James Patrick’s Blog

September 1, 2009

Permanence of covenants with Abraham and Moses [I&NC #3]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 3:38 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

God made the covenant promise of land to Abram 606 years before He renewed the covenant with the Israelites through Moses at Mount Sinai (Gen 15:1‑21; Exod 34:27‑28; 40:17).  Fourteen years after the promise of land, He instructed [the renamed] Abraham to circumcise all his physical offspring, because now he would be the father of a multitude of nations, and it was necessary to distinguish between those descended from him physically and those descended from him spiritually (Gen 17:1‑16).

The renewed covenant with the Israelites through Moses [hereafter the ‘Mosaic covenant’] was temporary from its very beginning, and has now been entirely fulfilled and abolished by Jesus as we will see in the next post.  However the covenant with Abraham promising land and a multitude of descendants, which was linked to the ethnic marker of circumcision and later reissued to the descendants of Jacob, has not been revoked in the new covenant.

A.  Circumcision

Circumcision was reaffirmed for the Israelites through Moses, but it had been established by Abraham.  Moses knew that circumcision was an important condition for inheriting the specific promises passed on by Jacob / Israel.  It is the physical sign throughout all generations that a male belongs to the ethnic ‘children of Israel’ and therefore qualifies to share in the promises made to Israel.  Gentiles, however, can now become the ‘children of Abraham’ by faith alone, becoming part of his wider promise of blessing to the nations, without having to become ethnically Jewish through circumcision.  Circumcision was thus not abolished for Jews in the new covenant, but rather declared irrelevant for Gentiles.  Sons of Jewish parents who are not circumcised can still inherit Gentile promises (that is, ‘salvation’), but are not qualified to share in the specific ‘salvation’ promises made to Israel, including the particular land promised to them.  The New Testament does not teach that any part of the Abrahamic covenant has been abolished.

John 7:19-24 – In this fascinating interchange, Jesus is perceptively pointing out that the Mosaic covenant is both inadequate and superseded by the earlier covenant with Abraham.  Moses commanded that one must not work on the Sabbath, which would certainly include cutting (cf. Num 15:32-36), but in order to keep the Abrahamic command to circumcise male children on the eighth day (Gen 17:10-14; Lev 12:3), the Mosaic Law could be broken.  Jesus was therefore claiming similar authority to supersede the Mosaic covenant, but not the Abrahamic covenant.

Galatians 5:2-15; 6:12-16 – In this letter written to Gentile believers (that is very important), Paul is fighting against the teaching of certain Jewish ‘believers’ that “Unless you [Gentiles] are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1, 5).  Paul makes it clear that the real issue was not circumcision, but whether Gentile believers had to observe the Law (5:3, 14; 6:13).  It was Mosaic circumcision not Abrahamic circumcision that was being advocated by Paul’s opponents; for them, conversion to Judaism was complete only when the Gentile ‘God-fearer’ went so far as to become circumcised, thereby becoming Jewish.  At this point the Judaisers could ‘boast’ of having made another convert (6:13; cf. Mat 23:15), and it also enabled them to avoid persecution from fellow Jews who accused them of no longer valuing the Law (6:12; cf. Acts 6:11-14; 13:39-45; 21:20‑21).  To persuade Galatian Gentiles, they even claimed that Paul himself taught circumcision of Gentiles (cf. Acts 16:1‑3; 1 Cor 9:20).  Paul replied by pointing out that in that case the Jews would hardly keep persecuting him (5:11).  He was not against circumcision, because this was still the mark of physical descendants of Abraham, even with the Law of Moses abolished; rather, it was entirely irrelevant for salvation (5:6; 6:15).  Paul therefore spoke a blessing over all true believers, specifically including true Jewish believers – the ‘Israel of God’, unlike his opponents (cf. Rom 11:1-7) – who rightly put higher value on new creation than on (their) circumcision (6:16).  The reason Paul commanded Gentiles not to get circumcised was that their only reason for doing this would be to become Jewish according to the Mosaic Law (5:2-4).  This would indicate that they didn’t actually believe that Christ had taken on Himself the curse of the Law to open up the Abrahamic blessing to all Gentiles as well (3:8-14).  They were therefore enslaving themselves to the Mosaic Law and rejecting the gospel of grace.

