Biblical Covenantalism

Covenant in Micah

Having seen the prophetic emphases of Amos and Hosea, I want to turn to Micah the Moresthite (c.742-685 B.C.).  He too brought scathing indictments against his people.  At one point he accuses them of having risen up as an enemy against their God (Mic. 2:8).  There is no let up until the end of chapter two where these enigmatic lines appear:

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob,
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel;
I will put them together like sheep of the fold,
Like a flock in the midst of their pasture;
They shall make a loud noise because of so many people.

The one who breaks open will come up before them;
They will break out,
Pass through the gate,
And go out by it;
Their king will pass before them,
With the LORD at their head. – Micah 2:12-13

Notice the mention of the remnant, which is always in Micah a reference to those among Israel who will be saved.  Verse 12 envisions a gathering of the remnant, but for all that it foresees a large company of people brought together.  The scene is one of restoration and peace.  The thirteenth verse is a bit more difficult to break down.  The identity of “the breaker” (parats) is settled once we understand the parallelism with “the king” and “the Lord” later in the verse.  This is none other than the great prophetic figure found in Genesis 3:15, 49:8; Numbers 24:8-9, 17; and Deuteronomy 18:15-19.  At this juncture, around the latter part of the 8th Century B.C., this noble personage is still somewhat of a dark figure.  But if we put these things together we come up with a victorious Hero who will vanquish Satan, a King from Judah who will lead a restored Israel, who will come in a future day, and who will also be the great Prophet of His people.

If we jump to chapter 5 we come across the well known prophecy in 5:2,

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting

In this oracle Micah names the actual birthplace of the coming King.  Naturally, it is in Judah because that is where Jacob had predicted that He would come from.  The geographical connection between Micah 5:2 and Genesis 49:8 shows that they are speaking about one and the same person.  But the prophet adds a bit more information.  This Ruler is clearly connected with the Davidic covenant (even though the word cannot be translated as “king”).  The fact that there is a stable continuity between Jacob (c. 1850 B.C.), David (c. 1000 B.C.) and Micah (c. 700 B.C.) again shows that God’s covenant word does not alter its meaning or become “transformed” as the centuries pass.  Prophecy is steady so that faith in God can be firm.  Indeed, the added specificity of the birthplace of the Ruler necessitates this.

Of course, this side of Calvary the interpreter has to decide whether or not the passage is speaking of the first coming of Christ (I am assuming the identity of this Ruler is Christ), or of the second coming of Christ.  Believers in Micah’s day did not have this quandary.  For them the mighty Ruler to come will be born in Bethlehem, and this too is how the scribes inquired of by Herod saw it (Matt. 2:5-6), although they also called Him the Shepherd of God’s people.  More inferred than plainly taught, the function of this Ruler will be to bring unity and blessing to the nation corresponding to the covenants with Israel.  This certainly did not occur at the first advent.  But here we might begin to notice an important fact about predictions concerning this exalted figure, and that is that most of the prophecies concerning Him (Christ) hold the two comings (as we now know of them) together as one work.  We shall see this over and over again in Isaiah and other places (e.g. Isa. 9:6-7; 40:3-5; 52:13-53:12; 61:1-2; Zech. 9:9; Mal. 3:1-3).  The two comings are viewed together.  This same phenomenon is found in relation to Genesis 3:15; the crushing of the heel of the Woman’s Seed was at the Cross.  The crushing of the serpent’s skull by the Woman’s Seed is still in the future: in fact my opinion is that it awaits the closing of the thousand years in Revelation 20; the culmination of the Creation Project.

If we take this view of the two comings forming essentially one work it is apparent that the work of Christ is not yet complete.  Certainly the role of the Suffering Servant is finished (Jn. 19:30. Cf. Acts 3:13, 26), but there is much more to do!

But another matter confronts the reader of the verse: does this Ruler’s activity, though set in the future as to His role for Israel, declare to us that He has a special provenance?  He is said to be “of old” (qedem), “from everlasting” or “from ancient times” (olam).  How is this to be understood?  By any margin this is a mysterious statement.  Some more liberal commentators have tried to resolve the tension by making this statement refer to the Davidic line.[1]  But the subject under discussion is not the line of David but one particular Ruler from David’s birthplace.[2]  This individual has “origins” in the ancient past.  As McComiskey says,

The word qedem can indicate only great antiquity, and its application to a future ruler – one yet to appear on the scene of Israel’s history – is strong evidence that Micah expected a supernatural figure.[3]

Another writer has said that “The phrases of this text are the strongest possible statement of infinite duration in the Hebrew language.”[4]  The obvious ties to both the Davidic and the Abrahamic covenant should be noted.  This Ruler will bring about the full fulfillments of these great covenants.

