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A Covenant Keeping God
In Defense of the Faith
Friday, December 23, 2016
Alf Cengia

We worship a covenant keeping God. Our salvation depends upon that fact. If God doesn't keep His word, we can't depend upon promises such as John 3:16. 

The question is: Has God yet to fulfill covenant promises to Israel?

Covenant Theology attempts to unify the Old and New Testaments around the Covenant of redemption, the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace is most pervasive in Reformed theology. These covenants are never specifically referred to in Scripture.

Paul Henebury notes that O. Palmer Robertson sees all the covenants as really one. Covenants like the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and the Davidic are incorporated into the Covenant of Grace. Covenant Theologians often speak of "the covenant."  This leaves Covenant Theology with several eschatological options based on its assumptions regarding Israel and the church. See The Eschatology of Covenant Theology.

Charles Spurgeon illustrates the CT tendency of applying OT verses to the church. In one example he uses Jer 31:3 to demonstrate God's love for the church. While God loves the church, the context is national Israel. What follows in the same chapter is the New Covenant application to Israel.

In another example Spurgeon also applied the covenant of 2 Sam 23:5 to the church. He claimed that this everlasting covenant had no beginning or end. Yet the context of the verse was David's "house" and hearkens back to 2 Sam 7:12-16. This is the Davidic Covenant which had a beginning, yet will have no end.

Some dispensationalists differ as to the number of biblical covenants. For example, Arnold Fruchtenbaum acknowledges eight covenants. Another area of disagreement is whether the church participates in the New Covenant. However, all dispensationalists agree as to the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic, Land, Davidic and New Covenants.

CT scholarship often resorts to hermeneutical devices to remove national Israel from land covenant promises. Dispensationalists note that Noah took the Noahic Covenant to literally mean God would never flood the earth again.

Even Abraham tried to spiritualize God's promise of an heir through Sarah (Gen 17:15-16) by listening to his wife's advice (Gen 16:1-2). They thought they were helping God out. Dr Henebury astutely observed that:

“We might say that the conception of Ishmael was a hermeneutical conception before it was a physical conception.”

God meant what He said. So after Isaac was born, Abraham took God's command to sacrifice his son as literal (Gen 22:2). No doubt Abraham also recalled and trusted God's promise that Sarah would become a mother of nations. Therefore God would have had to resurrect Isaac in order to fulfill the promise.

There are inexorable connections between the covenants, God's Kingdom, Israel, prophecy, the millennium and salvation. Unfortunately, Covenant Theology rarely unpacks these without rubber stamping Christ or the church over them.

The nature of the kingdom and the covenants is complex and beyond the scope of any single article. I recommend Alva J. McClain's The Greatness of the Kingdom and Dr. Andy Woods' The Coming Kingdom articles. Dr. Woods also has a new book out with the same title. See also the Bible Prophecy Blog.

Following is a short summary of the Abrahamic, Davidic, Mosaic (and Land) and New Covenants:

1) Abrahamic. This covenant was unconditional. It promised Abraham a progeny (Gen 12:2; 13:16; 15:3-5).  It also promised historical continuity, a divine right to the land, a final world supremacy and divine blessing flowing to all mankind (Gen 12:2-3, 13:14-17, 15:18, 17:7-8).

McClain notes that this doesn't mean every descendant of Abraham will share in its blessings. Fulfillment of some elements of this covenant's promises isn't dependent on human character or action - but divine grace and sovereignty. McClain cites Micah 7:18-20 as an example of God's mercy (p 155).

2) Davidic - unconditional and irrevocable. McClain tells us that "this consists of a reaffirmation of the regal terms of the original Abrahamic covenant" (2 Sam 7:1-16, 23:15; 1 Chron 17:1-14, p 156). God promised perpetuity to David's throne and that his seed would endure forever, despite Israel's failures. See Psalm 89:20-37; Isaiah 55:1-3; Jer 33:15-26 and Luke 1:31-33.

3) Mosaic. The conditional nature of this covenant is applied to the enjoyment of the land (Exod 19:5-6). This is to be distinguished from the Abrahamic Covenant (Deut 5:2-3). God warned Israel about the consequences of disobedience (Lev 26:27-33).

Even so, God would also remember His covenant promise:

Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the LORD. Lev 26:44-45

The Mosaic Covenant was added because of Israel's transgressions, in order to expose sin. It was temporary (Heb 8:13) and always going to fail because of human weakness (Rom 8:3).  While Israel couldn't keep the Mosaic Covenant, it should be noted that no one can perfectly keep God's laws (Matt 5:21-22, 28).

See Tony Garland's presentation notes on the Land Covenant.

The unconditional promises of the Abrahamic Covenant cannot be disannulled (Gal 3:17-19). Therefore, because of sin, there had to be a New Covenant.

This New Covenant (NC) doesn't abrogate the Abrahamic, Land or Davidic Covenants. Nor does it change, spiritualize or transfer Israel's blessings to the church (Rom 11:26-29). It facilitates them as they were given. The prophet Jeremiah understood the need for a NC (Jer 11:1-8) and elaborated on it in Jer 31:31-37. See also Ezek 16:59-60 and Ezek 36:26-27.

As an aside, dispensationalists are sometimes charged with focusing too much on national Israel's redemption and that this was the primary reason for the incarnation. One objector notes what he perceives to be the faulty dispensationalist position:

Had they [Israel] accepted his [Christ's] offer of an earthly kingdom, Jesus would not have died. In this scheme, Jesus’ saving death on the cross is a happy by-product of God’s plan for national Israel.

We give attention to these Scriptures because the Bible regards them as being important. They reflect God's faithful love to Israel (and, ultimately, the church). We honor God by studying and believing His word.

Furthermore, as Robert L. Saucy observed, the problem isn't peculiar to dispensationalists. What would have happened had Israel accepted its Messiah? How would that have affected the inauguration of God's Kingdom, whether spiritual or physical? The answer is that Christ would still have had to die on the cross.

As I write this column, we are looking forward to another Christmas.

We too often tend to forget the true significance of why we remember this occasion. Christ came into this world so that He could inaugurate the NC at the end of His ministry (John 1:1-12, 3:16; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Phil 2:5-13).

We worship a covenant keeping God. Christ's inauguration of the NC enables Israel's future promises when it comes to faith, and also the Abrahamic blessings (salvation) which apply to the church. Moreover, it has cosmic implications for the future redemption of creation and the entire cosmos.

As the Psalmist wrote:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
Before the LORD, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness. Psalm 96:11-13

And this:

Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!
Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created.
He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away. Psalm 148:3-6

Have a safe and Blessed Christmas!

About Alf Cengia

Last week: God, Sovereignty and Revelation's Seals

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