The unity of Scripture is one of the hardest things for us modern evangelicals to see. We see this division of Old and New Testament in our Bibles and assume that God had two different peoples and two different plans. We see multiple covenants given at different times to different people. We see national Israel in the O.T governed by a theocracy (government centered around God.) We see that they had three different types of laws-moral, civil, and ceremonial all which signify different things. Suffice it so say, we have a bunch of diversity, and seeing how it is supposed to be unified proves to be a difficult task. The key to this quandary is to examine the covenants. In spite of their diversity, which we will examine next week, we find a thread that ties them altogether.
THE BIG IDEA is that “God’s multiple bonds with His people ultimately unite into a single relationship.”
I. Structural Unity of the Divine Covenants
II. Thematic Unity of the Divine Covenants
I. Structural Unity of the Divine Covenants
Unity of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants
“The Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants do not present themselves as self-contained entities. Instead, each successive covenant builds on the previous relationship, continuing the basic emphasis which had been established earlier.”
1.) A unity in historical experience.
a. Unity was demonstrated at the inauguration of each covenant.
Setting aside for the moment the covenants with creation, Adam, and Noah, we see God establishing a covenant with Abraham (week 8) in order to set aside a people for Himself. Abraham is rightly called the father of Israel or the father of the promise. Imagine if you will for a moment a dark room. When this first covenant is established, God as it, were lights a candle and illuminates part of the room. As time marches on, Moses comes onto the scene, God lights another candle making the room brighter. When He does this, he doesn’t blow out the other candle, he simply brings more light to the room. Same room, same light, same God, same people. The same thing could be said about the moment when God initiated the covenant with David. He wasn’t doing something “brand new,” he was, to continue the analogy, lighting another candle in the room and shedding more light on his redemptive plan. We see this principle at play in the Scriptures when God inaugurates these successive covenants.
When God’s people were crying out under the bondage of Egypt, we see God act in accordance with His covenant previously established. He speaks to Moses in Exodus 6:5-8 “Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant[v.3 “to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob”
.] Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” Keep in mind this is 430 years later-Gal. 3:17 On the eve of God establishing a new covenant with Moses (inauguration), he points back to the Abrahamic covenant as the basis for this “new thing” happening.
Robertson says here “...the promises of the Abrahamic covenant provide the historical impetus [driving force or catalyst] for the institution of the Mosaic covenant. God remembers his covenant with Abraham, and God acts for Israel.”
To use some of the language from our Philosophical Apologetics class, the Abrahamic covenant was the antecedent, and the Mosaic was the consequent.
When God inaugurates his covenant with David, some five hundred years later, we same this same reflection on the previous covenants as the basis for God doing this with David. (cf. 2 Samuel 7:6, 23-24)
Israel’s history demonstrates unity
The process of inaugurating the Mosaic covenant started previous to the writing of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. When Moses comes down off the mountain in Exodus 32, God wants to destroy the Israelites because they were worshipping the golden calf. Moses prays, and what he points to is the continuous effects that the Abrahamic covenant provided for, and that God promised. Abraham says in Exodus 32:13-14 “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” Even though the Mosaic covenant was established, Moses appealed to God from the Abrahamic covenant in order to stay his hand. Moses saw the continuity and unity of these two covenants. Joshua, Moses’ successor, saw the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant when he took possession of the land. Then, when we reach Joshua 24, we see him reinforcing the conditions in the Mosaic covenant as the basis of staying in the land that was promised to Abraham. So in each successive generation, we see the unity and continuity of the covenants established.
The covenant with David was no different. When David brought the ark to Jerusalem, he attributed it to God’s covenant with Abraham-cf. 1 Chron. 16:15-18. In other words the successes of the people were attributed to God’s covenant with Abraham. Conversely, national Israel and Judah’s defeats were attributed to the people’s breaking the Mosaic covenant. Remember, Israel and Judah were eventually kicked out of the land that was promised to Abraham because the broke the conditions set by Moses. (cf. 2 King 17:13ff) To sum of this section, we would affirm that when a new covenant was made, the old was not forgotten or dismissed. The new covenant simply brought more light to the same room.
2.) A unity in genealogical administration
a. Robertson introduces this “genealogical principle.” The unity of the covenants is seen in this principle because what we see is God establishing a covenant with a group of people, then generations later, it is applied to their children. In other words there is a genealogical dimension to God’s covenants. (Remember we saw this in the first week with the covenant made with the Gibeonites.) Robertson says here “David’s son is not simply heir of the covenant promise made to David. He is heir also of the covenant promises made to Moses and Abraham.”
