Friday, June 23

Covenental Reality

Here's the background for my previous post, which was a response to a friend of a friend who wrote an email about the Proverbs 31 woman. His contention was that the Old Testament promises are under a different covenant and therefore don't apply to us.

The Old Testament describes a series of covenants that God makes with his people--Noah, Abram, Moses, and David. In each he reveals more and more of his character and nature, and how he relates to people. The covenant with Noah clearly extends to all of us, as Noah's descendants. The covenant with Abraham is for the Jewish people, but explicitly states that all the nations will be blessed (or will bless themselves) by Israel.

The covenant with Moses is more specifically confined to the Jewish people, but it is fulfilled in Jesus. Thus the food laws, forbidding of intermarriage, and so on are abolished because the law had served its purpose once the Messiah came. Other parts of the law (sacrifices for sins, for example) are fulfilled once and for all for the whole world in Jesus Christ.

The covenant to David is to a specific family and tribe within Israel, but is a blessing to all of Israel. The Psalms and the prophets make clear that all the nations will stream to God's holy mountain, and that God's King will reign and bless all the peoples. Again, Jesus fulfills this covenant by becoming the King who sits on David's throne forever.

The surprise in the unfolding of God's will (according to Paul, Eph. 1-2) is that all peoples are united in Christ, that God's Kingdom is for everyone, not just those who become part of the Jewish nation. Paul's language is that the Gentiles are grafted into the olive tree (Romans 9-11)--we become a part of the Jewish nation in one sense, we are true children of Abraham, both uncircumcised and circumcised (Rom 4:11-12), and therefore his heirs.

So I believe most of the promises of the Old Testament are extended to those of us who are Gentiles, as we become descendants of Abraham by faith, as the law is fulfilled in us through Christ, and as we are the subjects of our King, the Son of David.

I think we can also see how easily those promises were misinterpreted by the Jewish people before Jesus came, who often thought that all the promises were here and now material blessings. Many of those promises were material but had a deeper meaning as well--an eternal, ultimate fulfillment. But in Christ the mysteries of God's will were revealed. The promises to inherit the land were not meant ultimately to be restricted to the Jewish nation possessing a small strip of land in the fertile crescent, but as Jesus put it, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." We will "recieve a hundred-fold now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, along with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life." God will create a new heaven and new earth, and we will reign and rule with Jesus Christ.

I have recently learned that there were a variety of kinds of covenants practiced in the ancient world among the Hittites and other people groups around Israel, and that these various covenants above (Noah, Abram, Moses, David) follow the patterns of different kinds of covenants. Some are treaty covenants with a sovereign king, which promise protection and require tribute to be paid. Others are between families or individuals. Some are permanently binding on either party even if the other reneges, while others are out of effect if either party breaks the vows.

I am deeply intrigued and want to look into this more. Somehow, God is so relational that one of God's fundamental forms of interacting with us, his creatures, is a relational one: covenants.

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