Moving back one chapter the prophet gives us a depiction of the coming kingdom of the Ruler.  What we are told here will become common as we read the prophetic literature.  It is this-worldly but it is another world.  There is an evocation of tranquility that seems scarcely possible in our turbulent world.

Micah 4:1 locates the prophecy of 4:1-8 “in the latter days”, which, although it is not definite enough to place at the end of time (viz. after the second coming when Israel will turn to the Lord – Deut. 4:29-30), seems only to fit comfortably there.  The scene is idyllic, almost like the Arcadia of Virgil.  We read about the exaltation of the mountain of Yahweh.  Is this metaphorical only?  Perhaps: perhaps not.  It is too early in the Old Testament chronology to tell.  What is more certain is that people (am) of the nations of the world will go up to it.  This will not surprise any reader who remembers Genesis 12:3 or 22:18. Even the commission given to Israel in Exodus 19:6, although it was not fulfilled under Moses and Joshua, suggests to us that the Divine intention was for Israel to act as a spiritual magnet to the rest of the nations.  The second verse spells this out for us.  The peoples of the world are depicted as encouraging one another to go to the house of God (the Temple) in Jerusalem to worship.[5]

The next verse compliments verse 2 by describing the repentance which comes to the nations.  There is one (“He”) who causes this turning.  One can be sure that “He” is not a member of the United Nations.  No, this is either God above or it is God’s Representative here below.  The “Ruler” of 5:2 fits the bill nicely.  He is extraordinary in that He achieves what no man has come close to achieving: the cessation of war.  Here surely is the “Prince of peace” of whom Micah’s contemporary Isaiah speaks (Isa. 9:6).[6]

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Covenant in Amos

Amos (active c.765-760 B.C.)

Amos is a simple shepherd and gatherer of figs to whom the word of the LORD (dabar YHWH) comes.  He cries against both Israel (2:6) and Judah (2:4; 3:1).  A major concern of his is social justice.  Amos certainly has much to say by way of reproof to “the whole house of Israel”, and most of the first seven chapters concern themselves with the moral resistance of Israel to their covenant God.  However, despite the strong current of moral justice in the Book, when the prophet’s task is spoken of it is mainly in terms of prediction.

Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets – Amos 3:7 (NASB)

The “counsel” that follows is a forecast of doom and captivity for the northern tribes.  But in chapter nine the prophecy begins to extend out beyond the time of the prophet.

Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says the LORD – Amos 9:8

The sins of Israel will be dealt with through punishment, but the nation itself will not be completely destroyed.  This will be a permanent refrain coming from the prophetic literature; judgment followed by restoration and blessing.  The big question is, when will this occur?

Just three verses later we find this promise:

On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this thing.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.  I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.  I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” says the LORD your God. – Amos 9:11-15

Everybody knows that a portion of this passage (i.e. 9:11-12) is cited by James from the LXX in Acts 15:15-18.  I shall of course deal with James’s use of Amos in the proper place, but in this context it seems pretty clear what is being set forth.  When put into the mouths of the prophets as Seers and foretellers, the phrase “on that day”or “in that day”, (which is especially common in Ezekiel), seems to indicate the future Day of Divine interposing; that is, the future “Day of the Lord” or its wonderful aftermath. [1]

For the prophet Amos and his contemporaries; indeed, for Jews in Old Testament times, the raising up of the booth of David would have had only  one meaning: the restoration of the Davidic line and kingdom in right relationship to and pursuance of God, enjoying the covenant blessings of God.

The reference to those among Edom and the Gentiles who are God’s (“called by my name”) would remind hearers of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations in Genesis 12:3; 22:18; and in the case of the former, Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17-19 would come to mind.[2]  It does not mean that these people groups will be included in some expanded “Israel.”  There is a demarcation in the text which should not be trammeled by preferential kinds of eschatology – the kinds that have no place for a restored Israelite nation.

Later Obadiah would speak of “saviors” who would come into Edom once it became incorporated into Yahweh’s kingdom (Obad. 21).  Amos 9:11 comfortably embraces both Abrahamic and Davidic covenantal expectations.

What comes next involves several concepts which will be repeated in the prophets: (1) the unusual productivity and blessing upon the land (“the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed” – Amos 9:13); (2) the return of Israel’s captives and the rebuilding of cities to dwell in; and (3) guaranteed perpetuity in the land that God gave them.[3]  Indeed, Amos records God’s pledge that the land of Israel is “their land” (Amos 9:15).[4]  So even though much of Amos is concerned with societal woes and short-term prophecy, the very end of the Book looks to the great hope of a united Israel in right relationship to God dwelling in its own land.  This would come to pass in the last days.[5]

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[1] I will have to examine “The Day of the Lord” in another place.

[2] See John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 250-251

[3] E.g. Isa. 35:1-2, 6-7; 55:13; Jer. 31:12; Ezek. 34:26-27; 36:33-38; 37:21-28; 47:12; Joel 2:18-19, 21-27; Zech. 8:11-13; cf. Lev. 26:40-45.

