09 June 2013

Covenant Contrast: The Weakness of the Mosaic System Apart From Christ

Redemptive-Historical Structures, Deuteronomy, Distinguishing the Old and New Testaments

Recently I was particularly blessed while reading Deuteronomy with my children. We've been spending a lot of time trying to work out how the Old and New Testament relate to one another. How can God command the Israelites to massacre the people of Og and Sihon and yet those actions are not immoral nor would we call it genocide as it would be called today? They've certainly learned about the Nazis and yet how is this different?

I explained to them how a lot of Christians struggle to explain this and even worse how some misappropriate it and use it to vindicate American military actions etc...

I took them to 2 Peter 3 and we talked about how the Kingdom should have been consummated and the Judgment should have begun right as Jesus rose from the dead. In fact I would say it did, but that's for another discussion. But Peter tells us that God has delayed this Judgment because he is longsuffering and not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

We talked about 1 Peter 3.15f and how we need to be able to explain these things when asked. We talked about how people will not understand how Israel in the book of Deuteronomy is different from modern nations. Israel as a type of Christ was depicting both Salvation and the Judgment. Crossing the water, the Judgment, the realm of death, Christ/Israel enters the land and purges it...the Judgment and the creation of the new and holy land, the Kingdom of Heaven, or again Israel, where Christ is.

God can initiate the Final Judgment anytime He wants to but He is longsuffering. In the meantime, little tastes of it (sometimes called Intrusion) are dished out. Warning and admonition. Repent or you shall all likewise perish. Do you want to know what the Judgment will be like? Look at the conquest of Canaan, or the destruction of Jerusalem in both 586BC and 70AD. These are pictures of it.

We all deserve to die the death of the Canaanites. We all deserve to be wiped out in a tornado. We all deserve to be massacred by the Khmer Rouge. But when men do this, they do it not as the righteous instruments appointed by God. They're not Divine consuming fire, instead they're men trying to be God, they're pseudo- or anti-Christs.

But even though Israel under Moses acted as the divinely appointed agent, it was weak and insufficient. This purging of Canaan wasn't the real thing. The tabernacle and temple weren't either. The sacrifices didn't actually save, they were just the blood of bulls and goats.  The land itself wasn't the 'real' land. It was type and shadow. Christ himself, he is the Land, the sacrifice and the Temple. All the promises were about Christ, (2 Corinthians 1.20) and are fulfilled (the amen) in Him.

Israel was a picture of Christ. It was Didactic History, God teaching through history. And since it concerned Christ and Salvation we are right to refer to it as Redemptive-History. But Israel only has meaning when understood in light of Christ.

What is the Old Testament system apart from Christ? What is the land, the sacrifice, the temple, the kingship? My kids knew the right answer. Nothing much at all. It's a failed system. It couldn't save. It couldn't satisfy. As far as Eden's go, it was a failure.

Only when understood in light of Christ does it all have meaning. Only then do the symbols come alive and serve a purpose.

All the prophets, priests and kings were types or picture of the Prophet, Priest and King. Some Old Testament figures represented a composite. David was both king and prophet for example.

Moses more than any other figure was closest to Christ. He was a prophet, he was like unto a king and though he did not wear Levitical robes his role was that of a mediator, a priest.

And yet Moses taken alone, the Moses who in terms of the symbolism did not drink from the Rock that is Christ (Numbers 20), falls short. Obviously Moses is in heaven but there was a lesson there. He didn't obey. He erred and failed to be the True Mediator. He failed to be the 2nd Adam and fell into the error of the 1st Adam.

And so Moses when understood just as Moses and not in light of Christ cannot enter the land. He stands on Mount Pisgah/Nebo looking across the Jordan. Moses (apart from Christ) can't get there. He can see it but it is beyond his reach. Surrounded by the symbols and shadows of heaven they cannot grasp the reality apart from the embrace of Christ.

It takes a Joshua or as transliterated from Greek, a Jesus to bring us across the Jordan into the Kingdom of God.

