My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 4)

Part Three

Last time we looked at Isaiah 42 and saw that Jesus is being referred to prophetically as a “covenant.”  I insert here that when Isaiah 42:6 says “I will give You as a covenant to the people” it is not saying that Christ will be like a covenant; it is not a simile.  It is better to read it as as an identification.  It is like saying, “This knife can be used as a can-opener” or “I will give my van as a moving truck.”  The knife is the can-opener and the van is the moving vehicle.

The NET Bible renders the place in question “I protect you and make you a covenant mediator for the people.”  The word for “mediator” does not appear in the text.  The reason the NET Bible gives for this is that “A person cannot literally be a covenant.” (N. 15).  We know of course that Jesus is “the Mediator of the New Covenant” (Heb. 9:15).  So shouldn’t that suffice?  I don’t think we can leave it there.  There are a few problems with it.

The first problem with claiming that Isaiah 42:6 refers to Christ as the Mediator of a covenant for the people is that the text simply does not say that.  Neither does it say it in Isaiah 49:

‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” – Isa. 49:6

It may be correct to supply the noun in these passages, but we should not be too hasty here.  We might ask, “Why can’t a person be a covenant?”  The answer one is likely to receive is that a covenant is an agreement external to the parties making it.  That is certainly true is the cases of the covenants with Noah, Abraham, and David.  But is it true of the New Covenant?

Sticking with Israel for the present we may ask just what future Israel will believe so that they become a New Covenant people?  The writer of Hebrews puts Jesus at the center of the picture.  In Hebrews 2:9 this is so, with verse 13 declaring “I will put my trust in Him.”  Then in Hebrews 9 the argument is carefully constructed to point attention to this very thing.  The first 10 verses of the chapter set up the reasoning with their depiction of the limitations of the Levitical High Priest in entering yearly (yet recurringly)  into the most holy place at the Day of Atonement.  The next 5 verses (Heb. 9:11-15) describe how Jesus as the Melchizedekian High Priest entered the true tabernacle in Heaven with His own blood once for all.  He is rightly called “the Mediator of the New Covenant” in verse 15 because He is the High Priest.

The next 2 verses (viz. Heb. 9:16-17) will have to be dealt with later, but the passage continues down to verse 22 with teaching about the importance of the blood in the “first [Mosaic] covenant.”

As the argument continues we read of the necessity of blood to be sprinkled in Heaven (Heb. 9:23-24).  And then the point is made that Christ did not have to offer Himself often as with the animal sacrifices in the OT.  In fact we are assured that the reverse was true:  “not that He should offer Himself often” (Heb. 9:25a).  Rather,

but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. – Heb. 9:26b

Please take note here: In the Mosaic Covenant (as with the other covenants) the covenant sacrifice was external to the parties, as was the content of the solemn oath which was to be believed.  But that is not the case with the New Covenant!  With the New Covenant the sacrifice is not external to the One making the covenant (God).  It is God Himself (cf. Heb. 1:1-3, 6, 8, 10; Acts 20:28).  Whatismore, neither are the terms to be believed.  Hebrews 9:28 states,

so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.   

Those who eagerly wait for Him are those who believe that “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.”  They are those who exercise faith in Him:

For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. – Heb. 4:2  

I am saying that the content of what is to believed in order to be included in the New Covenant is Jesus Christ Himself!  His Person and work form the faith-content of the oath.  Can a person be a covenant?  Why not, so long as faith in that person is essential to it?  We are to believe in Jesus, not in a set of propositions separate from Him.

This is why Paul can refer to his ministry as being one of “ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” in 2 Corinthians 3:6.

If we examine 2 Corinthians 3 we come across language remarkably close to the New Covenant language of Deuteronomy 30:4-5; Jeremiah 31:33, Isaiah 59:21 and Ezekiel 36:26-27.  Paul writes to the believers at Corinth without missing a beat:

clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. – 2 Cor. 3:3

Then the Apostle anticipates the argument of the author of Hebrews when he contrasts the difference in access to God between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit which he is commissioned to preach! (2 Cor. 3:7-18).

There is more to say, but in my opinion I don’t think these connections have been fully considered and appreciated by many Dispensationalists.





My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 3)

Part Two

We all know that sin stops us from inheriting the kind of world God the Creator envisaged for us; a world of peace, joy, righteousness, justice, and glory, not to mention communion with the Lord Himself.

God set the world in  motion, permitting the Fall and the devastation that it has brought in its wake.  He made covenants with man; signposts and promises to the better world that He still intends to bring about:

  1. The Noahic covenant establishes this post-flood world in perpetuity until the New Heavens and New Earth are made. 
  2. The Abrahamic covenant ensures that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will always be a people before God, and that they will inherit a land (I tend to include the “Land covenant” here).  It also makes provision for God’s blessing to be spread among the other nations of the world through Israel. 
  3. The Priestly covenant promises the descendants of Phinehas (who would be Zadokites) that they would be granted an everlasting priesthood. 
  4. The Davidic covenant promises that an heir of David will always sit upon his throne.
  5. The bi-lateral Mosaic covenant binds Israel to God in a theocratic relationship based on obedience.

We may grant that each of these covenants has elements which can be explored further, but for my purpose the descriptions above will do.  I want to call attention to a startling fact.  As they sit not one of these divine covenants can be fully fulfilled!  Their full realization is impossible.  Granted, blessing has come to the nations in the Person of Christ, an Israelite, but it has not come to them as nations.  Furthermore, Israel is not in right relationship to God.  The dynasty of David in Israel is absent a king, and nobody can claim that the pledge to Phinehas (however difficult it may be to comprehend) is being fulfilled.  Yes, there will be no more global floods upon the earth.  But even here there can be no transition to the New Creation from this sin-cursed old one.

Within all these great covenants and their gracious promises there is nothing to bring them to pass.  They have no means of salvation built into them.  They stand as impotent in themselves as any prognostication from any false prophet in history.

