The Abrahamic Covenant
The Palestinian Covenant
The Davidic Covenant
The New Covenant
The following development is taken from the book
THINGS TO COME
by DWIGHT D. PENTECOST
THE BIBLICAL COVENANTS AND ESCHATOLOGY
THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
The covenants contained in the Scriptures are of primary
importance to the interpreter of the Word and to the student of Eschatology.
God's eschatological program is determined and prescribed by these covenants
and one's eschatological system is determined and limited by the interpretation
of them. These covenants must be studied diligently as the basis of Biblical
It must be observed at the very outset of this study that
the Biblical covenants are quite different from the theological covenants
posited by the Covenant theologian. He sees the ages of history as the
development of a covenant made between God and sinners, by which God would
save, through the value of the death of Christ, all who come to Him by
faith. The covenants of the Covenant theologian may be summarized as follows:
The covenant of Redemption (Titus 1:2; Heb. 13:20) into
is usually thought by theologians, the Persons of the Godhead entered
before all time and in which each assumed that part in the great plan
of redemption which is their present portion as disclosed in the Word
of God. In this covenant the Father gives the Son, the Son offers
Himself without spot to the Father as an efficacious sacrifice, and
the Spirit administers and empowers unto the execution of this
covenant in all its parts. This covenant rests upon but slight
revelation. It is rather sustained largely by the fact that it seems
both reasonable and inevitable.
The Covenant of Works, which is the theologian's designation for
those blessings God has offered men and conditioned on human merit
Before the fall, Adam was related to God by a covenant of works. Until
he is saved, man is under an inherent obligation to be in character
like his Creator and to do His will.
The Covenant of Grace, which is the term used by theologians to
indicate all aspects of divine grace toward man in all ages. The
exercise of divine grace is rendered righteously possible by the
satisfaction to divine judgments which is provided in the death of Christ.
While there is much in the position of the Covenant theologian
that is in agreement with Scripture, Covenant theology is woefully inadequate
to explain the Scriptures eschatologically, for it ignores the great field
of the Biblical covenants which determine the whole eschatological program.
The above author says:
The theological terms, Covenant of Works and Covenant
of Grace, do
not occur in the Sacred Text. If they are to be sustained it must be
wholly apart from Biblical authority. . . . Upon this human invention
of two covenants Reformed Theology has largely been constructed. It
sees the empirical truth that God can forgive sinners only by the
freedom which is secured by the sacrifice of His Son-anticipated in
the old order and realized in the new, but that theology utterly fails
to discern the purposes of the ages; the varying relationships to God
of the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church, with the distinctive,
consistent human obligations which arise directly and unavoidably from
the nature of each specific relationship to God. A theology which
penetrates no further into Scripture than to discover that in all ages
God is immutable in His grace toward penitent sinners, and constructs
the idea of a universal church, continuing through the ages, on the
one truth of immutable grace, is not only disregarding vast spheres of
revelation but is reaping the unavoidable confusion and misdirection
which part-truth engenders.2
This study, then, is not occupied with the covenants contained
in Reformed theology, but rather with the determinative covenants set forth
in the Scriptures.
A. The Scriptural use of the word covenant. If one consults
a concordance it can be seen that the word covenant is one which occurs
with frequency in both the Old and New Testaments. It is used of relationships
between God and man, man and man, nation and nation. It is used in things
temporal and things eternal. There are references to minor and temporal
covenants in Scripture. Covenants are made by individuals with other individuals
(Gen. 21:32; 1 Sam. 18:3). Covenants may be made between an individual
and a group of individuals (Gen. 26:28; 1 Sam. 11:1-2). Covenants may be
made by one nation with another nation (Ex 23:32; 34:12, 15; Hos. 12:1).
There were covenants in the social realm (Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14). Certain
natural laws were viewed as covenants (Jer. 33:20, 25). With the exception
of these last, which were established by God, all of the uses above govern
the relationships made between men.
The Scriptures also contain references to five major covenants,
all of which were made by God with men. Lincoln summarizes these:
The four unconditional covenants, with the formula "I
found in (1) Genesis 12:1-3, where the formula is found, either
expressed or understood, seven times; (2) Deuteronomy 30:1-10, where
it is found, either expressed or understood, twelve times; (3) II Samuel
where it is found seven times; and (4) Jeremiah 31:31-40,
where it is found seven times. The conditional covenant, with the
formula "IF YE WILL," is found (5) besides in Exodus 19:5 ff,
Deuteronomy 28:1-68; verses 1-14, "If thou shalt hearken diligently.
blessings"; verses 15-68, "If thou wilt not hearken . . . cursing."3
It will be quite obvious that eschatological studies are
not concerned with the minor covenants made by man with man, nor with the
Mosaic covenant made by God with man, inasmuch as all these are temporary
and non-determinative in respect to future things, but only with the four
eternal covenants given by God, by which He has obligated Himself in relation
to the prophetic program.
B. The definition of a covenant. A covenant may be defined
A divine covenant is (1) a sovereign disposition of God,
establishes an unconditional or declarative compact with man,
obligating himself, in grace, by the untrammelled formula, "I WILL,"
to bring to pass of himself definite blessings for the covenanted ones,
or (2) a proposal of God, wherein he promises, in a conditional or
mutual compact with man, by the contingent formula "IF YE WILL,"
to grant special blessings to man provided he fulfills perfectly certain
conditions, and to execute definite punishment in case of his failure.4
It is to be observed that this definition does not depart
from the customary definition and usage of the word as a legal contract
into which one enters and by which his course of action is bound.
C. The kinds of covenants. There are two kinds of covenants
into which God entered with Israel: conditional and unconditional. In a
conditional covenant that which was covenanted depends for its fulfillment
upon the recipient of the covenant, not upon the one making the covenant.
Certain obligations or conditions must be fulfilled by the receiver of
the covenant before the giver of the covenant is obligated to fulfill that
which was promised. It is a covenant with an "if" attached to
it. The Mosaic covenant made by God with Israel is such a covenant. In
an unconditional covenant that which was covenanted depends upon the one
making the covenant alone for its fulfillment. That which was promised
is sovereignly given to the recipient of the covenant on the authority
and integrity of the one making the covenant apart from the merit or response
of the receiver. It is a covenant with no "if" attached to it
To safeguard thinking on this point, it should be observed
that an unconditional covenant, which binds the one making the covenant
to a certain course of action, may have blessings attached to that covenant
that are conditioned upon the response of the recipient of the covenant,
which blessings grow out of the original covenant, but these conditioned
blessings do not change the unconditional character of that covenant. The
failure to observe that an unconditional covenant may have certain conditioned
blessings attached to it had led many to the position that conditioned
blessings necessitate a conditional covenant, thus perverting the essential
nature of Israel's determinative covenants.
D. The nature of the covenants. There are certain facts
which are to be observed concerning the covenants into which God has entered.
1. First of all, these covenants are literal covenants
and are to be interpreted literally. Peters has well stated the proposition:
In all earthly transactions, when a promise, agreement,
or contract is entered into by which one party gives
a promise of value to another, it is universally the custom to explain
such a relationship and its promises by the well-known laws of language
contained in our grammars or in common usage. It would be regarded
absurd and trifling to view them in any other light.
... the very nature of a covenant demands, that it should
be so worded, so plainly expressed, that it conveys a decisive meaning,
and not a hidden or mystical one that requires many centuries to
revolve in order to develop.5
Such an interpretation would be in harmony with the established
literal method of interpretation.
2. In the second place, these covenants, according to
the Scriptures, are eternal. Lincoln points out:
All of Israel's covenants are called eternal except the
Mosaic covenant which is declared to be temporal, i.e., it was to continue
only until the coming of the Promised Seed. For this detail see as follows:
(1) The Abrahamic Covenant is called "eternal" in Genesis 17:7,
13, 19; I Chronicles 16:17; Psalm 105:10; (2) The Palestinian Covenant is called 'eternal" in Ezekiel 16:60; (3) The Davidic
Covenant is called "eternal" in II Samuel 23:5; Isaiah 55:3;
and Ezekiel 37:25; and (4) The New Covenant is called "eternal"
in Isaiah 24:5; 61:8; Jeremiah 32:40; 50:5; and Hebrews 13:20.6
3. In the third place, inasmuch as these covenants are
literal, eternal, and depend solely upon the integrity of God for their
fulfillment they must be considered to be unconditional in character. This
question will be considered in detail later.
4. Finally, these covenants were made with a covenant
people, Israel. In Romans 9:4 Paul states that the nation Israel had received
covenants from the Lord. In Ephesians 2:11-12 he states, conversely, that
the Gentiles have not received any such covenants and consequently do not
enjoy covenant relationships with God. These two passages show us, negatively,
that the Gentiles were without covenant relationships and, positively,
that God had entered into covenant relationships with Israel.7
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
The first of the four great determinative covenants made
by God with the nation Israel was the Abrahamic covenant, which must be
considered as the basis of the entire covenant program.
The Scriptures abound in references to the covenant into
which God entered with Abraham and its application is seen in many different
realms. This covenant has an important bearing on the doctrines of Soteriology.
Paul, in writing to the Galatians, shows that believers enter into the
blessings promised to Abraham.8 The argument of Paul in Romans Is based
upon this same covenant promise made with Abraham.9 Immediately after the
fall of man God revealed His purpose to provide salvation for sinners.
This program was gradually unfolded by God to man. The promise made to
Abraham represents a progressive step in this revelation.
In Him the Divine Purpose becomes more specific, detailed,
contracted, definite, and certain. Specific, in distinguishing and separating
him from others of the race; detailed, in indicating more of the particulars
connected with the purpose of salvation; contracted, in making the Messiah
to come directly in his line, to be his "seed"; definite, in
entering into covenant relation with him, as his God; and certain, in confirming
his covenant relationship by an oath.10
Again, this covenant has an important bearing on the doctrine
of resurrection. The promise entailed in the covenant is the basis of the
Lord's refutation of the unbelief of the Sadducees in the fact of resurrection.11
To those who denied the possibility of resurrection the Lord affirmed that
resurrection was not only possible but necessary. Since God had revealed
Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 3:15), with whom He
had entered into covenant relationships, and since these men had died without
receiving the fulfillment of the promises (Heb. 11:13), inasmuch as the
covenants could not be broken It was necessary for God to raise these men
from the dead in order to fulfill His word. Paul, before Agrippa (Acts
26:6-B), unites "the promise to the fathers" with the resurrection
of the dead in his defense of the doctrine. Thus the fact of physical resurrection
is proved by the Lord and Paul from the necessity laid upon God to fulfill
His covenant, even though it entails physical resurrection to do so. Consequently
the fact of the believer's resurrection is united to the question of the
kind of covenant made with Abraham.12
Further, this covenant has a most important bearing on
the doctrines of Eschatology. The eternal aspects of this covenant, which
guarantee Israel a permanent national existence, perpetual title to the
land of promise, and the certainty of material and spiritual blessing through
Christ, and guarantee Gentile nations a share in these blessings, determine
the whole eschatological program of the Word of God. This covenant becomes
the seed from which are brought forth the later covenants made with Israel.
The essential areas of the Abrahamic covenant, the land, the seed, and
the blessing, are enlarged in the subsequent covenants made with Israel.
Lincoln has drawn the comparison thus:
The inter-relationship of the eternal, gracious covenants
of God with Israel might be graphically set forth in the following manner:
(The general, basic ........................................................(the
covenant with Abraham)
1. The promise of a .........................................1.
The Palestinian Covenant
national land. ........................................................................gave
Israel particular assurance
Genesis 12:1; .....................................................of
final, permanent restoration to
Genesis 13:14-15, 17 ...........................................the
land. Deuteronomy 30:3-5 .........................................................................Ezekiel
2. The promise of redemption, ............................2.
The New Covenant has particularly
national and universal. .......................................to do with Israel's
spiritual blessing and
Genesis 12:3; 22:18 ....................................redemption. Jer.
31:31-40; Heb. 8:6-13, etc.
Galatians 3:16 ....................................................
3. The promise of numerous
descendants...............3. the Davidic Covenant has to do with to form a
promises of dynasty, nation and throne. Genesis 12:2; 13:6; 17:2-6, etc. 2
Sam. 7:11, 13, 16; Jer. 33:20, 21
. ............... 31:35-37, etc.(13)
Thus it may be said that the land promises of the Abrahamic
covenant are developed in the Palestinian covenant, the seed promises are
developed in the Davidic covenant, and the blessing promises are developed
in the new covenant. This covenant, then, determines the whole future program
for the nation Israel and is a major factor in Biblical Eschatology.
II. THE PROVISIONS OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
The covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, and
confirmed and enlarged to him in Genesis 12:6-7; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-14;
22:15-18, entitled certain basic promises. These have been summarized:
The things promised by God are the following:
1. That Abraham's name shall be great.
2. That a great nation should come from him.
3. He should be a blessing so great that in him shall all families of the
earth be blessed.
4. To him personally ("unto thee") and to his seed should be
given Palestine forever to inherit. 5. The multitude of his seed should
be as the dust of the earth.
6. That whoever blessed him should be blessed, and whosoever cursed him
should be cursed. 7. He should be the father of many nations.
8. Kings should proceed from him.
9. The covenant shall be perpetual, "an everlasting covenant."
10. The land of Canaan shall be "an everlasting possession."
11. God will be a God to him and to his seed.
12. His seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.
13. In his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.14
When these particulars are analyzed it will be seen that
certain individual promises were given to Abraham, certain national promises
respecting the nation Israel, of which he was the father, were given to
him, and certain universal blessings that encompassed all nations were
given to him. These have been stated by Walvoord:
The language of the Abrahamic Covenant is plain and to
the point The original covenant is given in Genesis 12:1-3, and there are
three confirmations and amplifications as recorded in Genesis 13:14-17;
15:1-7; and 17:1-18. Some of the promises are given to Abraham personally,
some to Abraham's seed, and some to Gentiles, or "all families of
the earth" (Gen. 12:3).
The promise to Abraham. Abraham himself is promised that
he would be the father of a great nation (Gen.l2:2),... including kings
and nations other than the "seed itself" (Gen. 17:6). God promises
His personal blessing on Abraham. His name shall be great and he himself
shall be a blessing...
