THE COVENANT: II
The world is God’s stage and all men and all women perform on that stage. God entered a “Covenant” with Adam, with Noah, with Abraham — Moses, and with Jesus the Christ to produce plays that would honor God and sustain man. Actually, God does not negotiate or form partnerships! God simply delegates His intentions to man for man’s own good. The designated directors, except for Jesus, did not produce plays; neither did they choose actors that brought dignity to their profession and their Creator. Jesus came up with the right play and the right instructions, but his followers also added and subtracted from the original “Covenant” (agreement) with God. The “Covenant” with God is the same from Genesis to Revelation and Jesus’ warning has not changed:
I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy in this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).
What does the “Covenant” represent? I have been told that “God’s Covenant” or “God’s Promise” is valid regardless of man’s behavior. It is true that God does not change! And neither can God change His “Covenant!” God has provided the means by which man can enter the “Covenant” and claim the promises. However, God set forth some conditions, which man must accept! And, if man is to be protected by the “Covenant,” then man must abide by the conditions. It is not an outright gift, which so many of us have been led to believe. Man, with good intentions and for his own convenience, has altered the “Covenant” in his own favor. Here are two examples that we need to examine carefully. Translators have rendered Romans 1:17, “He who through faith is righteous shall live” (RSV). The emphasis is on “faith” instead on “doing what is right,” and that the true faith in God can support. The Greek text reads, “Those who are righteous by faith shall live.” It agrees with Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” The KJV, the NIV, and the NASB agree with the Greek and with Habakkuk, but the more man oriented versions like the NLV, the NEB, and the RSV lean towards faith as being sufficient to be saved. How did faith become the means of justification without human deeds? Paul deduced his argument from Abraham, Genesis 15:6, “And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.” What did Abraham believe that required any work? Absolutely nothing! For Abraham it was not about works, but for Abraham it was an heir that would fill the earth with his offspring. Abraham, himself, was not certain that he actually believed that such a promise was possible (Genesis 15; Romans 4-5). James, the half-brother to Jesus, disagreed with Paul’s analysis of “faith without works or deeds.” God accepted Abraham’s faith after he was ready to offer up Isaac. Without the right kind of “deeds or works,” faith is dead (James 2:14-24).
The second example is even more potent. It is Acts 13:48, “And when the gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” All the translations, that I have at my disposal, agree that God chose them before they believed. God, of course has foreknowledge of what man will and what man will not do. Yet, God has forced very few, like Moses, Jesus, and Paul to do what had to be done. To the majority of us, God lets us use our free will. The Greek text definitely puts “faith” before being appointed, elected or chosen. “And those who believed were appointed (or ordained) for eternal life.” Jesus began His ministry, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). In order to believe, one has to clean up and remove the obstacles (sins), which are in the way of the spiritual eye of faith in deliverance from evil and the granting of a life with God in eternity. The “Covenant” is not a free gift on a silver platter handed out on mere faith without concrete evidence. Man is not accepted or justified by mere faith! But man is justified by what man has done. We are counted by the fruit we bear and not by the beautiful foliage we display. Jesus did not praise the big donors! However, Jesus praised the little widow with two coins. And Jesus did not encourage everyone to share his kind of life with everyone. For instance, the Zebedees brothers wanted to sit on both sides with Jesus in His kingdom. Jesus said them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They were sure of themselves and replied, “We are able.” Then, in the hearing of all the other disciples, Jesus said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:20-23). Earlier, Jesus had told his disciples, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). So, to qualify for the “Covenant” one had to be righteous and do what is right.
God’s “Covenant” with man stipulated what the qualifications were in order to enjoy the privileges the “Covenant” provided. Adam and Eve were forbidden to become involved with good that could turn evil:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’” (Genesis 2:15-17).
It was in the Garden of Eden that evil arrived. Evil terminated man’s original bliss with God. The first couple obeyed the serpent rather than God. Adam and Eve violated the first “Covenant” and they lost the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve also lost the “Presence of God” (Genesis 3). Adam and Eve’s disobedience escalated into wickedness, which brought on judgment through the flood. Noah was to raise a new kind of people who would obey God’s Law (stipulations). Like in Adam, Noah was to be careful as to what he ate, which could turn good into evil:
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of a man. Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. And you be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it (Genesis 9:3-7).
God continued speaking to Noah and said:
Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen 9:3-11).
