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Posts Tagged ‘covenant’

Finally, the Bible shows us the perfect completion of God’s covenant with Abraham in the book of Revelation.  In fact, all the great Bible covenants are there in the book of Revelation.

  • Noah is there in the vision of a new creation, a new heaven and new earth after judgment.
  • Abraham is there in the ingathering and blessing of all nations from every tongue and language.
  • Moses is there in the covenantal assertion that ‘they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God,’ and ‘the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them’ (Rev 21:3).
  • David is there in the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, and in the identity of Jesus as the Lion of Judah and Root of David.
  • The New Covenant is there in the fact that all of this will be accomplished by the blood of the Lamb who was slain.

Christopher J H Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God, p95.

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Within a covenant structure, the Old Testament held out a programme of ideals for a perfected people of God.  But the Old age did not reach that goal.  Now [sic] did the New.  Neither has our own.  The kingship of God sought expression through a whole web of relationships which successive covenants both pointed towards and also exercised over the people of God and their world.  But this kingship presupposed a return within history to the beginning of history.  As we have repeatedly noted, nothing less than a new creation – and thus a new covenant – would achieve this goal.  In that sense, the notion of the kingdom of God, controlling as it does the whole of biblical thinking, was always a theological assertion pointing towards a future reality – the New Covenant.

-William J Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, p206

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This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday on the church calendar.  It’s the day when we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2.  Our pastor did a great job of pointing us to the background in the OT for this Sunday, reminding us that Pentecost didn’t start in Acts 2 but goes back to Exodus 19.  It is there where God falls in power at Mt Sinai, and this day is commemorated with a festival (Leviticus 23:15-22).  Since hearing the sermon a couple days ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about the OT background for the celebration of Pentecost.

The falling of the Spirit in Acts is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32; it’s clear why Peter choose that text.  But we can’t forget that Joel 2 was one of a group of eschatological texts, some of which predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would be given “in those days” (or some phrasing like that).  So, when Peter says “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit” he is claiming that Joel 2 is fulfilled, but not only that passage.  The expectation of the Spirit that was talked about elsewhere is no longer an expectation but a reality.

But as I was thinking about Acts 2 and the fulfillment of prophecy, I kept asking the question: why Pentecost?  Is there something significant about this particular day that God chose to send His Spirit on the church?  Is it simply it’s proximity to the Passover?  Is it merely because it was slightly over a week after Jesus’ ascension?  It seems to me that any day could have potentially worked, so why Pentecost?

Going back to Exodus 19, God falls in power at Mt Sinai and commences to give the law of the covenant to Moses and Israel.  This is the day that comes to be celebrated as Pentecost.  In Acts 2 God falls in power again, but I can’t help but think there’s still a law connection here that is not explicit.  I haven’t finished fleshing out all my thoughts on this, so I welcome any feedback that can help us think through this biblically.

In some OT prophetic texts, there are promises of a day when God will write His law on the hearts of His people.  Jeremiah 31 :31-34 is one of these, and is important for the writer of Hebrews.  There’s another passage, in Ezekiel 36, that explicitly connects the giving of the Spirit and the internalization of the law, using similar language to the Jeremiah 31 passage.  Ezekiel 36:26-27:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

So there was the expectation of the day when God will give His Spirit, not in a generalized sense but in an internal way, and enable His people to follow His commands.  He has given a new covenant and a new law, the “law of the Spirit who gives life” (Rom 8:2), the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), the “law of liberty” (James 1:25, 2:12).  I think the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 connects these strands.  Let me attempt to lay it out plainly:

  • God falls in power on Mt Sinai and goes on to give the Law for His people to keep (Exodus 19f).  This day comes to be celebrated as Pentecost.
  • The prophets tell of a day when God will give His Spirit, who will internalize the law and enable them to keep His commands.
  • The Spirit, the very presence of God, falls on Pentecost in Acts 2 in a way reminiscent of Exodus 19.

My point is that the Acts 2 Pentecost is the day when God falls in power again by power out His Spirit.  His Spirit, dwelling within the believer, empowers the believer to live rightly (see Romans 8:1-8).  Now, I realize that this gets into a whole host of issues- the role of the Law in the believer’s life, etc.  I’m not as concerned at this moment about how all that works out (nor do I necessarily have it all figure out).  My main point here is to make the connection between the first Pentecost, where God comes in power and gives His Law, and the Pentecost in Acts 2, where God gives His promised Holy Spirit, who writes the law on the hearts of God’s people.

So, Pentecost is more than just a day when God gave His Spirit and miraculous signs, such as tongues.  It is the day when God gives His Spirit to fulfill what He had promised all along.  The Spirit is the mark of the eschatological new covenant and the new covenant people, whom God gives new hearts and empowers to live for Him.

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Thanks to Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.

 

In this portion of the review, I’ve opted to focus specifically on Waltke’s treatment of the Abrahamic & Davidic covenants.  I did this for two main reasons: 1) since Waltke’s book is, in part, a biblical theology, I wanted to know how he develops these two covenants and 2) I tell my students every year (ad nauseum, actually) that these two covenants are foundational for understanding the rest of the Bible (more on that as we go along).  

