Coffee Stains and Covenants

The bible is a book to be abused.
Now give me a second to qualify that statement.

There is a lot in the bible. So much, in fact, that some shy away from reading for fear that there are just too many pages. I can sympathize with that. And let us not forget that its immensity has oftentimes led to its misinterpretation. However, my heart behind these biblical theology seminars has been to make the immensity of the bible manageable and in so doing provide clarity in our interpretation.

Making it manageable, though, still requires work. It requires that we wring out the pages in order to obtain their life giving waters. It demands that we wrestle with confusing texts until we pin down their meaning. Familiarity with the bible requires that we awake it early in the morning and argue with it late into the night. I hope the pages of your bible become covered with coffee stains. It’s a good indicator that you’re fighting (1 Timothy 6:12).

If we can grasp the bible, we are hanging onto the very power of God’s word (1 Corinthians 1:18), and that is worth contending for.

Covenants are more than just theological terms

Back to manageability, though. One way in which we can begin to grasp our bibles (and see how they preach Christ crucified start to finish) is to get a handle of covenants.

The bible is filled with covenants, some between God and man, man and man, and sometimes even between God and God. So what is a covenant?

A couple weekends ago we learned that a covenant is a treaty between two kings: one great, one small (or vassal). Covenants were common to the ancient near east culture where the bible was written. In God’s revelation, when He makes a covenant, He is condescending to our thoughts and paradigms to reveal Himself as a King in yet another way. Don’t let this thought trouble you, rather, let it magnify your appreciation of His mercy.

These covenants typically involved the great king promising some type of protection or blessing to the king and kingdom of the lesser. On the vassal king’s side, he was to swear allegiance and obedience to the great king. If he obeyed, he was blessed. If he disobeyed, he received curses and wrath.

This was the normal case, and is referred to as a “covenant of works.” However, every once in a while a great king would just make a promise to a lesser king (or a nobleman, a brave warrior, etc.) in which no obedience was demanded. The king would just want to bless. This is referred to as a “covenant of grace.” We’ll see the profound differences between the two as we work through these seminars (I briefly explained it in the seminar). God makes both types of covenants with different people at different times throughout the bible, and it’s important to know what kind of covenant we find ourselves in with God and, therefore, the basis of our blessing.

Covenant structure

So what were these covenants like? We can learn a good deal just by looking at the typical structure. Usually, covenants would contain the following:

  • Preamble -  identifies the great king who authors the covenant
  • Historical prologue – what the great king has already done for the vassal king
  • Stipulations – what is expected of the vassal king
  • Document clause – requirement that both kings carry a copy of the covenant and read it to the people on a regular basis
  • List of blessings – rewards for vassal king’s obedience
  • List of curses – consequences for vassal king’s disobedience

An excellent example of this can be found in Exodus 20:2-17. Read it, and you should be able to readily identify the preamble, the historical prologue and the stipulations.

There are a few additional things to note about covenants.

Firstly, they are generational. This means that the covenant is binding not only on the people who were alive when the covenant was made, but also their descendants after them (see Exodus 30:47).

Secondly, though it was the king who would enter into the covenant, the people underneath that king were also bound by it.  Therefore, the vassal king’s (or the kingdom’s) obedience or disobedience would result in either the people’s being blessed or cursed.

Lastly, covenants were cut. That is to say, covenants were sealed with blood. Usually by the sacrifice of an animal. In doing so, the kings essentially said to each other, “If I don’t keep this covenant, may it be done to me as it was done to these animals.”

If you would like to see a reconstruction of the story of the animal sacrifice in Genesis 15 in God’s covenant with Abraham, check out the blog I’ll be posting in the near future. I hope to convey the significance of the cut there.

