Introduction to the Bible: An Introduction to the Bible
by Rev. Ralph A. Smith
The History of the Covenants (Part 2)
The Second Priestly Covenant: the Mosaic Covenant
Although the Hebrews, like Adam, had rebelled against God's covenant, God again graciously sought man and granted a new covenant. The covenant given through Moses was considerably more advanced than any covenant until that time, in part because Israel was now a nation which needed a fuller, more detailed statement of the covenant. The promise to Abraham that his seed would be as the stars of heaven was being fulfilled (Dt. 1:10; 10:22; cf. Hb. 11:12).
The Mosaic covenant gave Israel not only the promise of salvation and a sacrificial system, it also provided a statement of God's commandments and statutes that included their application to civil government, something that would be necessary in the new land. However, it would be wrong to think of the theocratic civil law as being the primary feature of the Mosaic covenant; clearly it is not. More space and concern is devoted to the tabernacle, the laws of cleanliness, the sacrificial system, and the festival calendar than to civil laws. The civil laws themselves, too, contain much that is "priestly" in character. With the law of Moses, we have reached a new stage of covenantal development. Man's kingly and prophetic responsibilities have been revealed in past covenants, so all three aspects of man's work as God's image appear in the law, but the priestly is prominent.
Above all else, the covenant of Moses concerns the gift of the tabernacle -- God's dwelling place among the nation of Israel. For the first time in the post-fall history, God's dwelling place was with men, and men, represented by the hight priest, were permitted to enter His presence. The nation of Israel, however, was never really faithful to the Mosaic covenant. In the days of Joshua they kept the law of the Lord, but after Joshua's death, they repeatedly wandered away from God's commandments, as the books of Judges and 1 Samuel show. Their failure to keep the covenant was especially a failure to worship the true God in accordance with His commands. This is seen in the final judgement in this era which came after the priest Eli and his sons defiled the worship of God in the extreme (1 Sam. 2:22-36; 3:11-14.)
Covenantal judgment came in a merciful form. In the case of earlier apostasies, the Israelites had been repeatedly oppressed by different nations and repeatedly repented of their sinful idolatry (cf. Jdg. 2:1-23). This time, however, God Himself went into captivity to the Philistines (1 Sam. 4ff.). Not until a new covenant was given did the ark of God return to its proper place.
The Second Kingly Covenant: the Davidic Covenant
Israel's leader Saul was a transitional figure and a transparent failure. His reign was the end of the older covenant and the preparation for a newer one. The Mosaic covenantal era ended when God brought in a new covenantal leader, David, and a new covenant, which included the Davidic promise of the Messiah. The Monarchial era also brought in a more glorious form of worship, the temple. Solomon became the greatest king of the old covenant era, the greatest "Adam" since the original man of the Garden. But like his first father, Solomon fell. He broke all three Mosaic prohibitions for monarchs -- against building an aggressive military, against polygamy, and against oppressive taxation (Dt. 17:16-17). No doubt Solomon also forgot the commandment for the king to write his own copy of the law and read it daily (Dt. 17:18-20). All of this combined to lead Solomon to commit in deed what he had already committed in his heart: idolatry (1 Kg. 11:10). As a result of Solomon's sin, the kingdom was divided into north and south (1 Kg. 11:11ff.; 12:22-25).
The northern kingdom had not even a single godly leader. From the beginning, every king was idolatrous and disobedient to God (1 Kg. 12:26-33; 15:34; 16:2-3; 16:18-19, 25-26, 31; 22:51-52; 2 Kg. 3:1-3; 10:29, 31; 13:1-2, 10-11; 14:23-24; 15:8-9, 17-18, 23-24, 27-28; 17:20-23). Eventually, the vast majority of the godly people in the northern kingdom migrated to Judah so that all twelve tribes were preserved in her (2 Chr. 11:13-17; 15:8-9; 30:1-11, 18). About 720 B.C., the apostate northern kingdom was carried into captivity to become slaves in a new Egypt, Assyria (2 Kg. 17:5-6; 18:9-12).
Like her sister, Judah gradually departed from the covenant, and was carried away into captivity (2 Kg. 24:1-5; 25:1-21; 2 Chr. 36:6, 15-21. The descendents of Abraham were back where they started, slavery in a foreign land. Just as they were never really forsaken in Egypt, so in Babylon God was with them. And when they repented, God heard their prayers and after seventy years, He delivered them and restored them to the land (Dn. 9:1-27; 2 Chr. 36:22-23; Ezr. 1:1-4).
