The Forgotten Covenant (Pt.2)

Part One

Biblical Covenantalism tracks the covenants through Scripture for the sake of putting together a composite picture of God’s plan.  The covenants are the backbone of Scripture.  If we pay careful attention to these covenants as they arise, we will not be able to bypass the everlasting “covenant of peace” which God made with Phinehas and his descendents in Numbers 25.  The fact that a covenant of this kind is casually passed over with barely a mention and not traced out in Scripture is telling.  I think what it tells is that we tend to want to read our endings to the story into passages like this.  Coming to the covenants like this tends to muffle their testimony with a pious overlay of ‘the finished work of Christ.’

The Witness of Ezekiel

Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, was a priest (1:3), but evidently not in the line of Phinehas.  In chapters 10 and 11 we find the vision of God’s glory departing the (literal) Temple in Jerusalem.  Then after many chapters filled with denunciations and the occasional promise of blessing, we arrive at chapter 34.  Ezekiel 34 – 39 are tied together by the repetition of the refrain “mountains of Israel.”  The prophet had employed this phrase before, though sporadically (in chapters 6, 19 & 33), but now it becomes a kind of mantra, appearing eleven times in these chapters.

Examination of the uses of this refrain does not come within the scope of the present study, but I might notice the following:

1. Each usage is connected with a prophetic oracle, whereas in the first part of the book it centers on contemporary events.

2. In chapters 36, 37, and even 38 the reference is to deliverance and kingdom blessing.

3. In chapter 39 the refrain is used to locate the scene of future judgment of Israel’s enemies prior to the kingdom age.

In this prophetic climactic context we read about God raising up David (34:23-24; 37:24-25) in an Edenic environment (34:25-27; 36:35).  This recalls the promises in the Davidic Covenant which we saw in Jeremiah 33.  But the Priestly Covenant is also alluded to by Ezekiel in these contexts.

First, it ought to be clear that we are driven into the future by the New Covenant language of 36:26-28.  Add to this the picture of restoration in 36:34-35 and one is presented with a decision: either turn the whole context into some sort of overdone typological mirage, or take it as read and place it in the eschaton.  This end times scene is furthered with the famous prophecies of the dry bones and the two sticks in chapter 37.  Right at the tail end we come across this statement:

Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst foreverMy tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore. (37:26-28).

This sets the scene for what is coming in chapters 40 to 48 and the detailed blueprint for a future temple or sanctuary in Israel’s New Covenant age.

The Millennial Temple and the Priestly Covenant

I take the liberty of speaking of the great temple in Ezekiel 40 and following (which is logically equated with the new sanctuary in chapter 37), as “the millennial temple.”

I referred to the “covenant of salt” with the Levites in Numbers 18:19.  That covenant had to do with the right of the priests to eat off the daily offerings.  This covenant was within the Levitical prescriptions of the Mosaic institutions, but was everlasting and so would be expected to transcend the curtailment of the Mosaic Covenant.  Hence, it is also seen under Israel’s New Covenant conditions. (There is another covenant of salt in 2 Chronicles 13:5 which relates to David and his lineage.  As such it is within the terms of the Davidic Covenant, if not synonymous with it).  As salt does not perish the idea as related to covenant is probably of indestructibility (G. Wenham) and remaining inviolate (A. Noordtzij), although it may invoke a curse against the violator (F.C. Fensham).  Unsurprisingly then, in Ezekiel’s future temple administration the priests are given the offerings as food, just as the covenant of salt would demand (Ezek. 44:29-31).

Just consider these ten lines of evidence (extracted from a previous post) for the actuality of a future ‘Millennial’ Temple:

1. Ezekiel calls it a temple over and over,

E.g. 40:5, 45 – where the priestly function is mentioned; 41:6-10 – where its chambers are described in pedantic detail; 42:8 – where the length of the chambers depends on their position relative to the sanctuary;  43:11 – where God declares: make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes, and do them.”

Then, in regards priestly functions within the structure: in 43:21 a bull is to be offered as a sin-offering outside the house; 45:20 – an atonement is made for the simple on the seventh day of the month; 46:24 – sacrifices are boiled at designated places; 48:21 – the huge allotment for the sanctuary is measured (it is very different to New Jerusalem in Rev.21!).

