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Rev. William DeJong

An  Introduction

Defining Covenant

The word covenant occurs 286 times in the Old Testament and 33 times in the New Testament. This truth alone underscores how vital understanding the covenant is to grasping the message of Scripture. The great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) once wrote: "All God's dealings with men have a covenant character: it hath so pleased Him to arrange it, that He will not deal with us except through a covenant, nor can we deal with Him except in the same manner."

The covenant, at its most basic root, refers to a relationship or agreement between God and His people that is best described with the word 'BOND.' The word 'bond' is fitting because this agreement is legally 'binding.' There are legal implications, in other words, for those who reject the stipulations of the covenant agreement, as is evident in the periodic lawsuits God issued (through his prophets) against such people (See, for example, Isa.1; cf. Deut.4:26; 30:10; 32:1).

This feature of the covenant, as a legal agreement with legal implications, should not lead us to conceive of the covenant as a business contract of some sort, however. The Dutch theologian Klaas Schilder rightly argued that the covenant has a whole different character than a contract. Whereas a contract presupposes distrust, insincerity and default, a covenant presupposes trust, love and fidelity. And whereas a contract is concerned with 'business,' a covenant is concerned with the 'heart.' The covenant, unlike a contract, is an agreement made in love.

Many Christians rightly speak of the covenant of grace because what we have in view here is a gracious bond God establishes with His people, a bond through which He extends his wonderful grace and life-providing (sin-forgiving), undeserved, unmerited favor to His people.

Here's our definition: The covenant is the bond of union and communion which God sovereignly and graciously establishes with believers and their children. There are three elements to this bond:

Promise. The covenant is a covenant of grace since God takes the initiative and comes to us with promises that He will be our God, that we shall be His people and that He will provide His people with life and eternal blessing (salvation). See, in the Old Testament, for example, Lev.26:12; Jer.24:7; Ezek.11:19 and Ezek.36:26-27; In the New Testament, see 2 Cor.6:16 and Rev.21:3. The promises of the covenant are not offers (Arminianism) nor guarantees (Hyper-Calvinism).

Obligation. In order for these promises to be realized in your life, however, you must embrace them with faith and obedience, the obligations of the covenant. (Heb.6:15; 10:36-39). Faith and obedience are the very life-blood, the modus vivendi of covenantal living. See, for example, Gen.2:16-17; Gen.18:19; Matt.28:20; John 14:15; 1 Cor.10:11-12; Gal.2:20; Col.1:21-23

Threat. Should you reject these promises and live in unbelief and disobedience, you will face God's threat of punishment (death and cursing). See, for example, Lev.26:15; Deut.31:20; Rom.11:28-30; Heb.6:8; Heb.10:26-31; Heb.12:25.

It works like this: God comes to us with a promise: He will be our God and will do everything a God can do for His people -- bless us, favor us, save us, etc. This promise, however, is conditional upon faith and obedience, the obligations of the covenant. We need to embrace this promise with faith and obedience in order to receive it. We need, as the hymn writer expressed it, to 'trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus.' If we reject these promises, we incur God's wrath and threats.

The Covenant with Adam

Where do we first read about the covenant? In the very first chapters of the Bible. It is true that we do not read the word 'covenant' there but the word doesn't need to be mentioned for the relationship to exist.

Yahweh, the covenant God. We can see evidence of a covenant relationship in Genesis 1 and 2, in the first place, in the use of God's covenant name YHWH (Yahweh [formerly called Jehovah], LORD) in Gen.2:4ff. God did not introduce Himself with this name till He appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3). And Moses, who is writing these chapters, is telling us that the God of the people Israel is the same God as the God of Adam and Eve. Moses is teaching us to think of Adam and Eve as in covenant with God in a comparable way to Israel. Satan, by the way, does not use this covenant name (Gen.3:1) and neither does Eve when she begins to listen to him. She is already breaking away from the covenant.

Covenant features (1): union and communion. What we see in this covenant with Adam are all the features of the covenant, the central one being union and communion with God. This central feature is expressed in Lev.26:12, where God says: I will walk among you and be your God and you shall be my people. This very relationship in which God dwells with His people and they with him is true already in Eden. It is a relationship which is often expressed in the Bible through familial (i.e., pertaining to the family) analogies. Let's look at them:

(1) the husband/wife analogy. The Lord is a husband to his people (Jer.3:14; Jer.31:32, etc.). To go after idols is to commit spiritual adultery. The church, in the New Testament is called the bride of Christ;

(2) the father/child analogy. In Luke 3:37 Adam is called the son of God. Israel is called the son of God (Hos.11:1; cf. Deut.1:31; Rom.9:4; 2 Cor.6:18).

We must think of Adam and Eve with God in terms of these very analogies and not differently. These familial analogies help us understand the tie that binds the partners in the covenant: love and faithfulness.

(1) Love. God is love. In love God binds himself to his people. He repeatedly pledges his love to his people. In Deut.7:8, we read that God chose Israel as his people because he loved them. It is a covenant of love (see Deut.7:9, NIV). God so loved the world that he sent his son (John 3:16). That love provokes the response of love on our part (1 John 4:19) and the first and greatest commandment requires us to love God.

