Images of the Savior (46 -- The Second Confirmation of the Covenant)
At the conclusion of the book of Deuteronomy, which has been a book marked by very many repetitions and second affirmations of things, there is also a second confirmation made of the Covenant which was originally confirmed on Mount Sinai, in Horeb (see Deuteronomy 29:1). On the occasion of this confirmation, Moses takes great pains to describe many notable things about this covenant, what benefits and advantages it holds forth, wherein it is essentially inadequate, and so on; and when he is coming to the climactic conclusion of his speech, he is very emphatic to drive home Christ to the people, that they might take comfort in the certain hope of his mercy, and not be overwhelmed by the strict demands of the Law. Let us look to the comforting words quoted above, to see how well they are designed to lead the children of Israel, who were under the Law, to Christ their Savior, who should free them from its demands and enable them to obey it; but first, we must notice a few significant things about the nature of this Covenant of Law that Moses is here confirming; for it may seem to many minds to be in such opposition to the gospel of Christ, that it is enigmatical or even impossible that it should at one and the same time hold him forth so freely to the people. But this is a confusion that we will certainly clear up, by the Spirit's illuminating grace.
Now, we admit that there is much about the Covenant of Law that makes it seem almost to be a repetition of the Covenant of Works, made with our first father Adam before his fall, by the terms of which it was told him, â€œIf you obey these commands perfectly, viz., to tend the garden and rule over the earth, and not at all to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then you shall live, and enjoy my presenceâ€. But Adam, having transgressed the Covenant, brought upon himself and his posterity a terrible curse, and eternal death. However, God in his grace immediately succored him with the promise of a Messiah, and so established with him a Covenant of Grace, in which free mercy was provided, through a mediator and guarantor who would fulfill God's Law by proxy, as a federal head and representative. Now, this promise was confirmed in various ways to the forefathers; but its great and crystallizing confirmation, which showed forth the gospel more clearly than ever before, and displayed the freeness of God's mercy in Christ, occurred in the establishment of the Covenant with Abraham.
Four hundred and thirty years after this establishment of the Abrahamic Covenant of free mercy, God enjoined another Covenant upon his people, which was characterized by a weighty and demanding Law, that cried out to the people, â€œthe man who does these things shall live by themâ€ (Leviticus 18:5); and elsewhere, â€œCursed be he who does not confirm the words of this Law, to do themâ€ (Deuteronomy 27:26). Now, this is very much like that first word to Adam, â€œIn the day you eat of it, you shall surely dieâ€ (Genesis 2:17). So in this sense, the Covenant of Law seems like a republication of the first Covenant of Works made with Adam.
But consider now: how can the Law, which came after the confirmation of the Covenant of Grace made with Abraham, negate its promises, or cast the people back upon a harsh dispensation they had perished under before? Certainly, God could not abnegate the Abrahamic Covenant, and so go backwards, as it were, in his redemptive plans; and so we must also recognize that the Sinaitic Covenant, although retaining much in common with the Covenant of Works, was nevertheless also a true Covenant of Grace in many respects, and so far from abrogating the Covenant made with Abraham, rather advanced upon it and took another step toward the New Covenant in Christ.
We may see at least three ways in which this is so: first, it is made on the basis of the Abrahamic promise, by the clear testimony of Moses (see Deuteronomy 29:10-13); and so it is a confirmation and advance upon that promise, and in continuity with it. Second, it contained very many promises and assurances of forgiveness, in the types of the sacrifices and priestly mediation, which the first covenant made with Adam before his fall never did; and so, on that point, it is very much different from the Covenant of Works. And third, it advanced God's redemptive plan in several notable ways, making a nation and a people out of Abraham's seed, which was a partial fulfillment of the promise he had sworn to him, giving a much clearer revelation of God, and a much fuller understanding of his moral Law, establishing a holy place where God's name and presence should dwell on earth, and other such things. So the Covenant here confirmed, although characterized by Law and in some ways similar to the Covenant of Works, is also in continuity with and an advance upon the Covenant of Grace first promised to Adam after his fall.
