At Issue Index Covenants Index Next
II - Meaning of Covenant
Throughout the Bible the relationship between God and His people is designated by the word covenant. Whatever is involved or experienced in this covenant relationship makes up the content of the Bible. God chooses individuals or a nation to be His people. To these people of His choice God commands His covenant. The people who accept the terms of this covenant become conscious of a special contractual relationship existing between themselves and God. This relationship carries with it certain obligations, the keeping of which is a life-and-death matter.
In ordinary parlance, we mean by the term covenant, "an agreement or contract between two parties." Either party is free to enter into the agreement or not as he chooses. But the Biblical term is somewhat different in meaning. The Hebrew word berith means "to bind," "to fetter," "a binding or a bond." The relation of Godís people to Him is expressed in a berith. The Greek word diatheke implies a free promise on the divine side and an undertaking of obligations on the human side. In both cases it implies an obligation imposed by a superior upon an inferior. The initiative is taken by God, and only in a secondary way does man have any initiative at all. Man has freedom as to whether he will enter into a covenant relationship. But he has no privilege to reject the terms or to suggest others. God the Creator is in an altogether different position from man the creature. "I alone am God" is the fundamental statement of all divine revelation. It reveals the absolute barrier that separates the divine God from man. All relationships between God and man are a gracious condescension on the part of God.
The first characteristic of Godís covenant relationship is that of lordship. God remains Lord. He is the Sovereign. The covenant is an expression of Godís will, not manís. It is manís responsibility to listen to God, to seek to understand His terms. In Godís first covenant with Adam, Adam instituted nothing. The Israelites at Sinai instituted nothing. They did, however, exercise their privilege in choosing to obey the covenant.
When God reveals His covenant, there is inevitably a call to unreserved obedience and surrender to God. There is no place for a bargaining relationship. The covenant of God places man on probation. Man has life only if he obeys and meets the terms of the covenant.
The second characteristic of Godís covenant is fellowship. "I . . . will be your God, and ye shall be my people." Lev. 26:12. "They saw God, and did eat and drink." Ex. 24:11. This was the covenant meal, when God and the people sat down together, as it were, in a symbol of communion and fellowship. The identical idea is found in the Lordís supper. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." 1 Cor. 11:25, R.V.
Hosea represents the relation of Israel to God under the figure of marriage. Jeremiah uses also the figures of father and son, shepherd and sheep. So God, through His covenant, seeks to establish a personal fellowship with man. This communion is offered as a gracious gift of God. The covenant is a relation of grace. In Genesis 17:2, God gives a covenant, nathan berith. He bestows it as a gift of grace.
The tragic mistake of Israel was that they came to regard the covenant as a juridical relationship, a legal transaction. The fundamental reality of Godís covenant is that men enjoy the favor and blessing of God irrespective of their past, without discharging any formal debt or performing any special work to secure the favors of God irrespective of their past. Grace and truth do not come through legislation.
The vital responsibility of the church is to lead sinful men into a covenant relationship with God, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, at the same time enjoying a fellowship of love and unity.
III. The Sinaitic Covenant
Two Covenants or One
In Godís covenant with Israel at Sinai, just what is the relationship between them? Are there two covenants held out to Israel or only one? Did God make a covenant that He knew could not be kept, in order that Israel might learn the folly of trying to keep the law in their own strength? Is God actually offering to make the old covenant with Israel the gateway to the everlasting covenant, indicating two stages in Godís dealing with men?
Mrs. White states that "the covenant that God made with His people at Sinai is to be our refuge and defense," and that it is of "just as much force to-day as it was when the Lord made it with ancient Israel."í[Ellen G. White in The Southern Watchman, March 1, 1902, p. 142] Why, then, is the Sinaitic covenant called the "old covenant"?
In the actual operating of the covenants of the Bible there are two parties. Each enters into a relationship with the other. Each has some response to make in relationship to the covenantís promises and terms. The judgment of the New Testament on the Sinaitic covenant is that it was faulty. It is obvious that there can be nothing wrong from Godís side. He cannot be charged either with desiring or planning a faulty covenant. He makes everything perfect. Therefore the fault must lie with Israel.
