“The Giving of the Law” – Romans 4:13-17; Genesis 15

November 6th, 2016

Message Text: Romans 4:13-17

“The Giving of the Law”

Call to Worship: Psalm 103

Auxiliary Text: Genesis 15


Service Orientation: God begins our relationship with a promise, a covenant; not by law.  It is the promises of God that motivates, empowers and transforms us so we can fulfill the Law by being “in Christ.”


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. — Romans 10:4


Background Information:

  • The function of the book of Deuteronomy is to call every generation of Israelites to faithful covenant love for Yahweh in response to his gracious salvation and his revelation of himself (cf. 6:20-25) and in acceptance of the missional role to which he has called them (26:19). (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 38)
  • The doctrine of the book presents a lofty spirituality, setting forth important ethical truths which Moses, as the leader of God’s chosen people, wished to impress upon the covenant nation before they entered the land of promise. Deuteronomy teaches a strict monotheism which precludes any “other gods” (4:24, 35, 39).  The God of Israel is God alone, majestic and supreme (3:24; 6:14f.; 7:4f.; 8:19f.; 11:16f., 28; etc.).  This God who revealed Himself to Israel (1:6) is a faithful and covenant-keeping deity (7:9, 12) whose love is manifested in His choice of Israel (7:6-8; 10:15; 14:2).  The Israelite nation, standing in a special filial relationship to Him (1:31; 8;2f., 16; 14:2) must reciprocate this love (6:5).  Therefore, Israel’s worship and service must be motivated by genuine love for God (10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3f.; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20), that she may walk before Him in holiness of life (7:6; 14:2; 18:13; 26:19).  In particular, she must be kind to the needy, the poor, the orphan, the widow, the Levite, the stranger (10:18f.; 24:17-21; 26:12), to the animal creation (25:4), even to the mother bird and her young (22:6f.).  The strong humanitarian emphasis of other Pentateuchal writings is just as prominent in Deuteronomy.  In order to ensure that the spiritual traditions of the covenant relationship will be sustained at the highest level through future generations, the Israelites are urged to bring up their children in the reverence and admonition of the Lord (4:9; 6:7, 20-25; 11:19-31; 31:13).  Such obedience to the Lord will bring joy, while disobedience will result in evil (28:1ff.).  Temporal rewards are promised to those who make right conduct a consistent way of living (8:18; 14:29; 15:10; 16:20; 28:8).  The appeal in Deuteronomy to fear God and keep His commandments is directed to the individual as well as to the nation.  Its purpose is to demonstrate that type of religious faith and practice which reaches down to the common affairs of life as well as up to the throne of God.  Optimism, sustained by implicit faith in God’s saving power, is the hallmark of the prophetic outlook which the author of Deuteronomy manifests.  (Geoffrey Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, 940)
  • The hortatory utterances of Deuteronomy are represented as words placed in the mouth of Moses. His name occurs nearly forty times, mostly as the authoritative author of the subject matter.  The 1st person is used frequently throughout (cf. 1:16; 3:21; 29:5; etc.), and the book depicts Moses as teaching Israel divine statutes and judgments as a preparation for sedentary occupation of Canaan (cf. 4:5, 14; 5:31; 7:1; etc.).  Coupled with these are prophetic exhortations from Moses which give Deuteronomy its outstanding parenetic character.  Israel is warned time and again about the dangers of being lured into grave sin through indulgence in idol-worship.  The way in which Moses undertook to “explain” the law (1:5) indicates that he thought it desirable to expound what had been delivered previously, which is consistent with the nature of Deuteronomy as a covenant-renewal document.  (Geoffrey Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, 938)
  • In the Gospels “law” always refers to the Mosaic law, although it has differing applications. Mosaic law was threefold:  moral law, as summed up in the Decalogue; ceremonial law, prescribing the ritual; and civil or political law, relating to the people in their national, political life.  The distinctions are not closely observed and generally the whole Mosaic law is meant, although sometimes a certain aspect is emphasized.  (Geoffrey Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, 85)
  • As salt was regarded as a necessary ingredient of the daily food, and so of all sacrifices offered to Yahweh (Lv 2:13), it became an easy step to the very close connection between salt and covenant-making. When men ate together they became friends.  Cf. The Arabic expressions, “There is salt between us”; He has eaten of my salt,” which means partaking of hospitality which cemented friendship; cf. “eat the salt of the palace” (Ezr 4;14). Covenants were generally confirmed by sacrificial meals and salt was always present.  Since, too, salt is a preservative, it would easily become symbolic of an enduring covenant.  So offerings to Yahweh were to be by a statute forever, “a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord” (Nm 18:19).  David received his kingdom forever from the Lord by a “covenant of salt” (2 Ch 13:5).  In the light of these conceptions the remark of Our Lord becomes the more significant:  “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mk 9:50).  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Vol. One, p. 794)