The “Covenant” to Noah, like the “Covenant” to Adam was not fulfilled. Under Adam, Cain put death to work by killing his brother Abel. Under Noah, Nimrod was praised as ‘a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The problem was that Nimrod hunted human beings who did not agree with him and submit to his power to build some tower, where from its height he could subdue, his fellowmen (Genesis 10-11). Once more, good was turned into evil and evil became good. War and killing became the means by which man protected himself and subjected others to a dictator’s will. It was a direct violation of the “Covenant” not to shed blood. God kept His “Covenant” not to punish all flesh! However, God singled out Abram to become Abraham, the father of a new people that would obey God and that would keep His “Covenant.” God commanded Abram:
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
Wow, how did that turn out? Abram started out great! Abram obeyed by leaving Haran. And when Abram arrived in Canaan, God send him another message in Genesis 12:7, “To your descendants I will give this land.” Abram became a “theocrat.” And he began to worship by building an altar to the God Most High. Abram met Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God. Melchizedek welcomed Abram and his intention to follow the one God. For allowing him to sojourn and pass through the land, Abram paid his dues to Melchizedek. Then a famine made it difficult for Abram to stay in Canaan; therefore, Abram sought refuge in Egypt. In Egypt, Abram lied that Sarai was his sister and not his wife. God did protect Sarai — Pharaoh recognized the hand of Abram’s God and sent Abram back to Melchizedek. Melchizedek allowed Abram to sojourn for three generations. During this time, Abram rescued his nephew Lot and a large group of Melchizedek’s people from bandits. This feat put Melchizedek in Abram’s debt and secured his stay in Canaan (Genesis 12-14). For the third time, God used a vision to inform the concerned childless Abram, who would inherit the land of Canaan. Thus far, God was faithful to His “Covenant” (Promise). And the writer of Genesis wants the reader to believe that God thought little or nothing about Abram’s lie. It seemed that God had a blind eye toward Abram’s transgression; therefore, God used Pharaoh to get Abram back on track. Through Sarai, from here in and on, Abram’s offspring were allowed to plot their cause as God’s purpose for their lives. Down the corridor of history, they began reap what they had sown. Instead of either blessing or cursing their siblings, they set in motion the events, which would either bless them or curse them. From being the people God had intended them to be, Abram and Sarai’s son, as well as their offspring, took God’s “Covenant” for granted. They build their own fall! What is even more indiscreet is the roles Sarai, Rebekah, and Rachel played in the formation of a people that God supposedly favored. Their will became God’s will, or did it?
Abram had convinced himself that Eliezer of Damascus would be his heir. The message from God to Abram was, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” The Lord told Abram to go out and look at the stars and told him, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Abram believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:1-6). In the Hebrew the word “righteousness” is “Zadaqu” or “Sadak.” Righteousness is not characteristic of a person based on faith, but on deeds. It was not faith that made Abram a righteous man, but what Abram did later on when he offered up Isaac. Even then, Abram did not do it because he was righteous but because he did what he was asked to do. In this context, Abram had done nothing; he even doubted that God would give him an heir. Abram did listened to Sarai and fathered Ishmael with Hagar (Genesis 16-17). At this point in their lives, the truth about Abram and Sarai was that they nearly upset the plan that God had for them. God had to put Abram to sleep in order to give him another injection of the destiny of his offspring.
Before Abram and Sarai could become parents of God’s designated heir of the “Covenant,” they had to undergo a change. The conversion was not instant; only — changing their names was. The expectation that this couple would be righteous or represented righteousness did not materialize. Abram and Sarai tore their own family apart; and furthermore, they justified their merciless action with God’s approval. In Genesis, chapter fifteen, verse four the heir of the “Covenant”was to come from Abram’s body, but in Genesis, chapter seventeen, God presumably changed his mind in favor of Sarah:
No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year (Genesis 17:19-22).
Let us see how things turned out with this stipulation in mind. Many things were promised that did not come to fruition and the reason why is recorded thus:
How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken? When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the world does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken the words presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
With the belief that God does not change, then who led the whole world to believe that God could be behind the actions of a people that kept on having it their way with a God who complies with their demands and their wishes? For instance in Genesis, Isaac did not fulfill the “Covenant” (Promise) supposedly made by God — but nevertheless, Ishmael fulfilled the “Covenant.” Abram had fallen into a deep sleep and God conveyed this promise:
Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your father in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete (Genesis 15:12-21).
Everything thus far has taken place, except Abram’s descendants were in the fourth generation when they left and not when they returned from Egypt, four hundred and forty years later.
The problem is with the second part of that promise to Abram:
To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgaashites and the Jebusites (I Kings 9:11).
No Hebrew king or nation has reigned over such an extensive territory. Solomon was respected, but his territory was reduced when he traded a large area of his kingdom to Hiram for manpower and material to build is Mansions, stables and shrines for his foreign women. The descendant that did spread over all that territory, before the time of Christ and into our time, was and still is Ishmael, and even far beyond that part of the world. Does that mean that Isaac’ s influence was a presumptuous promise? Not at all, but the recipients did misunderstand the intentions of God for their role in the world. The land was to be their livelihood, not their ultimate purpose of God to bring His Law to the world. Instead, the seed of Isaac, and in particular the offspring of Jacob, and then of Judah, isolated God and themselves from the world. God was turned into a “Jewish God.” And the Jews were the only people that God was favoring? It was not until the dissolution of Israel and Judah, that the world received some blessings and some contributions from the descendants of Jacob-Israel. All the other descendants of Abram — Abraham had spread all over the world. It is very presumptuous, to localize God or to localize Christ with a certain nation.
