A Covenant with Creation: Isaiah’s Reading of Genesis 1 and 2

Yesterday, I cited Willem Van Gemeren’s reading of Jeremiah 31 and 33 to argue for a covenantal reading of Genesis 1-2.  Today, I will cite his observations on Isaiah.  Van Gemeren writes,

Isaiah’s language of God’s covenantal commitment is a most important commentary on Genesis 1 and 2.  he uses words for creation (‘form,’ ‘make,’ ‘create’) not only to refer to God’s creative activities in forming the world but also to signify God’s election, grace, love, and loyalty to Israel.  The words for creation are, therefore, also covenantal terms” (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption63).

Van Gemeren seems to be picking up in the prophets (Jeremiah and Isaiah) the sense in which these biblical writers are understanding God’s role in creation as initiating a covenantal relationship.  In fact, in the same paragraph as the previous quotation, Van Gemeren observes, “An individual’s life in the presence of God is an expression of covenant (the technical term defining relationship between two or more parties)” (63).

For me, Jeremiah and Isaiah are two lines of evidence that I had not previously considered about reading a covenant in creation.  I think they are helpful, and show how Genesis 1-2 does include a covenant, something that the OT prophets (Hos 6:7) and NT apostles (cf. Rom 5:12ff) developed to help explain God’s relationship with the world.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Covenant with Creation: Jeremiah’s Reading of Genesis 1

There has been much discussion on whether or not Genesis 1 and 2 involve a covenant with Adam or with creation.  Scholars like Paul Williamson, Sealed with an Oathhave vehemently denied it; others like William Dumbrell, Creation and Covenanthave affirmed it. While the term “covenant” (berith) does not appear in Genesis 1-2, I am persuaded by a number of factors (e.g. the reference to a covenant with Adam in Hos 6:7; the implicit blessings and curses motif in Genesis 1-2, and the reference to ‘establishing’ a pre-existing covenant in Genesis 6-8) that there is a covenant with creation.

Another argument for such a covenant can be found in Jeremiah, where the post-exilic prophet grounds the new covenant in God’s covenantal relationship with creation.  Willem Van Gemeren’s explanation gets at the reasoning in Jeremiah.

“When Jeremiah refers to God’s covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth” (Jer 33:25), the term ‘covenant’ (berith) is parallel to ‘fixed laws’ (huqqot, Job 38:33; Jer 31:35; and huqqim, Jer 31:36).  For Jeremiah, God’s gracious and free relationship with heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, and the sea is evident by the regularity of day and night, the seasons, and the ebb and flow of the sea.  It is a picture of his special covenant relationship with his people.  Jeremiah argues that, since God keeps covenant with creation, he will even more surely take care of his covenant children (vv. 35-36; 33:25-26) and the descendents of David, to whom he also covenanted his fidelity (v. 26; cf. 2 Sam 7:15) (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 60).

What do you think?  Williamson and Dumbrell provide good reasons for and against the covenant in Genesis, but at the end of the day, I think the stronger case is made for a some sort of covenant in and/or with creation.  More on this on another day.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Self-Sacrificial Mission of the Law

We know that Christ was sent to earth to die for sinners.  The Bible is clear on that matter: For God so loved the world that he gave his only son (John 3:16)… But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under Law, so that he might redeem those who were under the Law (Gal 4:4-5)…In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that Godsent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9).

However, have you ever stopped to think about this fact: Long before Christ came and died on the cross, the law was sent with a similar terminal mission.  The law which points to Christ (John 5:39; Luke 24:27), was fulfilled by Christ (Matt 5:17), and which was in some sense terminated with Christ (Rom 10:4; Gal 2:18-20), had a similar self-sacrificial purpose.

Granted, the law is impersonal, but it is God’s very word–holy, true, and inspired.  For centuries, it was God’s abiding revelation among his covenant people.  The people of Israel prized it, protected it (most of the time), and passed it down from one generation to the next, because of its centrality in knowing and worshiping YHWH.

The Law, in and of itself, was never designed to save.  It does offer life upon the condition of perfect obedience (Lev 18:5), but as the prophets, and even the law itself indicates, perfection for Adam’s race and Abraham’s offspring is impossible.  Nevertheless, within the confines of redemptive history, it serves a necessary role to prepare the way for Jesus.  But from the beginning this role was restricted and designed to be temporary.  The law was sent to die!

Hear Richard Longenecker’s fourfold explanation of the laws ‘temporal’ function as he comments on Galatians 2:20:

(1) [I]t was the law’s purpose to bring about its own demise in legislating the lives of God’s people; (2) that such a jurisdictional demise was necessary in order that believers in Christ might live more fully in relationship with God; (3) that freedom from the law’s jurisdiction is demanded by the death of Christ on the cross; and (4) that by identification with Christ we experience the freedom from the law that [Christ] accomplished (Galatians in The Word Biblical Commentary [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990], 92).

It is amazing that in his sublime wisdom, God’s eternal word has a pre-engineered expiration date on the law.  An expiration date that does not make the law go bad like spoiled milk, but one that renders its function as covenantally inoperable.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ has fulfilled all the law and issued a new law–a law of faith and love (Rom 3:27 and Gal 5:4)– according to a superior covenant (Heb 8:6).   There is so much more to be said and savored on this matter, but let us with Paul offer praise to God for his inscrutible wisdom that upholds the law, all the while offering a better set of promises through the gospel of Christ.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Amen, dss