Have you ever considered that the lessons that Jesus taught us in the Book of Matthew were just as much there for us to see how God will keep His covenant relationship with us as well as we with God and others?  Think about that.  It really puts into perspective such teaching as love your neighbor as yourself; forgive not seven times but seventy times seven; love your enemies; and do good to those who hate you. — Pastor Keith


The question to be answered is . . . How is the context of the giving of the Law beneficial for our understanding of God’s great love for us?


Answer:  The Law was given as a covenant between the children of Abraham and God as Father.   Obedience to the Law was sought after God promised and saved . . . not before.  Compliance to the Law is encouraged by love, not fear.  And the Law drives us to see our need for Christ who alone, because of His promise, fulfilled the covenant stipulations of the Law.


Today we need an “Emmaus road” experience in reverse.  The disciples knew Moses and the Prophets but could not conceive how they might relate to Jesus the Christ.  The modern church knows Jesus the Christ but is fast losing any grasp of Moses and the Prophets.  (Philip Yancey;  The Bible Jesus Read, 25)


The Word for the Day is . . . Covenant


Covenant = “come to terms”, “bond”, “partnership”, “fetter”, “to agree”, “pledge”, “promise”, “to put together”, to eat bread with”, “to keep the community of a meal with”.


In a consumer relationship you relate to a vendor.  And you have a relationship as long as  the vendor is giving you a product at a good price.  But you are always looking to an upgrade.   And so you say to your vendor, “We have a relationship.  But, you better keep adjusting to me because if you don’t meet my needs, I’m out-a-here because my needs are more important than the relationship.” . . . But a covenant relationship is exactly the opposite. . . . A covenant relationship says, “I will adjust to you because I have made a promise.  And the relationship is more important than my needs.  My needs are less important than the sustenance of the relationship.”

Now if two people get into a relationship, one as a consumer and one as a covenanter; that will be bad for the covenanter; that covenant will be exploited.  (Tim Keller message, “Love and Lust”)


If you get into a covenant relationship . . . you finally have a zone of security, a zone of safety, a place where you can finally be yourself. You see in a consumer relationship you are always marketing, you are always selling yourself, you’ve got to perform, you’ve got to meet the other person’s need or their out.  But in a covenant, in a marriage . . . you can finally have a zone of safety, you can finally get rid of the facades, you can finally let him know, her know about your insecurities.  You can finally be yourself.   (Tim Keller message, “Love and Lust”)


What do we see in God’s giving of the Law?:

I-  The Law is given in the format of a covenant/contract/ testament/promise of a suzerain-vassal treaty:   except offered as a Father to a son or a man to his wife.   (Ex 19:1-8; 20:1-24:18; Dt 29:1-30:10; Rom 4:13-17; Gal 3:17-18;  Eph 5:21-22)


In a secular suzerainty treaty, as one would expect, the suzerain acted entirely in his own interest.  He usually gained control over a smaller vassal nation by conquering it in battle.  The suzerain collected tribute from the vassal and required the vassal’s support in time of war.

By contrast, the Lord initiated his covenant with Israel, not in view of what he wanted to get from her, but because of what he wished to do for her.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 9)


Perhaps most significant is the general conformity of Deuteronomy’s structure to the covenant or treaty form of the mid-second millennium B.C. (The approximate time of Moses).  We find the following treaty elements in Deuteronomy:  (a) a preamble identifying the covenant mediator (1:1-5); (b) a historical prologue reviewing previous covenant history (1:6-4:40); (c) stipulations expounding the covenant way of life (4:44-11:32; 12-26); (d) a declaration of sanctions stating the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience of the covenant (chs. 27-30); and (e) a provision for the administration of the covenant after the death of the inaugural mediator (chs. 31-34).  (Thomas Nelson Publishers, New Geneva Study Bible, 239)