(2) Faithfulness. Mutual fidelity is necessary for a successful marriage and family. It is the same in the household of faith. We are to trust the Lord, not idols, and love Him. In the covenant relation, the faithfulness of God's people is a reflection of God's faithfulness (read Deut.7:9; Psalm 105). He keeps his covenant of love to a thousand generations to those who love him and keep his commands. Even our unfaithfulness cannot nullify it (Rom.3:3).

Mutual love and faithfulness tie the covenant partners together. This has always been true, already with Adam and Eve. God placed man in the garden (Gen.2:8, 15), the place where he would walk (Gen.3:8) to enjoy fellowship with man.

Covenant features (2): promise. In the covenant, there was the promise of life which is symbolized in the tree of life. The Bible doesn't say a whole lot about it. God created Adam with life as a living creature. Yet there was more in store for him -- eternal life. Perhaps he would have been taken out of this life without death, like Enoch. In this life, Adam could fall. But in the life promised, he would be confirmed in righteousness and holiness. He would then be the fullness of God's image. He was created in the image of God, but not in its fullness. He could still sin.

Covenant features (3): obligation (demand). Marriage is more than a honeymoon. There is work to do. God placed man in the garden to work, to extend its borders, to rule over the creation, to fill the earth and populate it. We call that the cultural mandate (Gen.1:28). This work is to be a conscious loving response to God and His word. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a perpetual reminder that man was to respond to the love and faithfulness of God. The only reason the tree was forbidden was because God said so. And Adam was to live by every word which proceeds from the mouth of the Father. He had obligations to God. If he fulfilled the obligations, he could thereby inherit the promise of everlasting life.

Covenant features (4): threat. We read in Gen.2:17b: for in the day that eat of it you shall surely die. The covenant with Adam, just as the ones with Abraham, Noah and Moses, involves a 'pledge-to-death.' The pledge is that if you break the covenant, you will suffer death as the consequence.

Adam and Eve failed to keep the covenantal obligations and consequently passed that very day from a state of life to a state of death. This state of death has two implications: (1) physical -- their bodies became susceptible to the forces of the fallen world, to sickness and ultimately to death and (2) spiritual -- they became 'dead in sins and trespasses,' destined apart from God's grace for eternal death (hell and damnation) (Eph.2:1).

A covenant of works? Some would incorrectly call this covenant the covenant of works (see Westminster Confession of Faith 7:2) because of a belief that the works-principle is at work here. The works-principle is that life and salvation can be earned through obedience. It is thought, in this view, that Adam was promised life on the condition of perfect obedience. The promise of life, therefore, was something which could be earned or merited through works. Before the fall, man could earn eternal life. After the fall, life could be earned only by Christ. Here the relationship between God and man is presented as contractual, not familial. Man performs and receives a reward as a matter of justice. This is incorrect.

Not a labor contract. When God created man, he did not enter in a labor contract (wages for work), but into a covenant with him. The enjoyment of the covenant is entirely through God's grace. Eternal life is not a wage to be earned or a goal to be achieved by human effort. No, it is a promise which God makes to man. It was to be received by faith, not by works or merit. It is to be received by faith that is living and vital. By faith and loyalty, Adam is to inherit what is promised to him. By unbelief and disloyalty, he will forfeit what is promised. Adam was to be just man who would live by faith, not a wage earner who would live by merit.

Eternal life could never be merited. Even if Adam was perfectly obedient to God, he would have merely given God what he owed him. Nothing, even after perfect obedience, has yet been earned.

Covenant failure: Sin. Adam failed to be this man. Rather than a just man who lived by faith, he turned out to be a sinner who died through unbelief. Then God sent a second Adam. Both Adams were sons of God (Luke 3), although obviously not in exactly the same way. The second Adam fulfilled his calling. He is the just man who lives by faith par excellence. He is obedient to the point of death. He dies, but is raised again. He lives by faith: 'Father into your hands, I commit my spirit.' He entrusted himself to a faithful judge who judges justly. He fulfilled the demand side of the covenant. Obedience is a manifestation of faith. And he inherited eternal life.

Jesus in faith served the Lord God without sin. He was pre-eminently the faithful covenant partner and in this way serves as our example because we are called to an analogous relationship--to be faithful covenant partners with God. But he is more than an example. Through his work of mediation, Christ restores us to covenant communion with God.

Adam as representative head of humanity. The covenant with Adam is somewhat unique because Adam stands in relationship to God as the representative head of all humanity. When Adam broke covenant and passed from the state of life to death, all humanity passed with him. That's what Paul writes in 1 Cor.15:22, "In Adam, all die." In Rom.5:12ff., he writes, "...sin entered the world through one man and death through sin and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned..." Read article 14 of the Belgic Confession.

Original sin. Adam's sin is imputed and transferred to all of humanity such that all children are conceived and born in sin (Ps.51:5). This is often called original sin. We believe there are two dimensions to original sin: guilt and pollution. Through Adam we are all legally guilty before God as judge. We have sinned in Adam and are legally responsible for what we have done in him. Because of Adam's sin we are also morally polluted. Everybody, therefore, is in need of justification (God's declaration of righteousness -- vs. guilt) and sanctification (God's work of cleansing -- vs. pollution). Read Lord's Day 3 and 4 of the Heidelberg Catechism and article 15 of the Belgic Confession.

