NT Wright, New Testament and the People of God, p.38
“Stories are often wrongly regarded as a poor person’s substitute for the ‘real thing’, which is to be found either in some abstract truth or in statements about ‘bare facts’. … Stories are a basic constituent of human life; they are, in fact, one key element within the total construction of a worldview…. Tell someone to do something, and you change their life–for a day; tell someone a story and you change their life.”
“Story is the most natural way of enlarging and deepening our sense of reality, and then enlisting us as participants in it. Stories open doors to areas or aspects of life that we didn’t know were there, or had quit noticing out of over-familiarity, or supposed were out-of-bounds for us. They then welcome us in. Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.”Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p.13.
We tell stories because that is how we perceive the world. We tell stories to capture the attention and imagination of our listeners. We relate to stories! That’s why it is significant to note that all of scripture is one “big” story of redemption. We need to see threads that tie the story together. One such thread is the covenant. God uses the movement from one covenant to another to demonstrate the progression of His redemptive story.
God’s story starts as all good stories do, laying the foundation for the setting. God speaks the world into being, fashions man from mud, the woman from man’s bones, and commands them to be fruitful, subdue the earth and rule over every living creature. This is the first covenant, God establishing His kingdom, His place, His people who would be His priest-kings.
In ancient Near East texts only the king is in the image of God. But in the Hebrew perspective this is democratized to all humanity. The text is saying that exercising royal dominion over the earth as God’s representative is the basic purpose for which God created man. Man is appointed king over creation, responsible to God the ultimate king, and as such expected to manage, develop, and care for creation.”Bruce Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary, p. 66
While the word “covenant” is not used directly, Hosea interprets it for us: “But like Adam, they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7 ESV).
We know about the transgression – how God told Adam not to eat of that one tree. And how the serpent enticed Eve to eat, and she gave the fruit also to her husband. Adam and Eve HAD dominion over all living creatures, but the snake was crafty, convincing them to question God’s instruction. God curses the serpent promising that there will one day come a victor who will crush the serpent’s head!
The first covenant was about ruling and reigning
as God’s vice-regents, mediating God’s blessing in the earth!
In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham. Adam and Eve’s disobedience resulted in curses; Abraham’s obedience will result in blessing. The covenant with Abraham has three elements – offspring, land, and blessings. The nation that God established through Abraham was supposed to be a blessing to the nations, that through His people, all nations would know that He is the one true God.
Although Abraham and Sarah grew quite old waiting for God to act on His promise, they did parent a whole nation of offspring. Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of twelve sons who become the twelve tribes of Israel. Many generations later, we see Abraham in Jesus’ genealogy.
The promise of land is both now and not yet. “God said to Abram, “Know this: your descendants will live as outsiders in a land, not theirs; they’ll be enslaved and beaten down for 400 years. Then I’ll punish their slave masters; your offspring will march out of there loaded with plunder. But not you; you’ll have a long and full life and die a good and peaceful death. Not until the fourth generation will your descendants return here” (Genesis 15:13-16). God is specific about the promised land being a part of the covenant with Abraham. The author of Hebrews sheds more light, “Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” (Hebrews 11:10).
With this covenant, God restores the creation intent
when He tells Abraham that kings
will come from his lineage!
In the covenant with Abraham, God clarifies that He is the one who will be faithful. In a covenantal ceremony, while Abraham is in a deep sleep, God walks between animals cut in half; this is clear evidence that God has taken it upon Himself to ensure the covenant with Abraham will not fail.
God’s word is true. Abraham’s descendants are enslaved, and God sends Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. Moses meets with Pharaoh and reports that God is instructing Pharaoh to let the people leave Egypt. “Is that so?” retorted Pharaoh. “And who is the Lord? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2NLT). This statement, “who is the Lord,” is critical as God chooses plagues to demonstrate that He is the one true Lord. God rescues His people, saves them from slavery, and from destruction by Pharaoh’s army. And then He gives them the law, setting the nation of Israel apart – His people, His kingdom.
