Samuel and David: An Overview

Last night I had the privilege of walking through an overview of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles for a group of ladies devoted to the Word of God. In their preparation to study 2 Samuel, they graciously invited me to discuss the book in an introductory fashion.  My notes from that study are below.

Introduction to 2 Samuel

The Approach to this Introduction

I’m going to discuss 2 Samuel in three categories in honor of the three horizons of interpretation: textual, epochal, and canonical (not that we’re doing exactly this form of interpretation, as this is only an overview). So first we’ll look at some of the textual issues like authority, dating, themes, some of the characters and David himself. Then we’ll zoom out and see how this book fits into this period in history, and the surrounding events and characters of this time. Finally, we’ll look at how this book fits into the overall canonical context of the Bible, including how David typologically and covenantally fits into the larger schema of redemptive history.

Textual Horizon

Authorship and Dating

1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book. So in order to understand 2 Samuel, you must first understand that you are picking up in the middle of a story.

Let’s talk first about authorship and the flow of 1 Samuel. The book as one unit covers about 135 years of history from 1105 BC to 971 BC and mostly focuses on the story of David as the central character.

The first 7 chapters of 1 Samuel are very focused on Samuel, who is the last man in a line of judges that have led Israel for hundreds of years. We learn about his upbringing, his parents, his lifestyle, his dedication, the plight of his mother Hannah, the state of the nation of Israel, the state of the priesthood, and other significant things as well.

Internal and external evidence seems to point to Kings having been written with a knowledge of what was written in Samuel, and Samuel seems to have been written with some knowledge of what occurred in Deuteronomy (Firth). However, the author is unknown. Traditionally the writing is ascribed to the namesake of the book by Jewish traditionalists, but that can’t be the case since Samuel’s death is recorded for us in 1 Sam. 25:1. Others say that Gad, and Nathan (both prophets during the time of David) wrote the book, but it is more likely that their writings helped serve as a foundation for the book since it is obvious the book was written after the kingdom was divided.

We don’t know the exact date of the writing, but MacArthur notes that it must have been post divided kingdom since there are distinct references to “Judah” and “Israel” as separate entities, and because the statement “to the kings of Judah to this day” (speaking of Ziklag belonging to Judah) in 1 Sam. 27:6 indicates that the writing must have been post-Solomonic rule. Some say that Samuel was written by the same author who wrote 1&2 Kings during the Babylonian Captivity, but as MacArthur notes, the writing style differs enough for that not to be a possibility, and therefore it was likely penned prior to the exile but during the era of the divided kingdom.

Notable Cities

  • Shiloh – the residence of Eli and the tabernacle
  • Remah – the hometown of Samuel
  • Gibeah – the headquarters of Saul
  • Bethlehem – the birthplace of David
  • Hebron – David’s capital when he ruled over Judah
  • Jerusalem – the ultimate city where David ruled all of Israel

Notable Nations

Philistines – these were one of two chief enemies of Israel during the time of Samuel/David. They had migrated from Asia Minor and settled along the Mediterranean cost of Palestine in the 12th century BC (to the west of Israel). They also controlled the iron in the region, so they had a distinct advantage over Israel in that way.

Ammonites – these people were settled to the east of Israel and were the second major source of trouble for the Israelites. As MacArthur notes, the Ammonites were descendants of Lot who lived on the Transjordan Plateau.

David conquered both the Ammonites (2 Sam. 12:29-31) and the Philistines (2 Sam. 8:1) during his reign.

The Themes in 1 Samuel

As we open the book of 2 Samuel its important to know what events were covered in the previous book. There are many issues brewing politically and spiritually in Israel. As MacArthur notes, “Israel was at a low point spiritually. The priesthood was corrupt, the Ark of the Covenant was not at the tabernacle, idolatry was practiced, and the judges were dishonest.”

There are four major themes that run throughout the books according the MacArthur:

  1. The Davidic covenant (1 Sam. 2:10 and 2 Sam. 22:51). This is the reference to the Messiah coming in the line of David. He wants to make a “house” for God, God ends up making him an eternal “house” (lineage – see Gentry for Hebrew play on words).
  2. The sovereignty of God – i.e. His power in brining about Samuel’s birth and David’s reign.
  3. The Work of the Holy Spirit – i.e. both Saul and David were anointed as king by the Holy Spirit. Victories in battle were won with the help of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit brought forth prophesy (1 Sam. 10:6).
  4. The personal and national effects of sin. This ranges from the sins of Eli and his sons, to the sins of David, and the disobedience of Saul. These men all had to deal with the consequences of their sins.

I think I would add to these themes a nuance to number four called “the character of David” and here is what I would note about David’s character:

  1. He was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) (DeYoung says, “David was a man after God’s own heart because he hated sin but loved to forgive it”)
  2. He was a sinful man
  3. He was a humble man
  4. He was a man of great faith in God
  5. He came from nothing and God made him something
  6. He was a man of great courage and talent (see Kevin DeYoung’s article)

In an article entitled “What made David great”, Rev. Kevin DeYoung says that what made David great, in a nutshell, was that, “In particular, David was a great man because he was willing to overlook others’ sins but unwilling to overlook his own.” He continues, “More than anyone prior to Jesus, David loved his enemies. Like no other Old Testament king, David was willing to welcome rebels back to the fold and overlook the sins of those who had opposed him.”