Covenant with Adam restored through Christ. God was not pleased with the breach of the covenant and so he returned to Adam to restore his covenant privileges. God wanted to have a humanity in the world who would serve Him and his purposes would not be frustrated. But there is a difference: whereas the first covenant was established in the context of life, this second covenant (really a restoration of the first) is established in the context of death. No longer is the promise of life self-evident as in the first covenant. Because Adam is in a state of death, the way of life had to be explicitly spelled out. To the serpent God says this (Gen.3:15): And I will put enmity between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heal.

The way of life would be through the Seed of the woman. Adam had been graciously created with life. Because of sin, he forfeited that privilege and passed through death. Now through faith in the Seed of the woman, he could regain those privileges and be graciously re-created with life (Eph.2:1-10). Read Belgic Confession, article 17.

The Covenant with Noah

When sin peaked during the time of Noah (Gen.6:3-5), the Lord's patience was exhausted and he sent a flood in judgment. But God graciously and sovereignly confirmed His covenant with Noah to spare him and his household (his wife, 3 sons and their wives) and give them life. We find the word 'covenant' for the first time in Gen.6:18: But I will establish(1) My covenant with you and you shall go into the ark-- you, your sons, your wife and your sons' wives with you.

The Lord here renews his covenant. And once again the three dimensions of God's covenant relationship surface. We find obligation in vv.14-16 (make the ark), promise in vv.18-21 (you will be spared), and threat in vv.13, 17 (those who disbelieve will die; cf. pledge-to-death). Hebrews 11:7 says this: "By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith."This covenant is renewed in Genesis 8 and 9.

Noah and the waters of the flood. Noah was able to pass through--to live in spite of--the waters of God's judgment. How? Because God provided an ark for him. That ark was preview of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, we too pass through the waters of judgment. In his death, He took out death upon himself so we could pass through the waters of judgment safely.

The apostle Peter presents the flood as an allusion to baptism (see 1 Pet.3:18-22). Just as Noah was 'saved through water' (v.20), so we are saved through the waters of baptism. Baptism is a sign and seal of God's gracious favor to us, of God's covenant promise. If we trust him and embrace his promises we too will be delivered from the waters of judgment, just as Noah trusted and was saved.

Noah's salvation did not depend upon his willingness to build the ark. Noah's salvation came to him through his trust and faith in God. In the face of judgment, God provides a way of salvation. Noah intrinsically deserves to die with the others. But God provided salvation for him, salvation which he received by faith. That faith is the epitome of a life which is lived in covenantal loyalty to God. His righteousness was not meritorious. His righteousness did not earn him anything. His righteousness was evidence of his trust in the salvation to which he is not entitled, but which he receives through sovereign grace. 'By faith Noah ... became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith (Heb.11:7). God saves the man who trusts in him.

For believers today in covenant with God, the threats of judgment remain. But if we remain 'in Christ' who is our ark, the threats will not be realized and we will not be cut off. (John 15:5-7).

The Covenant with Abraham

We can read in Gen.15:18 that the Lord 'cut' a covenant with Abram and in Gen.17, how he ratified this covenant and instituted circumcision. We will see that circumcision is a sign and seal both of covenant promise (privilege) and covenant obligation (responsibility). The covenant promise, first of all then, is three-fold.

Covenant promise (1): A people. Circumcision seals the covenant promise of 'a people.' Verse 2 says that the Lord "will greatly increase your numbers." Many nations are to come from Abraham (v.4). Implicit in this ordinance is not simply the circumcision of one nation, but that of the many nations of which Abraham is the father. Envisioned here is the circumcision of a multitude of nations. This promise is realized through the carrying out of the Great Commission -- to make disciples of all nations (Matt.28:18-20). All these nations who believe are spiritual descendants of Abraham, the children of Abraham according to promise. What is mentioned in Matthew 28, however, is not circumcision, but baptism. Baptism, therefore, comes in the place of circumcision.

Covenant promise (2): A land. Verse 8 indicates this promise. A people is promised, but also a place where these people can live. And just as more than one nation is envisioned, so there is more than one land in view. Ultimately, the land given to the people is nothing less than the whole earth. The promise of Gen.12:3, "I will bless those who bless you ... and all peoples on earth shall be blessed through you." The whole earth comes into view as the dwelling place of the multitude of nations.

The Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 5 that the meek will inherit the 'earth." Peter says that in keeping with His promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new 'earth' (2 Pet.3:13). We also read in Rom.4:13 of Abraham as 'heir of the world.' In Isaiah 54, you read about the future glory of Zion. The tents must be made bigger because of the number of children she will have. The land of Canaan will no longer be able to contain all of them.

That expansion begins on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), where people come from different nations, multitudes are converted, and the promise to Abraham takes on increasing fulfillment. When Peter preached to the people at Pentecost, he called them to repentance because 'the promise is to you and to your children' (Acts 2:39), reminding them of the privilege of the Abrahamic covenant. Precisely in terms of that promise, both Jews and Gentiles are baptized.

