Lecture 34: Genre of Covenant (Part 2)
Course: Biblical Hermeneutics
Lecture: Genre of Covenant (Part2)
Then there is oftentimes reference to various witnesses that are present.
3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the
ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All
the words that the LORD has spoken we will do."
Verses 3 and 7, so there is a witness to what is going on there. Sometimes a stone or something, a memorial is erected, so that whenever you look at that and when the people would pass by it, they will remember that there is a covenant that agreed to and that God graciously made with them.
The frequently blessings and curses associated with the covenant in this particular one we don’t have it as readily as some of the others, but we have references elsewhere to a covenant which God graciously blesses those for a 1,000 generations to those who are faithful, but God will not acquit those who disobey his covenant. And then there is the oath that the people make, “We will obey the covenant. All that the Lord has said, we will do.”
Now this is the covenantal form.
Now let us look at a larger example of this and that is in the book of Joshua, where in the concluding chapter of the book of Joshua, we have this covenant coming up once again. The 24th chapter of the book of Joshua and once again we have in verse - the opening verse, Joshua 24:1-2a, the preamble:
1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and
summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel;
and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people,
"Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel…”
So you have the Lord – Yahweh – the God - Elohim of Israel. Ok. So you have the preamble in verses 1 and part of 2 in this chapter. Then you have a very extensive historical prologue all dealing with past tenses where God has shown what He has done graciously to the people and for the people. And this goes from verse 2b, 2nd part of 2, all the way through verse 13. Let me read them to you.
Long ago your ancestors — Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor
— lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3 Then I took
your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all
the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.
“Yeah. That’s right.” The people would say “Yes. That’s right. You did that. You blessed Abraham and we have become a great nation.”
I gave him Isaac; 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau
the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went
down to Egypt. 5 Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt
with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out.
“That’s right. We remember that. And every year we go through the Passover celebration. We remember that.”
6 When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea;
and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen
to the Reed Sea. 7 When they cried out to the LORD, he put darkness
between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them
and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt.
“That’s right. We didn’t deserve any of that. That was all your gracious doing.”
Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8 Then I brought
you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan;
they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took
possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9 Then King
Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and
invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam;
therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand.
“That’s right. You rescued us from Balak and the others.”
11 When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of
Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the
Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites;
and I handed them over to you. 12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which
drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your
sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored,
and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of
vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.
Now on what basis can Israel say, “Yes. That’s right. We earned all of that.”? All of this is God’s graciousness. And notice it all comes before the stipulations. So God’s grace which they have already experienced is not based on the stipulations that are going to follow. They are separate from them. God’s graciousness has been revealed.
Now in verses 14 to 21, you have a description of the stipulations, whereas the previous verses, 2b-13 all deal with the past, 14 begins now in light of this gracious historical activity which is described in this prologue:
14 "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in
faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the
River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 Now if you are unwilling to
serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods
your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the
Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my
household, we will serve the LORD."
16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should
forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 for it is the LORD our God who
brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the
house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He
protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the
peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the LORD drove out before us
all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also
will serve the LORD, for he is our God."
19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for he is
a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions
or your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he
will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you
good." 21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the LORD!"
Now verses 22 and 23, we have reference to these witnesses that are there.
22 Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against
yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said,
"We are witnesses." 23 He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that
are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."
Then in verses 26-27 – we will jump ahead and we will come back to the other two verses. You have the provision for continual reading.
26 Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large
stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the LORD.
27 Joshua said to all the people, "See, this stone shall be a witness
against us; for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to
us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with
You want to go back to verses 24, 25. We have the oath of the people.
24 The people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and
him we will obey." 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that
day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
Alright. That pretty much is a more extended example of this covenant form that we have. Very important and it’s a very important hermeneutical tool to understand what is going on here, because the whole issue of how stipulations – how law relates to God’s grace is at stake here, and if you once know the form of a covenant, you realize that the commandments that are given in the Old Testament are not legalism as such, but are stipulations to people who have graciously entered into a covenant with the Lord, their God. And these are stipulations to guide the community in that covenant, and it is not a matter of entering into it, but if they disobey, they will essentially be thrown out of that covenant.
Alright. Let me stop and see how we are going in regards to the covenant form.
Student: Was it pretty much the King said ‘This is your deal. This is the covenant. Take it or perish. Was it a situation like that?’
