understand that the prophecy is talking about the future restoration, what will happen “after this,” the Gentile church age.

S. Lewis Johnson describes the difference between the Jews of Jesus’ day and the present-day Church in an interesting way:  The Jews received the promises, but rejected the seed (Jesus Christ, the seed of David).  We (the visible Church) receive the seed (Jesus), but reject the promises.

As for the common question, “what about the land promises? They’re not mentioned in the New Testament,” the obvious and clear answer is that both the Old and New Testaments are equal in importance.  We must follow the example given by the apostles, for who the Scriptures were the scriptures of the Old Testament, as pointed out in 2 Peter 3:2, “That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”  Peter’s statement is a strong answer to those who give the New Testament priority and would discard anything from the Old Testament unless it is explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  Rather, we interpret the Old Testament on its own terms, and only discard something from the Old Testament if the New Testament specifically says to do so.

To think otherwise is to disparage the scriptures, and to lose a lot of the joy of understanding the purpose of God.

Biblical Covenants: The Davidic Covenant

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Through an interesting providence, both of my current MP3 sermon studies — one going through the life of David in 1st and 2nd Samuel, the other a doctrinal series “The Divine Purpose” — came to the same subject last week: the Davidic covenant. The “Lessons from the Life of David,” upon reaching 2 Samuel 7, begins a mini-series of four messages on the topic. The “Divine Purpose” series is in a section looking at the biblical covenants and commits two sessions specifically to the Davidic covenant, as an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant.

Some of the important points:
The Davidic covenant expands on the Abrahamic covenant, and the primary feature here is the kingdom — a king and a realm (subjects). The New Covenant, another outworking of the Abrahamic covenant, treats the matter of the seed. The Davidic covenant also promises the everlasting reign of David’s seed, and here the term seed is meant in the collective sense: David’s descendants on the throne, but ultimately the line ends as it comes into the Messiah.

In 2 Samuel 7:8, God promises that David “should be prince over my people Israel.” God reserves the title of King to Himself alone. Here I add an interesting note from recent reading through 1 Samuel 25 (list 6), that Abigail does indeed appear to know something about the future Davidic promises, with her words “a sure house” and, verse 30, that the Lord would appoint David prince over Israel: ” And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel”. Also from recent readings I noticed Psalm 145, and in verses 10-13 David also recognizes that it is God’s kingdom:

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The word “covenant” does not actually appear in 2 Samuel 7, but in 2 Samuel 23:5, David makes reference to the covenant: “For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.”

The three key passages for the Davidic covenant are 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, and Psalm 89.  Johnson describes these passages as different types of lights that show different emphases:

  • 2 Samuel 7 — a floodlight, an overview
  • 1 Chronicles 17 — a spotlight
  • Psalm 89 — a searchlight

Psalm 89 has two key words: mercy (or “loving kindness”) and faithfulness. Psalm 89 was written by Ethan, whose name means perpetuity. SLJ made a passing reference without further explanation, that this psalm was written at the time when Rehoboam had been unfaithful. I don’t see this detail in the text, so this is one for further study, to look up in commentaries.

These two Davidic covenant series contain a great deal of overlap, though the David series spends more time (four sessions instead of two). Yet in both of these series SLJ uses the illustrations of different types of light — the floodlight, spotlight, and searchlight — and cites the same passages in reference to the Davidic covenant in prophecy, including Isaiah 7, 9 and 11. Both series also discuss the New Testament references to the Davidic covenant.

In closing, here are the references to the Davidic covenant in Isaiah. Both of these series are available, in transcript and audio files, at www.sljinstitute.net

Isaiah 7:13-14 — “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:7 – Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.

Isaiah 11:1- 10, in which verses 1 and 10 mention “the stump of Jesse” and “the root of Jesse,” with descriptions of the kingdom age in between:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

and

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples-of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

The Whole Counsel of God: The Abrahamic Covenant

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

What great treasures in God’s word are missed by the casual Bible teacher or student, by those who limit their study of God’s word to only certain parts and do not teach the whole counsel of God — justifying their neglect of the Bible by the notion that the only important thing is Christ’s First Coming, remembering the cross and how much God did for us at the cross.  Such a one, who concludes from 2 John that “there’s only one doctrine, the doctrine of Christ” also dismisses some biblical teachings as less important, saying:  (others would say) “oh let’s talk about Israel in prophecy, that’s more fun,”  — but that’s not important and that distracts from what’s really important, what Christ did at the cross.  Such an attitude appears to show great spiritual superiority, yet completely misses the important things that God has chosen to reveal to us– including the significance that Israel does have in prophecy (a large section of the Old Testament plus many New Testament references), as an important part in exalting and glorifying Christ, praising Him for the wonders He will yet do in the Divine Purpose of the Ages.  As I mentioned in this blog, the New Testament writers placed great emphasis on Christ’s return, often mentioning the prophetic word; they did not just look back, but eagerly awaited and desired His return.

Now to an important part of the whole counsel of God:  understanding the Abrahamic covenant, and the relevant passages in Genesis chapters 12, 15 and 17.  I have come across this topic a few times during previous studies from S. Lewis Johnson, such as his Eschatology series, and now in the “Divine Purpose” series he again briefly touches on the subject (while noting that he had previously covered this topic in many other series and suggested that people reference the tapes from those previous studies).  To those who would say that the basic promises in the Bible have to do with the cross of Jesus Christ, S. Lewis Johnson points out the connection, why studying the Abrahamic covenant is important:

what Christ did on the cross is the outgrowth of the Abrahamic promises and the outgrowth of the Davidic promises as well.  So we are contending that the basic broad promise of redemption is the Abrahamic covenantal promises.  The story of the Bible, we have said, is the record of the path along which Israel moves toward the fulfillment of these great promises. …  it’s in harmony with this that at the last of the whole of the Bible, that is, in Revelation chapter 22 in verse 16, the Lord Jesus’ connection with the Davidic covenant is again set forth and it’s the next to the last word that Jesus says.  He says, “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.  I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star,” and his final word is, “and surely I come quickly.”

One new (to me) interesting thing concerning the account in Genesis 15:  verse 12 describes the deep sleep that fell on Abram — and “dreadful and great darkness.”  This was a nightmare, and the fact that it is associated with the ratification of this covenant indicates the future judgment, the horror and terror that would be required for the actual fulfilling of the covenant, the death of Christ on the cross.  Again from S. Lewis Johnson:

the fact that the terror and the horror of great darkness is associated with the ratification of this covenant suggests the judgment that is bound up in the ratification of it in reality in the future when the Lord Jesus Christ represented by this covenantal ratification dies upon Calvary’s cross.  So the terror and the horror of darkness is designed to suggest that the ratification of the covenant in reality not in type or not in illustration is a matter that involves the most serious and most painful of the divine judgmental discipline.

It is also biblically accurate to say that if we are to get any blessings from God, we have to get them through Abraham.  God chose Abraham, that the promised seed would come through him.  All the blessings involved in Jesus Christ come from Abraham, for Christ comes as the seed of Abraham.

A final note from S. Lewis Johnson about the importance of the Abrahamic covenant:

In fact, one of my teachers once said a long time ago that the way one looks at Abraham’s covenant more or less settles the entire argument in eschatology.  So it’s important to have a concept of what is taught in the Abrahamic covenant, its unconditional character and also the Scriptures that have to do with its future fulfillment.