A scripture to illustrate this point. “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the LORD our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” Deut. 29:14-15 The Psalmist finds this principle one that generates praise Psalm 105:8-10 says “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant,” This principle is seen in the N.T. when Peter speaks to the Israelites in Acts 3:25, and when Paul relates the promise of the Spirit from Isaiah 59:21 to the Galatians in 3:13ff.
1st corollary principle to be kept in mind. “Grafting.”
While holding this genealogical principle in one hand, we must hold the grafting principle in the other. God made provision, intentionally-not as an after thought, to include non-Israelites in the covenant. We see this in Genesis 17:12-13. Abraham circumcises people in his household, not born of him, thereby including them in the covenant. This idea is seasoned throughout the O.T. In Esther 8:17 it records that “...many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them.” There has always existed this provision from God to include non-Jews in the covenant promises of God. We see this both in the genealogies of Jesus-non-Jews, and in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11. Perhaps, the best place in the N.T. which bears this in Romans 11:17 “...some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,” Paul here is speaking about non-Jews partaking in the covenants promised to Israel. When a Gentile is ingrafted in they become a true heir of Abraham, they become part of spiritual Israel. Galatians 3:29 says “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”
2nd corollary principle to be kept in mind. “Pruning.”
The simplest verses to illustrate this are found in Romans 9. Just because you were born an Israelite ethnically, doesn’t mean you are one spiritually. Jacob and Esau were both Jews ethnically, yet God said “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:13. This is a reflection of God’s divine election. Remember, a divine covenant is a bond-in-blood sovereignly administered. God’s sovereign choosing and governing defines what the terms of the covenant are and nothing else. People are not included into the covenant on the basis of pedigree. “...For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel...” Romans 9:6 In fact, that statement, is the basis of showing the unity of the covenants and the faithfulness of God. Because it looked as if God’s covenant had failed. Most of Israel was falling away, and it looked like God was not be faithful to the Abrahamic covenant, one that extended to a thousand generations. In response to this on-the-surface unfaithfulness, God responds with ‘non all Israel is Israel.’ His faithfulness remains intact, and he demonstrated that the covenants are unified.
B. Unity incorporating the New Covenant
Throughout the O.T., we find Israel continually failing to live up to their obligations and conditions of the covenants. They broke them continually. Judges is good example of this as well as comments made by the prophets Samuel and Jeremiah that said ‘from the day I delivered you out of Egypt until now, you have continually rejected me.’ In spite of that, God did not “wake up” one morning and decide to scrap these covenants and start an entirely different thing. The Biblical language is indeed “new” covenant. That is true in one sense, in that it was “new” to Israel. I don’t mean “new” in the sense that they believed they were saved by works then, but God was really trying to show them that it was by grace. Salvation has always been by grace. There has always been a remnant according to grace. It’s “new” because, these covenants were all going to be fulfilled by one person. It’s true that Israel knew about the Messiah, but He was going to fulfill the covenant with his own blood which was something that nobody expected.
1) Jeremiah 31:33 says that the new covenant will insure that the Mosaic law will be written on the heart. 2) Jeremiah 32 says that the new covenant will insure the Abrahamic covenant, in that God will “...plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” Jer. 32:41. 3) In Ezekiel 34:23, the prophet says that under the new covenant God will remember the Davidic covenant by setting David his servant up as shepherd over his people. This is hundreds of years after David was dead. The text. One text in particular unifies all of these. Ezekiel 37:24-26 records “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd.[Davidic] They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. [Mosaic] They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever,[Abrahamic] and David my servant shall be their prince forever.[Davidic] I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them...[New Covenant]
“By the new covenant, all the promises of God find their consummation.”
This one covenant that unified all the previous covenants was eternally in the mind of God. He revealed it progressively in the covenants preceding Christ. We see this new covenant being formally inaugurated at the last supper when Jesus said “...this is my blood of the covenant...” Matt. 26:26
C. Unity extending to the Covenants made with Noah and Adam
What about the covenants with Noah and Adam? Do they find unity in the New Covenant? Yes. To Noah, God promised to preserve the earth for a “time.” It’s in this “time” that God redeems people through the new covenant. Conversely, it’s the very work of Christ, that this promise found in Genesis 8:22 is secured. 2 Cor. 1:20 “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
To sum up: The time promised in the Noahic covenant provided time for redemption; and that redemption, by Christ, secured the promise made.