The Lord called to him [Moses] from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”Exodus 19:3-6 NLT
God called the people of Israel His holy people – He chose them, not because of any specific goodness in Israel, but because He loved them, and He was faithful to the promises He had made to the patriarchs. They were His treasure! And again, we see this priest-king language. Their purpose was to be a light to the nations! As they reflected the heart of their God-King, others would be drawn to know Him!
God is careful to give the Israelites boundaries, the Mosaic law, so that a holy God could dwell among an unclean people. The Law was supposed to point them to their God, draw them in a close relationship to Him. But instead, the people grumbled, complained, and wanted to be like all other nations.
In the Mosaic covenant, God states that the Israelites will have both royal and priestly status – the thread continues.
I find Judges to be one of the most challenging books of the Bible to read. When reading sequentially, the stories in Deuteronomy and Joshua point to God’s amazing leadership, blessing the nation in so many ways. But in Judges, we read repeatedly, “the people did what was right in their own eyes.” That phrase is reminiscent of this statement in Genesis 3:6, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” God teaches Samuel when looking for the right young man to be Israel’s next king that while we notice outward appearances, God looks at the heart. One way to translate that verse is, “God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart (1 Samuel 16:7 CEB)” Our eyes deceive us!
God does not give the people over to their own devices but appoints David as king. We have been tracing the seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3, the one that would crush the head of the serpent from Seth, to Shem, then Isaac, Jacob, Judah … Boaz, Jesse, David …
While David was not perfect, not sinless, he had a heart for God. And God once again makes a covenant, this time pointing to a forever King, one who would be the perfect king, one whose throne would never end.
“For when you (David) die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. … Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.”2 Samuel 7:11-16
We know this prophecy had an immediate result – Solomon, David’s son, built a beautiful Temple for worshipping God. But the prophecy also speaks of a future son. But in the meantime, as we continue to read the story, the future seems bleak. There are generations of kings who do not follow God. The hope of this Davidic king seems beyond the grasp of humanity. Who will rescue the people from their sin and establish a just and righteous throne forever?
The prophets drop hints in the story of a coming son, a suffering servant, a priest-king … from an unlikely city, at an unlikely time … a day of salvation is coming …
Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.Zechariah 3:8-10 ESV
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.Jeremiah 23:5 ESV
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.Isaiah 11:1-2 ESV
A New Covenant
Israel failed to keep the covenants, was unable to obey repeatedly, and, as a result, had to suffer judgment. But God promises restoration! How is this possible? Since the beginning of time, people have fallen away from God’s instructions. Even before the nation entered the promised land, God exclaimed the longing of His heart, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always so that it might go well with them and their children forever” (Deuteronomy 5:29). Jeremiah gives us a glimpse of a new covenant, one that will be written on hearts instead of tablets of stone, one that includes the Spirit’s power to live within God’s laws!
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”Jeremiah 31:31-34 NIV
As believers in Christ today, we live
in the NEW Covenant – praise God!
Jesus fulfilled all the covenants made in the Old Testament! Check out the genealogies of Jesus’ heritage in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham! “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Because we “receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness,” we will “reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15). Jesus crushes the head of the serpent, disarming “the powers and authorities,” and making “a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). “Those who have faith are children of Abraham” and “those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:7,9). This is US! We find our place in God’s story right here. We are children of Abraham – part of God’s promise of sand and stars!
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV
Jesus is the Davidic King who will reign forever and ever! He is the light of the world, inviting all nations to come to Him! He sits on His throne today and will one day usher in His new heaven and new earth – our promised land!
2 Corinthians 1:20-22 MSG
Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.
*Matt, our pastor to students, preached Sunday. His message was excellent, tracing the kingdom through the covenants. If you are unfamiliar with the story of scripture, or never understood the connection between the old and new covenants, or want to be encouraged by your Biblical heritage, check out Matt’s sermon on Youtube. It’s well worth your time.
** If you want to follow this series of notes on the king and HIs kingdom, here are the previous links: