From its opening to closing chapters, The Bible charts the relationship between The Creator and His Creation through a 'covenant' lens. This is a Book of The Covenant, revealing God's Heart as not only Creator, but Father. The Old Testament portion, in particular, traces God's efforts and man's reactions from his Creation through his Fall and subsequent, tragic journey of unbelief and rebellion. This is God's account of how man, exiled from Eden, has aspired to find his way back to the garden without success.
The key to The Bible is Covenant. God is Covenant-making + Covenant-keeping.
Man, however, is Covenant-breaking. This is the chief underlying factor in all that transpires throughout this historic chronicle. The Old Covenant records approximately 4000 years of man's futile attempts to make his own way, while simultaneously outlining God's singular path of true restoration. It not only exposes man's separation and inability to keep covenant, but reveals God's heart of faithful love to fulfill His part regardless of our failures and promises an unconditional New Covenant in His Messiah.
Man has instinctively perceived his separation as 2-fold: between himself + God and among men themselves. His search for reconciliation brought him to understand he could not effect this by himself and somehow blood was required to restore these severed relationships. Leviticus 17:11 reveals: 'the life is in the blood'. In Hebrew, 'bereeth' means 'to cut, compact, confederate; a league made by passing between pieces of flesh'. Something had to die to restore the life man had once possessed. Blood had to be shed to re-establish trust between God and men. As sin had turned Adam + Eve from life to death, so man instinctively understood he now required a life-substitute sacrifice to effectively turn his separation to restoration. His very life depended on right relationship: both with God + other men. 'Covenant' was essential in securing this confidence.
Adam broke God's original covenant and lost not only his relationship with God, but also his authority over all creation. When Adam fell, so all creation fell with him and the way was barred to The Tree of Life. Following generations manifested the evil fruit of their separation from God and reaped a Deluge with total destruction of all but 8 souls. But God spared Noah and his family and gave them a further covenant, signed with His rainbow, promising that He would never again destroy the earth in such manner.
Later, in the face of idolatry, God called Abram, himself a former idol-worshiper, to walk with Him. He promised him the land of Canaan, an heir and descendants from his own body, innumerable as the sand of the sea and stars of heaven. Abram 'believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.' (Gen 15:6)
God then 'cut covenant' with him, changed his name to Abraham (father of many nations) and made him a blessing to all the earth. Abraham was circumcised in his flesh together with Ishmael, his 1st-born, and all his house, but the covenant was spiritual through promise so when Isaac, the promised seed, was born, Ishmael was cast out. Natural flesh can neither satisfy God's heart nor inherit the kingdom. His choice is spiritual Seed.
Generations passed, and Abraham's seed migrated to Egypt with Jacob and Joseph. But God's promise stood and when it was time, approximately 400 years later, their covenant-keeping God raised up Moses to not only free a people from slavery, but birth Israel as a nation and destroy Egypt. Furthermore, he led Israel to Sinai to receive the Covenant, specifically 10 Commandments embodied in The Ark of The Covenant, housed in the Tabernacle's Holy of Holies, God's very dwelling in the centre of their camp. God desired fellowship with His people and gave them laws to teach them His ways so they might approach, worship and dwell with Him in holiness. But right from its inception, the law was unable to bridge this separation: even before Moses had come down from Sinai, Israel had already broken it! Consequently, Israel's history can be best understood in terms of their obedience or disobedience to this conditional covenant. Obedience brought blessing; disobedience yielded cursing and destruction. They were delivered from bondage, but unfortunately continually faltered through unbelief and never really enjoyed a sustained, free, covenant walk with God. Their first generation perished in the wilderness; Moses renewed the covenant with the next on the plains of Moab, but Deuteronomy's final song prophesied their eventual disobedience and destruction.
Joshua led them into the Promised Land, won many battles, and faithfully established them in God's ways, but Israel fell into a repeated cycle of blessing, sin, disobedience, idolatry, bondage, repentance and deliverance throughout the next 400 years of Judges. They cried for a leader: a king who would unite them and defeat their enemies so they might live in peace and prosperity. God and Samuel gave them their heart's desire. Saul, their first king, was unfaithful; but David was a man after God’s own heart and His Promised Seed narrowed from an entire nation to this man and his posterity.