Core covenant promise (3): Union and communion. Verse 7 records the very heart of the covenant when God says, "I will be God to you and to your descendants after you." The privilege of the covenant is enjoyed both by adult and infant descendants. He makes his claim upon believers and their children. Union and communion with God is extended through time, as the promise goes out from believers to their children and to their children's children. This union and communion is also extended in space, from Canaan to the whole earth. The church extends through time and space -- those are the two dimensions of our evangelistic mandate.

Covenant obligation (1): keep the covenant. Since we are the people of God, we must be the people of God. Circumcision is a pledge of allegiance to the Lord. Gen.17:9: As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. Verse 10 lets us see that a primary obligation in keeping the covenant is the practice of circumcision itself. Covenant keeping, however, may not be reduced to circumcision. That was the error of the Judaizers during the time of the apostle Paul (see Rom.2:28-29). Salvation is not determined by circumcision simply. True circumcision begins with the heart and extends to the whole of life. The Lord explains what is meant by covenant keeping in Gen.17:1: Walk before me and be blameless. Covenant keeping cannot be reduced merely to circumcision.

This covenant must be kept not only by Abraham, but also by his children, the little ones. All who are circumcised are obligated to keep covenant. That children do not understand circumcision does not excuse them from the practice. So too, infants must be baptized, even though they do not yet understand the meaning. The obligation is discharged in accord with the level of maturity the children have obtained. All children are obligated to obey their parents. Infants obviously cannot do that like older children can. But are infants excused from the fifth commandment? Certainly not! But you certainly would expect more of a fifteen year old than of a five year old.

Covenant obligation (2): teach the children. In Gen.18:18-19, we read that Abraham will become a powerful nation and God has chosen him 'to direct his children' so that he can obtain what the Lord has promised. Abraham's children must also keep the covenant so that Lord may bring about what He has promised. The Lord's mercy rest on those who keep his covenant (Ps.103:18). The promise is realized through covenant faithfulness.

The same pattern is found in the Great Commission. Those who have been baptized are to be taught to observe all that the Lord has commanded. Baptized infants are to be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ and faith in Him. Faith has to be communicated to children, because we are saved by faith. So that the Lord may bring to pass all that he has promised to Abraham and to us.

Covenant threat. The covenant with Abram resulted from the dividing of the animals, coupled with the passing between the pieces (Gen.15:17). By dividing animals and passing between the pieces, the participants in a covenant pledged themselves to life and death. If they should break the covenant, they were asking that their own bodies be torn in pieces just as the animals had been divided ceremonially. Disobedience would invoke the covenant threat/curse.

The significance of this covenant ceremony continued throughout history without being diminished. In Jeremiah 34, there is a double reference to the "passing between the parts of the calf" (vv.18, 19) and the detailed description of the devouring of the covenantally-cursed bodies by birds of prey (v.20) reflect unmistakably the language describing the inauguration of God's covenant with Abraham. And there is no fear on the prophet's part that this description of covenant renewal will appear irrelevant or incomprehensible to his audience.

But there is more than just an allusion to the Abrahamic covenant here. Rather, it is a very real description of an actual covenant-renewal ceremony just enacted by Zedekiah and his people. Something the people did in Jeremiah's day corresponded to the pledge-to-death involved in the Abrahamic covenant.

The pledge-to-death is also alluded to in Abraham's vision in which he had to drive away birds of prey which gathered about the ceremonial carcasses (Gen.15:11). This portion of his vision symbolized the ultimate fate of the covenant-breaker. Not only would his body be slain; it would be devoured by wild birds of heaven. Woe to the covenant-breaker who once pledged himself to death. This very curse is repeated in the Mosaic covenant (Deut.28:26) and results in numerous cases of covenant violation (see 1 Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4; 1 Kings 21:24; 2 Kings 9:10; Jer.7:33; Jer.16:4; Jer.19:7). A later reference to this curse appears in the Psalmist's lament over fallen Jerusalem (Ps.79:2-3).

All of these judgments can be understood only in terms of the original pledge to life and death at Sinai, which in turn reflected the covenantal form employed by God in binding himself to Abraham.

Circumcision as a sign of God's sovereign grace. It would be a misunderstanding if we thought that meeting the covenant obligations somehow merited salvation. God's promises to Abraham of a people and a land to dwell in were seeming impossibilities. Abraham, at 99 years old, was as good as dead, perhaps even impotent (Rom.4:18-19). And when Sarah died, he did not even own enough land to have her buried somewhere. He had to secure land from the heathens.

How are these promises to be fulfilled? Circumcision was a powerful reminder that promises would come to pass only through God's grace. God Himself will see to it that Israel, and eventually, the church, keeps covenant with Him. The Lord not only commands, he also gives what he commands.

Circumcision was not unique to Israel. Most of the nations practiced circumcision. The Philistines, uncircumcised, were a major exception. The Egyptians had it, as is evident from the mummies, and it was used primarily for hygienic purposes. Normally circumcision was performed at puberty to mark the passageway from boyhood to adulthood. It pointed to the removal of the obstacle to fertility and fruitfulness. The foreskin is viewed as blocking the passage of the seminal fluid. With the foreskin removed the way is open now to having children. Boys are developing the natural power to beget children and circumcision will enhance the development of these natural powers.

