“I admit fully that man has many grand and noble faculties left about him, and that in arts and sciences and literature he shows immense capacity. But the fact still remains that in spiritual things he is utterly ‘dead’, and has no natural knowledge, or love, or fear of God. His best things are so interwoven and intermingled with corruption, that the contrast only brings out into sharper relief the truth and extent of the fall . That one and the same creature should be in some things so high and in others so low—so great and yet so little—so noble and yet so mean—so grand in his conception and execution of material things, and yet so grovelling and debased in his affections—that he should be able to plan and erect buildings like those of Carnac and Luxor in Egypt, and the Parthenon at Athens, and yet worship vile gods and goddesses, and birds, and beasts, and creeping things—that he should be able to produce tragedies like those of Æschylus and Sophocles, and histories like that of Thucydides, and yet be a slave to abominable vices like those described in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans—all this is a sore puzzle to those who sneer at ‘God’s Word written’, and scoff at us as ‘Bibliolaters’. But it is a knot that we can untie with the Bible in our hands. We can acknowledge that man has all the marks of a majestic temple about him—a temple in which God once dwelt, but a temple which is now in utter ruins—a temple in which a shattered window here, and a doorway there, and a column there, still give some faint idea of the magnificence of the original design, but a temple which from end to end has lost its glory and fallen from its high estate. And we say that nothing solves the complicated problem of man’s condition but the doctrine of original or birth-sin and the crushing effects of the fall.” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness
“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” —Deuteronomy 30:6
When—then, then—when, and in between the two thens, the heart of the passage, which is a passage about the heart. That’s the structure of our text. Antecedent, consequent, the heart, consequent, antecedent.
But as we begin to analyze the antecedent, it is critical that we determine if the antecedent is temporal or conditional. Is the antecedent an “if” or a “when?” Is this an if-then or a when-then statement? While there is indeed an “if-ness” that is sensed on the surface, it is the “when-ness” of this passage that is most pronounced. This passage is not so much telling us what should be, though it does speak to that, as it is telling us what will be.
The central portion of our text is made up of promises, the consequents. At the heart of these promises is a promise that stands out. It is a promise that meets the conditions necessary for all the other promises. If you just lump all the promises together, you have a chicken or the egg conundrum. It appears that the chicken is laying the egg that hatches the very same aforementioned chicken. When Israel returns to Yahweh and loves Him with all her heart and all her soul, then God will restore her. But then, we are told that Yahweh will circumcise the hearts of His people so that they love him with all their heart and all their soul. Here is a promise that meets the temporal conditions that result in the consequent blessings promised. Here is a promise that guarantees all the other promises. That is why we have a “when” instead of an “if.” God will give them a new heart. They will return. He will bless.
The Old Covenant is not identical to the New, but neither is it antithetical to it. The Old is not an administration of the New, but it does advance it. The Old holds forth the New in promise. The gospel flower of the New that comes into full bloom in Christ is held forth at this point by the stem of the law as a bud of promise. Everything about the Old shouts flower, but, again, it holds it forth as a bud of promise. It is with Christ that spring comes and the bud blooms. And with the budding flower, seed falls to the ground. And that seed does not return void. It accomplishes God’s purpose. It brings forth life. And that life is a new heart—anew heart that loves Yahweh with its all, that hears his voice, that obeys His commands.
“He that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness, must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high. A mistake here is most mischievous. Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption.
…Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies.” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8)
When critics try to take potshots at the Bible, our response shouldn’t be embarrassment, but laughter. What they thought was an easy hit, is miles off the mark. When they think they’ve blown a whole through the Bible, we snigger because we know the Bible is nowhere downrange of where they’re aiming.
Bible assassins will ridicule the injustice of the conquest of Canaan. They may compare this holy war to the Jihad of Islam. Or they might liken Israel’s actions to the Hutu genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda. The problem is that you can’t aim at such apples and think you’re hitting the Bible’s oranges.
When you read the Bible, you have to read it on its own terms. If it is what it says it is, it changes everything. The Bible says it is the word of God. The Bible says that this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel, is the Creator of all things and that He is sovereign. God plainly spells out the implications of this through the prophet Jeremiah. He is the Potter. We are the clay (Jeremiah 18). God is responsible for every pot made and for every pot smashed. He opens the womb. He closes the grave.