2. It has laws to perform (43:11-12).

3. It stipulates two divisions of priests, only one of whom (Zadokites) can approach the Lord (44:15), and who are given land separate from other Levites (48:11).

4. It refers to New Moons and sacrifices (46:1, 6).

5. The tribes of Israel are given specific allotments of land all around the temple (ch. 48)

6.  The two temples at the beginning and the end of the Book of Ezekiel form a structural arc.  The first one is literal.  Nothing is said about the more detailed one being a mere symbol.  In fact, in 8:3ff. “the visions of God” recorded what really did occur (cf. 40:2).

7. In ch. 10 the Shekinah leaves the actual temple in Jerusalem by the East Gate.  In ch. 43 it returns via the East Gate and remains.

8. A sanctuary is mentioned in the new covenant chapters (Ezek. 36 & 37).

For example, after Israel has been cleansed, God declares: I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. (Ezek. 37:26. Cf. 43:7).  This indicates the timing of the fulfillment of the temple prophecy.  This agrees with the timing indicated in the last verse of Ezekiel: “the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘The LORD is there” (Ezek. 48:35)

9. At least three times Ezekiel is commanded to pay close attention to specifics: 40:4; 43:10-11; 44:5.

10. A future temple is necessary in light of God’s everlasting covenant with the Zadokites’ ancestor Phinehas (Num. 25:10-13; Psa. 106:30-31. Cf. Jer. 33:14f., Mal. 3:1-4). 

The symbolic interpretation ignores these details when seeking to explain the meaning of the vision.   It also ignores the ‘Edenic’ character of the temple environment.  For example, Chapter 36:35 says,

So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden… (see also vv.29-30).

Regarding the depiction of the temple in 37:26 Williamson observes, “While there is no explicit mention of nature here, the concept of God’s sanctuary in their midst reminds the alert reader of the idyllic portrayal of harmony portrayed in Eden.” – Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath, 66-67.

This matches the New Covenant reference to kingdom fecundity in 34:25-27,

I will make a covenant of peace with them, and cause wild beasts to cease from the land; and they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.  I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing. Then the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase.  They shall be safe in the land; and they shall know that I am the LORD… I shall raise up for them a garden of renown, and they shall no longer be consumed with hunger in the land…

Certainly, the waters which flow out from the Temple have mercurial powers to change the land and restore it (Ezek. 47:6-12).  It is in this habitat that the new Levitical order lives and officiates (48:10-14).

One cannot confine all these statements within the old (Mosaic) covenant and wish them away.  As everyone knows who studies Ezekiel’s temple, there are some marked differences between Mosaic stipulations and requirements and those found at the end of Ezekiel.  They are not the same.  In addition to the division of priests into first order Zadokites and second order Levites, there is no High Priest.  Moreover, there is no celebration of Pentecost or the Day of Atonement.

This all points to future circumstances in which the Levites play a major part.  This is precisely what one would be led to expect after reading the oath God made to Phinehas.

More to come…

 

 

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14 comments

  1. Very interesting! Over the past eight months, I have been keeping a log of passages where God’s covenants are understood literally in Scripture by the recipients. The results have been extremely encouraging to me. This “forgotten covenant” is very interesting indeed.

      1. I’m going to be doing a short series on the covenants for Sunday School in a few weeks, looking at the AC, MC, DC and NC as the framework for understanding the “big picture” of Scripture. I have a lot of work to do to put the pieces together. This is a massive topic that I want to present to “ordinary” people” over about 6-8 weeks. I’ll send my log over to you soon. I don’t think I’ll ever be finished with it!

  2. I see. Well, if I can offer a little advice; take special pains to observe how the covenants weave in and out of each other, especially in redemptive (New Covenant/Messianic) contexts.

  3. Yes, that is something I’ve particularly noticed since I began keeping track of the OT writer’s own understanding of the covenants. Your emphasis on the covenants, not the dispensations per se, as the framework for the meta-narrative has been particularly instructive for me.

