(An excerpt from Simple Faith)
As you may know, the Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is divided into 39 books, and the New Testament contains 27 books. Generally speaking, the books of the Bible are divided by author or time period. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthian church. Each of those letters stands alone as a book of the Bible.
While the books are divided by author or time period, there is an undergirding foundation to each of the Testaments. The first covenant is the underpinning of the Old Testament. Just before Jesus was crucified, He proclaimed that he was bringing in a new covenant.
The word ‘covenant’ simply means: an agreement made between two people. It is like a binding contract.
On the surface, these terms may sound like theological jargon, but there is an exciting truth unveiled through these covenants that point directly to how God relates to you and I as individuals. I want to show you how the Old Covenant unveils the love of God for mankind that wasn’t fully realized until the New Covenant was confirmed through Christ.
When the Bible teaches the Christian what it means to have faith, Abraham is the example. Yes, the Old Testament patriarch is the model for New Testament faith. Abraham was before the law. This is significant because the Bible makes it clear that the covenant with Abraham came by faith through the promise, and not by the works of keeping the Old Testament law. We’ll look at this shortly, but let’s first take a look at the covenant of faith given to Abraham.
Genesis chapter fifteen is an amazing passage. The chapter begins by God declaring, “I am your exceedingly great reward.” The New Testament points back to God’s relationship with Abraham as an example of how God relates to us as believers. We think of rewards as things, but the true reward is God. If we have intimacy with God, we have everything. If we lack that relationship with God, we have nothing of lasting significance.
The Bible calls Abraham the friend of God. Jesus declared to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants…I call you friends.” In both the Old and New Testaments, the joy of faith is friendship with God. It’s the goal behind redemption.
The faith of Abraham and the relationship he had with God is the same as God offers to the Christian today. God spoke to Abraham and revealed the promise of his inheritance. Then the Bible says that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness. This is how the Christian believes today. God reveals the promise of our new life through Christ, and by faith we believe God and we are credited with the righteousness of Christ.
Hopefully you will begin to see the harmony of the Old Testament and the New Testament. What God did in ancient times was a foreshadowing of what God was about to do through Christ. All the Old Testament points to the coming Christ, and all the New Testament points back to our redemption through Christ.
The same is true for the covenant of Abraham. After Abraham’s justification by faith, God introduced the covenant. If you aren’t familiar with the word ‘justification’, it simply means to be justified – or to be declared as just. Those who were once under the accusation of sin are declared just through Christ, and no longer are accounted as sinners. This is a topic we’ll go into later. For now, be aware that Abraham was justified by faith when he believed God, prior to any covenant.
After being declared righteous, God offered the covenant – or a binding agreement with Abraham. The Lord pointed to the land surrounding Abraham and declared, “I will give you this land for an inheritance, and to your descendants.”
At this time, the land had inhabitants who already possessed it. Knowing this, Abraham asked a natural question – how? God not only reveals the how, but takes it a step further. God explains that the current inhabitants will be deposed once they become morally bankrupt, but then God seals the promise with a covenant.
In the ancient times, when two parties entered into a binding agreement, they would take an animal – usually a ram or a cow, slay it, and lay half the animal on the side where one party sat, and half where the other party sat. They would then swear an oath to each other, and both parties would walk between the pieces. The meaning of the ritual was that each person agreed that what was done to this animal would be done to them if they broke their part of the agreement. In other words, the covenant could not be broken without a death penalty. Keep this in your mental cache. It will be significant when we see how God brings in the New Covenant.
Something interesting happens as God prepares to make the covenant for Abraham. He asks Abraham to prepare the sacrifice, but does not allow Abraham to participate in the confirmation. Look now at Genesis 15:9-12, 17-18a
9 So [God] said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.
17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.
18 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land…
At this point, Abraham’s name has not yet been changed, so he is still being called Abram. For the sake of clarity, I will continue to refer to him as Abraham.
Notice that God had Abraham prepare the sacrifice, but did not allow him to walk between the pieces. This is significant. The covenant was with Abraham and his descendants after him. If Abraham had been the confirming party, and either he or his descendants failed to uphold their part of the agreement, the covenant would be broken and judgment would fall. Sin has consequences. Israel (the nation that inherited the promise) sinned and turned their back on God repeatedly. According to the rules of the covenant, the violating party would be slain for breaking the covenant.
To protect Abraham and his descendants, God made the covenant with Himself, but Abraham was the beneficiary. This event was used as an example showing the certainty of God’s promises to us in Hebrews 6:13-18
13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,
14 saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”
15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.
17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
In other words, to give God’s people confidence in the certainty of God’s promise, He swore the oath against His life; not against the life of any fallible man. Once again, we see the Old Testament revealing the truth of our promise. To make the promise sure, God swore the oath by Himself. Therefore, even in judgment when Israel abandoned God, the people had the promise of returning to the land and obtaining the promise by simply repenting and reconciling with the Lord.
When the people failed, the covenant remained, for God was the guarantee of the covenant. The oath was between God and Himself, not God and Abraham. However, through that covenant, God blessed Abraham and his descendants with the benefit of the promise. Abraham entered into the covenant as a receiver and not as one making the guarantee.
The law that came through Moses is not how God’s people obtained the promise. The promise has always been by faith, and even when the people fell short on keeping the law, the promise wasn’t nullified. Look at Galatians 3:17
And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.
Who was the covenant made through? God in Christ. God swore the oath to Abraham through Christ, and the covenant wasn’t dependent upon the law. When the people fell short, they could not nullify the promise of the covenant. Man cannot break a covenant made between God and Himself. Both the Father and the Son were present at the confirmation of Abraham’s covenant, and are symbolized through the smoking oven of judgment and the light of the gospel torch.
