PREPARING FOR REDEMPTION --
THE OLD COVENANT
The whole of the Old Testament record after Genesis 12 describes the preparations that God made for the revelation of His kingdom through His Son. It describes how He chose and prepared a people to receive this kingdom; how He raised up prophetic men to bring the knowledge of God to them; how He established His presence once more upon the earth in their midst. God shows His brilliance and creativity in this period, in that the things He caused to happen related not only to the life of His people at that time, but also pointed toward a time of fulfillment in the future, when there would be a new covenant. Thus almost everything appointed for Israel was a God-created symbol, or "type," of a deeper reality that would be revealed in the future.1 When you read the Old Testament, keep that in mind and you will certainly become amazed at this God who can both verbally and symbolically announce things beforehand, and then accomplish them with such precision.
God chooses a man of faith
God began His people with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), declaring that it would be through Abraham's "seed" that all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18).2 In dealing with Abraham, the father of faith, God established and revealed the pattern by which He wants all men at all times to relate to Him: receive a promise of the Lord, persevere in believing that promise, and you will be approved by Him (Genesis 15:5-6). This is the way of faith, and it has never changed. This way of faith always requires the believing and holding on to specific promises revealed by God; by really believing God's promise about what He will do for you, He begins to relate to you as if He had already accomplished it. This is the only way by which men can gain approval from God (Hebrews 11:39). By understanding this principle you can understand the context in which Jesus gave His marvelous promise:
Jesus answered saying to them, "Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him. Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you" (Mark 11:22-24).
The way of faith leads to all of God's blessings, be they the blessings of approval or justification, of healing, of guidance or of provision. The way of faith, patience and blessing is the exact opposite of the way that led to Adam's downfall: distrust, impatience and curse. Israel was called to be a people that turned away from the way of the sons of Adam: it would be by living the fruitful way of Abraham's faith that God's light would shine forth from them to bless the whole earth.
We see another lesson about faith in this dealing with Abraham by God. God tested that justifying faith into something both inspiring and awesome, by calling upon Abraham to sacrifice the very child through whom the blessing was to come. Note very carefully the sequence involved here: Abraham became an acceptable person before God solely because he believed God's promise (Genesis 15:6), not because he obeyed God's command; but then, this very faith provided the ability for him to obey God's call to total consecration and bring that justification to fruitfulness (James 2:21). Thus, you can see that faith is not given solely as a way to justification; it is also given as the way by which we can actually do all that God requires of us. We are changed in status solely by believing; but if that faith is indeed justifying faith, we shall enter into testings that lead to a consecrated obedience.
Israel was called to walk in the faith of Abraham, in order to be truly his sons (Romans 4:12, 9:6-8). Only a minority of her children ever did, though. Most of them trusted in their circumcision instead of exercising the faith of which circumcision was the sign (Romans 4:11).
Only Israel knows God
It was the nation of Israel that God singled out from all the peoples of the earth that they might come to know Him:
He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His ordinances they have not known them (Psalm 147:19-20).
You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22).
As we read in Psalm 147 above, God did not reveal Himself directly to the world. Instead, He gathers a people together, reveals Himself to them, and then incorporates all who respond to Him into that people. This shows that salvation is not an individualistic affair, even though it is very personal. This pattern will repeat itself in the new covenant people, as we shall see.
The way God taught Israel about Himself was by raising up and anointing men with His Holy Spirit, making them His prophets, or spokesmen. These were men like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel. But there were also many other men of less renown, far outnumbering the writing prophets, who also ministered God's word to His people (e.g., 1 Samuel 10:5, 19:20; 2 Kings 2:3,5). The prophets gave God's interpretation of historical events to the people as He instructed them; they announced future events of promise and punishment; and they wrote the Scriptures (1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:19f).
They also taught men how to come to God, for both then and now God wants man to approach Him on His own terms. They taught men to relate to God as follows:
If these elements were not in any so-called relationship with God, one was not in the kind of relationship with the true God that He had revealed. That is why Jesus declared that only the Jews worshipped what they knew (John 4:22).
The glory of God comes to Earth
After the fall of Adam, God separated Himself from this sinful world.3 But with the creation of His covenant people came the restoration of God's presence to the world:
And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." Then he [Moses] said to Him, "If Thy presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Thy sight, I and Thy people? Is it not by Thy going with us, so that we, I and Thy people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" (Exodus 33:14-16).
God manifested His presence first at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:7); then in the pillar of cloud and fire during the exodus (Exodus 13:21-22); then on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:11-20); then in the wilderness tabernacle, above the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:22, 40:34); and finally, in the temple built by Solomon (2 Chronicles 5:11-7:3).