What kind of covenant was God seeking to make with Israel? Was the "old covenant" at Sinai one of divine appointment, or a divine adjustment to Israelís faulty response? Is not God limited by the nature of sinful man?
Godís Purpose and Approach to Israel at Sinai
1. In the first place, the covenant that God planned to make with Israel at Sinai was none other than the same covenant He made with Abraham. Three times in Genesis, chapter seventeen, the covenant made with Abraham is called the everlasting covenant. Nine times it is designated "my covenant." The occasion for Godís plan to deliver Israel from bondage is that "God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob." Ex. 2:24. In calling Moses to lead the children of Israel, He states that His purpose in delivering Israel is to establish "my covenant." (Ex. 6:3-5.)
In Exodus, chapter 19, there is the record of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. Israel is led to Mount Sinai. Moses makes the first of eight ascents to receive instruction from God. God tells Moses that before proceeding with the giving of the law, He requires a positive commitment on the part of the people. They are to pledge themselves to keep "my covenant." (Ex. 19:5.)
Surely, it was not in the mind of God, when the children of Israel came to Sinai, to say: "Now I will make a different covenant with them from what I made with Abraham. I am going to teach these people by giving them a covenant they cannot keep. I intend to show them how impossible it is for them to keep My laws, My statutes, and My judgments. I will therefore offer them, at least to begin with, something less than I did Abraham." If He did, then Israel lived up completely to His expectations. If Israel broke the old covenant when they sacrificed to the golden calf, there is no case to be made. Was not the old covenant made to operate that way? How could Israel be held responsible?
Israel had to meet the same requirements as Abraham. They received the same sign of circumcision that God gave to Abraham. Both Abraham and Israel were brought face to face with the same covenant. Yet both experienced the old covenant in their lives. Abraham failed when he distrusted God regarding His promise to give him an heir, and had a child by Hagar. Paul states in Galatians that this represented the old covenant experience of Abraham. The reason for Israelís failure was not that they were given a different covenant from that given to Abraham. God is no respecter of persons. Where is there any indication that Israel were conscious they were under a different covenant from that of their father Abraham?
The Old Testament knows nothing about covenants in the plural. The word is always found in the singular. There is constant reference to one covenant designated by God as my covenant," "his covenant," phrases that occur throughout the Bible.
2. In the second place, the Lord was pleased with the response that Israel made at Sinai when they said, "All that the Lord bath said will we do." Ex. 24:7. Moses declared that God told him it was the right response to make. "And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the Lord said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken." Deut. 5:27, 28.
3. In the third place, the whole tenor of Godís approach, His attitude and relationship, definitely indicated the everlasting covenant in an adapted form to be the one that confronted Israel at Sinai.
Was there the element of stern command that was supposed to mark the old covenant? On the contrary, before any revelation of the law was given, Israel was reminded of Godís gracious and loving dealing with them. In Exodus, chapter twenty, even as God began to speak the words of the Decalogue, Jehovah reminded them that He is their Redeemer, who brought them out of the land of Egypt. But the fulfillment of Godís gracious promises was conditioned by obedience. Thus we see here that the gospel precedes obedience. The principles of salvation and of becoming children of God are the same here as they have always been. It is imperative that grace conserve law.
The covenant was entirely reasonable. Nothing was forced upon them or done in haste. Negotiations were prolonged, so that the people might have the opportunity of pondering well the character of the proposed engagement. Three times the children of Israel declared: "All that the Lord hath said will we do." Intervals of time ensued between responses. Moses carefully recited to them "all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments." Ex. 24:3. The second time they promised full obedience. Even then the matter was allowed to stand over till the next day. Then Moses appeared with the written book, the book of the covenant, and they were finally asked whether they would adhere to what they had said. (Ex. 24:7.) Greater precautions against any rash committal could scarcely have been taken.
Furthermore, the fulfillment of the terms of Godís covenant was not impossible or exceedingly difficult. God had done everything to render it possible of fulfillment. Israel were told by Moses that the commandments were not hard to be understood or to perform. They were not to think of the fulfillment of the terms as an inaccessible height they could not scale. Nor was it something too deep for them to understand, like the depths of the sea. It was near to them, even in their mouths. (Deut. 30:11-14.)