Why so?  What is the problem?  The problem is and always has been “sin!”  Sin gets in the way.  Sin prevents the realization of God’s program for Creation.  So how does God deal with sin?

That is a question that should not be asked by one Christian of another.  We all know the answer.  The answer is through faith in Jesus Christ.  Good!  Redemption is only through Him.  Jesus Christ is the means of salvation for sinners.

The New Covenant Deals with Sin

But there is a slight snag here.  I have already shown, and will show again, that the New covenant is particularly concerned with the question of sin and salvation.  God can’t write his instruction on any mind and heart that has not first been changed (cf. Jer. 31:33).  He will have to save men if He is to sanctify them (cf. Jer. 31:34).  But further, we must ask what connection Christ’s sacrifice has to the covenants above?  Since He has come and made the way of salvation plain, what is the hold-up?  Why aren’t the unilateral covenants of God playing out just as God promised?

Consider these verses which are usually identified with the New covenant:

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,

And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,”
Says the LORD.

“As for Me,” says the LORD, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the LORD, “from this time and forevermore.” – Isa. 59:20-21

They are aimed at Israel, just as Jeremiah 31 is.  And the covenant mentioned in verse 21 has close affinities with Jeremiah 31:31-34.  The wording is different but the sentiment is the same.  But in Isaiah the Spirit is promised, exactly as He is in those accepted New covenant passages in Isaiah 32:15, Ezekiel 36:26-28, Joel 2:28f., and Zechariah 12:10.

Notice that the covenant has to do with God’s Spirit.  It also coincides with the arrival of the Redeemer to turn away transgression in Jacob.  According to Paul, this passage awaits fulfillment (Rom. 11:26), so it cannot be connected with the first advent.

An Initial Compilation

If we gather together the various elements of this passage and the work of Christ I have been discussing this is what we get:

  1. Israel as a nation needs to be saved
  2. Without salvation the other divine covenants cannot go into full effect
  3. Salvation is wrought by Jesus Christ alone
  4. In order to receive Christ’s salvation one must believe in Him
  5. Believers receive the Holy Spirit
  6. When Israel’s sins are redeemed they receive the Spirit and are changed
  7. Christ’s salvation is connected with a covenant (e.g. Isa. 59:20-21)
  8. The salvation of Israel is connected to the New covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).

Alright, whatever the connection between Jesus Christ and the New covenant is, there is a great deal of overlap.  I might even be so bold as to assert that Christ’s work is covenantal.  But it’s all good.  These passages are for Israel!

Isaiah 42 and Matthew 12

But we are not finished.  We need to remind ourselves of what Isaiah has said in chapters 42 and 49, both of which concern Christ as “the Servant” of Yahweh.  Matthew refers Isaiah 42:1-3 to Jesus.

that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 

“Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved
 in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles,

A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;

And in His name Gentiles will trust.” – Matt. 12:17-18, 20-21

Matthew then adds, “And in His name Gentiles will trust,” which is not in the passage, at least directly.  But it is what Isaiah is teaching.  If we continue with Isaiah for a few more verses this will be seen:

He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

Thus says God the LORD,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk on it:

“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles – Isa. 42:4-6

The “coastlands” (‘iy) of verse 4 are almost certainly not the coast of Israel.  The term refers to habitable land; to the islands and land masses.  The “earth” (‘eretz) can and does refer to Israel, but not here.  Its repetition in verse 5, where it is set in opposition to the heavens, together with the mention of the “peoples” (‘am) mean that the context demands that we whole earth is being spoken of; and this provides the way for the explicit promise to the Gentiles in verse 6.  Matthew sees this and summarizes it with “And in His name Gentiles will trust.”

The verses are about Jesus Christ.  And they are about salvation being brought to the Gentiles.  And they are about Christ being trusted by the Gentiles.  And they are about Christ being called “a covenant.”

Which covenant could Christ be?

My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 2)

Part One

When we examine the clear New Covenant passage in Jeremiah 31:31ff, we might ask what the main promise of that covenant is.  It is not difficult to ascertain.  The New Covenant in the chapter concerns an internal or spiritual change in the elect of Israel.

 I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. – Jer. 31:33b

For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. – Jer. 31:34c

Because of this inward transformation; this “new birth,” Israel will be right with God, and they shall therefore be qualified to receive the long-standing blessings of the Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic Covenants.

So “salvation” is the key ingredient.  God will save His people.  In Jeremiah 31 His people is Israel.  The Gentiles are not mentioned, and neither (naturally) is the Church.

Is Jeremiah 31 the only New Covenant Passage?

If Jeremiah 31 is the only New Covenant passage in the OT then clearly the New Covenant is for Israel alone and it’s a wrap.  But who believes this?  No one.  There are other texts in the OT which have been identified with the New Covenant by all parties.  For instance, David Fredrickson (“Which Are the New Covenant Passages in the Old Testament?” – Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics 2019, 34) cites the following:  Deut. 30:1-6; Isa. 32:9-20; 59:15b-21; Jer. 32:36:44; Ezek. 16:53-63; 36:22-38; 37:21-28; Joel 2:28–3:8; Zech. 12:6-14.  On page 32 he also includes what he says are overlaps between NC texts and Messianic texts.  These are Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-13; 59:15-21; Ezek. 37:21-28.

I am not saying that I agree entirely with these identifications.  I think there are more passages that Fredricksen should have included (e.g. are we ready to say that Isa. 53 does not pertain to the NC?).  But what his selection highlights is the aspect of spiritual renewal and cleansing, with the Spirit’s role prominent in several places.  And if Isaiah 42 and 49 are NC passages, then we find there clear statements that Christ’s redemptive work includes the Gentiles (Isa. 42:1, 6; 49: 6 – these scriptures will be revisited later in this article because I believe they have been largely ignored in the discussion).

