Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Everlasting Covenant

“In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Hebrews 8:13
While the Rabbis claim that the Mosaic Covenant will last forever, the evidence is stacked heavily in favor of a New Covenant, which will supersede the Old:
·       “The New Testament misinterprets our Hebrew Scriptures. It misrepresents the Mosaic Covenant as the source of death (James 2:10; Rom. 7:9; 3:20; 2 Cor. 3:6), declaring that it will pass away! On the contrary, the Mosaic Covenant imparts life (Psalm 1; 119:32, 92, 104, 127, 144), and the Word of God doesn’t change (Isa. 40:8)!”

At least, this is what the Rabbis and Jewish authorities maintain. If they are correct, then the New Testament has it all wrong, and our faith is sadly misinformed. However, Jeremiah writes:

·       Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-9).[1]

Doesn’t this settle the matter? Hasn’t a “new covenant” superseded the Old? Not according to Jewish authorities:

·       “By any objective reading of the text, one fails to see any reference to a substitution of a new covenant which will supersede the old. There is nothing in Jeremiah’s statement to suggest that the new covenant will contain any changes in the Law (the Mosaic Covenant).”[2]

However, since Jeremiah writes that God will establish a “new covenant,” wouldn’t this explicitly rule out the Mosaic Covenant, which Israel continued to break (31:31-32)? Not according to Gerald Sigal:

·       “Obviously, Jeremiah’s ‘new covenant’ is not to be viewed as a replacement of the existing (Mosaic) covenant, but merely as a figure of speech for the reinvigoration and revitalization of the old (Mosaic) covenant.”[3]

According to Sigal, the new covenant is the Mosaic covenant with a bit of a face-lift. However, Jeremiah claims that this “new covenant” will not resemble the Old (31:32). Why not? Because it was a failure, at least from the perspective of Israel’s obedience to it! Israel “broke it” as naturally as breathing. It had to be scrapped and replaced by something new.
Furthermore, when we examine the features of the “new,” we find that they represent more than a mere face-lift, but a major overhaul. There will be laws, but they will be inscribed upon the heart, and forgiveness will be permanent, whereas under the Mosaic scheme, sacrificial offerings had to be made on a continual basis for the sins of the people.
What type of evidence does Sigal offer in defense of his seemingly improbable interpretation? For one thing, he says that many prophetic writings indicate that Israel would ultimately keep God’s Mosaic ordinances. In support of this, he cites Ezekiel 11:19-20:

·       “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”

Sigal wrongly assumes that this transplant would occur under the Mosaic administration. However, Ezekiel’s prophecy bears a strong resemblance to Jeremiah’s prophecy of the “new covenant,” which also alludes to a change in heart. There is nothing here to suggest that the Mosaic Covenant is still functioning. Instead, the very fact that God will have to unilaterally take charge and convert Israel suggests that the Mosaic wasn’t able to produce. Under this system, blessing depended upon obedience. However, in the eleven chapters prior, Ezekiel paints us a portrait of Israel’s unmitigated unfaithfulness. It’s therefore clear that this promise of blessing isn’t the result of Israel’s faithfulness to the Mosaic Covenant! Had it been the dominant factor, Israel would be cursed, not blessed!
Sigal then cites Psalm 111:7-8 and Isaiah 40:8. Both maintain that God’s Word doesn’t change.[4] However, a change in covenants doesn’t imply that God’s Word had changed or had been wrong. It just implies that a new time and situation might demand a new course of action. When Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, God’s activity changed--the manna ceased falling—but God’s Word hadn’t changed! He never promised that manna would always fall from heaven. 
Sigal’s other defense is more to the point:

·       “That the covenant of old is of eternal duration, never to be rescinded or to be superseded by a new covenant, is clearly stated in Leviticus 26:44-45.”[5]

If Sigal is correct about this verse, it offers powerful support for his contention that the Mosaic covenant can never be superseded, and he might then be somewhat justified in his awkward interpretation to Jeremiah. However, this isn’t the message of these verses.

·       “Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the COVENANT OF THEIR ANCESTORS, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord." (26:44-45).