The idea of Israel as “son” and the Lord as “father” is set forth in Deuteronomy.  The loving God had given Israel life by redemption from Egypt; He had reared and educated Israel in the wilderness (Dt 8:2, 3, 16; 14:2).  These new Israelites, born and trained in the desert, were to inherit the blessings promised to their fathers.  This intimacy emphasizes the demand that Israel should cleave to the Lord (11:22; 13:4) and not follow “other gods” (6:14, 15; 7:4; 8:19, 20; 11:16, 17, 20; 30:17, 18).  Because Israel was holy, she was not to join other gods (7:6).  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 2, 110)


God tells them, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” “Treasured possession” is the phrase a groom would call his bride.  More wedding language.  (Rob Bell; Sex God, 132)


Exodus begins with the God of compassion, the God of justice, hearing the cry of slaves in Egypt and setting out to do something about it.  God sends a man named Moses to rescue them, and it’s through Moses that God makes four promises to these slaves.

“I will take you out.”

“I will rescue you.”

“I will redeem you.”

“I will take you to me.”

There’s a reason why these four promises are so significant–they’re the promises a Jewish groom makes to a Jewish bride. This wedding language. Somebody hearing this story in its original context would realize that some sort of marriage is going to take place.  (Rob Bell; Sex God, 131-2)


The book of Deuteronomy is written in the form of a treaty between a king and his vassal state typical of the second millennium B. C.  It calls Israel to remember who God is and what he has done.  Lacking faith, the old generation had wandered for 40 years and died in the desert.  They left Egypt behind, but never knew the promised land.  Then on the east bank of the Jordan River, Moses prepared the sons and daughters of that faithless generation to possess the land.  After a brief history lesson emphasizing God’s great acts on behalf of his people, Moses reviewed the law.  Then he restated the covenant–God’s contract with his people.  (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 278)


The form of the suzerainty treaty was evidently well known throughout the ancient Near East in the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1400-1200 B.C.), and when the structure of Deuteronomy is analyzed it will be seen to correspond strikingly to the secular covenantal forms, as follows:

(a) preamble (1:1-5; cf. Ex 20:1; Josh 24:2);

(b) historical prologue (1:6-3:29; cf. Ex 20:2; Josh 24:2-13);

(c) stipulations:  basic (4-11; cf. Ex 20:3-17, 22-26; Josh 24:14-25); detailed (12-26; cf. Ex 21:23; 25-31);

(d) deposit of text (31:9, 24-26; cf. Ex 25:16; 34:1, 18f.; Josh 24:26);

(e) provision for public reading (31:10-13);

(f) witnesses (31:16-30; 32:1-47; cf. Ex 24:4; Josh 24:22, 27);

(g) blessings (28:1-14; cf. Lv 26:3-13; Josh 24:19f.); curses (28:15-68; cf. Lv 26:14-33).  (Geoffrey Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, 937)


II-  The giving of the Law spells out what it will take for sinful man to rebuild his relationship with a holy, righteous, perfect, and Almighty God. (Gn 6:6-7; Dt 25:16; 31:17-18; Ps 5:4-6; 10:3; 11:5; Prv 15:26; Isa 59:1-2; 64:7; Jer 44:21-22; Hab 1:13; Zech 8:17; Mt 7:23; Lk 13:27; Heb 12:14)


Covenantal restoration, according to the NT, occurs only through a man’s identification with the righteous life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (Mt 3:15; Phil 3:21; Col 1:27; 1 Pt 2:24; cf. Jn 14:6); and this fact applies equally to the saved of all ages, to those of the Old as well as of the NT (Heb 11:40).  OT Israel stood quite literally under the blood (Ex 24:8; Heb 9:19), and the effectiveness of the blood lay not in bulls and goats (Heb 10:4) but in its anticipation of the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (v. 12).  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. One, 1004)


Israel’s covenant relationship with God became the basis of interpreting her history.  The argument of Jgs 2 and 2 Kg 17 may be discerned in many places in the OT, namely, that when the covenant people transgressed the covenant, failed to hearken to God’s voice, and turned aside, national calamity fell upon them.  It was the operation of the curse.  The only hope of deliverance was repentance and faith.  But when they turned from their evil and sought the Lord, He forgave them in His mercy and restored them to the fellowship of the covenant relationship.  Such a theology of history lay behind the books of Kings and Chronicles, but it is clearly evident also in the preaching of the prophets.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Vol. One, 792-3)


