Saturday, October 16, 2010

Busy? Take some time to consider...

 I came to read this text after some encouragement by my Church History lecturer Matt Gray and found it of great value. On Consideration  is a collection of personal letters written (1145) from French monk Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) to Pope Eugenius III (~1080-1153.) I would recommend to anyone trying to balance a busy life with a faithful life to read the Book I (only ~20 pages).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Opposition Experienced by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

"What were the main forms of opposition Edwards experienced in his ministry?
 What were their motivations? What were his responses?"

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a revivalist preacher of Calvinist and Puritan traditions. His most famous sermon is Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God (1741), one of over 1,400 that are recorded (Nichols, 2004, pp. 35-36). His published works continue to be read today for both philosophical and religious teaching and include Religious Affections (1746) and Freedom of Will (1754). He is regarded as one of America’s most powerful thinkers and greatest theologians (Marsden, 2003, p. 369). Despite this contribution and legacy his life would be marked by opposition.

One hundred miles west of Boston Massachusetts, in the New England countryside, lies the small town of Northampton. From 1669 the pastor of the local church there was Solomon Stoddard (Dever, 2004, p. 131). Well known in New England and a regular preacher in Boston, he was an influential leader who became known as the ‘Pope of the Connecticut Valley’ (Dever, 2004, p. 129). He also happened to be the grandfather-in-law of Jonathan Edwards.
Edwards, a Harvard graduate who believed his greatest contribution could be in the intellectual realm, appeared destined for a career in academia (Marsden, 2003, pp. 137-138; Nichols, 2004, p. 39). However, after a 3 month trial (Winslow, 1961, p. 95) he accepted a position as assistant pastor under Stoddard in August 1726 (Dever, 2004, p. 129). When Stoddard died in 1729 he became the sole pastor of the 600 member church (Nichols, 2004, p. 131).
At the time New England was in a vortex of conflict and change. British Protestants, French Catholics, and native Indians all fought for control and influence (Marsden, 2003, p. 3). Life was often difficult with plagues, war, and uncertainties. A man would go into to the woods and be found scalped, or never found at all (Winslow, 1961, p. 108). It was also a time of religious change with the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the original pious puritan pilgrims progressively seeing clergy and the church as irrelevant (Winslow, 1961, pp. 95-98).

The ‘Halfway Covenant’ controversy, which would be with Edwards most of his life, predated him by nearly 60 years. The Northhampton Church became one of the first congregational churches in New England to ratify the covenant in 1662 (Dever, 2004, p. 131; Winslow, 1961, pp. 102-103). In essence it allowed all people to become church members enjoying all its benefits except for participation in communion. By doing so, the clergy was able to maintain some hold on the more worldly members within their congregation (Winslow, 1961, p. 101). By 1700 there were more non-covenant members (those not entitled to communion) than covenant members (Dever, 2004, p. 131).
Stoddard thought society should be modelled off the Old Testament example and desired to strengthen the position of the church and clergy within the community, leading him to support the covenant position (Marsden, 2003, p. 31). Moreover, Stoddard, a staunch liberal, extended the principle in 1700 to accept non-covenant members to the communion table. He argued on grounds of practicality and extending grace rather than theology (Winslow, 1961, pp. 103-104). Eleazer (the pastor prior to Solomon) and his brother Increase bitterly opposed this position (Dever, 2004, p. 131; Marsden, 2003, p. 31). Edward’s opposition to this practice would grow throughout his life.
Edwards took Stoddard’s approach of Church authority within the town and added to it religious reform (Nichols, 2004, p. 44). Edwards reversed Stoddard’s decision to allow non-covenant members to communion. Despite the unrest caused by that decision he took it further in limiting church membership to only professing members. This imposed reform was destined to polarise the community, particularly since Edwards practiced the Halfway Covenant for 23 years (Winslow, 1961, p. 225).