[4] In Ezekiel we read of God calling Israel “my land” (Ezek. 34:5) but then calling it “their own land” in settings both of rebellion (Ezek. 34:17), and of final restoration (Ezek. 37:21).  For Amos, it is still Israel’s land even when their sins have absented them from it (Amos. 7:17)

[5] See Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books, 76; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Preaching and Teaching the Last Things, 87; even William J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order, 79.  Although lying within the critical tradition, the assessment of Brevard Childs is that in Amos 9:11, “The discourse moves into the realm of eschatology (11, 13).  It turns on the possibility of a new existence after the end has come.  The promise concerns the raising up of the shattered ‘booth of David’ – that is, David’s larger kingdom, which can again lay claim on the land.  No human ruler can achieve this feat; the initiative lies solely with God.  The hope is miraculous and logically incomprehensible.  It is placed within the eschatological framework of the last days.” – Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 407

The Covenants in Hosea (Pt.2)

Part One

The Book of Hosea continues to pour out its condemnations of the malpractices of Israel (in particular the northern tribes spoken to ‘synecdocheally’ under the heading of the largest tribe, Ephraim), but at the end of chapter 5 there is a passage which expresses another truth that will seemingly run in tandem with God’s wooing of Israel as described in chapter 2:14f.

I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense.
Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. – Hosea 5:15

The scene is of God retiring from the scene until such a time as His people acknowledge the fact that they have continually sinned against Him.  The theme is found earlier in Deuteronomy 30:1-6 where the prediction of worshipful obedience transcends any state of affairs known after that time.

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. – Deuteronomy 30:6

Here we have language which will much later be equated with the New covenant.  Perhaps we can see this better by reading the following passage from Deuteronomy 4:

But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them. – Deuteronomy 4:29-31

Along with a clear nod to “the covenant of your fathers”, which refers to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob[1], we see again the note of distress and then repentance, but specifically “in the latter days.”  It is my belief that Hosea 5:15 is alluding to this same eschatological situation.

This note of distress and restoration is seen in later prophets like Ezekiel 43:9-11 where the prophet is told to describe the temple vision to the people once they become ashamed of their sins.  Again in Jeremiah 29:11-14 there is a similar theme.  It is arguable that this latter passage more properly refers to the return from Babylon than to the eschaton, and we do not oppose the interpretation.  There is more going on there though, and I will try to address the eschatological undertones of the passage later when we reach Jeremiah.

The sixth chapter of Hosea continues with the same strain as chapter five ended with, and it is not easy to see why Hosea 6:1-3 is not Hosea 5:16-18!  Still, the verses are as they stand are these:

Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.  After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.  Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.  – Hosea 6:1-3  

The first verse puts the words of repentance into the mouths of future Israel.  There is also expectant hope because of God’s hesed or lovingkindness (an important word for Hosea).  The enigmatic terminology of the “after two days” and “the third day” (which states the same thing in two ways since “after two days” is “the third day”) have been understood in many ways.  But since nothing definitive can be said about the designations it is perhaps best to take the meaning as “in a short time” or “it won’t be long” and leave it at that, although it could be three literal days between the repentance of the people and God’s saving response.  If the context is considered the speed of God’s revitalization of His people is contingent upon their acknowledgement of their offence.  Therefore, the two or three “days” response happens quickly upon Israel’s mass repentance at the end.[2]  As verse three makes clear, this is no half-hearted repentance; Israel will seek out the knowledge of Yahweh (contra Hos. 4:1; 7:16) with the eagerness with which they look for the life-giving rains.

As far as the famous covenant passage in Hosea 6:7 is concerned, I have already addressed the issue earlier in this work.  In summary, (a) the standard interpretation of covenant and new covenant theologians that the prophet is referring to the biblical Adam and some covenant in Eden is question-begging and indeterminate.  Even if Hosea was speaking of such a covenant, the impossibility of locating the terms of the oath make it a vain effort to follow this view.  (b) It is the opinion of many that the town of Adam (Josh. 3:16) is being referred to.  This would require some historical defection at Adam to which Hosea is pointing.  In that case the covenant he speaks of is the Mosaic covenant (as per Hos. 8:1).  (c) The third alternative is to translate adam as “dirt” and interpret the prophet as saying that the people have treated the (Mosaic) covenant like dirt.  As Douglas Stuart claims::

Here in Hosea [berit] “covenant” appears only for the second time.  In 2:20 [in the context of marriage] the term denoted the future universal covenant.  In the present passage the Mosaic covenant is clearly at issue.[3]     

Finally, (d) The fourth view translates the Hebrew phrase as “like men” and interpret it as the sinful human bent to transgress God’s Law.  Hence, in three of the four views the identity of the covenant in Hosea 6:7 is the Mosaic covenant.  The notion that it looks back to a nebulous covenant in Eden seems as unnecessary as it is indeterminable.