Some Final Interesting textual notes:

  • Three different pieces of Samuel were found in the Caves at Quomron – often referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls. There were not entire books or even entire chapters, but rather just fragments of 1&2 Samuel (Firth).
  • There is good reason to believe 1&2 Samuel were originally one book, and should probably be read as one volume. In the original masoretic texts they were one volume (Firth). It was only during the Greek versions of the OT (the Septuagint LXX) that a division occurred (MacArthur study notes). 1&2 Kings were called “3&4” Kings/Books of the Kingdom in the Vulgate and LXX.
  • There are four citation of 2 Samuel in the New Testament, and 1 direct citation to 1 Samuel. However, there are also several allusions to instances within the book in the NT (Firth).
  • There are four poetic texts in the writing. We know that at least one of them is drawn from the book of Jasher – 2 Sam. 1:17-27 (Firth).

 

The Epochal Context

Much of how we understand the framework of 1 Samuel comes through the prayer song of Hannah at the beginning of the book. Much like Mary’s Magnificat – which borrows greatly from its themes – Hannah’s prayer is predictive of the events in the book. The prayer is as follows:

2:1 And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.

2:2-8 “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. [3] Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. [4] The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. [5] Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. [6] The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. [7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. [8] He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.

2:9-10 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. [10] The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

Stephen Dempster comments that, “Hannah and David not only echo each other’s desperate prayers at holy sites; they echo each other’s songs of thanksgiving, and these songs focus on a messianic king…These two figures, Hannah and David, are crucially important for understanding the book. Hannah’s song looks to the future for the overthrow of a tyrannical dominion that will be replaced by a just king, a Messiah, who will bring justice beyond Israel to the ends of the earth (1 Sam. 2:10). David looks back and sees how God has delivered him from all his enemies. David some them until they fell under his feet (2 Sam. 22:39-40). God gave him the neck of his enemies (22:41), and this becomes the pledge of a future in which God will magnify his salvation to his king and extend covenant loyalty to his Messiah, to David and his seed for over (22:51).”[i]

So “The poem begins with a renewed Hannah, but by its end there is a vision of a renewed cosmos.”[ii]

With that said, let’s back up even more…

By the time you have arrived at David, it’s roughly 1000 BC, and you’ve seen the slow – sometimes deathly slow – progress of this Middle Eastern nation as they go from 12 boys, to 70 family members traveling down to Egypt. When they come up out of Egypt they are over 600,000. The country is leaderless though, and they will not be ruled by the wise council of judges any longer. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

They’ve been given the Promised Land, and Abraham has more descendants than he ever imagined. Yet the blessing of a united nation, a prosperous people, has not yet come to pass. They are harangued by nations on every side that are stronger than they.

God placed them geographically in the midst of super powers so that they would be a light to the world, a people who would shine in the midst of darkness. They were to show mankind what it means to be in a right relationship with God – the God – and therefore what it meant to be truly human. To rule as God’s image bearers and representatives on earth.

But they failed.

Eventually they call for a king. Not because they want a righteous ruler, but because they want to be like everyone else. They want to look like the world. “No sooner is Saul installed as king than he sins and Yahweh rejects him. It is Israel at Sinai all over again, taking cultic matters into its own hands (1 Sam. 13:8-14).”[iii]

Samuel sees their request as a rejection of his leadership, but God sees it for what it is: a rejection of His divine kingship. So God gave them a king – one that fit exactly what they were hoping for.

That king – Saul – was a failure.

But God, in His everlasting mercy, raised up a man – a shepherd boy – named David. David’s first two acts were to 1. Be a servant of healing to Saul who was plagued by evil spirits who troubled him and 2. To liberate his people from the oppression of a giant enemy.

In the defeat of Goliath, some of the great themes from Hannah’s song are beginning to play out, as Dempster so adeptly tells us:

This clash between the giant and the boy vividly displays the theme of the song of Hannah. But it also does more. That song celebrates the birth of a child (Samuel), God’s demolition of the power structures of the world and the installation of his Messiah to bring justice to the ends of the earth. It thus reaches back to the creation of the world and the promise to restore world order at the beginning through the birth of a child, the seed of the woman. The genealogical focus has shifted from Adam to Seth, to Shem, to Abraham, to Israel, to Judah and finally to David. David has become the focus of world genealogy. The seed of the woman has arrived, and in David’s first action as king he is a warrior, an anointed one who conquers and beheads a monstrous giant, whose speech echoes the serpent’s voice. David will now become the main focus of the storyline and, with his coming, there will be a similar narrowing and expanding of the geographical focus. It will be David who will bring this about as he conquers the Canaanite enclave of Jebus, and it will be Jerusalem that becomes the centre of world geography.

God put David through many trials and tests. He was chased from cave to cave as Saul had a strong desire to put him to death. Saul’s madness eventually drove David away, and David joined the Philistines as a sort of rogue mercenary. While working on their behalf, David ended up plundering many of Israel’s enemies, sending that plunder to the elders of Israel. David did in exile what Saul failed to do from the throne.

Then the final day came for the Philistines to engage in battle against the Israelites. What would David do? He told the king of the Philistines that he would go into battle with him, but the king’s generals would not permit that to happen. They were concerned that in the heat of battle David would not be able to remain loyal to them.

In this brutal conflict, both Jonathan and Saul were slain on mount Gilboa. Jonathan was David’s best friend and soul mate.

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. [2] And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. [3] The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. [4] Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. [5] And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. [6] Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. [7] And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. (1 Samuel 31:1-7)

That is where 1 Samuel ends and 2 Samuel begins, and where you will pick up the story in the weeks ahead.

Dempster concludes his overview of Samuel by saying, “The lesson of Hannah’s song, however, is repeated again and again. The future belongs to the one who says, ‘I am abased (low) in my own eyes (and am not tall) (2 Sam. 6:22). The future does not lie with the strong and secure but, rather, the least likely of David’s sons will inherit a throne of glory (1 Sam. 2:8b). Michal will die childless (2 Sam. 6:23).”[iv]

The Canonical Context

The story of the Bible is a story of redemption. Ever since the Fall God has been executing His plan to reconcile man to Himself and restore what was lost on that day so long ago.