The Great Awakening of 1740-41 was a turbulent time of both revival and chaos. A visit by an English Evangelist, George Whitefield was to precipitate a religious upheaval (Winslow, 1961, p. 165). Religious Affections (1746) was a justification to emotional elements of faith seen during revival. The culture of the town was positively influenced with the reduction of night frolics, loose speech and other licentious behaviour (Marsden, 2003, p. 296). The years following were a restless time. Any parish disagreement would serve as a model for mischief (Winslow, 1961, p. 200).
Petty disputes developed. Edwards was forced to spend considerable energy and time maintaining his salary against inflation and ensuring it was paid. After a second increase there was a general uneasiness around town. An expensive locket and chain Edwards bought for his wife became an example for those that wished to accuse him of living lavishly at their expense (Winslow, 1961, p. 201). 

‘The Bad Books Case’ of 1744 would be the catalyst of Edwards’ dismissal from the Northampton pastorate. The case revolved around Edwards’ handling of a group of young men’s ‘scandalous’ behaviour after reading gynaecological text books. Although the offense may be thought of as minor (particularly to a modern audience) it crystallised a brewing conflict between Edwards and the local townspeople.
Over the preceding five years a group of young men aged twenty-one to twenty-nine were using the information within the texts to taunt women about women’s health issues such as menstruation. The ring leaders were local hoodlums Oliver Warner and brothers Timothy and Simon Root (Winslow, 1961, p. 208). The popular medical texts at the centre of the controversy included The Midwife Rightly Instructed (Marsden, 2003, p. 294). Mary Downing, a young lady in the town, testified ‘“They all did so. They laughed and made sport was about girls, things concerning Girls that is unclean to speak of”’’ (Marsden, 2003, p. 294).
In response to this situation Edwards called a vote to form a church committee to investigate and discipline (Marsden, 2003, p. 293). This practice of discipline was not unusual in New England in the eighteenth century with most churches seeing at least one ‘case’ a year (Winslow, 1961, p. 204)[1]. Sociologically it was an outworking of the role of church in town identity which Stoddard worked hard to establish.
Edwards’ political mistake was in the public calling of people required to speak with the committee. His list, which is preserved, includes names grouped and marked by symbols (Winslow, 1961, p. 206). However, at the conclusion of his sermon he announced a list of the youth, some witnesses, some accused, without distinction. By painting all with the same brush he implied the guilt of all. Edwards thus formed tension between himself and some leading families who had children or friends listed by Edwards (Nichols, 2004, p. 132; Winslow, 1961, p. 205).
Samuel Hopkins (1721-1793), who knew Edwards personally and would be his first biographer published in 1765 (Murray, 1987, p. xxvii), records, ‘Mr Edwards was very happy in esteem and love of his people for many years’ but states the turning point was the tactical error of handling the bad book case (Marsden, 2003, pp. 291,293).
During this time Edwards grew increasing passionate that if you profess faith with your mouth you must also profess it with your life. Worse still to Edwards was total indifference to sin and lethargy towards the things of God (Nichols, 2004, p. 44; Marsden, 2003, p. 294). The case was more difficult for Edwards as the young men were spiritual children of Edwards coming to the Lord during the Great Awakening (Marsden, 2003, p. 295).
The motivation of the growingly vocal portion of disgruntled townspeople is complex. Economically, the town was in transition from ‘yeoman society to agrarian capitalism’ with a transition from communal lands to private property (Marsden, 2003, p. 303). More specifically, there been a long standing friction between Edwards and the town over his salary. Culturally, this was symptom of a larger shift in the New England culture (Nichols, 2004, p. 44). There was growing thought that matters that occur in the home, particularly of non-believers, was of no concern and certainly no judgement of the church (Winslow, 1961, p. 209)
The conduct and defence provided by the accused, namely Timothy Root, provides insightful social commentary. In growing defiance of the church Root referred to the book not as the ‘Bad Book’ but ‘the young folk’s bible’ placing its relevance above the church (Marsden, 2003, pp. 298-299). To Edwards he said ‘I will not worship a wig’ (Marsden, 2003, p. 302). This comment is pointed at the class distinction with the committee formed by men who, as was fashion, would wear a white wig.
Edwards, although aloof and awkward at times, was not unaware of the storm in which he walked (Winslow, 1961, p. 204). When criticised for his position he responded ‘“Shall the master of the ship… not inquire when he fears the ship is running on the rocks”’ (Marsden, 2003, p. 294). To Edwards the case represented a spiritual decline of the people, a danger he could not ignore.
Edwards’ justification began in the text selection on the day he called the committee (Marsden, 2003, p. 293). Hebrews 12:15-16 speaks of losing eternal inheritance (which was upmost importance to Edwards) for sexual immorality. Edwards’ concern was not only for the undisciplined boys but their influences on others (Marsden, 2003, p. 296). He also argued the duration and number of people involved made this a public issue (cf. Matthew 18.)
The case dragged on through May and June. The Root brothers eventually apologised not for sexual sins but for “scandalously Contemptuous Behaviour towards the Authority of this Church” (Winslow, 1961, p. 206).