Despite the depressing repetitiveness of their sins, there will eventually be a return and a whole restoration in fulfillment of the covenants with Israel (14:1-8).[4]

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[1] So e.g., Scot J. Hafemann, “The Covenant Relationship” in Central Themes in Biblical Theology, eds, Scot F. Hafemann & Paul R. House, 25

[2] This way of understanding Hosea 6:2 has the advantage of treating the ordinal (“the third day”) as a very short time period and not a vast stretch of history.

[3] Douglas Stuart, Hosea – Jonah, 111

[4] For more comments about the identity of the covenant in Hosea 6:7 see chapter 5.

The Covenants in Hosea (1)

A Draft from the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’

Hosea (active c. 755-725 B.C.) is best known for his on/off relationship with the harlot Gomer and the message God entailed in it.  Hosea had married Gomer and she (predictably) committed adultery and was put away by the prophet.  But then the prophet was told to take her back!  What was the meaning of this story?

Upon the naming of his third child with Gomer we read this:

Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God.  “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, `You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, `You are sons of the living God.’

Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel! – Hosea 1:9-11

Here is a paradox.  God seems to be all through with Israel (“you are not My people”[1]).  And yet the very next assertion is taken from familiar words found in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 22:17; 32:12), with the accompanying promise that Israel will yet see God’s blessing.  This theme of punishment followed by blessing occurs many times in the prophets (cf. Jer. 46:28).  Verse 11 foretells the future unification of the sundered kingdoms (cf. Ezek. 37).

Vital to the understanding of the first chapters of this book is the answer to the question of whether the woman whom the prophet marries in chapter 3 is Gomer or someone else.[2]  If it is indeed Gomer then it illustrates chapter 2 (on which see below) as well as the note of final grace and forgiveness which is prominent in the book.  Just as Gomer was married to Hosea and committed adultery against him but is taken back, so Israel was married to God, divorced but then re-married to Him (see 2:19-20).  In prophetic terms chapter 3 pictures God’s intention to stick to His covenant with Israel until the end, even though He will “put them away”, yet, at long last He will save the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.[3]

Hosea 2 is sandwiched between the episodes of the prophet and his promiscuous wife which illustrate it.  It could be viewed as an expansion on 1:9-11.  The first half of the chapter envisages Israel as chasing after her various paramours but unsuccessfully.  God, her husband, will “hedge up her way” (2:6) so that finally she will come to her senses and return to Him (2:7).  This returning will come after punishment because Israel forgot the Lord (2:9-13).  But then the mood turns to one of comfort and blessing.  The about-face in verse 14 is quite attention-grabbing.  From the people’s willful neglect of their covenant Lord we might expect a full stop and a brand new idea.  But this is precisely what we do not get.  Instead it is God Himself who displays astonishing grace in promising to win His people back.[4]  It is God who will restore Israel.  He will save her.  Even the Valley of Achor, that notorious place of trouble, will become a theater of singing and hope (2:15).  Hosea references the Exodus which held special significance for the identity of the nation.  He then promises that “in that day”, some future day, the relationship between Him and Israel will be like that of a husband (Ishi) and wife (2:16).  This closest of all relationships is chosen by God and is found in other prophets (e.g. Isa. 54:5).  When one considers the message being communicated by the early chapters of Hosea, that of the marriage to and putting away of a prostitute and then the voluntary remarrying of the same woman, it speaks volumes of Yahweh’s respect for His covenants.[5]

The closing verses of chapter two are very expressive.  Within them one encounters God promising to “allure” Israel back to Himself so that His people call Him “Husband.”  Covenant is about relationship, and here we see the depth of the relationship that God wants, and intends to have, with Israel.  Who can read verses nineteen and twenty and not sense the great longing of God for the reconciliation and “betrothal” that these verses talk about?  That special connection will require an environment suitable for its expression, and so after they have renounced the false lords (baalim) of the past (2:16-17), the natural world will be adapted to provide a setting beautiful, peaceful, and productive.

In that day I will make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
With the birds of the air,
And with the creeping things of the ground.
Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth,
To make them lie down safely – Hosea 2:18

Now the Lord brings in the animal kingdom utilizing the creation language of Genesis 1.  The verse is a less well known companion to the famous “the wolf will lie down with the lamb” passage in Isaiah 11.  The peace in the natural world will be extended to the human world, where it is predicted that the weapons of war will be destroyed and people will live safely.

The “covenant” that will be made is a peace covenant encompassing the entire Creation Project.  The only covenant that has been made with the natural world is the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:12.

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Repost: DOES DIATHEKE MEAN “LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT” IN HEBREWS 9:16-17?