The testimony of the writers of the Old Testament is that Sinai was a glorious demonstration of the love of God. Mosesí final words regarding the giving of the law at Sinai are significant: "The Lord came from Sinai . . . , and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them. Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words." Deut. 33:2, 3.
Hosea undoubtedly refers to the Sinaitic covenant as follows: "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. . . . I taught Ephraim to walk. I took them on my arms." Hosea 11:1-3, A.R.V.
What beautiful figures are used here. God is embracing His children with one arm while giving them a fiery law with the other. Here we see the fatherhood of God taking His children, the subjects of His covenant, into His arms in order that He might instruct them in the right way.
To say that God is responsible, even indirectly, for the faultiness of the faulty response of the people, which led to a hopeless covenant of works, makes God also responsible for the apostate Judaism of Jesusí day. Mosesí interpretation of Sinai is anything but that. (Deut. 4:12, 13, 23, 31, 36, 37.)
[Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 365-367]
4. In the fourth place, the covenant which God sought to make with Israel at Sinai and with which He confronted Israel was based upon righteousness by faith.
Great care was taken to safeguard Israel from what is referred to as the old covenant experience. Clear and definite warnings were given against self-righteousness.
Moses was, it appears, as much enlightened on righteousness by faith and righteousness by the works of the law as was Paul. One of the great passages on this grand theme is found in Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Paul quotes this entire passage in Romans chapters 9 and 10 in explaining Israelís failure, as support for the doctrine of righteousness by faith. (See also Deut. 9:1-6.)
In other words, both Moses and Paul emphasized the same truth. They both proclaimed the gospel of the everlasting covenant. Both of them met with opposition and unbelief. Both saw much the same results among the Israelites. Always a remnant knew that God would provide Himself a lamb. Always the law of God was written upon the heart of the remnant. Always the majority failed to enter in because of unbelief. Always God held them responsible for breaking the covenant. The reason God held them responsible was that He had done everything that could be done to give them cause for living the life of faith.
5. In the fifth place, the numerous appeals by leaders and prophets to return to Godís covenant were but a call to renew the original covenant made with God at Sinai and previously with their fathers, the patriarchs. As it was with God at Sinai, so it was with Israelís leaders and prophets. All were in harmony in seeking to lead the people in righteousness under the holy covenant of the Lord.
The word covenant is used almost 250 times in the Old Testament. Seven times it is used with reference to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; 74 times miscellaneously to covenants in human relationships; and 159 times directly to the Sinaitic covenant. If the covenant at Sinai was but a covenant of works, and this is how it is interpreted by the New Testament writers, how could Israel hope to produce any other kind of record than the one they had? Men become like what they hear and what they think. If the leaders and prophets were continually calling them back to the old covenant, then why blame the Jews and Israel for making such a failure?
There were several occasions in the later history of Israel when God reminded His people through the prophets of their covenant obligations and privileges.
The first occasion was the public rehearsal of the law and the Sinaitic covenant by Moses at the close of his life as contained in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses appealed to Israel to be faithful to the Sinaitic covenant, and by so doing, to fulfill the covenant made with their fathers.
[Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p 466]
This book of the law is first mentioned in Exodus 24:7. There it contained only the Ten Commandments and the seventy laws and judgments. Later additions were made, including also the book of Deuteronomy. The whole thing came to be known as the law of Moses, the book of the law, the book of the covenant, the book of the law of God. (Deuteronomy 4, 5, 7, 9, 26 to 33.)
The question may be raised that Deuteronomy distinguishes between the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants. "The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day." Dent. 5:2, 3. Moses is not emphasizing the difference between covenants. He is saying that each man must renew that covenant for himself. God made a covenant with Abraham; nevertheless both Isaac and Jacob renewed that holy covenant for themselves. And it must be renewed by their descendants. They cannot be excused by saying that God made this covenant only with their fathers, and so it is not binding. No, he made it with them, "with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day." What avails it to be children of Abraham according to the flesh, since God is able of the stones to raise up children unto Abraham? This is a covenant that needs to be ratified by every individual for himself apart. Similarly, we urge our own children to seek and to gain a Christian experience for themselves, for they do not inherit it from their parents. This is exactly what Moses was asking the Hebrews to do just before he died.