Is this “covenant of their ancestors” the Mosaic covenant? Instead, the “ancestors” must refer to those who came before Moses, the author of Leviticus, to the Patriarchs--Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses is not an ancestor to the Israelites that he had led into the desert just one short year prior! Furthermore, the Hebrew word for “ancestors” (“rishone”) meaning the “first” further solidifies this conclusion. It was the Patriarchs who had been the first Hebrews and the first to receive the Promise.
Had we no other context than the above two verses, this would be enough to dismiss Sigal’s assertion. However, the preceding context allows us to pin down the meaning of “covenant of their ancestors,” even more precisely:

·       “Then I will remember MY COVENANT WITH JACOB, AND MY COVENANT WITH ISAAC AND MY COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM I will remember; they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes,”  (Lev. 26:42-43).

This clearly is not a reference to the Mosaic covenant, but the covenant that God had made with the Patriarchs, one that was still in effect. It’s because of God’s unchanging, unconditional promises to the Patriarchs that Israel had hope, not because of the Mosaic Covenant which brought condemnation to Israel according to their deeds. This was the prime purpose of the highly conditional Mosaic Covenant—to show Israel the extent of her damning sins and their need of a Savior (Gal. 3:22-24). In this, the Mosaic is diametrically opposed to the other covenants. While blessing under the Mosaic depended upon Israel’s obedience, the promises to the Patriarchs were guaranteed by God Himself.
How could Sigal have made such a mistake? Weren’t there other verses to which he could have appealed to make his case that the Mosaic Covenant was everlasting? If so, he doesn’t seem to be aware of them. Is there any evidence that the Mosaic is everlasting and therefore won’t be replaced? 
This question intrigued me. If Scripture proved to uniformly render the same verdict against the permanence of the Mosaic Covenant, the centerpiece of the Hebrew Scriptures, this would place these Scriptures on extra-human turf. All other religions and clubs confidently assert their own significance and the certainty of their success. It’s no surprise that the Jewish authorities herald the Mosaic Covenant in this manner. However, does Scripture support such optimism?


As already mentioned, Jeremiah prophesied that God would make a “new covenant” that would not be like the Old one. Would the Old remain side-by-side with the New? No!

·       “Then it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land in those days,’ says the Lord, ‘that they will say no more, 'The ark of the covenant of the Lord.' It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore’” (Jer. 3:16).

The “ark of the covenant” represented the Mosaic Covenant. It was the receptacle for the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the centerpiece of the Mosaic institution. When Jeremiah said that the “ark of the covenant” will “not come to mind,” he was also referring to the Mosaic Covenant. Why will it not come to mind? Because it will be replaced by another system which will “feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15)! If it will not be remembered, then it will certainly not be in effect!
The Mosaic is not merely limited in its duration; it is also limited to its Promised Land setting. Moses cautioned Israel:

·       “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today--EVERY MAN DOING WHATEVER IS RIGHT IN HIS OWN EYES-- for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut. 12:8-9).

As long as Israel was not as yet in the Promised Land, they were free from many of the legal stipulations. The fact that the Israelites born during their desert wanderings had not been circumcised provides strong evidence for the fact that many of Mosaic stipulations were not being enforced prior to entering Israel (Josh. 5:5). If this covenant pertained only to a particular time and place, then it is difficult to argue for its permanence.

The Mosaic Covenant is Never Referred to as “Everlasting”

This isn’t because covenants, in general, are seldom referred as everlasting. Many covenants are so referenced, but never the Mosaic!    The first time that the term “covenant” is used is in regards to the covenant with Noah.

·       “The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth," (Genesis 9:16; Isaiah 54:9-10).

The next reference to “covenant” is the one made with Abraham, which was subsequently extended to Isaac and Jacob.

·       “On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—‘” (Gen. 15:18).

This too was an “everlasting” covenant (Gen. 17:19, 13; Psalm 105:9-10, 42; 1 Chron. 16:15-17).[6] This same covenant was subsequently extended to the other Patriarchs.