This sort of idea finds an analog in Scripture in the way that circumcision appears in Scripture. Look at Exod.6:12, where we read of Moses claiming 'uncircumcised lips.' The words cannot pass through. Look at Jer.6:10, where we read of 'uncircumcised lips.' The words cannot enter the ears. Look at Lev.19:23-25, where we read that fruit is to be regarded as uncircumcised. The access to the fruit is blocked.

Sin blocks the union and communion we are to have with God. Israel could not do that and would not do that. Israel would not circumcise their hearts and remove the obstacle of sin. Through the wonder of God's grace, the obstacle will be removed and the way will opened. God will provide a believing seed for Abraham when Abraham could not do this himself. Circumcision is performed on the eighth day Deut.10:16. It is not a sign of what we are able to do (Arminian understanding), to complement natural powers. No, the circumcision takes place while the child is an infant.

The Lord will circumcise the hearts, so that you may love Him with all your heart and soul and live (Deut.30:6). God will remove the obstacle which separates us from Him and He will be our God and we His people. The Lord circumcises the heart as he regenerates and saves, but that is because of what he has done once for all in Jesus Christ. In the death of Jesus Christ, we see the great circumcision of the people of God (Col.2:11). The obstacle of sin is removed by this bloody rite, the cutting off of the flesh of Jesus Christ. Through his circumcision the path of reconciliation to God is opened up and we receive access to Him. He is the way, the truth and life.

The Covenant with Moses (1)

God's covenant with Moses, which we find in Exodus 19ff., should really be called the covenant with Israel because Moses was the mediator and representative of Israel. It must be noted that this covenant is not an innovation, but a direct continuation of the Lord's covenants with the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). In Psalm 105:7-11 we read: He is the LORD our God; His judgments are in all the earth. He is mindful of His covenant forever, of the word that He commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant which he made with Abraham, His sworn promise to Isaac, which He confirmed to Jacob as a statue, to Israel as an everlasting covenant.

Promise (1). God's promise that He would be God to His people was an everlasting promise. It was not introduced to the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai but was confirmed to them. In Exodus 19:5-6 the Lord says to His people: Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

This promise is repeated in the New Testament. In 1 Peter 2:5, we read: You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Promise (2). With the privilege of being the covenant people of God came many promises of blessing. We find two such promises in the ten commandments: (1) God will show mercy to thousands, to those who love him and keep his commandments and; (2) It will go well with children who obey their parents.

You find many other blessings throughout the laws of Moses (look at Deuteronomy 28-30. Deuteronomy 28 begins like this: Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God.

Obligation. The obligations of God's covenant with Moses are quite obvious. The people of Israel were to obey the laws God gave to Moses, all of which were summarized in the ten commandments, which are called elsewhere 'the ten words of God's covenant.

Obligations: The Provisional. With the coming of Christ, aspects of the Mosaic law passed away, but much has remained permanent. Among the things that have passed away are the laws regarding the sacrifices and the priesthood. Christ is our High Priest and our sacrifice. His death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice for sins.

In Hebrews 9:12ff we read: Not with the blood of goats and calves, but His own blood, He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption ... For this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

The laws regarding the priesthood and sacrifices have obviously passed away (Read Article 21 of the Belgic Confession). The same is true of the dietary laws (i.e. no pork). Those laws were originally given to separate the people of Israel from Gentiles. To eat of the forbidden meat was to defile oneself by disregarding the boundary he had placed around his holy people (see Lev.11:44-45). In the New Testament, however, the boundary surrounding Israel was widened to include the Gentiles. There was no longer need to have laws separating Jews from Gentiles. The Gentiles were now welcome in God's family.

That's why in Peter's vision in Acts 10, he is told by the Lord to eat the 'unclean' animals. God told him not to call anything 'impure' that God has made 'clean' (Acts 10:15; 11:9). Peter had rightly understood the vision when he said to Cornelius, regarding the Gentiles, "But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean (Acts 10:28).

The clean and unclean foods, the Old Testament feasts (Passover, Feast of booths, Feast of weeks) are 'a shadow of things to come, but the substance is in Christ' (Gal.2:16-17). When Christ came, his shadows passed away (Read Belgic Confession, article 25).

Obligation: The Permanent. Obviously the ten commandments are permanent commandments. Each of them is repeated in the New Testament. The fourth commandment has a provisional character to it, since we no longer worship on the Sabbath, but on Sunday. But Christ did not abolish the Sabbath. He is Lord of the Sabbath. And as Lord of the Sabbath, he arose on the first day of the week, called by John 'the Lord's day' (Rev.1:10). This is now our day of worship and commemoration.

Threat (1). You find a pledge-to-death ceremony in the Mosaic covenant similar to the Abrahamic pledge-to-death in Exodus 24:7-8. Moses sprinkled blood on the people symbolizing not only a cleansing, but a consecration, by which all the people were to keep the covenant on pain of death. This ceremony functions much the same way the passing between the animals did in the Abrahamic covenant.

Threat (2). The laws themselves contained many threats for disobedience. Deuteronomy 27-28 are full of curses for those transgress the law of God. We read in Deuteronomy 28:15: But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.