Identifying the major covenants in the bible

In terms of our second most recent seminar, we went over the six major covenants of Scripture. On account of how busy these couple of weeks are turning out to be, I’ve decided to just post the (lightly edited) notes that I made and used in the seminar. If you were there (or plan on listening), you’ll see we covered some, but not all of these, so feel free to read at your leisure and think through these things as you go:

  • CREATION COVENANTGenesis 2:15-17
    Key reference verses
    – Romans 5:12-21
    In Adam all die (“death reigned”)
  • Type – Works
  • Stipulations: “don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” v. 17
  • Between God and – Adam (and his seed, all of mankind)
  • Blessing – Eternal life in the Garden, uninterrupted perfect fellowship with God
  • Additionally the way they were blessed in Genesis 1:28 (fruitful multiply and have dominion)
  • Curse – Death (see Romans 5 again); the changing of the blessings into curses, the earth is cursed (Gen. 3)
  • Sign – ? maybe the tree of life (they could have partook of that instead of knowledge)
  • Additional Notes/Implications
  • The curses reflect the blessings in cursed form (compare Genesis 1:28-30 and Genesis 3:16-19 and notice the changes)
  • The covenant of redemption (theological covenant, that is to say a covenant made between the Persons of our Triune God) is a covenant of grace that shows up after Adam broke covenant  and promises redemption (Genesis 3:15)
  • From Romans 5 we learn that Christ is a better covenant head
  • Even though through the disobedience of Adam we all die (and disobey), Christ triumphs over that as a better Adam and a better covenant head

  • NOAHIC COVENANTGenesis 9:8-17 (see surrounding verses, too)
  • Key reference verses – Genesis 9:11, Isaiah 54:9-10 (refers to new covenant that will be like Noahic covenant)
  • Type – Grace
  • Between God and – Noah and his descendants (all of mankind) [v.9-10]
  • Blessing – fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, have dominion over it [9:1-3]; judgment is postponed
  • Curse – NONE
  • In the flood mankind was reaping the curses from the Creation Covenant
  • Sign – Rainbow [9:13]
  • Additional Notes/Implications
  • Note the shedding of blood in Gen 8:20 [I think this is the “cut”]
  • Genesis 3:17, the ground is cursed; Genesis 8:21, God will not curse the ground again àis this foreshadowing the removal of the curse? I think so, but only foreshadowing its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.
  • The covenant is primarily between God and Noah, but it includes all of mankind
  • It also includes the other creatures of the earth
  • You get the re-establishment of the proper function of God’s order (though not fully)
  • Notice how God gave Noah blessings like that are similar to the ones he gave Adam
  • However, humanity is still tainted by sin (Genesis 8:21 – every intention is evil, that’s why He destroyed it in the first place), this is pointing to a greater restoration still.
  • INCREDIBLE display of grace (He won’t do it again, though sin remains).
  • Is a shadow of the New Creation that is to come
  • Points to a more significant redemption and judgment (2 Peter 3:6-7)

  • ABRAHAMIC COVENANTGenesis 12, 15, 17
  • This, in a lot of ways, is the beginning of God’s redemptive work in humanity
  • Key reference verses – Genesis 12:1-3, Galatians 3
  • See preamble in Gen. 15:7
  • Type – Grace
  • Between God and – Abraham and his descendants (15:5,18, explicitly 17:7)
  • Blessing –
  • -          Great nation and name (12:2)
  • -          a blessing to others (12:3)
  • -          give the offspring the land(15:18)
  • -          Father of a multitude of nations (17:4)
  • -          He will be nations and kings will come from him (17:6)
  • Curse – NONE
  • Sign – circumcision [17:10]
  • Additional Notes/Implications –
  • What’s going on in 15:9-18?
  • This is the cutting of the covenant
  • MASSIVELY important in this covenant of grace
  • The great King establishing His covenant
  • God walks between the animals alone, symbolizing that He is going to make sure that His purposes are accomplished and nothing will stand in His way.
  • God does demand Abraham’s obedience, but as we saw above, it was God who secured the covenant.
  • Again, He was the one that passed between the animals, Abraham was absent
  • See the commitment of God to this covenant when He begins to refer to Himself throughout the rest of the Bible as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • It’s an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:7)
  • The blessings of the covenant are certain (talks about it in past tense in 17:5)
  • When God promises something, it’s as good as accomplished, so even if it’s a future promise, God can talk about it like it’s in the past.
  • Consider Romans 8 (predestined, called, justified, glorified in verse 30)
  • Just a thought to ponder before we get to the Mosaic covenant, Abraham appears to blow it over and over again, but that did not nullify God’s faithfulness to this covenant.
  • Highlights the difference between covenant of works and of grace
  • Keep in mind that shadowy nature of the OT, because the NT picks up on this theme of the land, the offspring, the nations, the blessing, etc. to show us that it was pointing to something else (cf. Hebrews 11:13-16)
  • WE ARE COMING BACK TO THIS ONE BIG TIME IN THE NEAR FUTURE!
  • This is foundationally important for the rest of the story of the Bible.