So far, we’re two for two. The Mosaic Covenant is the next at bat. This one formed the center of Israelite thought and practice and had center stage throughout the bulk of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, it is never referred to as “everlasting,” “eternal,” or by any other term to that effect.[7] This absence is profound in light of the prominent place of this covenant and also that all the other divinely appointed covenants are everlasting!
The next covenant we encounter is a “perpetual covenant” given within the framework of the Mosaic, the Sabbath: “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed,” (Exo. 31:17). However, this institution shouldn’t be understood to suggest that the Mosaic is also “perpetual.” Had it been clearly established that the entire Mosaic regime is everlasting, then it would have been redundant to state that its various features were also everlasting. Instead, the Sabbath is distinguished as perpetual because it was obvious that the Mosaic wasn’t!

The next mention of a “covenant” is also found within the context of the Mosaic Covenant. This was the promise to Phinehas of a “covenant of an everlasting priesthood” (Num. 25:13). However, this covenant also stood in contrast with the Mosaic Covenant. Had the Mosaic also been “everlasting,” it would have been redundant to offer Phinehas, the Levite, an everlasting priesthood since all the specifications of the Mosaic would have already been understood as everlasting including the provision of an everlasting priesthood for the Levites. This covenant was also called “everlasting” because its promise was a done deal. The promise would ultimately be fulfilled in the priesthood of all believers (Exo. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5).

The next mention of a divinely commissioned covenant is in regards to David. This too is an “everlasting covenant.”

·       "Although my house is not so with God, yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For this is all my salvation and all my desire; will He not make it increase?” (2 Sam. 23:5; Isa. 55:3).

It seems as if the Mosaic covenant is deliberately juxtaposed against the others. Why is it that a covenant so important and central is the one not regarded as everlasting? Fulfillment of the other covenants depended upon one thing—the faithfulness of God. The Mosaic depended upon the faithfulness of humankind. Scripture always places these two types of faithfulness into radical contrast. God is always faithful while humankind has perverted themselves into a twisted mess.

The Mosaic Covenant was Inadequate and would have to be Set Aside!

The New Testament maintains that although the Mosaic Covenant wasn’t flawed, it was inadequate (Rom. 8:3; 7:5; Heb. 7:18-19; 10:1). A hammer might be perfectly crafted. However, it wasn’t designed to drill a hole.  Likewise, the Mosaic Covenant was perfect, but it wasn’t equipped to cut through sin and backsliding. Is this understanding a pious Christian invention, or is this what we also encounter within the Hebrew Scriptures?
It should be obvious that the Mosaic Covenant was conditional. If Israel was obedient, she would receive blessing; if disobedient, she would be cursed (Lev. 26; Deut. 28-29). In contrast, the Noahic covenant unconditionally promised that God would never again destroy the world with a flood as he had done saving only Noah and his family. It would stand as such despite the extent of sin upon the earth. In contrast to this, the Mosaic “promises” depended upon the obedience of Israel to God’s commands.
This meant that when sinful Israel required God’s mercy, she could not appeal to the provisions of the Mosaic Covenant. These would only trigger condemnation. Israel had to appeal to former promises from the “covenant of your fathers:

·       “When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them” (Deut. 4:30-31, also Lev. 26:42-45).
The Mosaic Covenant was Grace-Deficient!

Hope sprang anew from “covenant of your fathers.” Which covenant was this? Undeniably, this was the covenant of the Patriarchs.[8] Moses wasn’t their “fathers.” We find no Hebrew prophet crying out, “God will remember the covenant that He made with Moses and have mercy upon you!” However, just about all of the prophets explicitly proclaim the restoration of Israel, but this will not be based upon Israel’s obedience to the Law. Instead, the Law had brought condemnation. Its requirement, that the curses had to be brought upon Israel (Deut. 27:26), would have to be set aside in order for Israel to find mercy.
The Law was inadequate. It could never provide what Israel needed. Israel’s problems were much deeper. They required more than rules upheld by positive and negative reinforcements. They required a change of heart, but this was the very thing they lacked. Moses had promised “stiff-necked” Israel that sometime in the future God would “circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul that you may live,” (Deut. 30:6). Israel would need a “circumcised” heart in order to love God and live, but that this hadn’t happened yet! This was like telling Israel that she was doomed to failure!
Even more to the point, Moses told them, “Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day,” (Deut. 29:4). Something had to change! Israel lacked the heart for God despite all of her proclamations otherwise. She would turn her heart from the Covenant, and tragedy would overtake her. Moses was prophetically explicit about this in the Song he taught her: "Then he (Israel) forsook God who made him” (Deut. 32:15).