The heavens and the earth cannot contain Him (2 Chronicles. 6:18), and His dwelling place remains in heaven (6:21), yet He caused His heavenly glory to dwell there as an outpost of heaven, as it were. "For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually" (7:16). When God had the temple built according to His design, He was establishing it as a type of His incarnate Son (John 2:19), of the Spirit-indwelt believer (1 Corinthians 6:19), and of the local church (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). He established His presence in a building as a sign that one day He would establish it in His regenerate children; His outposts of heaven would then spread throughout the whole earth. And this spells out to us some of the significance of Pentecost (Acts 2:1f): As in the time of Moses, God was coming down to the earth in glory, to establish His presence in the midst of His covenant people. But because this was His New Covenant, no longer would He dwell in a building made with hands, but rather in the people themselves (1 Peter 2:4f).
Dear pilgrim, this is what our Christianity is all about: receiving the presence of God and walking in the ever-deepening influence of that Holy Presence. Hope for nothing less than the experience of His powerful presence within you.
God prepares Israel for His messiah and for His salvation
It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6; see also Isaiah 11:1f).
Israel was called into being in order to become the womb, as it were, for God's Messiah, or Anointed One (the probable symbolism of Revelation 12:1f). The prophets were also told the nature of the Messiah's ministry. He would establish a universal rule of justice (Isaiah 9:6-7, 42:1-4). He would bring the new covenant (Malachi 3:1), the covenant that would make possible a change in the depths of man's nature (Jeremiah 31:31-34). He would be the one who delivered Israel and all men from the true enemy: sin (Isaiah 53:4-12).
The history and the institutions of Israel were created by God Himself, and they spelled out in amazing prophetic detail the nature of the future salvation.4 It was done in a symbolic way, hidden behind a veil of "types"; and the veil which hid that message was designed to be removed when one came to faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). An example of the way a type functions is seen in the popular bumper sticker that at first glance seems to be nothing but meaningless stick-like shapes. But once you see the name "JESUS" emerging from it, you cannot help but see that name every time thereafter. Similarly, once one begins to see Christ in the Old Testament it becomes almost impossible not to see Him there. It is Christ incarnate, crucified, risen who is the obvious unifier of all of Israel's institutions. They all make sense and come together once you see Him prophesied and symbolized in them.
In her Exodus history we see a prophetic anticipation of the deeper deliverance that would be accomplished by Christ. God would raise up a deliverer (Moses, Jesus) to lead forth His people from their bondage (to Egypt, to sin). The blood of the spotless sacrifice (the passover lamb, the Lamb of God) was shed (objective foundation of passover/ salvation), but only those houses that received the shed blood were spared (subjective foundation), so that the angel of death passed over them. "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). "Christ our passover also has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Do you see how carefully our Triune God planned and executed our redemption?
The construction of the temple was designed by God Himself (Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30). And why do you think that was so? Of course! Because He wanted it to symbolize the coming salvation in Christ. Laid out in a direct line were the altar of sacrifice, the laver of water for washing, the entrance to the tabernacle and the entrance to the Holy of Holies, where God's presence was. When the veil is removed, does this not cry out to you that the sacrificed lamb is the first step toward the presence of God (the objective foundation); that baptismal washing is the next step (the subjective appropriation), after which we gain access to the Holy Place of God? And the symbolism is far more detailed than even that.
All of the sacrifices pointed to Christ, and were fulfilled by His one sacrifice on Calvary (Leviticus 1-7; Hebrews 10:5-12; Ephesians 2:14-16; Hebrews 13:11-12; Isaiah 53:10). The burnt offering spoke of total consecration to God; the sin offering addressed the sin that was unintentional yet productive of destructive guilt; the guilt offering spoke about deliberate sins repented of later; the peace offering expressed and celebrated joyful fellowship with God when the sacrifice was eaten by the participants; the meal offering spoke of a voluntary, pleasing gift to the Lord. As described in Leviticus, in the animal sacrifices, the one who brought the spotless lamb had to confess his sin and then lay his hands upon the lamb, transferring his guilt to this innocent life, whose death would be the price of his forgiveness. Then he himself had to kill the animal, silencing its almost human bleating cry by slitting its throat. As you stood there with your hands bloodied, how deeply ought it to have been driven home to you that your sin cost this blameless lamb his life, that you deserved to be killed instead of the lamb, that God is both holy (to require such a death) and gracious (to let it be a substituted death). And all this spoke of the Christ: Calvary was a burnt offering, a sin offering, a guilt offering, our peace offering, and our meal offering. It is that God-provided sacrifice that is to be offered to the Father by the believer in both fear and gratitude, realizing that the God who would not require Abraham to go through with the sacrifice of his only-begotten son Himself did go through with the sacrifice of His Son, whom He loved more than any of us love our sons. How powerfully does this speak to us of God's love, His holiness and His careful preparations on our behalf!
