Covenant Relationship

In our last post, we looked briefly at the Ark of the Covenant, a piece of furniture in the Tabernacle, which the ordinary Israelite never saw.  Only the high priest was allowed into the compartment where the ark was kept and that only on special and very limited occasions.

The word “covenant” occurs numerous times in Scripture.  What is a “covenant”?  Simply put, it is an agreement between people or groups of people to do certain things, or perhaps not to do them.  We might use the word “treaty.”  And this covenant might be “conditional” or “unconditional”.  A “conditional” covenant is an “if-then” covenant.  One or both parties are required to do or not do certain things, upon which certain results depend.  An “unconditional” covenant is one which does not have such requirements, but is basically a promise by one party to do something for another party regardless of what that other party does.

There are several “covenants” of both kinds in Scripture.  And there is a great deal of discussion about them.  It’s not our purpose here to get into that discussion.  We only want to look at a couple of these covenants and then spend some time on the covenant referred in particular by the Ark of  The Covenant.

The first covenant in Scripture is the one God made with Noah after the flood, the first covenant God made with men.  In Genesis 9:8-11, God said,

“And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you:  the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you:  Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  (NKJV)

These verses ought to answer those who believe that the Flood was just some local affair, blown out of proportion by eager ignorance.  It will soon be spring and floods will be reported all over the country.  If Genesis just refers to some local event, then God lied, because there have been innumerable “floods” since then.  But there has never been another universal flood.

There are those who believe that there was an earlier covenant – in the Garden of Eden.  Referring to Hosea 6:7, these scholars speak of a “covenant of works” God entered into with Adam.  In many versions, Hosea 6:7 says, But like Adam they transgressed the covenant.  The discussion centers around the word translated “Adam.”  It is also translated “man” or “men”.

Genesis 1-3 gives us the account of Adam and Eve.  It clearly shows the responsibility Adam had to take care of the Garden and the one restriction which was placed on him: he could not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Every other tree was made available for his use, God saying to him, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat,” Genesis 2:16, emphasis added.   Some teach that if Adam had been obedient to God, he eventually would have entered a state where he would have been confirmed in righteousness or innocence or some such thing.  The thing is, there was no restriction placed on him with regard to the tree of life.  He could have gone immediately and eaten of the fruit of that tree.  By doing so, he could have gained “eternal life” right away.  There was no “covenant of works.”  There was just his dismal failure.

The second covenant we’re interested in is found in Genesis 12:

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

“Get out from your country.
From your family,
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;..,”

Genesis 12:1, 2a, emphases added.

In Genesis 13, we have the account of Abram’s trip from Egypt.  Leaving aside the difficulties encountered because he didn’t fully obey God in this trip, we read in v. 14, And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward:  for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.  And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth:..,” emphasis added.

The book of Joshua gives us the account of Israel as they began to enter that land God had promised Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob.  In Joshua 1, after the death of Moses, God told his successor Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead.  Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving them – the children of Israel.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory,” vs. 2-4.  This is the only “land” and its location described as being given to a particular people – Israel, and it’s repeated in different forms several times.

Granted, Israel has had a lot of ups and downs during her history, and still isn’t done with them, for that matter.  If I read Scripture correctly, there is coming a time when it will finally seem that Israel has been destroyed, Zechariah 14:2.  This isn’t the only such reference.  But God isn’t done with her, in spite of those who teach otherwise.

Ezekiel 48:1-29, which is yet future, gives an extensive listing of the division of the land of Israel, beginning with the tribe of Dan to the north and ending with the tribe of Gad on the south.  “This is the land which you shall divided by lot as an inheritance among the tribes of Israel, and these are their portions,” says the LORD GOD, v. 29.

Israel’s possession of the land doesn’t depend on her military prowess, on the agreement of other nations or groups or on political pronouncements from, say, the UN.  It depends on the purpose, promise and power of God.  It is His covenant with them.

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Acts 3:19-26, Covenant Redemption

[19] “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20] and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, 21] whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.  22] For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren.  Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. 23] And it shall be that every soul who will not hear the Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’  24] Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. 25] You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’  26] To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.” 

As Peter begins to come to the end of his explanation to the people, he gives four reasons why they should repent and be converted. The first one, which we looked at in our last post, is the return of Christ, about which Peter will have some more to say.  The other three reasons form the basis for this post.