God is responsible for one hundred percent of all deaths all the time. Man may sin in taking a life, but God never sins in using one sinner to take another sinner’s life. Foundationally then, we must understand that the conquest of Canaan was not a matter of ethnic genocide nor the arrogance of one people thinking their religion superior to another’s. In the conquest of Canaan, the holy God of heaven brings righteous judgment to bear on a wicked people (Deuteronomy 7:1–2; 9:4–5).
Israel is to destroy, but they are to be a willing sword in the hand of their God. And God uses this sword against a people whose iniquity is now full (Genesis 15:16). The destruction of Sodom was a preview both of what the Canaanites were to become and what was to become of them as a result. Recall how Abraham pled for that city to be spared if there were found fifty, forty-five, thirty, twenty, even ten righteous souls therein. Lot would be rescued out of Sodom, but Sodom was not to be rescued. Her iniquity was full. the Judge of all the earth does not sweep away the righteous with the wicked. He does what is just (Genesis 18:23, 25). As Sodom was full, so now the land as a whole is full. The land is full of sinners who sin is full. Leviticus 18 speaks of the Canaanites so polluting the land that it vomits them out.
Alongside the critic, what we are often uncomfortable with isn’t the death itself, but the sword used. Such an objection fails to take into account the utterly unique position Israel then enjoyed. Israel was the only absolute theocracy that has or will exist as a geo-political state in this age. She was a rusty sword, but God personally forged her and owned her as His own. Her armies were His armies. These are the oranges you have to deal with.
But that these oranges are not being shot at is most apparent in this: God brings this judgment as mercy. The conquest of Canaan is an act of mercy towards Israel. Deuteronomy 9:4–5 explains,
“Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
D.A. Carson comments, “It may be true to say that the Israelites won because the Canaanites were so evil. It does not follow that the Canaanites lost because the Israelites were so good.” Here is where the real rub is. Why should Israel receive mercy and the Canaanites wrath? The funny thing about our cries of injustice are that what we are crying out against is mercy. I will agree that mercy is not fair. It’s merciful. As R.C. explains, mercy is in the category of non-justice, but it is not in the category of injustice. The Potter, Yahweh, has mercy on whom He will have mercy.
And this mercy toward Israel is for the purpose of God’s mercy toward the world. God promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The God who had His son Israel spill blood, did so only as part of a plan to have His eternal Son spill His own. Through the judgment of Canaan, God was bringing salvation to the world, just as by His judgment on the Son, He brought salvation, purchasing for Himself in mercy a bride from every people, tribe, and tongue. He will return to bring judgment in full, and in its wake, salvation in full, the inheritance of the meek, the earth made new.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” —Deuteronomy 5:6
Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The real division of the Bible is this: first, everything you get from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 3:14; then everything from Genesis 3:15 to the very end of the Bible.” Spot on, and yet, we must also say that here we come to another major dividing line, not simply within Scripture itself, but especially in the church. Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum state, “It is the interpretation of the relation of the old covenant to the new the is the basis of all the major divisions among Christians, i.e., all the denominational differences derive ultimately from different understandings of the covenant at Sinai to us today.” While I would argue that the differences between we Reformed Baptists and our Presbyterian brothers go all the way back to Genesis 3, it is here that they come to a head.
Also, it is here that we diverge sharply with our Dispensational friends. And the division is growing generally among Christians and Evangelical churches for whom the Old Testament, the Law, is avoided like the Judean wilderness. No one lives there anymore. It’s flyover territory. We may mine the OT for some illustrations and inspirational stories. We may rip some sentimental lines from the Psalms or grab a proverb or two when needed, but can we say with Psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It is my mediation all the day,” (Psalm 119:97).
I’m afraid that Andy Stanley’s asinine exhortation that the church needs to unhitch her faith from the Old Testament, though many reacted against it and Andy himself tried to walk it back, wasn’t really a needed exhortation. We largely are unhitched.