Despite all the Mosaic warnings, this is exactly what Israel would do in the future. Moses was sure of it. “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands," (Deut. 31:29).

Joshua reiterated this message of gloom to Israel in the midst of Israel’s protestations to the contrary.

·       “But Joshua said to the people, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins’” (Josh. 24:19).

If hope couldn’t spring forth from the Mosaic Covenant, there had to come something else. The Mosaic couldn’t be everlasting. It would have been an everlasting flop. It had to be replaced, but Israel had to learn her lesson first, the hard way.

These types of statements are not to be found in other religious or political literature. What politician ever put forth a program and then stated, without any equivocation, that it was doomed to fail? What religious leader ever tried to promote a religion and then declared that it wouldn’t work, and the followers wouldn’t receive anything they wanted? Why do the Hebrew Scriptures contain such negative messages unless they were true and that the people were completely convinced that they were God’s very words, even though they didn’t like the messages?

Indications that the Mosaic Covenant had to be Replaced!

Israel had been promised that they would be a nation of priests (Exo. 19:6; Isa 61:6) and that God would dwell in their midst (Lev. 26:11-12; Joel 3:17, 21). However, their present situation stood in direct contradiction to these promises. They couldn’t bear God’s presence (Exo. 20:19), and He couldn’t bear theirs (Exo. 33:2-3). Although He would meet with Moses in the tent of meeting, this tent was placed far outside the camp and no one apart of Moses and Joshua could approach it (Exo. 33:7).

The Temple also communicated the same forbidding presence of the Lord. Only the priests could enter into the Holy Place, and only the High Priest could enter into the High Holy Place, and only once a year. When they did enter, it could only be after they had fulfilled every specification (Lev. 16:2). God’s presence was a terrifying reality. This was a far cry from what Israel had been promised. Israel would be so intimate with God, it was described as a marriage (Hosea 2:18-19; Isa. 62:4). For this portrait to be realized, the Law and its Temple curtain of separation would have to come down.

The institution of the Temple offerings also conveyed the inadequacy of the Mosaic Law and Covenant. The fact that they had to be continually offered meant that they never covered subsequent sins. This meant that whenever an Israelite entertained a covetous thought, he was again in sin and therefore deserved to be cursed. This placed them continuously under God’s condemnation. Nor did these offerings remove the discomfort of the thought of this terrifying God. Indeed, discomfort should have been there. Israel was promised curses for any and every infraction (Deut. 27:15-26).
Perhaps most significantly, the Mosaic Covenant never offered the promise of eternal life. If Law-keeping couldn’t guarantee eternal life, what good was it? Paul had stated that Christians were the most pitiful people if there wasn’t a heaven (1 Cor. 15:19). It wasn’t that there wasn’t any indication of eternal life within the Mosaic revelation. Jesus had corrected the anti-resurrection beliefs of the Sadducees with Exodus 3:6: “I am the God of your father--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." This proved that the three Patriarchs were still living. God doesn’t say that He was their God, but that He is their God! Instead, the Law was disturbingly silent in regards to how to obtain this eternal life. Evidently, this was another way that God covertly hinted to Israel that this Mosaic Covenant was just temporary and would be superseded by a new covenant that would guarantee eternal life.

In short, the Mosaic stipulations and experiences do not prefigure the ultimate portrait of Israel’s future blessedness. They’re miles behind! Something had to change.

The New Covenant will Supersede the Old!

The Mosaic Covenant is not pictured as part of the ultimate answer. The portrait that emerges from Hebrew Scriptures does not show Israel as finally developing more self-control and obedience to perform the Mosaic Law successfully in order to secure blessing and deliverance.