It would take several years after the ‘Bad Book Case’ before Edwards was removed. The town had split into factions, with the majority pushing relentlessly for his removal (Marsden, 2003, p. 357). In opposition, although Deacon Ebenezer Pomeroy and Major Seth Pomeroy were more public, perhaps the most painful objector was Edwards own nephew Joseph Hawley III[2]. In support, Colonel Timothy Dwight and Dr. Samual Mather stood by Edwards (Marsden, 2003, p. 358). His uncle Col. John Stoddard, a popular military leader and local Magistrate who was on the committee and had long supported Edwards, died in 1748 (Nichols, 2004, p. 132).
Edwards, still an advocate of reason, attempted to defend his position through treatise, lecture and debate. Although some would read his treatise and some would listen to his lectures (although these people were predominately from adjacent towns), a public debate was not allowed (Marsden, 2003, pp. 357-359; Winslow, 1961, p. 228). Even after the event in 1752 he would publish Misrepresentations Corrected and Truth Vindicated (Marsden, 2003, p. 368).
The system of Church government had evolved in such a haphazard way it was not clear who was in charge or how a pastor could be removed (Marsden, 2003, p. 357). It was decided that a committee of neighbouring churches would decide the pastor’s fate (Marsden, 2003, pp. 357-359).
In 1750 the council voted 23 to 207 to remove Edwards as pastor of Northhampton (Marsden, 2003, p. 360; Dever, 2004, p. 129; Nichols, 2004, p. 131). On July 1 1750 Edwards preached his final sermon (Marsden, 2003, p. 361). One month later the townspeople voted to remove his right to the pasture lands that he tendered (Marsden, 2003, p. 363). Despite a clear vote to remove Edwards the council reflected positively on Edward’s character. They commended him for his ‘Christian spirit and temper’ and observed him to ‘uprightly following this dictates of his own conscience’ (Marsden, 2003, p. 361).
The reasons behind his dismissal are complex. Edwards’ intense faith and rigid perspective on its application grew throughout his career. The cumulating of multiple small disputes (Nichols, 2004, p. 131) in the setting of a revolutionary and proud culture (Winslow, 1961, p. 223) made him vulnerable. His personality was to not back down from a fight (Winslow, 1961, p. 226) and he was not willing to compromise on his beliefs to be gentle, pleasing, or popular (Murray, 1987, p. xxi). Finally disagreement on the church discipline and acceptance to the Lord’s Table led to Edwards being sent effectively into exile (Nichols, 2004, p. 132; Marsden, 2003, p. 269).

In 1751 Edwards moved to Stockbridge to minister to Mohican Indians (Marsden, 2003, p. 275). In 1758 Edwards died from complications of a small pox inoculation (Winslow, 1961, p. 292).