Dr. Stein: No used car dealing and bartering. It’s the one that we have. But the covenant is such a gracious thing, you want to jump at it. For example, who wants to deny a covenant and say, “I don’t like it”, when you say, “Look what God has done for us. We were slaves in Egypt. He took us out. He brought us into the Promised Land, defeated all our enemies for us. We have cities here that we didn’t build, we have fields and fruit trees that we didn’t plant. We would be crazy not to accept this. It is always a gracious covenant and on all grounds you would have to be out of your mind not to accept it. But Israel lots of times is out of its mind, just like we may be.
Student: Salvation? [? – hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: This is the blood of the New Covenant, Jesus says.
Student: Covenant – and you want to relate to the Old Testament covenant - you want to believe [? - hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: There are some passages in the New Testament that seem to teach that. If you read the book of Hebrews, read about people having experienced all these wonderful things, tasted the first fruits of the Spirit and look at all those things and I said, I look at them and I say, “You know there are people in my church that think they know the Lord that never experience any of these things. And these people are lost and people in my church think well you know “They got my decision card, when I was six years old in the church. And once saved always saved. That’s what the Bible says.”
Dr. Stein: I haven’t found that verse yet, but how are you gonna preach those things. And you have to … you know its interesting, of all the points of Calvinism, the one that Calvin was least sure of was the one that we call eternal security.
And he believed this because it had to be the result of his understanding of the first four. But the one that he was least sure of. Now we have a lot of people that have one point of Calvin, that’s eternal security, and throw everything else away. But you lose sight of the fact that you only have that as far as Calvin is concerned because of the first four. Now you have other understandings by Christian people, who say “Yeah. You can lose your salvation.”
Student: But in terms of a covenant, you said it was one way. The covenant is made by a king, so if I don’t have half the power to make the covenant, I don’t have the power to break the covenant. If you look at the Old Testament, God never goes back on His Word, no matter what the people do. I am of the opinion, that it’s the same way with Christ. It’s a gift. I didn’t do anything therein. So I couldn’t think of anything there is to do to lose it. Cus the covenant [? - hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: But the warnings in the Old Testament is that if you break these things. Why does Joshua say, “You better watch out about this covenant. God will/wont[? - hard to hear] forgive you if you break this covenant.” There are warnings. Now. One of the things, when you get a system of theology – let me say to first year students, hold off on a system of theology. Let it kind of ferment in your mind, for your years here at seminary, till you get all the other evidence, passages that, what I worry about is, you get a system here so quickly, that and once you have that, that’s a grid that now stands over your Biblical text. And if the text doesn’t seem to fit it, well, its kind of play dough, we can kind of squish it and make it fit the system and the system becomes an end in itself. And that’s scary. Our system forces the Bible to fit it, rather than our system fitting the Bible.
I know there are some of you here that not only are TULIP Calvinists, but you are Chrysanthemum types – you need a lot more letters or something like that, for your Calvinism. Hold off on that and try to wrestle with some of these issues, and if you do want to talk about eternal security, use the kinds of expressions that the theologians who worked carefully on this used. And they didn’t use once saved always saved. They talked about the Perseverance of the Saints. I’m comfortable with that. The work that God began in you, he will complete it. I believe that.
You say, what about a person who doesn’t persevere? Well. The saints persevere. That’s all I know. And you leave it that way. And it may well be that we need to have some people start thinking about whether that decision is a 6 year old which has never affected ones life at all and that there is no great love for Jesus Christ or passion for Him. And our lives are no different than any unbeliever’s life. Maybe that kind of person needs to rethink seriously. Doesn’t the Bible say make sure you don’t miss out on the salvation.
Student: So all of God’s covenants are out of His grace. Is that[? - hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: A covenant by its very nature is gracious. God doesn’t have to do it. It is an act of loving grace in which He establishes a relationship with us. There are stipulations in it that we must keep and if a person things that they can enter a covenant and not have to worry about keeping God’s commandments, then I am wondering what kind of covenant they have entered into. Good trees bear good fruit. Evil trees bear evil fruit.
Student: Children of Israel ever become not God’s people from their lack of [? - hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: When you talk about the Old Testament covenant, there seems to have been a two-sided dimension on this. There is a sense in which the covenant extends to all the physical offspring of Abraham. Those have to do with land issues and so forth, but the spiritual benefits of the coming Messiah and a relationship with God, the coming of the Spirit tend to be to those who later on become more and more referred to as the remnant in the Old Testament, the faithful remnant.
