Teacher: Chancellor Roger J. Magnuson
Topic: Review carefully each account of God cutting a covenant with Abraham. In connection with that, review the following: the founding documents of NATO, Meredith Kline’s Treaty of the Great King and other contemporary sources of information about ancient Near Eastern treaties. As a result of this study, describe whether the covenant between God and Abraham is a treaty between a greater and lesser king, the significance of the cutting ritual as evidenced of the seriousness of God’s oath, the significance of key analogies between that covenant and modern treaties and how one might describe the covenant of Genesis 15 as the Old Testament Golgotha, a prefiguring of the covenant cut at the cross.
Title: Abrahamic Covenant
When God speaks to us, John Calvin says, He must lisp. He accommodates our weakness by speaking to us in terms that we understand, so that we can choose to accept or reject His proposals. All the lisping of God that indicates what is going to happen when the redemptive program fully matures is present in the life of Abraham. So we need to pay very close attention to the father of the faithful, the man Abraham. lf you go to Hebron, half an hour south of Bethlehem, which is half an hour from Jerusalem, you will find the bier of Abraham and Sarah reading, “Abraham our Father” and “Sarah our Mother” written in three languages. How did an obscure prince become one of the most famous men of all time? The significance of Abraham is seen in three ways; the purpose of his life, the paradigm that his life represents, and the pathology of modern theological bankruptcies that he exposes: for “he being dead yet speaks” against modern diseases like “the learned German syndrome.”
- Purpose—We see the purpose of God in Abraham’s life right away in Genesis l2 where God gives him a three-fold promise. The promises indicate God’s purpose for each life and for the world at large.
- Personal Promise—“I will make your name great.” God keeps His promises. He guaranteed Abraham that he would have a significant personal name that would endure throughout time.
- National Promise—”I will make of thee a mighty nation.” Out of Abraham’s loins came Isaac and then Jacob, and then the most amazing, remarkable people in the world—the Jews—were his offspring! No other people have preserved such a cultural and national identity or such a center role in the history of the world. But another son also came out of the loins of Abraham: Ishmael. Therefore, you have Arabic and not just Hebrew, on his tomb.
- Universal Promise—Not only would his name be great and not only would there come out of him a mighty nation, but out of him would come a universal blessing: “out of thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” And therefore, upon his tomb, is the lingua franca, English, which makes clear that he is significant throughout the entire world. The purpose of God keeps his name alive. This promise shows us three things: First, if you want a name that will not rot, but that will be preserved forever, will all depend if you take a part in God’s redemptive program. Second, God expresses His program through a specific nation, using them as an example and a vessel. Finally, God’s redemptive plan is universal. God did not intend to be some narrow crabbed picker of specific people: He intended to undo the fall, to bless not one particular nation, but all nations of the earth.
- Paradigm—God is Lisping out in Genesis the redemptive plan, so that Abraham has a clue what it might be. Abraham and his life give us various paradigms of redemption.
- Man—God chooses to do his redemptive purposes through flesh and blood human beings, not by using an angel or changing the scenery invisible. God’s work is saved for people who wear skin. Abraham is the paradigmatic man of redemption because he combines two fundamental properties that a person has to have to be part of the drama of redemption: faith and obedience. People sometimes construct a false dichotomy between faith and works: James’ corollary insight is “faith works.” There is an energy of true faith that will take the form of works. Abraham saw a city that was not yet there: he could see an opportunity that nobody else saw; but out of this faith, in very concrete ways, he took the faith to the next step. The concrescence of faith is in obedience. And that obedience only matters if it is carried out in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Significant obedience is when you want to do something, but can’t because you have to obey. Abraham takes actions that are not apparently in his self-interest.
- Separation—The primary action he takes is separation from family, friends and fortune. They all constitute a significant pull in someone’s life. He has a sweet inheritance inUr of the Chaldees, and God tells him, “Go, just leave it all behind, and go to a land I will show you.” He was leaving not only the privileges, but also the obligations of his life: he had an obligation to take care of his family and land, and being a man of conviction, it could not have been easy to leave behind that position as a rich prince. But God’s command came first, and he obeyed because he believed.
- Second Separation—He separated himself fromLot.Lot had an eye towards the more beautiful region ofSodom, and Abraham, sensing God’s call, allowedLot to take those well-watered plains and moved on with his people to the mountains.
- Sacrifice—When the king ofSodom wanted to reward him for retrieving the kidnapped people and booty, Abraham didn’t want to defile himself with the king ofSodom’s defiled rewards. He understood the promises of God and would not take a single thing from this rich king.
- Method—The method is related to the concept of covenant. God honors man by giving him a god-like status in the garden. He is the ruler of creation, subject only to God. God treats man with significant dignity; even when man is fallen, God dignifies him by elevating him to the level of a vassal king and cutting a covenant, “Kerath berith,” offering protection, provision, encouragement while Abraham provides single-minded devotion to the suzerain, to do his will. This is a very conventional form that covenants of the time followed, containing six specifics which God followed in His arrangements with Abraham:
- Preamble—Suzerain declares who he is, the ruling king.
- History—The suzerain declares his historical relationship of aid and protection to the vassal, lesser king.
- Stipulations—”Thou shalt, thou shalt not” linguistically comes only with a covenant. These are rules the lesser king must keep under authority of the greater.
- Consequences—We remember the promises of blessings and cursings to focus you upon the self-deprecatory oath that you made to keep the covenant.
- Succession—Arrangement for the covenant to continue throughout the generations. This is a sanction-sealed covenant where both parties must keep their parts, and if someone breaks his part, blood will be shed. Blood, representing life, is the appropriate ink to seal civil litigations.
