Friday, September 12, 2008

The Everlasting Covenants

One morning, as I was getting ready for work, I was struck with a revelation. It had to do with this obscure text I had never understood:

“What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one. ” Gal 3:19-20 (NIV)

Often, EGW refers to the Ten Commandments as the everlasting covenant. That text all of a sudden came clear to me and I finally understood something important. I ran to my computer and opened Bible Explorer to see if my thoughts were valid. Here is what I discovered: there is a distinction made in the covenants on the basis of the parties involved. The old covenant required two parties as evidenced by a mediator and therefore, because one of the parties was human it could be, and was, broken almost immediately and therefore could not be everlasting and, it was not made with all humanity, just with Israel. I then discovered that this subject is further explored by other writers as well.10, 14

The New International Version Study Bible has an excellent table explaining the major covenants of the Old Testament. The covenants in the Ancient Near East were differentiated by the conditions associated with their fulfillment. A Royal Grant was unconditional. It was a covenant made by a king to a subject of his kingdom. A Suzerain-vassal covenant was conditional and could be revoked upon non-compliance of the servant with the requirements. The Suzerain was the king. The vassal was a servant or slave. All of the major covenants of the Old Testament can be identified as one or the other of these categories.

The Noahic Covenant:
'Noah' by Duncan Long
“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." Gen 9:16 This covenant carried no requirements of those with whom it was made. It was unconditional and therefore, a Royal Grant. The fulfillment required no response from humanity.

The Abrahamic Covenant:

This is the statement of the covenant that God spoke to Abraham: “Then God said, 'Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him'” Gen 17:19 (NIV)

As we go to the New Testament we see that it included all nations:
“The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Gal 3:8-9 (NIV) and, of course this was a prophetic promise of the Savior for all the world.

Again, this covenant had only One covenant-maker, God. It would happen without Abraham’s input. In fact, Abraham’s input was a singular failure and resulted in the very illustration of the old Ten Commandment covenant of slavery.

“These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.” Gal 4:24 (NIV)

Therefore, this covenant was a Royal Grant and was unconditional and unbreakable.
The Davidic Covenant:

"'I will also give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you.'When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you , and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever... But my love will never be taken away from him...Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will beestablished forever.'" 2 Sam 7:11-16 (NASB)

This is the covenant God made with David: 'Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.'” Isaiah 55:3 (NIV)
"Hear now, you house of David! … Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:13-14 (NIV)

This is a reiteration of the promise of the Savior. David was a type of Jesus, and it was promised that there would always and eternally be a king who will sit on the throne of David. Again, though David failed and failed, the covenant did not, because it was not dependant on David. It was an unconditional Royal Grant.

The New Covenant:

As we will see later, the New Covenant is the everlasting replacement for the Old Covenant that was put in place as a stopgap measure. Listen to the terms of this covenant: "'The time is coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,' declares the LORD. 'This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,' declares the LORD. 'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, "Know the LORD," because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the LORD. 'For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.'" Jer 31:31-34 (NIV)

"This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, (the everlasting covenant through Abraham) and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you (looking forward to the New Covenant).'" Ezek 16:59-61 (NIV) The Old Covenant here is contrasted with the new, everlasting, covenant. Israel broke the old one they had promised to keep. Theirs was a Suzerain-vassal covenant. It was conditonal. The condition was that they would keep all of the rules, regulations and laws of the covenant or suffer the consequences. It was broken from the beginning and nothing could restore it. So God promised to make a new and everlasting covenant. The old was never intended to be everlasting.

What’s different between the unconditional covenants and those that were conditional? The mediator of the everlasting covenants was the covenant-maker and keeper. He is the king Who's word is sure and everlasting. They were promises made sovereignly by God and did not depend on another party keeping up their end. There were no conditions.

“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” Heb 9:15 (NIV) The party involved here is Jesus as priest, intercessor and judge.

The Old Covenant was conditional on Israel's capacity to comply with the requirements of the covenant. They entered into the covenant and affirmed “All you have said we will do.” It was ratified by a mediator, and the conditions were not met by the people nearly as soon as they had made the agreement. The unconditional Royal Grant covenant made with Abraham spanned the time when the temporary Old Covenant was in effect. It preceded the Old and it was in place after the Old was no longer in effect. It had no condtions and will never end.

