Lecture 2: Covenant with Abraham
Course: A Short Course On Evangelism
Lecture: Covenant with Abraham
This is session two. I mentioned in the last session that we’ll talk about a covenant with Abraham. In the last session we talked about a covenant with Adam and Eve, a covenant with Noah. Now we’ll talk about a covenant with Abraham. The subtitle is, “From Hinduism to Jesus Christ.”
I also mentioned last session that the earliest high religion is Hinduism, around 3,000 BC. The basic tenets of Hinduism, I’m sure, most of you know. It is established on the basis of karma, works and reincarnation. If your good karma outweighs your bad karma, you can be reincarnated into a higher caste. It’s consumed with this caste system where there is no mixing between castes. You have the higher caste, the middle caste, the lower caste, and then eventually the untouchables. Hinduism has thousands, if not millions, of gods. I’m not saying I’m right and they’re wrong. I think I’m saying, we cannot both be right, we disagree. If there was a perfectly good religion in place a thousand years before Abraham, why was it important for God to be revealed to Abraham? Because Abraham apparently had evolved to the place where he could understand the concept of one God. Very important. God is a jealous God, why? Because God is the only God that is God. You see, worshiping a God that is less than God, you’re worshiping a God that makes horrible demands, but gives precious little in return. If you are worshiping the God that is God, you’re worshiping a God that makes horrible demands, but gives back, pushed down, shaken together, running over.
God was revealed to Abraham because Abraham’s father worshiped the sun and the moon; but Abraham had evolved to the place where he could understand the concept of one God. So God makes himself known. How? How did you establish a relationship with someone in Abraham’s day? I have had students tell me, “Bob, you talk too much about covenant. You make God sound bloodthirsty.” I’m saying, “Listen, that’s how you establish a relationship with someone in Abraham’s day. You cut a covenant.” Imagine God, the Lord God of the universe, stooping to the place where he could make Himself known in such a way that Abraham could understand. Abingdon Press, who published that book on evangelism I referred to, asked me, “How can you assume a literal, historical Abraham?” I said, “Well, I know it’s difficult to prove a historical Abraham outside the Scriptures. But I do believe there was a historical Abraham, by the way.” I said, “Although I cannot prove necessarily a historical Abraham, you know what I can prove beyond any shadow of a doubt the concept of covenant.” I can show you thousands of these little mari tablets which established the conditions of the covenant. How did you establish a covenant in Abraham’s day? You took an animal. You divided the animal. Both parties walked between the halves of the animal, vowing that if either of us betray this covenant, might the same fate befall us.
God cut a covenant with Abraham and even provided an opportunity for a covenant renewal. What was the renewal? How did you renew a covenant? You sacrificed. God doesn’t need to sacrifice. What’s up with sacrifice? Sacrifice is simply God’s way of saying, “You mess up, it’s going to cost you your best.” Listen to this. It’s going to cost you your best. Don’t give me your one-eyed goat. Throughout the Bible, whenever you hear of sacrifice, it has to be without what? Without blemish. Please remember that; it is terribly important. To cut a covenant, you take an animal, your best. You divide the animal, vowing that if either of us betrays his covenant, might the same fate befall us. The covenant is God’s way of saying, “If you mess up, it’s going to cost you your best.”
So, God is revealed. The covenant is established. The nation, 430 years in Egypt, something like that; and after 430 years in Egypt, God raises up Moses to lead the people out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai. Fifteen months at Sinai, during which time they did two things. They got organized into 12 tribes and they established the law, they received the law not once, but twice.
After 18 months God says, “It’s time to go take the land, the land I promised to Abraham many years ago.” It takes them two months. It’s only an 11-day journey, but who knows how many people there were, maybe as many as two million. Most people think there were as many as two million. I think that is a good stretch. A lot of people went to the southern reaches of the land. They sent 12 spies into the land. Ten came back with a bad report. I could go around the world offering $100. cash for anybody who can name one of those people who came back with a bad report. They are all named there. The only reason I can name one is, they named a whale after one at Sea World, Shammua. The two that came back with a good report we name our cats and dogs after them, Joshua and Caleb. Because the nation was discouraged, God judged them to 38 more years in desert sands, wandering around desert sands.