Other writers put their fingers on NC words.  J. Dwight Pentecost basically agrees with the above passages (minus Deut. 30 which he links to the “Palestinian” Covenant) and adds Isaiah 55:3; 61:8; Hos. 2:18-20; Mic. 7:18-20, and Zech. 9:10 (Thy Kingdom Come, 164-172).

Again, I believe there are more passages which should be added.  But let’s just take a quick look at some of these texts:

The end of Ezekiel 16, particularly verses 60-63, are identified by Fredrickson and Pentecost as New Covenant verses (Fredrickson often gives the verses before a passage).  The prophet says,

And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done, says the Lord GOD. – Ezek. 16:62-63

The central promise in this prophecy of a future regathering of Israel is the promise of atonement.  None of the other covenants of God promise atonement.  But this does match the New Covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:34.  If we look at Isaiah 32 what do we find?  It begins with a Messianic prediction:

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
And princes will rule with justice. – Isa. 32:1

And its final verses speak of the coming of the Holy Spirit effecting men and nature, with emphasis placed upon the ubiquity of righteousness (Isa. 32:15f.).  There is no mention of “covenant” in Isaiah 32 (and I’ll throw Zech. 12 in here), so what marks it out as a New Covenant chapter?  The answer is the work of righteousness brought about by the Holy Spirit.  These elements (viz. the Spirit and salvific righteousness) are even more clearly displayed in Isaiah 59:16-21, whose final verse reads:

“As for Me,” says the LORD, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the LORD, “from this time and forevermore.” – Isa. 59:21

The New Covenant is all about Salvation

The New Covenant is all about salvation unto righteous standing with God through the renewing work of the Spirit.  This matches the author of Hebrews’ argument about Christ’s New Covenant work:

Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. – Heb. 9:12 (cf. Heb. 10:15-18)

Redemption, salvation, the provision of righteousness by the imparting of a new nature by the Spirit; that is what the New Covenant is about.  Therefore, it seems to me that one cannot simply restrict ones vision to the salvation of Israel when considering the NC.  This seems especially true for several important reasons which we shall need to explore:

  1. If Isaiah 42 and 49 include NC passages then the Gentiles are spoken of in a New Covenant context.
  2. If there are passages which refer to God’s salvation reaching out to the Gentiles, and the NC is all about salvation, how is it that the Gentiles will be saved by another means than the one God used for Israel? 
  3. If Israel is God’s chosen vessel to witness to the Nations (e.g. Zech. 8:13, 22-23; Mic. 4:2; cf. Gen. 12:3) it seems logical that in testifying about Messiah they will speak of His New Covenant work.
  4. If there are passages designated by all parties within Dispensationalism as NC passages which refer to the Gentiles how can the Gentiles not be included in the NC?

Consider these prophecies:

The LORD has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.

So shall He sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths at Him;
For what had not been told them they shall see,
And what they had not heard they shall consider.

These come from Isaiah 52:10 and 15.  Verse 15 comes within the great prophecy about the Suffering Servant which we usually locate in Isaiah 53, but which actually starts in Isaiah 52:13!  If a person is going to restrict the New Covenant to Israel on the basis of Jeremiah 31:31-34 he is going to have to do a lot of untangling of these kinds of verses.  In striving to do this he might just find that he has gotten himself stuck even faster.

Another thought: Just because there are passages which speak about the NC for Israel does not necessarily mean that it should be restricted to Israel.  Or does it?  There is more work to do.



My Take on the New Covenant (Pt. 1)

I have been thinking for a while that it might be a good idea to write about the New Covenant.  Although there seems to be little confusion about it in the minds of Jeremiah, Paul, or the author of Hebrews, it has become something of a bugbear among Dispensationalists.  In this series I want to interact a little with their issues, but I also want to provide my understanding of the New Covenant, which, as it happens, adds one more alternative to the dizzying list already occupying the thought of many good men and women.   


The New Covenant has given Dispensationalists all kinds of headaches.  Taken as a generality, they seem unable to come to a consensus about this extremely important teaching of the Bible.  In a helpful way, Mike Vlach has set forth six different ways the NC has been understood by Dispensationalists broadly:

  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled in the future with national Israel; the church has no relationship to the New Covenant (some classical dispensationalists)
  2. There are two New Covenants—one with Israel and another for the church (some traditional dispensationalists including John Walvoord)
  1. The New Covenant is completely fulfilled with the church; there is no future fulfillment with national Israel (Covenant Theology and some non-dispensational systems)
  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled with Israel but the spiritual blessings of the covenant are applied to the church today (some traditional and revised dispensationalists)
  1. The New Covenant will be fulfilled with Israel but the church is an added referent to the New Covenant promises so there is a sense in which the New Covenant is being fulfilled with the churchThe New Covenant has two referents—Israel and the church (some revised dispensationalists; Paul Feinberg)
  1. Since the New Covenant was given to Israel for the purpose of also blessing Gentiles there is literal fulfillment of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant to all believing Jews and Gentiles in this present age, while the physical/national promises await fulfillment with Jesus’ second coming when national Israel is incorporated into the New Covenant (some revised and most progressive dispensationalists)

Vlach says he holds to the sixth option, which, along with the fifth, is, I think the most theologically defensible position among the six for a Dispensationalist to hold; especially one who doesn’t wish to be seen as a theological troglodyte by his Reformed peers.  Saying this does not of course mean that the other positions are wrong; only that they encourage more head-scratching among onlookers.  Doesn’t the Apostle tell the Church to observe the institution of the New Covenant?

In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” – 1 Cor. 11:25

Moreover, contrary to those Covenant Theologians who talk about “progressive revelation” but who mean by it that revelation changes dramatically as the centuries go by, don’t Dispensationalists actually mean that revelation can be augmented without morphing into something else?  They do indeed.  And yet they their wires crossed on the New Covenant.  Why is this?

Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8  

A lot of the trouble arises because the prophet Jeremiah, in what could be called the locus classicus of the New Covenant, did not see the need to include the Gentiles within his prophecy.  He says there that

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  “But this is the covenant that 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; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” – Jer. 31:31-34. 