The second occasion for the renewal of the covenant was under Joshua, when Israel had come into possession of the land of Canaan. Again a solemn appeal was made at the close of the life of one of Israelís great leaders. The occasion was especially significant. The tabernacle had been removed to Shechem, the scene of Godís first covenant with Abraham. The location was well calculated to inspire the Israelites, not only with deep emotions, but with a deep sense of responsibility. Joshua briefly reviewed the history of Israel from the call of Abraham. Israel was charged "to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses." Joshua 23:6. Three times Joshua called upon them to serve the Lord, and three times, just as at Sinai, the people responded, "The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey." (Joshua 24:16, 21, 24)
This occasion had many points similar to Israelís experience at Sinai, except for a time it showed better results. "And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that over-lived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel." Verse 31. It is evident that many of these people knew something better than the "old covenant experience."
The third occasion for the renewal of the covenant was during the reign of Josiah, when the lost book of the covenant was discovered. Josiah called for a public recitation of the covenant. "And all the people stood to the covenant." 2 Kings 23:3. A great revival followed as king, priests, and people stood to the covenant of the Lord.
The fourth occasion was on the return of Israel from exile. Under Ezra and Nehemiah this was undoubtedly the greatest attempt since Sinai to call Israel to stand by the covenant of the Lord. The book of the covenant was read day after day before the people. Synagogues were established throughout the land, in order that the people might receive instruction from the book of the covenant every Sabbath. Again there followed a great religious revival. (Nehemiah 8 to 10.) Yet between Ezraís time and the time of Christ, a period of more than four hundred years, Israel retrograded into a legalism that surpassed anything in all of their history, and which reached its nadir in that system that Christ met and utterly repudiated when He came to earth.
The final occasion constituted a prophecy for the Christian church. Almost the last words in the Old Testament are an appeal to the Sinaitic covenant. "Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments." Mal. 4:4. Its connection with the work of John the Baptist under the figure of the return of Elijah is particularly significant, indicating the reverence and respect for the ancient covenant that all Godís true servants and prophets had manifested through the centuries.
6. In the sixth place, the testimony of the Spirit of prophecy is conclusive as to the spirituality and the permanency of the Sinai covenant.
What shall we say, then, as to the Godward side of the Sinaitic covenant? Since Godís attitude and approach are identically the same in both covenants, why not say that there is, in the mind of God, but one covenant? And since that is true, then the covenant is none other than the one everlasting covenant.
Let us now examine the human factor at Sinai and the nature of the response. From the manward side, how came the Sinaitic covenant to be spoken of as the old covenant?
IV-The Old Covenant
If we accept this interpretation of the Godward aspect of the Sinaitic covenant, then certain questions remain yet to be answered: In view of the evidence in the Scriptures and in the Spirit of prophecy, how can one deny that the old covenant was made by God at Sinai? Does not Paul testify in Galatians to the old covenant "from mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage"? Gal. 4:24. And again in Hebrews, "In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old." Heb. 8:13. Surely it must be concluded that there are two covenants, since the new covenant is to take the place of the old, indicating two plans of Godís dealing with man, two ways of serving God, one a preparation for the other.
Exactly what constitutes the difference between the old and the new covenants?
First, since the new covenant writes the law of God on the heart, it must be concluded that under the old covenant the law was not written on the heart. Paul defines this condition in 2 Corinthians 3, indicating that the old covenant was of the letter and not of the spirit. Under the old covenant manís heart was not right with God. This was remedied under the new covenant.
Second, the old covenant is based upon works of law, the new covenant upon faith. "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" Gal. 3:2. These Galatians had already received the work of the Holy Spirit in their heart at their conversion. Jewish leaders had led them away from righteousness by faith into legalistic works of righteousness. They had been led to believe that they were now fitted and able to fulfill the law as a natural duty.
Third, the old covenant stands upon the faulty promises of men, whereas the new covenant stands upon the eternal promises of God. (Heb. 8:6-8; Rom. 10:3, 4.) Under the new covenant, God promises to do all: to keep the heart, to give all power to men, in order that they might obey His will and His law. Under the old covenant, man endeavors of himself to attain righteousness.
