Pause for Thought

Once and Future King - Covenants part 4

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In English, the Hebrew Scriptures in our Bible have conventionally been known as “The Old Testament”. This gives rise to some unfortunate connotations as we tend to think of things which are “old” as being out-dated, ineffective or worn out. “Testament” was (and still is) just another way of saying “covenant”.

However, we should rather think of old as being used in the same way as we might describe the historic part of a city as “old town”. It’s the part which existed before any of the more modern parts grew up around it. It is central to the area even if it only has become a tourist attraction! It still has relevance and gives context to understanding the history of the rest of the area. It would make things a little less obscure if we were to refer to the 37 books of the Old Testament as “The First Covenants” or “The Foundational Covenants” since they lay the foundation of how God lays out His plan of redemption.

We have already explored the covenants God made with Noah, Abraham and Moses. Each of those covenants builds on, and expands, our understanding of the great arc in time as God reveals more and more of how His plan of salvation would unfold. (I was tempted to write “arc of the covenants”, but that’s a pun that only works in English!). Of course, the Old Testament contains more than just the covenants, but they form the backbone of the narrative giving context to the history of the people God used as object lessons for the rest of mankind.

As we explore these covenants in the Hebrew Scripture we cannot help but be struck by a salient fact — God is always faithful to His word, in spite of the faults and failings of the people with whom He was dealing.

Last time we left the Israelites at Mount Sinai and despite the miraculous happenings and their fervent promises to be faithful, we already see them losing sight of the part they are supposed to play in the Mosaic covenant.

Under the leadership of Moses’ successor, Joshua (in Hebrew “Yeshua”, or in English “Jesus”!), God’s people enter Canaan (the promised land) and eventually demand a king, stoking their desire to be like other nations, even although God deliberately wants them to be different than the nations around them. It is obvious in hindsight that God foresaw this eventuality and would work through it to reveal what real kingship would mean.

Saul was anointed as Israel’s first king, but he fails to obey God and is rejected.

God then chooses David as king over Israel. David becomes a successful leader, overcoming Israel’s enemies and restoring order, and he wants to build a temple for God to dwell with his people again. God responds to this desire by making a covenant with David, promising to make his name great and raise up a descendant from David’s line, whose throne and kingdom will last forever:

“Now go and say to my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before your eyes. Now I will make your name as famous as anyone who has ever lived on the earth! And I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past, starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” 2 Samuel 7:8-16 NLT

We now know that David’s son, Solomon, would be the one to build the glorious Temple David had envisaged, but the descendant of David who would rule in his “house” forever would not become apparent for several more centuries.

David and his descendants are commanded to remain faithful to God, following the covenantal laws. However, despite David and his sons’ failures, God still keeps his promise to provide a faithful descendant of David to reign forever.

All of these covenants thematically build on one another. After God’s covenant with David, we are left eagerly waiting for the great deliverer, the Messiah from David’s line, who will make right the fractured relationship that began in the garden of Eden. But, for that we will have to have a “New Testament” or a “Fulfilled Covenant”.

Next time we will look at the climax and fulfillment of all these covenants not just in a promise but in a person.

Blessings on you and yours,

Jim Black

Friday November 25th, 2022
Saturday November 12th, 2022