When David determined to build God a house, God said something back. We find this story in II Samuel 7.
First, the Lord gently criticizes David for taking it on himself to create a worship innovation that the Lord had not commanded. The Lord questions David's presumption that he is the right one to build God a house (7:5). The Lord points out that God did command a traveling tabernacle, with which the Lord has been perfectly content (7:6). Then He points out that He had not commanded anyone to build Him a house (7:7). So even though David's basic motive was good, it was mixed with presumption.
Then the Lord points out that is He who does things for Israel and David, not David for him (7:8-11). God didn't want a house. Instead, He announced that He would build David a house -- a line of royal descendants. God promised to make one of Davids sons the king. God would establish him as king, and that man would build God a house (7:12-13). We know that man to be Solomon.
God promised to be Solomon's father. The Lord would discipline Solomon using the stick of human affliction (7:14). But in spite of Solomon's sins, God would not withdraw His lovingkindness from him the way God did from Saul. Unlike Saul, David's line and David's kingdom would endure forever (7:15-16).
This is why the Messiah was called the "son of David." The Messiah would be that seed of David who would reign forevermore. This is especially taught in the prophecies of Isaiah. We know that man to be Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus is God's prophet, and God's priest, but He is also God's king. We need to think of Jesus as our king, not just as our savior. Jesus' bloodline traces back to David, and qualifies Him to be God's king. His lineage to David helps us know He is the true Messiah. Because Jesus rose from the grave, He reigns as David's royal son continually, without end. This is biblical covenant number 4.
God created Adam in a covenant relationship with Him. God promised him everlasting life if he would obey (represented by the tree of life), and warned him of death if he disobeyed (represented by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). Adam represented the rest of the human race to God, and by his actions would bring good or ill to the earth. Adam brought ill, by sinning. Thus ended the covenant of works.
God formed a covenant with Noah, and through Noah with the rest of humanity (Genesis 9). God promised never to completely flood the earth with water again. The Lord re-affirmed His original commission with Adam -- mankind should go forth from the ark, multiply, and subdue the earth. God appointed the rainbow as a sign of His promise. Satan would not thwart God's redemptive plan by provoking God to destroy the human race because of sin. This was covenant number 1.
God formed a covenant with Abram of Ur, and through Abram with his descendants (Genesis 12, 15, and 17). God promised to give Abram and his descendants a land of their own, innumerable offspring, and to bless the whole world through him. Adam brought the curse, but Abram would be the means by which God would bring the blessing, to undo what Satan did. God later added a sign, circumcision, to mark Abram's line. Circumcision symbolized of the righteousness that God gives us by grace through faith (Romans 4:11-12). This was covenant number 2.
Covenant number 3 was the Law, which God gave to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai. What was the Law? It was that complete system of moral, ceremonial/priestly, and civil commandments Moses wrote down in Exodus and Leviticus, and later re-stated in Deuteronomy.
Why did God add the Law to His foundational covenant with Abraham? For a number of reasons:
1. The Law was Israel's constitution. It gave them the legal means by which to operate as a nation. God did not want them merely to be a loose collection of tribes milling around the Middle East. They were to operate as God's nation, and so they needed laws in order to function as a nation.
2. God intended the Law to be a light to the Gentiles. The intent of the Law was to provoke admiration from the Gentiles, who would look upon Israel and say, "Who is like the Lord of Israel, who gave them just laws such as these?" In a world controlled by violence, ignorance, and injustice, a society ruled by the Law would shine like a city on a hill.
3. The Law defined "holiness" in practical, ethical terms, and in this way it revealed God's will to Israel. These laws were God's conditions for earthly blessing. In this way, the Law shone a bright light on sin. By clearly defining "righteousness", sin was clearly defined in contrast.
