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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“…You Have Not Passed This Way Before,” Joshua 3:4.

At long last, Israel was ready to cross over the Jordan River and possess the land which God had promised her ancestors so long ago.

There’s a lot we could say about all this, but wish to focus on only one thing.

The verse in our title was the instruction for the people to watch for and follow the ark of the covenant.  Granted, they could not see the actual ark for that was covered when being moved and was not simply to be an object to be looked at, Numbers 4:5, 6.  It was the place where God met with His people under very strict conditions, indeed, only one man was permitted once a year on the Day of Atonement to enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood of a specific sacrifice on it.

We no longer have an actual piece of furniture called an ark.  All the things the Old Testament tabernacle and Temple foreshadowed are found in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We no longer are forbidden to enter His presence except on one day of the year.  We have freedom to come into His presence and seek His blessing and aid at any time, Hebrews 4:14-16.

The point is that even as Israel was to look to the ark as it entered the land, so we must look to the Lord Jesus as we enter a new year.

I’m actually writing this post a few days before Christmas, to be published on New Year’s Day.  I don’t know what will happen next year; I don’t even know what will happen in the few remaining days of this year.

I am very concerned with the direction this country is being taken by its leadership.  I’m very concerned with the direction the organized church, for the most part, is taking.  Wolves have indeed taken over.

Things which were unthinkable just a few years ago, to say nothing of in my youth more than a few years ago, are now commonly accepted and are considered “rights” by many. Considering where this year has taken us, I can’t begin to imagine what might happen this next year.  And I don’t want to.  The tipping point may finally come when this country crashes and burns, to become a smoking ruin on the trash heap of history.

Yes, I am pessimistic.  It will take more than a new Congress or a new President.  The problems in our country aren’t merely political or economic or social.  They are moral and spiritual.  It will take a mighty moving of the Spirit of God.  It’s certainly not beyond His power.  It just may be that we’ve told Him to go away, and He has.  I do not mean this in the sense that we somehow have defeated Him or made it impossible for Him to work.  There are no such foolish limitations on Him as that.  I think it’s just that we’ve told Him to go away, and He’s showing us how that works out.

Not well.

So, this new year, let us reject self-will, self-assurance and self-image and return to the only One Who can really do anything about it.

Because.

We have not passed this way before.

“No Longer A Canaanite in the House of the Lord.”

Our last post finished with our title statement from Zechariah 14:21.

Why this strange statement, seemingly out of harmony with the rest of the chapter?

The Canaanites were the original occupants of the land.  Israel displaced them.

There’s a lot of angst over “the poor Canaanites.”  However, Moses and Joshua didn’t just arbitrarily decide to invade Canaan on the spur of the moment.  Almost from the beginning of Biblical history, the land of Canaan has been singled out for special attention, long before there was an Israel.

In Genesis 9:18 and 10:6, Canaan is listed as the son of Ham, one of Noah’s children.  Ham is brought to our attention in Genesis 9:20-27 as a result of some indiscretion against Noah.  We’re not told what that indiscretion was, only that it happened.  Nor are we told why Noah “cursed” Canaan instead of Ham.

Genesis 10:6 lists the children of Canaan and the territory in which they settled.  This is the only “nation” so described.

Genesis 15 is the famous chapter in which God promises Abraham a son and foretells something of the future of his descendants.  Our post, “Look Now Toward Heaven,” gives more detail about this event.  For now, we’re interested in the last part of v. 16, where, after telling Abraham of the sojourn in Egypt and that Israel will come out with great riches, God tells him that this will happen in the “fourth generation…, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 

“The iniquity of the Amorites,” who stand as representatives of the Canaanites.

The Canaanites were not an innocent and childlike people.  Archaeology has confirmed that.  Scripture describes some of their depravity.  Leviticus 18 gives a long list of the degenerate acts committed by the Canaanites which were not to be committed by Israel.  God warns Israel in v. 18, “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things, for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you.  For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity on it.”   In v. 29, He warns of punishment for anyone who engages in these acts.  Israel paid very little attention to this, and did indeed suffer much as the nations before them had suffered.