It’s a glorious passage, and it is definitely aimed at future Israel.  Surely then, we should all say together that the New Covenant is for Israel alone?  Adding fuel to this fire is the Book of Hebrews.  The writer of that book has a golden opportunity to set the record straight and tell us if we in the Church are New Covenant people.  He does not; at least in so many words.  He is content rather to cite Jeremiah in what turns out to be the longest OT citation in the NT.  Fait accompli?  It looks that way to some.

But Paul (and Jesus)

But then there are those places in the NT where we are given reason to pause.  I have already quoted Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.  But all he is doing there is quoting Jesus’ own formula in the Upper Room in Luke 22:19-20.  “Yes,” comes the reply, “and He was instituting it with Jewish disciples.”  But…those same disciples were to become the foundation of the Church, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. (Eph. 2:20).

So what is to be done?  I believe a thorough look at the “New Covenant passages” of the OT is the first order of business.  What we need to decide is whether Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the last word on the New Covenant, or whether it fits within a much broader New Covenant revelation.  That is where we will begin…


Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt. 5)

Part Four

The Times of the Coming King[1]

     The last three chapters of the book of Zechariah document circumstances surrounding the advent of the coming Ruler, the Messiah.  The oracle opens with a battle against Jerusalem (Zech. 12:1-9).  The text indicates that Jerusalem and its rulers will be used as a means of judgment against the surrounding nations (Zech. 12:9).  Not that Jerusalem gets off scott free.  But this scene emphasizes the Lord’s role in defending His people.  The next scene (Zech. 12:10-14) shows God eliciting repentance in the several families of Israel through two corresponding events; the pouring out the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of grace and supplication,” and the people catching sight of One “whom they have pierced.” (Zech. 12:10).[2]

It is worth noting that the advent itself, as stunning as it will be, will not be enough to turn the hearts of the Jewish people to this personage, their long-promised Messiah.  The deep mourning that will result from the realization that Israel has “thrust through” (daqar) when He first came to them, will be wrought by the Holy Spirit.  In the final analysis, such is the corruption of human nature that it takes the special conviction of God the Spirit to open eyes and hearts so that sinners both see and feel the truth.

The familiar phrase “in that day” in Zechariah 13:1 (and repeated 15 times in this last oracle), looks forward to a time of abundant cleansing for sin which God will provide after the lamentations are over.  This will be a new start for Israel – a new future with their covenant God.  Idolatry and false prophecy will depart, and anyone who therefore pretends to be a prophet will be automatically deemed a blasphemer; so much so that even his parents will execute the presumptuous son (Zech. 13:2-4).  If this occurs after the coming time of repentance and after the re-appearance of Messiah, as seems likely, then the level of sacrilege being committed, and the radical response of the parents to such high-handed presumption are understandable.  With the Branch resident as King of the world and His long-expected kingdom reign in full swing, when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9; Jer. 31:34), any person who claims the prophetic mantle will do so only to deceive (Zech. 13:4).[3]  The deception continues with the false prophet lying about his vocation (“I am a tiller of the ground”), and about wounds which were probably self-inflicted (Zech. 13:5-6. Cf. 1 Kings 18:28).  Like most premillennialists, I do not take verse 6 as a messianic reference.[4]  It better fits an unrighteous person chafing under righteous government.  The conditions are Edenic (cf. Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 36:35), but the hearts of some men; some born in the kingdom era; will still be hellish.[5]

What this passage shows is that although the kingdom of Messiah is present on earth, and Israel has been reconciled to Him, there will be some with rebellious hearts; children of those who entered the kingdom, who will persist in their rejection of the revelatory atmosphere they have been brought up in.  Hence the kingdom at this stage is not perfect.  This is what we saw previously (e.g. Isa. 11:3-5; 32:1; Psa. 89:14-15), and will see again (e.g. Zech. 14:16-19).

However, the passage moves on to speak of the associate of Yahweh (Zech. 13:7), who is God’s shepherd, but who will be struck.  The “sword” here is metaphorical (Psa. 22:20).  It signifies a violent end, which is a foretelling of Messiah’s rejection.  Then Yahweh moves against Israel (Zech. 13:7c-8a), and two-thirds of the population die.  Once more in biblical prophecy the prediction is divided between the two comings of Messiah and the surrounding events.  The striking of God’s appointed shepherd relates to the first coming, while the destruction of two-thirds of the populace concerns circumstances just prior to the second coming and is probably closely connected to the persecution of Jews by the “little horn” (Dan. 7:20-21), which is ended by the coming of Messiah (Dan. 7:22).  The “refining” (Zech. 13:9) of the final third of the Jews (the Remnant of so many passages)[6] is to turn them to their covenant God.  The words which close out the chapter (“I will say, ‘This is My people’: and each one will say, ‘Yahweh is my God’”) are an affirmation from both parties of God’s covenant loyalty.[7]

The oracle continues in chapter 14 with a prediction specific to Jerusalem.  While only one third of Jews in Israel will be spared, the percentage of the “Remnant” in the capital who will escape will be a half (Zech. 14:1-2).  Only after this catastrophe will the Lord intercede and fight for Jerusalem (Zech. 14:3).  This will be the promised One, the Lord Himself (Zech. 14:4a).  We know this to be messianic in nature, and that Messiah is Yahweh (just as in Zech. 9:9 and 11:12-13), but this was unclear before the ministry of Jesus.


Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt. 4)

Part Three

The Prophet as Actor and Two Covenants

     In various parts of the Old Testament some of the prophets were ordered to act out a scenario as a pictorial revelation to onlookers.  In 1 Kings 20:35f. a prophet asked a man to strike him so that he could act the part of a careless guard who had lost his prisoner in order to make his tale a parable of the king’s release of the Syrian Ben-Hadad.  Isaiah was commanded to walk around virtually naked for three years as a sign that the Egyptians would be shamed by the Assyrians (Isa. 20).  Jeremiah broke pottery at Hinnom (Jer. 19).  Ezekiel was to enact a miniature siege against the ten tribes for 390 days, lying on his left side, and then do the same for 40 days on his right side laying siege against a portrayal of Judah (Ezek. 4).  And of course Hosea married an unfaithful woman to dramatize Israel’s unfaithfulness to her Husband, Yahweh (Hos. 1 – 3).  Each of these actions, and others besides, had predictive elements which were central to their message.

