RPM, Volume 18, Number 20, May 8 to May 14, 2016

Old Testament Biblical Theology

Part 2

By Dr. O. Palmer Robertson

The following notes were taken from Dr. O. Palmer Robertson's Seminary class on Old Testament Biblical Theology.


The Covenant with Abraham involved three major areas of promise:

- The promise of a land.

- The promise of a multiplied seed.

- The promise of blessing.

It should be seen at the very outset that this is a repetition and an expansion of the covenant that God had made with Adam.

The promise of the land began in Eden. Adam and the woman were given a garden which they lost. The promise was given to Abraham of a new land WHICH IS DESCRIBED IN TERMS OF EDEN.

The promise of the seed also began in Eden with the promise of the Seed of the Woman.

Finally, the promise of blessing is seen in the idea of two separate seeds, one of which will ultimately be victorious.

1. The Formal Inauguration (Genesis 15).

a. This is a way of reassurance.

Abraham asks the Lord, "How shall I KNOW that I shall inherit the land (Genesis 15:8).

b. There is a prophetic context.

The promises give to Abraham are not short-term. On the very surface of things, they span over 600 years.

c. It is a self-maledictory oath.

Abraham knew exactly what to do with the animals which God told him to bring. It was a custom in that day in the making of a covenant.

By dividing the animals and passing between the pieces, the participants in a covenant pledged themselves to life and death.

2. Allusions to the Abrahamic Covenant.

a. Jeremiah 34.

Jeremiah 34:17-20 presents a similar ceremony of covenant inauguration. Jerusalem had been under siege by Nebuchadnezzar and, in panic, Zedekiah cut a covenant on behalf of all of the people, making a promise to free all of their Hebrew slaves (Exodus 21:2). After the threat seemed to be over, the people reneged on their covenant promises. As a result, they would be cut in pieces, just as the animals of their covenant had been cut in pieces.

The language of Jeremiah 34 reflects the same language of Genesis 15 (notice even the double mention of the birds).

This is not a mere literary allusion. It is a real description of a covenant-renewal ceremony. And yet, this pattern was not after the Abrahamic Covenant, but rather after the Mosaic Covenant.

What was different?

It included a public reading of the Law (Joshua 2:4; II Kings 23; Nehemiah 8).

At the same time, the dividing of pieces of animals reflected the Abrahamic Covenant rather than the sprinkling of blood which took place under the Mosaic Covenant.

These two covenant models are merged in Jeremiah 34.

Abrahamic Covenant
Mosaic Covenant
The rituals of both covenants are brought together in Jeremiah 34.

b. New Testament references.

(1) Hebrews 9:15-20.

The entire question hinges upon the translation of the Greek word *4"1060.

- Testament.

- Covenant.

Testament: Death activates the last will and testament.
Covenant: A covenant is ratified by the death of covenant sacrifices.

Testament: To have a last will & testament, you must have the death of the one who made it.
Covenant: To ratify a covenant, you have the symbolic death of the maker of the covenant.

Testament: "There must of necessity be the death of the one who made it" (9:16).
Covenant: "There must be brought forward the death of the one who made it (Literal Greek).

Testament: "For a covenant is valid only when men are dead..." (9:17).
Covenant: "For a covenant is valid only over dead bodies..." (Literal Greek).

Throughout the book of Hebrews, the word *4"1060 has been used to describe a covenant. It is difficult to understand why the author would suddenly change directions to use the same word to speak of a last will and testament.

(2) Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20.

In both of these passages, Jesus says, "This is the blood of My covenant." He seems to be alluding to the words of Moses in Exodus 24:8 when he sacrifices young bulls and takes the blood and sprinkles it on the people.

So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has mad with you..." (Exodus 24:8a).

Luke adds the phrase, "This is the NEW covenant in my blood.

This covenant involves a simultaneous removal of a curse of the old inauguration and a blessing of the new covenant.

2. The Seal of the Abrahamic Covenant.

a. The context of the Seal.

Genesis 15 records the official ratification ceremony of the Abrahamic Covenant. God Himself passed between the pieces, suggesting that He would take upon Himself the curses of the covenant should it be broken.

Genesis 17 records the institution of the official seal of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Between these two events lay a failure on the part of Abraham that resulted in the conception and the birth of Ishmael. Sarai and Abram try to fulfill the promise of the covenant through their own efforts. Perhaps this is what led to the institution of the seal.

b. The Original Import of the Seal.

(1) Genesis 17:9-14.

- It is an inescapable command. Baptism is also an inescapable command to all Christians.

- The seal is identified with the covenant when the Lord says, "This is My covenant" (17:10).