Most of our English Bible versions translate Hebrews 9:16-17 this way (I have provided vv.15 and 18 for context):

And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16 For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. (NKJV, vv. 16-17 are in italics)

Or the ESV:

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. (ESV vv.16-17 in italics)

With the translation diatheke as either “testament” or “will” the reader is led to conclude that these verses are not talking about the new covenant. In verse 15 the Greek word diatheke is translated as “covenant.” The same translation (“covenant”) is repeated in v.18.

If I were to give all the occurrences of diatheke in Hebrews you would see that, apart from 9:16 and 17 the word is uniformly translated “covenant.” One doesn’t have to think hard about why this word is rendered as “covenant” in these 16 other instances. The contexts make it very clear that the writer is referring, either to the Mosaic Covenant or Law, or to the New Covenant which replaces it. And one doesn’t have to seek too far for proof of this. Hebrews 9:15 contrasts the “first covenant” with the “new covenant,” as does verse 18. The chapter itself reinforces the contrast and the appropriate translation “covenant.”

Why translate diatheke, which has been expressed as “covenant” everywhere else in the Book, as “testament” or “will” in vv.16-17? The answer is because it has been assumed that “the death of the one who made it” refers to a “testator” as per a modern “Last Will and Testament.” For we all know that when a person makes a will it only comes into force when they are dead. Thus, one writer stated,

In the New Testament the diatheke as a ‘last will’ is once brought into connection with the sacrifice of Christ… – Geerhardus Vos, “Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke,” in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 13, No.4, [1915], 601.

But is he right? What is it in the context which demands the switch from “covenant” to “testament,” other than this assumption that a will is being referred to simply because of “the death of the one who made it”? It seems to me that the whole case depends upon the supposition that diatheke can only mean “last will and testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17. There are several reasons for believing this to be a faux pas:

1. The meaning of diatheke in Hebrews 9:15 is “covenant.” This is clear because the writer is referencing the Mosaic “covenant” in the preceding verses (vv.11-13). If the word meant “last will and testament” in v.15 the connection with the Mosaic Covenant in vv.11-13 would be lost and the writer’s whole argument rendered suspect. Such a switch would create an equivocation within the argument. That is, it would have the author mean two things by one word in a confusing way. This problem comes into sharp relief once chapter 8 is considered. The superiority of the “better covenant” (e.g. Heb. 8:6) demands it be contrasted with the Mosaic Covenant, and hence, that it be itself a true covenant and not a last will and testament. This understanding is assured by the contrast in 8:7 which see. Following on from this, Hebrews 8:8-12 gives the longest quotation of the OT by any NT writer. Is this quotation to do with a testament or a covenant? The answer is impossible to ignore. It is to a “covenant” (OT berith), not a testament!

2. But secondly, the meaning “covenant” makes perfect sense. George H. Guthrie, an acknowledged expert on Hebrews, writes:

Interpreters often have read 9:16-17 in terms of “will” or “testament,” but these verses should be read, in their context, as speaking of the establishment of a covenant… “The one arranging [diatithemi] it,” occurring in participial form, in 9:16-17, refers to the sacrificial animal that must die for a covenant to be established… This fits perfectly with the argument of 9:18-22, which deals with Moses’ inauguration of the Sinai covenant with the sprinkling of blood (Exod.24:3-8). – in G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old, 973.

3. When one adds to this the critical observations of P. T. O’Brien this position is weakened yet further. O’Brien’s full discussion can be found on pages 328-332 of his recent The Letter To The Hebrews (in the Pillar series). I shall condense his argument below using several quotes:

O’Brien says,

a. “As we have seen, the context of v.15 seems to demand the sense of ‘covenant’ because only covenants have mediators[underlining mine], while in v.18 mention is made of the ‘first diatheke‘, namely, the Sinai event and hence can only be a covenant.”

b. “What our author says in vv.16-17 does not correspond to any ‘any known form of Hellenistic (or indeed any other) legal practice.’ A Hellenistic will was secure and valid when it was written down, witnessed and deposited, not when the testator died. Further, the distribution of the estate could occur when the testator was still living.”

Indeed, don’t we see this very thing in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the son took his inheritance before the father had died?

c. The wider context of Hebrews with our author’s view of inheritance and his emphasis on the cult appears incongruous with the model of the secular Hellenistic testament.

from Peter. T. O’Brien, The Letter To The Hebrews, Pillar (2010), 329-330

I conclude from all this evidence, both internal and external, that there is no good reason for translating diatheke as “testament” in the sense of “last will and testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17. Thus, we commend the following translation of these verses as given below:

“For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only over the dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it [the one who must die] lives.”

