Friday, May 01, 2009

Seeing God's Justice in his Promises

by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.

Throughout the Old Testament and into the New, God has been making covenants with his people. Three important covenants are the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic. These three covenants also illustrate two important types of covenant: the if-then covenant and the I-will covenant. Covenants are like contractual promises, with if-then covenants requiring promises from both parties and I-will covenants requiring promises from only one party.

In Deuteronomy (the last book of Moses), God made two distinct and opposing if-then promises to the children of Israel. The first is that if they would obey and trust him, they would live in the land and he would bless them. The second and opposite, is if they did not trust and obey, they would no longer live in the land and he would discipline them (Deut 30). These two if-then promises are part of the Mosaic Covenant.

If we follow the nation of Israel through its various kings and after it split into two nations, we see hundreds of years of choosing, ending with both kingdoms choosing to trust themselves and seek after other gods. As a result, God sent Assyria in 722 BC to take the Northern Kingdom of Israel out of the land and he sent Babylon in 586 BC to take the Southern Kingdom of Judah out of the land. God kept his promise.

Unlike the Mosaic covenant, the Abrahamic (Gen 12, 15, 17 ) and Davidic (2 Sam 7 ) covenants are I-will covenants. God promised Abraham that he would have land, seed, and blessing, and that all nations would be blessed through him. God promised David that he would always have a man on the throne.

We see these covenants working especially clearly in the divided kingdom and the discipline that resulted from the nation's faithless disobedience. Even as God disciplined the Northern Kingdom using Assyria and the Southern Kingdom using Babylon, he revealed, through his prophets a bit of how the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants would bear out.

The prophets during this time of turmoil also revealed how God's coming Messiah would bless all nations (Isa 9:1-2; Matt 4:12-17 ) and would be King of Israel (Mic 5:2; Matt 2:1-6 ), fulfilling the promises of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.

Another outcome of the I-will covenants is the fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant in the New Covenant. In Jeremiah 31 , we see God lifting the cover and revealing this new covenant. There God says that he would write his law on their hearts and that they would no longer need to exhort one another, for all would know Yahweh. This new covenant is the covenant that Jesus announced at the last supper when he said, "This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20).

Why are we rehearsing the covenantal history of Israel in an academy about justice?

Let us look at the Mosaic covenant: if Israel would trust and obey, God would bless; if they did not trust and obey, he would discipline. In his blessing and disciplining, God acted in accordance with his own law. Even his own people, chosen for his own sake, are subject to the law and to the punishments incurred by breaking it and the blessing received by keeping it.

God's justice is seen further in his punishment of Assyria and Babylon. Assyria, which was the absolute power of the world, was toppled by its vassal state, Babylon. Babylon, which was the world power after Assyria, was toppled by Media-Persia. Both of these countries, Assyria and Babylon, flouted God's law. God had used them to accomplish his goals in disciplining his people, but they did it for their own evil purposes; therefore, they were punished.

Israel also flouted God's law and was disciplined severely. But there was a difference between God's punishment of Assyria and Babylon and his discipline of Israel and Judah, for in addition to the if-then promises of the Mosaic law, God had made I-will promises in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. These I-will promises were not dependent on Israel's covenant-keeping, for when God keeps his covenants, he displays his justice. God, in his justice, aligns himself with his own promises and keeps them, even when his people are disciplined.

In the coming of Messiah Jesus, in his eventual return, and in the full establishment of the kingdom, God's righteousness and fairness are born out. We, who are Gentiles, receive this blessing through Abraham's seed. We are the ones to whom the blessing through Abraham comes: through the Seed that is Messiah all of the promises of God become Yes. God's justice is born out in punishing the wicked, in disciplining the disobedient, and in blessing all who trust him.

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