In chapter 11 of Zechariah’s prophecy he is instructed to portray two roles; one of a good shepherd, and one of an evil shepherd.  In portraying the good shepherd Zechariah refers to two covenants, both of them rather obscurely, and sandwiched in-between are verses 12 and 13, wherein Yahweh Himself claims that He is to be priced at the same value as a gored slave (Exod. 21:32).[1]  As it stands, and even without knowing how this would be applied to Jesus (cf. Matt. 27:9-10), this is a shocking statement.  Israel and Judah will be put at enmity by the Lord whom they despise, as signified by the breaking of the staff called “Bonds” or “Union” (Zech. 11:14), although this may still await eschatological fulfillment.[2]

But what of the first covenant symbolized by the staff called “Beauty” or “Favor” (Zech. 11:10)?  Which covenant does God break with “all the peoples”?  I have read many valiant attempts to answer the question, but I have not been convinced by any.  Some like Baron make it an unofficial covenant of God to protect Israel from the nations, but this strains the words.  I do not wish to add another unconvincing interpretation to the list.  My guess is that it has something to do with the Abrahamic covenant, and there I am content to leave it.

The Worthless Shepherd

Another mystery is waiting for the reader before leaving Zechariah 11: who is the “worthless shepherd” of Zechariah 11:15-17?  Some premillennial commentators believe it refers to the coming Antichrist.  Some think it may be Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the bête noir of intertestamental Israel.  We have seen that in Daniel 8 the description of the “little horn” fits Antiochus, but that the “little horn” in Daniel 7, who persecutes the saints just before the coming of the great King, is the end time persecutor of Israel.  His cruel treatment of the people calls forth an imprecation,

A sword shall be against his arm and against his right eye; his arm shall completely wither, and his right eye shall be totally blinded. – Zechariah 11:17

As several interpreters have noted, the force of the curse here is very adamant.  Many make tentative association with the one whom Christians will call the Antichrist (and I believe the language calls for such an identification).  If this is the “little horn” of Daniel 7, then it is possible that the covenant which God breaks in Zechariah 11:10 is the protection afforded by the Abrahamic covenant during the coming “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:6); the period portrayed by Christ as having to be curtailed lest even the elect be destroyed (Matt. 24:21-22. Cf. Dan. 12:1).  Possible, but not certain.  The description of injuries to the right arm and right eye are for identification purposes.  They are not metaphorical, standing for an inability to function anymore as a shepherd, for this person didn’t do that anyway; he is worthless.  If the injuries are a means of telling who this is, the only personage it can be biblically is the “little horn” (Dan. 7:24-26).


[1] It must be remembered that this estimate was ancient in Zechariah’s day.  Since wages are expressly mentioned, it is perhaps better to view it as an insulting valuation.  See Kenneth G. Hogland & John H. Walton, “Zechariah”, in ZIBBC, John H. Walton, Gen. Ed., Vol. 5, 223.

[2] We do know, for example, that the twelve tribes will be identifiable in Revelation 7, although I am suggesting a schism beyond those representatives who are sealed.

Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt. 3)

Part Two

The Ominous Visions of Chapter Five     

There is without any doubt an eeriness about the two visions of Zechariah 5.  The flying scroll he sees first (Zech. 5:1-4) is thirty feet long (which is somewhat out of the ordinary), and fifteen feet wide (which definitely is).[1]  Unger comments,

Since these measurements are the exact size of the tabernacle in the wilderness, as may be computed from the boards used to build it (Exod. 26:15-25), the indication is that the judgments proceeding were in accordance with the holiness of the Lord’s habitation in the midst of Israel.[2] 

Surely Zechariah, as a priest (cf. Neh. 12:16) would not have allowed this fact to pass him bye.  From verses 3 and 4 we see that the scroll represents a “curse” against the malpractices of the people.  God after the Exile is just as relentlessly against iniquity as He was before.  But some think that the vision best suits a post-second advent context; a time when Christ reigns in justice with “a rod of iron” (Psa. 2:8-9; Rev 2:27).[3]

With verses 5 through 11 of Zechariah 5 we reach the peak of visionary oddities.  The prophet beholds a “basket” or container within which was a woman.[4]  The woman is called “Wickedness,” and is imprisoned within the basket by a heavy lead disc being placed over its mouth (Zech. 5:7-8).  If this isn’t strange enough, the woman in the basket is carried off to the land of Shinar (the location of Babylon) by two female angelic beings (unusual in itself) with wings like storks.[5]

The weirdness of the scene should not obscure its clear message; evil will be placed in the region of Babylon. (Zech. 5:11).  The pressing question is when?  The only answer we receive is, “when it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base.”  That is to say, the lid will be taken away from the mouth and the woman will be released at a time appointed in the future.

Everyone would like more information than this meager sentence, but this is all we have and we should proceed humbly with the assumption that it is enough.  What previous revelation has prepared us for is the association of Babylon and its vicinity with wickedness.  One thinks about the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:2) and the depictions in Daniel 3 and 5 of its idolatry.  But Zechariah is not looking back over his shoulder, but forward to a day when this embodied wickedness will be unleashed from the land of Shinar (modern Iraq).  Is there later revelation that might help?  The only thing I can think of is the repeated mention of “Babylon, that great city” in the last Book of the Bible (e.g. Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 18:2, 10, 21).  There without a doubt, the city of Babylon is the center and source of wickedness in the world (Rev. 14:8; 18:3, 23-24).