 

What Is A Prophet? (Pt.2)

Part One

Prophecies of Far Future Events

The ministries of Samuel (see 1 Sam. 3:9-18), Elijah (2 Ki. 1:3-4), Micaiah (1 Ki. 22:17-20), and Elisha (2 Ki. 3:14-19) included short-term predictions which could be verified.  But there were also prophecies which anticipated things much further off, like Nathan’s oracle,

I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly… – 2 Samuel 7:10 (NASB)

This hope for David’s people has not yet been realized, and the later prophets repeat it.  These later writing prophets often made long-range predictions which could not be confirmed during their lifetimes, but these far off prophecies were established on the assurance of contemporary foretellings which came to pass.  One thinks about Amos’s oracle against Israel (and the interfering priest Amaziah) in Amos 7:14-17, or Jeremiah’s pronouncements concerning the conquering Babylonians in Jeremiah 21:1-10.   Ezekiel was told that there were still Jews in the land who foolishly believed that God would not drive them out of the land.  His prediction to the contrary (Ezek. 33:21-33) ended with the solemn words,

And when this comes to pass– surely it will come– then they will know that a prophet has been among them. – Ezekiel 33:33

The permanence of the prophetic word is necessary so that the word of God can be substantiated.  This is one reason why the prophet had to speak exactly what he was told to speak.  God said to Moses, “You shall speak all that I command you” (Exod. 7:2).  And in what I might call “the code of the prophet” Micaiah declared before king and court, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak” (1Ki. 22:14. Cf. Jer. 23:28).  As one writer affirms, “By inspiration, God speaks to the nabi, who has to transmit exactly what he receives.”[1]

This literal consistency between God’s words and the prophet’s utterance accordingly became a guarantee that it was Yahweh who was the real Speaker.[2]  The crucial predictive test of the true prophet of God was then an extension of the “God’s words equal God’s actions” motif.  I have tried to show and will show again that often this important motif is reinforced by God’s covenant oaths.  That is why the prophet’s predictive function should never be eclipsed by his other roles.  To cite another recent scholar, Charles Scobie,

It has long been fashionable among modern historical scholars to declare that the prophets “were not foretellers, but forthtellers.”  This may have been a helpful corrective if prophecy was thought of purely in terms of prediction; the prophets were indeed deeply concerned with the contemporary social, political, economic, and religious life of Israel.  But prediction remains a major element in the OT prophets…In the prophetic books future prophecies play a major role.  Such prophecies can be broadly classified as oracles of judgment and oracles of salvation…Conditional prophecies are found that say, in effect, if you mend your ways, then you will be spared (e.g., Jer. 7:5-7).  But when it became clear that the people would not repent, prophetic oracles simply proclaimed future judgment.  Such prophecies, however, are balanced by oracles of salvation; the prophets saw “light at the end of the tunnel” in the form of a coming new age.[3]

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Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt.8)

Part Seven

My stated intention in these posts is to try to settle whether or not it is proper to speak in terms of theologies of supercessionism or replacement theology.  It is not my design to argue for the opposite view (which I have done many times before).  I am coming towards the end of my article, with probably one post left to go.  I said that I wanted to take a look at two OT passages to discover how those holding to one or more forms of supercessionism handle them.

Jeremiah 31:31-37

The first passage is the famous New covenant prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It involves a prediction of cleansing and salvation for Israel and Judah and their reunification.  The passage is repeated in Hebrews 8:8-12.  But attached to the original prophecy is a crystal clear guarantee that if man can tinker with the ordinances of creation,which stand fast (Psa. 33:9), “then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” (Jer. 31:36).  That sounds like a rock solid affirmation of the perpetuity of the existence of Israel as a nation!  

But God then underscores the promise by speaking of His secret counsels (cf. Deut. 29:29) in establishing the dimensions of the heavens and earth, and stating that if human beings can fathom them then Israel as a distinct people will be cast off for their disobedience (31:37).  Yet this is exactly what several of the writers I have quoted have claimed.

How do covenant theologians (whose theology is usually identified with replacementism), deal with verses 35 to 37?

Gary DeMar writes,

Jeremiah’s prophecy was given more than 2500 years ago. Prior to 1948 and after A.D. 70, Israel had not been a nation. So we have a few interpretive choices regarding the Jeremiah passage: (1) God lied (impossible); (2) the promise was conditional (not likely); the promise was postponed (always the dispensationalist answer and untenable); (4) or the fulfillment was fulfilled in the new nation that grew out of the New Covenant made up of Jews and non-Jews(most likely). Consider what Jesus tells the religious leaders of His day:

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them” (Matt. 21:43–45). – https://americanvision.org/5657/the-charge-of-replacement-theology-is-a-cover-for-fuzzy-theology/

DeMar ignores the details of the vow God made and moves straight to sort through the alternatives as he envisions them, using Matthew 21:43-45 to transform the unconditional language of continuity (remember Jer. 33:37) into conditional language threatening termination.  The NT is brought in to nullify the solemn vow of God in the OT.  Is that how Scripture should be used to interpret Scripture?  One might employ a little irony here by pointing out that if one waits long enough God will change the apparent meaning of what He has said, no matter how strongly it was put, and the expectations will change along with it.  As Michael Brown has observed in his commentary on “Jeremiah” in the revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary, this dissolves any fixity of meaning in Divine Revelation.  Can Jeremiah 31 really be redirected by Matthew 21? or is DeMar guilty of trivializing a Divine pledge?