However, even though the Covenant of the Law was in some respects an advance upon the Covenant made with Abraham, it was also temporary and insufficient, and hence, inferior to that great Abrahamic promise which was said to be eternal and unchangeable. And on this occasion, Moses indicates the nature of this essential inferiority, summing it up in that phrase, â€œBut Yahweh has not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this dayâ€ (Deuteronomy 29:4). And so, immediately thereafter, he speaks of the curses that will all come upon Israel for their faithlessness, but then the blessings and mercies that should follow, when unlike this day, God will circumcise their hearts, to love God, and thus to live (Deuteronomy 30:6). In this way, he makes the Old Covenant inadequate, but looks forward to a New Covenant, which will fulfill the Abrahamic promises perfectly, and not just in shadow form as in the Covenant made on Sinai.
Why then would God make an imperfect and temporary Covenant of Law, which should not finally fulfill his promise of grace? We may give at least three reasons that it was right and profitable that he should do so: first, this covenant showed forth much more minutely the righteousness that the Christ should have to accomplish, in order to the fulfillment of the Covenant of Redemption he had entered into with the Father and upon which the final confirmation of the Covenant of Grace should be made to obtain. Insofar as the Sinaitic Covenant was in fact a Covenant of Works, it was a Covenant of Works made with the true Israel of God, the Messiah, and it showed forth just what he should do in order to win the people the Father had covenanted to give him, and to redeem them and save them. Second, it signified the work of Christ in many graphic and poignant ways. In all the feasts and sabbaths, the sacrifices and offerings, the works of the tabernacle and temple â€“ in all the things that for many hundreds of years shaped and defined the people of God, the Christ was visibly held forth and represented to the people in all his offices and works which he should undertake to accomplish. So then, this Covenant of Law, shadowy and temporary as it was, had a very notable work in signifying and teaching of Christ in great detail. Third and perhaps most notably, the Covenant of Law showed the people their helplessness and great need, and so taught them to yearn for and trust in the promised Christ (Galatians 3:21-4:11). When the people were alive, then the Law came and they died, so that they might be given life indeed in the Messiah (Romans 7:7-13).
The Covenant of Law, then, that Moses here confirmed to the people, had a notable, but largely negative function in preparing the way for Christ. Thus it is that, when Moses was confirming it again, lest its terrible and instructive demands should overwhelm the people, he leads them straight to Christ, as if to say, â€œYes, the Law does show your need for the Savior, but it also holds him forth to you, so that you might find rest and life very easily, if you but look to himâ€. This is what he is teaching in the passage we have referred to above, that is, in Deuteronomy 30:11-14. â€œYes, the Law is hard and weighty, but it is not beyond you,â€ Moses says, â€œas if you should need to cry out for someone to take it and accomplish it for you and enable you to hear and obey with hearts of faith; there is such a person already, who will go to the heights of heaven and the depths of the sea to accomplish the Law; and he is very near you, in your mouth and heart, so that you might take comfort in himâ€.
Now, in mentioning both heaven and the utter ends of the sea, which is often a picture of God's wrath, as was poignantly demonstrated in the crossing of the Red Sea by which Pharaoh was destroyed, and that after he had just spoken of the blessings and curses that the Law held forth; it is as if Moses were saying, â€œDo not think that you must long hopelessly for someone to obey the Law and make a way into heaven; and do not sigh and yearn for someone to take the fearful curses of the Law beyond the sea, and put them far from you; there is already someone to do these things, and he is as close to you as the first cry of repentance and faith. Yes,â€ Moses assures the people, â€œthe righteousness that the Law offers is beyond you, and so the life it promises is out of your grasp; but if you believe in someone who will go to heaven and hell to do it for you, it is near, and easy; and if you believe what I have just said, that someone will circumcise your heart, it will no longer be difficult for you, but resting in another, you will rejoice to obey the Lord your God. And can you not see him, this promised Redeemer?â€, it is as if Moses were so passionately insinuating; â€œHave I not set him so lucidly before you in all these types and ceremonies of the Covenant? So then,â€ he urges the people, proclaiming the same word of faith that Paul would later preach, â€œIf you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be savedâ€ (Romans 10:5-13).
Friends, that is the end and goal of this Covenant! The end of the Law is only Christ (Romans 10:4); and when we look to it, we see him clearly displayed and promised, and we see as well our own desperate need, so that we might be stirred up to flee to him, and find refuge for our souls. And once having done so, we will find him near, in our very hearts, changing us into people that are like him, who delight in the Law of God in our inward man. Ah, dear Christian, if you learn nothing else from this Covenant of Law, learn but this, to run to Christ for your eternal refuge and salvation!