The promise of Abraham's seed. . . . The nation itself
should be great (Gen. 12:2) and innumerable (Gen. 13:16; 15:5). The nation
is promised possession of the land... the Abrahamic Covenant Itself is expressly
called "everlasting" (Gen. 17:7) and the possession of the land
is defined as "an everlasting possession" (Gen.17:8).
The promise to Gentiles. . . . "all families of the
earth" are promised blessing (Gen. 12:3). It is not specified what
this blessing shall be. As a general promise it is probably intended to
have a general fulfillment. 15
In the development of this covenant it is of utmost importance
to keep the different areas in which promise was made clearly in mind,
for if the things covenanted in one area are transferred to another area
only confusion can result in the subsequent interpretation. Personal promises
may not be transferred to the nation and promises to Israel may not be
transferred to the Gentiles.
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
Since the Abrahamic covenant deals with Israel's title
deed to the land of Palestine, her continuation as a nation to possess
that land, and her redemption so that she may enjoy the blessings in the
land under her King, it is of utmost importance to determine the method
of the fulfillment of this covenant. If it is a literal covenant to be
fulfilled literally, then Israel must be preserved, converted and restored.
If it is an unconditional covenant, these events in Israel's national life
are inevitable. The answer to these questions determines one's whole eschatological
A. The conditional element in the covenant program with
While Abraham was living in the home of Terah, an idolator
(Josh. 24:2), God spoke to him and commanded him to leave the land of Ur,
even though it entailed a journey to a strange land he did not know (Heb.
11:8), and made certain specific promises to him that depended on this
act of obedience. Abraham, in partial obedience inasmuch as he did not
separate himself from his kindred, journeyed to Haran (Gen. 11:31). He
did not realize any of the promises there. It was not until after the death
of his father (Gen. 11:32) that Abraham begins to realize anything of the
promise God had given to him, for only after his father's death does God
take him into the land (Gen 12:4) and there reaffirm the original promise
to him (Gen. 12:7). It is important to observe the relation of obedience
to this covenant program. Whether God would institute a covenant program
with Abraham or not depended upon Abraham's act of obedience in leaving
the land. When once this act was accomplished, and Abraham did obey God,
God instituted an irrevocable, unconditional program. This obedience, which
became the basis of the institution of the program, is referred to in Genesis
22:18, where the offering of Isaac is just one more evidence of Abraham's
attitude toward God. Walvoord clearly states this fact when he writes:
As given in the Scriptures, the Abrahamic Covenant is
hinged upon only one condition. This is given in Genesis 12:1.... The original
covenant was based upon Abraham's obedience in leaving his homeland and
going to the land of promise. No further revelation is given him until
he was obedient to this command after the death of his father. Upon entering
Canaan, the Lord immediately gave Abraham the promise
of ultimate possession of the land (Gen. 12:7), and subsequently enlarged
and reiterated the original promises.
The one condition having been met, no further condition
are laid upon Abraham; the covenant having been solemnly established is
now dependent upon divine veracity for its fulfillment.16
Whether there would be a covenant program with Abraham
depended upon Abraham's act of obedience. when once he obeyed, the covenant
that was instituted depended, not upon Abraham's continued obedience, but
upon the promise of the One who instituted it The fact of the covenant
depended upon obedience; the kind of covenant inaugurated was totally unrelated
to the continuing obedience of either Abraham or his seed.
B. Arguments to support the unconditional character of
the covenant. The question as to whether the Abrahamic covenant is conditional
or unconditional is recognized as the crux of the whole discussion of the
problem relating to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. Extensive
argument has been presented to support the contention of the premillennialist
as to the unconditional character of this covenant. Walvoord presents ten
reasons for believing that this covenant is unconditional. He argues:
(1) All Israel's covenants are unconditional except the
Mosaic. The Abrahamic Covenant is expressly declared to be eternal and therefore
unconditional in numerous passages (Gen. 17:7, 13, 19; 1 Chron. 16:17;
Ps. 105:10). The Palestinian Covenant is likewise declared to be everlasting
(Ezek. 16:60). The Davidic Covenant is described in the same terms (2 Sam.
7:13, 16, 19; 1 Chron. 17:12; 22:10; Isa. 55:3; Ezek. 37:25). The new covenant
with Israel is also eternal (IS. 61:8; Jer. 32:40; 50:5; Heb. 13:20).(2)
Except for the original condition of leaving his homeland and going to
the promised land, the covenant is made with no conditions whatever. (3) The Abrahamic Covenant is confirmed
repeatedly by reiteration and enlargement In none of these instances are
any of the added promises conditioned upon the faithfulness of Abraham's
seed or of Abraham himself... nothing is said about it being conditioned
upon the future faithfulness of either Abraham or his seed.(4) The Abrahamic
Covenant was solemnized by a divinely ordered ritual symbolizing the shedding
of blood and passing between the parts of the sacrifice (Gen. 15:7-21;
Jer 34:18). This ceremony was given to Abraham as an assurance that his
seed would inherit the land in the exact boundaries given to him in Genesis
15:18-21. No conditions whatever are attached to this promise in this context.(5)To
distinguish those who would inherit the promise as individuals from those
who were only physical seed of Abraham, the visible sign of circumcision
was given (Gen. 17:9-14). One not circumcised was considered outside the
promised blessing. The ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant and
possession of the land by the seed is not hinged, however, upon faithfulness
in the matter of circumcision. In fact the promises of the land were given
before the rite was introduced. (6) The Abrahamic
Covenant was confirmed by the birth of Isaac and Jacob to both of whom
the promises are repeated in their original form (Gen.
17:19; 28:12-13).... (7) Notable is the fact that
the reiterations of the covenant and the partial early fulfillment of the
covenant are in spite of acts of disobedience. It is clear that on several
instances Abraham strayed from the will of God. . .. In the very act. ..
the promises are repeated to him. (8)
The later confirmations of the covenant are given in the midst of apostasy.
Important is the promise given through Jeremiah that Israel as a nation
will continue forever (Jer.31:36).... (9) The New
Testament declares the Abrahamic Covenant immutable (Heb 6:13-18; cf. Gen.
15:8-21). It was not only promised but solemnly confirmed by the oath of
God. (10) The entire Scriptural revelation concerning
Israel and its future as contained in both the Old and New Testaments,
if interpreted literally, confirms and sustains the unconditional character
of the promises given to Abraham.17
From these considerations it must be acknowledged that
the premillennial position rests upon many varied and weighty arguments.18
A word of explanation is necessary concerning the event
recorded in Genesis 15 because of its bearing on the question of the unconditional
character of this covenant. In Genesis 14 Abraham, because he was trusting
God, refused to take riches from the king of Sodom. Lest a question should
arise in Abraham's mind as to whether he had made a mistake in thus trusting
God, Abraham is given an assurance from God that He is Abraham's
protection (shield) and provision (reward) (Gen. 15:1).
In response to Abraham's question about the promised heir, God affirms
that he will have a son, and "Abraham believed God" (Gen. 15:6).
In response to Abraham's faith, as substantiating evidence that he has
not trusted God in vain, a sign is given to Him that that promise will
be fulfilled (Gen. 15:9-17). In order to reaffirm the covenant to Abraham
concerning the seed and the land (Gen. 15:18) Abraham is told by God to
prepare animals of sacrifice that together they might enter into a blood
covenant Concerning this ritual Keil and Delitzsch say:
The proceeding corresponding rather to the custom, prevalent
in many ancient nations, of slaughtering animals when concluding a covenant,
and after dividing them into pieces, of laying the pieces opposite to one
another, that the persons making the covenant might pass
between them. Thus . . . God condescended to follow the custom of the
that He might in the most solemn manner confirm His oath to Abram the
. . . it is evident from Jer. xxxiv. 18, that this was still customary
among the Israelites of later times.19
Abraham would be familiar with this manner of entering
into a binding agreement. Without doubt the large number of animals prescribed
by God would impress Abraham with the importance of that which was being
enacted, since one animal would have been sufficient for the enactment
of the covenant. When the sacrifice was prepared Abraham must have expected
to walk with God through the divided animals, for custom demanded that
the two who entered into a blood covenant should walk together between
the parts of the sacrifice. He would recognize the solemnity of the occasion,
for the ritual meant that the two who were entering into the covenant were
bound by blood to fulfill that covenanted or the one breaking the covenant
would be required to pour out his blood in forfeit, as the blood of the
animals that bound them had been poured out. However, when the covenant
was to be entered into, Abraham was put to sleep so that he could not be
a participant in the covenant, but could only be a recipient of a covenant
to which he brought nothing in the way of obligations Keil and Delitzsch
explain the passage thus:
From the nature of this covenant, it followed, however,
that God alone went through the pieces in a symbolical representation of
Himself, and not Abram also. For although a covenant always establishes
a reciprocal relation between two individuals, yet in that
covenant which God concluded with a man, the man did not stand on an equally
with God, but God established the relation of fellowship by His promise
and His gracious condescension to the man.20
God is thus binding Himself by a most solemn blood covenant
to fulfill to Abraham, unconditionally, the promises concerning the seed
and the land which were given to him. It is scarcely possible for God to
make it any clearer that what was promised to Abraham was given to him
without any conditions, to be fulfilled by the integrity of God alone.
C. The amillennial arguments against the unconditional
character of the covenant. Allis, one of the leading exponents of the amillennial
position, systematizes the thinking of that school of interpretation. He
presents a number of arguments against the unconditional character of the
(1) First of all it is to be observed that a condition
may be involved in a command or promise without its being specifically
stated. This is illustrated by the career of Jonah. Jonah was commanded
to preach judgment, unconditioned, unqualified: "Yet forty days, and
Nineveh shall be overthrown." . . . The unstated condition was presupposed
in the very character of God as a God of mercy and compassion... The judgment
on Eli's house (I Sam. 2:30) is a very striking illustration of this principle......21
Allis thus argues that conditions may be implied that
are not stated.
In reply to this argument it will readily be observed
that Allis begins with a most damaging admission-there are no stated conditions
in Scripture to which the amillennialist may turn for confirmation of his
position. His whole case rests on silence, on implied and unstated conditions.
In the case of Eli, there is no parallel whatsoever, for Eli was living
under the Mosaic economy, which was conditional in character, and the Mosaic
economy was unrelated to the Abrahamic covenant. Because the Mosaic covenant
was conditional it does not follow that the Abrahamic must be also. And
again, in reference to Jonah, it must be seen that there is no parallel
there either. Jonah's preached word was not a covenant, and in no way parallels
the Abrahamic covenant It was a well-established Scriptural principle (Jer.18:7-10;
26:12-13; Ezek. 33:14-19) that repentance would remove judgment. The people
repented and judgment was removed. But the preaching of Jonah, of which
only a summary statement is given, in no way alters the character of the
(2) It is true that, in the express terms of the covenant
with Abraham, obedience is not stated as a condition. But that obedience was presupposed is clearly indicated by two facts. The one
is that obedience is the precondition of blessing under all circumstances.
. . . The second fact is that in the case of Abraham the duty of obedience
is particularly stressed. In Gen. 18:17f it is plainly stated
that, through His choice of Abraham, God proposed to bring into being, by pious nurture, a righteous seed which would "keep
the way of the Lord," in order that as a result and
reward of such obedience "the Lord may bring
upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him."22
Once again Allis admits that the Scriptures nowhere contain
any statement of a stipulated condition. While this ought to be sufficient
in itself, there are other considerations concerning this argument. First
of all, it is wrong to state that obedience is always a condition of blessing.
If this were true, how could a sinner ever be saved? Walvoord writes:
It is not true that obedience is always the condition
of blessing. The seed of Abraham have been disobedient in every moral category.
Yet in spite of that disobedience they have fulfilled many of the promises
of the covenant. The very principle of grace is that God blesses the unworthy.
. . . The security of the believer . . . Is quite independent of human
worth or faithfulness. As a Calvinist, where is Allis'
doctrine of unconditional election?23
Again, it is important to observe that an unconditional
covenant, which renders a covenanted program certain, may have conditional
blessings attached. The program will be carried to fulfillment, but the
individual receives the blessings of that program only by conforming to
the conditions on which the blessings depend. Such is true with the Abrahamic
covenant. And further, it has already been pointed out that whether God
instituted a covenant program with Abraham depended on his act of obedience
in leaving his home, but when once the covenant was inaugurated it was
without any conditions whatsoever. And finally, the covenant is reaffirmed
and enlarged to Abraham after definite acts of disobedience (Gen. 12:10-20,
(3) That obedience was vitally connected with the Abrahamic
covenant is shown with especial clearness by the fact that there w was
connected with it a sign, the rite of circumcision, to the observance of
which the utmost importance was attached. Cutting off from the covenant
people was the penalty for failure to observe it.... The rite was in itself
an act of obedience (1 Cor.7:19).24
In reply to this allegation it is sufficient to point
out that the rite of circumcision, given in Genesis 17:9-14, comes many
years after the institution of the covenant, and after repeated reaffirmations
of that covenant to Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:1-21). What point
is there in requiring a sign to continue the covenant when the covenant
is clearly operative before the institution of the sign? Then, again, it
is seen from a study of the rite that circumcision is related to the enjoyment
of the blessings of the covenant rather than to the institution or continuance
of that covenant Walvoord observes:
All agree that the individual enjoyment of blessing under
the covenant is to a large degree dependent upon the individual's
faith and obedience. This is quite different than stating that the fulfillment of the covenant as a whole is conditioned upon
obedience of the nation as a whole.25
Related to the same general line of thinking, Allis continues:
(4) That those who insist that the Abrahamic covenant
was wholly unconditional, do not really so regard it is shown also by the
great importance which Dispensationalists attach to Israel'8 being "in
the land" as the precondition of blessing under this covenant.26
(5) That Dispensatlonalists do not regard the Abrahamic
covenant as wholly unconditional is indicated also by the fact that we
never hear them speak of the restoration of Esau to the land of Canaan
and to full blessing under the Abrahamic covenant..... But if the Abrahamic
covenant was unconditional why is Esau excluded from the blessings of the
These two arguments may be answered together. It will
be observed, in each case, that it is relationship to the blessings which
is in view, not relationship to the continuation of the covenant. As stated
previously, the blessings were conditioned upon obedience, upon remaining
in the place of blessing. But the covenant itself was operative whether
they were in the land or the recipients of blessing or not. Contrariwise,
if the disobedience and removal from the land annulled the covenant, it
would not matter whether Esau remained in the land or not. But since blessings
would come on the covenant people, Esau was excluded because he was not
eligible to receive the blessings since he was in unbelief. It will be
observed that the birthright (Gen. 25:27-34) which Esau despised was the
promise to which he was heir under the Abrahamic covenant. Since it rested
on the integrity of God, Esau must be seen to be a man who did not believe
God could or would fulfill His word. In like manner the blessing forfeited
(Gen. 27) was that blessing due him under the covenant, which must be forfeited
because of his unbelief manifested in surrendering the birthright. The
rejection of Esau illustrates the fact that the covenant was selective,
and to be fulfilled through God's own chosen line.