And I think that – when you get to the New Testament, that national kind of covenant doesn’t exist anymore. And now you have a inner covenant dealing with the renewal of the heart, where you are not talking about two dimensions, everyone who is in this is part of the remnant, following the footsteps of the prophets and the true Israel.
That’s why I think for instance, you can circumcise infants, because they are part of that larger covenant. That’s why I don’t think you can baptize infants. That’s quite different there.
Alright let me then comment a little about the stipulation or law in the Old Testament and in the New. I think its quite clear that to understand God’s commandments or laws as the reason why we obtain a salvation by keeping them perfectly or so forth or keeping them as best as we could is a misunderstanding. I don’t think that Legalism is a possibility. I think that Legalism is the idea that somehow, if I keep the laws perfectly, that will merit me eternal life. I don’t think that that’s at all what the Bible teaches about law in this regard.
When I became a Christian, somebody gave me a Scofield Bible, within a week or two after my conversion. This became my Bible and my Systematic Theology. And it was nice having not only an inspired Bible, but an inspired group of interpretations and interpretive notes.
That’s one of the real dangers of Study Bibles. I laugh at it now, because I am mature, but I remember the first time I disbelieved some of the Scofield notes, I was really scared, wondering if I had become a liberal or had lost my salvation or what was going on here.
I can laugh now, but it wasn’t then. It was very kind of scary and that’s the danger. Somehow if you find notes in the Bible, doesn’t inerrancy, infallibility, the plenary inspiration of the text, doesn’t some of that rub off onto the notes when you read them? For instance when you read a Bible , a text and there is a footnote on it, which says A, and they ask me and I say, “No. I don’t think that’s right. I think that it is B.” Who are they going to believer? I am not in the Bible!
So we have to be careful in how we teach our people to use footnotes and so forth. Well. Anyhow, in the Scofield Bible, in the chapter 19 of the book of Exodus, verse 8, it reads this way.
“So Moses came, summoned the Elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded them”
And now here is verse 8,
“The people all answered as one, ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken, we will do.’ Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.”
Now there is a footnote there in my Scofield Bible which says,
“This was the most terrible thing which Israel could have ever said, because now they were depending on their works, not on God’s grace.”
And I looked at that and I said, “What were the people of Israel supposed to say? ‘All of the things that the Lord has said, we are not going to do.’?”
I mean how else do you answer that? It was a positive statement. So it was a wrong understanding. I think they didn’t realize that within the grace of the covenant which has already been established now you have the stipulations. Well, anyhow. Law and laws are gracious. They are gracious ways in which God shows us how you can please them.
When you are in love with somebody, you really want to know how to please someone. What can I do to make my beloved happy? Well. God says, if you want to make me happy, I want you to do these things. So unlike the rest of the world that is groping and wondering what in the world God demands, we don’t have to worry about that. God has given us His laws. And we know, they don’t [? - hard to hear] out there. We know because God has given us His laws.
Now when the Reformation took place, they began to wrestle with the issue of what about all these laws in the Old Testament. What – there are some six hundred and thirteen in the Pentateuch or something like that. Are they all to be kept still? Is there something that’s happened since the coming of Christ? And so the result was that they began to wrestle with that. The Laws, some of the laws were civil laws – punishment for crimes. What do you do if someone steals something and is caught? There are laws that deal with such things as cities of refuge. When you kill somebody by accident, not maliciously, it has just been an accident. You are to provide cities of refuge so these people can go and flee and then when you are in that city you don’t have to worry about vengeance on the part of the family of the person who has been killed.
So there are civil laws or regulations. There are also cultic laws or regulations. Let me just read some of the civil laws to start with. In Deuteronomy 19. Now this is the case of a homicide which might flee there and live. These have to do with cities of refuge. This is what you do. Verse 14,
“14 You must not move your neighbor's boundary marker, … 15 A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing … Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.
These deal with civil kinds of laws of one sort or another.
In chapter 22
1 You shall not watch your neighbor's ox or sheep straying away and
ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner.
What you do with kinds of civil issues of one sort or another.
Now the cultic issues, well, if you go to the book of Leviticus chapter two through six, you have these various kinds of sacrifices. Whenever anyone presents a grain offering to the Lord, this is what you do with a grain offering. If you have a sin offering and offer sheep, verse 32, when you have heard of public adoration to testify and so forth.
So you have cultic rules and laws that exist at this time. Let us think of government laws, back[? - hard to hear] Or things of that nature.