1. Certain Retribution, vs. 22, 23.

Peter builds on his statement in v. 21 concerning the revelation of God through the mouth of His holy prophets by quoting Deuteronomy 18:15-19. showing that from the very beginning of Israel as a nation, God had foretold the coming of One with authority.  Indeed, from the very beginning of human history, God had foretold of such a One.  When our first parents sinned in the Garden, God told the instrument of their sin, that is, the serpent,

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,

And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
Genesis 3:15.

Though later prophesies expand on this idea, this verse contains the whole of prophetic revelation about the Coming One:  enmity and conflict.

Jacob’s descendants, having been more or less forced to move to Egypt, at first found themselves respected and honored.  This did not last and they eventually found themselves persecuted and enslaved.  At the appointed time, God raised up Moses to deliver the people.  At Sinai, where Israel was transformed from a motley rabble into an organized nation, the people were terrified at the manifestation of God, and wanted someone as a go-between.  Moses was the one God chose, through whom He gave the Law, the Mosaic Covenant.  At the giving of that Law, God said, “What they have spoken is good.   I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him,” Deuteronomy 18:18, 19.

The clear implication is that Jesus Christ is this Prophet and to reject Him is to bring down certain judgment, v. 23.

2. Covenant Promises, v. 24.

“All the prophets, from Samuel….have also foretold these days.”

“These days”….

Do “these days” refer to what is known as “the church age,” and is Peter telling his audience that all the OT promises are “fulfilled in the church” and, as a consequence, there is no further or future blessing for Israel?

If you’ve ready very many of my posts, you know that I don’t believe that to be true.

In the first place, vs. 25, 26 indicate that these unsaved Jews did indeed have an interest in the OT covenants.  Granted, repentance was required of them, but even in the OT, relationship with God hinged on a satisfactory answer to the sin question, as seen in all the offerings and in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.  Relationship to God, as we understand that term, in any time in human history since the Fall, has never been and never will be apart from redemption from sin.

Second, Peter preached just a few weeks or so after the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  Early believers had no inkling of such a long period of time until the Second Coming as we ourselves have seen, nor of a body called “the church,” in which people would come to God through the Lord Jesus and not through the offerings and ceremonies of the Old Testament.  This is the whole thrust of the book of Hebrews, explaining to believing Jews the place, the purpose and, yes, the putting aside, of their beloved Mosaic heritage, or perhaps rather, the flowering and fulfillment of what that heritage foreshadowed.

The early disciples were vitally interested in the “time” element.  Cf. the disciple’s question and our Lord’s response in Acts 1:6, 7, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” and He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has put in His own authority.”  According to Peter, the time element was also of surpassing interest to the OT prophets, 1 Peter 1:10, 11.  This was partly because of such seemingly contradictory things as the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.  But when did it follow?

Further, OT prophecy is filled with “time” references:  the 400 year servitude in Egypt, the 70 year captivity, Daniel’s 70 weeks, as well as Daniel  12:5-12 and Hosea 3:4, 5.

At this time, all Peter knew for certain was that Jesus had been crucified, raised again, ascended into heaven, and that He was coming again.  Perhaps the early church, as seen in its communal attitude, believed that that Return would be very soon.

Therefore, we believe that “these days” refers not the church age, but rather to Peter’s own time and the early believers’ anticipation of and preparation for the return of the Lord Jesus.  Only as Paul came onto the scene and it became evident that the nation of Israel in general would continue to reject Jesus as their Messiah, was further revelation given to the churches and it became apparent that more time might elapse before the Second Coming than was first thought, although that Coming is always viewed as “imminent” in the New Testament.

The final reason Peter gave for them to repent was their –

3. Covenant relationship, v. 25.

“You are the sons…of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed’.”  Peter also mentioned “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” in v. 13.  In this way, he reminded them that they were the beneficiaries and successors of the promises made “to the fathers” through “the prophets.”  At the same time, he cautions them that these blessings do not simply automatically flow from parent or ancestor, but that the ultimate intent of God’s dealings with them, and with us, is that people might be turned from their iniquities.  This can only be done on a personal, individual basis: every one of you.