Now from the larger canonical perspective, when we get to David, we have arrived at a time when Israel as a nation is finally going to reach the very peak of the blessings God made to Abraham, and begin to once again fulfill what it looks like to subdue the earth.

In this time we see the kingdom of God seems settled politically, physically, and spiritually in the town of Jerusalem, in the kingship of God’s anointed servant, David, and in Solomon’s time in the temple in Jerusalem. The result is both physical blessing and spiritual intimacy with God. The key here is that His presence is with them – in the tabernacle and then in the temple. Redemptive history is moving from the separation experienced in the Garden of Eden to a restoration of the relationship between God and man, and God dwelling amongst His people in a way that is increasingly intimate. From Abraham to Moses to David this reconciliation of the relationship between God and man is steadily increasing.

The terms of the relationship are defined in terms of “covenant”, this is the framework God operates within as He’s dealing with His people. This framework will become extremely important in your study of 2 Samuel because God will make a covenant with David that is the latest in a series of covenants that began with Adam.

Grahame Goldsworthy says, “Central to the theology of the books of Samuel is the covenant made with David (2 Sam. 7:4-16). David expresses the desire to finish the glory of the city of God by building a permanent sanctuary for Yahweh. Nathan the prophet is instructed to tell David that, far from his building God a house, God will build him a house; that is, a dynasty. David’s son will build the sanctuary, and the throne of his kingdom will be established for ever. God declares of this son of David, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’ (vs. 14). There is a clear reference here to the covenant with Abraham and God’s intention ‘To be God to you’ (Gen. 17:7).”[v]

The Davidic Covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17.

Both Goldsworthy and Stephen Wellum see that in the Davidic Covenant God has now embodied within the king the attributes previously attributed to the nation of Israel. The Israelites are still under the Mosaic Covenant, but now the king will represent them as their federal head. Just as the Israelites were regarded as God’s son (Exodus 4:22), and Adam before that (Luke’s genealogy) so now the Davidic ancestor is seen to be the Son of God – this will be uniquely fulfilled in David’s greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who owns the title (Son of God) in a unique way (ontologically).

Goldsworthy sums up the lead up to this moment well:

Biblical history begins with creation and, after the Fall, as a new beginning with the call of Abraham and the covenant of grace that God makes with him. This covenant underpins the exodus from captivity in Egypt and the binding of the redeemed people to the covenant instruction given by Moses at Sinai. This, in turn, underpins the responsibility of the people of Israel toward their God as he brings them to the Promised Land, gives them possession of it, raises up a king and establishes Zion and its temple as the focal point representing God’s presence among his people.

So you can see that these covenants before David are layered and interlocking. God is progressively revealing Himself and His plan of redemption for His chosen people and for creation itself.

What we see then across these covenants, and in David as well, is a tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice. This is an outgrowth of His character, which we read about in Exodus 34:

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

So within God’s character there is both a love for Mercy and for Justice. And God cannot deny Himself.

As the OT story unfolds, this tension grows.

You could say that the tension reaches its peak with the great blessings experienced during the reign of David and then Solomon, and that His justice is shown in the downfall of the kingdom and the exile to Babylon and Assyria.

What we see in the life of David is the very peak of God’s fulfillment specifically of the promises to Abraham: Land, Seed, and finally, worldwide Blessing. All of these elements have come to fruition in the time of David and Solomon. Yet not in a way that can fully usher in the kingdom of God. Why? Because these people are still covenant breakers. They still prefer to do things their own way and chase after the desire of their own heart.

Even in the time of great blessing, which will be seen in the life and rule of David and then Solomon, there is a very clear sense that this can’t be as good as it gets. Sin – even in David’s life – is still predominant, and the author of Samuel does not hide David’s character (warts and all!) from the reader.

Eventually the sin of the king leads to exile.

But even in exile the people believe exactly what David believed, namely that, 1. The Davidic reign would be forever and 2. All the earth and its kings would be ruled and subdued by the Davidic king.

The latter is drawn from David’s response to God’s covenant:

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord GOD! (2 Samuel 7:18-19 ESV)

So the question in exile becomes: “How long oh Lord?”

The end of your study will leave you with this impression – of a need for a faithful convent partner who will obey God and desire to do His will, and the need for a Messianic king who will deliver His people from bondage.

This is why, by the way, the original arrangement of the OT ends with Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra and then Chronicles because it anticipates a day soon to come when a glorious temple (a better temple) will be made, and a time when the city (God’s city) will be built with an everlasting foundation and strong walls, and finally a time when an everlasting king will come to sit upon the throne of David. All of these things point forward typologically to Jesus Christ, the everlasting king who is building a temple with living stones, and a city which John describes as a “bride adorned for her groom” – that’s us!

So as you study 2 Samuel and the 1 Chronicles, you must understand where you’re coming in on the story. This is Israel at its height. God’s faithfulness has remained despite years of the people going their own way. His love has lifted this people from nothing to the richest, most envied nation in the ancient world.

Yet unresolved tensions will point you forward toward a need for resolution. Let me end with a summary from Wellum and Gentry:

As one works across the covenants and the tension increases, there is only one answer to these questions: it is only if God himself, as the covenant maker and keeper, unilaterally acts to keep his own promise through the provision of a faithful covenant partner that a new and better covenant can be established. It is only in the giving of His Son and through the Son’s obedient life and death for us as God the Son incarnate that our redemption is secured, our sin is paid for, and the inauguration of an unshakeable new covenant is established.[vi]

Footnotes

[i] Stephen Dempster, ‘Dominion and Dynasty’ Pg. 134.

