Volume. XXXIV, No. 46
Sunday, 17 May 2020


Divine Outworking Pattern of Promise-Fulfillment through Faith (Part 1)


 

Introduction: The Bible shows that God works in a way that He gives man a promise, requires of him faith as a response to His promise, and sovereignly fulfills His promise. God relates to man by entering into a covenant with him. God unilaterally enacts covenant stipulations and demands His covenant partner to obey them. He promises to protect, prosper, or bless His covenant partner. His covenant partner responds to God’s covenant by faith and promises to keep His covenant stipulations by trusting God. There is a divine pattern of promise-fulfillment through faith that runs through the entire Scripture. The Center of all God’s covenants is Jesus the Messiah, the Seed of woman who has fulfilled the New Covenant to which all other covenants point forward.   

 I. The Significance of Covenant

Covenant is no doubt a dominant theme in the entire Bible. Its concept has developed through both Testaments. The employment of the Hebrew word “berith” for “testament,” as shown in the title “Old or New Testament,” may indicate the significance of its notion through the Bible. The interchangeability of “testament” and “covenant” seems to stress the importance of the theme of covenant. However, over its current rendering “testament,” which means “a last will,” the term “covenant”,” normally meaning “agreement,” is a better choice. The concept of “covenant” as an central principle of the OT stands at the heart of Israel’s understanding of her binding relationship with Yahweh. In this respect, the idea of covenant, running from the Edenic covenant (Gen. 3:15) to the Covenant of Peace (Ezek. 16:60), is central to a better grasp of the Bible. 

 II. The Meaning of Covenant

   A. A Linguistic Perspective

  1. The English word “covenant,” derived from the Latin “con venire,” simply means “a coming together.” It presumes two parties coming together to make a contract by agreeing on promises and stipulations. Depending on a given context, it can refer to “treaty” in a political circumstance or to “friendship,” or “marriage” in a social background. In a religious context, it refers to a mutual agreement between Yahweh and His people wherein He promises blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience and His people bind themselves to believe and obey God.
  2. The Hebrew word “berith” is translated “covenant.” It occurs 285 times and its Greek equivalent “diatheke” in the LXX occurs 257 times. The origin of this term has been debated. Some have argued that it derived from a custom of eating together of a meal,” and then an “alliance, mutual arrangement, obligation.” Others have related “berith” to the Akkadian “baru,” “ to fetter,” whose noun form is “biritu,” “a fetter.” From this comes the idea of a bond. These two etymological attempts understand “covenant” as a reciprocally binding agreement. However, a “berith” is not always between equal partners. A one-sided, unilateral agreement or ordinance is called a berith if the religious sanction is added. The berith, therefore, is not changeable or negotiable in its nature. A berith is unalterable and eternal in its relevance. To break it is a serious offense not because it is an agreement in general, but because of its religious nature.

B. A Cultural Perspective

  1. Throughout ancient history, men made covenants with one another. These covenants were between individuals or between nations. During the Hittite period, the suzerainty treaty form was the most widely used. This suzerainty treaty consisted of five sections: (1) Preamble, (2) historical prologue, (3) stipulations, (4) covenant ratifications (blessings and curses), and (5) arrangements for succession. The suzerainty treaty was unilaterally drawn up by the Hittite conqueror and imposed on subjugated vassals. The suzerain pledged to help and protect his faithful vassals.
  2. Some have found strong similarities between the Deuteronomic Covenant and the Hittite suzerainty-vassal treaty. (1) Preamble-“These are the words of the king of…”; (2) Historical prologue-rehearsed the past aid by the king to his vassals and the debt which they owed him for the deliverance; (3) stipulations-imposed the obligations of vassals; (4) Preservation of the document in a temple and its regular reading-ensured that all the people were aware of their obligations; and (5) Invocation  of divine witnesses-invoked local deities or deified elements of the natural world to be witnesses; (6) Blessings and curses-invoked for keeping or violating the treaty. Though the OT does not have an exact parallel to this treaty, OT scholars generally concede that this treaty sheds light on the understanding of the OT covenant, especially Exodus 20-24 and Deuteronomy.  