The Pharisees and Jews who rejected Christ rested on Moses as the mediator. They rested on Moses alone and thus they could not enter into the Kingdom of God, nor would they suffer others to do so.

Moses rightly understood should point to Christ but often the New Testament rather than speak of them comparatively, it places them in contrast.

 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1.17)

or in 2 Corinthians 3 we read:

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. 11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious

Hebrews 7 continues this contrast:

11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.

14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16 who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. 17 For He testifies:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

18 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19 for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.

And this weakness and unprofitableness of the Old Testament when compared to Christ or taken apart from Christ is dealt with repeatedly. In other places it is referred to as a yoke, a form of bondage, and a schoolmaster. Paul castigates those who would return to it. It's like he's throwing his hands up in the air, 'Don't you get it?' That wasn't the real thing. That was just a lesson, the lesson of the 1st Adam. Old Testament Israel was an encore (or sometimes called a republication) of the 1st Adam but hidden within it were the hints and hopes of the 2nd Adam. Now that he's come, why would we return to that? Do you think you're sanctified by it? Do you think it will help you to be complete? He answers with a resounding 'no'.

Circumcision was the rite of initiation and in that sense represents the whole system, even before Moses. Sometimes Abraham is treated as part of the Old Testament taken as a whole (Hebrews 11), and other times (in Galatians for example) Abraham is distinguished from the specific Mosaic arrangement.

Paul is clear regarding circumcision, in fact his statement is a bit crude. He says why don't you go ahead and just cut it all off (Galatians 5.12)!

And yet many people don't realize that when they try and re-introduce Moses and bind the conscience to that system, they're doing the same thing as the Galatians. Circumcision was just the rite of initiation. Inconsistently the Judaizers of our day are (thankfully) skipping that as a requirement, but still trying to ultimately do the same thing the Judaizers in Galatia. If fact they might as well require it. They're teaching sanctification by the Old Testament law. They're saying (like the Pharisees) the Mosaic system was something, it was effective apart from the work of Christ. Because apparently he didn't fulfill it. They argue it is needed today. Apparently the author of Hebrews was mistaken. Apparently we need Moses to help the Church be the Church. We need Moses to build our so-called Christian civilization and we need Mosaic types and symbols in order to worship properly.

And so like the Pharisees they stand with Moses (metaphorically) on Mt. Pisgah looking at over the land but they cannot enter it. They are trapped across the Jordan. The waters won't part for them.

Anyway while I didn't get quite into all of this with my children I was pleased they immediately grasped the imagery of Moses the almost, Moses the failure. They grasped that Moses won't get you there and how the Pharisees wanted Moses for a mediator and not Christ. They grasped that the Jews today are still standing there with Moses. They think they're in their land but they're not. It's just a shadow.

And they understood because we've certainly talked about it, how utterly blind and foolish it is for those who profess Christ to still focus on that land and think that somehow putting the Jews into it today somehow means something, that it accomplishes something redemptive.

I just love that imagery of Moses standing alone in defeat. How much more glorious is the Joshua/Jesus who brings us into the Promised Land!

So how were the saints in the Old Testament saved? They lived under Moses in terms of chronology. Moses pointed to Christ but the Old Covenant could not save. To be saved they had to look ahead and thus they were members of the New Covenant. They were Christians out of time as it were. Paul demonstrates this by arguing in Galatians 3 that the essence of the New Covenant had already begun in the time of Abraham. This is re-iterated in Romans 4 where we learn that Abraham was saved by faith in Christ just as we are. All true born-again Christians whether living under the Old or New Testament (in terms of time) are in fact New Testament believers. The Old could not save.

The New Covenant is the Real Covenant, not the shadow. Thus we live in the 'end' time. There will not be another arrangement. This is it. All that awaits in the Final Judgment. There won't be another dispensation after this, and this also precludes the notion of the Pre-millennial Kingdom. There's This Age and the Age to Come. There's no room for another order to be placed betwixt this age or epoch and the consummation, the heavenly glory.