4. The Law served God's plan of salvation by grace, even though the Law itself didn't save. The Law illustrated how grace would save. A flawless lamb would need to shed its blood , and its blood offered up by God the representative priest, to atone for the sins of all the people. The Law also reinforced the need for God's mercy, by stripping a sinner of all hope in himself. There was no way that a reader could face the blinding light of righteousness demanded by the Law, without feeling crushed and condemned by holiness. The Law also taught the believer how to live. Once saved, the Old Testament believer continued to follow the Law, because it revealed God's will for his life.
The priestly and civil elements of the Law came to an end when Jesus died, but the moral commandments carry on into the Christian era. God's grace saves us from the curse of the commandments, but grace saves us for compliance to the commandments. Salvation from the curse does not relieve us from the responsibility of compliance.
How do we know which parts of the Law are still for us today? We know which elements of the Law carry on into the Christian era, by means of the New Testament. The New Testament, especially the book of Acts and the Epistles, tell us which parts of the Law were fulfilled in Christ's death and resurrection, which parts were for Israel's civil function (and so only serve illustrative purposes now), and which parts are now part of the system of Christian commandments for the Lord's people today.
I'm preaching through the book of Judges, and I'm struck by how similar American Christianity is to the Jews of that time and place. In particular, I am amazed when I read and hear Christians who seem to believe John 3:16, but all the rest of their thinking, their speech, and their values are just as pagan and "off" as their non-Christians neighbors.
But how is that different from the churches of the New Testament times? The Corinthian church was a roiling mass of a few faithful Christians struggling against immorality and heresy inside the church. The Galatians were stupidly trying to chain themselves to Jewish law-keeping. The Ephesians were solid as a rock doctrinally speaking, but within thirty years they had stopped loving Jesus (Revelation 2). The Colossians were hypnotized by the so-called secrets of the cults. The Thessalonians was terrified that Christ had left them behind.
The early Jewish believers defended a false faith that was all brain and no obedience (see the book of James 2); other Jewish Christians thought it would be a fabulous idea to craft a Christian/Judaism hybrid! (Hebrews). The Pergamos church was sexually immoral, and the Sardis church was dead!
So the 1st century Christians were no icons. It says somewhere in the New Testament that it is with great difficulty that the Church shall be saved. We Christians don't make it easy for our Lord to save us. We're like the intoxicated drowning man who thrashes around as the heroic life-guard is trying to get us safely to shore.
A big cause of carnality in the modern U.S. church is the refusal of Christian preachers to preach the whole counsel of God. By only preaching the Gospel, with a heaping helping of happiness and a rare, apologetic mention of repentance, preachers foster worldliness in the church. This has been a problem for generations, but you can find it rooted in the second so-called great awakening. Revivals and soul-winning became the be-all and the end-all. Emotion was substituted for faith, and the psychological effects of music simulated the spiritual influence of the Holy Spirit.
So ma y small groups are built around secular psychology, that has been camoflaged with a few out-of-context Bible verses per chapter. People learn to love themselves, but they are not set free from the sin of self-love. God is now only a God of love, but not a God of holiness, and certainly not a God who punishes. Hell has disappeared. The word-of-faith prosperity message packs the houses. Churches are filled with rollicking worldlings who have been taught they are "little gods" who can create reality with their "confessions", but they are all webbed-up in Satan's snare.
I am tempted to say we should go back to the faithfulness of our grandparents' generation, except that it was in many cases our grandparents who surrendered their old denominations -- Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal -- to unbelief. So instead we should pray! Pray for God to raise up a new generation of faithful Bible preachers. Pray for the Lord to send a sincere spirit of true repentance among our congregations. The U.S. church has been living in the days of the Judges for some time.
God created Adam in a covenantal relationship with Him. We know this because Adam received commands and promises from God that would bless others; he represented others by his actions, whether for good or for ill; and the New Testament identifies Adam as the parallel to Jesus Christ, whom we know established God's new covenant in his blood. Adam's covenant was a covenant of works -- if he obeyed God's law, all would be well, if he broke the law, he would die. Adam broke God's law, so he and all of us died.
