Two Gods or Two Covenants?

The Old Testament does not portray a different God than the New Testament presents. When one argues that the God of the Old Testament is polar opposite of the One presented in the New Testament, there are several fallacies and oversights to address.

First, there is the oversight that, in the beginning (according to biblical worldview), everything was very good. That is, all was according to God’s intention as “the way it should be.” Based on the record, Mankind is the creature who disrupted bliss, and God is the One left “holding the bag,” so to speak. The accounts thereafter are God’s attempts at turning humanity back again to both Himself and mankind’s lost noble state. This is admittedly not an easy feat.

Secondly, God is the One who makes promises of redemption to ruined mankind and even chooses a few to help him enact His plan. His plan is actually to bless the whole world. It is not God, then, Who threatens His own promises by stubbornness, unreasonable and shameless actions, and an utter lack of trust. But, in each case where His chosen cohorts abdicate their posts, God picks them up and brushes them off.  He cultivates their sense of responsibility to Himself and to the plan He has in mind for making them rich and famous, among other more superior blessings like a provision for redemption.

Thirdly, God strikes up a covenant with a nation, of which He is the sole founder and protector. This special treatment means they are a national example just as Adam and Eve were individual representatives for the rest of humanity. So, Yahweh brings out Israel from oppression. They, in turn, complain, slander, and malign His plan and intentions for them – saying He does not provide for them, protect them, or have a good enough plan for them. Besides this, they accuse Him of murderous and cruel intentions, despite His doing miraculous things for their comfort, sustenance, and safety. As a result of this abuse He graciously makes His intentions and plan very clear to Israel. This He does in the form of a covenant. Said covenant contains not only God’s responsibilities in prospering the fledgling nation and expanding their borders; it outlines the people’s responsibilities. This is, after all, a theocratic kingdom covenant after the model of ancient Hittite Suzerainty Treaty. With the covenant drawn, there may be no mistake about God’s intentions and plans.

Fourth, the people of the theocratic kingdom dash the covenant (which touted blessings not only to Israel but all nations around them, if kept) to pieces by depraved actions. What’s more, they do so not 40 days after the covenant is ratified. That would be like the following situation:  the people of a benevolent monarchy marching weeks to hold a coronation in a special place for a 400 year-awaited king, but one month after the ceremony, they [because of sheer inner impulse and non-political mischief] dethrone him. And, all this happened while the coronation mountain was aflame with a terrifying (god-like) fire and with an awe-striking voice coming out of the clouds above the fire. Would any king or kingdom stand for such a thing? Would these things speak more to the detriment of the king or be tell-tale of the self-destructive and senseless subjects? Would the king not try to root out the rebels? Still graver, within the coronation ceremony all Israel promised faith and fidelity to the whole of their responsibility in that covenant. They said, “All the words of this covenant we will do.” They said it three times.

Naturally, the King (God) did purge the rebels. Yet, even this was according to the covenant stipulations agreed upon only days before. Every time after that first judgment made upon the enemies of Israel’s state, God was sure to keep up His end of the deal:  blessings for obedience, cursing for disobedience to the covenant. That was the elected course of action. There was even a restoration clause. If, in the middle of punitive judgment, the nation or individual would cry out for mercy from a changed heart; then, God would hear and restore.

Whereas Israel and humanity may think God unreasonable in His judgments, His ability and promises to bless are witnessed as proportionately magnanimous. His favor was often shown. However, perhaps (as with anyone) the negative seems more memorable but was assuredly not undeserved. If there is anything unreasonable, it is mankind’s obvious inability to keep reasonable laws, such as the Ten Commandments. Besides this, it is irrational to think there should be no natural repercussions for disregarding reasonable laws, especially when those laws give evidence to and propagate the dignity and success of all humanity.

Finally, we have it. The cycle of judgment and restoration teaches us something about us more than something of God. The severity of God seen in the Old Testament was according to that covenant agreement which stipulated God would serve as a corrective, instructive, and even punitive Agent. By self testimony, God claims judgment is a “strange work” to Him. It is His last resort; He delights in mercy, not in judgment.

Nevertheless, the LORD of Israel was contracted to deal with the people (one particular nation especially) according to their doings. What humanity learned is there is a serious flaw within us. It is impossible for us to love God supremely and love others selflessly, all the time – the essence of Jesus’ message. There may be willingness, but there is no real ability. This is further evidenced by the struggle, not only against evil but against right. We find the right thing harder to do (or “just beyond” us) in the most needful times, let alone all the time. At the base of it, we are spoiled by our own innate lack of morality. If there is any message of the Old Testament, it is not of God’s being angry, vengeful, and hateful. It is rather that mankind cannot keep himself in, even in the face of external law and impending judgment. We cannot redeem ourselves in our own eyes, let alone God’s. We fall far short of reconciling ourselves to Him.