God covenanted with David that he would not lack one to sit on the throne forever. His kingdom would be God's kingdom here on earth. Ultimately, the Messiah would come through David’s line to rule over not only Israel, but the entire world! David was not the Messiah; he was not even able to build the Temple, a permanent place for God's dwelling in Jerusalem. Nor was his natural son, Solomon. Nor any of his natural seed. The nation even divided into two. Israel proved themselves unwilling and unable to walk in God's covenant law. The covenant was broken and many times it appeared as if all hope was lost. But even at its darkest hour, as Jerusalem was besieged by Babylon, Jeremiah prophesied forgiveness: a New Covenant in the people's heart. (Jer 31:31-34)
Simultaneously, from among those already captive in Babylon, Ezekiel promised 'one heart and a new spirit within them, not a stony heart, but a heart of flesh.' (Ezek 11:19)
Then Daniel prophesied not only an end to exile, but God's supernatural kingdom to come in 70 Weeks (490 years) after 4 Gentile kingdoms – Babylon, Medes + Persians, Greece and Rome – had run their course. God never deviated from His Covenant and promised His Messiah would bring the long-awaited Covenant Kingdom into reality.
However, even with restoration to their land, city and temple, Israel again forsook their God! Freed from worshiping physical idols, they now re-fashioned His image with traditions and misinterpretations of God's Word. Malachi, the final Old Testament prophet, called them back to their God and His covenant, but then further promised,
'I will send you Elijah the prophet... he will turn the hearts of the fathers
to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.' (Mal 4:5-6)
The New Covenant reveals this promise fulfilled 400 years later when John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us: Jesus the Lamb + Son of God, the true King of Israel, Her Messiah! He alone was able to heal the past wrongs and wounds of both Israel and all mankind!
He alone is the Answer to the questions and cries from men's hearts over all the centuries. What the Law could never do, nor was ever meant to do, Jesus did!
The Law, our Old Testament and Covenant is also our schoolmaster to bring us: to Christ, the end of any trust in religious works and self-sufficiency; to Calvary's blood-soaked Cross, a new and living way; to Jesus, The Mediator of the new and better Covenant. (Heb 11:24)
IT'S ALL ABOUT JESUS!
Isaiah writes, 'Your ways are not my ways,' and continuing with the jigsaw puzzle metaphor, God's approach to life is also amazingly different from our natural ways. Rather than begin by joining edge and corner pieces first, His revelation of the mystery in life and the Bible can only be solved by starting right at the center:
the 1st piece is JESUS!
He is the Alpha + Omega! Jesus doesn't just finally show up 4000 years into the story, in the New Testament. He is present throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. It’s all about Him! He alone has the pre-eminence: the first place!
When He came to His own people, the Jews' spiritual leaders did not receive Him as their Messiah; they rather rejected Him. In effect they said, 'We have our doctrine of Messiah all figured out. Our box says the true Messiah would never heal on the Sabbath nor call God His Father. You do not fit our box and so you are not him!' Jesus' replied to these religious Pharisees: 'You search the Scriptures and in them you think you have life: but they testify of ME!' (Jn 5:39)
On Resurrection Day, Jesus joined two of His disciples on the Emmaus road. They were discouraged, walking in the wrong direction. When they should have been rejoicing, they were rather troubled and saddened by the day's events. Their misinterpretations (like ours today) led them to totally misunderstand the events, miss God’s way and arrive at negative conclusions. Jesus countered their doubts with the Old Testament Scripture:
'Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things? And then he expounded to
them in all the Law + Prophets the things concerning Himself.' (Luke 24:27,44)
It’s all about JESUS! He alone is our Beginning + Ending and challenges and changes everything in between! He is Genesis’ singular Tree of Life and Revelation’s forest on both sides of the river. He is all their Root, Fruit and Leaves for the healing of all nations! Revelation testifies Jesus is on the Throne and Ephesians teaches we are seated together with Him. When we truly walk 'looking unto Jesus, the Author + Finisher of Our Faith', life flows and the mystery becomes a revelation! What formerly didn’t fit, now finds its complement and fulfillment in Him, without our trying to force our way. It is finished! This is the New Beginning! Our lengthy struggle becomes a living Revelation of Jesus Christ: who He is and what He’s done, to us and through us, who we are and what we are called to be + do! He is our Content and we are his context for even greater works!