The law cannot nullify the promise. The success of the law was dependent upon man, so it failed. But the promise cannot be annulled by the failure of man, because it was confirmed by God in Christ. So even in the Old Testament, we see Christ being the covenant maker, though He was not fully revealed until His human birth.
The Bible says that the weakness of the law was man, and that the purpose of the law was to restrain man, show man his inability to justify himself, and therefore turn to Christ, to teach man about Christ, and to foreshadow Christ. These are all roles of the law. One thing strangely absent is justification. The role of the law was not to justify man. Justification by faith was presented as God’s plan more than four-hundred years before the law was given.
Since man is the weakness of the law, it also stands true that any promises that are dependent upon man are at risk of failure. Any covenants dependent upon man are destined for judgment. Therefore, God swore a covenant by Himself with Abraham and his descendants as beneficiaries of the promise. God’s New Testament plan is no different.
The New Testament and all of Christianity is founded upon the new covenant. A bit of study reveals the new covenant clearly foretold and foreordained in the rituals and practices of the Old Testament – a testament founded upon God’s first covenant. In fact, covenant and testament are interchangeable in their meaning, but for the sake of clarity I’ll use testament to refer to the division between the Old Testament times and the New Testament times.
The problem with bringing in a new covenant is that something must be done about the old covenant. The Bible says that it is to be done away with in order to unveil the full plan of God. The old covenant foreshadowed what God was going to do through the new covenant, but the new can’t be ushered in until the previous one passes away.
Remember when I said to keep the meaning of the covenant ritual in your mental cache? This is where it becomes significant. God swore by Himself as a guarantee for the covenant with Abraham. In order to break the old covenant, it must be done to Him as was done to the sacrifice. The person breaking a blood oath must be slain. And yes, this was part of God’s plan from the beginning.
God did not arrive at the New Testament era and say, “Oops.” The Lord foretold of how He would break the old covenant. The Bible says that the old covenant was confirmed by God in Christ; therefore, since Christ is the guarantee of the old covenant, He must lay down His life to break it. And this is exactly what Jesus foretells of Himself in the Old Testament. Look at Zechariah 11:10-14
10 And I took my staff, Beauty, and cut it in two, that I might break the covenant which I had made with all the peoples.
11 So it was broken on that day. Thus the poor of the flock, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the LORD.
12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.
13 And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter.
14 Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
So much is said in this passage. Let’s begin at the end. In the Old Testament times, in order to enter God’s covenant with Abraham, one had to be a Jew. Either they had to have been born a Jew, or they had to convert to Judaism. This is why there was so much confusion in the book of Acts in the New Testament. Jesus was a Jew, and so were his disciples. When God poured out His Spirit upon all people, treating the Jews and the Gentiles alike, Jewish believers had a hard time accepting this.
The word ‘Gentile’ simply means anyone who is not a Jew. For thousands of years, God centered His covenant upon Israel. Now that covenant was broken, and the Jewish Christians had a hard time understanding the significance of this.
This is why Zechariah’s prophecy is so important. The Old Covenant was based on the physical descendants of Abraham, but the New Covenant brings everyone into the covenant through a new spiritual birth in Christ. In order to open up the world to the promises of God, the Old Covenant that promised it to the physical bloodline of Abraham had to be broken.
Jesus alluded to this when he said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”
The Jewish nation looked upon themselves as the sheep of God. God cared for them, nurtured them, and protected them as the fold of His sheep. Now Jesus is saying that another fold will be brought in, and they will be united as one people along with the Jews. This is the gentiles. This is part of the New Covenant. Look at Matthew 26:27-28
27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.
28 “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand this until God revealed his plan to the New Testament church. The cross is where the Old Covenant was broken, and the New Covenant was born. Jesus took the staff of His protection over the flock of Israel, broke it in two, allowed Himself to be nailed to it in the form of a cross, and redeemed all people through the New Covenant.
Think back to the first covenant. Who prepared the sacrifice, and who confirmed the covenant? Man prepared the sacrifice. Abraham prepared it, but God confirmed it by swearing by Himself while making Abraham and his descendants the beneficiaries of the promise. The covenant was between God and God, symbolized in the burning furnace of judgment and the torch of light.
In the same way, man prepared the sacrifice of Jesus, but the covenant was between God and Himself, with us as the beneficiaries of the promise. In the first covenant, only Abraham, the father of the Jews was called upon to prepare the sacrifice. In the New Covenant, God called upon the Romans (gentiles) and the Jews to jointly prepare the sacrifice.
The Jews prepared the sacrifice through the trial that provided false testimony and then condemned Jesus with an illegal court. The gentiles prepared the sacrifice through the Romans who knowingly condemned an innocent man under Governor Pilot, and then executed Jesus on the cross.
Man prepared the sacrifice, but the covenant was between God as the Heavenly Father and Jesus the Son. Isaiah 53 says that it pleased the LORD (the Father) to bruise Him (the Son), and make His soul an offering for our sin.
So we can see that the covenant was between God the judge of sin (burning oven) and the Son who is the light of the world (the flaming torch), with us as the beneficiary to the promise. The promise is our redemption from judgment against sin, and becoming joint heirs, who are now welcomed into the fold of God.
How can we not rejoice in the amazing work of God? And how can we not stand in awe of the foreknowledge of God? He revealed these things from the beginning. The Old Testament saints could not understand these things because Christ had not yet been revealed. We, on the other hand, can see clearly through the lens of the cross and see how God has been working out his plan for thousands of years.
An excerpt from Simple Faith, How every person can experience intimacy with God by Eddie Snipes