It is most significant that Christ here connects the “new” covenant with His “blood.”  We at once think, as doubtless the disciples thought, of the transaction described in Ex 24:7, when Moses “took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people,” indicating God’s undertaking on behalf of His people and what He required of them; “and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken will we do, and we will be obedient,’” thus taking up their part of the contract.  Then comes the ratification.  “Moses took the blood [half of which had already been thrown on the altar] and threw it upon the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (v. 8).  The blood was sacrificial blood, the blood of the animals sacrificed as burnt offerings and peace offerings (vv. 5f.).  The one half of the blood thrown on the altar tells of the sacrifice offered to God, the other half thrown on the people, of the virtue of the same sacrifice applied to the people; and so the covenant relation is fully brought about.  Christ, by speaking of His blood in this connection, plainly indicates that His death was a sacrifice, and that through that sacrifice His people would be brought into a new covenant relationship with God.  His sacrifice is acceptable to God and the virtue of it is to be applied to believers–so all the blessings of the new covenant are secured to them; the blood “is poured out for you” (Lk 22:20).  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Vol. One, 795)


While divine judgment brought about the forgiveness and the non-typical directness of Jeremiah’s new testament, it was God’s positive works of mercy that accomplished its other two characteristics, of reconciliation and of internality.  Concerning the former, God spoke through the prophet, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33), the same promise that is found in all other revelations of the testament, from Gn 17:7 to Rv 21:3.  By “removing the guilt in one day” (Zech 3:9), the Messianic Branch would accomplish the fundamental restoration for which mankind had been longing since the disaster of Eden–He would put enmity between Satan and the seed of the woman (Gn 3:15); He would bring into being that reconciliation with God which constitutes the essential inheritance of the testament; and he would betroth Israel to Himself as His bride forever (Hos 2:19), truly to know the LORD (v. 20).  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible: Vol. One, 1013)


III-  Obedience to the Law is sought AFTER God’s promise and deliverance: not before.  (Gn 15; Israel from Egypt in the wilderness)


Israel did nothing to put the Lord’s covenant into effect.  Israel’s obedience was never meant to effect God’s covenant, but to reflect it.  God didn’t ask Israel to obey in order to become his people but because he had already made them his people.  Yet the Sinai covenant was conditional; the Lord told Israel, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex 19:5).  In the blessings and curses of the Sinai covenant the Lord warned that Israel could forfeit the Promised Land by their unbelief.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 10)


The promises of God are not given so that we can do and have, but so that we can be (found in Him).  That is why the promises of God are not made to us as individuals but to Jesus, as the apostle explains:  “for as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes” (2 Cor 1:20).  Paul further clarified this to the Galatians: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed, He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one:  ‘And to your seed’ that is Christ(Gal 3:16).  He reiterated this again in his letter to the Ephesians:  “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.  These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might” (Eph 1:18-19).  (Rick Joyner, There Were Two Trees in the Garden, 67)


Abram believes God, even though from the human point of view the fulfillment of such a promise seems impossible.  It was this trust in God when the future seemed hopeless that made Abram the hero of faith for all time to come.  “And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (15:6).  Because of Abram’s act of faith by which he gave himself completely into God’s hands, God declared him to be righteous–that is, to be in right relation with him.  This righteousness which God reckoned to Abram was entirely dependent on faith in God and not on the works of the Law, for the Law was not in existence in Abram’s day.  Thus Paul could use Abram’s personal faith in a personal God as the supreme illustration of the faith needed by a Christian in order to be saved (Rom 4; Gal 3).  God declares us righteous, that is, in saving relation with him, when we trust implicitly in Christ for our salvation.  (Charles T. Fritsch, The Layman’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, 60-1)


IV-  Compliance to the covenant is encouraged by love, not fear(Jn 13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:12; 1 Jn 5:2-3)


Other nations feared their deities; Israel was expected not only to fear Yahweh but to love Him and cleave to Him (4:10; 5:29; 6:5; 10:12, 20; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3f.; 17:19; 19:9; 28:58; 30:6, 16, 20; 31:12f.).  (Geoffrey Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, 935)