C. A Biblical Perspective

  1. The basic idea of a covenant is a legally binding stipulation. “Berith” refers to covenants between human parties. This is a two-sided covenant. The one party often initiates it and comes to terms with the other party. In this case, berith refers to a mutual agreement or a bond willingly made by both parties (Ex. Abraham and Abimelech (Gen. 21:27, 32), Isaac and Abimelech (Gen. 24:28), Jacob and Laban (Gen. 31:44-45), Joshua and the Gibeonites (Josh. 9:11), David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18-20), Solomon and Hiram (1 Kgs. 5:12). There were also covenants made between tribes (1 Sam. 11:1), between kings (1 Kgs. 20:34), and between a king and his people (2 Kgs. 11:4; 2 Chron. 23). The most common type of covenant between people was the marriage contract (Mal. 2:14). In these cases, berith communicates the idea of bilateral bond, agreement, commitment, or league on a generally equal standing.
  2. There were God’s covenants with His people (Noah-Gen. 6:18; 9:8-17, Abraham-Gen. 15:18; 17:2, Israel (Ex. 19-24), and David (2 Sam. 7:8-17). Berith here is not bilateral but unilateral. God Himself initiated, determined the terms, and established His covenant with them. They are just recipients of God’s covenants, accepting and keeping it as prescribed in His Word. God, as King, as Suzerain promises to protect Israel His vassal, imposes stipulations, and demands her obedience and fidelity to them. The emphasis here is on God’s imposed statute. In this case, berith, referring to a legally non-negotiable obligation, depicts God’s sovereignty. Furthermore, as shown in the Exodus event, the covenant between Yahweh and Israel constitutes the ground for an ongoing redemptive relationship. To Israel, “keeping the covenant” stands similar to keeping God’s torah. Therefore, berith here refers not to a mutual contract or agreement but to a legally binding obligation with resultant promises.
  3. There were covenants made by man with God. In Joshua’s day, the Israelites promised solemnly to serve the LORD God and obey His voice (Josh. 24:24). In answer to this, Joshua made a covenant with the people and set them a statute (v. 25). Berith refers to solemn commitment to faith on the part of Josiah, after he found the book of law, making a covenant before the LORD to keep His word with all his heart (2 Kgs. 23:3). Ezra, when he commanded the people to put away foreign wives, exhorted them to make a covenant with God (Ezra 10:3). These examples indicate that berith refers not to a mutual agreement, but to man’s promissory allegiance to God. In this case, God’s people solemnly pledge whole-hearted, unreserved devotion to God.
  4. “Covenant can be defined as follows: a covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other” (Schreiner, Thomas R.. Covenant and God's Purpose for the World (Short Studies in Biblical Theology) (p. 13). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

                                                             To be continued…………..

 


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  • God’s daily guidance, protection & providence.
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  • For the improving situation in Australia & God’s wisdom & guidance to the government in managing the crisis.

 

Prayer

  • Healing: Pastor Ki; Rev George van Buuren; Rev Pong Sen Yiew (S’pore); and others in affliction.
  • God’s comfort in grief – for the family of the late Dr. Stephen Scott- Pearson & others who may be grieving.
  • COVID-19 virus – for God’s grace & mercy; for God’s continuing guidance & wisdom to the government in managing the crisis.
  • Missions – IBPFM missionaries; Rev & Mrs Sun Sokha & family, Faith Krang Angkrang Church (PhnomPenh); Sis Ang Liang & family, Filadelfia B-P Church, orphanage, primary school & kindergarten (Batam); House of Hope (Cebu); Sis Esther Kim & orphanage (Bandung) affected by COVID-19 pandemic & lockdown.

 

 

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