[ii] Dempster, Pg. 135.

[iii] Dempster, Pg. 138.

[iv] Dempster, Pg. 141.

[v] Grahame Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical Theology, Pg. 124.

[vi] Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant, Pg. 611.

Most Influential Books Part 3

This is part three (and final post) in a series on the most influential books I’ve read.  I’ve also listed some “runners up” at the end.  To be honest, there are so many good books that I read each year, that a list like this is necessarily subjective, and its always growing. Not that some books don’t have obvious merit for all people, but I also recognize that some may have had impacted me more than they will you. Not only that – but there’s a good chance that next week I could read something that blows me away and it won’t be on the list. Just this past week I read two books that were pretty darn good – Matt Chandler’s ‘Explicit Gospel’ and Michael Reeves ‘Delighting in the Trinity’. Nevertheless, I have to draw the line somewhere!

I hope you enjoy this third installment!

11. The Power of Positive Thinking – No one will accuse Norman Vincent Peale of being a theological genius, in fact much of his teaching undermines the basic Christian message that we are all sinner who need a Savior extra nos, but early in my theological awakening I didn’t seem to realize much of his incorrect teaching. So despite a deeply flawed message, God graciously used this book to help me learn two important things: 1. I need to be praying for others regularly and 2. The importance of Scripture memorization. This book literally pointed me back to the Bible’s importance for my physical and emotional well-being. I was suffering a great deal of anxiety and my doctor had prescribed anti-anxiety medication. My stomach was constantly in knots and I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with the problem…medication seemed like the only option. But when I fervently began to memorize scripture and pray for others and bigger items besides just my own desires, I began to slowly be cured of my anxiety. I stopped taking medication. I was a free man. And its not a big mystery as to why – this wasn’t magic, it was simply allowing the Word of the Lord and the power of the Spirit to become my top priority and renew my mind. The Bible can do that like no other book.  In addition, praying for others got my mind off my own troubles and focused on loving others (even if I didn’t know them). This book helped point me in the right direction. Would I recommend it now?  No way – but its prescriptions, most certainly. In fact if you want to learn more about Peale’s false teaching you can read Tim Challies’ write up on his bio: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-norman-vincent-peale

12. The Loveliness of Christ – During some of my darkest, most stressed-filled days this book has been a balm of healing. I have quoted it, memorized portions of it, I’ve taken it to the hospital multiple times, and it’s been a great tool of perspective in the midst of suffering. It is a small book, but a powerful book. Samuel Rutherford is probably one of the most influential puritan writers of all time, and his influence on me has been significant. If you were to add any one book to your collection as a result of this blog post, this would be the one I’d start with. The book is comprised of probably 100 (small) pages of quotes which are simply excerpts from his letters to other believers. In another way, if you are a Christian, Rutherford’s caring love for others around him ought to be a model for you as you seek to live in a way that is caring and reflective of the Savior.

13. Kingdom Through Covenant – Perhaps no book to date has had such an outsized impact on the way I understand the way in which the Biblical story is put together and unfolds throughout history. It made me feel good to be a Baptist (truth be told), and assured me that I wasn’t giving up any intellectual ground on that score (perhaps an intramural joke there)! It also explained for me a lot of the flow of events in the Old Testament and how they culminate in Christ – especially O.T. promises. This was an important book in my deeper theological development, and for those who have been Christians for a while and have always wondered at the dispensational and covenant approaches (i.e. you are/were head-scratchers like me), then this will prove very fruitful ground for you. You’ll have to ignore all the Hebrew and Greek text that the authors slip in from time to time. They are the scholars in that field and they do that to show their work (like you did in long division in 8th grade). My best advice is to do your best to read around it and not let it bog you down…its well worth it!

14. The Lord of the Rings – Growing up I was somewhat of a stranger to Tolkein’s work. I was aware of The Hobbit (I had seen a play, and perhaps had it read to me by my mom), but had no idea there was more to the story. Finally, while I was in college, my brother Alex introduced me to the story when Peter Jackson’s silver screen rendition of The Fellowship of the Ring came out in the theaters. I went as a skeptic, and left as a man head over heals in love. Later, in the weeks and days leading up to my wedding, I read The Lord of the Rings almost nonstop. I carried it with me everywhere, and my bookmark was our wedding vows which I was endeavoring to memorize. I still read this book whenever I can, and appreciate its depth and literary value more with each passing year.

15. Henry Drummond – This is not a book, it is an author (is that cheating?). During the 2007/2008 Romney Presidential Campaign I lived on the short sayings of Drummond. He gave me hope that science and Christian intellectualism could co-exist, and helped add perspective to my busy life away from home when I was sad and often feeling lost. Drummond lived and wrote in the mid-nineteenth century and devoted a substantial amount of time to standing up to the popular new scientific theory of evolution. He had a sharp logical mind, and I think just about anything he wrote is really fascinating.
Runners up – books that have taught me at least one major concept that has stuck with me:

God’s Greater Glory – In this sequel to Bruce Ware’s ‘God’s Lesser Glory’, Dr. Ware explains God’s “meticulous sovereignty”, a concept that has really been important in my own studies over the past year or so.  His Biblical and logical arguments are beyond arguing with from what I can tell of all I’ve read thus far. If you’ve read Chosen by God, and don’t want to blow your brains out with a puritan reading (i.e. Freedom of the Will) on the topic of God’s sovereignty, then this is the next step in your educational endeavors.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – This is a recent purchase and read and makes the list for how much it makes me laugh. It is easily one of the most enjoyable and hilarious books I have ever read! What I love the most about it is its trueness to the story as well as to Shakespeare’s famous writing style (the entire book is written in iambic pentameter).  If you love star wars and literature, this is the perfect combination – but be warned, this book is not to be read in any location where laughing out loud might be frowned upon!