Pastorally, his religious fervour coupled with an aloof personality would render him unwelcome in his time (Murray, 1987, pp. xx-xxi). Theologically, his greatest works were born in response to opposition. Believing his greatest joy and obligation was in God he saw no reason to compromise even in the face of opposition and difficulty for himself or family. His defence, like his preaching, was rational and reasoned. Despite rejection and exile in his time, Edward’s remains highly influential today. Mark Noll writes: ‘Edwards’ piety continued on in the revivalist tradition, his theology continued on in academic Calvinism, but there were no successors to his God-entranced world view’ (Piper, 2004, p. 21).


Dever, M. (2004). How Jonathan Edwards Got Fired, and Why It’s Important for us Today. In J. Piper, & J. Taylor (Eds.), A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards. Wheaton: Crossway Books.
Edwards, J. (1741). Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God (Vol. Volume 22). Sermons and Discourses, WJE Online.
Edwards, J. (1746). Religious Affections (Vol. Volume 2). (R. P, Ed.) WJE Online.
Edwards, J. (1754). Freedom of the Will (Vol. Volume 1). (R. P, Ed.) WJE Online.
Marsden, G. M. (2003). Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Murray, I. H. (1987). Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.
Nichols, S. J. (2004). Jonathan Edwards: His Life and Legacy. In J. Piper, & J. Taylor (Eds.), A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards. Wheaton: Crossway Books.
Piper, J. (2004). A God-Entrangled Vision of all things: Why we need Jonathan Edwards 300 years later. In A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards. Wheaton: Crossways Books.
Winslow, O. E. (1961). Jonathan Edwards 1703-1758. New York: Collier Books.

[1] Edwards personally had been involved included three cases of disputed paternity that decade (Marsden, 2003, p. 301).
[2] Hawley’s reasons for siding against his uncle were twofold. First Edwards had made a displeasing decision in Hawley’s brother’s paternity case, ruling that he should marry the lady of lower class to whom he had a child. Secondly, Hawley’s theological views become polarised from Edwards were becoming increasingly influenced by Arminianism (Marsden, 2003, p. 358).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Research on Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards  (1703-1758) is said to be the most influential American theologian of all time. He preached during The Great Awakening, the same period of George Whitfield in England. He is also the topic of my next essay. Here's an excerpt of his most famous sermon - Sinners in the Hand of an Angrey God.

"This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. -- That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in it; but look at other things, as the good state of your bodily constitution, your care of your own life, and the means you use for your own preservation. But indeed these things are nothing; if God should withdraw his hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Covenant - the unifying theme of the Old Testament

The covenant paradigm permeates the pages of the Old Testament, appearing at every stage of the biblical narrative and forming one of its most significant themes (Grant & Wilson, 2005, p. 12). Scripture contains various covenants reflecting common practice in the Ancient Near East[1]. Examples include covenants with self (Job 31:1), between people (1 Samuel 23:18, Proverbs 2:16-17), and between rulers and subjects (2 Samuel 5:3) (Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 176). Of these the most significant is the relationship between the Lord and humanity shaped by multiple covenants (Robertson, 1980, p. 28). In covenant the Lord reveals his character and purpose and covenant love (Hebrew dsx (Hesed)), showing grace and mercy as well as justice and accountability (Hill & Walton, 2000, p. 21). The focus of this paper will be on defining the term ‘covenant,’ and demonstrating its thematic prominence and key theological features by surveying the biblical narrative.