Thankfully, God is all-knowing and all-wise, and He is all-caring! No wonder that He wove prophecy of a New Testament into the fabric of the Old Testament. Whereas God was bound in the Old Covenant [by His character as well as by agreement] to be a corrective, instructive and even punitive Agent; in the New Covenant we see Him dealing differently with mankind. However, we must not conclude from it that God’s character is somehow bi-polar. Rather, we must (according to good reason) first assume His character as consistent. Then we must investigate why His actions are “allowed” to be different within the stipulations of this New Testament (Covenant).

The answer is simple. In the New Covenant, God swears not to work outward corrective miracles but inward ones. That is, He promises to deal with the innate lack of moral character within each individual. He also promises to take up residence within the individual’s inner make-up, bringing life to deadness there. Most of all, He promises not to deal with individuals according to their offenses against Himself. How can God do this and still be fair and impartial? He is allowed to act in this merciful way, because He Himself willingly opts to bear the judgment for the sins of the masses. He can do that since He is God, and since He is the standard of morality.

So, Jesus Christ, the Son of God bought the satisfaction of God the Father’s fair and angry justice against humanity. He provided reconciliation to the Creator for each human by serving the judgment sentence pending on each one’s record. So, God may fairly pardon each human who claims his part of the provision Jesus obtained. Again, He obtained it by willingly and obediently dying on the Cross and rising again. It had to be that way, since the Godhead took counsel about it before the world was founded. Christ’s obedience and self sacrifice is the prescribed exchange for our rebellion and selfish indulgence.

One enters this New Covenant by agreeing to its stipulations. You must first agree with God that you are as He says – in need of remedy concerning your natural sinfulness. That means your mind must change about whether you are “good enough” or not. You must come to a vote of “no confidence” in yourself and belief structures which have (up to now) insured you of betterment, ability to successful self-governance, or even of eventual eternal perfection. Finally, you must transfer that confidence to Jesus Christ as the only One who provides healing in your moral fiber, reconciliation to God, and pardon from judgment. You can do that by calling out to Jesus privately or aloud. But one most certainly believes with the heart, says the Scriptures.

The God of the New Testament is the same God as the Old Testament. But, where the Old Testament was weak in that it could only reveal need, the New is far better. Jesus can take away sin and heal inwardly. In this way, God appears more gracious in the New Testament than in the Old. However, if one looks closely into Old Testament prophecy, the New Testament was in the mind of God from the beginning. The character of God does not change. His covenants have changed, but the latter highlights God’s mercy, whereas the former highlights mankind’s need for that mercy. That mercy is found in the self-sacrificial Son of God, Who is the Mediator of the New Covenant. His provision is all-encompassing, and His offer is non-discriminate toward rich, poor, more deviant, less deviant, the “smart” or the average, the privileged or the abused. All are equal in standing before coming to Him. Everyone who comes to Him are raised upward by Him.

4 thoughts on “Two Gods or Two Covenants?

  1. Indeed the God of the New Testament is the same God as the Old Testament. But it’s often overlooked that in the Old Testament the Lord showed as much grace and mercy as he does in the New. Consider how patient He was with Israel and how often he sent prophets to warn them before He finally held them accountable for breaking covenant with Him. Even then He forgave them and gave them more chances to repent. Him sending Israel into the pagan countries was an act of grace, Israel itself was supposed to be a witness of the Lord’s to those nations, but Israel failed. Even before that the Lord made a covenant with Abraham in order to bless all nations. (“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed” Galatians 3:8) We can also see His grace in the flood, he saved Noah and his family rather than wiping out earth’s entire population. We can see His grace from garden to garden, Eden to Gethsemane, and beyond. 🙂

    The Lord has not changed. He still calls us to be in covenant with Him, His covenant is conditional as were all the other covenants, and we determine whether we’ll be blessed or cursed by our choice to be in covenant with Him and be faithful or not. Life was about choices for Israel and life is about choices for Christians. We can see from the older covenants that the Lord is incredibly patient and full of grace and when we fail He only asks that we humbly and sincerely repent just as He asked Israel to through His prophets.

    Abraham was declared righteous because he had faith and he was justified by his actions. The same is true for us. We (as was true with Abraham, David, Moses, etc) can only enter into His covenants by faith and we can only be saved if we remain in covenant with Him.

    1. I see we agree about the fact God has not changed. In fact, that is why I wrote the article. So, I’ll take your first paragraph as your expression of agreement.