Since we are on a journey through the unfolding of revelation I will not draw any conclusions from this just now.  But these texts in the Apocalypse do tie off the frayed edge left in Zechariah 5.[6]  There are no others that do.[7]

 God’s Zeal for Zion

When the Lord God looked upon the returnees in Israel in the sixth century before Christ, He did not see a nation that could hold its head high among the surrounding territories.  From the time the Chaldeans came at the end of the seventh century till the Romans finally drew a curtain upon “Israel” after the Bar Kochba revolution early in the second century A. D., the people called the Jews were ruled over by outsiders.  There is no way to reconcile the kind of language we see in Zechariah 8, or Isaiah 11 or 62:1-7, or Jeremiah 33:14-26, or Ezekiel 37:33-35 with anything we know about post-exilic Israel.  We are left then with three alternatives; either the prophecies are null and void; or the prophecies have undergone radical transformation; or they are yet to be fulfilled as they were written.  The first two options both demand that God’s oaths have suffered alteration.  Only the third alternative preserves the original words, and it does so by means of belief in the unalterability of God’s covenants. (more…)

Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt.2)

Part One

The Branch Builds Yahweh’s Temple

But the scene changes when three visitors from Babylon leave a gift of silver and gold (Zech. 6:9-10).[1]  From these precious materials he is told to make a crown, and then do an odd thing with it; place it on the head of Joshua the high priest (Zech. 6:11).[2]  Then he is to utter certain words, words which cannot pertain to Joshua himself, but of which he plays a symbolic part in illustrating.

Then speak to him, saying, `Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD;

Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.’ – Zechariah 6:12-13

    In this enactment we come across a fascinating prefigurement of the role of the Branch upon His arrival.  The meaning of the crowning act is again connected with the man called “the Branch” (Zech. 6:12).  He it is who will unite the high priestly and kingly offices, even building a future temple (Zech. 6:12-13).  So the imagery reaches beyond Joshua, who is an actor in a role, and grabs hold of covenant promises in the Davidic and Priestly covenants.  In this way it certainly alludes to Psalm 110:1-4.[3]

The Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees   

In Zechariah 4 the prophet is woken from sleep and sees a golden lampstand (Zech. 4:2).  Opinions vary as to what this would have looked like.  We cannot be sure that it resembled the familiar menorah we are accustomed to seeing in Jewish symbolism[4], but as no stress is placed upon it, it is safe at least to assume its purpose as a light-giver from God.[5]  Next to the lampstand he saw two olive trees standing either side of it (Zech. 4:3).  They seem to feed it (Zech. 4:12).  Zechariah asks what it all means (Zech. 4:4), but is not directly answered until verse 14, where the answer is, “These are the two anointed ones,[6] who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.”  That is not much of an explanation, but it will show up again in the last book of the Bible (Rev. 11:4).  Are the two olive trees Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel[7] the vassal ruler?  Many believe so, but it may not be the case.  The angel’s question, “Do you not know what these are?” (Zech. 4:5, 13), which makes the anticipation grow, and the interposing of an oracle concerning Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:6-10), together with the indistinctness of the eventual answer, seem to keep the prophet at arm’s length.[8]

If indeed we are meant to understand the two olive trees as representing Joshua and Zerubbabel, then the priestly and the leadership roles are given prominence, just as they are in Zechariah 3:6-7 and 6:12-13, but with the difference that here there appears to be a dyadic or two-head leadership in view, the vassal and the high priest.  Whether a dyadic arrangement is meant or not,[9] it has not escaped the notice of commentators that Joshua is pictured “standing before the Angel of the Lord” in Zechariah 3:1, while Zerubbabel is at least directly addressed by God in Zechariah 4:6-10.  Too, the fact that it is God’s grace which upholds both men in these visions (e.g. Zech. 3:4-5; 4:6) leads naturally to the conclusion that they are part of the divinely fed system seen in the lampstand and olive tree vision.  In the context then, it is most likely that these men are the two olive trees, although it is easy to see the utility in this set up (though in an altered form) for use in the vision of the two witnesses in Revelation 11.[10]

What the fourth and fifth visions of Zechariah 3 and 4 demonstrate is that it is God who will restore the kingly and priestly lines in His loyalty to the Davidic and Priestly covenants.  And this was already predicted in the most plain and clear language by Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 33:14ff).  It is by His Spirit (Zech. 4:6) and grace (Zech. 4:7) that Israel still has hope.  The “day of small things” (Zech. 4:10; cf. Hag. 2:3-4) was not to be despised, even though greater expectations had been aroused by men like Ezekiel (Ezek. 36-48).  As we shall see, Zechariah himself will raise far greater expectations in the second half of his book.


[1] I assume that the gift in verse 10 is the silver and gold of verse 11.

[2] Of course, Joshua the High Priest also took part in another symbolic enactment in chapter 3; although that one was visionary not actual.  It also involved the Lord’s Servant, “the Branch” (Zech. 3:8).  The symbolic significance of Joshua’s cleansing and the Divine pronouncement of his iniquities being forgiven (Zech. 3:4), appears to go beyond a mere reestablishment of the priesthood through its head steward, reaching also into the age of Messiah. – See, e.g., Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah”, EBC, 625.  I may push farther to find a link between this episode and the consummation of the Priestly covenant in the kingdom (cf. Zech. 3:8-10; cf..Num. 25:11-13; Jer. 33:16-21; Ezek. 44:19-16).

[3] As Klein notes, “The various passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah merge both royal and priestly offices into the messianism of the Branch.” – George L. Klein, Zechariah, 202.  Mention ought also to be made of God’s throne in the Temple in Ezekiel 43:7.

[4] Klein calls it “highly unusual, unlike any other lampstand portrayed in the Old Testament”. – Ibid, 156.

[5] I say “from God” because the lamps are not fed by human hands.  – Ibid.

[6] Literally, “the two sons of oil,” the word for anointed is not present.

[7] Although he was of David’s line, Zerubbabel did not function as a king.

