At this point I have to take a step back from the text—but not for the sake of my own view on God’s covenant to Abraham and its historical outworking, rather for clearing out some potentially misconceptions. It is always helpful to consider the details of any situation: which turns to make, which stops are important, where to find the hotel…that’s what I normally do. But sometimes it is necessary to get a bird’s eye view of the thing and see how the lines interconnect, how they follow down another path, and how they accentuate the lay of the land. The problem is that my mind contains a different bird’s eye view than what your bird’s eye view may look like.
I started this series underscoring the importance of words and saying how their conveyed information was to be received by the primary audience to convey real information. This was then recorded for our benefit.
Fine. Everyone thus far agrees.
But Covenant Theology takes what I’ve presented and offers a bird’s eye view of things that is exceedingly different from my own, and frankly, extra-biblical.
When I view something like the Abrahamic Covenant, Covenantal Theologians would say that I’m considering it in a vacuum. Covenantal Theologians would say that the covenants are important, not because of how they stand, but because of what they are attached to: God’s redemptive plan. (Here it may be prudent to look back at the Unifying Principle.)
Before the foundation of the world, God rightly expected perfection. And yet, he knew that Man wouldn’t be perfect and they would fail in their works—since only God is perfect. So, God covenanted with himself to redeem fallen mankind—this was his Covenant of Redemption. To Redeem, he must display his grace by making salvation available for people apart from works while still remaining both just and righteous. The Son of God decided to become a man and work perfectly, suffer and die so that those who believe on Him would be put under his headship and thus all the required to be part of God’s people would be met by God. The Lamb, slain before the foundation of the World, would not only be the means, but the object, of faith that would allow God’s grace to be lavished upon men. This was necessary because men could not save themselves as evidenced by the Covenant of Works established in the Garden: do this Adam, and live, do not do this and die. In the Garden, Adam did fail and doomed all mankind. But Christ, the second Adam makes salvation available to all.
So God reveals his Covenant of Grace after the Covenant of Works. Every covenant, although conditional by making demands, points to the necessity of faith; and yet each Covenant is a revelation of God’s grace and thus directly related to God’s redeemed people: the Church.
The Noahic Covenant makes demands; and yet it reveals a universal aspect of God’s Covenant of Grace. The Abrahamic Covenant makes demands of Abraham; and yet it reveals the particular nature of God’s Covenant of Grace. The Mosaic Covenant makes demands; and yet it reveals God’s requirements as his Covenant people. The Davidic Covenant makes demands; and yet it reveals God’s grace in establishing His Anointed. The New Covenant makes demands; and yet it is tied to Christ who did the work—so believers should therefore keep the covenants and their demands as Christ requires. So instead of circumcision (Abrahamic) the believer baptizes; instead of keeping the Sabbath (Mosaic), the believer keeps the Lord’s Day.
Some Covenant Theologians believe that all the covenants were merely part of the Covenant of Grace with no Covenant of Works attached. Most Covenant Theologians disagree. In essence: the Church has always been (Israel was just the Church in the Old Testament) and the Church will always be. Abraham is just a point in Redemptive History, the History of the Church.
But I see serious problems with this view.
First of all, I don’t find anything in the text about some Covenant of Works or a Covenant of Grace or a Covenant of Redemption. They’re just not there.
Second, they are solely theological constructs that have been generated from soteriological conclusions in the New Testament, and then transported over the Scripture. This puts the authority not on the text but on the conclusion that resides over the text and then being used to drive explanations. Now here someone might offer the counter-example of the Trinity—the same thing isn’t happening here.
Third, they decide a priori that there are no real differences instead of allowing Paul’s comments to speak for themselves.
Fourth, non-Dispensational theologians have agreed and have made other non-Dispensational systems to try to explain the error by showing that CT, in an effort to underscore the unity of Scripture, have reached an untenable conclusion. As such, some groups have proposed a model that makes a much sharper division between Works/Law and Grace even if they have also denied some key elements.
For those reasons, and others not listed because they are dealt with in future posts, I do not examine the broad picture, the birds eye view, with the mythological constructs of covenant theology but rather with what the text in Genesis underscores as important and which the rest of the Old Testament finds the roots in: the Promise to the Patriarchs and their descendants:
This promise to Abraham (and his descendants) is really a package of several promises that are intertwined and shine throughout the Old Testament with their importance. They have definite physical ramifications and definite spiritual ramifications (a blessing to the nations is obviously more than being a boon to the physical needs of the nations—which is why the book of Genesis has the nations both eating and receiving a blessing from the seed of Abraham Israel Himself).
These promises have short term fulfillment (people who curse Abraham are cursed) but there is the permanent aspect of the promise that needs to be put in place. For that to happen, the promises have to bring certain elements into place that will ensure both their fulfillment and their permanency.
So when David receives his covenant, he knows that it isn’t a covenant that comes out of the blue with no history and some nebulous near-term future. He sees that the promise speaks about things many days hence and that it is beyond the way men keep promises (and break them). He realizes that his package of promises is predicated on a historical package of promises thus bringing into being a perpetual aspect of that previous covenant.
In other words, the covenant to David winds up being a blossoming of the Covenant to Abraham, still tied to it (I will make you a nation, Kings will come from you, and you will be a blessing)…:
…yet expanding on it with its own package of promises (the nations will flock to David, He will be the Lord’s anointed, and He will build a House for God—2 Sam 7; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14; 2 Chronicles 6:16; Psalm 2; Psalm 89; Isaiah 4; Isaiah 11) and its own subsequent illumination through the Old Testament hope.
And just as David’s covenant is an expansion of the Abrahamic Covenant, while maintaining key elements to bring it into fruition, the New Covenant comes along and does the same thing. It expands to all the people, it becomes a means of blessing for everyone, it consists of the outpouring of the Spirit of God , it is tied to David and Abraham as it blossoms outward (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Joel 2; Psalm 40:8).
Note that each of these covenants contains their own package of promises blossoming from Abraham’s Covenant. If we were to turn these covenants upside down we would see their expansive nature with the Abrahamic Covenant as the base:
And if we were to remove the labels and strip them down to their Covenantal parts (the divine package of promises), we would see the package of promises that each entails is a reflection, illumination and expansions of the covenant to Abraham.
Similarly, if we were to look at them from the top down, we would see that the Covenants keep their middle on the previous covenant, in all cases they always keep the heart of the package of promises from the Abrahamic Covenants. The Covenants expand, surely, but they never (ever) leave behind the core: who the promise was made to, consisting of what progeny, regarding which place, specifying which blessings, indicating which curses, and so forth. They’re always there.
But that’s all bird’s eye view. I’m going to have to take a look at the Mosaic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and then the New Covenant to establish that from their context—like the many posts we spent with Abraham. Before I do all that I do want to examine some questions about Ishmael and Esau.