- Circumcision was already practiced among the other nations of the world. Evidence indicates it was practiced in Egypt as early as 3000 B.C. The Philistines were something of an exception to this practice.

However, Israel's practice was different. While most of the world exercised circumcision as an initiation rite at puberty, Israel practiced it upon infants.

- It was extended to Gentiles (17:13). Abraham already had 318 men trained in his own house. These would have been included in this covenant.

- A curse was extended to those who were not circumcised (17:14).

(2) Theological significance.

- It signified a union between God and His people.

- It indicated a need for cleansing. The hygienic act of the removal of the foreskin symbolized the purification necessary for a relationship to exist between a holy God and unholy people.

- It symbolizes the actual provision for cleansing which is needed. In John 7, Jesus works a miracle of healing on the Sabbath day which offends the Jews. In John 7:21-23 He contrasts circumcision with the healing of the a man.

- The "cutting away" suggests a symbol of judgment. The cleansing rite only takes place in the face of judgment. The only reason we have been cleansed is because Christ has been judged in our place.

- The rite had a significance with regard to the propagation of the race.

" It is applied to an infant and is planned as a need even before the child is born (Isaac was not born yet).

" It is applied to the male reproductive organ.

" The one seal related to all of the promises, yet concentrates on propagation.

This has two implications:

" The human race is sinful.

" God deals with families.

c. Circumcision in Old Testament History & Theology.

It is essential that we understand that circumcision was NEVER purely national. This is evidenced in the following ways:

- In the formation of the covenant with Abraham, circumcision was the sign to both Abraham and to those who dwelt in his house.

- Exodus 12:43-49 presents the requirement that non-Israelites must be circumcised in order to participate in the Passover.

"But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and HE SHALL BE LIKE A NATIVE OF THE LAND. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it." (Exodus 12:48).

- When the Israelites first entered into the land of Canaan, they were all circumcised.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have ROLLED AWAY the reproach of Egypt from you." So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. (Joshua 5:9).

The words "rolled away" seem to refer to the rolling back of the male foreskin. All of Israel was thus identified with the Lord as apart from those who had come out of Egypt.

For 400 years they have been identified as a slave-caste of Egypt. That is all cut off and cast from them.

d. The New Testament fulfillment of circumcision.

(1) Jesus was circumcised (Luke 2:21).

(2) There is a relief from the external process of circumcision.

(a) The Holy Spirit came upon believers who were uncircumcised (Acts 10:45). Since it was the Holy Spirit which circumcision illustrated, this was especially significant.

(b) Circumcision now became an anti-gospel (Galatians 5:2).

(c) Once the fulfillment of the Holy Spirit has come, insistence upon maintaining the external shadow is legalism.

Circumcision: Outward sign and seal of the Old Covenant.
Baptism: Outward sign and seal of the New Covenant.
Circumcision: Cleanses externally, symbolizing a needed internal cleansing.
Baptism: Cleanses externally, symbolizing a needed internal cleansing.

(3) There is a distinction between the external form and the internal reality (Romans 2:28-29).

(4) Paul says that there is a false circumcision and a true circumcision (Philippians 3:2-3). Who is the REAL circumcision? It is those who worship in the Spirit of God.

(5) Circumcision was a seal of salvation (Romans 4:11). That physical seal has now been replaced by a spiritual seal - the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).

(6) Paul tells the Colossians that they were "circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11). How did this take place? It is explained by the following verse.

...having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raise Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12).

Thus, circumcision is put in the very closes relation to baptism.

"Having been buried" is an aorist participle. The action of the aorist participle normally precedes the action of the main verb (although when the main verb is also an aorist, the two actions can coincide).


Symbolic Value of the Rite

Need for cleansing.
Provision for cleansing.
Union with God and His people.

Need for cleansing.
Provision for cleansing.
Union with God and with His people.

The Sealing Power of the Rite

It is offered to all who believe.
It incorporates all into an external body - the nation of Israel.
For all who believe, it seals the internal reality of cleansing which it symbolically represents.

Baptism It is offered to all who believe.
It unites all participants into an external body - the visible church.
For those who believe, it seals the internal reality of cleansing which it symbolically represents.

The Recipients of the Rite

All who profess faith were to be circumcised.
Infant children of those who professed faith were to be baptized.
All who profess faith in Christ are to be baptized. ?

There is a greater grace given in the New Covenant than in the Old Covenant. We would not expect to see a LIMITING of the covenant sign being given, but rather an EXPANDING of that sign.

e. Baptisms in the New Testament.