The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Jerry Bridges explains “dependent responsibility”, which is the concept that men and women are both responsible for their actions and obedience to God’s laws, while at the same time dependent upon God for help to obey.  The tension here is worked out beautifully, and helpfully.

Give them Grace – Elyse Fitzpatrick examines parenting using the gospel. It is probably the best parenting book I’ve ever read, and it is easily the most challenging. There aren’t a lot of “to-do’s” from here, but there is a significant philosophical boost and reexamination that will likely take place.  If you don’t yet understand how the gospel fits into everyday life, this is one you must read.

A Case for Amillenialism – Kim Riddlebarger opened my mind to eschatology and taught me to enjoy it and not be scared to study it. I don’t think he’s the best writer, it seems a little clunky at times.  But he is really helpful in this area, and I find myself going back to his book and his blog again and again for wisdom.

The Trinity – Bruce ware explains divine roles better than anyone I had ever read. Especially subordination in role and co-equality in ontology.  If you’ve never understood the Trinity, this book will be huge for you.

The Freedom of the Will – Edwards proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God initiates salvation.  Extremely difficult read though, so don’t read this unless you’re ready to pop a few Advil along with it! In fact, I would recommend not reading this unless you are an advanced scholar whose already read some other puritan works (or even other works by Edwards). But if you are pretty advanced in your reading and understanding of doctrine, then make sure to put this on your bucket list.

Bonhoeffer – This almost made my original list. I read it at a time when I was going through much pain and angst and it helped distract me and keep my mind fresh. It was a very very good book and a very interesting biography.  It will not leave you satisfied though, I warn you there…but I think that is for the best (though I know some who disagree).

The Pleasures of God – Piper explained how it was the will and pleasure of the Father to crush the Son. This concept just blew me away.  He goes into many other “pleasures” of God in this series, and they are worth reading or listening (there is a sermon series) through.

Holiness – J.C. Ryle explained to me that in order to enjoy heaven later I need to pursue holiness now. That concept is meted out over some three or four hundred pages. It was a very impactful book and showed example after example of how men and women from the Bible lived their lives in pursuit of holiness all pointing forward to the One who lived a perfect life of holiness so that when we fail that goodness, that righteousness, is there for us and keeps us in right standing before God.

The 5000 Year Leap – I read this in 2009 (I think) and it was one of the first books to awaken me to how far off course our country has gotten. It’s a great foundational book for anyone trying to figure out for themselves “what’s really wrong with this country?”

The Children of Hurin – This is one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s posthumously published works and probably the greatest thriller/tragedy I’ve ever read hands down. It was published with the help of his son Christopher and if you get the right edition it will have sketches by Alan Lee, which are really good. Just a fantastic piece of fiction.

Knowing God – This classic work of J.I. Packer helped shape a lot of my thinking on the nature of the Christian life.  Perhaps chapter 19 (on adoption) was most influential because it stuck with me the best. You can hardly go wrong by reading this book multiple times until its truth seeps in and helps you better grasp your life’s purpose, and more of who and what God is all about.

Battling Unbelief – John Piper works out some important ideas here in a book that is basically a boiled down version of ‘Future Grace’ and the idea behind the book is that most of our anxiety and sinfulness (and many issues in our lives) derive from a Christian’s failure to have faith in God.  In other words, we don’t believe Him and don’t trust in His promises etc. It’s astonishing how many times Piper is able to get to the root of things in this small book. I’d recommend this one to anyone who wants to get to the root of the problems facing them each day.

The Story of Christianity Volume I – I read this 500 (or so) page history book last year as part of a seminary class on the history of the Christian church. It was so easy to read and so good that I picked up its sequel (volume II) for reading on my own. What I liked so much about this book was Justo Gonzalez’ ability to simplify complex political and religious issues, and help the reader traverse hundreds of years of history without missing the small things, yet without losing site of the bigger picture.  It’s easily the best volume on the church I’ve read thus far (at least for a beginner like me).

Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God – This book is a compilation of essays written about the holiness of God by noted scholars and theologians.  The essay by Sinclair Ferguson entitled ‘Hallowed be Your Name: The Holiness of the Father’ left a lasting impression on me and I refer back to it again and again.

Conclusion: One of the things that is inevitably left off a list like this are the dozens of commentaries and study aides I read each year as I teach through books of the Bible. Men like Carson, Calvin, Ridderbos, Vos, Stott, Augustine, Boice, MacArthur, Morris, Kostenberger, Frame, Schreiner, Grudem, Beale and others who didn’t get mentioned in my book list have been equally influential on my thinking and understanding of life, death, Scripture, and many other topics under the sun. There have also been men and women whose books I have read and have been helpful or enjoyable, but if I listed them all it would take way too long!

But what I have learned is that reading changes lives, it does this in the way that Bruce Ware describes the study of theology: first it changes your mind, then your heart, then the actions of your hands, which in turn affects your habitat.  But it starts in the minds and hearts of those who seek wisdom. You’ll notice that many of my books are theological or Biblically based, and that isn’t because I haven’t read a slew of Gresham or my fair share of Star Wars, and it isn’t because I haven’t read the classic works from Dickens and Dumas (becauseI have), but its because the books that have shaped me, influenced me, and changed me for the better have largely been books whose topic is heavenly, and whose aim is joy in life and after it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the postings – feel free to comment with any questions!

Study Notes 9-8-13: A New Commandement

This passage of our study on John covers 13:31-35

13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.

