Question: Which plainly stated Covenant in the Bible is most often neglected?
The answer is the covenant which the LORD made with Phinehas in the Book of Numbers.
The circumstances surrounding this covenant centers around the doctrine of Balaam as it was realized at Baal Peor (Cf. Num.31:16; Rev. 2:14). Amid the idolatry and fornication a Simeonite by the name of Zimri openly brought a Midianite woman into the camp of Israel and took her into his tent to have sexual relations with her. This happened even while Israelites were “weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” (Num. 25:6).
Phinehas, who was Aaron’s grandson, witnessed this brazen act of “sexual liberation” and struck the man and the woman through with a javelin (25:8). This act of priestly zeal stopped a plague which had broken out within the camp which had claimed the lives of twenty-four thousand people. God’s response to this act was to initiate a “covenant of peace” with Phinehas and his descendents. This is said to be “a covenant of an everlasting priesthood.” (25:13).
Some centuries later, the Psalmist, in recounting some of the most memorable moments of Israel’s history, referred to the incident at Baal of Peor (Psa. 106:28-31). In verses 30 and 31 it says,
Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stopped. And that was accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore.
This covenant of peace between God and the descendents of Phinehas comes after the mention of a “covenant of salt” given to the Levites “as an ordinance forever” (Num. 18:19). The ordinance has to do with eating from the heave offerings. The exact relationship between these two covenants is not easy to pin down, although they are certainly complementary. I shall say a little more about this further on.
The descendents of Phinehas the son of Eleazar (Exod. 6:23) include Zadok, who is identified as “of the sons of Eleazar” in 1 Chronicles 24:3. During the attempted usurpation of the throne by Adonijah (1 Ki. 1:7-8), Abiathar deserted David. The aged king responded with having Abiathar removed from the priesthood, thus ensuring that Zadok’s line (the descendents of Phinehas), kept the High Priesthood (1 Ki. 2:26-27). This becomes important when we get to Ezekiel.
The Witness of Jeremiah
Jeremiah wrote during some of the most turbulent times in Israel’s history. Chapters 30 through to 34 (and even possibly 35) form a sort of thematic scholia on the covenants. Among the main prophetic teaching in the section is the prediction about “the time of Jacob’s trouble” in 30:7 (cf. Mk. 13:19-20), a forecast about Israel serving “divid their king, whom I will raise up to them” (30:9), God’s overtures of covenant steadfastness towards Israel in 31:1-4, with the LORD even calling the families of Israel “O Virgin of Israel!” in 31:4 and 21. Then there is New Covenant language in 31:11-12, which goes on to include the line,
I will satiate the soul of the priests with abundance… (31:14a).
This comes before the famous New Covenant promise of 31:31-37. The next chapter is about Jeremiah purchasing “poor” real estate amid promises of future peace and prosperity (32:14-15, 36-42). Next comes the great (and much neglected) thirty-third chapter. First we get a description of the tearing down of the houses to serve as fortifications against the Babylonians (33:4-5), but it quickly turns in outlook to more prosperous times to come, including cleansing from sin (see 33:8). Then comes the passage in 33:14-26 which cites or alludes to four covenants within a New Covenant setting (This highlights my contention that the New Covenant is needed for the [literal] fulfillment of these other covenants). Coupled with the promise to fulfill the Davidic Covenant in 33:17-18 and 21-22 are promises that God will also preserve the Levites to minister to Him. The latter passage reads,
Thus say the Yahweh: If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night [which I take as a reference to the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 8:22], so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, or with the Levites, the priests, My ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured [a clear allusion to the Abrahamic Covenant], so will I multiply the descendents of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.
The type of ministry which the Levites are promised is described as offering “burnt offerings…to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually” (33:18).
While nobody disbelieves the Davidic Covenant in Jeremiah 33, the same cannot be said for the covenant with the Levites mentioned in the same breath.
More to come…