According to prophecy, God’s eventual deliverance will not come because Israel wakes up, smells the coffee, and repents on her own. God will have to initiate Israel’s return, and it will not occur because Israel will eventually deserve God’s blessings. Rather, God will have mercy upon Israel.

·       "For the Lord will judge His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone” (Deut. 32:36).

Instead of doing something positive to warrant God’s mercy, it is Israel’s destitution that will move God. According to Moses, Israel will violate the Mosaic Covenant and bring down upon themselves the promised curses. It is God who then will have “compassion.”  How will He do this? According to Jeremiah, it will be through a “new covenant” (Jer. 31:31-34), but it will also be done in a radically different way. Moses knew that Israel would fail and that her problem was one of the heart, and if Israel had a heart problem, she would need a heart answer (Deut. 30:6).
Without a changed heart, Israel inevitably went astray. They needed to be born again with a new heart. They needed a covenant that would go far further than the Mosaic.

Ezekiel states that even though Israel consistently disgraced God before the other nations, God would act lovingly on her behalf. Ezekiel writes:

·       “I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you… (36:25-27; 11:19-20).

The very thing Israel had lacked under the Old, they would receive under the New—a new heart and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jeremiah associates this necessary change with a new and permanent covenant.

·       “Then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me,” (Jer. 32:39-40).

This is the guarantee of a hope which isn’t found under the Mosaic Covenant. As a result of God’s grace, “they will not depart from me.”  This is why the Mosaic couldn’t be called “eternal.” As long as blessing depended upon Israel, no guarantee could be made, but if it depended upon God, He could make an ironclad guarantee. God would succeed in securing Israel’s love only through changing her.
In contrast to Israel’s cycle of rebellion and devastation, the new covenant would be characterized by unending peace.

·       “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people,” (Ezekiel 37:26-27; 34:25-26; Isaiah 54:9-10).[9]

There’s no reason to regard “sanctuary” and “tabernacle” as literal buildings. The intimacy between God and His people makes a building unnecessary and counterproductive. He will be the sanctuary! Walls will no longer separate. God will enter into the most intimate form of relationship with His people. Hosea points to a future, radical covenant that would ensure God’s unfailing love:

·       “In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field…I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy,” (Hosea 2:18-19; Isa. 62:4).

This would be a “forever” covenant. It wasn’t a covenant that had already been in place. Hosea says, “I will make a covenant!” He lays down no conditions that Israel must fulfill in order to enter into her blessedness as had been characteristic of the Mosaic Covenant. Instead, God will enter into a permanent relationship with Israel; He will marry His people. As Hosea had been instructed to take his adulterous wife Gomer into seclusion, God would unilaterally do the same for Israel.

The idea of a marriage with God must have seemed somewhat blasphemous to Mosaic Israel. Her experience had been characterized by God’s words to Moses-- "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die” (Lev. 16:2)—a far cry from marriage!
Isaiah concurs that this “yet to be” covenant would be “everlasting.”

·       “And (God) will make with them an everlasting covenant. Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the posterity whom the Lord has blessed," (Isa. 61:8-9).

Under the Law, separation from the contaminating influence of other peoples was strictly enforced. Under the New, God’s people would be among the nations!

Could the Mosaic have merely been emended to accommodate these radical changes? No! A covenant is a contract to which no one could add or subtract (Deut. 4:2). Changes would require a new covenant and fresh blood to seal it! Therefore, the Mosaic had to be replaced and would no longer be remembered (Jer. 3:14-16).
While there are many verses that state that God will have mercy upon His people, there are no verses that affirm that God will have mercy by virtue of the covenant He made with Moses! This covenant had been instituted for a limited time and place (Deut. 12:8-9). It wouldn’t figure directly into the establishment of the New kingdom. Instead, God’s mercy is predicated upon something radically different. The prophetic passages look beyond a redemption based upon the offerings mediated by the Levitical priesthood, to a redeeming God’s unmediated intervention.