The actions, institutions and festivals of the old covenant are steeped in a symbolism created by God Himself. For the people in Jesus' time they were meant to provide a testimony and witness that confirmed the claims of Jesus for those who had "ears to hear." For us, these types are intended to be studied very carefully, that they may teach us what God was doing in Christ. Taking them seriously teaches us that, far from recording chance events, the Scriptures are full of the hidden wisdom of God. Just as the science of nuclear physics is hidden but implicit within a chunk of uranium ore or within a star, so too is incredible wisdom hidden away in the details of the types. When Jesus said that Moses wrote of Him (John 5:46), He was referring in part to these symbolic institutions and events that Moses recorded.
The purpose of the law
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. ...if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under custody under the Law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith (Galatians 3:19-24).
When the Law was given, God also declared through Moses that He knew the people of Israel would not keep it (Deuteronomy 31:24-30). For that reason, the Law was put into the ark as a testimony "against" them. He gave them a law which, if they obeyed it, guaranteed that there would be no poor among them (Deuteronomy 15:4); but then He immediately declared that the poor would never cease to be in the land (15:11). God knows the rebellion in our hearts all too well! In giving the Law to Israel, God provided man with a "karma"-based relationship, saying in effect, "if you want to relate to me on the basis of your over-inflated estimate of your goodness I'll let you try. Here is what I require:... If you obey that law you shall be blessed; if not, I shall condemn you most rightfully as a stiff-necked people." And certainly, Israel merely represents the human race at this point: no more and no less righteous than anyone else.
The Law truly contains the promise of blessing, but our hearts are not capable of the faithful obedience necessary to qualify for that blessing. We want what is evil5 far too much to remain constantly humble and obedient before God. Therefore, if you are truly an honest sinner (unlike the Pharisees of then and now) the Law will serve to convince you that you are truly worthy of death. And that is what the true son of Abraham knew about himself through the ministry of the Law: "I cannot be what He has taught me to be and what I want to be"; "..the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold unto bondage to sin... I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not... Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:14, 18, 24). The Law made the honest man humble, a perfect candidate for God's grace in Christ: it was indeed the tutor that led him to see and accept the offer of a Calvary-based relationship like a starving man leaps at a meal. But it made the deceived and self-righteous man -- the one who thought possession of a divine law combined with his insufficient obedience of it lifted him up above the gentile "dogs" -- it made such a person the most hostile enemy of that same grace. For that person, instead of being a tutor that led him to Christ, it would produce nothing but a false sense of superiority now and condemnation on the day when the secrets of all hearts will be revealed.
If you really believe that you will be accepted into God's presence on the basis of being a "nice enough guy," you are merely a watered-down, gentile version of the Pharisee. If you think you will be accepted into God's presence because of your commitment to the details of the New Testament you are in the same boat, having merely substituted one form of human exertion for another.
If you do not think that you need to undergo a deeply humiliating realization about your inner corruption and then surrender unconditionally your "ego" to Christ, then you are merely a gentile Pharisee who has a very convenient moral standard: high enough to separate you from the people who are "bad" (i.e., worse than you), but too low to drive you to the fruitful despair of Romans 7 (quoted above). Your standard of righteousness, be it Jewish or gentile, ought to be high enough to drive you into the arms of Christ. All Pharisees, whether strict or lax, will, when standing before God in judgment, be condemned to hell by His law before they even get a chance to try and get God to see them as they see themselves.
Are Christians supposed to use the Old Testament to establish doctrine and obedience? I refer you to the section “Are Christians bound by anything in the Old Testament?” in Chapter 1. <Click here>
2 We see from the very beginning that two-fold application of God's dealings to which we have referred above, for "seed" was intended by God to be taken in an immediate and in a prophetic sense (Galatians 3:16). It would be Abraham's seed, Israel, through whom Abraham's seed, Jesus, would come and bless the whole earth. <back>
4 To see the detailed typology in the Old Testament see, for example, Ada R. Habershon's The Study of the Types (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1957); and Alfred Edersheim, The Temple (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975). <back>