"Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;" Romans 9:4
Moving on down through the Romans 9:4 list we arrive at ‘covenants’. By my count, there are seven of these agreements between God and the nation. Some of these covenants are conditional, and some are not, as we will detail here shortly, and a careful student of the Bible will acknowledge the particulars of these covenants as carefully as he would read the ‘fine print’ of a contract.
Covenant #1- The Land
The great promise of the Bible, aside from the promise of the seed of the woman, is the promise of Genesis 15:18. It is an unconditional covenant that God makes with Abraham that his descendants will always have a place to live on the earth. This land grant is a real physical piece of property, with borders spelled out in Genesis 15. 1 Chron. 16;15-18 says “Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations; Even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac; And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant, Saying , Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance;“ Leviticus 26: 42-45 reiterates that, no matter how little they deserve it, God will honor his word. “Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember ; and I will remember the land. The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes. And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies , I will not cast them away , neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly , and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.” That promise is so large in scope and such a part of world history, that we will be revisiting this in detail as we move through the promises, but suffice to say that, from God’s perspective, the ownership of the land and the freedom to live there were two different issues. The land is theirs whether they are actually living there or not, as it is an unconditional promise, but there were stipulations for actually being able to use and enjoy their inheritance. This promise is also the pivot point for most of the promises that follow since most of them are only applicable when the Hebrew people are “in the land”.
Covenant #2-A Seed
This covenant, also unconditional was made with Abraham and renewed with Isaac in Gen 17:2. No matter what the world may do to them, the seed of Abraham cannot be wiped out. The family tree of Abraham will always bear fruit, and it’s that promise that has saved them from extinction. Pharaoh drowned their babies and yet they prevailed. Herod tried the same tactic to get rid of the Messiah and failed. Hitler gassed them and put them in ovens by the millions, but he couldn’t get rid of them. History is full of ethnic groups that endured far less affliction and were either slaughtered or bred out of existence, but not so with the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It’s an everlasting covenant that eventually produced their Messiah, fulfilling the promise of Gen 3:15. The covenant also extends out past the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, and into the future.
Covenant #3-The Sabbath
It is intriguing to the author that the Gentiles seem so intent on being part of this particular covenant, when it only puts an unscriptural burden on them and is not connected to any promise given to New Testament believers. The 7th day Adventist will run you to Matt 5:17-19 and then tie it to 1 John 2:3 and Ezek 20:20. The modern-day Sabbath observer (who in practice only observes part of the Sabbath) will make the case from those scriptures that Sabbath-observing is a legitimate New Testament practice and some will even say that a failure to observe the Sabbath proves you aren’t saved. But a closer look will disavow us of this notion.
In Exodus 31:13-17, the Bible says “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying , Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep : for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death : for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done ; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death . Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested , and was refreshed .”
The Sabbath was a sign, and specifically a sign unto Israel as a nation. Unless you’ve ever had manna land in your front yard, that verse isn’t written to you. It is the sign of an everlasting covenant according to Lev 24:8. This was not merely God’s admonition to ‘take a day off’ or a day to ‘honor God by going to the church of your choice’. A man could be killed for picking up sticks on the Sabbath or kindling a fire. It was extraordinarily serious business with God. Failure to observe Sabbaths as a nation led to slavery in Babylon. The covenant was a promise of a day in which their Messiah would take them unto himself and fulfill the promises he made to Abraham ( Heb 4:1). They were to observe this day of rest as a reminder to them as a people of the period of rest yet to come.
Since God ties the Sabbath to the creation week, it behooves us to take a look at the creation week before moving on. In Genesis 2:14-16, the Bible says “And God said , Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.”
According to the Bible, the lights in the firmament of the heaven have 3 functions. One is to divide the day from the night. One is to be for signs, seasons, days and years. One is give light upon the earth.
This is the only part of the creation week that takes place off of the surface of the earth. It’s also the only part of his creation that is assigned some sort of time-marking duty. The trees are never told they would be a sign for anything, the ocean was never told that it would be used to mark off years.