During that time a whole generation died out. The only ones who crossed through the sea over 21 years of age, who eventually crossed the River Jordan , were Joshua and Caleb. You have the nation Israel in the desert for 38 years, during which time a whole generation died out. After 38 years the nation is once again gathered on the plains of Moab, anticipating crossing the Jordan and taking the land. Just as they are poised to take the land, of course the Back to Egypt Committee is always at work and grumbling, “God, are you sure the covenant is still on, the contract still valid? We’re working from memory here. We’re the next generation. Are you sure you will go before us, that you are still with us? We’ve heard stories about the people in the land.” You know what God does? God is a God of love. Balak, who is the King of Moab, is worried about all of these Israelites on his plains. There are too many of them to fight, so he gets on the horn and he calls up an internationally known pagan prophet named Balaam. With some persistence, Balaam finally consents to go and to curse the Israelites. As he is on his donkey, I imagine – it’s probably not true – but I imagine that he comes to the siq, the narrow gorge at Petra, on his way to the plains of Moab. It could have happened that way. There is an angel of the Lord standing there with a drawn sword. The prophet doesn’t see the angel, but the donkey does. So the donkey understandably balks, finally scrapes the prophet’s leg against the side of the wall, and the prophet is beating the donkey. Finally, the donkey sits down and the Spirit of God opens the donkey’s mouth. He doesn’t say anything terribly profound. We give that donkey far too much credit. But he does say these words: “Listen, O son, Mr. Prophet, don’t you realize I’m out of character here. Have I ever sat down on you before?” And the prophet says, “Well, no.” Then the donkey says , “There is an angel of the Lord standing there with a drawn sword, about to take out both of us. He is a mean looking angel.” That’s why the Bible, when it talks about angels, usually says, “fear not” because these folks are huge, they are mean looking, I’m telling you. Finally, the Spirit of God opens the prophet’s eyes and he sees the angel and the angel says, “You go, but you speak only what I tell you to speak.” So the angel goes to the plains of Moab and meets Balak and this is all in Numbers 22 and 23. He opens his mouth to curse the Israelites and what comes out? Blessings. How many? “I am still with you. I am still with you.” The second oracle, the second blessing is the first reference in the Bible to Yahweh as the nation’s sovereign. “I am still with you.” The fourth oracle is the first Messianic reference. Out of the mouth of an internationally known pagan prophet, no better than his donkey – I mean within chapters they are going to take him out because he is teaching the Israelites how to sin with the Moabites. “I am still with you. I am still with you.” What’s the question? We’re second generation here. We’re working from memory. Are you sure the covenant is still on, the contract is still valid? “I am still with you.” Seven blessings, out of the mouth of an internationally known pagan prophet. God says, “I am still with you.” Joshua says, “Be bold and courageous. Take the land.” So Joshua and Caleb lead priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant into the land. Of course, you know how the land was taken.
Then you have the period of the judges, where the nation goes up and down, up and down. By the way, a lot of the book of Joshua to me sounds like ethnic cleansing, friends. Put that on the terms of today’s world, these NATO bombers are going to be zeroing in on the Ark of the Covenant. So, I have a little note I write in the Bible, “not yet enough light”, NYEL, “not yet enough light.” I know God is a God of love, mercy, justice, faithfulness and longsuffering. It is hard to reconcile how God could want everything to die. I can do it theologically because the nation had obviously sinned away every ounce of good that was in it. There was no longer any good left to respond to God. That was God’s righteous judgment on the nation, and I’m sure the children woke up in heaven. Judges is where the nation goes up and down, up and down, every 40 years or so.
Then finally, into 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, where you have the story of the kings beginning with Saul. Saul didn’t want the job. One of the most tragic figures in the Old Testament, in the Bible. He hid among the baggage. He didn’t want the job. Jonathan, his son, is maybe my favorite Old Testament character. He had a heart for God. Humble. Loved David like his own soul.
Of course, God raises up David. David is an interesting man. I’m slapping him when I get to heaven. He could only manage about half the commandments. But he is a man after God’s own heart. You know why? Because he had a singleness of mind and purpose. Read Psalm 27: One thing: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?” One thing: “One thing I ask of the Lord, to dwell in the presence of the Lord all the days of my life and to enquire in his temple.” David was not perfect by a long shot. He had a lot of blood on his hands, so much so that his son had to build the temple. But he had that singleness of mind and purpose. He loved God with all his heart.