(6)... the certainty of the fulfillment of the covenant
is not due to the fact that it is unconditional, or is its fulfillment
dependent upon the imperfect obedience of sinful men. The certainty of
the fulfillment of the covenant and the security of the believer under
it, ultimately depends wholly on the obedience of Christ.28
One can not help but notice the complete change in the
line of reasoning at this point. Heretofore it has been argued that the
covenant will not be fulfilled because it is a conditional covenant Now
it is argued that the covenant will be fulfilled on the basis of the obedience
of Christ. Because our spiritual blessings are the outgrowth of this covenant
(Gal. 3), the ammennialist is forced to concede some fulfillment of it
If it were abrogated Christ would never have come. If the security offered
under it were conditional there would be no assurance of salvation. While
it is freely agreed that all the fulfillment rests on the obedience of Christ, that fact does not alter the essential character
of the covenant that made the coming of Christ necessary. If Christ came
as a partial fulfillment of the covenant, His coming promises a complete
Allis follows another line of argument when he writes
concerning the fulfillment of this covenant:
(1) As to the seed, it is to be observed that the very
words which appear in the covenant .. . are used of the nation of Israel
in the time of Solomon. .. . This would indicate that the promise was regarded
as fulfilled in this respect in the golden age of the Monarchy.
(2) As to the land, the dominion of David and of Solomon
extended from the Euphrates to the River of Egypt . . . Israel did come
into possession of the land promised to the patriarchs.
She possessed it, but not "for ever." Her possession of the land
was forfeited by disobedience . . . it can be regarded as having been fulfilled
centuries before the first advent .....29
He argues now that the covenant will not have a future
fulfillment because it has already been fulfilled historically.
The question of the historical fulfillment of the covenant
will be considered later. Suffice it to say at the present that Israel's
history, even under the glories of the Davidic and Solomonic reigns, never
fulfilled that promised originally to Abraham. Therefore that historical
experience cited can not be construed to be the fulfillment of the covenant
Further, if the covenant were conditional, since Israel was in disobedience
many times between the institution of the covenant and the establishment
of the Davidic throne, how can any fulfillment at all be explained? The
unbelief following the Davidic era did not differ in kind from the unbelief
that preceded it If the subsequent unbelief abrogated the covenant, the
preceding unbelief would have prevented any fulfillment of it at all.
D. The partial fulfillment of the covenants supports the
premillennial view. Any examination of the portions of the Abrahamic covenant
that have had either a partial or complete fulfillment supports the contention
that the covenant was to be interpreted as a literal and unconditional
covenant Ryrie says:
God's method in fulfilling parts of the Abrahamic covenant
has been literal.
(1) In fulfillment of the personal promises, Abraham was specially blessed
of God. Lincoln has pointed out:
"a. Abraham was blessed personally in temporal things:
(1) he had land (Gen. 13:14, 15, 17);
(2) He had servants (Gen. 15:7, etc.);
(3) He had much cattle, silver, and gold (Gen. 13:2, 24:34, 35).
"b. Abraham was blessed personally in spiritual matters:
(1) He had a happy life of separation unto God, (Gen.
13:8; 14:22, 23);
(2) He enjoyed a precious life of communion with God, (Gen. 13:18);
(3) He had a consistent life of prayer, (Gen. 28:23-33);
(4) He was sustained of God constantly, (Gen. 21:22);
(5) He possessed the peace and confidence that comes from an obedient life,
(Gen. 22:5, 8, 10, 12, 16-18)."
(2) He had a great name....
(3) He was a channel of divine blessing to others, for he not only blessed
his household, his posterity, but the world at large through the Bible,
the Saviour, and the gospel.
(4) History has borne out the fact that nations which
have persecuted Israel, even when that very persecution was in fulfillment
of God's discipline, have been punished for dealing with Abraham's seed.
This has been true in both blessings and cursing in the case of the slaughter
of the kings (Gen. 14:12-16); in the case of Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20);
in the case of Abimelech (Gen. 20:2-18; 21:22-34); in the case of Heth
(Gen. 23:1-20); and in other experiences in Israel's history (Deut. 30:7;
Isa. 14:1-2; Joel 3:1-8; Matt. 25:40-45).
(5) Abraham did have an heir by Sarah (Gen. 31:2)....
Denial that these aforementioned promises have been fulfilled
This point is well illustrated from Psalm 69. All of the
predictions concerning the humiliation and affliction of Christ were literally
fulfilled. That which follows His death is seen to be the fulfillment of
the covenants, for the Psalmist says:
For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah,
that they may dwell there and have it in possession. The seed also of His
servants shall inherit it; and they that love His name shall dwell therein
As the picture of Messiah's death was literally fulfilled
it can only be concluded that that which flows from Messiah's death in
fulfillment of the covenants will be literally fulfilled also.31 It should
be obvious that the method used by God to fulfill prophecies that have
been fulfilled historically will be His method in the fulfillment of all
prophecies. Inasmuch as all prophecies that have been fulfilled have been
fulfilled literally, consistency demands that this method must be adopted
for those portions of the prophetic Scriptures that, as yet, may be unfulfilled.
Since the portions of the Abrahamic covenant that have been fulfilled were
fulfilled literally, it would be concluded that the unfulfilled portions
will be fulfilled in like manner.
It seems quite evident that the patriarchs themselves
understood the covenant to be eternal, unconditional, unequivocable, and
therefore certain as to its fulfillment.32 The statement of Isaac to Jacob
when Jacob went away bears this out:
God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply
thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; and
give thee the blessing of Abraham, TO THEE AND TO THY SEED WITH THEE, that
THOU mayest inherit the land, wherein THOU art a stranger, which God gave
unto Abraham [Gen. 28:3-4. emphasis mine.]
IV. THE ESCHATOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
When it has been determined that the Abrahamic covenant
is an unconditional covenant made with Israel, and therefore cannot be
either abrogated or fulfilled by people other than the nation Israel, it
is seen that Israel has promises regarding a land and a seed, which determine
the future program of God. These words land and Seed, together with the
word blessing, summarize the essential features of the eschatological portion
of the covenant. An examination of the promises of God to Abraham will
show this twofold emphasis in the promise.
Unto thy SEED will I give this LAND [Gen. 12:71.
For all the LAND which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy SEED
forever. And I will make thy SEED as the dust of the earth: so that If
a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall their SEED also be numbered
In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying,
Unto thy SEED have I given this LAND [Gen. 15:18].
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and
thy SEED after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to
be a God unto thee, and to thy SEED after thee. And I will give unto thee,
the LAND wherein thou art a stranger, all the LAND of Canaan, for everlasting
possession [Gen. 17:7-8. emphasis mine.]
It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the promise
included features related to the physical seed of Abraham and features
related to the land given that seed. It is necessary, then, to examine
the areas of the seed and the land to determine their effect on future
Ryrie outlines the implications of the covenant. He says:
All agree that the Abrahamic covenant is one of the outstanding
covenants in the Word of God. Its crucial issues in relation to premillennialism
are two: (1) Does the Abrahamic covenant promise Israel a permanent existence
as a nation? If it does, then the Church is not fulfilling Israel's promises,
but rather Israel as a nation has a future yet in prospect; and (2) does
the Abrahamic covenant promise Israel permanent possession of the promised
land? If it does, then Israel must yet come into possession of the land,
for she has never fully possessed it in her history.33
A. Who is the seed of Abraham? It would seem obvious to
all who are not deliberately trying to pervert the plain teaching of Scripture
that the seed of Abraham, of necessity, is the term applied to the physical
descendants of Abraham. Walvoord writes:
An examination of the whole context of the Abrahamic Covenant
shows that first of all it was vitally connected with Abraham's physical
seed, Isaac. God said of Isaac before he was born, "I will establish
my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant and with his seed after
him" (Gen. 17:19). How did Abraham understand the term seed here?
Obviously, it had reference to the physical seed, Isaac, and his physical
descendants. God did not say that no spiritual blessing would come to those
outside the physical seed, but the physical line of Isaac would inherit
the promises given to the "seed of Abraham."
...Nothing should be plainer than that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob understood
the term seed as referring to their physical lineage.34
The term "Israel." . . . As a title given to
Jacob, meaning prince of God, it has commonly been used to designate the
physical descendants of Jacob.35
This seems so obvious one is no little surprised to read
the statement of a leading amillennialist, who says:
Carrying to an almost unprecedented extreme that literalism
which is characteristic of Millenarianism, they insist that Israel must
mean Israel, and that the kingdom promises in the Old Testament concern
Israel and are to be fulfilled to Israel literally.36
It may be pointed out that the view advocated by the premillennialist
can hardly be called an "unprecedented extreme" of literalism,
for others beside premillennialists. forced to do so because of consistency
in interpretation, have held that Israel means just what the word implies.
Hodge,37 a postmillennialist, as well as Hendricksen,38 an amillennialist,
have so held. It Is important to observe that one must distinguish between
the personal promises to Abraham himself, the national promises to Abraham's
seed, and the universal promises to "all families of the earth."
It is not denied that the Abrahamic covenant offers universal blessings
to those who are not the physical seed of Abraham, but It is affirmed that
the national promises can only be fulfilled by the nation itself. Thus,
the word Israel is taken in its usual, literal, sense to mean the physical
descendants of Abraham.
B. The amillennial view of the seed of Abraham.
a leading exponent of the amillennial system, defines the seed:
The expression "Seed of Abraham," in biblical
usage, denotes that visible community, the members of which stand in relation
to God through the Abrahamic Covenant, and thus are heirs to the Abrahamic
He enlarges this by saying:
Whenever we meet with the argument that God made certain
promises to the Jewish race .. . [certain] facts are pertinent. God never
made any promises to any race at all, as a race. All the promises were
to the continuing covenanted community, without regard to its racial constituents
or to the personal ancestry of the individuals in it. Hence no proof that
those whom the world now calls "the Jews" are descended from
Abraham, if it could be supplied (which it can not), would be of any avail
to prove that they are entitled to the fulfillment of any divine promise
whatsoever. These promises were made to the covenanted group called "The
Seed of Abraham," and to that community they must be fulfilled. what
is needed is that one shall bring forward proof of his membership in that
Walvoord succinctly summarizes this view by saying:
The amillennial viewpoint as represented by Pieters holds
then, to the following position: (1) God never made any promises to the
physical seed of Abraham as a race; (2) the Abrahamic promises are given
only to the spiritual seed of Abraham or the "continuing covenanted
community"; (3) Jews today have no claim on the promise to Abraham
because (a) they are not the spiritual seed; (b) they could not prove that
they are the physical seed anyway.41
According to the amillennial view the seed would be the
whole "household of faith," or all believers of all ages. The
determining factor, then, in this whole discussion is the method of interpretation.
If the Scriptures are to be interpreted figuratively then the amillennial
view is logical, but if they are to be interpreted literally the premillennial
view is necessary.
C. The kinds of seeds mentioned in Scripture. The whole
issue may be clarified if one observes that the Scripture does not present
just one kind of seed that is born to Abraham. The failure to observe this
differentiation of Scripture has led to confusion Walvoord writes:
There are, then, three different senses in which one can
be a child of Abraham. First, there is the natural lineage, or natural
seed. This is limited largely to the descendants of Jacob in the twelve
tribes. To them God promises to be their God To them was given the law.
To them was given the land of Israel in the Old Testament With them God
dealt in a special way. Second, there is the spiritual lineage within the
natural. These are the Israelites who believed in God, who kept the law,
and who met the conditions for present enjoyment of the blessings of the
covenant. Those who ultimately possess the land in
the future millennium will also be of spiritual Israel. Third, there is
the spiritual seed of Abraham who are not natural Israelites. Here is where
the promise to "all the families of the earth" comes in. This
is the express application of this phrase in Galatians 3:6-9.... in other
words, the children of Abraham (spiritually) who come from the heathen
or Gentiles fulfill that aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant which dealt with
Gentiles in the first place, not the promises pertaining to Israel The
only sense in which Gentiles can be Abraham's seed in the Galatians context
is to be "in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). It follows: "And
if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the
promise" (Gal. 3:29). They are Abraham's seed in the spiritual sense
only and heirs of the promise given "to all the families of the earth. "While
premillenarians can agree with amillenarians concerning the fact of a spiritual
seed for Abraham which includes Gentiles, they deny that this fulfills
the promises given to the natural seed or that the promises to the "seed
of Abraham" are fulfilled by Gentile believers. To make the blessings
promised all the nations the same as the blessings promised the seed of
Abraham is an unwarranted conclusion.42
This distinction will explain how the church may be related
to the promises of the covenant without being the covenant people in whom
the national promises will be fulfilled. Because we are the seed of Abraham
spiritually by the new birth, it does not mean we are the physical seed
of the patriarch.