Then you have ethical kinds, when I think of the ten commandments here. Moral laws. Now there has been some protests, Jewish scholars especially and others who said that, in the time of Jesus for instance, Jewish people didn’t think of the laws in those categories. They are all laws that you were to obey and if you disobeyed them, you were disobeying God and that was wrong.
Now they didn’t make a big difference between civil, cultic, and ethical kinds of laws. That may be true. That may be true. But Jesus makes a distinction. In the seventh chapter of the book of Mark, Jesus makes a statement, “It is not what goes into a man’s stomach that defiles him, but what comes out of his heart.” Thus Jesus declared all foods clean. Now, these cultic laws involved things such as what foods you can eat.
And there is a distinction that Jesus sees here between cultic laws and ethical laws. In other words, so you eat some pork, it doesn’t make you a sinner, because that goes into the stomach and then later goes out and ends in the latrine, but it doesn’t … that’s not the issue. He says what comes out of the heart is what defiles a man… defiles a woman. What you have here is a distinction between what would be cultic – foods to eat and so forth and so on – and what has to do with moral laws of one sort or another. Cultic regulations, the New Testament sees them as having come to an end. You have the experience of Peter, with the sheep coming in from Heaven with unclean animals. He is told, “Rise. Kill and eat.” Peter says, “No. I don’t do those things. I am a kosher Jew.” The Lord says, “Don’t call unclean what God has called clean.”
Paul in Romans says, “Eat whatever is set before you. Don’t worry about those things. Let everybody be convinced in their own mind as to whether they can eat meat or something of this nature.”
So the cultic aspects have gone away. Christians don’t feel obligated to have a particular diet of one sort or another. It is not a religious issue. They can eat whatever they want. And one person may eat barbecued spare-ribs and give God thanks … “Barbecued spare-ribs are great. I thank you Lord for them!” And another says, “Lord. I don’t feel it is right. I won’t do this, because I think I can serve you better by not doing it.” God is pleased because He looks at the heart.
So cultic issues have gone out - are no longer in effect. The ethical issues of course are, because the Ten Commandments are a reflection of God’s character. That doesn’t change. These are not just arbitrary matters where He says, “I just think arbitrarily, it wouldn’t be right to kill people.” Now this reflects His character and understanding of morality as ethical being itself. So the ethical aspects of Old Testament law are still binding.
The Ten Commandments are still issues that we should keep. Civil laws, we are not a theocracy. We are not a religious state. All we can suggest is that our government should think seriously about some of these understandings that are present there. Shouldn’t any good government take in consideration, that it should be an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Not two eyes for an eye and two teeth for a tooth.
That kind of regulation which says that punishment should fit the crime is the basis I think that any good state would have. And we would urge you know I would say that biblical teaching here is a very good one. But I don’t think in our secular situation we could say, we should do it because the Bible says so. If it would arise, we would say, this is a good basis for any society to be built on in that way.
Student: [? - hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: No. In the sense that if you defined the ethical laws as you should love your neighbor as yourself, the very nature of God is a loving relationship within the Trinity.
Not eating pork – that was an arbitrary law. If you try to explain it and say well, it really is based on hygienic issues. The answer is no. It is not based on hygienic issues. You say “Well. Yeah. Trichinosis was a real bad disease.” It was as bad in the 1st century A.D. as it was in the 5th century B.C. It didn’t change. Nothing is ever built on that. It is just that God is seeking to show that everything in life is clean or unclean. No decision in life are lacking in religious matter so that whatever you do you should do all to the glory of God and it extends even into the matter of what you eat and things of that nature.
But that lesson has apparently been learned. The period of being under a teacher to lead us to Christ has come to fulfillment and therefore in the maturity that which we supposedly have we are granted freedom so that we can better serve the Lord and not have to worry about do’s and dont’s with regard to cultic issues of one sort or another.
Student: What is your … not necessarily … you don’t have to get into … like that or anything … cause a big disagreement. But as far as … do you see them as stipulations of a covenant that God has made with Adam? Which they were … with children of Israel…or do you see them in the character of God? [? - hard to hear]??
Dr. Stein: Oh. I see them as continuing. I think for instance for the Christian, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself” is a continuation of those ethical laws - a summary of them. I think that continues.