Solomon was okay until he married all his foreign wives. Deuteronomy 17 says, “No king in Israel should have many wives and many horses.” He had 700 wives, 300 concubines. What in the world was the man thinking? All those horses, a lot of them at Megiddo. A lot of you have probably been to Megiddo and seen all of these wonderful stalls, horse stalls. Fortunately, Solomon had sense enough to ask God for wisdom. Had he not done that, he would have ended up no better than Rehoboam probably, his son who divided the nation, but didn’t have the northern kingdom and Israel, but had the southern kingdom, which is Judah. Of course, the northern kingdom all of those did evil. All of the kings did evil. There was no exception in the northern kingdom. Eventually, God judged the northern kingdom and in 722 they were taken to Assyria, exiled into Assyria.
Then you have some flashes of light into the southern kingdom, like Asa and Jehoshaphat, most specifically Hezekiah. Hezekiah turned the nation around in one generation. Do you want to know how? His father, Ahaz, did more evil than all the kings before him. He was sacrificing Jewish babies to the god Molech in the Valley of Ben Hinnom. The word “hell” is coined during his reign, “Gehenna” out of Ben Hinnom. His son, Hezekiah, turned the nation around in one generation. How did he do that? Ahaz desecrated the temple with pagan gods and nailed its doors shut, let the lamps go out. Hezekiah, the first month of the first year of Hezekiah’s reign, what did he do? He opened the temple. He cleansed it. And get this, he raised up the Levites. He taught the people how to sing, how to worship.
Worship is that which gives us an awareness of God’s presence in our lives. But in the southern nation, the southern kingdom was exiled as well. In 605 part of them were exiled to Babylon. In 586 the rest were exiled except for the very poorest; and of course, Jerusalem was destroyed. Seventy years of exile. Do you know what happened during those 70 years of exile? Five of the 10 high religions in the world surfaced during that 70 years. I think that is interesting. Zoroastrianism, which was monotheism. They believed in kind of good thoughts and good words and good deeds and they revered water, fire and land. So they could not bury their dead, they couldn’t burn their dead, they couldn’t put their dead in water. Do you know what they did? They laid their dead out on the planes and allowed the birds to pick their bones clean, their bodies clean. Zoroastra’s grandson was probably in Xerxe’s temple in Susa, who was the husband of course, of Esther, and who was a contemporary of Ezekiel. Have you read Ezekiel 37? The valley of dry bones. I’m thinking Ezekiel must have stumbled on a Zoroastrian burial ground. That is just conjecture. I gave you that for nothing because it’s probably worth nothing, but I enjoyed doing it anyway.
Zoroastrianism. Janism, which is a Hindu sect. It is Hinduism with karma, although all karma in Janism is bad karma. They could not stand the caste system and they could not bear all of these multiple gods. So basically, Hinduism without the caste system, without multiple gods. Buddhism is another Hindu sect without the caste system. Sixty percent of Buddhists are atheistic? They don’t have a transcendent god. During this same 70-year period you have Taoism, which is the yin and the yang, which describes life as it is. Then you have Confucianism, which is the yin and the yang, which describes life as it ought to be.
Then you have the intertestamental period. The nation comes back to Israel under Zerubbabel. Esther and Nehemiah talk about the nation coming back to Jerusalem. The temple is rebuilt sort of. They have the intertestamental period, which then leads up to the life of Jesus.
Before going to the next session, let me remind you that within generations, establishing the covenant with Abraham, listen carefully, please. The sacrifice no longer led the heart. It just became religion. Eventually, God says, “I am up to here with your sacrifices. I am up to here with your religion. I have something better than that.” God gives us Jeremiah 31: 31-34. All of salvation history pivots on these four verses. Listen carefully. I’ll read it to you: “’The time is coming,’declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them’ declares the Lord’. This is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will man teach his neighbor or a man his brother the saying, ‘Know the Lord’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest’ declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness.” Get this: “and remember their sins no more.”
Lord, we’re grateful that you have given us a new covenant to replace the old covenant. The old covenant was simply like sweeping sin under the rug. Our sin was propitiated by the new covenant. Sin is rooted out. Expiated. We’re grateful that you thought enough of us to give us a new covenant and then to provide the sacrifice, yourself, through the shed blood of your only Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.