Covenants: Clarity, Ambiguity and Faith (6)

Part Five

C. Phinehas (‘Priestly’)

Since I have treated this covenant elsewhere in some detail I shall just briefly rehearse the salient facts.

Owing to the zeal of Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, a devastating plague was stopped and God’s wrath appeased (Num. 25:  ).  Although Phinehas could have had no idea what God would do next, his honoring of God’s holiness elicited a quite un-looked-for covenant between God and Phinehas’s offspring (Num. 25:13; Psa. 106:28-31).  This covenant stands behind the promise of ministering Levites in New covenant contexts as seen in Jeremiah 31:14; 33:17-18, 21-22; Ezekiel 44:15, and other places.

The oath is as follows:

Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace: and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood… – Num. 25:12-13a (cf. Jer. 33:21)

Despite the difficulties (more often presumed than proven) of Levites ministering in a New covenant kingdom context this pledge must mean what it says.  One may perhaps wish to put a limit on the duration of the promise, such as the end of the Millennial Reign, which is permissible under some circumstances, but one cannot begin to meddle with the unambiguous oath and make it fulfilled in the past in violation of God’s oaths (Num. 25 and Jer. 33).  That is to say, it is illegitimate to make this covenant oath ambiguous because of a perceived clash with the writer of Hebrews.  This point is reinforced when one considers that at the time God made the covenant with Phinehas, he was under the terms of the temporary Mosaic covenant.  Hence, the Priestly covenant transcends the Mosaic covenant.

D. ‘Land’ 

Sometimes wrongly called the ‘Palestinian’ covenant (“Palestine” was the name given by Hadrian to Israel after the Bar Kokhba revolt in A.D. 132-135), the Land covenant is really a reaffirmation of the land promises of the Abrahamic covenant, and is often alluded to under those terms in the OT.  Although there are New covenant overtones to account for in Deuteronomy 30:1-6, the land promises in Deuteronomy 29-30 are tied to the Law (Deut. 29:21, 25; 30:10).  Therefore I prefer to refer to the unconditional land promise within the Abrahamic covenant (see above).

E. David

It is well known that 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 do not mention the word for covenant (berith).  That a covenant was initiated is substantiated by Psalm 89:3-4, 33-37 and Jeremiah 33:17, 21.  In 2 Samuel the Lord says to David,

And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you.  Your throne shall be established forever. – 2 Sam. 7:16

The Psalmist notes the two bound concepts in the covenant: the longevity of David’s line and the establishment of his throne:

My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.  Once have I sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me; it shall be established forever… – Psa. 89:34-37a   

The all-important promise pertaining to the subject of the throne of Israel is repeated in the slogan,

David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel – Jer. 33:17 (cf. 1 Ki. 2:4)

This pledge does not necessary mean the line of Davidic kings will be unbroken.  The Davidic covenant was made under the auspices of the Mosaic economy and awaits its New covenant fulfillment.  What is guaranteed is the perpetuity of the line under New covenant kingdom conditions.  God’s oath cannot and will not be sidetracked.  David will yet have a man reign in the nation Israel (e.g. Jer. 23:5-6; Ezek. 34:11-31; Dan. 7:13-14).

F. New

The New covenant is first introduced as such by the Prophet Jeremiah in chapter 31 of his book:

But this covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts…No more shall every man teach his neighbor…saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me…For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more. – Jer. 31:33-34

 The New covenant is a salvific covenant.  In fact, it is the salvific covenant!  

This is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you – Lk. 22:20 (cf. 2 Cor. 3:5-6; Eph. 2:20)

Without the salvation and restoration contained in this covenant none of the other Divine covenants can achieve their fulfillment.  This covenant is wrapped up in the Person of the Messiah.  As I have written previously,

The promises appended to the biblical covenants are not supplemented with a means of fulfillment within those same covenants.  The fulfillment lies outside of those covenants, within the New Covenant as it supplies the Noahic, Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic Covenants with the means of their realization.  And the New Covenant must be “enabled” by Christ, the “Man from Heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47).  Hence, the Plan of God outlined in the biblical covenants converges on the crucified Jesus and emerges from the resurrected Jesus!

Because Jesus Christ is the One for whom everything was made in the first place (Col. 1:16-17), it is absolutely fitting that the New covenant in His blood, whether enacted in the present with the Church (1 Cor. 11:23-26), or in the future in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34 upon Israel, be the basis upon which God’s other covenants are satisfied.  The New covenant, as it were, takes the other unilateral covenants into itself and prepares sinners to receive their joint benefits in accordance with the oaths taken by God – whether the recipients are Israel, the Church, or the Nations.  [For more on these themes please see the series Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism]

What God’s New covenant oath means is that sinners made in God’s image will be saved and the marred image fully restored; and as this earth is made for man for living in, the planet and its creatures will be restored too (see e.g., Isa. 11:1-10; 49:6-8; Mic. 4:1-3; Matt. 19:28; Acts 3:21; Rom. 8:18-23).

If this is true then there is no reason to transform or reinterpret or typologize the great covenantal oaths which God voluntarily entered into, knowing beforehand how He would make everything come together just as He said it would.  The covenants mean what they say.  We ought to have full confidence in them as amplifications of God’s plain words to our dull ears and autonomous inclinations.  Any approach which changes the plain sense of these unambiguous oaths for the sake of a theological program cannot be biblical, for the simple but profound reason that nothing which cuts across these Divine oaths can be in line with the Divine intent in these very covenants.  

Think: Who Questions These Covenants?

Noahic – Does anyone believe God will again bring a flood like Noah’s flood upon the earth?  Why?

Mosaic – Does anyone think that God did not mean what He spelled out to Israel in the Law?

New – Does anyone think that God will renege on His clear offer of salvation in the Gospel?

If they did, they would have no reason not to fear another Deluge or that God would change His mind about what He meant in the Gospel offer (or the offer of salvation to Israel when Christ returns).

To give another, human covenant set up by God, the covenant of Marriage (Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14).  Putting aside the question of whether marriage needed to be a covenant in Eden, who honestly would be prepared to say that the marriage oaths do not mean precisely what they say?  Who would wish to teach that these oaths could be transformed or reinterpreted?  No one, because covenants mean what they say.  They are incontrovertible so long as they are in force (Gal. 3:15).

It is true to say that any other stipulated covenant in the Bible, be it Divine or human, is a solemn bond which obligates the one who makes the oath to do exactly what they pledge to do.  Yet there are theologies which question the very oaths God took, as if when He stipulated a land (Gen. 15) or a people (Jer. 33), He meant it spiritually or typologically not literally (at face value).  But covenants are not vulnerable to such amendments.  Covenants bring clarity and mutual understanding.  They present the antithesis of double-meaning or transformation.  That is why it is our duty, as those prone to hear what we want to hear, to insist that nothing in our belief system cuts across the clear wording of the biblical covenants.

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