Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Extent of the Divine Covenants

If you were to take your concordance or any Bible software and look up the word covenant, you would find the first appearance of the word in Genesis 6.  This is the account of Noah and the flood.  While giving instructions on how to build the ark, God makes a covenant with Noah to save him and his family.  We’re going to see this later in week seven.  What you won’t find is the word covenant occurring previous to this.  You will find it after, in fact 292 times according to Blue Letter Bible online.  This idea of covenant ultimately finds it’s fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and continues until the consummation of all things.  But what about the 1600+years of history previous to the flood?  Was there a time where God did not deal with us in terms of a covenant?  You cannot find that word previous to Noah, so what was mankind’s relationship to God in terms of?  Attention should be given to why the word does not appear, however it would be very foolish to conclude that since the word does not appear, therefore a covenant did not exist.  If you were to apply that principle across the board, you would have to throw out the agreement God made with David as being covenantal, because the word did not appear in 2 Samuel 7.  That would be an example of what we call hyper-inductivism.  Hyper-inductivism is the disease which prevents you from applying deductive reasoning to a particular situation because of inductive restrictions.  For instance, if you suffered from the most radical form of this disease you would not be able to say that God is a Trinity, in spite of the overwhelming system of that thought found in the Bible, because the word Trinity is not actually found in the Bible.  There are lesser forms of this disease which take on varying degrees of cognitive dissonance.  At it’s core, it violates the LNC because it is a type of systematic theology that rejects all systematic theology.  But that’s not a problem for them because the LNC is not found in the Scripture.  
With that in mind, it shouldn’t bother anyone in here that the word covenant is not found in the first 1600+years of history if the concept of covenant is there.  Robertson makes this statement concerning this idea  “If all the ingredients essential to the making of a covenant were present prior to Noah, the relationship of God prior to Noah may be designated as “covenantal.”
IF that’s true, THEN the extent of the covenants covers all of God’s dealings with man from the beginning of time until the end of it.  So that is the task at hand today.  I’m going to start out with the assertion that that is the case, and then spend the rest of the session seeking to prove that out.  

THE BIG IDEA is that God has always dealt with man in terms of a covenant.  
 The Covenant with Creation
 The Covenant with Man
 The Covenant with Creation
This is a concept that maybe completely foreign to much of the church including us.  But it should not be an obstacle to our thinking.  If it’s true that God’s covenant is unilateral, that is, he sets the terms and accomplishes the conditions, then why would it be any different if we are talking about creation in general?  There are two passages in Scripture that seem to speak about the created order of things in terms of a covenant.  Both are from the book of Jeremiah.  The first is Jeremiah 33:20-21, and 25-26 which says 
Thus says the LORD: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers...[v. 25-26] Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.  
You see here God speaking about a covenant made with an order of things.  The order of created things.  Some might object here, and say that what Jeremiah was speaking of was the covenant made in Genesis 8:22 after the flood where God said
“I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.  While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” 
God did certainly, at the very least reinforce his covenant with day and night in this passage.  But the question remains, is that what Jeremiah was referring to or was he talking about a covenant made prior to Noah?  Robertson interjects here “ is equally possible that the reference to a “covenant” of “day and night” might refer to the ordinances of the third day of creation.”
  The reference that he has in mind here is from Genesis 1:14 which says
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years,..”  
If it is said that God did not use the word covenant here in 1:14, the response could be that neither did God use the covenant in the immediate vicinity of the promise in Genesis 8:22.  Arguing like that does not solve this inquiry.  So to which passage was Jeremiah referring to?   One more passage, also found in Jeremiah, is helpful to bring in here in order to answer that question.  Jeremiah 31:35-36
Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the LORD of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”  
Again if you suffer from hyper-inductivism this is going to drive you mad. The Hebrew word for ‘fixed order’ here means ordinance, or decree, or statute.  It is used interchangeably with “covenant” in Scripture.  In fact we already saw this in the Jeremiah 33:25 where it used the word “fixed order” when referring to the covenant.  So a covenant could be spoken of as a statute and a statute could be spoken of as a covenant.  For instance Psalm 105:9-10 speaks of God remembering His covenant
which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant
If you just take the book of Deuteronomy alone, there is 21 places where Moses commands the Israelites to obey the statutes in order for them to stay in the land.  Moses was doing nothing less than commanding them to keep the covenant that God made with them. More on that on the week on the Mosaic covenant.  
So this phrase ‘fixed order’ in Jeremiah 31 is equivalent to the idea of a covenant.  If that’s true, then Jeremiah 33 and Jeremiah 31 are saying the same thing.  ‘IF it’s possible that this covenant of creation falls apart, THEN it’s possible that my covenant with Israel will cease.’  The same thread runs through both.  These are parallel passages teaching us the same truth.   So then, back to the original question:  is Jeremiah referring to a covenant with creation or is he referring to the covenant with Noah?  Here’s where the details are especially important.  The elements that are found in the Jeremiah 31 passage are not found in the Noahic covenant, BUT they are found in the Genesis 1 regarding creation.   Robertson says “...the reference to the sun and moon specifically as light-bearers for day and night is found in the creation narrative but not in the narrative describing God’s covenant with Noah.  Furthermore, the narrative of the creation-activity of the third day refers to the stars as well as to the moon (Gen. 1:16), as does Jer. 31:35.  The record of God’s covenant with Noah makes no mention of the stars.”
(NOTE:  Regardless of where you personally land on this Scripture, it’s unmistakably clear that God has covenanted with creation here.  Either originally in Genesis 1 or in Genesis 6.)
I believe the evidence is clearly on the side that Jeremiah 33 is speaking about a covenant made in Genesis 1.  One that preceded Noah, that was established at the very beginning. 
Remember that at this point we are only trying to prove that the extent of the covenants covers the entire span of human history.  One more example of this time period between Genesis 1 and Genesis 6 will prove compelling.  