But God promised a Savior, a human being sent from the Lord who would destroy Satan (Genesis 3:15), thus undoing all that Satan engineered.
Then God gave a covenant of preservation to Noah, and through Noah to all of us. Never again would God destroy all the earth with a flood. The Lord appointed the beautiful rainbow in the sky as a sign of His mercy after the storm. Noah's covenant was a gracious promise, since God did not include any good-work conditions.
The next covenant God set up was between Himself and a Mesopotamian Gentile man named Abram. The Lord appeared to Abram, and promised him a land, a seed, and a blessing, all in perpetuity.
The land stretched from the Euphrates River on the northernmost end, to the Nile on the southernmost end. The seed was both physical and spiritual -- billions of physical descendants (of whom Jesus of the tribe of Judah is the most important), but he also has billions of spiritual descendants.The blessing was the lifting if death from the world.
The Lord unilaterally pledged to fulfill His promises. He put Abram into a deep sleep, then God's glory passed down the trail of blood three times, by Himself. Christ bled another river of blood on the cross, and that alone saves us by faith. Abram did no good works to earn this pledge from God. God chose Abram unilaterally and unconditionally, as an entirely free gift. And His pledge to Abram was permanent.
In Genesis 17, God added a sign of the covenant -- circumcision. This was an appropriate sign, since God was sanctifying a very particular family line to be His special people. Circumcision didn't save. Abram had already become a saved man years before, as described in Genesis 15. God in Genesis 17 created a new breed of people, the Jews. God's plan was to use these people to represent Him in the world, to the world.
Abram's covenant is the foundational covenant of the Bible. It shows the unconditional and unilateral nature of God's mercy. God did not approach Abram because Abram was a good man of good works. God simply chose to bless Abram because it pleased God to do so. Abram's covenant also reveals God's sovereignty. Abram had been an idol-worshiper from the land of Ur. He didn't choose God, God chose him.
This covenant shows God's saving plan for the world. Abram was a Gentile, and God promised to use him to bring the blessing to every family of the earth. But it also reveals the origin of the Jews, and shows the special commission to which God appointed them. If you are a Gentile who has trusted in Christ as your Savior, you can base your faith on God's Abrahamic promise to bless the nations. Jesus on the cross was how God kept His promise to Abram.
Abram's covenant is also crucial for assurance of your own faith. Abram's line is essential for identifying the true Messiah. The true Messiah must be a descendant of Abram. This is why the Gospel of Matthew begins with a geneology.
God's unconditional and unilateral commitment to Abram's seed proves that the Jews have not been set aside by God. The Old Testament prophecies of a glorious future for the Jews are based on the fact that God pledged Himself to Abram's seed. But Abram's ultimate seed is Jesus. God's promises to Abram are perpetual, but a Jew must trust in Christ to inherit them.
These reasons are why God's covenant with Abraham is the most important covenant in the Bible.
The Lord begins His first official covenant with Noah. After the horrors of the global flood subsided, humanity would have felt understandable anxiety over what God might do in the future. Noah and his family needed reassurance that, no matter how geography or meteorology might have changed, normal life could go on without men constantly worrying about death suddenly falling down from the skies. Noah sacrifices clean animals to the Lord (and as a side-note, it is interesting that Noah knew there was a difference between clean and unclean animals, centuries before Moses wrote down the dietary laws).
The Lord responds to Noah with a promise, Never again would the Lord destroy all life with a flood. He would make sure that the atmospheric seasons would endure in predictable, reliable fashion. Weather would be generally predictable. Human life could go forward. "Weatherman" could be a career. God's earlier reduction of the average individual human life-span would also curtail the degree to which human evil could flourish.
This Noahic covenant is a promise that extends to all of us. It is one of the reasons I do not fear global warming (now re-named global climate-change, since man-made global warming has been shown to be an uncontrollable function of nature, and a politically-motivated fabrication). God does not intend to annihilate the race, and pledged not to inflict world-wide catastrophe by water ever again. He has your whole world in His hands.