A New Atonement

Deuteronomy 32 contains a song God directed Moses to teach to Israel. It represented both a disturbing warning and a prophetic overview of Israel’s blessing, rebellion, and eventual deliverance. Surprisingly, the song ends on a positive note.

·       "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; HE WILL PROVIDE ATONEMENT for His land and His people" (Deut. 32:43).

If the Mosaic system had been adequate, why didn’t this feat of “atonement” fall upon the Levites, who had been divinely commissioned to provide atonement? Where are the Levites and the Mosaic system at the time of Israel’s eventual deliverance? It is never this system that comes to the rescue but God Himself.

·       “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; and deliver us, and provide ATONEMENT for our sins, for Your name's sake!” (Psalm 79:9; also 65:3).

A new High Priest, in line with the priesthood of the enigmatic Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4), will trump the Levitical priesthood, which required that all priests had to come from the tribe of Levi. This “King of Righteousness” only took the Scriptural stage once—three verses worth (Gen. 14:18-20)—but he made an enduring impact. One reason that he is enigmatic is that he is both a king and a priest, something forbidden under Mosaic Law. This suggests a change in guard.
Zechariah prophesied about a distant individual who would also be a “priest on His throne.” This Person will “build the temple of the Lord,” (Zech. 6:13). Christianity understands that Jesus “built” this very temple through His incarnation, taking on the form of a man and “tabernacling” among us” (John 1:14; 2:19).
Along with a radically different High Priest, a new priesthood is prophesied. Israel was promised that she would be a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6; Isa. 61:6), something she had never experienced. This nation of priests, suggestive of the New Covenant, would have to replace the Levitical Mosaic order that restricted the priesthood to Levites.
At first glance, this seems to come into conflict with the New Testament promise that all believers would be priests (1Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). How could Israel assume the promised priesthood while this was a standing promise to the believers? This is easily understood by recognizing that Israel must also come to a faith in Christ in order to receive their promised priesthood along with all other believers.
This understanding also helps us reconcile the more difficult verses. Jeremiah said that to the degree that God’s promises to David are unshakable, they are equally unshakable to the Levites (33:18, 20-21; Num. 25:12-13). On the surface, this is troubling for Christianity. If the Levitical priesthood remains, so too the Mosaic Covenant! However, the prophecies do not say that the Levitical priesthood will remain unchanged! They merely state that God will remain faithful to the Levitical priests. How will He remain faithful to them? They would become priests according to the same promise that would make all Israel priests. As we’ve seen, there are other ways to function as priests besides offering animal sacrifices. God instructed Israel to offer the “sacrifice (literally “calves”) of our lips” as her offering of repentance (Hosea 14:2; also Psalm 69:30-31; 50:13-14), not actual calves.

God had to pay the price of “atonement.” Levitical atonement was sorely inadequate. It was this “atonement” that would provide the basis of the “everlasting covenant.”

·       “And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I PROVIDE YOU AN ATONEMENT for all you have done" (Ezekiel 16:59-63 ).

This covenant will not be established on the basis of any Levitical ministrations, but on the basis of the unilateral grace of God as promised in the covenant God made with Abraham.
Israel’s hope had always been Messianic, not Mosaic. It looked towards a Redeemer who would refine the Israel with His “fire,” rather than the sprinkling of the blood of animals, which God never really desired (Psalm 51:16-17):

·       "Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to HIS temple, even the MESSENGER OF THE COVENANT, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a REFINER'S FIRE and like launderer's soap.” (Malachi 3:1-2).

“The Messenger of the covenant” is no less than God Himself, coming to make His atonement. He is “the Lord,” and it’s “His” temple. He is the “refiner’s fire;” He will purify His people!

Blood of the New Atonement

A new covenant requires a fresh blood offering (Exo. 24:8; Heb. 9:18). An everlasting covenant requires a special blood offering!

·       “Thus says the Lord: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard You, and in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will PRESERVE You and give YOU AS A COVENANT to the people, to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages,’” (Isaiah 49:8; 42:6).

