It has taken nearly eight months, but we have finally reached the end of the Old Testament! How is your group partying this week?
Hey, thank you to everyone who participated in the “True Confessions of a Lifegroup Leader” on Sunday. I thought that was really a lot of fun. What did you think? Our next “Lifegroup Launch” will be right after the beginning of the year. Is your group making plans now to be able to handle another influx of people at that time?
The last Part of the Old Testament!
Chronicles is the final book in the Jewish ordering of the Old Testament. You should think of it as sort of a look back, and a re-interperetation of the story so far, inviting the reader to reflect back on Israel’s story and look forward to the time when God’s promises are fulfilled.
Last week we deviated from our plan to talk a little more in-depth about pride. This week, we will do a quick wrap-up, and I hope your group will spend some time getting to know new group members who are “trying you out” for the first time since Sunday’s “True Confessions,” and partying about moving into the New Testament together!
So, to wrap up the Old Testament together, let’s just think through the major themes and ideas of the Old Testament.
At various points in the Old Testament, God made covenants with Israel. In those covenants, He promised certain things to Israel. When the Old Testament ends — literally with an incomplete sentence in Hebrew — there is a collective longing for these promises to be fulfilled. This week, we will try to understand the basics of these covenants and the promises that are embedded in them.
The covenant with Noah
This covenant which God makes is universal. First, He promises to save Noah and his family before the flood. Then after the flood, He makes a promise to all creation to never again destroy the world with a flood and to preserve the conditions necessary for life on earth to continue.
Genesis 9:8-11 NLT
Then God told Noah and his sons, “I hereby confirm my covenant with you and your descendants, and with all the animals that were on the boat with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals—every living creature on earth. Yes, I am confirming my covenant with you. Never again will floodwaters kill all living creatures; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”
The covenant with Abraham
This covenant which God makes with Abraham is similarly universal to the Noah covenant in that it pertains to all humanity but with a different focus. It concerns God’s redemptive work through history. God promises that through Abraham and his descendents He will bring His redemptive blessing to all nations on earth.
Genesis 12:1-2 NLT
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
The Sinai Covenant
This covenant which God makes is national in scope. Specifically, it is a covenant between YHWH and all of Israel, His chosen people, mediated through the leadership of Moses. It is linked with the covenant with Abraham in this way: It is through Israel that God’s promised blessing to all nations will take place. Israel will be God’s chosen, priestly people reflecting the loving goodness of YHWH to the nations around it by adhering to the terms of the covenant, the Torah. The Sinai Covenant also includes the promise of a land for Israel, a physical space God had prepared for them to call home.
Exodus 19:3-6 NLT
Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”
The Davidic Covenant
(2 Samuel 7, 23:1-7; Psalm 89, 132)
This covenant is one which God primarily makes with David and his house (or dynasty). God promises to establish and sustain David’s house forever. However, this promise doesn’t only concern David’s family but Israel itself. In promising David that his house will be permanently established, the covenant by implication extends that promise to Israel itself. This, along with the expectation that David and subsequent kings would be faithful to the Law given to Israel on Mt. Sinai, ties it to the Sinai covenant.
2 Samuel 7:8-17 NLT
Now go and say to my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before your eyes. Now I will make your name as famous as anyone who has ever lived on the earth! And I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past, starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.
“ ‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’ ”
So Nathan went back to David and told him everything the Lord had said in this vision.
This isn’t a “covenant” in the way the previous four were, but the Prophets are filled with promises which God makes with Israel before, during, and after their experience of Exile and extends through to the time of Jesus in the New Testament. God promises that Israel will return to the promised land that they have been exiled from and rebuild the temple that Babylon destroyed (where His presence would dwell again in that new temple). They will also have a renewed relationship with Him, a new experience of God’s forgiveness after experiencing the judgement of exile, and a new obedience to the Law. There is also a promise of a new Davidic king that would defeat Israel’s enemies and establish them as an independent nation freed from foreign rule and the promise of a time of agricultural abundance and prosperity that ties the new covenant to the Davidic Covenant and the covenant with Noah.
These four covenants and the promises in the Prophets form the narrative backbone of the Old Testament. They would have been deeply ingrained in the consciousness of the Jewish people in the time of Jesus, and indeed still are today. As we step into the New Testament, we will continually see the New Testament writers referring back to these covenants and promises, consistently interpreting the life of Jesus through these texts.
As we begin the New Testament in the next week, it is important to remember the pieces of the covenants and promises that were yet to be fulfilled at the end of the Old Testament. These promises were on the forefront of Israel’s mind for hundreds of years in the Intertestamental Period. When Jesus begins His public ministry, Israel is still waiting for many of these promises to be fulfilled and wondering when and how God will fulfill them. The most recent and pressing promises, which are listed in the Prophets section above (E), are those Israel is most eagerly awaiting and looking out for in the time of Jesus. Practically, they were still waiting to be liberated from exile, vindicated and exalted over the oppressing nations, and returned to power in their homeland, after which the temple could be rebuilt and filled with the return of God’s glory/presence.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 NLT
“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”
A few questions…
Before we began this Year of the Bible, what would you have said was the overall theme or storyline of the Old Testament?
Having read through it over the past 8 months, (and keeping the covenants mentioned above) what would you now say is the theme or storyline?
What stands out to you about God choosing to continually renew covenants with Israel and stay in relationship with them for nearly two millennia?
What does it say about God’s character and hopes for Israel?
What do you notice about Israel’s seeming inability to remain faithful to the covenants?
What does this say about how difficult it can be for an entire community to obey the commands of God?
How are you feeling about the New Testament?
Next week, we will be full-on in Matthew. I hope you will be ready to tackle it.