- Acts 2:38-39 commands baptism and adds that "the promise is for you and for your children." This was spoken to Jews in the context of the Temple and 2000 years of having children as members of the covenant. The only possible way of understanding this is to say that entire families, both parents and children, were baptized.
- Acts 8:12 describes Philip baptizing men and women alike. This was something new to the covenant. Women had never been a part of circumcision, but they were now a part of baptism.
- Acts 8:38 has the baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch.
- Acts 9:18 is Saul's baptism.
- Acts 10:44-48 have a Gentile household believing and being baptized.
- Acts 16:14-15 tell of the household of Lydia being baptized. There is no clear indicator that those of her house had their hearts opened. Rather, Lydia as the head of her house was converted and as a result her entire household was baptized.
- Acts 16:31-34 give a similar account in the household of the Philippian jailer. This time, the passage DOES say that Paul and Silas spoke to all that were in the house. New American Standard translates verse 34 that the Jailer "rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household." The phrase "with his whole household" is translated from a single adverb (B"<@46,4) and can be better translated, "he rejoiced whole-housedly."
- Acts 18:8 has Crispus and his entire house believing and being baptized.
- Acts 19:5-7 tells of 12 men who had only received John's baptism being baptized. This is a reiteration of what had happened at Pentecost. Just as there were 12 tribes and 12 disciples, now there are 12 men baptized.
- I Corinthians 1:14-16 Paul baptized Crispus, Gaius, and the whole household of Stephanus.

Do not miss the variety of these situations.

" Women.

" Eunuch.

" Households with both men and women as their head.

" 12 men.


The Mosaic Covenant has led to a number of different factions:

" Theonomists.

" Dispensationalists: See law as a different character from the Abrahamic Covenant.

" Seventh Day Adventists: Wish to utilize all dietary laws for today.

" Kline: Proposes a second form of the covenant.

The Dispensationalist sees a tension between promise & law. The Old Schofield Bible taught that the "Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law." This amounts to a tension between physical & spiritual purposes of God. There is a basic dualism perceived between the spiritual & the physical. The Dispensationalist believes that God has two purposes, one relating to the nation of Israel & the other to the church.

1. Its Place in Modern Biblical Criticism.

Julius Wellhausen proposed and popularized the J.E.P.D. Theory that stated that Moses was not the author of the first five books of the Bible, but that they had been compiled from a number of different sources. The key to his entire theory was the dating of Deuteronomy in 622 B.C. during the 18th year of Josiah. He made this his presupposition. Since Wellhausen's time, archaeology has made shambles of the J.E.P.D. Theory. Discoveries of law codes have brought about a piece-meal relocation as it nibbled away at Wellhausen's presupposition.

- Kline identified the book of Deuteronomy with the pattern of the Hittite Treaty forms of 1400-1200 B.C.

- Wellhausen's date of 622 B.C.

- Noth feels that because of the theological unity of Deuteronomy with the Historical books, it must have been written between 600-500 B.C.

2. Deuteronomy & the Hittite Suzerain Treaties.

a. The elements.

(1) A preamble: A declaration of the lordship of the conquering suzerain.

(2) A historical prologue emphasizing the past acts of benevolence.

(3) An extensive delimiting of stipulations involving both demands for heart-loyalty and requirements for specific action.

(4) Provisions for official depositing of duplicate copies of the treaty documents in the presence of respective gods of vassal and suzerain.

(5) An invocation of witnesses, often involving the summoning of inanimate objects.

(6) A statement of potential curses and blessings related to covenant fidelity.

b. Bibliography.

" K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and the Old Testament, 1966.

" M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King, 1963.

c. First & second millennium B.C.

d. The degree of certainty.

The evaluation of archaeological material is like the wind. Sometimes it blows in your favor and sometimes it seems to blow against you. Harm has been done when well-meaning people have jumped too quickly to conclusions.

3. The Theological Significance of the Mosaic Covenant.

The first thing that we must note is that, while the idea of LAW plays a large role in international treaty forms, the more important idea is that of COVENANT.

"Covenant" is larger than "Law." We must be careful not to equate the two. Law is always subservient to the relationship specified in the covenant. Covenant is the framework in which the Law operates. Because of that, it certainly DOES have an emphasis upon Law.

What do I mean by this? I mean that Israel's experience under this Covenant was much larger than merely obeying laws.

a. Distinctives of the Mosaic Covenant.

This covenant involves an externalized summation of the will of God. You have in the Ten Words a summary of all that God requires of man. It is external. It is written on stone tablets. The emphasis is on this externalized form.

b. The Ten Words are equated with the covenant.

Exodus 34:28 - "He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the TEN WORDS" (Literal Hebrew). Deuteronomy 4:13; 9:9-11; 10:4 all make a similar reference to the Ten Commandments as equal to the covenant.

c. The Law and the Covenant of Works.