As for those of us who are hitched, or who wish to be, do we know what it is that we’re pulling? We know we’re hauling law, but do we recognize that the trailer itself on which the law rests is covenant? Further, do we realize that this covenant is one of redemption and grace? Hijacking Paul’s contrast of the Old and the New and driving it places he never intended, we pit the Old and the New against one another. Because we do, we now don’t know where we’re going. While we will largely still agree that the law is meant to drive us to grace, we’ve forgotten that grace also leads us back to the law.
Additionally, because we don’t know the Old, our supposed knowledge of the New is hollowed out. We’ve lost the plot, the background, the anticipations, the images, the shadows, the promises, the types, and the covenant soil out of which the New Covenant blooms. In short, we’ve become strangers to the covenants of promise.
“Take the argument about the terms that the modern man does not understand, the words ‘justification’, ‘sanctification’, and so on. I want to ask a question: When did the ordinary man ever understand those terms? I am told the modern Teddy boy does not understand them. But consider the colliers to whom John Wesley and George Whitfield used to preach in the eighteenth century. Did they understand them? They had not even been to a day school, an elementary school. They could not read, they could not write…
Yet we are told, It must be put in such simple terms and language that anybody taking it up and reading it is going to understand all about it. My friends, this is nothing but sheer nonsense! What we must do is to educate the masses of the people up to the Bible, not bring the Bible down to their level. One of the greatest troubles in life today is that everything is being brought down to the same level; everything is being cheapened. The common man is made the standard and the authority; he decides everything, and everything has got to be brought down to him. You are getting it on your wireless, your television, in your newspapers; everywhere standards are coming down and down. Are we to do this with the Word of God? I say, No! What has always happened in the past has been this: an ignorant, illiterate people in this country and in foreign countries, coming into salvation, have been educated up to the Book and have begun to understand it, and to glory in it, and to praise God for it. I am here to say that we need to do the same at this present time.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times
“Let me summarize all that I have been trying to say to you thus. If you want to be able ministers of the gospel, if you want to present the truth in the right and only true way, you must be constant students of the Word of God, you must read it without ceasing. You must read all good books that will assist you to understand it, and the best commentaries you can find on the Bible. You must read what I would call biblical theology, the explanation of the great doctrines of the New Testament, so that you may come to understand them more and more clearly, and may therefore be able to present them with ever increasing clarity to those who come to listen to you. The work of the ministry does not consist merely in giving our own personal experience, or talking about our own lives or the lives of others, but in presenting the truth of God in as simple and clear a manner as possible. And the way to do that is to study the Word and anything and everything which aids us in that supreme task.
You may say to me: Who is sufficient for these things? We have other things to do; we are busy men. How can we do this which you have asked us to do? My reply is that none of us is sufficient for these things, but God can enable us to do them if we are really anxious thus to serve Him. I am not much impressed by these arguments that you are busy men, that you have much to do in the world and therefore have no time to read these books on the Bible and to study theology. and for this good reason: that some of the best theologians I have met, some of the most saintly, some of the most learned men, have had to work very much harder than any of you, and at the same time have been denied the advantages that you have enjoyed. ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way.’ If you and I are concerned about lost souls, we must never plead that we have no time to equip ourselves for this great ministry; we must make the time. We must equip ourselves for the task, realizing the serious and terrible responsibility of the work. We must learn, and labour, and sweat, and pray in order that we may know the truth ever more and more perfectly. We must put into practice in our own lives the words to be found in I Timothy 4:12-16. God grant us the grace and the power to do so, to the honour and glory of His holy name.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” —Genesis 17:1–2
When the covenant was cut with Abram in Genesis 15, God walked it alone. Concerning the covenant promises, Abram had asked God, “How shall I know…?” (Genesis 15:8). God instructed Abram to bring him several animals. Abram cut them in half and laid the pieces opposite one another. Manifest as something like a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, God passes between the pieces. Normally, when a covenant was made, both parties would walk through the pieces, pledging covenant loyalty and invoking a curse on themselves should they fail to keep covenant. But God walked it alone.
