God’s Covenants: The Obsolete and the Everlasting

I finally got to this article and have a ? How does Hebrews 8:7-13 fit in, especially in verse 13 that states that he first covenant is now obsolete. NIV

Well, it’s because what the writer of Hebrews calls the “first” covenant is not really the first. It is only first in relation to the new covenant, which is also called the ‘second’. That is the language used to compare the superior new covenant with the earlier covenant of the law. The terms ‘first’ and ‘second’ ‘new’ and ‘old’ are strictly to do with these two distinct dispensations. The covenant called ‘new’ by Jeremiah is often called ‘everlasting’ by the other prophets and also by Jeremiah (compare Jer 31:31 with 32:40) and was always understood as pre-existing the Sinaitic covenant. It was particularly the Sinaitic covenant that was rendered “old” and obsolete (‘done away’, ‘abolished’ 2Cor 3:7, 13) by the coming in of the new, called second only in relationship to the order of the two in specific contrast.

It is not intended that the Sinaitic covenant was comprehensive of all that preceded the new covenant. This is clear because before the giving of the “law” at Sinai, there was what Paul calls “the promise,” and it too was given in the form of a covenant. So throughout the historical and prophetic books the promise to the Patriarchs is often called ‘the everlasting covenant’. The prophets see this covenant as inviolable and sure. If this was to be established with a disobedient and gainsaying people, one thing was certain: something radical and dramatic would be required to subjugate the aggressive Gentile powers, and to accomplish conditions of abiding covenant fidelity. This could only be possible by the the coming in of an “everlasting righteousness” (Dan 9:24; Jer 32:40). Thus the prophets conceived of the apocalyptic in-breaking of the great day of the Lord that would also bring to Israel the gift of the Spirit and the new heart. Only this would be sufficient to establish the conditions necessary to secure permanent righteousness and secure inheritance of the Land, thus establishing the ‘everlasting covenant’ (Gen 17:8; 1Chron 16:17-18; Ps 105:10-11; Isa 61:8; Jer 32:40; Ezek 37:26 are just some). [Side note: So it is not only Paul, but Moses and the prophets before him who recognized that the law was weak through Israel’s moral inability apart from the empowerment of spiritual regeneration and so look ahead to the new heart of spiritual circumcision. The church needs to show to Israel that it is NT revelation and not Rabbinic tradition that stands in continuity with Moses and the prophets.]

It is this “everlasting covenant of promise” that the prophets see as established permanently with the nation in the coming day of the Lord at the end of the last tribulation. And where Israel, as pertaining to the ‘natural branches’ is concerned, it will indeed yet be established WITH THEM at the ‘set time’ (Ps 102:13). But through the revelation of the mystery of the gospel, it is now seen that the power and spirit of that coming day has come already in unexpected advance of the “last day” (the day upon which all Jewish expectation was fixed). So while the ‘first’ covenant of the law is indeed obsolete, nothing of that former covenant can annul the sure confirmation of the oath that came 400 years earlier. It is that unconditional promise that the prophets have in mind when they speak of an ‘everlasting or new covenant’ to be established with the surviving remnant of the last tribulation, the ‘natural branches’. And though the church has gained advance access to the grace and glories of that everlasting / new covenant, the church of this age does not exhaust its fulfillment, since it is yet to be established with those with whom it was originally made.

Listen to Paul’s language: “For this is my covenant (same New Covenant) unto them when I shall (future) take away their sins.” When is that? It is “when the Deliverer comes out of Zion.” That is all language from the prophets concerning the bringing in of an everlasting righteousness for Israel after the last tribulation at the great day of the Lord (Isa 59:21; Jer 32:40). So we mustn’t confuse what the gospel writers call the ‘first’ covenant with the earlier promise of an everlasting covenant that is unconditional and sure, not in the sense that there are not conditions of necessary holiness of heart and life, but that God Himself has pledged to see to the fulfillment of those conditions “in the day of His power” (Ps 110:3). Let me know if this helps or whether you would tend to agree.

In praise of His glory, Reggie

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