The Covenants and the Prophets

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Reformed Roman

Puritan Board Freshman
I wanted to gather some thoughts on the Covenants of God and the prophets.

I've heard it said that Prophets were declaring judgment on God's people for breaking the covenant they made with God. My question is, what covenant? Would this be the covenant made with Adam, the Sinai Covenant, or both?

I know some people argue that the Sinai Covenant is a republication of the Covenant of Works (fulfilled by Christ) while some argue that it is simply a Covenant of Grace from start to finish.

But when I hear the rebukes of God's people in scripture, it doesn't seem to point to the general idea that man is falling away from God's commands, but that they are specifically breaking the law laid out in the 10 commandments, and worshipping other God's, which leads me to think of the Mosaic Covenant as more of a republication of the Covenant of Works.

I admit this is one area I'm not an extreme scholar in, and an area that I need to be! So I'm just looking for some insight on the rebukes and the judgment laid down by the major and minor prophets, and how they relate to the covenant of works.


Puritanboard Amanuensis
Sinai makes the most sense. If the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were unilateral, then God himself fulfills the conditions.

Reformed Roman

Puritan Board Freshman
I would argue that God fulfills the conditions of Sinai technically as well, and did through the perfect obedience of Christ. Still, conditions were laid out and seemed to be expected even if Christ later fulfilled them.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Quite right, it is the Sinai covenant. The people (as a whole, as one body) were subject to the justly imposed sanctions contained in the covenant to which they were sworn. Even after so long time, and many generations, the people having accepted and adopted the covenant as an inheritance, and eager to exploit the blessings of their patrimony, were bound to the judgments of it as well.

It is quite clear from the Book of the Covenant, Ex.20:23-23:20 (first at Ex.21:12) that individual transgressors of the covenant faced up to the extreme measure of removal from the body, see Ex.31:14 for two expressions, execution and expulsion; and notably in connection to the Sabbath.

The idea of covenant sanctions against the entire body is not immediately verbally attached to the making of the covenant. It is as if the thought never occurred to God to warn the full nation of such a threat. However, the golden-calf incident (Ex.32) proved the danger of this very thing. God's divine fury, his stated intent to destroy the nation and start over with Moses (vv7-10), is no idle declaration.

It is the Lord's ultimate intent to draw out of Moses the intercession necessary for sparing the people their justice; but absent that, his willingness to reject the body for their repudiation of the covenant terms sworn must be recognized. And this, in spite of the fact that no general sanctions were part of the text of the Book of the Covenant or noted in the formal oath, 24:3.

What we find is that Moses coming down from the Mt.Sinai a second time, Ex.34, when we hear his first words of exposition, 35:1-2, again referring to the Sabbath, they start by rehearsing the most explicit personal warning first delivered in the worship-addendum (Ex.25:2-31:17) to the Book of the Covenant. We then go to Lev.26 to discover the text proclaiming the public, body-wide sanctions for both obedience to and violation of the covenant. It can't be accidental that the first words (vv1-2) bring up reverence for the national Sabbaths. The corporate penalties are laid forth from v14-v39.

Lev.26:46 says that these articles belong to the "statutes and judgments and laws which the LORD made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai by the hand of Moses." So, I am sure that Moses included these articles in his regular expositions (Ex.34:34). Thus, as Israel the body was resumed to the covenant (Ex.34:27), they had delivered to them a full transcript of the woes which should be assigned in the day they were found guilty (convicted of) unfaithfulness.

Dt.27 contains the agenda for a covenant-witness that was to take place on entry to the land (see Jos.8:30-35). The people were that day to curse the individual violaters of the covenant, vv15-26. Dt.28 then contains Moses' final exposition of the Lev.26 sanctions, first the blessings then the destruction--the latter being by far the longer portion, vv15-68.