D. The church is not Israel. The only logical conclusion
that can grow out of this discussion is that the Gentile believers of the
present day, while reckoned as a seed to Abraham, are not THE seed in which
national promises are to be fulfilled. This is well proved by observing
certain facts in the New Testament usage of the words. (1) Natural Israel
and the Gentiles are contrasted in the New Testament (Acts 3:12; 4:8; 21:28;
Rom. 10:1). The fact that Israel is addressed as a nation after the establishment
of the church and that the term Jew continues to be used as distinct from
the church (1 Cor. 10:32) shows that the Gentiles do not supplant Israel
in God's covenant program. (2) Natural Israel and the church are contrasted
in the New Testament (Rom. 11:1-25; 1 Cor. 10:32). In Romans 11 it is shown
that God has taken the nation Israel out of the place of blessing temporarily,
but will restore them to that place of blessing when His program with the
church is terminated. This consideration shows that the church does not
supplant Israel in God's covenant program. (3) Jewish Christians, who would
be a part of spiritual Israel, and Gentile Christians are contrasted in
the New Testament (Rom. 9:6, where Paul contrasts these promises which
belong to Israel according to the flesh and those which belong to Israel
who enter into them by faith; Gal. 6:15-16, where Paul specifically mentions
believing Jews in the benediction pronounced on the whole body of Christ)
.43 The point seems to be well established, then, that the church today
is not Israel in whom these covenants are fulfilled. It is strange that
the amillennialist, who argues that the covenants need not be fulfilled
because they were conditional and the conditions were not met by Israel,
and who argues further that they will not be fulfilled because they have
been historically fulfilled in the Solomonic kingdom, now argues that they
are being fulfilled by the church. If they were conditional or already
fulfilled why not ignore the covenant promises entirely? Why make such
an issue of it? The only answer is that the covenants form such a foundation
for the whole expectation of the Word of God that they can not be ignored,
even by those who deny their existence or their relevancy to the eschatological
E. The relation of the church to the covenant. Since the
church is not the seed in whom the covenants will be finally and literally
fulfilled, it is well to consider the question of her relation to the whole
covenant program. Any relationship which the church sustains to the promises
is based, not on physical birth, but on a new birth, and is hers because
the individuals are "in Christ." Peters well points this out:
It is said that "the Seed" shall inherit the
land; and we are told by many that this was fulfilled in the history of
the Jews under Joshua, the Judges, and the Kings. What, however, are the
facts as given by the Holy Spirit? Certainly, in the interpretation of
covenant promise, Holy Writ should be allowed to be its own interpreter,
that we may ascertain the meaning intended by God. Let God, then, and not
man, explain: "Now (Gal. 3:16) to Abraham and his seed were the promises
made. He saith not, 'And to seeds' as of many, but as of one, 'And to thy
seed,' which is Christ." If language has any definite meaning, then,
without doubt we have here the simple declaration that when God promised
"Unto thy seed will I give this land," He meant that the land
of Canaan should be inherited by a single Person - preeminently the Seed
- descended from Abraham, even Jesus Christ.44
The church receives of the promises solely because of
relationship to the One in whom the promises find fulfillment. She participates
with Him in all He does to bring the covenant to completion. In citing
the Abrahamic covenant, Peter, in Acts 3:25, applies only the universal
aspects of the covenant to those to whom he speaks. The national aspects
must await future fulfillment by the nation Israel.
F. Will the seed possess the land? It is evident from
the previous discussion of the covenant that the physical seed of Abraham
was promised the eternal possession of the land. Walvoord says:
The promise of possession of the land by the seed of Abraham
is a prominent feature of the covenant, and the way the promise is given
enhances its significance. The promise as given emphasizes that (1) it
is gracious in its principle; (2) the land is an inheritance of the seed;
(3) its title is given forever; (4) the land is to be possessed forever;
(5) the land promised includes specific territory defined by boundaries.45
This promise is the basis of the expectation of the Old
Testament, and the substance of the prophets' message.46 If Israel has
been rejected as a nation because of its unbelief, this great line of Old
Testament prophecy would be without the possibility of fulfillment. Ryrie
well answers the argument that Israel has been set aside. He writes:
Since some insist that the nation has been completely
rejected of God, two passages of Scripture must be carefully examined. The
first one is Matthew 21:43: "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom
of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the
fruits thereof." . . . an accurate interpretation of this verse must
answer these questions: what will be taken away, from whom is it taken,
and to whom is it given?
It is the kingdom of God that is taken from them. .. the
kingdom of God is the sphere of true faith in God. . . . The Lord is saying
to these Jews that, because they had rejected Him, they could not enter
the kingdom of God, for "except a man be born again, he cannot see
the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
From whom was the kingdom of God taken? It seems clear the YOU refers to
the generation to whom the Lord was speaking....To whom would the kingdom
be given? By application, the "nation bringing forth the fruits thereof"
may mean any generation which will turn to Christ; but in its strict interpretation
it refers to the nation Israel when she shall turn to the Lord and be saved
before entering the millennial kingdom....The second passage which shows
conclusively that Israel will be restored is the passage which deals with
her future salvation, Romans 11:26-27. And so all
Israel shall be saved: as it Is written. There shall come out of Sion the
Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is my covenant
unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
. . .careful exegetes agree that Israel means Israel in
this passage. . . . This passage teaches, then, that all Israel, in contrast
to the remnant being saved today, will be saved at the Second Coming of
Christ. From these two passages it is clear that Israel has not been cast
off but will be restored to the place of blessing in the future. Israel,
because she has not been disinherited, will be in a position to fulfill
the Abrahamic covenant.47
G. Has the Abrahamic covenant been fulfilled? There are
those who contend that this covenant will not be fulfilled in the future
because it has been fulfilled already in the past. Murray is representative
when he says:
There is ample proof to be adduced from the Word that
God fulfilled to Abraham and to Abraham's seed the promise that they should
possess Canaan. Today, the ashes of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob mingle with
the soil of the "Cave of the field of Machpelah before ..... .in the
land of Canaan," which Abraham bought "for a possession of a
burying place." He possessed Canaan during his earthly Life, and his
ashes rest in Canaan until the resurrection. The same can be said of his
seed, Isaac and Jacob, "The heirs with him of the same promise."
Surely God has fulfilled his promise to Abraham to give him and his seed
a permanent place in the land.
[After quoting Gen. 15:13-14, he says:) This covenant
does not include the word 'forever" although it is contended by some
that its full terms are yet to be fulfilled, and that the Israelites have
never possessed the land to the extent described here. Happily, the Word
of God gives the true and final answer here, too. We invite our readers
to turn to I Kings 4:21, 24 where we read:
"And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river
(the Euphrates) unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt. . . For he had dominion over all the region on this
side the river, from Tiphsah even to Assah, over all the kings on this
side the river; and he had peace on all sides round about him."48
In order to hold to an historical fulfillment it is necessary
to deny that this covenant was eternal in character. It is interesting
to see what the amillennialist does with this word eternal. The same author
The literalist reminds us of the word "forever"
which to him is the all important word here. We are frequently reminded
that the "forever" must mean "FOR EVER." This is not
without difficulty even for the literalist. Man's tenure of any part of
the earth is not permanent. "It is appointed unto man once to die
and after that the judgment." His leases and contracts in material
possessions must come to an end. What, then, does God mean? What would
Abraham understand by the word "forever"? If a man is threatened
with eviction from his home and a friend of proven ability, to implement
his promises, will give him a promise that he shall possess that home forever,
how shall he interpret those words? He will not expect to live there eternally.
The most he could expect from the promise would be that he should spend
his natural life there and that his dust should rest there after death.
This was what God plainly promised and fulfilled to Abraham. He possessed
the land of Canaan in every sense in which a man can possess a land.49
How empty to contend that the covenanted possession of
the land is fulfilled in that the ashes of Abraham rest in its soil!
The argument for historical fulfillment is met by Peters,
To say that all this was fulfilled in the occupation of
Palestine, by the preparatory or initiatory possession of it by the descendants
of Abraham, is not only contradicted by Scripture, but is a virtual limiting
of the promise. Kurtz . . . observes, what history attests, that the descendants
never possessed the land promised to Abraham from the Nile to the Euphrates.
And additional weight is added as he argues:
Whatever may be said respecting the temporary possession
of Canaan... or whatever may be asserted respecting the descendants being
meant "as yet in his loins," etc., one thing is most positively
stated in the Bible, viz.: that this promise was not fulfilled in the Patriarchs,
in any of the forms alleged by unbelief. The Spirit, foreseeing this very
objection, provided against it, lest our faith should stumble. Thus Stephen,
full of the Holy Ghost, tells us (Acts 7:5) that "He (God) gave him
(Abraham) none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on'
yet He promised that He would give it to him for a possession and to his
seed after him. This . . should be decisive, especially when confirmed
by Paul (Heb. 9:8, 9, and 11:13-40), who expressly informs us that the
Patriarchs sojourned in "the land of promise," which they were
to receive as an inheritance," "pilgrims and strangers,"
and that "they died in faith, not having received the promises, but
having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them,
and confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth."
How, with such evidence before us, can we attribute to only their posterity
what is directly asserted of themselves personally?51
This Abrahamic covenant, which contained individual promises
to Abraham, promises of the preservation of a nation, and the possession
of a land by that nation, was given to a specific covenant people. Since
it was unconditional and eternal, and has never yet been fulfilled, it
must await a future fulfillment, Israel must be preserved as a nation,
must inherit her land, and be blessed with spiritual blessings to make
this inheritance possible. Walvoord aptly concludes:
The restoration of Israel is the capstone of the grand
structure of doctrine relating to the Abrahamic Covenant. In bringing to
a close consideration of this covenant as it pertains to premillennialism,
attention should be directed again to the strategic importance of this
revelation to Scriptural truth. It has been seen that the covenant included
provisions not only to Abraham but to Abraham's physical seed, Israel,
and to Abraham's spiritual seed, i.e., all who follow the faith of Abraham
whether Jew or Gentile in this age. It has been shown that Abraham interpreted
the covenant literally as pertaining primarily to his physical seed. The
unconditional character of the covenant has been demonstrated - covenant
resting upon God's promise and faithfulness alone. The partial fulfillment
recorded to the present has confirmed the intent of God to give literal
fulfillment to the promises. It has been shown that Israel's promise of
perpetual possession of the land is an inevitable part and conclusion of
the general promises given to Abraham and confirmed to his seed. Israel's
continuance as a nation, implied in these promises, has been sustained
by the continued confirmation of both Testaments. It was shown that the
New Testament church in no wise fulfills these promises given to Israel.
Finally, Israel's restoration as the natural outcome of these promises
has been presented as the express teaching of the entire Bible. If these
conclusions reached after careful examination of the Scriptural revelation
are sound and reasonable, it follows that premillennialism is the only
satisfactory system of doctrine that harmonizes with the Abrahamic Covenant.52
1. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, I, 42
2. Ibid., IV, 156
3. Charles Fred Lincoln, "The Covenants," p.
4. Ibid., pp. 25-26
5. G.N.H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, I, 290-91.
6. Lincoln, op. cit., p. 181.
7. CF. ibid., pp. 174-76
8. Galatians 3:14, 29; 4:22-31
9. Romans 4:1-25
10. Peters, op. cit., I, 293
11. Matthew 22:23-32.
12, Cf. Peters, op. cit., I, 295-97
13. Lincoln, op. cit., pp. 206-7.
14. Peters, op. cit., I, 293-94.
15. John F. Walvoord, "Millennial Series," Bibliotheca
Sacra, 108:415-17, October, 1951.
16. Walvoord, op. cit., 109:37.
17. Ibid., 109:38-40.
18. Cf. Charles C. Ryrie, The basis of the Premillennial
Faith, pp. 53-61.
19. C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, I.
20. Ibid., I, 216
21. Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 32.
22. Ibid., p. 33.
23. Walvoord, op. cit., 109:40-41.
24. Allis, op. cit., p. 34.
25. Walvoord, op. cit., 109:42.
26. Allis, loc. cit.
27. Ibid., p. 35.
28. Ibid., p. 36.
29. Ibid., pp. 57-58.
30. Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 50-52.
31. CF. Peters, op. cit., I, 303-4.
32. Cf. ibid., I, 294.
33. Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 48-49.
34. Walvoord, op. cit., 109:137-38.
35. Ibid., 109;139
36. Allis, op. cit., p. 218.
37. Charles Hodge, Commentary on Romans, p. 589.
38. William Hendriksen, And So All Israel Shall be Saved,
39. Albertus Pieters, The Seed of Abraham, pp. 19-20.
41. Walvoord, op. cit., 109:137.
42. Ibid., 108:420
43. Cf, Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 63-70.
44. Peters, op. cit., I, 302.
45. walvoord, op. cit., 109:218.
46. Cf. Isa. 11:1-11; 14:1.8; 27:12.18; 43:1-8; 49:8-16;
16:14-18; 80:10-11; 81:8, 31-87; Ezekiel 11:17-21; 20:33-38;
16; 89:25-29; Hoses 1:10-11; Joel 8:17-21; Amos 9:11-15;
Zeph. 8:14-20; Zech. 8:4-8.
47. Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 70-73.
48. George Murray, Millennial Studies, pp. 26-27.
49. Ibid., p. 26
50. Peters, op. cit., I, 297
51. Ibid., I, 294-95
52. Walvoord, op. cit., 109:302-3.
THE PALESTINIAN COVENANT
In the closing chapters of the book of Deuteronomy the
children of Israel, the physical seed of Abraham, are facing a crisis in
their national existence. They are about to pass from the proved leadership
of Moses into the unproven leadership of Joshua. They are standing at the
entrance to the land that was promised to them by God in such terms as:
Unto thy seed will I give this land [Gen. 12:7].
For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed
for ever [Gen. 13:15].
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after
thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto
thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy
seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of
Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God [Gen. 17:7-8].
But this land is possessed by Israel's enemies, who have
shown they will resist any attempt by Israel to enter the land promised
them. It is impossible for them to return to their former status as a slave
nation and the land to which they were journeying as "strangers and
pilgrims" seemed shut before them. As a result, certain important
considerations must be faced by the nation. Is the land of Palestine still
their possession? Did the inauguration of the Mosaic covenant, which all
agree was conditional, set aside the unconditional Abrahamic covenant?
Could Israel hope to enter into permanent possession of their land in the
face of such opposition? To answer these important questions God stated
again His covenant promise concerning Israel's possession of and Inheritance
in the land in Deuteronomy 30:1-10, which statement we call the Palestinian
covenant, because it answers the question of Israel's relation to the land
promises of the Abrahamic covenant.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PALESTINIAN COVENANT
Great importance is attached to this covenant (1) in that
it reaffirms to Israel, in no uncertain terms, their title deed to the
land of promise. In spite of unfaithfulness and unbelief, as manifested
so frequently in Israel's history from the time of the promise to Abraham
until that time, the covenant was not abrogated. The land was still theirs
by promise. (2) Further, the introduction of a conditional covenant, under
which Israel was then living, could and did not set aside the original
gracious promise concerning the purpose of God. This fact is the basis
of Paul's argument when he writes: "The covenant, that was confirmed
before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years
after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect"
(Gal. 3:17). (3) This covenant is a confirmation and enlargement of the
original Abrahamic covenant. This Palestinian covenant amplifies the land
features of the Abrahamic covenant. The amplification, coming after willful
unbelief and disobedience in the life of the nation, supports the contention
that the original promise was given to be fulfilled in spite of disobedience.