[8] Of course, it is also possible that angel’s question was designed to provoke the prophet to think a little more as the answer was obvious. – See e.g., David Baron, The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah (London: Morgan and Scott, 1919), 131.

[9] Nearly all critical scholars interpret it this way.  Klein argues against it.  Ibid, 165-166.

[10] See Eugene H. Merrill, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 157.

Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt. 1)

Zechariah was active from 520 to about 480 B.C.  He is mentioned along with Haggai in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14.  His post-exilic book is remarkable for its imagery[1] and for its sustained messianism.  This has caused some interpreters to despair at an interpretation, especially of its first and last thirds.[2]  His use of covenant terminology is confined to two enigmatic passages (Zech. 9:11; 11:10).  There are covenant intimations in the book (e.g. Zech. 6:15).  But it is apparent that in most everything he says the great biblical covenants are behind it.  The book opens with God’s overture to His people:

The Lord has been very angry with your fathers.  Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts.’ – Zechariah 1:2-3

    The threefold repetition of “Lord of hosts” (i.e. God Almighty)[3] is noticeable.  The God of Israel is not off somewhere in the ether awaiting appeasement, like the pagan gods, as Zechariah 1:8-11 and 18-21 shows.  Rather God upholds the whole scheme of things, and He is Israel’s God, and through Israel He will reach out to the nations, just as He promised in His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:4-5; 18:18; 22:18).  So while a note of divine superintendence over Israel is emphasized by the prophet (e.g. Zech. 2:1-5, 8; 3:2; 8:1-8; 9:16-17; 10:6-8; 12:7-9; 14:8-11), yet the nations, whom the Lord is angry with (Zech. 1:15, 21), will finally be saved:

The book of Zechariah also addresses the nations, merging them into the future picture in much the same fashion as the preexilic prophets did.  Thus the prophet pronounces judgment on the nations due to their sin and rebellion, but he proclaims hope for their conversion as well.  The nations are included in his vision of the ultimate restoration in which all of Yahweh’s people come to worship him (Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; 14:16-19).[4]

    Moreover, the salvation of the world is consciously linked to Israel in its covenant role as “witnesses” (Isa. 43:10-12), or “priests” to the other nations (Exod. 19:6; cf. Zech. 8:20-23).[5]  The same phenomenon is found in the promise to the nations in Zechariah 2:10-13 (cf. Isa. 49:6; 62:1-2).  The “good and comforting words” (Zech. 1:13) that were spoken to Zechariah after he had asked whether God would again bless Israel after the exile provide a kind of heading for the main thrust of the book.[6]  God’s presence will take center stage (Zech. 1:16-17; 2:5, 10; 6:12-13; 8:3, 20-23; 14:9, 16-17).  There is also a nascent proto-trinitarianism within the book; God, the Branch, and the Spirit all being conspicuous within its pages.

The person of the Branch (tsemach) is found in chapter 3 and chapter 6.  The Angel of the Lord predicts the coming of the Branch, whom He calls “My Servant” in Isaianic fashion (cf. Isa. 42:1ff.; 49:3-8).  There is not much added to the promise of the Branch in Zechariah 3:8, but we ought to note the underlying New covenant meaning of the following verses:

I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.  In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, `Everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.’ – Zechariah 3:9b-10

    The promise of the sudden removal of sin from the land of Israel (cf. Isa. 66:8) would have warmed the hearts of the post-exilic community, reminding them that someday the covenant God would be true to His prophetic word.

The Land-Promise Still Very Much in Force

The land itself is not a “shadow,” of something else.  This is contrary to those who would dogmatically point to passages like 1 Kings 4:25[7] to try to prove that the fulfillment of the land promise was all in the past.  Any such land-promise in the prophets is not just a type of another reality.[8]  One can scarcely get that from reading Zechariah.[9]  For instance,

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the LORD.

 “Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.

 “And the LORD will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. – Zechariah 2:10-12

    Yahweh calls the actual land of Israel His “inheritance” and “the Holy Land” in this wonderful passage.  The land will be holy because God Himself will dwell there!  Therefore, just as the ground before Moses was “holy” because of God’s presence (Exod. 3:1-5), so in the coming age, the age of divine government, the whole land of Israel will be holy.

Moreover, God’s people will be extended to include “many nations” (Zech. 2:11).  Not that these foreigners will be reckoned as Israel, but that they will be saved, just as the Abrahamic covenant foretold (Gen. 12:3c).  In words which echo Micah 4:4, and the time of tranquility we have often noted, Zechariah predicts a time when “everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.” (Zech. 3:10).  This word of comfort, coming as it does in a scene where Satan is seen accusing the high priest Joshua before God (Zech. 3:1), is very significant.  The Enemy is told in no uncertain terms that “Yahweh has chosen Jerusalem” (Zech. 3:2).  God’s grace cleanses Joshua, and it will restore Israel in the end.  The city and the land were in the hearts of God’s prophets (e.g. Mic. 7:14-20; Dan. 9:1-19), and they trusted that God would finally fulfill all the covenants He had promised.  Zechariah chapters 8 – 14 must be read against this backdrop of covenant expectation.

The verses directly above this one speak of the Branch (Zech. 3:8), which of course carries a kingly connotation, and an inscribed “stone” (Zech. 3:9), which some think alludes to the priesthood.[10]  Although the promise of remission “in one day” (cf. Isa. 66:8) which accompanies the stone is not just for the priesthood, but for the whole land of Israel (Zech. 3:9b).  I have already said that the image of the Branch also occurs in Zechariah 6, where, not coincidentally, it is seen in conjunction with the high priest Joshua.  That chapter begins with a vision of “the four spirits of heaven” (Zech. 6:5), who perform supervisory roles over the earth (Zech. 6:6-8 cf. Dan. 4:17).  Whatever significance they have, the fact that they are revealed demonstrates God’s “hands-on” approach to ruling.  This connection of the spiritual and the physical creation is vital to a biblical creational worldview.  Man is privileged to occupy both realms.  The Creation Project is very much in view in Zechariah.