Fourth, those who leave the new covenant to live under the old covenant fall from grace. As long as they remain under the new covenant they are under grace. Grace means two things: the quality of Christís character and the divine power of that character which God makes available for the salvation of men. When man lives according to the "old covenant," he is under the condemnation of the law, because of his own failures. To live by the covenant of grace means to enter into personal fellowship with God.
When and how did the old covenant originate? It grows out of the very nature of man. That God made a covenant with Adam is obvious from Hosea 6:7: "They like men ["like Adam," margin] have transgressed the covenant." This covenant with Adam was a covenant of works. It is also called a commanded covenant, also a covenant of life. A covenant of works before sin entered would be both acceptable and in harmony with the character of God and the nature of man. There would be no conflict between the law of God and the nature of Adam. It is called the covenant of works, because by the terms of it man was to have life or death in accordance with what he did.
The entrance of sin still left man face to face with Godís requirements of obedience but with no power to obey. Even with his loss of freedom and his ability to do what God commanded, he still possessed a strong desire to be justified by his own efforts.
But more important than this, Satan is the originator of the spirit of the old covenant. The basic premise of sin itself is the work of Satan in leading Adam to place his own ego at the center of his existence instead of Christ.
The Sinaitic covenant, then, from the manward side is based upon the will to owe manís life to himself, and is manifested in that pride which does not want to live by grace but by manís own doing. This is that phase of the old covenant that Paul calls the righteousness of the law. This spirit is deeply ingrained in all men. It is not the sole prerogative of the Israelites. They are but an illustration of what can happen to any man and in fact to every believer. And until self is crucified it will inevitably happen.
This spirit of pride, independence, and self-effort toward the law was the outstanding sin of Israel. The revelation of the law at Mount Sinai was to lead them to Christ. This was in harmony with Godís plan, even as it is today. But salvation by works never was.
The reason the old covenant takes such prominence at Sinai is the peopleís spiritual condition. Adam was conscious of his fall as were the rest of the fathers. There were but eleven patriarchs before the Flood. It needed only four of them to span the period from creation to Abraham. By the time Israel had spent more than two hundred years in slavery, sin had almost obliterated the impressions of the law written in their hearts. The instructions and laws of their fathers had almost faded from their minds. When such a thing happens the commandments of God become a stern command, not a delight. The law entered that Adamís offense might abound.
Why did the Lord see it needful for a re-declaration of the law from Sinai? The sooner to compel Israel to come to Christ for salvation. But this particular function of law is just as significant today as in the days of Israel. At Sinai God provided them with the opportunity of making a response by promising to keep His law. But the nature of that response is entirely the responsibility of man.
The old covenant experience of Israel sprang just as much out of their relation to the ceremonial law representing the gospel as it did out of their relation to the Decalogue. They used the ceremonial law in the same way they used the Decalogue. They looked upon their sacrifices without discerning their true significance. They thought that the cold, formal presentation of a sacrifice was acceptable unto God. They conceived that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin, so what they lacked in fulfilling the moral law, they thought to make up in the ceremonial law. Thus they separated Christ from both the moral and the ceremonial law. They rested in the works of the law, both moral and ceremonial.
For the few, the ceremonial law had real significance. They apprehended Christ in the sacrifices. Such were Abel and Abraham. It is obvious that this ceremonial law, consisting of those sacrifices that pointed forward to Christ, did not arbitrarily belong to the old covenant any more than circumcision arbitrarily belonged to the everlasting covenant. For by the time of Christ and Paul, circumcision had become the hallmark of the old covenant. Neither does baptism nor the Lordís supper belong arbitrarily to the new covenant. Such classifications depend entirely upon the attitude and response of the worshipers in both the Old and the New Testament eras.
The fact that God gives men the law to live by does not mean that the law constitutes the old covenant. "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" asked the rich young ruler. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments," was Christís reply. Does this sound anything like the stated requirements at Sinai? What was Christ counseling the young man to do? Try the impossible? Or was He telling him the truth?