Deuteronomy clearly teaches that the relation of God to His people is more than law.  The thought of the love of Israel toward her God, which is indeed laid down in the words of the Decalogue (Ex 20:6; Dt 5:10), is not required elsewhere in the Pentateuch, but in Deuteronomy is earnestly insisted upon (10:12; 12:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20).  Appeals made to Israel to keep the commandments often are based on the recollection of God’s might and of His terrible visitation, awe, fear; but the highest appeal is to the consciousness of His own free love (Dt 7:7, 8; 8:17; 9:4-6).  Love indicating the people’s affection and devotion to the Lord is again and again insisted upon as the true spring of all human action (5:10; 6:5; 7:8; 10:12, 15; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:8; 19:9; 30:16, 20).  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 2, 110)


When you are committed to a person in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow.  For example:  The other covenant relationship is the relationship between parents and children. . . . In parenting you get very little back, for a long time, and they never catch up.   You give and you give and you never get back. It is not a consumer relationship at all.  You adjust to them. . . . What is weird is you do it and you are so invested in your children so that even when they in no way act in a lovable way, you love them.  There is a deeper richer kind of feeling because you are invested in them.  And in the same way, if you treat your marriage . . . as a covenant relationship, if you are committed in spite of feelings, deeper feelings grow.   (Tim Keller message, “Love and Lust”)


Just as John wrote his gospel after several decades of reflection on the death and resurrection of Jesus, so Moses preached the sermons in Deuteronomy after almost four decades of reflection on the significance of the Exodus and God’s covenant with Israel.  Thus, like the gospel of John, the book of Deuteronomy functions as a theological manifesto, calling on Israel to respond to God’s grace with unreserved loyalty and love.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 25)


You can’t break God’s promises by leaning on them!


V-  The covenant is fulfilled by God(Gn 15; Dt 4:31; 7:8-9; Jdg 2:1; 1 Kgs 8:23; Ps 105:8-11; 106:45; 111:5; Isa 40:1-2; 42:6; 49:8; ; Mt 3:15; 5:17; Jn 14:6; Rom 1:16-17; 10:4-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:8-10; Col 1:27; Heb 6:13-18; 8:10; 10:10; 1 Pt 2:24)  



Of course, remarkably rich promises were made to Abram, but they were promises that he would never experience in full because their ultimate fulfillment would come through his offspring, first in believing Israel and then in the church (cf. Gal 3:16, 29).  The famous expression of the promise in Gn 12:2, 3 is magnificent.  As you can see, it is poetry.  But because it uses the word “bless” or “blessing” or “blessed” five times, you may not have noticed that it actually contains seven expressions of blessing that thereby indicate that “the Bible intended by this formulation to set before us a form of blessing that was perfect in every respect” (Cassuto).  Note also that the whole promise is full of divine assertion as God promises five times, “I will.”  Everything is from God himself.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Genesis, 183)


In the case of the Abrahamic covenant, God the Creator binds himself to man the creature by a solemn blood-oath.  The Almighty chooses to commit himself to the fulfillment of promises spoken to Abraham.  By this divine commitment, Abraham’s doubts are to be expelled.  God has solemnly promised, and has sealed that promise with a self-maledictory oath.  The realization of the divine word is assured.  (O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 131)


In spite of Abram’s profound faith described in verse 6, he nevertheless questions the divine promise regarding the land:  “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (15:8).  God does not give a direct answer to this query, but commands Abram to prepare certain animals for a covenant-making ceremony.  God in his mercy enters into a Covenant relation with Abram to assure him of his faithfulness to his word.  (Charles T. Fritsch, The Layman’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, 61)


Meanwhile Isaiah, in the latter part of his life, carried forward the internal portion of Hosea’s revelation.  In his messages of comfort to Judah, subsequent to the devastating attacks of Sennacherib in 701 B.C., he spoke of the deliverance that would be accomplished through God’s “Suffering Servant” (Jesus Christ, Lk 22:37), and specifically, of how the future b’rith (covenant) would be embodied in Him:  “And I will give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles,” (Isa 42:6; 49:8 KJV).  That is, what had so far been considered as a legal disposition is summed up as a Person.  Jesus Christ is not only the everlasting Son of God who establishes the testament, but He is the priest who at the same time officiates at the death (52:15).  He is also the testator, the offering that dies (53:8), and He becomes Himself the living blessing of reconciliation; indeed, He is the inheritance that is bestowed:  “that thou mayest be my salvation” (49:6 KJV).  Christ, in other words, is the Testament.  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible: Vol. 1, 1012)