Notice the equivocation on the word “nation” in DeMar.  When he writes of a “new nation” growing out of the New covenant does he reference the promise of national and ethnic permanence which accompany it?  He does not.  Israel the nation becomes “Israel” the “nation.”

Jeremiah 33:14-26

As if to drive His covenant dependability home, this long section, which begins with a prediction of the Messianic rule from Jerusalem (not New Jerusalem) over a righteous earth, proceeds with a promise that the Davidic covenant and the ministration of the Levites (doubtless related to the covenant with Phinehas in Num. 25:10-13) will continue (33:17-18).  This is followed by avowals of fidelity to the Davidic covenant and the Priestly covenant based on God’s constancy to the Noahic covenant (cf. Gen.8:21-22) and then the creation ordinances (Jer. 33:19-22).

What appears next is most informative for our discussion:

Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the LORD has chosen, He has also cast them off’? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them. – Jeremiah 33:24

In replacement theology, the very thing that is at issue is the continuance of Israel as a nation.  And that is what this form of theology denies!  Another instance of this is when John Frame expressly says that through unbelief Israel “lost its special status as God’s elect nation.” – The Doctrine of God, 49 n. 3.

Jeremiah closes off his chapter by reiterating the fixity of God’s purposes for ethnic Israel (33:25-26).  How do CT’s respond to such a God-proffered bond?  I’m afraid they regularly ignore Jeremiah 33:14-26 completely.  But there it sits, witnessing against them. (more…)

Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt.7)

Part Six

Gary Burge: Replacement Theologian

The name of Gary Burge  of Wheaton College is familiar to many Christians who teach eschatology that includes the restoration of the remnant of the nation of Israel, but not for positive reasons. His positions on Israel, fueled in large part by his associations with the anti-Israel group Kairos USA, Naim Ateek, Stephen Sizer, and Pro-Palestinianism in general, hardly encourage fuzzy feelings.  On the theological front, Burge freely speaks of spiritualizing and reinterpreting Scripture.  Not surprisingly, Burge is a convinced replacement theologian.

For as we shall see (and as commentators regularly show) while the land itself had a concrete application for most in Judaism, Jesus and his followers reinterpreted the promises that came to those in his kingdom. – Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Land, 35

In this quote Burge claims that although the land given to Israel was “concrete” for Jews in ancient times, still the OT covenant promises to Israel were reinterpreted by Jesus.  How were they reinterpreted?  In an article written for the I. Howard Marshall festshrift, Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ, (edited by Joel B. Green and Max Turner), Burge enlarges on this theme.  His piece is entitled, “Territorial Religion, Johannine Christology, and the Vineyard of John 15.”  In this article Burge starts off writing about the importance of land ownership in the ancient world (386).  His introduction is a restatement of the work of W.D. Davies’ called The Gospel and the Land.  Basically, the idea is that in Jesus the “landless” become the “landed” and the other way round.  There is very little appeal to Scripture in these pages (e.g. 384-388), and what is used is misused.  But he procures a thesis:

For the most part the NT does not view The Land as the object of messianic promise.  Typically, Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 seems to reject ‘land messianism’ outright.  Revelation and salvation can be found anywhere from Egypt to Mesopotamia, according to Stephen. – Gary M. Burge, “Territorial Religion”, 388

He continues by claiming that the Land is frequently “spiritualized” (his word), giving Hebrews 4 as an example, where, as Burge thinks, the land of Canaan as a type of heaven receives such treatment (Ibid).  According to Burge,

John uses the concrete gifts of The Land (Jerusalem’s temple with its festivals, Israelite cities, and holy places) in order to show that what these places promise can be found in abundance in Christ… Jesus replaces the temple and its festivities as the place where God is revealed.  Simply put, Jesus is the new “holy space” where God can be discovered. (388).

This sets him up for his study of the Vineyard in John 15.  His approach is summarized when he says, “The crux for John 15 is that Jesus is changing the place of rootedness for Israel.” (393, emphasis in original).  This means that instead of the land of Israel being the place of “revelation and salvation” and “rootedness”, these are to be found in the “one vine growing in [God’s] vineyard” (393), therefore, “Attachment to this vine and this vine alone gives the benefits of life once promised through The Land.” (394).  From this theological springboard we are told that,

In a way reminiscent of diaspora Judaism, Jesus points away from the vineyard as place, as a territory of hills and valleys, cisterns and streams.  In a word, Jesus spiritualizes The Land. (395, emphasis in original).