Covenant at its most basic level is a formal agreement between two parties (Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 175). Several definitions have been proposed[2]. However, the key defining elements are that it is a formal binding[3] relationship between parties, with set expectations, formed by ceremony and oath, and is accompanied by a sign[4]. Marriage is an excellent example of covenant – a couple enter into a formal relationship bound by law and Lord through the ceremony, pledge and as a sign the exchange of rings. This metaphor is used in scripture to describe the loving relationship of the Lord and humanity (Hosea 2, Jeremiah 2:1-2, Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 21:2, Wright, 2010, p. 9).
The ‘Covenant Formula’ is the repeated refrain ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’ (Exodus 6:6-8, Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 7:27, 30:22, Grant & Wilson, 2005, p. 12; Baker, 2005, p. 22; Robertson, 1980, p. 47). It illustrates the Lords intention to unreservedly give himself to his people and in turn the expectation that they will serve Him and only Him (Archer, 1984, p. 277). It demonstrates the unilateral establishment of covenant without bargaining, bartering or negotiation (Robertson, 1980, p. 8), relationship with God on his terms (Driscoll, 2008).
The phrase ‘to make a covenant’ (tyrb (bĕrȋt) trk (karath)) literally reads to ‘to cut a covenant’ (Robertson, 1980, p. 8; Marshall, Millard, Packer, & Wiseman, 1996, p. 234; , 2001-2010). This language reflects the common dramatic ceremony of cutting an animal[5] at the formation of a covenant (Robertson, 1980, p. 9). This process emphasised covenants as a ‘life-and-death bond’ (Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 176; Robertson, 1980, p. 12) as blood is representative of life (Leviticus 17:11). Once formed ‘nothing less than the shedding of blood may relieve the obligations incurred in the event covenantal violation’ (Hebrews 9:22, Robertson, 1980, p. 11).