“What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God (with Abraham) and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” Gal 3:17-18 (NIV) This is contrasting the Ten Commandments and entire Book of the Law, or Old Covenant, with the Abrahamic covenant promise of a Savior which depended on an unconditional promise from God and not laws that would be broken. The Ten Commandments were added 430 years after the time of
'I AM the New Covenant' by Cherry Brandstaterthe Royal Grant covenant with Abraham so they did not exist prior to Sinai, which was at least 2500 years after Adam.

“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless…and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever.' Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” Heb 7:18-22 (NIV) He will not change His mind. This one was not temporary like the other. It is not conditional on our behavior. The Old Covenant was set aside when Jesus came because Jesus was what the former covenant pointed toward. But it had only ever been a shadow. In itself, it was "weak and useless." Pretty strong words.

With Christ, a whole new order was ushered in. We are his new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Cor 5:17 (NIV) And Christ became the mediator of the New Covenant. This is a mirror to the statement in Ex. 20:8-11 “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore (for this reason) the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” The authority God gave for making the covenant with Israel was His creatorship. In the New Covenant we are a new creation. God’s authority to make the New Covenant with humanity is the blood of Christ who has become the mediator of the New Covenant. While we were yet sinners He came, strings free, without conditions to offer the free gift of salvation.

“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” Gal 6:15 (NIV) The Old Covenant with all of its laws, signs and regulations is now trumped by the new order.

“But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” Heb 8:6-7 (NIV) Something was wrong with the Old Covenant. Does that sound like an eternal, unbreakable, immutable covenant?

How does one enter the New Covenant? "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Mark 16:16 (NIV) " That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

Summary of the Everlasting Covenants:

1) The four major Royal Grant (unconditional) covenants mentioned in the Old Testament are: the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant.

2) The Old Covenant was a condtional Suzerain-vassal covenant who's conditions were not met nearly from the beginning. It was, therefore, broken and weak. It was only intended to be a shadow pointing to the real Covenant, Jesus.

3) The Royal Grant covenants depend on God alone for their fulfillment. They are unconditional and, therefore, everlasting.

4) The Old Covenant was conditional and temporary from the beginning. It was called weak and useless. God and Israel entered into the covenant together. Israel broke the covenant. There was something wrong with it.

5) The Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant. The New Covenant is a Royal Grant (unconditional and everlasting).

6) The authority of the covenant-Maker for the Old Covenant was creation. The authority for the New is the blood of Christ. He is the new mediator; we are the new creation.

Ultimate Rest Table of Contents

The Next Chapter: The Old or Siniatic Covenant
Was the Old Covenant ever intended to be everlasting? If it was, why is there a New Covenant? Was the Old Covenant made with us? All that God does is good. What was the purpose of the Old Covenant?


Anonymous said...

So well written makes so much more sense. I never understood why God would expect us to cont with the old covenant when throughout the Old Testament the children of Israel continued to fail! What would be the pont of Jesus coming to save us if we still had to follow the old covenant .

Gently Broken said...

So beautifully stated. I wish it weren't anonymous so that we could communicate more!! Thank you for your thoughtful words.

Randi said...

Anonymous here, enjoying reading these studies doing a little at a time. Growing up SDA and then leaving the church after college I am now coming back to knowing Jesus. It's hard after all these years later to not hear the doctrine that was instilled in me through childhood and Academy years. I currently attend a bible based church and am learning so much about the love of Jesus and grace! But always have that sabbath message that was drilled in my head so I appreciate all your work and information. I keep asking God to revel to me the truth and for once am studying the bible to learn truth instead of relying on doctrine that I learned but never really understood,just followed because I was told this would lead me to salvation. Works works work. Which I always failed. So definitely I am going through a gently broken time. But I'm loving learning about the Jesus I never knew.

Gently Broken said...

Hi, Randi, Your words are beautifully eloquent. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I know that these things go deep in your heart. Most who come here to read do so because they really do care about Jesus. Even those who come to refute what is written here. Prayerfully, I hope that each person will be drawn to the beauty and grace of the One who did it all for us. Our failure is covered by His perfection so when the Father looks at us, all He sees is a perfect child. You are as perfect as you will ever be right now. Rejoice in that truth in Jesus' name.