First, its probably worth nothing that Jesus says, “now”, and that this seems to give us a demarcation between Judas’ presence among them, and this time afterwards when He would give His last instructions and teaching to His disciples.  It is often thought that from verse 31 onward the ‘farewell discourses’ of Christ begin since Judas has now finally left, and only His chosen ones are left.

And as we get into the meat of the text, we see that Jesus is pointing toward an impending event – one that is imminent. R.C. Sproul’s study notes point us to Pauline theology which hangs so much on the shame that Christ was about to suffer in just a few hours from now, and the contrast Sproul notes is how John sees this as an hour of shame, yes, but mostly of glory. Jesus saw His imminent death as a source for His greatest glorification. As John MacArthur writes, “His entire ministry pointed to the cross (Mark 10:45), making it the glorious climax of the life He lived perfectly in keeping with His Father’s will.”

All of this is simply hard to imagine logically. But J.C. Ryle helps frame the problematic contrast between the way we think of “glory” typically, and the way that Christ and the Father had in mind:

This was a dark and mysterious saying, and we may well believe that the eleven did not understand it. And no wonder! In all the agony of the death on the cross, in all the ignominy and humiliation which they saw afar off, or heard of next day, in hanging naked for six hours between two thieves, – in all this there was no appearance of glory! On the contrary, it was an event calculated to fill the minds of the Apostles with shame, disappointment, and dismay. And yet our lord’s saying was true.

The idea that the chosen one, the Christ of God would be glorified was not an unfamiliar one, for as Isaiah said:

And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified (Isaiah 49:3).

Yet at the same time we see Jesus use the name “Son of Man” to describe himself.  And so we see that there are two themes colliding that the Jewish audience of the day could not have seen coming together: the Christ will be a man who will bring glory to Him own name, who will usher in a glorious kingdom, but will do so by suffering in humiliation and agony. More than just a martyr, Jesus was actually accomplishing something for His people – freedom and eternal life.

In light of this, I really love Carson’s comments on the nature of Christ’s glorification:

Even in the Prologue, the glorification of the incarnate Word occurs not in a spectacular display of blinding light but in the matrix of human existence (1:14). Now, bringing to a climax a theme developed throughout this Gospel, the Evangelist makes it clear that the supreme moment of divine self-disclosure, the greatest moment of displayed glory, was in the shame of the cross. That is the primary reason why the title Son of Man is employed here.

Pastor John MacArthur says that Christ was glorified in three ways by the cross: “by satisfying the demands of God’s justice for all who would believe in Him”, by destroying “the power of sin”, and by destroying “the power of Satan, ending the reign of terror of ‘him who had the power of death.’”

The Father Receives Glory as well

But not only did Jesus receive glory from the cross, but as He says, “God is glorified in him.”  This means that the Father would also receive glory in the cross-work of Christ. I see this happening in primarily two ways: In the righteous obedience and character of Christ, and in the knowledge of what Jesus was accomplishing for those whom He loved.

You see, God’s character was put on full display as Christ showed that God was holy, faithful, and loved His people. His law had consequences, and yet He was willing to pay the price for our breaking of His law. I hear recently that it’s a habit of Christians to talk as if we need to be guilty for the death of Jesus – that He died for us, and that this deep sense of shame pervades them for their sin. Well this is only a half-correct way to think about it.  Yes we should feel shame for our sins, but Christ did what He did not out of compunction, and not out of duty.  And as Pastor Tony Romano was so keen to remind us recently, God did what He did in sending His Son not out of some cosmic law that says He has to behave this way, but because He finds pleasure in doing so.  God loves to save sinners, and when His Son hung on that tree it magnified who He is! It screams for all the world to see that God is love; and it shouts from the mountaintops that He is just and righteous and holy. For He is God, and there is none like Him.

In Sum…

We often have a difficult time at first glance with some of these ideas. For what has “glory” to do with something so painful and horrific and hanging from a tree all bloody and bruised? What God does is expand our way of thinking. He is offering us a look at Himself.  He is inviting us to behold His character, His majesty there at the cross. The cross confounds our fleshly sensibilities and offers to us another paradigm of thinking: heavenly thinking.

I imagine that for the disciples it would have been difficult to comprehend how these two concepts (glory and shame) fit together apart from the help of the Spirit (which would come later).  We live on this side of the cross, and on this side of the cross we have the privilege of the Spirit’s abiding work within us. This work of His is helping change our thinking to be more like Christ’s thinking (1 Cor. 2:16).”

The same thing eventually happened with the disciples, you know. The suspended disbelief of this group of me will soon turn to faith in action, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that would prove to be of such a deep nature that most everyone in that room would suffer and die for their Lord many years later.

13:32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once

The Logical Progression of Glorious Events

Jesus also saw that not only would the Father be glorified, and not only would He be glorified by His actions on Earth, but that soon (“at once”) He would join His Father in Heaven once again and enjoy the glory He had with Him from the beginning. And so this comment “will also glorify him in himself” is an anticipation of His glorification. Jesus trusted and knew that His death would result in ultimate victory.  Jesus was not a fatalist; He did not march to death with no hope for future life. And so we too can face physical death knowing that those chains will never hold us back from the bosom of the Father.

This statement from Jesus therefore shows us that He was looking beyond the cross toward the joy that awaited Him:

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

The way D.A. Carson explains it may be helpful:

Instead of focusing on the glorification of the Son of Man and the correlative glorification of the Father in the Son’s voluntary sacrifice, one may reverse the order. If God is glorified in the Son, it is no less true to say that God will glorify the Son in himself…the entire clause has much the same force as 17:5. Christ’s glorified humanity is taken up to have fellowship with the Father…in the eternal presence and essence of his heavenly Father, partly because by this event he re-enters the glory he had with the Gather before the Word became incarnate (1:14), before the world began (17:5). The entire event displays the saving sovereignty of God, God’s dawning kingdom.