Presumably, it is written that God will “preserve” Him, because He will have to endure an ordeal through which He will need to be rescued from the dead. Zechariah adds that, “because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit” (Zech. 9:11). To whom does the “your” refer? Obviously to the humble King Messiah who comes riding on a donkey and who will “speak peace to the nations” (Zech. 9:10). What role do the Levites play here? None!
It’s clear that Israel’s hope wasn’t in the Mosaic system but in a Savior who Himself would provide atonement. That’s why He is often called the “Redeemer” (Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14, 78:35; Isaiah 41:14, 43:14, 44:6, 24; 47:4…). It is the Redeemer who will ultimately provide the payment to deliver His people from sin (Psalm 49:15). That’s why His people are called the “ransomed” or the “redeemed” (Isaiah 35:9-10; 51:11; 62:12). Nor is redemption ever accomplished on the basis of Israel’s righteousness, but upon the Lord’s (Psalm 85:13)!
How does the Mosaic Covenant fit into this gracious portrait? It doesn’t! Although it is “holy and righteous” (Rom. 7:12; Psalm 119), It’s never portrayed as the source of hope but as the source of condemnation, which points to the Hope.

Result of the New Atonement

Under the Mosaic regime, righteousness was a matter of an individual’s performance.

·       “And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. 25Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us” (Deut. 6:24-25; 24:15).

Under the Messiah, this will all change. Righteousness will no longer be something that we attain to through our efforts. Instead, we will receive the Messiah’s righteousness through the grace of God alone.

·       "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord, "That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jer. 23:5-6; 33:6; Isa. 45:24-25; Dan. 9:24).

This couldn’t have occurred under the Mosaic Covenant, its antithesis Deut. 6:25)! These prophecies proclaim that it is no longer about us, but about a righteousness that will come to us as a gift rather than an earned salary.

The New Testament is the revelation of these truths—not that the Messiah will help us become righteous, but that He will become our imperishable righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Why then the Mosaic Law if it was only temporary and would bring condemnation rather than salvation? Again, the New Testament provides the perfect answer, which knits together all the pieces:

“Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:21-24)

Throughout the writing of this chapter, I had to stop and worship, awed as I was by the beauty of God’s design. I enjoy movies whose ending brings a harmonious resolution of all the loose ends. This is my idea of satisfaction. God’s Word does the same thing. Not to say that there aren’t any rough edges! There should be by virtue of our limited understanding, but the overall contours are incredibly harmonious. These point to a grand design, one that I think requires a Grand Designer. If the Hebrew Scriptures were merely the product of various independent writers sharing a common faith, such a congruent design would scarcely have emerged.
Not only are the Hebrew Scriptures elegantly crafted, they also march in lock step with the New Testament. To behold this is awe-inspiring; it’s like seeing the face of God.

[1] All Bible quotations are drawn from the New King James Version. All italics in Bible quotations are mine!
[2] Gerald Sigal, The Jew and the Christian Missionary: A Jewish Response to Missionary Christianity (New York: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1981), 70.
[3] Sigal, 73.
[4] Sigal, 72. The Christian has no problem agreeing with him in this matter. However, it is understood that although God’s Word doesn’t change, His actions do change. He appointed Saul king and then removed him in favor of David. This doesn’t imply any change in God’s Word. Likewise, a change in covenants doesn’t imply such a change.
[5] Sigal, 71.
[6] How can these covenants be everlasting in light of the fact that the New is the everlasting covenant? The promises of these covenants will be carried over into the New where they’ll find their ultimate fulfillment.
[7] Isaiah 24:5 makes mention of an “everlasting covenant” that can easily be mistaken as Mosaic. However, most commentators agree that this is referring to another covenant of law that applied universally to all mankind. The context bears this out.
[8] The “fathers” were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exo. 3; 13:5, 11; Deut. 8:18; 29:13; 30:5, 20; 31:7).
[9] The terms “sanctuary” and “tabernacle” shouldn’t be taken literally, which would call to mind the Mosaic Covenant. These terms can be used figuratively (Amos 9:11; 2Sam. 7:11; Zech. 6:12-13).

No comments:

Post a Comment