No one will disagree that Jesus is the one vine through whom salvation comes, but whether this leads one to spiritualize the land (and the covenants) is another matter. Not surprisingly, Burge utilizes Mark 12:9 to teach that “Israel’s vineyard is devastated… [and] given to others” (396). (more…)

Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt. 6)

Part Five

I finished the last installment by stating that in viewing the Bible from a certain redemptive-historical perspective (a common one I might add), the only conclusion that one can come to is that the church has always existed, and that therefore elect Israel in the OT was the church of the OT to which now the Gentiles have been added in the NT era.

Remember these words from Sam Storms:

[Paul] clearly states that there is but one olive tree, rooted in the promises given to the patriarchs.  In this one tree (i.e., in this one people of God) there are both believing Jews (natural branches) and believing Gentiles (unnatural branches).  Together they constitute the one people of God, the one “new man,” the true Israel in and for whom the promises will be fulfilled.  This one people, of course, is the Church. – Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, 195 

That Olive Tree

Readers will again notice the reference to Paul’s Olive Tree metaphor in Storms.  Look at this line:

In this one tree (i.e., in this one people of God)…

But, of course, the tree isn’t the people (we saw this stated in Grier earlier).  The branches of the tree are the people, and there are two “peoples”.  In Robert L. Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (2nd ed) he appeals to this metaphor on pages 526-527:

Paul’s metaphor of the two olive trees (Rom. 11:16-24) also reflects this same perception: olive shoots from a wild olive tree, that is, Gentiles, are being grafted into the cultivated olive tree, that is, Israel, from which latter tree many natural branches, that is, Jews, had been broken off. This tree, Paul says, has a “holy root” (the patriarchs; see Rom. 11:28). Clearly, Paul envisions saved Gentile Christians as “grafted shoots” in the true “Israel of faith. 

The reader could not have missed the constant references to the olive tree in Romans 11 in some of my previous citations.  Many of them fail to properly expound the Apostle’s objective in that metaphor, usually by mistaking the tree for Israel.  The Olive tree figure is again [mis]used by Robertson who says,

Gentiles have been “grafted in among” the Israel of God (Rom. 11:17). They have become additional branches, joined to a single stock that is none other than Israel… In other words, they have become “Israelites.” – O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God, 188

Is “the single stock” to be identified with Israel?  There is no room here to provide a full interpretation of Paul’s figure, but an accurate exegesis would have to conclude that:

a. The branches from the wild olive tree are the Gentiles (v.17, cf. v. 25).

b. Those branches we are not to boast against are the Jews (vv. 18-20), the “natural branches” (v. 21), that is, Israel (v. 25).

c. If the rejected natural branches return to belief, they will be engrafted back into their own olive tree (vv. 23-24).

d. In the figure as explained by Paul, it is Israel who has been partly blinded until “the fullness of the Gentiles is brought in.” (v. 25).

f. Those warned against “being wise in [their] own conceits” (v. 25), are the same as those told neither to boast (v. 18), nor to be “highminded” (v. 20). These are identified as the Gentiles in v. 25.

g. Likewise, those, “natural branches,” some of whom were broken off through unbelief (v. 20), are distinguished from their olive tree (v. 24), (just as branches are distinguishable from any tree), are identified in verse 25 as Israel.

h. To make quite sure that no one supplants national Israel with some “spiritual Israel” Paul calls Israel by the name of Jacob (v. 26). This maintains the contrast between Israel and the Gentiles which the Apostle has set up throughout the chapter (see vv. 1-4, 7-14, 28-29).

i. The identification of the actual olive tree must have something to do with that which pertains to Israel as a nation. What is it that the apostle has had in mind all through chapter 11? The answer lies in verses 26-29. It refers to the salvation of Israel (“Jacob”) (vv.26-27a); in virtue of God’s covenant (v.27b); which was made with the fathers (v.28); and which covenant promises cannot be revoked (v.29). *

In his recent Commentary on the Greek Text of Romans, veteran NT scholar Richard Longenecker writes,

[Paul] argues neither (1) that Gentiles are accepted by God by becoming Jewish proselytes… nor (2) that Jews are accepted by God by being united to the institution of the Christian church…  Rather, Paul proclaims the following:

  1. There continues to exist a “remnant within Israel,” even though the great majority of Jews have rejected Jesus as their Messiah and God has hardened their hearts.
  2. There also exists at this present time a “remnant among the Gentiles.”
  3. Following that time when “the full number of Gentiles has come in” – and particularly when “the Deliverer will come from Zion” – it will come about by divine action that “all Israel will be saved.” – Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans, 902 

Longenecker continues by observing that,

Paul is not attempting to relate the Christian church to the nation of Israel; nor is he transferring God’s promises to Israel to the Christian church (but leaving his curses on Israel’s alone). -Ibid, 903  

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