Failure to see Christ in the law is the failure of faith. The failure is not so much a lack of mental and intellectual understanding of the will of God. Christ rebuked the two disciples for being slow of heart to believe, not stupid of mind to perceive. It is in heart apprehension of God and in living faith that men are seriously retarded. In mental and hairsplitting differences in theology, men have always been far ahead of heart experience; hence the animosity and persecution in the name of Christianity.
The psalmist points to the sin of Israel: "How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel." Ps. 78:40, 41.
If the law presented at Sinai was intended to lead them to Christ, why did Israel fail, and fail so continually through their history?
But are there not many sincere Christians today who live in the spirit of the old covenant and yet whose righteousness is not that of the Pharisees? As an elemental stage of Christian growth resulting from ignorance and spiritual immaturity, that is one thing. But the willful and persistent offering of an external and formal religion of self-righteousness in the face of the revelation of righteousness by faith, that is something else. It is stubborn unbelief in the face of light that becomes a serious sin before God.
The revelation of God at Sinai was of such a marvelous character as to present to the Israelites the full knowledge of the everlasting covenant. The sin that destroyed them was that in the face of all that God had done and revealed to them, the leaders molded a people in the rigid orthodoxy of pharisaical righteousness, and set forth to the world a totally false picture of the character of God, until the name of God was blasphemed and despised among the nations and the Jewish nation became a byword.
There is nothing clearer than this: that God will judge the level of oneís Christian experience and development by the measure of Godís revelation. What made Christís judgments of Israel so final and irrevocable was that the Jews throughout their history had received increasing revelation and counsel through the prophets on the true meaning of the everlasting covenant, and still came out with a religion known as Pharisaism.
There can be no more serious charge made than that the Laodicean church is following in the footsteps of ancient Israel. The full revelation of the glory of God in the third angelís message leaves us without excuse. Such light is both our privilege and our sacred responsibility.
V. Why Called the "New Covenant"?
If the covenant mentioned in the Old Testament, from Sinai to Malachi, is none other than the everlasting covenant, why should there be need for those days spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel"? Jer. 31:31. Surely this indicates that the covenant existing in Jeremiahís day is to be abrogated by the coming of the new covenant. Otherwise, why not continue with the same covenant found all the way through the Old Testament? What is the force of Paulís words: "In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." Heb. 8:13.
The answer is contained in the correct understanding of the term "new covenant" and the reason for its being called new.
In the first place, the established interpretation is that it was ratified by the blood of Christ at the cross. Daniel declares of Christ, "He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week." Dan. 9:27. The word "confirm" means to cause to prevail. During the brief period of His earthly ministry, Jesus fulfilled the terms of the ancient covenant made with the seed of Abraham. Paul says of this: "Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers." Rom. 15:8. Thus Christ secured the benefits of the ancient covenant to "many," that is, to the believers in Israel.
In the second place, this covenant is called new because Godís everlasting covenant had been so completely lost sight of that it appeared to be an entirely new covenant. This text is taking cognizance of the fact that while both God and His servants the prophets thought mostly in terms of the everlasting covenant, the nation of Israel thought in terms of the old covenant of works.
The Jews had lost sight completely of the everlasting covenant. The new covenant was to write the law of God in their hearts, but writing the law in the hearts of men was not new. Isaiah spoke of it as sealing "the law among my disciples." (Isa. 8:16.) The whole of Hebrews 11 is a historical record of it.
It is this writerís suggestion that the later prophets and the New Testament writers were obliged to deal with the utterly mistaken conceptions concerning the Sinai covenant. We must never forget that the Judaism of Christís day represented a perversion of the economy and testimony given by God to Moses. It is to offset these misrepresentations of the old covenant idea that the gospel writers are strong in their assertions of an opposite tenor and direction. This swing away from Judaism in the New Testament has been falsely interpreted as the abrogation of the law of God. The New Testament writers are compelled under the circumstances to press home the differences on account of Jewish errors and their hardness of heart. The real battle of Christ, John, and Paul was to deliver the church from every shred of Jewish legalistic bondage that had been fastened on Israel during the previous fifteen hundred years.
In the third place, the use of the term "new covenant" is occasioned by new revelation that came with Christís incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. Progressive revelation is an important part of the Bible record.