- Mount—Golgotha, where Jesus died was prefigured by the cutting of the Old Testament. The black night and the fire passing between the cut animals foretold of a day when Jesus Christ would be cut as those animals were.
- Pathology—In Abraham is a “giving of the lie” to a whole variety of theological mischief that has been wrought since that day almost 4,000 years ago.
- Learned German Syndrome—One of these theological mischiefs. Out of one university has come a whole variety of terrible mischiefs: a man named Wellhausen and many other learned Germans had certain things in common.
- Pride—First of all, they all had pride: they thought they did not have to believe Scripture, but that they could inflict upon it “higher criticism.” They thought that two to three thousand years after the writing of Scriptures, they could determine who had written it, using their own brilliant little brains.
- Particular Examples—Rudolph Bultmann reorganized the book of John, putting the books in “proper order” and omitting anything that John had not really said or that John should not have said.
- Hapax Legomenon—”Hapax Legomenon” means looking through someone’s work and seeing if he ever used a certain word, like “moron” and if he has used that word only once, it is a “hapah legomenon.” This is interesting to the higher critic, because it shows that the writer used the word only once. The higher critics say, “Paul is a very creative guy, and since there is no hapax legomenon in Colossians, he did not write that book.” Of course, that doesn’t stop them from analyzing Thessalonians and saying Paul had not written that one either: why? Because he used 14 hapax legomenon, and clearly that is impossible (even though they neglect to consider that he was writing on a completely new subject). This is the ultimate pride.
- Mosaic Books—Wellhausen looked at the Mosaic books and determined that Moses did not write them, but that the books were written by four guys:
- J—The first man was “J,” who loved to use the Lord’s name “Jaweh.” And when you get a good rousing rape, murder, war, that is the Jawehist work, because that is the way those people thought.
- E—When you get a more methodical history section, that was written by “E,” who used the name “Elohim,” which means God generally. He is not as passionate as the Jawehist.
- P—The “priestly” guy, the one with just the right robe, very interested in the details of sacraments. When you get a detailed account, it is P.
- D—The “Deuteronomic” man, who is probably about as authentic as the Peking man, clearly (Wellhausen said) was the writer of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy, he said, was a random conglomeration of thoughts: he saw no thematic progress or interesting line in it. This book was total chaos, the final confirmation of natural selection: it made no sense to him.
- Problem—The only problem for the learned Germans is: the facts. But it is really not a problem for them: the stubborn facts come out and they simply decide to write on something else. But one of the best refutations of the learned German syndrome was the refutation of Wellhausen’s statements on Deuteronomy. Wellhausen said that the book could not possibly have been written in the fourteenth-fifteenth century BC and that it made no sense. But then the Hittite treaties of ancient times were discovered, and Deuteronomy proved to be an exact replica of all the parts of a treaty written at the exact time of Moses. Wellhausen’s argument had to be dismissed.
- Law v. Grace syndrome—The idea that law is inferior to grace, and not only inferior to, but opposed to. If you are under grace, you are “free from the law, o happy condition.” That is clearly doctrinally incorrect, because God’s love is limited in its expression to people who trust in Jesus Christ, who fulfill the law. Therefore, the law and love are inextricably linked. There is a myth that the more you grow toward God, the less you care about law. But when you look at Abraham, you see that God seals all His promises with Abraham through a legal process: and unless that law is fulfilled, redemption is not completed. Yes, God takes the initiative; He taps Abraham on the shoulder before Abraham ever thinks of any plan. But the way God’s plan works is through the law: God has a fundamental judicial balance in the universe and He is the governor of that vast realm. And though He empowers us through grace and takes action in us through grace, the law must be fulfilled for us to be forgiven: He can’t just forgive us for the fun of it. The law must be satisfied: there is no inherent contradiction between law and grace, and God’s moral government continues to rule. God has never repealed His moral law and given us permission to just go have fun. There is a person afflicted with the “law v. grace syndrome,” and this person has two faces:
- Libertines—The antinomian says that we have no place for the law today. He is “anti” “nomos,” against the law. He says the law is an Old Testament crusty fiction that denies grace; therefore, we don’t have to fulfill it. Therefore, let’s not sweat the small stuff. We are saved, and we do not need to expect our sin quotient to go down.
- Legalist—The legalist says, Law is a system of redemption by itself and I can comply with it. I can satisfy God’s righteous demands by keeping His law. In Old Testament times, people always sought to legally define and seal covenants of grace. We bind ourselves to God by obedience and submission when we see His grace towards us. It is not antithetical to grace to have Abraham and others choosing to make commitments of obedience to God.
- Law vs. Love Syndrome—”You are either a person of law or of love. When Paul kicks the person out of the Corinthian church for being in adultery with his mother and law, he is being a law person. If he had been a love person, he would have kept an open relationship with the guy rather than booting him out of the church.” The fact is, the loving thing and the lawful thing are always the same thing if you understand God correctly. For example, sending the sinful adulterer out of the church was love because it would cause him to consider his sin and perhaps turn back to the truth. And what is more loving than the covenant act of God in Genesis 15 where he subdues Himself under the responsibility of taking punishment on Himself? Ultimately, true love wants commitment: it eventually causes people to inextricably be bound together in the most strict and serious vows of matrimony. Love leads to law: revival leads to covenants.
Let us return to the Hebron tomb of Abraham and remember God’s great purpose to spread the blessing of redemption throughout the world through this man, realize what a perfect paradigm of the redemptive process his life was, and understand how his life story refutes several modern theological misconceptions.