The Covenant of Law cannot be confused with the covenant of works:

(1) The covenant of works took place in the Garden of Eden prior to man's sin.

(2) The covenant of works made no provision for a sacrifice for sins.

d. The Law did not...

- Disannul the Promise. Schofield taught that the Israelites did wrong by accepting the covenant of law.

- Interrupt the Promise.

- Parallel the Promise.

4. The Place of Law in Redemptive History.

a. Related Organically.

By an organic relationship, I mean that there is a living inter-connection, as opposed to an isolated compartmentalization of law and salvation.

(1) Law was significant prior to Moses.

Would Adam have been sinning to have murdered Eve in the Garden? Yes, he would. Even though the law had not been given, the standard of God's righteousness was still present. Thus, Cain sinned by murdering Abel even though God had not yet said, "Thou shalt not kill."

(2) Law is significant after Moses.

It the Law binding today? The New Testament teaches that you are not under Law (Romans 7:6; Galatians 3). On the other hand, Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-19). Paul says that we do NOT nullify the Law through faith (Romans 3:31).

- The word <@:@H can be used in different ways (Romans 3:21 uses the same word to refer to both the ordinances and the Pentateuch. Romans 3:27 then speaks of "a law of faith").

- It is evident that the Christian today is NOT under an externalized administration.

- We ARE under the essence of the Law.

" Presumptive evidence: We are under all of the other covenants and should therefore assume that we are also under the essence of the Mosaic Covenant.

" Christians are told that their fullest state of blessing comes from keeping the Law (Ephesians 6:1-3 quotes the Law and indicates that it continues to be a command with promise). Jesus expresses the same idea in Matthew 7:24-27. James 1:22 call us not to be mere hearers of the Law, but also DOERS.

" Christians who live in unrighteousness are chastened by the Lord (Hebrews 12:6).

" Christians shall give an account of their works in the day of judgment (II Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 12:36).

b. Related Progressively.

Things were not better under the Abrahamic Covenant than they were under the Law. The Mosaic Covenant is an advancement of revelation of God.

(1) There was a fuller revelation of God (Exodus 6:3) and of His will. There is a comprehensive revelation of the will of God. In the ten commandments there is a summarization of the very will of God.

(2) There is a nation and a kingdom. In Exodus 24:1 the 70 elders of Israel representing the nation are permitted to come partway up the mountain of God.

The nation of Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6).

(3) The Law is an advancement in that it serves to humble men and turn them to the Lord (Galatians 3:19).

(4) The Law presents a great number of types of the coming Messiah.

We tend to look at the relative calm of the Patriarchs and the troublesome times under the Law and wonder if the Jews would have wished for "the good old days." But Israel was growing up in the same way that a young child grows into a teenager.

Thus, the Law was not a retrogression from the Abrahamic Covenant, but it WAS less than what follows.

(a) It is less than the Davidic Covenant in that now there was a succession of law-administrators and a localization of the law-giver.

(b) It is less that the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31) as it is written on stone tablets while the New Covenant is written in men's hearts.

At the same time, it should be remembered that the Law was always to be written in men's hearts.

"And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart" (Deuteronomy 6:6.

"You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul..." (Deuteronomy 11:18).

It is not that there was NO working of the Holy Spirit in the Old Covenant, but rather that there would be a GREATER working of the Spirit under the New Covenant.

" There was regeneration under the Old Covenant.

" There was an filling of the Holy Spirit under the Old Covenant but it was not as extensive as when the Lord "poured out His Spirit upon all flesh."

" There were gifts of the Spirit, but the extent of those gifts was not as broad as it is in the day when Christ has given gifts to men.

" The righteous man had the law of God in his heart (Psalm 37:31; 40:8). On the other hand, the New Covenant has some distinct advancements over the Old Covenant.

" Our present relationship is unmediated. We do not go through a separate priest to approach the Lord. Jesus Christ is our priest.

" Our sins are no longer remembered; the ultimate sacrifice has been made and no more are needed.

c. Consummated in the New Covenant.

II Corinthians 3:7-18

The Old Covenant:

- After being in the presence of the Lord, the skin of Moses shown (Exodus 34:29-35).
- The glory of the Lord upon the face of Moses gradually faded away (II Cor 3:11).
- This was a ministry of condemnation (II Cor 3:9).
- When Moses is read, a veil lies over the heart (II Cor 3:15).

The New Covenant:

- We have a ministry of the Spirit which has even greater glory (II Cor 3:8).
- The ministry of the Spirit has a glory which does not fade (II Cor 3:11).
- This is a ministry of righteousness which abounds in glory (II Cor 3:9).
- When a man turns to the Lord the veil is taken away (II Cor 3:16).

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