13:33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’

“Little children” is a beautiful saying of Christ, and (as Ryle notes) is the only time Jesus referred to them in this way. It reminds us of our adoption into the family of Christ.  In J.I. Packer’s classic book ‘Knowing God’ he devotes an entire chapter on the subject of our adoption.  Packer says that, “Our first point about adoption is that it is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification…Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves” (pg. 206-207).

That Jesus would offer the disciples this title after just speaking of His impending cross-work seems to me a special and wonderful revelation; a small peak into the blessings to come.

13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [35] By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Introduction

A few introductory thoughts to this important passage. First, this “new commandment” is not new in the sense that God had not called His people to love one another in the OT (Lev. 19:18), but rather that this will be a new covenant. In the OT God’s people were never able to keep the commandments. Jesus is saying that this is an entirely new paradigm, a new covenant enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6-13).  He is going to change not simply the way (or what) we obey, but the fact that we will be able to obey, and will actually desire to obey, and that when we fail we will not need to make sacrifices for our sin – for He is our sacrifice.

Secondly, by issuing the command to love, He is anticipating the coming of the Spirit, which will enable them to actually keep the covenant – in other words, He’s making new creations that will be covenant keepers rather than covenant breakers.

Lastly, this obedience will be so radical (love for enemies etc.) that it could only come from God – it has to be supernaturally motivated. The people called by the name of Christ (“Christians”) will behave in such a way that marks them as something completely “other” (“called out” and “holy”). People will ask, “Why do these people march to their deaths, love their enemies, and speak kindness and love in the face of hate, persecution and scorn?” There will be only one answer: They are Christians.

Not “New”, Yet “New”

This “new command” is not a new “rule” but rather a new covenant, a new way that God is dealing with His children.  As far back as the time of Moses we read that the Israelites were called to “love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” Yet even the new covenant Jesus is ushering in isn’t something that ought to be totally foreign to these disciples sitting around the room that evening with Jesus. For we read in several places that this new covenant was going to come one day – a brand new covenant with better promises, namely eternal life and righteousness earned by Christ plus sanctification worked out by the power of God’s own Spirit.

Look, for instance at what both Ezekiel and Jeremiah had to say about this great impending day:

 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. [23] And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. [24] I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. [25] I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. [26] And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. [28] You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:22-28)

And…

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [11] Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ [12] Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. [13] And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. [14] And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:10-14)

And…

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Covenant Keepers

This leads us to the next logical step, which is that in giving us His Spirit, and issuing a new covenant with His people, He has a goal in mind.  He will shortly break the power of death and sin by His atoning work on the cross, but He hasn’t stopped there.  God not only sent His only Son to die in our places, and to give us His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21 – double imputation), but He wants to have an intimate relationship with His people.  He has promised to dwell among us.  How is this going to happen?  By sending His Spirit to live within us.

The consequence of this is that He is transforming us from covenant breakers into covenant keepers. Listen to what Paul says:

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. [3] And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.[4] Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. [5] Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, [6] who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:2-6)

Baptist scholar Stephen Wellum outlines the importance of Christ’s obedience in reconciling us to God in the context of the inauguration of this command and the New Covenant, “…this is precisely the problem: God remains faithful to his promises, but we do not. It is only if God himself provides an obedient son – his Son – that the covenant relationship will be what it was intended to be from the beginning.”

Wellum continues:

What is needed is such heart transformation tied to the forgiveness of our sin, literally being born of God’s Spirit, so that human being will fulfill the purpose of their creation, namely, obediently living in relation to their covenant Lord and to each other (KTC, pg. 629)

In the New Testament, the Spirit is presented as the agent who not only gives us life but also enables us to follow God’s decrees and keep God’s laws, thus making us covenant keepers and not breakers (KTC, pg. 648).

Previously we were unable to keep the commands of God, yet we are told by Paul that they were a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). This new command will be possible because the law will be written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33). This is the great fulfilling of the promise of a time when God would dwell within us and help us to obey. What we could not do in the flesh, God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:3).

The Coming of the Spirit

It is important to understand that this commandment comes from Christ by was of introducing the rest of what He is going to say to the disciples. The remainder of His conversation (and prayer) in chapters 14-17 is saturated by the promise that when He leaves He will send the Spirit. It is only because of this promised coming of the Spirit that this command, this new covenant, can be taken with joy and not complete consternation and (if they were being honest with themselves) the anticipation of utter failure.

This “new commandment” is the great “royal law” (James 2:8) which Christ has given us, a law which we could not keep if it were not for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is more going on here than we might realize, because as I’ve labored to show, Jesus is saying that he is going to transform us from covenant breakers to covenant keepers, with the goal that we might enter into a relationship with Him, and fulfill the reason for our creation in the first place – what was originally meant for us in the garden, and has been won for us by the work of the ‘Last Adam’, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5).

The Mark of a Christian

Jesus’ words signal the announcement of a new covenant, a better covenant enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6), and a people whose actions of love will set them apart as a clear distinction from all others in this world.

Now, this is why Jesus says that, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This isn’t because of our own wisdom or knowledge, but because the Holy Spirit will be so markedly making a difference in our lives that we will act differently than all other people. It is both a stunning pronouncement on the evil of humanity, and the amazing promise of God’s work within us that “love” for others will be the most pronounced indicator of our inclusion in His heavenly family.