II. THE PROVISIONS OF THE PALESTINIAN COVENANT
The Palestinian covenant is stated in Deuteronomy 30:1-10,
where we read:
And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come
upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and
thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy
God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt
obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and
thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That the Lord
thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will
return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath
scattered thee.... And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which
thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; . . And the Lord thy
God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the
Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest
live. And the Lord thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies.
.. . And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his
commandments which I command thee this day. And the Lord thy God will make
thee plenteous... for the Lord will again rejoice over thee for good.
An analysis of this passage will show that there are seven
main features in the program there unfolded:
(Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV, 317-23
(1) The nation will be plucked off the land for its unfaithfulness
(Deut. 28:63-68; 30:1-3);
(2) there will be a future repentance of Israel (Deut. 28:63-68;
(3) their Messiah will return (Deut. 30:3-6);
(4) Israel will be restored to the land (Deut. 30:5);
(5) Israel will be converted as a nation (Deut. 30:4-8; cf. Rom. 11:26-27);
(6) Israel's enemies will be judged (Deut. 30:7);
(7) the nation will then receive her full blessing (Deut. 30:9)1
As one surveys the wide areas included in this one passage,
which sets forth this covenant program, one is compelled to feel that God
takes Israel's relation to the land as a matter of extreme importance.
God not only guarantees its possession to them, but obligates Himself to
judge and remove all Israel's enemies, give the nation a new heart, a conversion,
prior to placing them in the land.
This same covenant is confirmed at a later time in Israel's
history. It becomes a subject of Ezekiel's prophecy. God affirms His love
for Israel in the time of her infancy (Ezek. 16:1-7); He reminds her that
she was chosen and related to Jehovah by marriage (vv. 8-14); but she played
the harlot (vv. 15-34); therefore, the punishment of dispersion was meted
out to her (vv. 35-52); but this is not a final setting aside of Israel,
for there will be a restoration (vv. 53-63). This restoration is based
on the promise:
Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in
the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant
Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive
thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger; and I will
give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant. And I will
establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord
Thus the Lord reaffirms the Palestinian covenant and calls
it an eternal covenant by which He is bound.
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE PALESTINIAN COVENANT
This covenant made by God with Israel in regard to their
relation to the land must be seen to be an unconditional covenant. There
are several reasons to support this. First, it is called by God an eternal
covenant in Ezekiel 16:60. It could be eternal only if its fulfillment
were divorced from human responsibility and brought to rest on the Word
of the Eternal one. Second, it is only an amplification and enlargement
of parts of the Abrahamic covenant, which itself is an unconditional covenant,
and, therefore, this amplification must be eternal and unconditional also.
Third, this covenant has the guarantee of God that He will effect the necessary
conversion which is essential to its fulfillment. Romans 11:26-27; Hosea
2:14-23; Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 11:16-21 all make this clear. This conversion
is viewed in Scripture as a sovereign act of God and must be acknowledged
to be certain because of His integrity. Fourth, portions of this covenant
have already been fulfilled literally. Israel has experienced the dispersions
as judgments for unfaithfulness. Israel has experienced restorations to
the land and awaits the final restoration. Israel's history abounds in
examples of her enemies who have been judged. These partial fulfillments,
which were literal fulfillments, all indicate a future literal fulfillment
of the unfulfilled portions in like manner.
It may be argued by some that this covenant is conditional
because of the statements of Deuteronomy 30:1-3: "when. . . then."
It should be observed that the only conditional element here is the time
element. The program is certain; the time when this program will be fulfilled
depends upon the conversion of the nation. Conditional time elements do
not make the whole program conditional, however.
IV. THE ESCHATOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE PALESTINIAN
From the original statement of the provisions of this
covenant, it is easy to see that, on the basis of a literal fulfillment,
Israel must be converted as a nation, must be regathered from her world-wide
dispersion, must be installed in her land, which she is made to possess,
must witness the judgment of her enemies, and must receive the material
blessings vouchsafed to her. This covenant, then, is seen to have a wide
influence on our eschatological expectation. Since these things have never
been fulfilled, and an eternal and unconditional covenant demands a fulfillment,
we must provide for just such a program in our outline of future events.
Such is the expectation of the prophets who write to Israel: Isaiah 11:11-12;
14:1-3; 27:12-13; 43:1-8; 49:8-16; 66:20-22; Jeremiah 16:14-16; 23:3-8;
30:10-11; 31:8, 31-37; Ezekiel
11:17-21; 20:33-38; 34:11-16; 39:25-29; Hosea 1:10-11;
Joel 3:17-21; Amos 9:11-15; Micah 4:4-7; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Zechariah 8:4-8.
Such was the promise offered to those saints. Whether they should live
to see the Messiah confirm these promises, or whether they reached the
land through resurrection, peace was theirs as they awaited that which
THE DAVIDIC COVENANT
The eschatological implications of the Abrahamic covenant
lie in the words land and seed. The land promises are enlarged and confirmed
through the Palestinian covenant. In the next of Israel's great covenants,
that made with David, God is enlarging and confirming the seed promises.
This will be noted in the passages dealing with the formulation of the
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with
thy fathers, I will set up thy SEED after thee, which shall proceed out
of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom [2 Sam. 7:12].
I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto
David my servant, Thy SEED will I establish forever, and build up thy throne
to all generations [Ps. 89:3-4].
As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the
sand of the sea measured; so will I multiply the SEED of David my servant,
and the Levites that minister unto me. Thus saith
the Lord; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed
the ordinances of heaven and earth; then will I cast away the SEED of Jacob,
and David my servant . . . . [Jer. 33:22, 25-26. Italics mine.]
The seed promise contained in the Abrahamic covenant is
now made the center of the Davidic promise. The seed promises in general
and the seed line of David, with his kingdom, house, and throne, are amplified.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DAVIDIC COVENANT
Inherent in the Davidic covenant are many of the crucial
issues facing the student of Eschatology. Will there be a literal millennium?
Is the church the kingdom? What is God's kingdom? What is Christ's kingdom?
Will the nation Israel be regathered and restored under her Messiah? Is
the kingdom present or future? These and many more crucial issues can be
decided only by a correct interpretation of that which was covenanted to
David. Berkhof is representative of amillenarians when he says:
"The only Scriptural basis for this theory [the premillennial
view of a literal thousand year kingdom) is Rev. 20:1-6, after an Old Testament
content has been poured into it."1
Such a view will be refuted only by enlarging on that
which forms so large a determining place in the Scripture - the Davidic
covenant - with its promises of a kingdom and king.
II. THE PROVISIONS OF THE DAVIDIC COVENANT
The promise made by God to David is given in 2 Samuel
7:12-16, where we read:
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with
thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out
of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house
for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I
will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will
chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of
men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul,
whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established
forever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever.
The historical background of the Davidic covenant is well
known. Inasmuch as David had come to power and authority in the kingdom
and now dwelt in a house of cedar, it seemed incongruous that the One from
whom he derived his authority and government should still dwell in a house
of skins. It was David's purpose to build a suitable dwelling place for
God. Because he had been a man of war, David was not permitted to build
this house. That responsibility was left to Solomon, the prince of peace.
However, God does make certain promises to David concerning the perpetuity
of his house.
The provisions of the Davidic covenant include, then,
the following items: (1) David is to have a child, yet to be born, who
shall succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) This son (Solomon) shall
build the temple instead of David. (3) The throne of his kingdom shall
be established forever. (4) The throne will not be taken away from him
(Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement. (5) David's house,
throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.2
The essential features, eschatologically, of this covenant
are implicit in three words found in 2 Samuel 7:16: house, kingdom, throne.
Walvoord well defines these terms as used in this covenant. He writes:
What do the major terms of the covenant mean? By David's
"house" it can hardly be doubted that reference is made to David's
posterity, his physical descendants. It is assured that they will never
be slain in toto, nor displaced by another family entirely. The line of
David will always be the royal line. By the term "throne" it
is clear that no reference is made to a material throne, but rather to
the dignity and power which was sovereign and supreme In David as king.
The right to rule always belonged to David's seed. By the term "kingdom"
there is reference to David's political kingdom over Israel By the expression
"for ever" it is signified that the Davidic authority and Davidic
kingdom or rule over Israel shall never be taken from David's posterity.
The right to rule will never be transferred to another family, and its
arrangement is designed for eternal perpetuity. Whatever its changing form,
temporary interruptions, or chastisements, the line of David will always
have the right to rule over Israel and will, in fact, exercise this privilege.3
As in other of Israel's covenants, we find that this covenant
is restated and confirmed in later Scriptures. In Psalm 89 the Psalmist
is extolling God for His mercies. In verse 3 these mercies are seen to
I have made a covenant with my chosen. I have sworn unto
David my servant, Thy SEED will I establish for ever and build up thy THRONE
to all generations [Ps. 89:3-4. Emphasis mine.]
These promises are sure because:
My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that
is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not
lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun
before me ~Ps. 89:34-36].
It is confirmed again in such passages as Isaiah 9:6-7;
Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:8-9; 33:14-17, 20-21; Ezekiel 37: 24-25; Daniel 7:13-14;
Hosea 3:4-5; Amos 9:11; Zechariah 14:4, 9. This promise to David is established
by God as a formal covenant and then thereafter is referred to as the basis
on which God is operating in regard to the kingdom, the house, and the
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE DAVIDIC COVENANT
As in the preceding covenants, the determinative factor
is the character of the covenant itself. Is it conditional and temporary,
or unconditional and eternal? The amillennialist is bound to argue for
a conditional covenant and a spiritualized fulfillment, so that the throne
on which Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father becomes the
"throne" of the covenant, the household of faith becomes the
"house" of the covenant, and the church becomes the "kingdom"
of the covenant. Murray gives the accepted amillennial view when he writes:
The Davidic covenant, of which much has been said, was
to the effect that his seed would sit upon his throne and had its natural
fulfillment in the reign of King Solomon. Its eternal aspects include the
Lord Jesus Christ of the seed of David; and in the book of Acts, Peter
insists that Christ's resurrection and Ascension fulfilled God's promise
to David that his seed should sit upon his throne. (See Acts 2:30.) why
insist, then, on a literal fulfillment of a promise which the Scriptures
certify to have had a spiritual fulfillment?4
It will be noted that all the temporal aspects of the
covenant are said to have been fulfilled by Solomon and the eternal aspects
fulfilled by the present reign of Christ over the church. This makes the
church the "seed" and the "kingdom" promised in the
covenant. The kingdom becomes heavenly, not earthly. The Davidic rule becomes
but a type of the reign of Christ. Only by extensive allegorization can
such a view be held.
The Davidic covenant is unconditional in its character.
The only conditional element in the covenant was whether the descendents
of David would continually occupy the throne or not. Disobedience might
bring about chastening, but never abrogate the covenant. Peters says:
Some. .... . wrongfully infer that the entire promise
is conditional over against the most express declarations to the contrary
as to the distinguished One, the pre-eminent Seed. It was, indeed, conditional
as to the ordinary seed of David (comp. PS. 89:30-34, and see force of
"nevertheless," etc.), and if his seed would have yielded obedience,
David's throne would NEVER have been vacated until the Seed, par excellence,
came; but being disobedient, the throne was overthrown, and will remain
thus "a tabernacle fallen down," "a house desolate,"
until rebuilt and restored by the Seed. The reader will not fail to observe
that if fulfilled in Solomon, and not having respect unto the Seed, how
incongruous and irrelevant would be the prophecies given afterward, as
e.g. Jer. 33:17-26, etc.6
David anticipated that there would not be an unbroken
succession of kings in his line, but nevertheless he affirms the eternal
character of the covenant. In Psalm 89 David foretold the overthrow of
his kingdom (vv. 38-45) before the realization of that which had been promised
(vv. 20-29). Yet he anticipates the fulfillment of the promise (vv. 46-52)
and blesses the Lord.7 Such was the faith of David.
Several reasons support the position that the covenant
is unconditional. (1) First of all, like the other of Israel's covenants,
it is called eternal in 2 Samuel 7:13, 16; 23:5; Isaiah 55:3; and Ezekiel
37:25. The only way it can be called eternal is that it is unconditional
and rests upon the faithfulness of God for its execution. (2) Again, this
covenant only amplifies the "seed" promises of the original Abrahamic
covenant, which has been shown to be unconditional, and will therefore
partake of the character of the original covenant. (3) Further, this covenant
was reaffirmed after repeated acts of disobedience on the part of the nation.
Christ, the Son of David, came to offer the Davidic kingdom after generations
of apostasy. These reaffirmations would and could not have been made if
the covenant were conditioned upon any response on the part of the nation.
B. The Davidic covenant is to be interpreted literally.
Peters goes into the question of literal fulfillment more thoroughly, perhaps,
than any other author. He argues for the literal interpretation of the
covenant as follows:
Before censuring the Jews... for believing that Jesus
would literally restore the Davidic throne and Kingdom, we must consider
in fairness, that they were justified in so doing by the very language
of the covenant. It is incredible that God should in the most important
matters, affecting the interests and the happiness of man and nearly touching
His own veracity, clothe them in words, which, if not true in their obvious
and common sense, would deceive the pious and God-fearing of many ages....
(1) The words and sentences in their plain grammatical
acceptation, do expressly teach their belief. This is denied by no one,
not even by those who then proceed to spiritualize the language.........
(2) The covenant is distinctively associated with the
Jewish nation and none other....
(3) It is called a perpetual covenant, i.e. one that shall
endure forever. It may, indeed, require time before its fulfillment; It
may even for a time be held, so far as the nation is concerned, in the
background, but it must be ultimately realized.
(4) It was confirmed by oath (Ps. 132:11, and 89:3, 4,
33), thus giving the strongest possible assurance of its ample fulfillment...