The Covenant with Moses (2)

We find an interesting reference to the covenant with Moses in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4. Here the waters of the Red Sea are called a 'baptism' for the people of Israel in much the same way that the waters of the flood were called a 'baptism' for Noah and his family in 1 Peter 3.

Covenant promise and obligation. In the context of these four verses, the apostle Paul is speaking of the promise (privilege) and obligation (responsibility) of believers. We see that, for example, in verse 12: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. To stand before the Lord as His redeemed people is obviously a great privilege. You can't fall unless you are standing. That was the privilege Israel enjoyed as the Lord brought them out of Egypt, as He redeemed them from the bondage of Egypt. It's the same great privilege we have today to stand before God as his redeemed sons and daughters.

Every covenant has these two parts: promise and obligation, privilege and responsibility. That's found in the formulary for baptism in the Psalter Hymnal. The covenant is much more than the bestowing of God's grace. If you limit the covenant simply to the bestowal of God's grace, you will not be able to make sense of the covenant warnings (see v.11). The presence of warnings presuppose some sort of obligation. We must not transform our doctrine of election into a doctrine of fatalism. These warnings are not hypothetical, they are real, genuine warnings.

Everything we have, we have by God's sovereign grace. And that grace puts us into a covenant relationship of responsibility. Grace is the foundation for the expression of covenant responsibility. You can see that in Col.1:21-23. Paul does not say (hyper-Calvinism): You have reconciled and how you respond makes little difference. He does not say (Arminianism): if you continue in the faith, then you will be reconciled. He says this: you have been reconciled, if you continue in the faith. You have the promise and you enjoy the privilege. Now you must continue in faith or you will be cut off. Without faith, you cannot be saved.

Privilege brings responsibility. Privilege is never automatic. It's not like having blue eyes. It's not like joining the Masonic order: "Once a mason, always a mason." In 1 Cor.9:24, Paul provides the analogy of running the race. In order to obtain the prize, you must keep running the race. Christians have an obligation.

Covenant threat. Paul's teaching here in 1 Corinthians 10 appears in the context of exhortation, just like in 1 Peter 3, where there was the exhortation to persevere. The exhortation here is motivated by a threat or warning. We see that word mentioned in verse 11. The warning is that we will lose out or be destroyed if we do not remain steadfast.

Israel had been the beneficiary of great benefits. She had been delivered from Egypt and she had been cared for in the desert (Deut.1:30). In spite of this great privilege, however, Israel did not 'run hard' to use Paul's language, God was not pleased with most of them and they perished in the wilderness (see v.5). And these things are recorded for us, to keep us from doing evil things (see v.6).

What makes the example so relevant for us is that the privilege is very similar to our privilege. Israel was 'baptized' in the sea. He intends the Corinthians to reflect on their baptism. That's why he used to the word. He could have used another word. The two covenants (with Moses and with Jesus) do not differ in substance, but in administrations. Consider the following four points Paul makes in this passage:

1. Passing through the sea. Paul says all our forefathers passed through the sea. These Israelites were not immersed, but they passed through dry land. The waters served to threaten the further existence of Israel. God held them back, so Israel could walk through. He did not hold back when Pharoah and his hosts passed through. And the destruction which came upon Pharoah and his army is comparable to the destruction which came upon the world at the flood: judgment by water. Like Noah and his family, so Moses and the children of Israel were saved through the water, which meant destruction for others.

Baptism is not dependent upon the quantity of water, nor by the mode -- the point is that the waters symbolizes the impending judgment of God. Baptism is sign and seal of his saving grace, in spite of deserved judgment. It is the sign and seal of God's pledge that he will take us through the waters of his judgment.

2. Baptized in the cloud. Our forefathers, says Paul, were all under the cloud and baptized in the cloud. The reference here is to the cloud which led by day and the pillar of fire which led by night. This was likely the same cloud.

What is the meaning of baptism in the cloud? The cloud served to lead and guide the people (Psa.78:14). It also served to cover and protect the people (Psa.105:39) from the Egyptians who pursuing them (Exod.14:19-20). But most of all, the cloud was indicative of the presence of the Lord (Exod.13:21-22; Num.14:14). Here we have a picture of the Lord Himself as the leader and protector his people. The cloud represents the presence of God as Spirit (Isaiah 4:4ff.), for cleansing and purification, as a judge for the ungodly. The Spirit of God is present at the Red Sea to lead and protect Israel, but also as purifier and cleanser, by destroying the ungodly. The Spirit of God also serves as a Spirit of judgment in the New Testament (see story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5). The church is saved by being purified of its unclean elements and being led by the Spirit. At the Red Sea there is a baptism by water and in the spirit, which corresponds to Christian baptism.

3. Baptized into Moses. Paul says that they were all baptized into Moses. Moses was the man chosen by God to be the leader of the people. He is the Savior of Israel. People looked to him as their leader (see Exod.3:10). Moses brings the people out of Egypt. He is the mediator between God and the people (Gal.3:19). Moses address the people on behalf of God and he elicits from them a response of faith and obedience. The people of Israel are to follow him. Baptism in the Red sea will forever separate Israel from Egypt (Exod.14:13). Here Israel is definitively committed to the leadership as Moses and definitively marked as the people of God. They must now follow Moses to enter the promised land. That's what it means to be baptized in Moses. It's a trust in Moses and pledge of allegiance to Moses. It's a sign and seal of union and communion with Moses.