[1] The many strange visions, particularly in the first half of the book, might seem to shroud the prophet’s message in mystery.  But most of the time the images, the horses (Zech. 1:8), the horns and craftsmen (Zech. 1:18-21), the lampstand and olive trees (Zech. 4:2-3), and the horses and chariots (Zech. 6:1-3), are at least partially explained in the context.  Even the weird vision of the flying scroll and the woman in the basket (Zech. 5:1-11) is for the most part, discernible.  Hence, those who stress the “apocalyptic” content of the visions can err if they fail to pay at least as much attention to the interpretations of them given in the context.  It is the revealed interpretations which we should be more concerned about than the supposed genre employed.

[2] See e.g. Al Wolters, “Zechariah, Book of” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, eds, Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, 890.

[3] This is a better way to understand the name rather than the more literal “Lord of powers” or “armies.”  See Walther Eichrodt’s discussion in Theology of the Old Testament I.192-194.

[4] C. Marvin Pate, J. Scott Duvall, et al, The Story of Israel: A Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 101.

[5] See Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 243; Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus, 460.  In Ezekiel 5:5 Jerusalem is said to be “set in the midst of the nations”.  This would make it a bright testimony indeed if it was truly “the City of Truth” (Zech. 8:3).

[6] E.g. “He who touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zech. 2:8).

[7] O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000), 13-14.

[8] This is how O. Palmer Robertson ends his book, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 300

[9] Of course, those who insist upon reading the Prophets typologically do not collect their understanding from them either.  Their typology is drafted from their method of reading their interpretation of the New Testament back into the Old Testament.

[10] George L. Klein, Zechariah (Nashville: B & H, 2008), 151.

Covenant in Ezekiel (Pt. 5)

Part Four

A Literal Reading

The structure of Ezekiel reaches its crescendo in the theme of the returning Glory to the Temple in Ezekiel 43:1-7.[1]   This return must be linked with the abandonment of Solomon’s Temple by the Glory-cloud in chapter 11.  There is a narrative-theological arc extending from Ezekiel 8 and 11 over to Ezekiel 43.

This arc from a literal temple to what is often taken to be a spiritual temple at the end of the book, looks hermeneutically unbalanced and forced upon the prophet’s words.  But if this arc and the other details in this section can be adequately accounted for by not spiritualizing them, then the theological fallout is immense.[2]  The strongly covenantal connections involved would, for example, stimulate a long overdue examination of God’s eternal covenant of peace with Phinehas (Num. 25:10-13) and his descendants the Zadokites (cf. 1 Chron. 6:4-8).

The whole section moves logically from the command to Ezekiel to describe the temple (Ezek. 40:4), to a guided tour of the premises, with measurements related at each step (Ezek. 40:6-42:20).  We get a description of the altar and offerings (Ezek. 43:13-27), followed by rules on who can and who cannot enter the sanctuary (Ezek. 44:1-9).  The two-tier priest system, consisting of Zadokites and Levites, is delineated (Ezek. 44:10-16).  Then basic duties are described (Ezek. 44:17-31).  In Ezekiel 45:1-8 the division of the land around the sanctuary is prescribed, beginning with a large “holy” area for the Zadokites, in which the sanctuary itself sits in its own acreage, situated in the center (cf. Ezek. 48:10).  There will also be a smaller area “adjacent to the holy area” given to “the whole house of Israel” who live in the city (Jerusalem).  The “prince,” receives a portion next to the city portion and the holy portion.[3]  A separate large area is for the other Levites.   Several ordinances and offerings finish off the chapter and continue to Ezekiel 46:15.  Then the gifts of the “prince” are mentioned (Ezek. 46:16-18).  This includes a passage about how the prince is not to take other people’s property (Ezek. 46:18).  Whoever this “prince” is then, he is not divine.[4]

More descriptions close chapter 46, and then there is the description of the healing waters which flow out from the door of the temple (Ezek. 47:1-11).  This is followed by an outline of the land inheritance (Ezek. 47:12-23).  The prophet even includes Yahweh’s recollection of His covenant of land:

Thus says the Lord GOD: “These are the borders by which you shall divide the land as an inheritance among the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph shall have two portions.

You shall inherit it equally with one another; for I raised My hand in an oath to give it to your fathers, and this land shall fall to you as your inheritance.” – Ezekiel 47:13-14 (my emphasis)

To those who place the whole last section of Ezekiel in the past, this is still a late reminder that God has not rescinded the land promise to the nation of Israel.  The reason given for this is the oath He pledged to the Fathers centuries before: To repeat, covenant oaths are hermeneutically fixed points in Scripture.

If the prophetic context is kept in view then the establishment of the nation of Israel around this glorious temple will come to pass in the future in exactly the way the prophet described it.  There has certainly been no such river as is here described in the history of the world until now!  It is not for us to quibble at place names or future sacrifices or sin offerings.  That is not our problem, and the One whose problem it is, is more than capable of resolving any apparent conflicts with our theology.

Ezekiel 48 is remarkable for its two lists of the tribes of Israel.  In Ezekiel 48:1-8, 23-29 lists the borders of each tribe’s inheritance.  Then Ezekiel 48:30-34 the gates of the city are named after the tribes.  But the lists differ!  The list of tribes who are given land is as follows:

Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, and Gad.[5]

    Levi is omitted and Joseph is represented by his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  When we compare the names on the gates of the city, we get the original brothers:

Reuben, Judah, Levi, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali.

    There is no contradiction here.  Obviously, the reasons for the two lists differ.  Because Levi is given land around the temple, the tribe of Joseph is divided between his sons to make up the twelve.

The last verse in Ezekiel puts a time-stamp on the whole section (Ezek. 48:35).  God is present in the new temple (Ezek. 43:1-5).  The tribes of Israel are around it north and south, and Jerusalem is called Yahweh Shammah (“Yahweh is there”).  This is the coming Kingdom. (more…)