(5) To leave no doubt whatever, and to render unbelief
utterly inexcusable, God concisely and most forcibly presents His determination
(Ps. 89:34): "My covenant will I rot break, nor alter the thing that
is gone out of my lips." It would have been sheer presumption and
blindness in the Jews to have altered (under the plea -modern- of spirituality)
the covenant, and to have refused to accept of the obvious sense covered
by the words; and there is a heavy responsibility resting upon those, who,
even under the most pious intentions, deliberately alter the covenant words
and attach to them a foreign meaning.8
He then proceeds to give a list of some twenty-one reasons
for believing that the whole concept of the Davidic throne and kingdom
is to be understood literally. He writes:
If the Davidic throne and Kingdom is to be understood
literally, then all other promises necessarily follow; and as the reception
of this literal fulfillment forms the main difficulty in the minds of many,
a brief statement of reasons why it must be received, is in place. 1. It
is solemnly covenanted, confirmed by oath, and hence cannot be altered
or broken. 2. The grammatical sense alone is becoming a covenant. 3. The
Impression made on David, If erroneous, is disparaging to his prophetical
office. 4. The conviction of Solomon (2 Chron. 6:14-16) was that It referred
to the literal throne and Kingdom. 5. Solomon claims that the covenant
was fulfilled in himself, but only in so far that he too as David's son
sat on David's throne. . . .6. The language is that ordinarily used to
denote the literal throne and Kingdom of David, as illustrated in Jer.
17:25 and 22:4. 7. The prophets adopt the same language, and its constant
reiteration under Divine guidance is evidence that the plain grammatical
sense is the one intended. 8. The prevailing belief of centuries, a national
faith, engendered by the language, under the teaching of inspired men,
indicates how the language is to be understood. 9. This throne and Kingdom
is one of promise and inheritance and hence refers not to the Divinity
but to the Humanity of Jesus. 10. The same is distinctively promised to
David's son "according to the flesh" to be actually realized,
and, therefore, He must appear the Theocratic King as promised. 11. We
have not the slightest hint given that it is to be interpreted in any other
way than a literal one; any other is the result of pure inference. . .
.12. Any other view than that of a literal interpretation involves the
grossest self contradiction. 13. The denial of a literal reception of the
covenant robs the heir of His covenanted inheritance. . . .14. No grammatical
rule can be laid down which will make David's throne to be the Father's
throne in the third heaven. 15. That if the latter is attempted under the
notion of "symbolical" or "typical," then the credibility
and meaning of the covenants are left to the interpretations of men, and
David himself becomes "the symbol" or "type" (creature
as he is) of the Creator. 16. That if David's throne is the Father's throne
in heaven (the usual interpretation), then it must have existed forever.
17. If such covenanted promises are to be received figuratively, it is
inconceivable that they should be given in their present form without some
direct affirmation, in some place, of their figurative nature, God foreseeing
(if not literal) that for centuries they would be preeminently calculated
to excite and foster false expectations, e.g. even from David to Christ.
18. God is faithful in His promises, and deceives no one in the language
of His covenants. 19. No necessity existed why, if this throne promised
to David's Son meant something else, the throne should be so definitely
promised in the form given. 20. The identical throne and Kingdom overthrown
are the ones restored. 21. But the main, direct reasons for receiving the
literal covenanted language [is that] . . . David's throne and Kingdom
[are made] a requisite for the display of that Theocratic ordering which
God has already instituted (but now holds in abeyance until the preparations
are completed) for the restoration and exaltation of the Jewish nation
(which is preserved for this purpose), for the salvation of the human race
(which comes under the Theocratic blessing), and for the dominion of a
renewed curse-delivered world . . . Such a throne and Kingdom are necessary
to preserve the Divine Unity of Purpose in the already proposed Theocratic
This whole proposition is supported by certain additional
1. The portions of the covenant that have been fulfilled
have been fulfilled literally. As has been seen before, the partial fulfillment
determines the method to be used in the unfulfilled portions. Ryrie says:
It is only necessary to mention briefly that David had
a son' that David's throne was established, that David's kingdom was established,
that Solomon built the temple, that his throne was established, and that
he was punished for disobedience.10
2. Evidence is added from the way in which David was led
to understand it. It is seen that he had no thought but that it was a literal
covenant, to be fulfilled literally. Peters says:
How did David himself understand this covenant? This is
best stated in his own language. Read e.g. Ps. 72, which describes a Son
infinitely superior to Solomon; reflect over Ps. 132, and after noticing
that "the Lord hath sworn in truth unto David, He will not turn from
it; of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne" (which Peter,
Acts 2:30, 31, expressly refers to Jesus); consider the numerous Messianic
allusions in this and other Psalms (89th, 110th, 72nd, 48th, 45th, 21st,
2d, etc.), so regarded and explicitly quoted in the New Test. by inspired
men; ponder the fact that David calls Him "my Lord," 'higher
than the kings of the earth," and gives Him a position, power, dominion,
immortality, and perpetuity, that no mortal King can possibly attain to,
and most certainly we are not wrong in believing that David himself, according
to the tenor of the covenant "thy Kingdom shall be established forever
before thee," expected to be in this Kingdom of His Son and Lord both
to witness and experience its blessedness. . .11
David himself, in his last words (2 Sam. 23:5), emphatically
says: "He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all
things and sure; for this is all my salvation and all my desire."
The prophet Isaiah reiterates (55:3), pronouncing it "an everlasting
covenant, even the sure mercies of David." Surely no one can fail
to see that this denotes, as Barnes (Com. loci), "an unchanging and
unwavering covenant, -a covenant which was not to be revoked," -one
which was not to be abrogated, but which was to be perpetual, -and that
"God would ratify this covenant."12
And yet again:
That David himself expected a literal fulfillment of the
promise is evident from his language which follows the giving of the covenant;
and in this literal anticipation of the promise he returns thanks to God
and praises Him for thus selecting his house for honor and in thus establishing
it for the ages, even forever (2 Sam. 7:8, etc., 1 Chron. 17:16, etc.).
It is presumption to suppose that David returned thanks, and thus prayer
under a mistaken idea of the nature of the covenant.13
It is therefore evident that David was led by God to interpret
the covenant literally.
3. There is evidence for the literal interpretation of
the covenant from the interpretation of the covenant by the nation Israel.
Reference has been made to the literal aspects emphasized in all the Old
Testament prophetic books. This literal emphasis continued throughout Jewish
history. Ryrie says:
The concept which the Jews had of this kingdom at this
time may be summed up under these five characteristics: earthly, national,
Messianic, moral, and future.
The hope was for an earthly kingdom. When Israel saw Palestine
under the rule of a foreign power, her hope was the more intensified, because
the kingdom she expected was one that would be set up on the earth and
one that would naturally carry with it release from foreign domination.
The kingdom was to be national; that is, the expected
kingdom had a specific relationship to Israel, being promised to that nation
The kingdom was to be a moral kingdom, for Israel was
to be cleansed as a nation....
Obviously the kingdom was not yet in existence and was
therefore future at the time of the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Even all the glory under David and Solomon was not comparable to the expected
kingdom. Consequently, all of Israel's beliefs concerning this kingdom
were of the nature of unrealized hopes. Israel looked to the future.14
4. There is evidence for the literal interpretation from
the New Testament references to the covenant made with David. Walvoord
speaks of the New Testament as a whole, when he writes:
The New Testament has in all fifty-nine references to
David. It also has many references to the present session of Christ A search
of the New Testament reveals that there is not one reference connecting
the present session of Christ with the Davidic throne . . . it is almost
incredible that in so many references to David and in so frequent reference
to the present session of Christ on the Father's throne there should be
not one reference connecting the two in any authoritative way. The New
Testament is totally lacking in positive teaching that the throne of the
Father in heaven is to be identified with the Davidic throne. The inference
is plain that Christ is seated on the Father's throne, but that this is
not at all the same as being seated on the throne of David.15
It can be shown that in all the preaching concerning the
kingdom by John (Matt. 3:2), by Christ (Matt. 4:17), by the twelve (Matt.
10:5-7), by the seventy (Lk. 10:1-12), not once is the kingdom offered
to Israel anything but an earthly literal kingdom. Even after the rejection
of that offer by Israel and the announcement of the mystery of the kingdom
(Matt. 13) Christ anticipates such a literal earthly kingdom (Matt. 25:1-13,
31-46).16 The New Testament never relates the kingdom promised to David
to Christ's present session.
It is interesting to observe that the angel, who did not
originate his own message, but announced that which was delivered to him
by God, says to Mary:
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring
forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall
be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him
the THRONE of his father David; And he shall reign over the HOUSE of Jacob
forever; and of his KINGDOM here shall be no end [Luke 1:31-33. Emphasis
The angelic message centers around the three key words
of the original Davidic covenant, the throne, the house, and the kingdom,
all of which are here promised a fulfillment.
The Davidic covenant holds an important place in the discussion
at the first church council. Walvoord comments on Acts 15:14-17, where
this covenant is discussed, as follows:
The problem of this passage resolves into these questions:
(1) What is meant by the "tabernacle of David"? (2) when is the
"tabernacle of David" to be rebuilt? The first question is settled
by an examination of its source, Amos 9:11, and its context. The preceding
chapters and the first part of chapter nine deal with God's judgment upon
Israel. It is summed up in two verses which immediately precede the quotation:
"For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among
ail the nations, like as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the
least kernel fall upon the earth. All the sinners of my people shall die
by the sword who say, The evil shall not overtake nor meet us" (Amos
Immediately following this passage of judgment is the
promise of blessing after the judgment, of which the verse quoted in Acts
fifteen is the first.
The context of the passage deals, then, with Israel's
. . . The entire passage confirms that the "tabernacle
of David" is an expression referring to the whole nation of Israel,
and that in contrast to the Gentile nations....
What then is the meaning of the quotation of James? ...
He states, in effect, that it was God's purpose to bless
the Gentiles as well as Israel, but in their order. God was to visit the
Gentiles first, "to take out of them a people for his name."
James goes on to say that this is entirely in keeping with the prophets,
for they had stated that the period of Jewish blessing and triumph should
be after the Gentile period. . . Instead of identifying the period of Gentile
conversion with the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David, It is carefully
distinguished by the first (referring to Gentile blessing), and after this
(referring to Israel's coming glory.) The passage, instead of identifying
God's purpose for the church and for the nation Israel, established a specific
time order. Israel's blessing will not come until "I return,"
. . . God will first conclude His work for the Gentiles In the period of
Israel's dispersion; then He will return to bring in the promised blessings
for Israel. It is needless to say that this confirms the Interpretation
that Christ is not now on the throne of David, bringing blessing to Israel
as the prophets predicted, but He is rather on His Father's throne waiting
for the coming earthly kingdom and interceding for His own who form the
Ryrie, dealing with the same passage, comments:
[In regard to) the Amos quotation in Acts 15:14-17....
Gaebelein gives a good analysis of James' words citing four points in the
progression of thought. First, God visits the Gentiles, taking from them
a people for His name. In other words, God has promised to bless the Gentiles
as well as Israel, but each In his own order. The Gentile blessing is first.
Secondly, Christ will return. This is after the outcalling of the people
for His name. Thirdly, as a result of the Coming of the Lord, the tabernacle
of David will be built again; that is, the kingdom will be established
as promised in the Davidic covenant. Amos clearly declares that this rebuilding
will be done "as in the days of old" (9:11); that Is, the blessings
will be earthly and national and will have nothing to do with the Church.
Fourthly, the residue of men will seek the Lord, that is, all the Gentiles
will be brought to a knowledge of the Lord after the kingdom is established.
Isaiah 2:2; 11:10; 40:5; 66:23 teach the same truth.18
Thus, throughout the New Testament, as well as In the
Old, the Davidic covenant is everywhere treated as literal.
C. The problems of literal fulfillment. The position that
the Davidic covenant is to be interpreted literally is not without its
problems. Attention is given to several of these now.
1. There is the problem as to the relation of Christ to
the covenant. Two contradictory answers are given.
The problem of fulfillment does not consist In the question
of whether Christ is the one who fulfills the promises, but rather on the
issue of HOW Christ fulfills the covenant and WHEN He fulfills it. Concerning
this question, there have been two principal answers:
(1) Christ fulfills the promise by His present session
at the right hand of the Father In heaven; (2) Christ fulfills the promise
of His return and righteous reign on earth during the millennimum.19
In reply to the first of these interpretations Peters
No sophistry in spiritualizing, symbolizing, or typicalizing
can transmute the promise of the Davidic throne and kingdom into something
else, as e.g. into the Father's throne, the Divine Sovereignty, the Kingdom
of Grace, Gospel Dispensation, etc., for the simple reason that the identical
throne and Kingdom, now overturned, is the one that is promised to the
Messiah to be reestablished by Himself, as e.g. Amos 9:11, Acts 15:16,
Zech. 2:12, Zech. 1:16, 17, etc. The Theocratic crown cast down, the Theocratic
throne overturned, the Theocratic Kingdom overthrown, is the crown, throne,
the Kingdom that the Christ is to restore. These belong to Christ by "right"
(Ezek. 31:25-27), and will be "given to Him." These, too, are
linked with a restoration of the Jewish nation, Jer. 33:14, Micah 4:6,
8, etc. These facts -the existence of the throne at one time, its non-existence
for a period, its restoration again, its connection at the restoration
with the ancient people and land that formed the original Kingdom- these
facts, as well as many others that will be brought forward, indicate as
fully as language can possibly express it, that the ancient faith in covenanted
language must not be discarded....20
According to the established principles of interpretation
the Davidic covenant demands a literal fulfillment.
This means that Christ must reign on David's throne
on the earth over David's people forever.
2. The second problem is in relation to the history of
Israel since David's and Solomon's day. Ryrie deals with this problem when
The question which must be answered is this: does the
historic partial fulfillment . . . disallow a future literal fulfillment?
The chief difficulties which history brings up are three: (1) there has
been no continuous development or continued authority of the political
kingdom of David, (2) Israel's captivity and the downfall of the kingdom
would seem to argue against a literal interpretation for a future fulfillment,
and (3) the centuries which have passed since the first advent of Christ
would seem to indicate that a literal fulfillment should not be expected.
