What Will You Give? How Am I to Know? (Genesis 15:1–21)

“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.

Uncommonly Common (Genesis 8:20–9:17)

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. —Genesis 9:12–15

Everyday of humanity’s existence is full of complaint at the curse come for man’s violating the covenant of creation while little gratitude is shown for God’s faithfulness to the Noahic covenant that preserves creation despite our unceasing sinfulness. We complain of the curse we have merited and offer no thanks for the faithfulness of God in relation to the rainbow that hangs in the sky.

The Noahic covenant might be the most unappreciated of covenants by those bound by it. At least mankind acknowledges the covenant of creation in a sense by his grumbling at its enduring curse. But the common grace that rains down on all man in the Noahic covenant is unacknowledged. It is assumed. It is too common to treat God’s common grace as a common thing. It is not.

All that is, is now, because God remains faithful to this covenant. Even among the saints this covenant is neglected. We study the others. That’s where the controversy and interest is. But among orthodox theologians, everyone agrees for the most part on the substance of the Noahic covenant. Ho hum. So common.

We are the poorer for our lack of attention to this covenant of common grace, this covenant of preservation. Brown and Keele write, 

“At the end of God’s multi-colored bow rests a theological pot of gold. The Lord’s promise not to destroy the world is a covenant, with an integral place in Reformed theology. The Noahic covenant is the covenant of common grace, the realm of our everyday lives under the sun. Its theological significance extends in several directions. It broadcasts how God governs this world and its goodness. It discloses some of man’s obligations and roles in the world, and it even points us to Christ. The Noahic covenant is crucial to a biblical understanding of the world and is a necessary part of covenant theology.”

God’s common grace is comely. It is surprising and stunning. His common grace is uncommonly wondrous. It doesn’t save, but it does preserve. Without this preservation of humanity there would be no humanity to save. Let’s not fail to gaze upon God’s bow hung in the sky and wonder at the rich colors of this covenant with all its blessings of common grace upon creation fallen under the curse for man’s disobedience.

Cutting the Covenants (Genesis 3:14–21)

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, 
      and between your offspring and her offspring; 
he shall bruise your head, 
      and you shall bruise his heel.”

—Genesis 3:15

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said “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.” Not only is this spot the critical point at which history is divided, it is also the point at which the two main branches of covenant theologians part: credobaptists and paedobaptists. So sharp is the division, that some of my paedo brothers would snicker at me thinking myself a reformed or covenant theologian at all. That’s ok. I’ll make my jokes too. Hang around.

Historically, the fundamental parting point between the two isn’t any text dealing specifically with baptism, but in how we understand what is called the “Covenant of Grace.” The Second London Baptist Confession (LCF), also known as the 1689 Baptist Confession, is a revision of the Westminster Confession (WCF). This speaks to the great affinity we have with our Presbyterian brothers. But in examining chapter 7 of each of these confessions, French Baptist theologian Pascal Denault says, “This is the most discordant passage of the confessions of faith. Knowing that the Baptists made every effort to follow the Westminster standards as much as possible when they wrote their confession of faith, the originality of their formulation of the Covenant of Grace is highly significant.” Where chapter 7 of the WCF has seven articles, the LCF has only three. And even where the LCF follows the WCF in form, the content is significantly different. For instance, WCF 7.5 reads, 

“This covenant [referred to as the “covenant of grace” in the previous article] was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.”

The next section, after speaking of the fulness that comes in gospel and Christ, goes on to state, “There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.” In contrast, the LCF 7.3 reads, 

“This covenant [again previously identified as “the covenant of grace”] is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.”

Our Baptists forefathers didn’t want to speak of there being one covenant with two administrations, but rather, one covenant that is progressively revealed, and further, it is first revealed as a promise. And surprisingly and beautifully, that promise is housed in a curse under the arrangement of the covenant of creation.

I’ve made the statement that while our presbyterian brothers can get too crazy with the glue, we baptists can get too excited with the scissors. Nonetheless, I believe we Baptists are a bit more mature in our use of the scissors. If my presbyterian brothers are like third graders with the paste here and there, we baptists are like fifth graders with the scissors. But we can’t really boast, because what we are cutting away from is a masterpiece of their making. A savant of a third grader made the masterpiece, but then added some silly little bit. It’s like the Mona Lisa, but with a little Superman flying in the corner. All we fifth graders did was cut away that last little bit and make it better. You’re welcome. Semper Reformanda!

Yet, being fifth graders, we must admit there is room for improvement. May I be so bold as to presume to take the scissors to both the 2nd London and the Westminster confessions? I do so with confidence that Scripture demands it and because the best Baptist explanations, in my opinion, demand such a change. 

I don’t think we should speak of a covenant of grace as being “made” at all anywhere in the Old Testament, as both the WCF and LCF do just prior to these statements (WCF 7.3; LCF 7.2). Instead, I would propose we say that the New Covenant itself was promised in Genesis 3. It is a potent promise to be sure, but only a promise at this point. The New Covenant isn’t covertly established here or there in the Old under an alias only to throw off the disguise in the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ. The New Covenant isn’t made or established at this point, it is promised, and that promise continues to expand and be clarified through each successive covenant.