The biblical-narrative demonstrates ‘successive covenants ... [that] span the entirety of the Old Testament period’ (Robertson, 1980, p. 17). God initiates five major covenants in the biblical text. They are with Noah and his family (Genesis 6:18; 9:8-17), Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:1-3, 17:1-14), Moses and Israelites (Exodus 3:4-10, 19:5-6), David and the kingdom of Israel (2 Samuel 7:8-19), and the new covenant with Jesus and the church (Matthew 16:17-19, Robertson, 1980, p. 27; Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 177) .
The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 8:15-9:17) is the earliest use of the word bĕrȋt and first explicit reference to covenant in the scriptures (Wright, 2005, p. 57). Prototypical elements of this covenant include introduction to characters (Genesis 6:6-8), the Lord’s restraint from total destruction (Genesis 6:13), the Lord’s initiative with saving grace (Genesis 6:14, 8:1), clear instruction and expectation (Genesis 6:14-21), blessing (Genesis 8:21, 9:10-16)) and a sign (Genesis 9:16, Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 178; Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, & Petersen, 2005, p. 56).
There is also evidence to suggest that the original creation relationship between God and humanity is implicitly covenantal – the Adamic Covenant (Robertson, 1980, p. 27). The relationship has several covenantal elements – initiated by the Lord, binding in nature (Genesis 2:20) with expectations and consequences (Genesis 2:17). Wilson and Grant (2005, p. 13) argue that this is only a possibility as it lacks a covenant sign, ceremony or formula.
Early covenants seen within the Primeval prologue are unambiguously universal (Wright, 2005, p. 57), covenants intended for all people (Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 183) and ‘every living creature’ (Genesis 9:10). Robertson argues that this is consistent throughout the Old Testament. He quotes Hosea 6:7 (which parallels an Israelite and non-Israelite in their transgression of the covenant), and Jeremiah 31 (alludes to Genesis narrative of creation rather than to establishment of God’s covenant with Noah) (1980, pp. 21,23). Universality is continued in the New Testament, which teaches humanity’s universal rejection of the Lord and need for a saviour (Romans 5:14-21.)
The formation of the Abrahamic Covenant follows many of the elements seen in the earlier Noahic Covenant. The characters are introduced (Genesis 11:29-31). The Lord initiates the plan (Genesis 12:1-3). There are clear instruction and expectations including going to ‘a land I will show you’ (Genesis 12:1), and obligations for God’s people to do ‘righteousness and justice’ (Genesis 18:19.) The covenant sign is male circumcision[6] (Genesis 17:10).
The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:18, 17:1-10) is the most important and missiologically the most significant Old Testament covenant (Wright, 2005, p. 58; Baker, 2005, p. 25). It affirms the universal plan for humanity but focuses on the vehicle for that plan, a particular people group – Abraham and his descendents (Mathew 1:1, 3:9). (Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 186; Wright, 2005, p. 60). Following the emphasis of humanity’s sinful rebellion in Genesis 3-11, the Abrahamic covenant reveals the Lord’s plan to establish a people in a land, and how from that people an everlasting covenant will bless ‘all the families of the earth’ (Genesis 12:3).
The ensuing story reveals a key feature of covenant with the Lord – his commitment to it. Abraham places the covenant at risk by failing to trust God’s plans for Sarah by twice giving away his wife (Genesis 12:15, 20:11) and by having a child with his maidservant Hagar (Genesis 16:4). The Lord fulfils his promises not because of his people, but in spite of his people (Judges 2:1, Psalm 105:8).
This faithfulness allows the Lord’s people to become a nation (Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 195). Over 400 years later, Abraham’s descendents are in Egypt ‘fruitful and increased greatly’ (Exodus 1:7). Despite numerical growth they are not in the land promised and the wrath of Pharaoh puts fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant in doubt. ‘God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob’ (Exodus 2:24 cf: Exodus 6:5) (Baker, 2005, p. 28). Through ten plaques and parted seas God dramatically acts to return Abraham’s descendents on a path of fulfilling the covenant proving an iconic symbol of God’s faithfulness to His people.
At Mount Sinai, the Lord initiates the next phase of his relationship the Mosaic Covenant, the first national covenant (Exodus 19:5-6). After reminding the people of his faithfulness and saving grace [7](Exodus 19:4) the Lord asks for a faithful response with the giving of the Law. This Law, recorded on ‘tablets...of the covenant, the Ten Commandments’ (Exodus 34:28) are the conditions for living in the covenant (Leviticus 26:15). The Law emphasises the unique relationship between God and his people. It warns them not to violate the covenant by forming covenants with other gods (Exodus 23:32) or constructing idols (Deuteronomy 4:23). Neither are they to form covenants with inhabitants of the land (Exodus 34:12) but rather to ‘devote them to complete destruction’ (Deuteronomy 7:2). The sign of the covenant will be Passover (Exodus 12:27). God’s faithfulness to this covenant allows God’s people to settle in the Promised Land (Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 195).