. . the premillennial position holds that the partial historic fulfillment
in no way mitigates against the future fulfillment for these four reasons.
First, the Old Testament prophets expected a literal fulfillment even during
Israel's periods of great apostasy. Secondly, the covenant demands a literal
interpretation which also means a future fulfillment. Thirdly, the New
Testament teaches that the present mystery form of the kingdom no way abrogates
the future literal fulfillment. Fourthly, the very words of the covenant
teach that, although Solomon be disobedient, the covenant would nevertheless
remain in force, and that Solomon's seed was not promised perpetuity. The
only necessary feature is that the lineage cannot be lost, not that the
throne be occupied continuously.21
The interruption of the kingdom did not mean the whole
program was set aside. As long as the prerogatives of the throne were intact
the kingdom might be re-established. Walvoord says:
. . . the line which was to fulfill the promise of the
eternal throne and eternal kingdom over Israel was preserved by God through
a lineage which in fact did not sit on the throne at all, from Nathan down
to Christ. It is, then, not necessary for the line to be unbroken as to
actual conduct of the kingdom, but it is rather that the lineage, royal
prerogative, and right to the throne be preserved and never lost, even
in sin, captivity, and dispersion. It is not necessary, then, for continuous
political government to be in effect, but it is necessary that the line
be not lost.22
Reference has already been made to many New Testament
passages to show that the expectation there was for a literal fulfillment.
The interruption in the Davidic kingdom did not militate against the expectancy
of a literal restoration of that same kingdom as far as the New Testament
writers were concerned.
D. Has this covenant been fulfilled historically? The
argument is presented by the amillennialist that this covenant has been
fulfilled historically in the Solomonic empire. Their contention is that
the land ruled over by Solomon according to 1 Kings 4:21 fulfills the covenant
so that no future fulfillment is to be expected. To this it may be replied:
In the very fact of using this text the amillennialist
is admitting that the covenant was literally fulfilled! Why, then, does
he look for a spiritual fulfillment by the Church? However, we can point
out four things which were not fulfilled by Solomon. There was no permanent
possession of the land as promised to Abraham. All the land was not possessed.
"From the river of Egypt" (Gen. 15:18) and "from the border
of Egypt" (1 Kings 4:21) are not equivalent terms geographically.
Solomon did not occupy all this land; he merely collected tribute. Temporary
overlordship is not everlasting possession. Finally, hundreds of years
after Solomon's time the Scriptures still abound in promises concerning
future possession of the land. This must prove that God and His prophets
realized, whether the amillennialist does or not, that Solomon had not
the Abrahamic covenant.28
Inasmuch as this covenant has not been fulfilled literally
In Israel's history, there must be a future literal fulfillment of the
covenant because of its unconditional character.
IV. THE ESCHATOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE DAVIDIC COVENANT
Because of an anticipated future literal fulfillment,
certain facts present themselves concerning Israel's future. (1) First
of all, Israel must be preserved as a nation. Peters writes:
The covenanted Davidic throne and Kingdom, allied as it
is with the Jewish nation. .. necessarily requires . . . a preservation
of the nation. This has been done; and today we see that nation wonderfully
continued down to the present, although enemies, including the strongest
nations and most powerful empires, have perished. This is not chance work;
for, if our position is correct, this is demanded, seeing that without
a restoration of the nation it is impossible to restore the Davidic Kingdom.
The covenant language, the oath of God, the confirmation of promise by
the blood of Jesus, the prophetic utterances -all, notwithstanding the
nations' unbelief, requires its perpetuation, that through it finally God's
promises and faithfulness may be vindicated. God so provides that His Word
may be fulfilled. Every Jew, if we will but ponder the matter, that we
meet on our streets is a living evidence that the Messiah will yet some
day reign gloriously on David's throne and over His Kingdom, from which
to extend a world-wide dominion.24
(2) Israel must have a national existence, and be brought
back Into the land of her inheritance. Since David's kingdom had definite
geographical boundaries and those boundaries were made a feature of the
promise to David concerning his son's reign, the land must be given to
this nation as the site of their national homeland. (3) David's Son, the
Lord Jesus Christ, must return to the earth, bodily and literally, in order
to reign over David's covenanted kingdom. The allegation that Christ is
seated on the Father's throne reigning over a spiritual kingdom, the church,
simply does not fulfill the promises of the covenant. (4) A literal earthly
kingdom must be constituted over which the returned Messiah reigns. Peters
The fulfillment of the covenant promises implies, in view
of this restored Davidic throne and Kingdom, that the Messianic Kingdom
is a visible, external Kingdom, not merely spiritual, although embracing
spiritual and divine things. Its visibility, and a corresponding acknowledgement
of the same, is a feature inseparable from the language of promise. .....25
(5) This kingdom must become an eternal kingdom. Since
the "throne," "house," and "kingdom" were
all promised to David in perpetuity, there must be no end to Messiah's
reign over David's kingdom from David's throne.
It thus becomes evident that the Davidic covenant is of
vital importance to the understanding of future events.
1. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 715
2. John F. Walvoord, Millennial Series, Bibliotheca Sacra, 110:98-99, April
4. George Murray, Millennial Studies, p. 44
5. G. N. H. Peters, theocratic Kingdom, I, 344-45.
6. Ibid., I, 343.
7. Cf. ibid., I, 319
8. Ibid., I, 315-16.
9. Ibid., I, 343-44
10. Charles C. Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, p. 78
11. Peters, op. cit., I, 314.
12. Ibid., I, 316.
13. Ibid., I, 342.
14. Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 89-91.
15. Walvoord, op. cit., 109:110.
16. Cf. Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 91-102.
17. Walvoord, op. cit., 109:110.
18. Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 102-3.
19. Walvoord, op. cit., 109:110.
20. Peters, op. cit., I, 347.
21. Ryrie, op. cit., p. 80
22. John F. Walvoord, The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, Bibliotheca
Sacra 102:161, April, 1945.
23. Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 60-61.
24. Peters, op. cit., I, 351.
THE NEW COVENANT
The last of the four great determinative covenants into
which God entered with Israel is the new covenant.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NEW COVENANT
The new covenant guarantees Israel a converted heart as
the foundation of all her blessings. According to the Old Testament principle
that such a conversion can not be effected permanently without the shedding
of blood, this covenant necessitates a sacrifice, acceptable to God, as
the foundation on which it is instituted. Inasmuch as the offering up of
the Son of God is the center of the age-long plan of redemption, and since
this covenant entails that offering, great importance is to be attached
to it. The whole covenant takes on importance, in addition, for amillennialism
attempts to show that the church is fulfilling Israel's covenants because
the church today is redeemed by blood. If the church fulfills this covenant,
she may also fulfill the other covenants made with Israel and there is
no need for an earthly millennium. Because of these considerations the
covenant must be examined.
II. THE PROVISIONS OF THE NEW COVENANT
The new covenant promised to Israel was stated in Jeremiah
31:31-34, where we read:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make
a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers
in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of
Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them,
saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the
house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in
their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God,
and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his
neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall
all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the
Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin
Ryrie well summarizes the provisions of this covenant
when he says:
The following provisions for Israel, the people of the
new covenant, to be fulfilled in the millennium, the period of the new
covenant, are found in the Old Testament.
(1) The new covenant is an unconditional, grace covenant
resting on the "I will" of God. The frequency of the use of the
phrase in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is striking. Cf. Ezekiel 16:80-62.
(2) The new covenant 15 an everlasting covenant This is
closely related to the fact that it is unconditional and made in grace. (Isa. 81:2, Cf. Ezek. 37:28;
(3) The new covenant also promises the impartation of
a renewed mind and heart which we may call regeneration.... (Jer. 31:33,
Cf. Isa. 59:21).
(4) The new covenant provides for restoration to the favor
and blessing of God.... (Hos. 2:19-20, Cf. Isa. 61:9).
(5) Forgiveness of sin is also included in the covenant,
"for I will remove their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no
more" (Jer. 31:34b).
(6) The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is also included
This is seen by comparing Jeremiah 31:33 with Ezekiel 38:27.
(7) The teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit will be manifested,
and the will of God will be known by obedient hearts. ... (Jer. 31:34).
(8) As is always the case when Israel is In the land,
she will be blessed materially in accordance with the provisions of the
new covenant . .. Jeremiah 32:41;... Isaiah 61:8... Ezekiel 34:25-27.
(9) The sanctuary will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, for it
is written "I . . . will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for
evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them" (Ezek. 37:28-27a).
(10) War shall cease and peace shall reign according to
Hosea 2:18. The fact that this 15 also a definite characteristic of the
millennium (Isa. 2:4) further supports the fact that the new covenant is
millennial in its fulfillment.
(11) The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation
of all the blessings of the new covenant, for "by the blood of thy
covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water"
By way of summary, it may be said that as far as the Old
Testament teaching on the new covenant is concerned, the covenant was made
with the Jewish people. Its period of fulfillment is yet future beginning
when the Deliverer shall come and continuing throughout all eternity. Its
provisions for the nation Israel are glorious, and they all rest and depend
on the very Word of God.1
Confirmation of this covenant is given in the statement
in Isaiah 61:8-9, where it is called everlasting, and again in Ezekiel
37:21-28. There the following points are to be observed:
(1) Israel to be regathered: (2) Israel to be one nation,
ruled by one king; (3) Israel no longer to be idolatrous, to be cleansed,
forgiven; (4) Israel to dwell "forever" in the land after
(5) the covenant of peace with them to be everlasting; (6) God's tabernacle
to be with them, i.e., He will be present with them in a visible way; (7)
Israel to be known among Gentiles as a nation blessed of God. All of these
promises are implicit in the basic passage of Jeremiah, but they confirm,
enrich, and enlarge the covenant.2
This covenant, then, has to do with the regeneration,
forgiveness, and justification of Israel, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
with His subsequent ministries, Israel's regathering and restoration to
the place of blessing, all founded on the blood of Jesus Christ.
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE NEW COVENANT
Once again the principle is observed that, like all Israel's
covenants, this covenant is a literal and unconditional covenant.
(1) It is called eternal in Isaiah 24:5; 61:8; Jeremiah
31:36, 40; 32:40; 50:5. (2) This covenant is a gracious covenant that depends
entirely upon the "I will" of God for its fulfillment, Jeremiah
31:33. It does not depend upon man. (3) This covenant amplifies the third
great area of the original Abrahamic covenant, the area of "blessing."
Inasmuch as this is only an amplification of the original Abrahamic covenant,
which has been shown to be unconditional and literal, this covenant must
be also. (4) This covenant is largely occupied with the question of salvation
from sin and the impartation of a new heart. Salvation is solely the work
of God. Thus the covenant that guarantees salvation to the nation Israel
must be apart from all human agency and therefore unconditional.
IV. THE FULFILLMENT OF THE NEW COVENANT
Amillenarians use the New Testament references to the
new covenant to prove that the church is fulfilling the Old Testament promises
to Israel. Thus there would be no need for a future earthly millennium
inasmuch as the church is the kingdom. Allis is representative when he
discusses Hebrews 8:8-12; and says:
The passage speaks of the new covenant. It declares that
this new covenant has been already introduced and that by virtue of the
fact that it is called "new" it has made the one which it is
replacing "old," and that the old is about to vanish away. It
would be hard to find a clearer reference to the gospel age in the Old
Testament than in these verses in Jeremiah....3
In reply to such allegations, it is necessary to observe
certain essential facts about the new covenant.
A. The nation with whom the covenant is made. It should
be clear from a survey of the passages already cited that this covenant
was made with Israel, the physical seed of Abraham according to the flesh,
and with them alone. This is made clear for three reasons:
First, it is seen by the fact of the words of establishment
of the covenant... Jeremiah 31:31.... Other passages which support this
fact are: Isaiah 59:20-21; 61:8-9; Jeremiah 32:37-40; 50:4-5; Ezekiel 16:60-63;
Secondly, that the Old Testament teaches that the new
covenant is for Israel is also seen by the fact of its very name. . .
contrasted with the Mosaic covenant . . . the new covenant
is made with the same people as the Mosaic. . . the Scripture clearly teaches
that the Mosaic covenant of the law was made with the nation Israel only.
Romans 2:14... Romans 6:14 and Galatians 3:24-25... 2 Corinthians 3:7-11...
Leviticus 26:46... Deuteronomy 4:8.
There can be no question as to whom pertains the law.
It is for Israel alone, and since this old covenant was made with Israel,
the new covenant is made with the same people. no other group or nation
being In view.
Thirdly, that the Old Testament teaches that the new covenant
is for Israel is also seen by the fact that in its establishment the perpetuity
of the nation Israel and her restoration to the land is vitally linked
with it (Jer.31:35-40)....
Thus we conclude that for these three incontrovertible
reasons, the very words of the text, the name itself, and the linking with
the perpetuity of the nation, the new covenant according to the teaching
of the Old Testament is for the people of Israel.4
B. The time of the fulfillment of the New Covenant. It
has been agreed that the time of the new covenant was future. It was always
viewed as future when reference is made to it in the Old Testament prophecies.
Hosea (2:18-20), Isaiah (55:3), Ezekiel (16:60, 62; 20:37; 34:25-26) all
spoke of it as future. It must be viewed as yet future, for this covenant
can not be realized by Israel until God has effected her salvation and
restoration to the land. Ryrie says:
The sequence of events set up by the prophet
40-41] is that Israel will first be regathered and restored to the land
and then will experience the blessings of the new covenant in the land.
History records no such sequence. God cannot fulfill the covenant until
Israel is regathered as a nation. Her complete restoration is demanded
by the new covenant, and this has not yet taken place in the history of
the world. . . . Fulfillment of the prophecies requires the regathering
of all Israel, their spiritual rebirth, and the return of Christ.5
This covenant must follow the return of Christ at the
second advent. The blessings anticipated in the covenant will not be realized
until Israel's salvation, and this salvation follows the return of the
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written. There
shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from
Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their
sins [Rom. 11:26-27].
The covenant referred to here must of necessity be the
new covenant, for that is the only covenant expressly dealing with the
removal of sins. And it is said to be actual after the coming of the Deliverer.
This covenant will be realized in the millennial age.