This is all in terms of Redemptive-History. Individuals lived under the Mosaic order but they had to look beyond it. We live in the final or real order and yet even still we're not yet home. Everything is finished, but we're still here putting to death the old nature, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, making our calling and election sure. We're exhorted to persevere, to continue in the faith grounded and settled and we're reminded that without holiness no one will see the Lord. We're told to be doers of the Word and not to deceive ourselves by being hearers only. We're told to examine ourselves, test ourselves, and we're told to rejoice in the sufferings that we are guaranteed to endure. We're warned against letting our love grow cold, we're warned against being presumptuous when we stand at the Judgment throne.

In terms of Redemptive-History the tale is all but over. We're just waiting for the final page to turn. But in terms of us as individuals, like the Old Testament saints there is a sense that we must look beyond the temporal order. It's no longer a shadow. The types and symbols of this provisional time are very few. We don't live in a fog as they did in the Old Testament. Christ was there but sometimes hard to see. We are in the brightness of the sun and yet we still must not trust in the few trappings of the New Covenant. Like the Old it gives some delineation and enables the Covenant Ecclesia (called-out people) to function on the earth and band together for fellowship and worship. The form is minimal but there still is a form, a shell that holds this system together in space and time. We must persevere and still be standing when we see our Risen King draws nigh.

To quickly review....

For individuals salvation is the same both yesterday and today. It's never been about law keeping, it has always been about faith in the Christ who is revealed to us as Jesus.

Corporately the people of God have lived under two different administrations. The Old Covenant was a regime of type and shadow, an arrangement that pointed to Christ and yet could not actually save. Those who lived under it participated in the rites and rituals and yet by faith they were actually (out of time) members of the New Covenant. Even Abraham inhabited both realms but the Old Covenant took on a particular character when Moses came along and God initiated a new Redemptive-narrative, a picture of salvation with the departure from Egypt.

The New Covenant is the age of reality and fulfillment. All has been accomplished. The New Covenant is salvation, heaven, union with Christ.

And yet it's almost as if it's been paused. A temporary form (during this pause) has been imposed with very few tools. This is just to sustain God's people and hold them together while everything is in a state of stasis. There's a danger, generally not as great as the Old era, but a danger that some might rest in the simple form of this era. There's a danger it can be misunderstood and mixed with other types and symbols from the earlier era. This destroys the integrity of both Covenant arrangements. There's the danger that some will misunderstand the delay, this season of patience and longsuffering, this time of great mercy. Some will confuse the paused state on earth with the eternal state. They will think this time of delay is the time and place of the New Heavens and New Earth. They will confuse the tools that help the 'pause' to work...such as the state or culture, and make them part of the Kingdom.

Like the exiles in Babylon we live in a frustrating in-between time. We're waiting and yet like the exiles we have to get on with our lives. We build our houses, plant our gardens, and raise families. We worship and we witness and while living in exile we don't have all the forms. They didn't have the actual Temple. They had to make do with the synagogue etc...

We're better off, for in a sense we are indeed in heaven, but like them we don't have everything while in exile. We have to be careful to maintain our faith and not be enticed away. Remember when the exiles left for home, many stayed behind. They had forgotten who they were and made themselves at home in Babylon. They may have maintained the faith outwardly but to not return to the Holy Land when able was a form of apostasy.

Like the exiles we're waiting and need to be ready to go. When the pause is lifted, it won't be so that a prophetic clock re-starts and God's order or plan is to return to the Old Testament. This is what Dispensationalism teaches. No, when the pause is lifted, the Judgment is here and we're in the Promised Land.



Cal said...

I think a fundamental point on the conquest of Canaan and the destruction of those who opposed Israel is it too is a type, as you say.

However, and I've mentioned it elsewhere, I think its important to have these wars not framed as "this is what we all deserve". Frankly, I wouldn't phrase it that way anyhow, but the type for that is how death consumes all those outside of Noah's Ark.

Paul tells us we fight not flesh and blood but principalities. This is not demon-mania and Exorcist-esque stuff. It's the sort of darknesses out in the world we see acting. I'm not demythologizing to say that systemic injustice ARE the demons, but that the systems of empire, greed etc. are demonic.