In addition to this, the Canaanites were idolaters, to the extent of burning their own children as sacrifices to their false gods.  They engaged in witchcraft and spiritism.  Israel really was no better fundamentally than these other nations and her dissolution by Nebuchadnezzar was because of all these very sins, cf. 2 Kings 21:1-16. But nobody worries about “the poor Israelites.”  See also Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 12:29-32.

The Canaanites were to be destroyed as a punishment for their sins.  Many find this difficult to accept.  We’ve so diluted the idea of “the love of God,” that we have totally dismissed the idea of His holiness and justice.  It is true that the Christian has no such command or right.  But the Canaanites were also to be destroyed as a protection for Israel and to prevent her from being tempted to follow their degenerate ways.  The Old Testament bears sad testimony to how badly Israel failed at this.

The only reason Israel and the Jewish people have not completely disappeared from the pages of history like so many other nations and peoples is because God isn’t finished with her.  Our last post dealt with that.  Israel’s continued existence is inexplicable apart from that thought.

So then, how did Canaanites get into the house of the Lord?

Joshua 9 gives us the story.  Realizing they were doomed, the Gibeonites sent men who pretended to be from a country a long way away and who wanted to make a treaty with Israel.  Taking the men’s statements at face value and not consulting the LORD, cf. Numbers 27:21, Joshua made a treaty with them.  It wasn’t until three days later that Israel discovered she had been fooled.  There were those who wanted to destroy the Gibeonites, anyway.  Joshua prevented this from happening, saying that the treaty must be honored, even though falsely obtained.  King Saul got Israel into trouble many years later for violating this same treaty, 2 Samuel 21:1.

Let this be a lesson to us.  We often get into trouble because we “take things at face value,” and don’t “inquire of the LORD” about what to do in a specific situation.

As a result of their deception, the Gibeonites were sentenced to a lifetime of serving the Tabernacle.  They would be woodcutters and water carriers for the house of…God, Joshua 9:23, 27.

They got into the house of God, even unintentionally because they were idolaters, by deception.  That’s not how we’re to enter God’s presence.

Our Lord addresses a somewhat similar situation in Matthew 7:22, “Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” 

These are solemn words.  We live in a time when there are professing Christians who are all about the casting out of demons and the performing of signs and miracles.  This isn’t to say that they’re not sincere in what they believe and do.  The men in Matthew 7 were sincere, and were no doubt dumbfounded when the Lord rejected their works as “lawlessness.”

The Lord also predicted a time when “every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted,”  Matthew 15:13.  In a time of “tolerance,” this isn’t a message that people want to hear.  But it’s important.  Eternity is just around the corner for all of us, young or old, and what seems so great in this life might turn out to be not so great in the light of “forever.”

The message for us is that not everything in “church” is of God.  Where there are sons of the kingdom, there are also sons of the wicked one, Matthew 13:37-39.  Even the Lord had His “Judas.”  Paul went so far as to say, in effect, that if you want to find the Devil, look for him behind the pulpit, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15.  After all, what is more important than what one believes about eternity?  The Devil doesn’t care how “right” or how “orthodox” we are about anything else if he can get us to be wrong about eternity.

According to Matthew, four separate times our Lord predicted that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,”  Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30.  “Weeping” because people have done what their preacher or priest or rabbi or imam or guru or whoever has told them to do, but they’ll find out when it’s too late that it’s not what God told them to do.

Everything we read or hear, including this blog, is to be measured according to the rule of Scripture, cf. Acts 17:11.  It doesn’t matter if everybody in the entire world says, “A”, if God’s Word says, “B”.  There is no greater responsibility than our hearing or ministering the Word of God.

Oh!  to be students of the Word.  To find it of more importance than anything else in the world.  Way back in the early days of history, Job said, “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food,” Job 23:12(ESV).  When we step on the scale, more than likely we see that we’ve had plenty of food.  If we could weigh them, I wonder if our souls would say the same thing?