To Adam, God set certain conditions on his image bearer in Genesis 1 and 2. There is a creature to Creator relationship. He was commanded to obey God perfectly. This in part was in the form of a test of not to eat the forbidden fruit. Although we don’t have that same exact condition set on us, we are still required as creatures, as image bearers, to obey God perfectly, otherwise we will die. “The wages of sin is death...” Just like Adam, one transgression of the law is a complete breaking of the law for us. James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” When the Messiah comes, we see Him fulfilling the covenant made with Adam perfectly.
So from Adam to Christ, we see a structural unity of the divine covenants.
II. Thematic Unity of the Divine Covenants
Robertson here speaks of something he calls the “Immanuel Principle.” Were going to see this principle played out in three ways.
The “Immanuel Principle” appears explicitly in connection with the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, the Davidic, and the New Covenant.
This “Immanuel Principle” is a summary of the divine covenant relationship. In a phrase it’s “I shall be you God, and you shall be my people” That’s the consummation of the covenant. God being our God, and we being His people. 1) We see this theme in the Abrahamic covenant. In Genesis 17:7, God says “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” 2) We see this theme in the Mosaic covenant. It also appears more frequently. Exodus 6:6-7 “...I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God...” You can find this “immanuel principle” mentioned in other places regarding the Mosaic covenant, specifically in Exodus 19:4-5, Leviticus 11:45, Deut. 4:20, and Deut. 29:13. 3) We see this theme with regards to the Davidic covenant. In the later years of the kingdom of Judah, where David’s heir was promised to always reign, we find an evil queen, Queen Athaliah, who killed all of the royal offspring, except one. Joash. Six years later, the priest Jehoiada conspired, to kill the queen and put the rightful heir to David’s throne in her place. The priest then made a covenant recorded in 2 Kings 11:17: “...Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD and the king and people, that they should be the LORD's people, and also between the king and the people.” 4) Lastly, we see this essence of the divine covenant, this “immanuel principle” at play in the new covenant. Zechariah 2:11 says “...many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day,[this is prophetic, pointing to “that day” where the Jews and Gentiles will be joined together in Christ under the New Covenant] and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.” This “immanuel principle” is seen in the N.T. as well. Followers of Christ are called to separate themselves from the world because “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” 2 Cor. 6:16 So we see this binding theme as a thread that strings itself through each of these covenants.
The “Immanuel Principle” is developed particularly in association with God’s actually dwelling in the midst of his people.
Although very similar to the last section, this idea is actually more intimate. Not only will God be our God, and we His people, but He will dwell among us. We see a progression in Scripture of God getting increasingly “closer” to His people. We see this first in Exodus 25:8 where God commanded construction of the tabernacle. “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” When national Israel was established, it was universally recognized by the Jews that this was where God’s name dwelt.
In other words, it was the Jew’s home because God’s name dwelt there.
This was also the hope of the new covenant. Ezekiel 36:26-27 records God speaking “I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them.” It’s on this point where Piper has been most helpful to current evangelicalism, in calling the church to love heaven because God’s own presence is there. That is the prize of eternal life and what the covenants point to. Rev. 21:3 says “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
The “Immanuel Principle” reaches its climax through its embodiment in a single person.
The climax of “God with us,” is when Jesus Christ became man, and dwelt among us. Robertson says “In this single person all God’s purposes find climatic fulfillment. He is the head of God’s kingdom and the embodiment of God’s covenant. In his person “I shall be you God and you shall be my people” achieves incarnated reality.”
In the O.T Moses uses the blood of bulls and goats to seal the covenant, in the N.T., Jesus pours out his own blood to seal the covenant. Moses regulated the kingdom by the use of laws, Jesus regulates the kingdom by the use of his own person. This is why we say that everything in the Scriptures point to Jesus Christ. The covenants were designed to point to him, and he is the fulfillment of all of them perfectly. In him all of the covenants find their unity. They are one. Robertson concludes “In the person of Jesus Christ, the covenants of God achieve incarnational unity. Because Jesus, as the Son of God and mediator of the covenant, cannot be divided, the covenants cannot be divided. He himself guarantees the unity of the covenants, because he himself is the heart of each of the various covenantal administrations.”
(All quotes taken from O. Palmer Robertson The Christ of the Covenants Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1980