And it is here where I think our Baptist forefathers got a bit wild with the scissors. Again, WCF 7.5 speaks of the covenant of grace being administered in the time of the law by “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore signifying Christ to come.” While I would never want to speak of the Old Covenant as being an administration of the Covenant of Grace, I do believe we must say that it, along with the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, do minister the New Covenant. They minister it as a promise held out within them. The covenants of old are not themselves administrations of the new, but they do minister the new in promise. This is why Ephesians 2:12 speaks of them as “covenants of promise.” This is why the New Covenant is new! Because in it, what was promised is now established by the shed blood of Christ. We must cut the covenants realizing that covenants are cut. The cutting that establishes the New Covenant is the blood of Christ. 

“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:15–22).

Yes, But What Kind of Relationship? (Genesis 1:26–31; 2:5–17)

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” —Genesis 2:16–17

“Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship,” so many an evangelical says. Ok, but what kind of relationship is it? It is a covenantal one. The saint’s relationship to God is a covenantal relationship and because that is so, we may say it is a religious relationship, for covenants involve oaths, vows, commandments, and sacrifices.

Also, insofar as we say Christianity is a relationship, that alone doesn’t make the Christian distinct from any other man. All men relate to God covenantally. The question isn’t whether or not you have a relationship with God, but what kind of relationship it is? Do you relate to God in Adam, under the covenant of creation, as one cursed, or, do you relate to God in Christ, under the new covenant, as one blessed?

As man fell in Adam, so He is redeemed in Christ. Man fell covenantally. He is redeemed covenantally. Both Adam and Christ function as covenant heads. A study of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 makes this clear and proves illuminating for Genesis 1 and 2. As Adam’s disobedience condemns, so Christ’s obedience justifies. In Adam we see the old humanity, fallen. In Christ we see a new humanity, raised up.

We call this covenant made with Adam the covenant of creation or the covenant of works and it is still in effect; not with promise, but with condemnation. It is in effect on all humanity as violated in Adam. When God makes a covenant, He makes it for keeps. His yes is yes and His no is no. He doesn’t make covenants lightly to break them once man has broken them. Left to himself, this is where man is, covenantally in Adam.

If you think you got a bad rep in Adam consider two things. First, how many times have you proven that Adam represented you well? You are no fine red citizen with an immoral blue representative. Second, if you are to have any hope of salvation, you want it so that another can rep you as your federal head. You are saved in a sense by the covenant of works. Saints, we are saved by works. They’re just not our own. Jesus bore the curse of God for our law breaking and He obeyed the Father perfectly in our place meriting our salvation that we might be clothed with His righteousness. He is the second Adam, the head of a new humanity.

And blessed be our God, things are now far better for us in Christ than they ever could have been in Adam. In Christ, we are not simply made in the image of God; we are being conformed to image of the Son. In Adam, there is the possibility of falling; in Christ, there is the assurance we never will. In Adam, the creation under man’s feet was under threat of a possible curse. In Christ, all is made new, and eternally glorious.

No Longer Strangers (Ephesians 2:11–13)

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

—Ephesians 2:11–12

Why study the covenants? Saints, because they’re ours. Your Bible is divided up into an Old Testament and a New Testament. “Testament” is an unfortunate though understandable rendering. “Covenant” is the idea. Old Covenant. New Covenant. That’s your Bible.

It is true that these labels are man made, but they are goodun’s. Read Hebrews again if you doubt that. If you don’t doubt it, then you can reach this conclusion: you cannot understand your Bible if you do not understand covenant. “Covenant” is like the spine of your Bible holding all its pages together. The Bible is thoroughly covenantal. The covenants are yours the way the Bible is yours. Because the Bible itself is covenantal through and through and because the covenants are yours, the Bible is yours.

There are many who would dispute this. Dispensationalist Bibles have weak spines. When you pick up a Scofield or Ryrie study Bible, a lot of stuff falls out. Dispensationalism has been the majority report within Evangelicalism since shortly after J.N. Darby planted the invasive seeds of it in the mid 19th century. Dispensationalism basically sorts all the Bible into one of two boxes labeled “Ethnic Israel” and “Spiritual Church.” Sure, upon close examination they say there are seven boxes in total, but those others are more like jewelry boxes whereas these two are shipping containers. Progressive dispensationalists allow some things to go into both boxes, but for the classic guys like Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, those boxes didn’t leak. Regardless, in both schemes, progressive and classic, there are two distinct plans, one for ethnic Israel, one for the church. The people of God are divided, and thus, so too is the Bible.

But what God has joined together, let not man separate. Two have become one, Jew and Gentile are made a new humanity, a singular people in Christ. All that was foreshadowed in the Old Covenant, the saints enjoy in fulness. Abraham is ours. Our hearts have been circumcised. The blood of the Passover Lamb marks us. We draw near to the most holy place coming to a throne of Grace. We are part of the true Exodus. Like the patriarchs, we are exiles looking for that city whose builder and maker is God. We are heirs according to the promise—the promise made in the Old Testament.

Let us not be strangers to what we are no longer strangers to—the covenants of promise. The covenants (plural) promised (singular) the Christ. In Christ, all of God’s promises are yes to His people, and by His blood, we are part of that people.