Dt.29 then connects individual judgments with a corporate warning. The implication was clear: if the people should fail to police the individual who put himself under the LORD's curse, vv20-21; iniquity would overtake the body. And this is what took place. Long afterward, Jer.7:25 describes the patience of the LORD in repeatedly calling the nation back to him by the mouths of the prophets (the LORD's spokesmen, cf. Jer.7:13), but to no avail.

A pattern emerges in the writing prophets, a "covenant lawsuit," for the purpose of convicting the people as a whole for their unfaithfulness. As with all "church discipline," the fundamental goal is repentance and restoration. However, men act only on the historic conditions presented to them. They act on the basis of what is visible, and what is current; they do not know "the secret things" (Dt.29:29) and the future things.

So, in terms of what Sinai represents, we must take two aspects into account. Which shall be first? I choose for the first: the individual. This is where the notion Covenant of Grace is what is proper to a true engagement with the covenant. For an individual to engage with Sinai as if it was by works he gained and kept his relationship with God, would be to secure his failure and loss. Even in terms of the penalties of the law, one might fall under its sanction but still find heaven's mercy. The severity of the body against him was not so personal but legal, according to what was visible.

In terms of the corporate aspect, the body acted for or against its members not in terms of grace, but of law. This does not mean the body (or the head) never showed mercy, but the standard engagement of the body to its membership had to be visible, present-oriented. It had to be consequential. So also, by comparison it was fitting for the divine King or Head also to treat His body in consequential terms. Ultimately, strict treatment of the body was for the preservation of a remnant of that body, sufficient individual members constituting a recognizable body to continue its existence.

This is what it means, then, that the nation as a body be judged as if by a Covenant of Works. The corporate whole has a sign to fulfill. The nation of men must fail (as did Adam), and be judged (as was Adam); leaving but One Man, an Israel of One, the Seed of Promise, to do ALL for the members (one by one and all together) who otherwise fail. All by himself, he bears up under the weight of the full demands of every minute legal requirement, and so fulfills the expectations of the original (Edenic) Covenant of Works; as well as the "unbearable yoke" (Act.15:10) of Sinai. For him it is works, and for them--those united to him--it is the fulfillment of grace.

The body is borne by the Head, not the Head by the body. If it is left to the body to uplift the Head, the body will never rise. It stumbles and falls, and remains where it lies, Ecc.11:3. The lesson was there for Israel to grasp in Exodus right at the beginning. Not only was Israel graciously redeemed out of Egypt, nothing deserving; when they had sworn to the Covenant (all that the LORD says we will do), and had turned aside in toto while still camped below the smoke and noise of Horeb's height, they were spared destruction because of divine grace, because of the mediation of their head (Moses).

The reason why the body needs a head is because a weak body succumbs invariably without it. Each member is weak, and the whole is finally no stronger all together. Israel over its OT generations could not get by without a head; and the imperfect heads they looked to only had them begging for one that was ideal. The prophets imposed the sentence for the body's guilt; even as they continued to point individual members to a future Head and Hope (Act.28:20).


Puritan Board Sophomore
It was the covenant of grace; specifically, the OT administration of the covenant of grace, which was most clearly and commonly represented by the Mosaic Covenant.

They broke faith with the Lord. The same way Israel did in the wilderness. Just as Israel was judged for their unbelief in the wilderness, so too God's people were sent into exile for unbelief.

It was a corporate judgment. This didn't mean that there were no true believers, but it meant that by and large, the entire church had become characterized as a people who did not know the Lord. So the judgment was widespread and national because God was dealing with His people corporately. Just as in Revelation 2-3, God deals with churches corporately. He removes lampstands. This never meant that individuals can lose their salvation but that if a church as a whole stops following her lord, that is liable to God's judgment. The Lord still deals with churches in this way. Well, in the OT, all Israel was like one massive mega church. But it had become a church that had stopped following her Lord. And the exile was a demonstration of the fact that the Lord cannot and will not bless a church like that. We still see in the new covenant the same principle: corporate apostasy leads to corporate judgment.
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