 

 

OT Theology by Bruce WaltkeIn chapter 12, The Gift of the Abrahamic Covenant, Waltke shows us how the story of Abraham and his sons (the patriarchs) connects with Genesis 1-11.  “The story of the Fall [Genesis 1-11] poses the challenge; the patriarchal narratives… are God’s definitive response” (p307).  Much of his treatment of Abraham and his sons is terrific.  For instance, he specializes in the structure of the patriarchal narratives (lovers of chiasms will love this chapter) and offers helpful insights into Abraham’s faith (which is not unwavering, but still commendable).

 

Unfortunately, he doesn’t show how the Abrahamic covenant is so crucial to the rest of the Bible, specifically in the prophets.  How many times do we read about “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”?  How many times do we read prophecies (especially in Isaiah) about the nations being drawn to Israel?  These are bringing us back to the stories of Abraham.  Waltke offers an extended treatment of Romans 9-11, dealing with the relationship of Israel to the church.  I imagine this is in part due to his turn from dispensationalism to covenant theology (one I happen to laud), so he may have felt the need to include this discussion.  But, in the meantime, I felt like an opportunity to do some strong biblical theology was missed.

 

Waltke deals with the Davidic covenant (see 2 Samuel 7) in its own chapter (chapter 23).  But unlike his treatment of the development of the Abrahamic covenant, Waltke does in fact develop the idea of kingship in chapter 24, The Gift of Kingship.  He leads off by taking on the notion that kingship is actually seen in a negative light in the Old Testament.  For instance, Waltke also argues, persuasively, that Gideon is hardly a credible person in the narrative, so his complete objection to kingship (Judges 8:22-23) can hardly be seen as the narrator’s point of view (p684).  

 

I highly commend Waltke’s survey of the views of the kingship in the Pentateuch, but I want to move on to how he sees the development of kingship, specifically Davidic, in the rest of the Bible.  He even includes a helpful section on the relationship between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, noting that “the Davidic covenant fulfills, confirms, and supplements the Abrahamic covenant” (p692).  I’m not sure I totally agree with his use of “fulfill,” since while David’s dynasty does fulfill part of it, we still don’t see the nations of the earth being blessed in David or his sons (until, of course, Jesus).  

 

Regarding how the Davidic covenant supplements the Abrahamic covenant, Waltke states, “I AM promises unconditionally to both Abraham and David an eternal posterity: to Abraham an enduring nation; to David an enduring dynasty to rule that nation.  Indeed, David’s eternal dynasty mediates the kings who I AM promised to give from Abraham and Sarah’s own bodies” (p693).  

 

Beginning on p699, Waltke includes a brief survey of how the prophets, psalms and New Testament develop the theme of Davidic kingship.  When I say “brief,” I really mean it- only 2 ½ pages.  I would have liked more, but I’m thankful for what he included, specifically with the prophets.  He quotes Is 9:6-7, 11:2; Jer 23:5-6; and Mic 5:2-5 to point out to the reader how these recall God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7.  Again, while it would have been nice for him to develop this more (and maybe talk about passages like Ezekiel 37:24-28), he gives enough to help the reader make a connection that many of us do not make at all.  But, if we’re paying attention to what Waltke’s point is (that the prophets bring us back to God’s covenant with David) and paying attention when we’re reading the prophets, we’ll begin to see these connections for ourselves.

 

His treatment of the Davidic covenant in the Psalms and New Testament, however, are a bit more disappointing.  He gives one paragraph to the Psalms; the same goes for “Jesus Christ and the Davidic Covenant.”  And in his discussion of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, he actually gives his opinion on why it differs from Luke’s genealogy.  Matthew sets him up for a chance to make a great point for his readers, and he misses it.  Matthew starts with, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  What more could an Old Testament scholar ask for!  I was waiting for Waltke to knock this out of the park, but in the end, he opted to bunt instead.  

 

I started this review noting that I wanted to see how Waltke developed these two great covenants.  As you can tell, I came away somewhat disappointed.  What he does say is great, and there’s much to learn from it, but I can’t help but think more could have been said (yes, in a book weighing in at 1000+ pages).  

 

I’ve thought about whether it’s fair for me to judge Waltke on his discussion of topics that I’m interested in.  But I don’t think it’s simply about my interest level.  The Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are recalled time and time again throughout the Bible.  Every time we read about “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and the nations being drawn in to God’s people, the biblical authors are reminding us of God’s promise to Abraham.  Every time we read in the prophets about the coming king in the line of David, or the psalmists’ prayers for blessings on the king, or the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, the biblical authors are reminding us of God’s promise to David.  So, no, I don’t think I’m simply importing my own wishes on Waltke.  Back on p125-126, Waltke states, “Later texts by charismatic figures- be they prophets (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), prophets historians (e.g., the Deuteronomist and Chronicler), or an authorized exegete (such as Ezra)- occasionally transform the teaching of earlier texts of charismatic figures (such as Moses).”  This was a chance for Waltke to demonstrate that point; I wish he would have taken that opportunity.

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