      Your second paragraph of response is something that I have not come to in my studies. I encourage you to look at the passages in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26) and New Testament (*[The New Spirit Within: Gal 5:16; Col 2:6; Phl 2:12,13; Tts 2:11-14;Hbr 13:21; 1Jo 1:6,7; 2Jo 1:6 // The Heart Transplant of the New Covenant: Luk 11:13; Rom 8:9,14-16; 1Cr 3:16; Gal 5:5,22,23;Eph 1:13,14; 2Th 2:13; Tts 3:3-6; 1Pe 1:2,22; 1Jo 3:24]) which describe the details of the New Covenant in Christ. From these passages, I am sure you will notice that God promises to put in us a new heart and His Spirit and forget our sins. This is a unilateral statement. What’s more, those who come within this covenant are marked by their relational approach to God, by their (super)natural desire to “know him.” That’s grace. That’s the New Covenant… Can’t forget Hebrews 8:11

      Also, may I add that Abraham knew a covenant different from but foundational to that of the Hebrew Nation. Please see Genesis 12, 15, and 17 for the details of that covenant. Moreover, Hebrews 6:12ff teaches us that the Abrahamic Covenant was “unilateral.” That is, God swore by Himself after passing alone through the divided animals, while Abraham was “asleep.” This indicated to Abraham and those of that day a very clear statement–God was alone responsible for the covenant terms and their satisfaction. Therefore, it was Abraham who “received strength” physically and in his faith to conceive by Sarah (Rom. 4).

  2. Galatians 5:16 in context is about choices. If you choose to to walk by the Spirit “you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” That conditional word “if” is seen in verse 18.

    Many of the verses you cited are about conditions of the New Covenant they are instructions.

    Titus 2:11-14 “…instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…” Covenant conditions are explained here.

    Phillipians 2:12 “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” Paul is saying to obey the Lord, just as Jesus said in John 15:10 “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” That’s covenant language.

    1 John 1:6 “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” There’s that word “if” making this is a conditional statement. Having fellowship and being cleansed has the condition of walking in the light. This is clear covenant language.

    God does give us desire, yet we must still choose to follow Him. Life is about choices. Once saved we do not become robots who can not sin. We must choose to walk in covenant with the Lord.

    Abraham had to choose to obey the Lord. Abram left his country, Haran, and went to Canaan and upon obeying the Lord said to him, “To your descendants I will give this land.” It was only after Abram had met the condition to go to land the Lord showed him that the Lord promised to give him and his descendants land.

    Another condition was “Go forth…from your relatives”, but Abram didn’t do that, he took his nephew Lot with him. Immediately following Lot’s departure the Lord spoke to Abram again. “The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” The blessings promised to Abram were not given until Abram had met the conditions that were original set forth. Abraham’s Covenant had conditions.

    Hebrews 6 “When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.”

    Let’s look at the context of V. 14, “I will surely bless you and multiply you…” and we’ll see the conditions there. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” We see the clear covenant conditions and promises there.

    I don’t mean to argue, but I see you are a man who studies the scriptures. Study from the Hebrew perspective rather than the Reformation perspective. By the 4th century Christianity had already lost touch of it Hebrew roots. Stoicism, Gnosticism and other “isms” had crept in by way of Augustine and others. God bless you and Peace of Christ.

    1. I find it very odd for several reasons that you mention I should study from the Hebrew perspective in contrast to stoicism and gnosticism. Firstly, I have mentioned no gnostic or stoic tenets that I am aware of. By your comment, I cannot tell if you realize stoicism and gnosticism were Greek philosophies / religious approaches, not originating with Augustine. However, concerning Augustine, you’d be surprised to read in “A Proposed Consensus on Articulating Sanctification” that I state plainly I am not Augustinian, except in rare cases. I can hardly be called a Reformed Theologian. Secondly, I have referred only to Scripture in order to interpret Scripture, relying on the Hebrew scriptures as well as the New Testament. Thirdly, I prefaced the Scriptures you outlined above with an asterisks and designating labels, being “The New Spirit Within” & “The Heart Transplant of the New Covenant.” But, what you have written about their contexts does not disprove the designators I originally set on them. Perhaps I should have been more clear to state that Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26 and Hebrews 8:11 are the New Covenant with its unilateral formulation, and that, the rest of the verses are descriptors or sub-sets of how that unilaterally established relationship works practically. I will assume responsibility for that.

      On the note about Abraham, please notice that though I referred to Genesis 12, 15, and 17, I did make most emphasis on Hebrews 6:12ff, and I took time to explain what I meant by God’s making a “unilateral covenant” with Abraham. Perhaps, for clearer communication, I should have simply pointed you to this article: http://www.biblemesh.com/gcpastors/article-blood-path-ceremony.html?height=420&width=480 …which notes as I do that Genesis 15 was a both a renewal of what God promised Abraham (Genesis 12:2-7, Genesis 13:16) as well as the making of a formalized pact, whereas it was not “formal” before. [See also http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0115.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_of_the_pieces

      Furthermore, you have written:
      “Once saved we do not become robots who can not sin. We must choose to walk in covenant with the Lord.” I agree. In fact, I could not agree more. Please see the articles “Why Christians Aren’t Perfect” as well as “A Proposed Consensus on Articulating Sanctification” and “Relationship: The Theological Solvent.”

      Oddly, though you say you don’t mean to argue, I find your style quite argumentative. I am for thinking with others and for offering points of discussion or for answering honest questions. However, I note that you are fighting me where we actually are friends and allies.

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