Scripture tells us that God’s people are a holy nation, not geographically, but spiritually (Gal. 6:16). We are a called people, called out of the world (ekklesia), called to be holy, live a holy life (1 Peter 1:15, 2 Tim. 1:19), and called to love each other (Matt. 22:38-40). This love is a sign of the working of the Spirit.

This is what Frances Schaeffer called ‘The Mark of a Christian’ (Sproul & MacArthur both cite Schaeffer in this way) and it is not simply an emotional reaction to His goodness, it is much more. It is an outpouring of His Spirit’s work within us. It controls us. It motivates us to action. And it is these actions that justify outwardly our identification as His children. As John Stott says, “Christian love is not the victim of our emotions but the servant of our will.”  And this “will” has been changed by Him from a will bent on sin and resulting in death, to a will inclined toward the things of God.

One need only look to church history to know that the love which Christ has given His children has driven them to do and say things they never would have otherwise. Peter, the blustering big-talking fisherman became a man who could speak before councils and kings.  He was transformed from a cowardly traitor into a bold proclaimer of the Gospel, and eventual martyr.

Only a supernatural kind of love could possibly affect this kind of change – church history is littered with case after case of this testimony. From Peter and Paul and James, to Ignatius, Polycarp and Justin. Time after time men and women gladly marched to death rather than surrender their affiliation and love for Jesus.

Lastly, but certainly not “least”, it is worth noting that if we are truly filled with the Spirit, we will know we’re never going to be lost. He will preserve us until His return, or our death. What a wonderful assurance! If we are filled with His Spirit, then surely He has adopted us into His family and ushered us into His kingdom.

John tells us in his first epistle, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14 – also 1 John 2:29, and 3:7 tell us this truth).  This love is a result of the Spirit’s work within us, and the Spirit is given to us when we are born again (John 3).

And as Wellum remarks, “In this age, Christ sends the Spirit to all believers and the Spirit becomes the previous seal, down payment, and guarantee of the promised inheritance of the last day.”  The indwelling presence of the Spirit the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor. 5:5), and the proof that one day Christ will come back and consummate the kingdom He inaugurated 2000 years ago.

Christ: the Center of all Biblical Covenants

Christ: the Fulfillment and Center of all Biblical Covenants

Earlier this evening, while teaching a small group study, I mentioned how the Biblical covenants serve as the backbone of the entire Biblical-theological narrative.  To understand how the covenants work and how they point to Christ is to have an understanding of how the Bible is put together, and how God’s plan of redemption has been played out over thousands of years. Well as I was reading this evening in Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s excellent book ‘Kingdom Through Covenant’, I found a nice summary of this idea and wanted to post it here for those who might be interested.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

 

…The covenants, then, reveal first and foremost the incredible sovereign-personal triune God of Scripture who is our covenant Lord, who makes and keeps his promises – and as such they can never be thwarted. It is for this reason that all of the biblical covenants are unconditional or unilaterally guaranteed by the power and grace of God. Whether it is with Adam in the garden or with other covenant heads, God’s commitment to his image-bearers and creation, tied to his promise in Gen. 3:15, will never fail. That same promise runs across the entire Canon, and it is developed through the biblical covenants until it comes to its most profound fulfillment in the coming of God’s own dear Son. It continues in the Noahic covenant; it is given more definition and expansion in the Abrahamic; it undergirds the old covenant and the Davidic, and, as noted, it reaches its crescendo in the person and work of Christ.

On the other hand, all the biblical covenants also demand an obedient partner. God as our Creator and Lord demands from his image-bearers, who were made to know him, complete devotion and obedience. In this sense, there is a conditional or bilateral element to the covenants.  This is certainly evident with Adam as he is given commands and responsibilities to fulfill, with the expectation that he will do so perfectly…Furthermore, in the Noahic covenant, obedience is also demanded, which is also true of Abraham, the natio of Israel, David and his sons, and in the greatest way imaginable in the coming of the Son, who obeys perfectly and completely, in every aspect of his life and especially even unto death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-11).

Yet, as the biblical covenants progress through redemptive-history, this tension grows, since it becomes evident that it is only the Lord himself who remains the faithful covenant partner. From his initial promise in Genesis 3:15 to reverse the effects of sin and death; from his increasingly greater promises made through the covenants; from the beautiful picture of covenant initiation in Genesis 15, which demonstrates that he takes the covenant obligations solely upon himself; from the provision of a sacrificial system to atone for sin (Lev. 17:11); from repeatedly keeping his promises to a rebellious and hardhearted people, God shows himself, time and time again, to be the faithful covenant partner. By contrast, all the human covenant mediators – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, David and his sons – show themselves to be unfaithful, disobedient covenant breakers – some to a greater extent than others. As a result, there is no faithful, obedient son who fully obeys the demands of the covenant. Obedience must be rendered, but there is no obedient image-bearer/son to do so. How, then, can God remain the holy and just God that he is and continue to be present with us in covenant relation? How can he remain in relation with us unless our disobedience is removed and our sin is paid for in full? As one works across the covenants and the tension increases, there is only one answer to these questions: it is only if God himself, as the covenant maker and keeper, unilaterally acts to keep his own promise through the provision of a faithful covenant partner that a new and better covenant can be established. It is only in the giving of his Son incarnate that our redemption is secured, our sin is paid for, and the inauguration of an unshakeable new covenant is established.

It is only be maintaining the dual emphasis on the unconditional/conditional in the biblical covenants, leading us to their fulfillment in the unbreakable new covenant grounded in God’s obedient Son, that we appreciate Scripture’s incredible Christological focus.  The story line of Scriptures told by the covenants leads us to him. He is the one, as our great prophet, priest, and king, who accomplished our salvation. It is in Christ alone, God the Son incarnate, that the covenants find their fulfillment and this built-in tension finds its resolution.