Successive covenants are not a wiping of the slate but are harmonious, building on the existing relationship and continuing the basic emphasis (Robertson, 1980, pp. 28-29). The Mosaic Covenant does not annul or cancel the earlier Abrahamic Covenant but confirms and elaborates the obligations within the covenant (McGowen, 2005, p. 189; Baker, 2005, p. 25; Goldsworthy, 2000, p. 53). Nor does it change their status as the Lord’s people, but clearer defines their purpose (Exodus 19:5-6) (Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, & Petersen, 2005, pp. 129, 147).
This principle of successive covenants is seen throughout Old Testament scripture. Exodus 33:1 records the Lord instructing Moses to take the land promised Abraham (Marshall, Millard, Packer, & Wiseman, 1996, pp. 235-236). The Pentateuch re-enforces the covenant in the positive (Deuteronomy 7:12) and the negative (Leviticus 26:14-15). Joshua speaks of punishment for covenant infidelity (Joshua 23:16), the removal of blessing and the removal of the Lord’s presence (Joshua 7:10-13). 1 Kings 13:23 reports the Lord is gracious at present because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Additionally, the New Testament states that ‘the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God’ (Galatians 3:17).
In the Promised Land, they ask the Lord for a King to rule over them (1 Samuel 8:5). This request is first answered in the jealous King Saul and then in King David, ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (Acts 13:22). The Lord establishes the Davidic Covenant through the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 7:8-16, Psalms 89:3-4). Like previous covenants, it begins with selection by grace (2 Samuel 7:8-9a cf. Exodus 19:4), a promise of blessing (2 Samuel 7:9b-11) and a blessing of ‘a kingdom forever’ (2 Samuel 7:12-18 cf: Luke 3:31). The Davidic covenant is a further extension of the Sinai covenant (Marshall, Millard, Packer, & Wiseman, 1996, p. 236) and establishes God’s people as a strong empire (Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 200). This period of united monarchy is Israel’s ‘Golden Age’ (Goldsworthy, 2000, p. 54)
David’s son Solomon is attributed as the wisest of all kings and his reign is the most prosperous in Israel’s history. Despite his wisdom, Solomon fails to keep God’s covenant by going after other gods. This failure leads to the end of the Golden Age and the division of the kingdom. 1 Kings 11:9-14 records ‘I will tear the kingdom from you’, leaving just one tribe, and the Lord raised Hadad the Edomite against him.
The destruction of the Northern Kingdom and exile to Assyria (721-722 BC), through the eyes of Hosea and the Deuteronomistic Historian, was a result of religious impropriety and violation of the Covenant (Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, & Petersen, 2005, p. 292). This event is described in 2 Kings 17:7-18 using the covenant framework – characters introduced (2 Kings 17:7), selection by grace (2 Kings 17:7), violation of the expectations (2 Kings 17:9,15) and judgement (2 Kings 17:18.)
The Southern Kingdom suffers a similar fate for its unfaithfulness (586 BC). 2 Kings 21:1-14 attributes the southern exile to Babylon to the reign of King Manasseh who violated the covenant and ‘did what was evil in the sight of the Lord’ (Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, & Petersen, 2005, p. 293). He had violated the conditions of the covenant by building alters within the temple, and seeking fortune tellers and necromancers.
The exile of both the Northern and Southern Kingdom was not invoked by a single technical offense. Rather it occured after severe rejection of the Lord’s commands (including the burning of their own children and the establishment of altars within the temple) and the rejection of multiple prophets sent to reform. Nor does it mean an end to the covenant with the Lord. He pursues them with prophets, demonstrates continued concern, and plans for their restoration (Isaiah 40:1-11: 41:8-10, Jeremiah 29:10-14, Baker, 2005, p. 34).  
Finally, the Lord through the prophets points forward to a New Covenant which will be inaugurated by Jesus (Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, Robertson, 1980, p. 43; Baker, 2005, pp. 34, 42). This New Covenant will be different in scope (Deuteronomy 23:1-3, Isaiah 19:18-25, 42:6, 49:6, 55:3-5, 56:3-8, Jeremiah 12:14-17), spiritual in nature (Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:26-27, 37:12-14, Jeremiah 31:31-33), explicitly personal (Jeremiah 31:34) and eternal (Isaiah 54, Baker, 2005, pp. 43, 48).