In Genesis 12, Abram walks, leaving Haran to journey to the land God would show him. In Genesis 17, Abraham walks before God, keeping covenant, circumcising all the males in his household. Between Abraham’s two walkings, God walks it alone. and it is there, in Genesis 15, where Abram does nothing but believe God’s word, that we are told, “he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
Paul makes a big deal of this order in Romans 4 telling us that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:11–12; emphasis mine). The order is critical. It is an order one must keep in mind when they read “walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1–2; emphasis mine).
Before the sign, the signified. God circumcises before Abraham does. There is a circumcision without which circumcision means nothing. Because God walked it alone, Abraham walks. His covenant faithfulness ensures ours.
Saints, Jesus walked it alone. He walked before God all His days to be your righteousness. He walked to the cross to bear the wrath of the Almighty for your sin. He walked out of the tomb conquering death and Satan. Because He walked it alone, you walk in Him. Because He died and rose, you have died and risen and may be baptized. Because He circumcised your heart, you may love. Because of His covenant faithfulness you may keep covenant.
“Go back to the Old Testament. We find Moses leading those grumbling, recalcitrant children of Israel. They come to him one day and say: ‘There is no water here; have you brought us out of Egypt in order that we may die of thirst here in the wilderness? There is no water; everything is as dry as a bone; what can we do?’ And God told Moses to strike a rock, informing him that when he did so water would come pouring out of it. Now there lies the predicament. Moses was a man, and though he was a very good man he knows that if he strikes rocks nothing will happen. He may have struck many a rock but no water had come gushing out. But here he is told that if he strikes a certain rock with his rod water will come gushing out of it. That constitutes the whole predicament of faith. That is exactly the position of all of us as we stand face to face with the command: ‘Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might’. ‘But who am I?’ you say. ‘I am just a weakling. What is the use of telling me to be strong?’ The answer is this. Moses in faith took his rod and he smote, he struck, the rock; and out of it came the water gushing forth. It was not Moses’ power, but it was his arm and it was his rod. Moses did not just stand by and see the water gushing out. Moses had to lift up his arm and he had to strike, to smite, that rock. But as he did so the power was given to him, and the water came gushing out of the rock. There you see the two elements in this matter. You see the activity of the man, but you see that the power is given to him by God. It was not Moses—Moses lacked the power to do such things. But Moses was given the power to do them. The two things come together. But the point I am emphasizing now is that Moses, if he had hesitated there, and had done nothing, would not have seen this marvellous miracle; but by acting he discovered that the power was given. He ‘tasted’ and he ‘saw’! That is the way in which it happens.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier
“And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’
And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’
Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’
And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” —Genesis 15:4-6
When all you have is God’s covenant word, you already have all you need. Twice Yahweh comes to Abram repeating His covenant promises (15:1, 7). Twice Abram replies with a lament of faith mingled with doubt.
“O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?…
O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (Genesis 15:2, 8; emphasis mine).
“What will you give?” While Yahweh does lead Abram to look at the stars, these simply serve as an illustration of the Word. When Abram doubts the Word, Yahweh gives him the Word. Abram has nothing more in his hand, but the Word is once again laid on his heart.
“How am I to know?” While Yahweh does formally establish a covenant with Abram at this juncture, nothing of the promise is realized. This covenant act is simply one reinforcing the covenant promises already made. God has spoken. Now He speaks louder as it were, still, this covenant act is essentially the promise spoken again. God had spoken. It will certainly be. He speaks again in this act to emphasize to Abram the certainty of His promise. When Abram doubts the Word, God still essentially gives him the Word.
All the days of our pilgrimage, the fullness of the promise will ultimately lie ahead of us. All the days of our pilgrimage, we will have nothing but the Word, sacraments, and our Lord’s covenant presence with us as His people. This is all we need. As we sojourn, as far as the promise of full and final deliverance from sin and of a land not marred by its curse, we have nothing but the Word. And in this, we have all that we need, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. When you doubt the Word, cry out to your covenant Lord, that by His Spirit, He would minister the word of Christ to you afresh.
What has he given? He has given us Christ. He has given us His Word testifying of Christ.
How are we to know? He has given us Christ. He has given us His Word testifying of Christ.