The Covenant with Man 
Perhaps the defining document when it comes to Covenant Theology is that of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Written in 1646, by mostly English and Scottish Puritans, this document is throughly reformed and replete with covenantal language.  The shorter catechism which is the Q. and A. form of the confession, used to indoctrinate both children and adults alike ask this question:  
Q. 12. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.
So the Puritans had much confidence is saying that God’s first dealing with man was in terms of a covenant.  They saw the ingredients, being that of a sovereign administration, conditions of the covenant, and the penalties for breaking such a covenant.  That doesn’t of course prove the case, but it does prove that the church down through the ages has accepted this.  So what was their confidence based on?   They, like all who see this as a covenant, first turn their attention to Genesis 2:15-17
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
As we observe this text, do we find the ingredients necessary for a covenant?  We defined a divine covenant as a bond-in-blood sovereignly administered.  Do we see sovereign administration?  Yes.  God initiated this agreement, set the conditions, and the blessings and cursing.  Do we see a bond-in-blood?  Yes.  If Adam obeyed, he would live.  If Adam disobeyed, he would die.  All the ingredients for a covenant are here.  However the word “covenant” isn’t here.  Is that a problem?  Or is there another place in Scripture where this is referred to as a covenant?  Remember this is exactly the case of the Davidic covenant.  When God made a covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, He didn’t use the word covenant.  It wasn’t until later that this promise God made was called a covenant.  We find the same scenario unfolding here regarding Adam.  Hosea 6:4-7 reads 
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.  Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;  I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.  For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.  But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.
In this text we see the Lord lamenting over his chosen people because of their whoring after other gods.  The whole context of the book is about the prophet being commanded by God to take for himself a prostitute as his wife.  This was meant to demonstrate what God has done with his people Israel and how they continue to prostitute themselves.  Here in chapter six we see the same.  V.4 says “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.”  Your love is nothing to me but words.  V. 6 goes on  “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”  In other words from the beginning I have always required this one thing from you.  Love.  V. 7 But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.”  
So here we have the relationship of God to Adam being called a covenant.  Not quite a open and shut case for Robertson points out three possible interpretations. 1) “ has been suggested that “Adam” should be understood as designating a place.  “At Adam” Israel has broken the covenant.”
  Adam is a city in the Jordan Valley.  But this interpretation would be a huge assumption since we don’t have any Scriptural evidence for Israel committing sin nationally at this place (cf. Joshua 3:16)  2)  It is taken at face value.  In other words, just like the sin of Adam, the first man, so Israel has broken covenant.  This indicates that there was a covenant made with Adam.  3)  The Hebrew word here for “Adam” could be translated “man,” or “mankind.”   In fact the KJV translates the word as “men.”  So would that translation destroy this idea of a covenant being made with Adam?  Hardly.  In fact, either of these last two interpretations still support the idea of a covenant preceding Noah, starting with Adam.  The second interpretation is obvious.  The third interpretation needs to be unpacked a bit.  Hosea 6:4 is clearly speaking of national Israel for Ephraim and Judah are mentioned.  They are set in contrast to the different group in v. 7. What is the only remaining group?  Non-Israel. Robertson says “The point of the passage rests on a comparison.  Israelite man in his relation to God is compared to non-Israelite man in his relation to God.”
  So there is a comparison between Israel breaking it’s covenant with God AND non-Israelite man breaking it’s covenant with God.  The question naturally arises:  what non-Israelite man is the prophet referring to?  To answer that, you have to look earlier then Abraham since he was considered the father of Israel.  That leaves us with Noah or earlier.  The problem with resting this passage on Noah is that the one condition that was clear to Noah, found in Genesis 9:1, tells him to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”  However, this was not a new obligation, but found it’s origin with Adam in Genesis 1:28.  So this third interpretation of Hosea 6:7 doesn’t prevent us from resting it on the shoulders of the first man, it only supports it.  Robertson concludes.   “If “Adam” is taken individually, the term would refer to the original representative man.  His violation of the covenant would refer to the specific breaking of the test of probation described in the early chapters of Genesis.  If “Adam” is taken generically, the term would refer to the broader covenantal obligation that falls on man as he has been given solemn responsibilities in God’s world by creation.  In either case, Hosea 6:7 would appear to apply covenantal terminology to the relation of God to man established by creation.”
  At the end of the day, Hosea 6:7 drives us all the way back to the beginning of time where God sets conditions for Adam to follow.  
What about out detractors that would still claim foul by saying that the word “covenant”  is not found in Genesis 1-5?  First I would point them to the Davidic covenant like I already mentioned.  Secondly I would ask if the ingredients for a covenant are found in the beginning?  This would be an impossible task to deny since it’s clear that God initiated an agreement, set the terms, and enforced the penalties.  The ingredients are clearly there.  Thirdly a little reductio ad absurdum an be applied here.  Remember that their principle, i.e. hyper-inductivism, is that deductive conclusions aren’t allowed because of inductive restrictions.  This principle destroys the Trinity.  There’s no such thing as the Trinity because the word isn’t mentioned in Scripture.  By the way, you don’t exist either, because I can’t find your name anywhere on the pages of the Bible.  At the end of the day this type of reasoning does not stand up to the command to “love the Lord your God with all your mind.”  These things are deep things that require careful thinking.  
The fact is, is that The Extent of the Divine Covenants reaches from the beginning of time and will extend until all things are brought into completion.  

(All Scripture quotes taken from the ESV.  Other quotes from O. Palmer Robertson come from his book The Christ of the Covenants)

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