  • MOSAIC COVENANTExodus 20-25, Deuteronomy 27, 28
  • The story of how Israel found themselves at Mount Sinai (plagues, exodus, bread, water)
  • This is the beginning of the very explicit fulfillment of Abrahamic covenant
  • The scene at Mount Sinai (terrifying)
  • Lightning, thunder, darkness, fire
  • No one comes up but Moses or else you die
  • It is establishing the holiness of God
  • Key reference verses – See Deuteronomy 27 & 28 for list of blessings and curses,
  • -          IF you obey (Exodus 23:22)
  • -          Preamble in Exodus 19:1-6
  • -          Called the book of the covenant in Exodus 24:7
  • Type – Works
  • Between God and – the people of Israel
  • Blessing –
  • -          Long life in the land
  • -          Land is blessed, wombs blessed, everything blessed
  • -          Echoes of Eden
  • Curse –
  • -          Everything gets cursed, and then exile
  • -          Explicitly specific with the description of curse and exile à you don’t want it
  • -          Continuation of the Fall
  • Sign – Sabbath (Exodus 31:17)
  • Additional Notes –
  • -          It builds upon the Abrahamic Covenant in that it shows that the beneficiaries of the covenant are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6)
  • -          Do the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28 ring a bell with anywhere else in Scripture?
  • The blessings are re-establishing what was lost in Eden.
    • Creation, fall, redemption, restoration
    • You see God redeeming a people (Israel, bought them from Egypt at the cost of the firstborn there) and hints at a final restoration.
    • Israel’s function was to be a light to the nations (we see this in a lot of places in Isaiah).
    • But to neglect to obey is to be have the land cursed and exiled (just like in the Garden)

  • Blessings are lost in disobedience, regained by obedience, but we fail
    • Thus, Christ!

  • You have a hint of restoration, but the reality is that it won’t happen this way [i.e. through the law] (Romans 7, Galatians 3)
  • The continuity and discontinuity of the Law (ministry of life and ministry of death, 2 Corinthians 3-4)
  • How it applies to us and how it doesn’t…
  • Jesus fulfills the curses of the Mosaic Covenant by becoming a curse for us so that we might receive the blessing (Galatians 3:13-14)
  • God’s holiness demands that His subjects live a life of holiness à these laws were designed to make Israel distinctive from all the nations of the earth
  • It is a covenant between God and the people of Israel, we are underneath a different covenant as believers.
  • We even see in Exodus 30 that failure to adhere to the principles of this covenant was anticipated. We’ll talk New Covenant in a bit, but it’s interesting to note the covenant of grace is implied in Exodus 30:6-10

  • DAVIDIC COVENANT2 Samuel 7
  • Key reference verses – See also 1 Chronicles 17
  • Type – Grace (2 Samuel 7:12-15a)
  • Between God and – David and David’s son (Solomon initially, but has layers to it)
  • Blessing – An eternal kingdom (v.13)
  • Curse – NONE
  • Sign – A son
  • Additional Notes/Implications –
  • -          We have a major fulfillment to the Abrahamic covenant here
  • -          There are direct implications for Solomon, etc.
  • This covenant is why so much of the rest of the historical narrative of the Bible takes on the form that it does
  • It talks about the kings because the kings now represent the people
  • You see the prophets pick up on the theme of David/son of David, etc. which heightened the anticipation for a Messianic King, One who would save his people
  • The question for us becomes, if it’s a covenant of grace…
    • and it said that the Kingdom of David would be established forever, but that obviously didn’t happen in the traditional manner, then what’s up?
    • points to Jesus