On the other hand, these tend to be arbitrary. What you cannot eat. What you can eat and so forth and so on and the kinds of sacrifice and things of that nature, those no longer are necessary since we have the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus. So in light of the fulfillment of aspects of that covenant with Abraham, some of these things have … have no longer a necessity of existing.
Student: [? - hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: I think we as Christians should try to keep our Sabbath, Sunday and I practice Sunday worship, not Sabbath worship because the early church understood the 1st day of the week as being a special way… day as having replaced the Sabbath. Very quickly, Paul writes to the Corinthians that when they meet together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and collect their offering on the 1st day of the week, they should do that. When he meets with the church in Ephesus in the city of Miletus, they break bread on the 1st day of the week. The book of Revelation talks about the Lord’s Day and by then it’s the 1st day of the week and so forth.
So I think, the 1st day took over. I think probably in the history of the early church for a while, the church being primarily Jewish celebrated the 1st day of the week in a special way, but also the Sabbath. They continued to be Sabbatarians in that sense.
As the church becomes more and more Gentile in orientation, the Sabbath becomes of lesser importance and the 1st day of the week, the day of the Resurrection becomes the key day. For me the worse day of the year, of the whole universe was the Sabbath day. The day after Good Friday and before Easter was a miserable day. I want to celebrate the Resurrection Day and that’s what the early church seems to have wanted to do.
Now how to keep it. You have to realize that there are no laws here. If you look at the statement of faith of our seminary, it was written in a time when people were very strong Sabbatarians. And when I came here I had some problems with that.
“Do you have anything you have questions with?”
I said, “Yes. It’s the Sabbath. I don’t wash my car. I don’t mow my lawn on Sundays or anything like that. It’s a church day, but it’s a fun day. I have always wanted it to be a fun time for my children. I wanted them to like Sunday. Not hate it.”
And when you are in the pastorate, if your children begin to hate Sundays because they don’t have a father anymore, you better do something about that. It should be a kind of a special day for them.
Worldly amusements – well I love pro-football on Sundays. Maybe I should just sit and watch it with a Bible open or something like that. You have to play that by ear somewhat.
Ok. Anything else on the covenant – very important?
Student: Based upon the Old Testament - [? - hard to hear] – what you said about that regarding how the blessings [? - hard to hear] In light of that what covenant[? - hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: Are you keeping the covenant?
Student: [? - hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: I don’t think what happens when we as Christians sin is that we seek to be resaved over again. When we ask god for forgiveness, it is not that we will be forgiven in the Final Day of Judgment and be saved. That’s been done for when I have received Christ. When He forgave me of my sins, He forgave me of my past sins, but all the sins that Bob Stein was going to be associated with the rest of his life. That was taken care of. Therefore I don’t ask the Great Judge of Heaven and Earth to forgive me of my sins when I do that, but I ask my Heavenly Father to forgive me so that the relationship we have together will not be stopped and hindered.
Not to be resaved but it is like a son coming to his father and saying, “Dad. I did something wrong. Would you forgive me? - To restore that relationship. It is not looking to be readopted or something like that. Or be received back into the family.
So the fellowship you have with the Lord is so special, that you don’t want anything to stand in the way of that. And if you do sin, you ask God to forgive you of that so that relationship can continue. But it hasn’t to do with a salvific – its not a salvific kind of experience.
Think of it as – you can’t divide God into parts but there is a sense in which the eternal judge of Heaven and earth forgave me of my sin once and for all. Now that He is my heavenly Father, I ask Him to forgive me when I offended Him and I have not been a good son and have shamed him.
Student: Even the blessings are not earned or merited for they are offered as rewards for obedience and not as pay for [? - hard to hear] I understand what you are saying there.
Dr. Stein: The idea of rewards and so forth[? - hard to hear]
Dr. Stein: I don’t know how it works out in the end time. I don’t think that there are layers of mansions and different suburbs and some of you are going to live out in nice suburbs and I am going to live out in a slum area of Heaven or something like that where the gold streets are a little more beat up than where you are where they are polished regularly or something like.
I think mostly … see … the well done, good and faithful servant – at that point will I be embarrassed – at that point will I hear “Well done. Good and faithful servant”? That that I am concerned about. Not what happens after that.
It is so hard to envision something that is so much unlike anything that I have experienced in this life. Do you sleep in heaven? There is no way you could imagine what it will be like. All I know is that any of the longings of my heart will be met in some way or the other.
Can I go skiing in Heaven? My guess is if the good Lord thought that would make me happy -Yeah.