  4. Hi Paul,

    Enjoying these articles on the Ezekiel and the Temple. Just some related chronological food for thought. As you noted Ezekiel 10 & 11 shows the departure of YHHW’s glory from the Temple. In Ezekiel 8 this event is dated as the 6th year of Ezekiel. By the preceding chronological evidence this is the 6th year of Ezekiel’s captivity circa. 590 BC.

    Really neat confirmation of this period of Divine anger is found Zechariah 1:16.

    “Zechariah 1:1-17 KJV In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of YHWH unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying………. 12 Then the angel of YHWH answered and said, O YHWH of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years? 13 And YHWH answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words. 14 So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith YHWH of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. 15 And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.

    16 Therefore thus saith YHWH; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith YHWH of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem.”

    The second year of Darius Hystaspes was 520 BC. The 70 years of divine anger mentioned by Zechariah then began with the departure of YHWH’s glory as recorded by Ezekiel. They ended with YHWH’s return to Jerusalem “with mercies”.

    Notice in the text above YHWH gave a Divine commandment to restore and build the temple and Jerusalem. (Zech. 1:16) This commandment to restore was also given to the prophet Haggai. (Hag. 1)

    In Ezra 6:14 these prophecies are recorded as follows:

    “Ezra 6:14 14 And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and {even} Artaxerxes king of Persia.”

    Warm regards,
    William Struse

    1. William,

      Thanks for sharing on this.

      I’m teaching a bible study through Ezekiel now, and also working on a commentary on Daniel–and the various 70-year periods factor in, as you’ve highlighted.

      Additional helpful notes on this can be found in: Martin Anstey, The Romance of Bible Chronology, 1:236-237; Robert Anderson, The Coming Prince, x-xiii; and Robert Anderson, Daniel in the Critic’s Den, 22, 22n1.

      Blessings – Tony

      1. Good evening Tony,

        The 2nd temple era is such a wonderfully rich and influential part of Biblical history. I love to explore it.

        Regarding the 70 years of divine anger it’s worth noting this is just one of three 70 year periods which begin about that time. We also have the 70 years of captivity mentioned in Jeremiah 25:11 as well as the 70 years desolation between the destruction of the first temple and the construction and dedication of the second temple in the 6th year of Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes.

        If you are doing a study in Ezekiel you might also appreciate an often overlooked chronological synchronism mention in Ezekiel 1:1-2 which is possibly relevant to these three 70 year periods.

        Ezekiel 1 opens with Ezekiel’s vision from YHWH. This vision came in the thirtieth year which was also the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity. Scholars have often wondered what this thirtieth year was in reference to. Some speculate this thirtieth year was Ezekiel’s age, others the thirtieth year of Nabopolassar or some other period of time. In my opinion none of these options really seem to justify such a prominent place in the opening pages, especially when this thirtieth year can be used as the synchronizing date for the entire book.

        But there is another possibility which is worth considering. If you take the Old Testament chronology, (from Adam to the 2nd temple era based upon the MT text), a reasonable (and defensible) case can be made that this thirtieth year of Ezekiel was the thirtieth year of a series of Jubilee cycles from Adam. What makes this so interesting, from a chronological standpoint, is that this would mean that each of the three 70 year periods mentioned above would have had their origins in the 70th Jubilee cycle from Adam.

        A truly fascinating era in Biblical history to be sure. Makes me think of YHWH’s words in Isaiah 46:

        Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Isaiah 46:9-10

        By the way, when you get your commentary on Daniel finished I’d love to read it. Always enjoy seeing the subject through another believers eyes. I have a great interest in the book of Daniel, especially Daniel 9 and how modern scholarship handles the 2nd temple chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah in relation to the unnamed Persian “Artaxerxes”.

        Warm regards,
        William

  5. Reblogged this on beliefspeak2 and commented:
    Here is the second part of Paul Henebury’s “Forgotten Covenant”. We are right to expect a 4th Temple (Ezekiel 40ff) and a list of arguments is given By Dr. Henebury for its literal completion.
    The treatment of “The Covenant of Salt” is not as developed as I hoped however and I will write on it after my research is complete giving my own views on the concept.

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