History, as recorded in the Old Testament scriptures, is not scientific world history, but rather it is history of the Lord’s relationship with humanity (Goldsworthy, 2000, p. 41). This relationship is described, articulated and formalised through successive covenants. The narrative opens with the Lord’s universal covenant with creation (the Adamic and Noahic Covenants), then focuses on His relationship with a family (the Abrahamic Covenant), who become a nation with instructions of life and worship (the Mosiac Covenant), and then a kingdom (the Davidic Covenant.) Humanity’s inherent inability to remain faithful to these covenant for more than a few decades, (seen most vividly in the juxtaposition of the reforming king Hezekiah and his son Manasseh), requires a new solution, the prophesied New Covenant. The bulk of biblical writings are concentrated around periods of covenantal initiation, restoration, and fulfilment with relative silence on events apart from the Lord’s people but important to world history and periods of covenantal stability. Covenant is clearly one of the Old Testament’s pervasive and unifying themes.


Archer, J. G. (1984). Covenant. In W. A. Elwell (Ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (pp. 276-278). Michigan: Baker Book House.
Baker, D. L. (2005). Covenant: an Old Testament Study. In J. A. Grant, & A. I. Wilson, The God of the Covenant (pp. 21-53). Leicester: Apollos (IVP).
Bautch, R. J. (n.d). An Apprasial of Abraham's Role in Postexcilic Covenants. Catholic Biblical Quarterly , pp. 42-65.
Birch, B. C., Brueggemann, W., Fretheim, T. E., & Petersen, D. L. (2005). A Theological Introduction To the Old Testament (2nd Edition ed.). Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Driscoll, M. (2008). Doctrine: Covenant: God Pursues. Seatle: Mars Hill.
Driscoll, M., & Breshears, G. (2010). Covenant: God Pursues. In Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (pp. 175-207). Wheaton: Crossway.
Goldsworthy, G. (2000). The Goldsworthy Trilogy. Waynesboro: Paternoster Press.
Grant, J. A., & Wilson, A. I. (2005). Introduction. In J. A. Grant, & A. I. Wilson, The God of the Covenant (pp. 12-20). Leicester: Apollos (IVP).
Hill, A. E., & Walton, J. H. (2000). A survey of the Old Testament (Second Edition ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Marshall, I. H., Millard, A. R., Packer, J. I., & Wiseman, D. J. (Eds.). (1996). The New Bible Dictionary (3rd Edition ed.). Leicester: IVP.
McGowen, A. T. (2005). Covenant: God's mission through God's people. In J. A. Grant, & A. I. Wilson, The God of the Covenant (pp. 178-199). Leicester: Apollos (IVP).
Robertson, O. P. (1980). The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. . (2001-2010). Retrieved March 2010, from :
Wright, C. J. (2005). Covenant: God's mission through God's people. In J. A. Grant, & A. I. Wilson, The God of the Covenant (pp. 54-78). Leicester: Apollos (IVP).
Wright, C. J. (2010). The Whole Church - A Brief Biblical Survey. Evangelical Review of Theology , pp. 14-28.

[1] Examples of Ancient Near Eastern covenants include Mari and Amarna tablets records of covenant between nations (Marshall, Millard, Packer, & Wiseman, 1996, pp. 234-235).
[2] Covenant Definitions - a mutually binding agreement to do undertakings on each other’s part (Archer, 1984, p. 276), ‘a bond in blood sovereignly administered’ (Robertson, 1980, p. 4), ‘a solemn commitment, guaranteeing promise or obligations undertaken by one or both parties, sealed with an oath’ (Williamson quoted in Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 176), Covenant is a metaphor... covenant is much too personally and relationonally construed for a treaty or agreement language to do it justice.’ (Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, & Petersen, 2005, p. 153)  The word most often translated as ‘covenant’ is the Hebrew tyrb (bĕrȋt) which implies ‘obligation’ and ‘binding’. (Baker, 2005, p. 22; Archer, 1984, p. 276)
[3] Covenant is a binding relationship. It is not to be entered into in a casual or informal manner as it is inviolable (Robertson, 1980, p. 4), unalterable and permanent (Archer, 1984, p. 277). ‘No one annuls [a covenant] or adds to it once it has been ratified’ (Galatians 3:15).  Parties are obligated to carry out their respective commitments under the penalty of divine retribution (Archer, 1984, p. 277) or the shedding of their blood (Robertson, 1980, p. 11).
[4] Covenant Signs include: a rainbow (Genesis 9:13), circumcision (Genesis 17:10), a gift (Genesis 21:28-32), the eating of a meal (Genesis. 26:28-30, 31:54; Exodus 24:11), the setting up of a memorial (Genesis. 31:44f.; John. 24:27), sprinkling of blood (Exodus 24:8), the Sabbath (Leviticus 31:16), the passing under the rod (Ezekiel 20:37) or reflected in construction (II Kings 11:4). 
[5] Genesis 15:9-17. He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.
[6] The reason the Lord chose this is not stated, but may be related to childbearing and the hereditary nature of covenant and sexual sin which plagues humanity (Driscoll & Breshears, 2010, p. 186).

[7] Christopher Wright expresses this principle well: 'The priority of grace is a fundamental theological premise in approaching Old Testament law and ethics. Obedience to the law was base on, and was a response to, God's salvation. Exodus has eighteen chapters of redemption before a single chapter of law' (Wright, 2005, p. 64).