I have gone ahead of my purpose to deal with the “Covenant.” Let me take you back to Genesis, chapter sixteen, verse twenty-two and resume our study on the way the descendants of Abraham manipulated the “Covenant” for their own benefit. Abram and Sarai’s names were changed to Abraham and Sarah. Yet, Abraham and Sarah’s nature and their attitudes were not changed. Abraham still yielded to his wife’s demand to oust Hagar and her son Ishmael. Abraham still lied to King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister. Abraham tried to save Sodom and Gomorrah. And Abraham was very hospitable to the visitors who claimed to have come from God with a message that Sarah would give Abraham an heir within a year. It should not surprise the reader that Sarah, in her nineties, found the message amusing. Sarah also must been amused when King Abimelech wanted her for a wife. She was merciless toward Hagar and her son Ishmael. It is puzzling why God took a liking to Sarah and made her husband listen to her. The ousting of Hagar displeased Abraham because of his son Ishmael, but he heard God say:
Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring (Genesis 21:11-13).
It was troubling to please Sarah, but to please God took the wind out of Abraham. The message was, “Give me back the son I gave you!” Abraham had just put out Ishmael and now he was being ordered to part with Isaac. Abraham, a hundred years old, is being tried for his life by losing his heir. What do we think Abraham believed God would do? Isaac, his son, asked his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? And Abraham said, ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together (Genesis 22:7-8).
God did provide a lamb and Abraham finally proved his faith or trust in God; and he did what was right, and so did God when He gave up his Son for us all. The message of God was far more and far better than land or an inheritance. The “Covenant” to Abraham was that his son was to carry God’s name to the world. God can be trusted to what He commits Himself to. Therefore, God also will provide the means that His commitment is accessible to man. Man may question the way God supplies his lambs, but at the end, God’s choice will become clear, as it did for Abraham. We shall return to Abraham’s test when we examine the “Covenant with Christ.” At the present, we shall return to Abraham’s final mission and that was to get a wife for Isaac. In my own view, this was a promise Abraham may have made to Sarah, to get a wife for Isaac from Abram’s brother Nahor’s household. Abraham, himself, married Keturah, one of the natives, and fathered seven more sons. He sent them all away with gifts, and left the inheritance alone to Isaac (Genesis 25:1-6). Abraham entrusted his most faithful servant with the task to secure a wife for Isaac from his father’s household in Mesopotamia. He said to the servant:
Put your under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac (Gen. 24:2-4).
Abraham charged his servant:
See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there (Genesis 24:6-8).
The servant pledges as his master Abraham demanded and loaded up ten camels with gifts and set out for the city of Nahor. He camped at the well and prayed that a kind maiden would give him a drink, the men that were with him and water his camels -– by no means an easy chore for a maiden. A maiden by the name of Rebekah, a granddaughter of Nahor, brother of Abraham did as the servant had requested in his prayer. Rebekah ran home and reported her meeting with the rich man from Canaan. Her brother Laban was sent to invite the man into the home of Bethuel, son of Nahor. The servant revealed to them his identity and his purpose to bring home a wife for his master Abraham’s son Isaac. Rebekah was brave enough to trust herself to the rich man who showered them with gold, silver jewelry, and costly gifts. Abraham had become very wealthy by that time. Rebekah’s family committed her to the man with their blessings, and the servant took Rebekah home to Isaac. Rebekah pleased her aunt Sarah and her uncle Abraham. Isaac loved Rebekah and married her in his mother’s tent. Rebekah became more than a wife to a man twice her age. After Isaac’s mother Sarah died, Rebekah became a comforting mother to her husband. More than that, Rebekah became the mastermind in the inheritance plot of what was to become the people of Israel. She decided which of her sons was to inherit the promises of God (Genesis 24, 27). Down the road of history, it became a tradition that God loved Jacob and hated Esau (Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:13). How did it all begin?
It began over a pot of stew or porridge. Food was a problem with Adam, with Noah, with Esau, and with Jacob. Man wants to live on bread alone. For bread, man is willing to give up his principles and his rights. The fundamental truth is that man cannot live on bread alone; yet, without bread, he cannot live at all. Esau represents most of us who have faced hunger. Jacob and Rebekah represent those of us who take advantage of human needs and their predicament. Even faith is based on bread. James had this caution:
What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or a sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
Jacob had faith that a pot of food could bring his brother to his knees and that his brother would give up his birthright. That only was a small task for Jacob’s conniving mind. Jacob had to get passed his blind father Isaac as an imposter of his brother Esau. Rebekah, the mother who only loved Jacob, knew how to trick her husband. She prepared the meal and dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes to smell like an outdoor hunter. Jacob knew how to lie and how to steal the blessing from his father. Therefore, for safety, Jacob ran to his mother’s brother Laban. Jacob’s next task was to cheat on Laban and convince the world that it all was in the best interest of God. And Jacob wiggled through it all with flying colors.