Passages such as Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 34:25; and Isaiah 11:6-9, which
give descriptions of the blessings to be experienced in the time of the
fulfillment of the new covenant, show that the new covenant will be realized
by Israel in the millennial age.6
The conclusion, therefore, would be that this covenant,
which was future in the time of the prophets, and was future in the New
Testament, can only be realized following the second advent of Christ in
the millennial age.
C. The relation of the church to the new covenant. There
are five clear references to the new covenant in the New Testament: Luke
1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8; 9:15.
In addition to these there are six other references to it: Matthew 26:28;
Mark 14:24; Romans 11:27; Hebrews 8:10-13, and 12:24. The question arises
as to the relationship of the believers of this present age to the new
covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34. This question is important, for, as has
been seen previously, the contention of the amillennialist is that the
church is now fulfilling these Old Testament prophecies and therefore there
need be no earthly millennium.
1. There are three premillennial views as to the relation
of the church to the new covenant made with Israel.
a. The first view is that of Darby. He presented the view
that there was one and only one new covenant in Scripture, made with the
houses of Israel and Judah and to be realized at a future time, to which
the church bears no relationship whatsoever. He writes:
This covenant of the letter is made with Israel, not with
us; but we get the benefit of it. . . . Israel not accepting the blessing,
God brought out the church, and the Mediator of the covenant went on high.
We are associated with the Mediator. It will be made good to Israel by-and-by.7
The gospel is not a covenant, but the revelation of the
salvation of God. It proclaims the great salvation. We enjoy indeed all
the essential privileges of the new covenant, its foundation being laid
on God's part in the blood of Christ, but we do so in spirit, not according
to the letter.
The new covenant will be established formally with Israel
in the millennium.8
... the foundation of the new has been laid in the blood
of the mediator. It is not to us that the terms of the covenant, quoted
from Jeremiah by the apostle, have been fulfilled, or that we are Israel
and Judah; but that while the covenant is founded, not upon the obedience
of a living people, to whom the blessing thereupon was to come, and the
blood of a victim shed by a living mediator, but upon the obedience unto
death of the Mediator Himself, on which (as its secure, unalterable foundation
of grace) the covenant is founded.9
It is, then, the annexed circumstances of the covenant
with which we have to do, not the formal blessings which in terms have
taken place of the conditions of the old, though some of them may, in a
sense, be accomplished in us.10
It would thus seem to be Darby's view that, in all its
New Testament references, the new covenant is to be equated with the covenant
of Jeremiah 31. In the New Testament it has no reference whatever to the
church in this age, although the blessing of that covenant comes to others
beside Israel now, since the blood was "shed for many." It will,
however, be fulfilled literally in the millennium.
There are certain propositions in the view presented by
Darby with which there is full agreement. (1) The new covenant of Jeremiah
31 necessitated the work of a Mediator and the death of Christ is that
which makes a new covenant possible.
(2) The new covenant was originally made with the houses
of Israel and Judah and will be fulfilled in them literally in the millennium.
The covenant can only be fulfilled literally by those with whom it was
made and, since the church is not Israel, the church can not fulfill that
covenant. (3) All the blessings which come to the church today are based
upon the blood of Christ, which was necessarily shed to make possible the
b. The second view is that of Scofield. This view, more
generally held than Darby's view, says: "The New Covenant. . . secures
the perpetuity, future conversion, and blessing of Israel "11 and
it ". . . secures the eternal blessedness . . . of all who believe."12
Thus, according to this view, there is one new covenant with a two-fold
application; one to Israel in the future and one to the church now. Lincoln
The blood of the New Covenant shed upon the cross of Calvary
is the basis of all of the blessings of the believer in the present age.
The believer, therefore, participates in the worth to the sinner of the
New Covenant, so that he partakes of the Lord's supper in remembrance of
the blood of the New Covenant, (I Cor. 11:25), and he is also a minister
of the New Covenant, (II Cor. 3:6). It Is also said of the believer that
he is a child of Abraham because he is of faith (Gal. 3:7), and of Christ,
(Gal. 3:29). He is also said to partake of the root and fatness of the
olive tree, which is Abraham and Israel, (Rom. 11:17). So too, though as
an unbelieving Gentile he is an "alien" and a "stranger,"
(Eph. 2:12), he is no longer such, (Eph. 2:19), because he has been made
nigh by the blood of Christ, (Eph. 2:13). He benefits in the New Covenant
as a fellow-citizen of the saints and of the household of God, (Eph. 2:19),
and not as a member of the commonwealth of Israel, (Eph 2:12).13
. . . we must remember that God is speaking here explicitly
of His earthly people, and not of any heavenly one.. . . the people with
whom this covenant will be made will be a people in that day entirely according
to His mind.
It will be asked how, according to this, the new covenant
applies at all to us. Other scriptures answer this clearly by assuring
us that if we have not the covenant made with us, it can yet, in all the
blessings of which it speaks, be ministered to us.14
This view places the church under the new covenant, and
views the relationship as a partial fulfillment of the covenant.
There can be agreement with Scofield that the blood of
Christ is the basis for the new covenant with Israel and any covenant relation
which the church may sustain to Christ, for it was not necessary for Christ
to die once for Israel and then again for the church. The church, however,
can not be placed under Israel's covenant. Scofield agrees with Darby fully
that the covenant was primarily for Israel and will be fulfilled by them.
Any application of it to the church, as the Scofield position holds, does
not nullify the primary application to Israel
C. The third view is the two-covenant view.15 This view
holds that there are two new covenants presented in the New Testament;
the first with Israel in reaffirmation of the covenant promised in Jeremiah
31 and the second made with the church in this age. This view, essentially,
would divide the references to the new covenant in the New Testament into
two groups. The references in the gospels and in Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 10:29;
and 13:20 would refer to the new covenant with the church, Hebrews 8:17-13 and 10:16 would refer to the new covenant with Israel,
and Hebrews 12:24 would refer, perhaps, to both, emphasizing the fact of
the mediation accomplished and the covenant program established without
designating the recipients. This view would accept the Darbyist concept
that Israel's new covenant is to be fulfilled by Israel alone. In addition
it would see the church as brought into relation to God by a new covenant
that was established with them.
It is not in the scope of this treatment to attempt to
settle the difference of opinion among premillennialists on this question
of the relation of the church to the new covenant. It is sufficient here
to establish but one point. Regardless of the relationship of the church
to the new covenant as explained in these three views, there is one general
point of agreement: the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 must and can
be fulfilled only by the nation Israel and not by the church. Since this
was a literal covenant made with the physical seed of Abraham, any relationship
of the church to the blood required by that covenant can not change the
essential promises of God in the covenant itself. Apart from any relationship
of the church to this blood, the covenant stands as yet unfulfilled and
awaits a future literal fulfillment.
2. The question may arise as to why reference is made
to Jeremiah 31 in Hebrews 8 if the church is not fulfilling that covenant.
In spite of the contention of Allis that Hebrews 8 "declares that
this new covenant has been already introduced,"16 no such statement
or intimation is made in the passage. On the contrary, the quotation from
Jeremiah is used to show that the old covenant itself was recognized as
ineffectual and temporary and was ultimately to be superseded by an effectual
covenant, so that the Hebrews should not be surprised that a new and better
covenant should be preached, nor should they place further trust in that
which had been done away. Walvoord says:
The argument of Hebrews 8 reveals the truth that Christ
is the Mediator of a better covenant than Moses, established upon better
promises (Heb. 8:6). The argument hangs on the point that the Mosaic covenant
was not faultless -was never intended to be an everlasting covenant (Heb.
8:7). In confirmation of this point, the new covenant of Jeremiah is cited
at length, proving that the Old Testament itself anticipated the end of
the Mosaic law m that a new covenant is predicted to supplant it The writer
of Hebrews singles out of the entire quotation the one word NEW and argues
that this would automatically make the Mosaic covenant old (Heb. 8:12).
A further statement is made that the old covenant is "becoming old"
and "is nigh unto vanishing away." It should be noted that nowhere
in this passage is the new covenant with Israel declared to be in force.
The only argument is that which was always true -the prediction of a new
covenant automatically declares the Mosaic covenant as a temporary, not
an everlasting covenant.11
Thus, in Hebrews 8 the promise of Jeremiah is quoted only
to prove that the old covenant, that is the Mosaic, was temporary from
its inception, and Israel never could trust in that which was temporary,
but had to look forward to that which was eternal. Here, as in Hebrews
10:16, the passage from Jeremiah is quoted, not to state that what is promised
there is now operative or effectual, but rather that the old covenant was
temporary and ineffectual and anticipatory of a new covenant that would
be permanent and effectual in its working. It is a misrepresentation of
the thinking of the writer to the Hebrews to affirm that he teaches that
Israel's new covenant is now operative with the church.
3. In its historical setting, the disciples who heard
the Lord refer to the new covenant in the upper room the night before His
death would certainly have understood Him to be referring to the new covenant
of Jeremiah 31. Several things are to be observed concerning the record
of this reference on that occasion In Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24 the
statement is recorded: "This is MY BLOOD of the new covenant..."
[emphasis mine]. In this statement emphasis would be placed upon the soteriological
aspects of that covenant. The blood that was being offered was that required
by the promised new covenant and was for the purpose of giving remission
of sins. In Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25 the statement is recorded:
"This is the NEW COVENANT in my blood.. ." [emphasis mine]. This
statement would emphasize the eschatological aspects of the new covenant,
stating that the new covenant is instituted with His death. This would
be according to the principle of Hebrews 9:16-17:
For where a testament is, there must also of necessity
be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are
dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
Since the disciples would certainly have understood any
reference to the new covenant on that occasion as reference to Israel's
anticipated covenant of Jeremiah, it seems that the Lord must have been
stating that that very covenant was being instituted with His death, and
they were ministers of the blood (the soteriological aspects) of that covenant
(2 Cor. 3:6), but these to whom it was primarily and originally made will
not receive its fulfillment nor its blessings until it is confirmed and
made actual to them at the second advent of Christ, when "all Israel
shall be saved . . . for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take
away their sins" (Rom. 11:26-27). There certainly is a difference
between the institution of the covenant and the realization of the benefits
of it. Christ, by His death, laid the foundation for Israel's covenant,
but its benefits will not be received by Israel until the second advent
4. There are several considerations which support the
view that the church is not now fulfilling Israel's new covenant. (1) The
term Israel is nowhere used in the Scriptures for any but the physical
descendents of Abraham. Since the church today is composed of both Jews
and Gentiles without national distinctions, it would be impossible for
that church to fulfill these promises made to the nation. (2) Within the
new covenant, as its provisions have previously been outlined, there were
promises of spiritual blessings and promises of earthly blessing. While
the church, like Israel, is promised salvation, the forgiveness of sin,
the ministry of the Holy Spirit, yet the church is never promised inheritance
in a land, material blessings on the earth, and rest from oppression, which
were parts of the promise to Israel. The new covenant not only promised
Israel salvation, but a new life on the millennial earth as all her covenants
are realized. The church certainly is not fulfilling the material portions
of this covenant. (3) Since the church receives blessings of the Abrahamic
covenant (Gal. 3:14; 4:22-31) by faith without being under or fulfilling
that covenant, so the church may receive blessings from the new covenant
without being under or fulfilling that new covenant. (4) The time element
contained within the covenant itself, both in its original statement and
in its restatement in Hebrews, precludes the church from being the agent
in which it is fulfilled. The covenant can not be fulfilled and realized
by Israel until after the period of Israel's tribulation and her deliverance
by the advent of Messiah. While the church has had periods of persecution
and tribulation it never has passed through the great tribulation of prophecy.
Certainly the church is not now in the millennial age. Romans 11:26-27
clearly indicates that this covenant can only be realized after the second
advent of the Messiah. Since the tribulation, second advent, and millennial
age are yet future, the fulfillment of this promise must be yet future,
and therefore the church can not now be fulfilling this covenant.
V. THE ESCHATOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE NEW COVENANT
A reference to the provisions of this covenant, stated
earlier, which have never been fulfilled to the nation Israel, but which
must yet be fulfilled, will show how extensive an eschatological program
awaits fulfillment. Israel, according to this covenant, must be restored
to the land of Palestine, which they will possess as their own. This also
entails the preservation of the nation. Israel must experience a national
conversion, be regenerated, receive the forgiveness of sins and the implantation
of a new heart. This takes place following the return of Messiah to the
earth. Israel must experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that
He may produce righteousness in the individual and teach the individual
so that there will be the fullness of knowledge. Israel must receive material
blessings from the hand of the King into whose kingdom they have come.
Palestine must be reclaimed, rebuilt, and made the glorious center of a
new glorious earth in which dwelleth righteousness and peace. The Messiah
who came and shed His blood as the foundation of this covenant must personally
come back to the earth to effect the salvation, restoration, and blessing
of the national Israel. All of these important areas of eschatological
study are made necessary by this covenant.
Four of the five covenants with the nation Israel have
been surveyed to show that they are unconditional and eternal covenants,
made with a covenant people, and to be fulfilled because of the faithfulness
of the One making the covenants with those to whom they are given. These
covenants not only had a relation to the nation at the time of their inception
and gave a basis on which God dealt with Israel, but they bind God to a
course of action in relation to future events, which determine the course
of Eschatology. When the covenants are studied analytically we find seven
great features which are determinative: (1) a nation forever, (2) a land
forever, (3) a King forever, (4) a throne forever, (5) a kingdom forever,
(6) a new covenant, and (7) abiding blessings.18 These seven features will
be developed later in the course of these studies.
1. Charles C. Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial
Fatih, pp. 112-14.
2. Jhn F. Walvoord, Millennial Series, Bibliotheca Sacra, 110:197, July,
3. Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 154.
4. Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 108-110.
5. Ibid., p. 111.
6. Cf. ibid., p. 110-12.
7. William Kelly, editor, The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, XXVII,
8. J. N. Darby, Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, V, 286.
9. Kelly, op. cit., III, 79.
10. Ibid., p. 82.
11. C. I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1297.
12. Ibid., p. 1298.
13. C. Fred Lincoln, The Covenants, pp. 202-3.
14. F. W. Grant, The Numerical Bible, VII, 48.
15. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV, 325;
Walvoord, op. cit., 110:193-205; Ryrie, op. cit., pp. 105-25.
16. Allis, op. cit., p. 154.
17. Walvoord, op. cit., 110:201.
18. Chafer, op. cit., IV, 315.