Well we do know a couple of things. For example in 2 Peter 3:8 it says: “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” We also know that at the end of time as we understand it, there will be a 1000 year reign of Christ. (Rev 20:4). This period is described as a period of ‘rest’ for Israel (Is 14:3) In addition, God tells Israel during this time that they will be the head of all nations ( Deut 28:13, Ps 18:43).
God rested on the seventh day, (which would be Saturday, not Sunday) and “sanctified it”. Much has been made of sanctification, but simply put, to sanctify something is to designate it for a particular purpose. I have a hoe that I have sanctified for use in the garden. I don’t use it to shoot pool or as a pogo stick. I didn’t do anything magical or mystical to it; I simply sanctified it. Armed with this definition, we can see that, back in Genesis God rested, but he didn’t tell anyone else to rest. There is nothing in scripture to indicate that Adam, or Abel, or Noah or even Abraham ever observed the Sabbath. Neither Isaac, nor Jacob, nor any of the entire generation that went into Egypt, as far as we can tell, observed the Sabbath. No one is told to observe the Sabbath, and nobody is penalized for failure to observe the Sabbath, until Exodus 20 when the newly formed nation is still fresh out of Egypt.
Not only was that promise not given to me as a Gentile, I didn’t inherit that promise when I received Christ. Nowhere is the church commanded to observe the Sabbath, and nowhere in Scripture does Sunday become the ‘new Sabbath’. As a matter of fact, Romans 8:2 and Galatians 5:1 indicate that I am free from all the trappings of the Old Testament law.
The last mention of the Sabbath in your Bible is in Col 2:16 when the commandment is to let no man judge you regarding your Sabbath observance.
In Exodus 34:10, the Bible says “And he said , Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels , such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.“ God used signs to communicate with the Hebrew people, which explains the importance of 1 Cor 1:22: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:”. Gentiles may prefer a sign, but the Jews require it. Moses performed signs before the people so that they would know he was from God. Elijah and Elisha both performed signs and wonders to prove they were from God. Then after 400 years of silence from God, Jesus Christ (who cited Moses and Elijah) shows up performing signs and wonders. This covenant of signs and marvels becomes especially interesting when we look to the future and God’s dealings with Israel.
Covenant #5-The Law
According to Romans 1, the Gentiles have the law of God written on their hearts, but the only nation on earth to receive direct written revelation and laws from God are the Hebrew people. When God wrote with his finger on tablets of stone, there was only one family present; the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Exodus 34:27 reads “And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. “
What follows is literally hundreds of rules and regulations that nobody else on earth received. The larger purpose of these rules will be covered later.
Covenant #6-The Priesthood
Numbers 25:11-13 says “Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Wherefore say , Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.”
I feel I must be honest here and say that many of the implications of this particular covenant may be outside my understanding. It appears that God is promising to always have a priesthood and that priesthood will always contain the descendants of Phinehas. It is an everlasting covenant and appears to be based, not on what future descendants of Phinehas will do, but what their patriarch already did.
As I speak, there is no Levitical priesthood, along with no temple and I personally don’t know any of Phinehas’s kin, so my best educated guess is that on the earth right now his descendants are still around and will someday be reassigned back to the job their ancestors had. I see no way you can make a modern day church member one of Phinehas’s family. The text simply does not allow it.
Covenant #7-David’s Covenant
2 Chronicles 21:7 spells it out this way “Howbeit the LORD would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and as he promised to give a light to him and to his sons for ever.” Psalm 89:3-4 says “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. Selah.” Verses 34-37 of the same chapter really nail it down, saying “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. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah”
No other ruler in history received such a promise. No king, president or premier has ever been promised by God that one of their descendants would always be in power, with the promise being backed up by God’s holiness. This is a very specific promise that it would be David’s throne occupied, not some throne in heaven. Here we run into an interesting problem though; there are currently not any of David’s descendants sitting on a throne in Jerusalem. In fact, by the time of Jesus’ birth, the kingly line had fallen to decay and then foreign subjugation. The only way this promise could come true is if God intends to revisits the house of David and re-establish that throne at some point in the future, essentially picking up where he left off.