  • NEW COVENANTJeremiah 31:27-34
  • Key reference verses – cf. Jeremiah 32:36-41; Ezek. 36:22-38; Matt. 27:26-29; Ezekiel 11:14-21; Hebrews 8-10
  • Type – Grace
  • Between God and – the house of Judah and Israel à we need to talk about this and the continuity and discontinuity between the identity of the people of God that develops as we move from Old Testament to New Testament.
  • Blessing –
  • -          Forgiveness (Jer. 31:34, Matt. 27:28)
  • -          New Birth, Law on hearts (Jer. 31:33, Ezek. 11:19-20; Ezek. 36:26-27)
  • Curse – NONE
  • Sign – Baptism (see Romans 6)
  • Additional Notes/Implications –
  • In terms of the promises to Israel/Judah; it seems to me that the NT writers are talking about a different kind of Israel à issues of continuity and discontinuity with the people of God
  • Remember, everything in the OT is shadowy, and the substance is all in Christ (the Israel of God [Gal. 6:16])
  • This might be difficult, but wait until the last session
    • Not saying I have all the answers, but I think that I’ve started down the right track.

  • The prophets are almost always pointing back to the Abrahamic and forward to this covenant when they are talking about restoration.
  • He DELIGHTS to do you good! (Jeremiah 32:40-41, and see the surrounding context to check for the different covenants that are mentioned)
  • You will see that this is implied in almost every promise of restoration that you see throughout the prophets
  • The continuity and discontinuity that exists
  • Between us and Israel in particular
  • Galatians 3 (which we’ll deal with next time) will show us this

All things unto Christ

I’ll finish this post like I finished the seminar: by briefly demonstrating how all of these covenants point to Jesus.

Jesus is the true and better Adam. A covenant head and representative of mankind that faced temptation not in a garden of plenty, but in the desolate wilderness, and then in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His betrayal. He was tempted beyond what any of us would care to imagine, and yet He obeyed, crying out, “Yet not what I will, but what you will,” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus fulfills the commitment of the covenant God has had from all of eternity to redeem mankind, though this was just a whisper to humanity moments after we fell (Genesis 3:15).

Jesus is a better vehicle through which we find salvation from the wrath of God. He is the first fruits of a New Creation, not just the same stuff re-emerging from the old, but truly new and truly better without any of the clinging remnant of sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is the one who can truly provide peace between God and His creation and is clothed in the rainbows of God’s mercy (Revelation 4:3).

Jesus is the true offspring of Abraham to whom all the promises of Abraham were kept and fulfilled in measure greater than we had a right to expect. It was Abraham himself who saw His day and rejoiced in it (John 8:56).

Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17) by living the life of perfect obedience, securing the blessing, and dying the atoning death bearing the curse that we all deserved for our disobedience, for it is written “cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree,” (Galatians 3:13, cf. Deuteronomy 21:23).

To the consternation of His opponents, even the blind were able to recognize that Jesus was the true Son of David (Matthew 9:7). His Kingdom, though not of this world (John 18:36), is an everlasting Kingdom with perfect order that will be consummated one day. He will not have an ongoing lineage of sons that will be the king, but He Himself is the perfect Son, seated at the right hand of God, making intercession for mankind (Romans 8:34). Who isn’t just figuratively the vice-regency, representing God’s people to God, but is the exact image of God himself, so that when God looks upon us, He sees not us (nor the image of a fallible king), but the perfect image of His Son.

Lastly, Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant, one that was not sealed with the shedding of the blood of goats and heifers, but with His own blood. Blood that is imperishable. Blood that is more precious than fine gold. Blood that does what the blood of goats and bulls could never do by granting us access to the Father.

I pray God uses this rather long post to elicit worship in our hearts and help us comprehend and love our great Savior all the more.