This obviously corresponds to our baptism 'in Christ' (Rom.9:3). We are baptized into the 'name of Christ' (see 1 Cor.1:15 and many other places). Union with Moses meant salvation for Israel. Union with Christ means salvation for us. The analogy between the two baptisms does not lie in getting wet. Israel stayed dry. Israel shared in the destiny of its leader, just as we do. As Moses goes, so goes the nation. We are baptized into Christ and we share in the destiny of Christ.

When Israel became alienated from her leader Moses, that alienation expresses itself in unbelief and disobedience (see Heb.3:18-19). The people of God did not accept God's work for them in Moses and God was not pleased with them and they perished in the wilderness just as Pharoah had perished.

We are reminded here of God's grace in Christ. We are also reminded of our responsibility to remain in Christ, to remain with him (see John 15:4). So baptism is a sign and seal of God's promise of salvation to those who are in, and who remain, in Christ. Only in Christ are the promises in Christ 'yes' and 'amen.' By faith in Christ, we stand firm (2 Cor.1:24; Matt.24:13). Just as Israel had to stick with Moses, so we have to stick with Christ.

4. All were baptized. All the people of Israel participate in the privilege and the responsibility. We see the word 'all' repeated 3 times in verses 1-2 and 5 times in verse 1-4 in 1 Cor.10. That repetition is for a purpose. The forefathers are 'spiritual forefathers' since Gentiles are part of the assumed audience.

Notice how Paul does not distinguish between believers and unbelievers. The people of God as a people faithfully reach the other side of the Sea. That is not to say that there was no difference between believers and unbelievers but that the difference doesn't come into play. Moses does not stand on the Egyptian side of the Sea to take the spiritual temperature of each individual before crossing the Sea. He simply calls the people as a covenant whole to step ahead in faith. The people as a whole move together into baptism. Now the hypocrites in the midst of Israel will make themselves known and God will judge them. It should not surprise us that there are among those called to baptism and who commit themselves to baptism those who manifest themselves as hypocrites.

Including children. This caravan which passed through the sea is made up of all kinds of people, fat and thin, large and small, old and young -- even infants. The infants were not left behind. They were ALL baptized, even the infants in arms. If infants were not to be baptized, it would have been very cruel of Paul to designate this event a 'baptism.' When Israel was 'baptized' it included the infants. That there were infants who passed through the Sea is explicitly attested to in Scripture (Exod.10:9-11, 24, "women and children (lit. 'small children');" Exod.12:37).

This exodus occurred because God "remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant" (Ps.105:42). The promise is not fulfilled if infants are excluded. Just like the adults, so the children must remain in Moses. They belong to the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore we teach them to trust in Jesus, to look to Jesus and to remain faithful to Jesus, to remain in Jesus.

God did not give his law on Sinai so Israel could gain the right to go through the Red Sea. No, the law is given afterwards. He brought them out of Egypt, "that they might observe His statutes and keep His laws" (Ps.105:45). If the right to salvation had to be earned, all infants would be lost. God first of all saves us and claims us and promises us eternal life and then elicits the response of loving gratitude in faith and obedience. First the exodus occurs and then Sinai. The same is true in the Great Commission. First we baptize and then we teach them to observe what is commanded. Baptism signifies and seals union with Christ and that privilege carries the obligation to remain faithful.

Training children. We must train our children to be what they are. Our children must thank Jesus for salvation. Children must obey their parents 'in the Lord' not outside of the Lord (Eph.6:1). The Lord blesses faithful instruction within a covenant context. If we as Christian parents neglect to train our children as belonging to Jesus than they are cut off from the word of promise and they begin to think of themselves in a different way than the Lord thinks of them. When they are cut off from the promise, faith has nothing to lay hold of. It should not surprise us when such children leave Jesus and his church.

Evangelizing covenant children. Children of the covenant must be evangelized. If discipling and teaching is the essence of evangelism (Matt.28:18-20) then certainly they must evangelized. Children must bey are evangelized, however, not as strangers to the grace of God, not as His enemies, not as second class citizens, not as the potential people of God, not as good prospects, but as those who have been baptized into Jesus and their baptism can become a ground of appeal to them.

Baptism is not a dead letter, but a constant reminder of the privileged status we have as the people of God. If we despise that privilege, we will perish. The Israelites certainly did not see their passage through the Red Sea as a dead letter.

The New Covenant

The coming of Christ marks the beginning of the new covenant. Often when the Scriptures speak of the 'new' covenant, they are distinguishing it from the 'old' covenant -- namely, the Mosaic covenant (i.e. the covenant with Moses). The Mosaic covenant was a beautiful covenant which gave direction and provided a perspective for living pleasingly before the face of God.

Shadow versus substance. The Mosaic covenant, however, was an inferior covenant because it served merely as a shadow of the greater truth and greater substance and greater glory which would come with Christ (Gal.2:16-17). The sacrifices were shadows of the cross. All the prophets, priests and kings were shadows of Christ, our prophet, priest and king. Old Testament believers could see Christ, but only his shadow. They could see him in obscurity, not with clarity. This made the 'old' covenant an inferior covenant.