Rain didn't exist in the Edenic ecology. Mists rose from the ground during the day, then settled back down as dew in the night. Rain would have terrified the human race. So God appoints the rainbow to remind us of God's mercy. After judgment comes life and peace -- a nature-picture of the cross and the resurrection. One more thing not to worry about.
The Bible is composed of 66 books, but there is one plan of redemption revealed from Genesis 3 all the way to the end of Revelation 22. Protestant Reformation leaders termed this God's covenant of grace. This is "covenant" in the broad sense of a firm and explicit agreement between two or more persons, rather than in the narrow sense of a binding contract sealed by blood and marked by a sign.
God's redeeming plan is a covenant, because it was the agreed-upon counsel between the three persons of the Trinity. The Father purposed to send the Son to redeem His people. The Son bowed to the will of the Father, and purposed to become our Redeemer. The Holy Spirit bowed to the will of the Father and the Son, to empower Christ in His work of redemption, raise Him from the dead, and then apply His accomplished work throughout this age.
It is an eternal covenant, because there was never a time when it was not. The members of the Trinity didn't debate it between themselves, then arrive at a decision. There is no arriving at anything in God's eternal nature; it simply was. It is also eternal because nothing can break it. Christ was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth. God appointed Him to be the Christ in the beginning. God's chosen were appointed to life from eternity past.
Some of the brethren might fuss at calling the plan of redemption a covenant, partly because that word isn't explicitly used in the Bible with reference to the Godhead, and because some believers have been doctrinally prejudiced to feel allergic to the word "covenant" itself. But a covenant can be a settled agreement, minus the mystical signs God gave Abraham (Genesis 15, 17), or the liturgical formalities of Moses' law. Jonathan and David had a covenant without all the formalities.
Other denominations might prefer to call it the Plan of Redemption, but it seems to me that disputing this phrase, as opposed to speaking of "God's eternal covenant", which is the phrase we find in Hebrews 13, seems rather pointless. The members of the Godhead eternally agreed between themselves to redeem sinners, and they eternally divvied up the distinct tasks involved in that task. That is a covenant -- a firm and settled agreement involving responsibilities and promises, between two or more persons.
It is a grace covenant, because God foreknew mankind as fallen into sin and condemned in guilt. God's covenant of works was how Adam began (Genesis 1-2), but he failed it almost immediately upon the creation of Eve.How long do you suppose Adam went without sinning? One day? One hour?
We also call God's original, creational relationship with Adam a "covenant", in spite of the absence of that exact word, because we know from 1st Corinthians 15 that Adam was a type of Christ. We also know from Romans 5 that Adam represented others by his actions (see the parallelism between Christ and Adam). God promised Adam life as long as he did not sin (continued perfectly in good works, in other words). Adam failed,
Why is the covenant of grace important? It reveals to us the eternally gracious and merciful character of our God, who purposed our redemption before the first human was ever made. It reveals to us that each member of the Godhead was fully engaged in our redemption -- not just the Son. It protects us from the madness of the Pentecostal "Jesus-Only" cult, because there were three eternal Persons committed to this plan, not just One talking (crazily) to Himself.
And it reveals the unity of God's redeeming plan throughout the ages. Different administrations of the Lord's people came and went, but God's covenant of grace stayed ever the same as God walked it forward. The structure of God's people changed, from isolated individuals, to clan lines, to the three patriarchs, to Israel as a constitutional people, and finally to the sojourning multi-national Church. But the kernel, the nugget, the core of God's plan of redemption never changed. The saints of the Old Testament were our brothers and sisters, and they were saved the same way we are: by grace, through faith in the unmerited promise of a coming Savior.
His oath, His covenant, and His blood support us in the 'whelming flood. When all around our souls gives way, He then is all our hope and stay. On Christ the solid Rock we stand; all other ground is sinking sand.