Of course Romans 13, and numerous examples from Scripture, show that the demons are even ordered by the Lord. As a side note, I don't dichotomize Romans 13 and Revelation or do the shoddy exegesis saying they're the two possibilities of states (serving God or being Beast). Rather it's both. The Beast, while blaspheming God and disobeying His will, end up fulfilling God's will by His permitting them to exist for a season.

Therefore Israel's war of conflict is seen in God's ultimate triumph: the cross. On there He gives the ultimate act of blessing: forgiving His own murder. Then you have Colossians, where Christ's cross was His triumph over the powers and principalities.

This way we see that the wars, like the sacrifices, were really nothing. Destroying those Canaanites who remained and their culture did not destroy the false gods and idols that would continue to plague Israel.

Protoprotestant said...

In terms of typology, Jesus is defeating death and demonic forces. There are many places in Scripture that portray God as the slayer, the champion, the defeater...everything Baal claims to be but is not.

But in terms of the ethics, the arguments about whether or not it was right for God to do that, I think it's fair to express the reality that we all deserve such a judgment.

And verily apart from Christ we're all children of wrath, servants of the prince of the power of the air. If we're not 'in' Christ then we are demonic enemies.

The fact that the Canaanite idols remained doesn't harm the typology. Just like after crossing the Jordan...Israel wasn't quite paradise was it? But that's not the point. Metaphorically and (in a sense) literally it was a paradise for them.

I get your point. I could have spent more time on Christ as Joshua defeating the forces of evil...

Don't we all deserve to die the death of the flood? Don't we all deserve to be swallowed up by the waters of death-chaos and consumed by the beasts of the death realm?

Cal said...

An aspect of the deservedness of judgement is true. We are indeed children of Wrath. However, and this is why I don't tend to express it like you, Scripture also speaks about the slavery of sin and our helplessness. It's not only rebellion to the rightful king, although it is that, but also bondage.

It's that Incurvatus Se language of Augustine that helps convey the tragic in sin. Man in sin can both be a Goliath, or the Samaritan woman at the well. Proud and arrogant, armed against God's King, or trying to survive, day to day, man to man, in a harsh society. The wage of sin is death. Whether that's dying by the sword for the proud, or being consumed by another's greed, sin deals death.

But like the Noah story, no one has anything to stand on, besides the one Righteous Man, to resist the flood.

And exactly about the typology. I mention Israel's failure because that's a sure sign of a type: the Land was not a new Eden, the Sacrifices had to be repeated, the High Priest was a sinner etc etc etc. I just tend to think that the sort of Christus Victor aspect of atonement sheds light on the Conquest of Canaan.

Protoprotestant said...

Could this have something to do with your view of what comes after the Judgment?

Not to sound too wishy-washy or equivocal but doesn't it have something to do with both? Christ the victor and Christ the Judge?

I'm sure there's about another 1/2 dozen motifs we could come up with.

Cal said...

Why I tend to emphasize the way I do is it ties Christ's victory on the cross into Israel's victorious defeat of the 'powers' of Canaan. One is a shadow on the real battle. I think a lot of Christians either tend to think its mere injustice and oppression at work, or it becomes spooky ghost stories of demons and blood on the wall.

That is if they wrestle with this at all. Especially in our American context, Christ's life, death and resurrection are the defeat of the human sacrifice, and life-consuming death culture that is Canaan/Babylon/Rome. It's a cry for justice, but not in the liberation-theology sort of way.

In this way, the conquest of Canaan is not an apologetic black hole, but a type of what Christ has done and the life the Church needs to be faithful to.


Anonymous said...

Proto, this is one of your best articles ever. Oh, how this relationship of the covenants and their meanings is so confused and contorted today!

This is an important teaching that I can send to others.

P.S. Can't wait to get time to read the stuff at the facebook page...haven't yet.

Protoprotestant said...

Well thank-you. That was a nice thing to hear...but I don't think everyone would agree with you! (smile)