Promise of a new covenant. God had never intended his people to live with Him in an inferior covenant forever, however. He had planned for there to be a new covenant, something Jeremiah prophesied of in chapter 31:31ff: 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 bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this 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. It is quite clear from this that the new covenant would be a better covenant.

The same covenant. We should understand that the new covenant, is not a different covenant, but the same covenant with a different administration. You can easily see for yourself that the promise of the covenant remains the same (Jer.31): "I will be their God and they shall be my people" (see also 2 Cor.6:16 and Rev.21:3). We shall see in a moment how the promise is the same, but deeper and richer. The obligation of the covenant remains the same: faith and obedience. We are called to live by faith (Rom.4:13ff.) and by the law. The law of God is not abolished (Matt.5:17)--the 10 commandments are repeated (Matt.5-7) and the summary of the law remains the same (cf. Matt.22:37-40 with Deut.6:5). And the threats of the covenant are still in tact too, although with greater severity (See Matt.5:13; 7:19; 7:27; Heb.6:8; Heb.10:26-31).

The same covenant, but better. How would the new covenant with Christ be a better covenant? The new covenant would be a better covenant because God's blessings would be available im-mediately (with mediation and intervention and go-betweens).

Better: the immediate law. Look at the law for example. The law in the new covenant would be much the same as it was in the old. In both old and new covenants, God expected a change of heart. The summary of the law remains the same in both covenants: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind ... and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matt.22:37-40; Deut.6:5; 10:12).

In the new covenant, the law would no longer be found on tablets of stone from which the priests would read and instruct the people. In the new covenant the will of God will be communicated im-mediately, i.e. without mediators. Jeremiah says (31:34): No more shall every man teach his neighbor and every man his brother saying, 'Know the Lord, for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. In the New covenant the bond between God and His people would grow closer. Covenantal oneness was always impeded in the old covenant by mediators. Christ is now the 'only' mediator between God and man (1 Tim.2:5). Through Christ we can experience and know God immediately.

In the new covenant, the law functions more effectively and immediately through the Spirit. Through His Spirit, God enables an obedience to the law which was not possible before. The Spirit certainly was active among the people in the old covenant, but now He is active within the people. The law of God is not merely 'set before them' (see Jer.9:12; Deut.4:8; 11:32; 1 Kings 9:2), but put 'on their minds' and 'in their hearts.'

The old covenant ministry of the law was good because it commanded good things, but the new covenant ministry of the Spirit is better because it confers good things. The law was good because it made a hearer of God's will. The Spirit is better because it made a doer of God's will. In 2 Cor.3:6, Paul says: For the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive.

Better: the immediate gospel. Not only would the law be communicated immediately, the gospel (i.e. forgiveness) would also be communicated immediately. Jeremiah says (31:34): For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more. In the old covenant, sacrifices were held constantly, indicating that sins were being passed over, but not removed. The blood of bulls and goats has no power to remove sin in the framework of God's just administration of the world (see Lord's Day 6). Only in the Christ, can sins be truly forgiven. It was through the blood of Christ, that the new covenant was brought about. At the last supper, therefore, He spoke of "the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20). The old covenant was dedicated by the blood of animals (Exod.24:5ff.). and the new covenant by the blood of our great High Priest (Heb.7:22; 8:6ff; 9:18--10:18).

Relationship between old and new covenants. The relationship between the old and new covenants is often expressed in this way: There is one covenant with two administrations. The relationship between God and man does not change. The promise of the covenant remains the same: I will be your God and you shall be my people. But the way in which this covenant is administered does change.

In the old covenant, the law was predominant. For that reason Paul calls the ministry of the old covenant a ministry of death and a ministry of condemnation (2 Cor.3:7-8). In the new covenant, the gospel is predominant. For that reason Paul calls the ministry of the new covenant a ministry of life and a ministry of righteousness. The old covenant was 'glorious,' but the new covenant is much 'more glorious' (2 Cor.3:8).

The beauty of the old covenant fades in the surpassing beauty of the new one. The great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge put it this way: "Just as the moon loses its brightness in the presence of the sun, so the law, though glorious in itself, ceased to be glorious in the presence of the gospel." In 2 Cor.3:10 we read: "For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels."

1.<RETURN> The Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon does not render verb 'to establish' but 'to carry out.' The covenant was not, strictly speaking, established with these words. The covenant is presupposed in, for example, Gen.6:9: Noah walked with God.

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The material which follows was first presented in 1997 at a weekly membership class at the Covenant Reformed Church in Grande Prairie. It is derived from the instruction I received from professors at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and from other theological mentors I have--some alive, some not--whose names include, in alphabetical order: Dr. O. Palmer Robertson, Dr. Klaas Schilder and Dr. Cornelius Vander Waal. I must acknowledge that I am most indebted for the material above to Rev. Norman Shepherd, former professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and current pastor at the Cottage Grove Christian Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois.

Rev. William DeJong E-mail

Covenant Reformed Church

May, 1998

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