B.  Mosaic Covenant

The covenant renewed with the Israelites through Moses, unlike the covenant with Abraham, was a temporary covenant, even from its inception.  The prophets at the time of exile clearly prophesied a ‘new covenant’ that would supersede the ‘old’ broken one, as had Moses himself.

Deuteronomy 29:22–30:10; 31:16-29 – God tells Moses explicitly that in later generations the children of Israel would be so rebellious that his covenant would be broken, and God would bring on them all the curses threatened in it, removing them from the land.  After this, though, He would surely restore the people to the land, and once there would circumcise their heart to love Him heart and soul, “so that you may live” (cf. Leviticus 18:5; Romans 10:4-10).

Isaiah 59:9-21 – In a passage that deliberately interprets the above predictions about exile from Deuteronomy 28–32, Isaiah describes Israel’s inability to keep the law of Moses (cf. Deut 31:27; 32:36), their groping along in the darkness of exile (cf. Deut 28:28-29), God’s promised decision to redeem and atone for His people single-handedly through a ‘redeemer’ (cf. Deut 32:39-43), and a coming covenant of God’s words ‘in your mouth’ (cf. Deut 30:14) and His Spirit upon them (Deut 31:7-8, 14; Num 27:18; 11:28-29).

Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:36-42 – Jeremiah further explains this ‘covenant’ Isaiah prophesied as a “new covenant”, different from the one made one year after the Exodus from Egypt that had been broken.  This “everlasting” new covenant would involve sin atoned for and God’s law written on the hearts of the people.

Ezekiel 11:17-20; 16:59-63; 36:24-33; 37:21-28 – Ezekiel, writing in exile, picks up Jeremiah’s prophecies and similarly promises a “new spirit” put within the people who have been restored to their land, and a new heart of flesh to keep God’s commands, now that their sin has been cleansed.  This is similarly described as an “everlasting covenant of peace”, not like the one that had been broken, and it is specifically connected with the promised descendant of David who would be their king for ever.

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2 Comments »

  1. . There is a movement of Jews who are questioning circumcision, and working to end this abuse of children. The movement ranges from the Orthodox to the secular, and includes mothers, fathers, scholars, historians, medical professionals, activists, and intellectuals.

    Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity

    * Jews Against Circumcision http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/

    * Brit Shalom Celebrants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D. http://www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html

    * Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, Ph.D. http://www.jewishcircumcision.org

    * The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1
    http://intactnews.org/node/105/1311886372/jewish-voices-current-judaic-movement-end-circumcision-part-1

    The Kindest Un-Cut Feminism, Judaism, and My Son’s Foreskin by Professor Michael S. Kimmel
    http://www.cirp.org/pages/cultural/kimmel1/

    Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on Foreskin Man in this recent interview.
    http://www.beyondthebris.com/2011/07/defying-convention-interview-with_27.html

    Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors
    http://intactnews.org/node/103/1311885181/jews-speak-out-favor-banning-circumcision-minors .,.,

    Comment by A Jewish Male Opposing Circumcision — August 5, 2011 @ 4:04 am | Reply

    • I too am Jewish and circumcised, and although I am sure you have good reasons for advocating what you do (as did many Jewish people in the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century BC), I’m afraid the founding covenant of Judaism, made by God with our father Abraham when he was given that name (Genesis 17), is absolutely unequivocal. Any Jewish male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin has broken the covenant with his father Abraham and can have no share in the inheritance promised to Abraham. That is not to say that they cannot receive an inheritance from God within a different people group, because God is the God of the whole earth, but they will not be part of the Jewish people. Of course, perhaps choosing not to circumcise Jewish boys at eight days old means that they are given the option of choosing this for themselves when they are older – more painful, but perhaps a truer expression of their appreciation for their ancestral and religious heritage.

      Comment by alabastertheology — August 5, 2011 @ 1:59 pm | Reply


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