The Second Prophetic Covenant: the Restoration Covenant
For the last time in the old covenant era God granted a renewal of the Adamic covenant that postponed final judgment and expanded the promise of salvation. This restoration covenant prevailed until the coming of Christ. God had promised the Israelites that they would come back into the land after 70 years of captivity (cf. Jr. 25:11-12; 29:10). At that time He would make a new covenant with them (Ezk. 37:21-28). The new covenant of the restoration era was inaugurated by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (cf. Ezr. 5:1). As with other new covenants, there was a new house of God (Ezr. 1:3; 3:1ff.; 5:1ff.) and a new priesthood (Ezr. 2:62-63; 3:8-10; 6:18, 20; 7:11ff.). The temple vision seen by Ezekiel (40-48) taught the people of God that there was a heavenly temple of great glory that the earthly temple merely symbolized. But for the first time in her history, this heavenly temple had been opened up, so to speak, for all to see. The children of Abraham also were given a new name. From this time forth, they were called Jews.
There were also certain changes in the administration of God's covenant. For example, the land of Israel could not be restored to the families according to the allotments in the days of Joshua (Jsh. 11:23; 13;1ff.; 15:20ff.), nor would there be a king in Israel anymore. Daniel had instructed the Jews that they would be under the dominion of Gentile kings until the coming of the Messiah (Dn. 2; 7). All this meant that many aspects of the law of Moses could no longer be literally applied.
As in the first prophetic period, the work of evangelism among the nations of the world was especially prominent here too. Two entire books are devoted to ministry to the Gentiles: Jonah (actually written at the end of the Davidic period) and Esther. Ezra and Nehemiah too share an international perspective that is significantly different from the times of the kings. The prophetic books of this period - Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi - look for the establishment of God's global kingdom through Israel's witness (cf. Hg. 2:5-7; 2:21-23; Zech. 2:11; 4:12ff.; 8:22-23; Ml. 4:2).
The New Covenant: Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King
Including the pre-fall Adamic covenant era, there are seven covenantal eras in the old covenant. In all of these, certain common features obtain. All seven of these covenants deal with "the world of Adam," the first creation. The coming of Christ brings a new covenant and a new world. "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cr. 5:17b).
Jesus, the New Adam, fulfills the righteous requirements of God's covenant and brings blessing to a new humanity. There is no more need for animal sacrifices because His sacrifice solved the problem of sin once and for all (Hbs. 10:1-14). The world itself, which was "made subject to vanity" because of Adam's sin (Rom. 8:20), was reconciled to God by Christ's atoning work (Col. 1:20) and was restored to its original ceremonial cleanness. Therefore, there can no longer be unclean lands or holy places. There is also a new human race to occupy the new world. This new race, including women and Gentiles, are all priests of God. All have equal access to the throne of God (Eph. 2:12-22; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11), for Christ Himself is the Great High Priest who brings His people unto God.
Now that the world has been redeemed and man has been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, man may inherit the glory originally intended by the heavenly Father. In the person of Christ, a glorified Man sits at the right hand of God, ruling the world until "He hath put all enemies under his feet" (1 Cr. 15:25; Ps. 110:1; Eph. 1:22; Hbs. 1:13). Only then, when the church, His body, shall have conquered all the nations through the preaching of the Gospel (Mt. 28:18ff.), may Jesus return in glory for the final judgment (1 Cr. 15:23-28). The new race, converted to faith in Christ is not sinless, to be sure, but righteous by God's grace and the power of His Spirit. They have been saved in Christ in order to fulfill the original Adamic commission to subdue all things to the glory of God. The world will be filled with men and every desert turned into a Garden and the potential of the creation will be developed to the praise of Creator. Then history may come to an end when Satan is wholly defeated, man truly saved, and God glorified both as Creator and Redeemer.
The kingdom will be fulfilled and the ages of the eternal kingdom will begin. The new humanity will inherit their resurrection bodies and live with God in everlasting glory. The covenant of creation and redemption will be fulfilled and man is glorified with Christ in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22). The Biblical story of history concludes with man and his work in history being glorified with Christ.
The Covenantal Structure of the Bible: Introduction to
Berith.org is dedicated to applying the covenantal worldview to modern-day issues. It is a ministry of the Covenant Worldview Institute and the Mitaka Evangelical Church of Tokyo, Japan. The essays and books at Berith.org are (mostly?) written by Reverend Ralph Allan Smith, who has laboured as a teacher, pastor, and missionary in Tokyo since 1981, and as the director of the Covenant Worldview Institute since 1988. All feedback is welcome. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.