Of course the idea of God taking an oath against himself is inconceivable.  But that Abraham should in his vision see God–or rather the two mysterious fiery objects which represented him–passing between the separate pieces of the animals he had laid out was clearly to him, as it would be to every Hebrew after him, a highly significant symbolism.  It was the sign he had craved.  It meant that God was entering into a treaty or, as the Bible usually says, a covenant with him.  By his willingness to go through in front of his servant a procedure similar to the one by which men sealed their human bargains, God was letting him know that nothing could stand in the way of the fulfillment of his promises, for his own divine honor was at stake in the matter.  (John C. L. Gibson, The Daily Study Bible Series, Genesis, Vol. 2, 55)


In Romans 1-8 Paul demonstrates that our salvation depends entirely on God and not ourselves.  Specifically, it depends on God’s grace and God’s promise, as the Hebrew scriptures so clearly proved.  But then the question arises, How can we trust God’s promise to ourselves if God has failed to fulfill his promise to Israel?  If it were true, as appearances suggested, that God had just abandoned Israel in spite of all his covenants and promises, then why on earth should the Gentiles have any confidence in the promises of such a God?  Unless Paul can show that God had not failed Israel, all his talk about salvation for the Gentiles would be hollow and baseless.

So Paul sets out to prove two affirmations:  that God’s promise had not failed (Rom 9:6), and that God had not rejected Israel (11:1-2).  (Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, 170)


In the silence after the oracle, a fearful light burst the darkness.  Searing lightning passed down the aisle formed by the divided pieces.  The same terminology used in this account to describe both the darkness and the fire is used later to tell of the fire of the Lord at Sinai, where God appeared in fire and cloud (Gn 15:12, 17; Ex 19:18; 20:18, 21).  The symbolism is clear from the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer 34:18-20).  To walk between the divided parts of an animal sacrifice is an oath-taking ceremony.  The oath is plainly self-maledictory in its symbolism:  “If I do not keep the oath that I swear, may I be divided as this animal has been.”

The wonder of this vision is that God Himself takes the oath.  He swears to Abram by His own life that He will perform the word that He has promised.  (Edmund P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the OT, 47)


This new covenant established by Christ was foreshadowed by the prophet Jeremiah, who uses the very word “new covenant” in describing it; and very likely Christ had that description in mind when He used the term, and meant His disciples to understand that the prophetic interpretation would in Him be realized.  There is no doubt that the author of Hebrews had the passage in mind, for he leads up to the previous statement by quoting the whole statement of Jer 31:31-34.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Vol. One, 796)


A feature that is by nature essential to the effectuation of a testament is the death of the testator (Heb 9:16, 17; cf. 7:27).  Specifically, Christ’s sacrifice served a two-fold aim: that men might stand in His righteousness, and He in their condemnation (Isa 45:24; 53:11; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pt 2:24).  This feature of the Savior’s death is marked by a progressive clarification during the unfolding of God’s revelations concerning the b’rith (covenant) .  Its earlier expressions were simply but dramatically pictorial, emphasizing that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins (Gn 8:21; Ex 24:8; Heb 9:22).  Its later expressions, however, as they developed in reference to the Messiah (Dn 9:26) and the Son of man (7:13; cf. v. 21) became increasingly direct.  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. One, 1005)


Worship Point:  The holy and righteous Lord God over all Creation has spared no expense and suffering to have an intimate relationship with us.  (Nm 23:19; Dt 4:31; 7:8-9; 2 Sm 23:5; 1 Kgs 8:56; 2 Chr 6:4-15; Ps 89:28-34; 145:13; Heb 6:17; 10:23; 11:11-13, 39)



By what figure could God have demonstrated his commitment more graphically to Abram?  How could it have been displayed more vividly?  The only way would have been for the figure to become a reality, for the ever living God to take on human nature and taste death in the place of the covenant-breaking children of Abram.  And that is precisely what God did in Jesus Christ.  On the cross, the covenant curse fell completely on Jesus, so that the guilty ones who place their trust in him might experience the blessings of the covenant.  Jesus bore the punishment for our sins, so that God might be our God and we might be his people.  (Iain M. Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality, 59)


At the risk of seeming over-simple, it is easy to imagine a scenario on the model of Ex 12:26.  A father has just returned from presenting his sin-offering as prescribed in Lv 4:27-31.  His family says:

‘Why did you go to the temple today?’

‘I wanted to make a sin-offering because I needed the Lord’s forgiveness.’

‘And have you been forgiven?’

‘Oh, yes!’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because I saw the goat die in my place.’

‘But how do you know that it was dying in your place?’

‘Because I laid my hand on its head and appointed it to be my substitute.’

‘Why was it your substitute?’

‘Well, this is what the Lord told us to do.  He has taught us that he wants us to offer a sacrifice for sin and that when we lay our hand on the animal’s head it becomes our substitute.’

‘But how do you really know that when the animal died your sins were forgiven?’

‘Because the Lord promised!’

This simple piece of imagination is no more than a conversational ‘spelling out’ of Lv 17:11.  All true religion must come to rest on a veritable divine revelation:  ‘He told us to do it’, and all the benefits of true religion come to the worshiper on the ground of believing the promises of God.  We could even dare to extend the conversation one step further and listen to what the eldest son says and what the father replies:

‘Really, what you are saying is this:  you believe the promise of God.  You could say that you are “justified by faith”.’

‘Well, it’s not an expression I’ve ever used.  But, yes, that’s the truth of the matter.  “Justification by faith.”  I must tell Paul that when I see him.  I know he intends to write something along those lines.’  (Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 173)


Gospel Application:  Our being “In Christ” is our only hope for fulfilling the covenant and restoring our relationship with God(Rom 10:4; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:8-9)


The Bible teaches that justification is by faith alone, yet ultimately there is only one way anybody is ever saved in the presence of God, and that is through works.  The question is not whether we are going to be saved through works; the question is whose works.  We are saved through the works of the one who alone fulfilled the terms of the covenant of works.  That is why it is not just the death of Christ that redeems us, but it is also the life of Christ.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Romans, 178)


The fact is, I need God to help me love God.  And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans.  Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts.  The Holy Spirit has to move in our lives.  (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 104)


Spiritual Challenge:  As sinful depraved and self-centered humans God doesn’t look to our performance as fulfillment of the contract; but only to our brokenness and contriteness of heart and our recognizing our desperate need for Jesus to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.  (Ps 51:17; 119:120; Isa 57:15; 59:20; 66:2; Ezek 14:6; 18:30, 32; Mt 3:2; 4:17; Mk 1:15; 6:12; Lk 13:3-5; 15:7; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; Rv 2:5, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19; 16:9-11)


“The Mosaic covenant explicitly assured that repentance would lead to restoration to the land (see Dt 4:29; 30:1-3).”  (Richard Pratt Jr.; Commentary on 1 and 2 Chr, 239)


In other words, even though we sin every day in various ways, there is a profound difference between sinners who keep God’s covenant (v. 10), and sinners who don’t.  The issue facing us in the light of this psalm is whether we “wait for the Lord” (v. 21) and “take refuge in him” (v. 20) and “fear” him (v. 12) and are “humble” before him (v. 9) and, in this way, “keep his covenant” (v. 10).  These are the sinners whom God will guide and protect.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 249)


So What?:  The only way we can enjoy covenant blessing and avoid covenant curses is by our grateful recognition that we need to be “in Christ.”  (Rom 10:4; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:8-9)


The New Covenant.  Several passages in the prophets, but most explicitly in Jeremiah, speak of a new covenant in the messianic age (Isa 42:6; 49:6-8; 55:3; 59:21; 61:8; Jer 31:31, 33; 32:40; 50:5; Ezk 16:60, 62; 34:25; 37:26; Hos 2:18).  If God’s promises were eternal, then even if historic Israel failed and suffered the curses of the broken covenant, the promise of God could not fail.  There would be a remnant in whom, by way of judgment and repentance, God would honor His promises.  He would make a new covenant, not new in essence, but new in fulfillment.  His law would be written on hearts of flesh.  In that day the throne of David would be occupied by one of David’s line and the people would enjoy an everlasting covenant of peace (Isa 55:3; Jer 23:5f.; 32:37-40; Ezk 34:23; 37:25f.), in which the nations would also share (Isa 42:6; 49;6; 55:3-4; cf. Zec 2:11; 8:20-23; 14:16; etc.).  In those days worship would be purified (Ezk 40-48), true theocratic government would be established, and peace would be universal.  It is very evident that in this picture the original Near Eastern metaphor has been completely transformed.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. One, 792)






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