[K:NWTS 20/2 (Sep 2005) 26-46]
Characters for the Dialogue:
Smith: Alias of the writer of this article. He believes that the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of grace legally administered.
Cleaver: Makes objections to the article. He believes that the Mosaic Covenant was a temporal covenant of works relating only to the temporal blessings of Canaan. However, Cleaver does not believe that Jewish believers who were under that covenant received their eternal salvation by that covenant. Instead, that was given to them by the Abrahamic Covenant, which continued to have force at the same time as the Mosaic Covenant but remained distinct from it.2
Smith, answering the door: "Welcome, Cleaver. Thanks for coming over."
Cleaver: "But of course, got to follow up on that article of yours. I've been"
Smith: "Oh, please, have a seat. Cream and sugar?"
Cleaver: "No thank you."
Smith: "Well, I thought we'd read the introduction to the article again, just to get us back on track. How's that?"
Cleaver: "Certainly, suit yourself, whatever you like."
Was the Mosaic Covenant simply a typological covenant of works, promising temporal blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience?3 We deny.
The state of the question: The question is not, "Did the Mosaic Covenant promise temporal blessings for obedience and temporal curses for disobedience?" For we affirm this. The question is not, "Do these temporal blessings and curses carry over into the New Covenant in their earthly/temporal manifestation?" For (we agree that) they do not. Again, the question is not, "Were these temporal blessings and curses types of the eschatological blessings and curses of the New Covenant?" For we affirm this. The question is not, "Were the sanctified works of Israel under the Old Covenant uniquely a type of Christ's work (insofar as they were rewarded with various degrees of blessings and curses)?" For we affirm this.4
Instead, the question resolves itself into four major questions. (1) Was the Mosaic Covenant a redemptive covenant of grace (in which the above typological framework functioned)? We affirm. (2) Were the temporal blessings simply temporal blessings or were they foretastes/intrusions of the eschatological blessings yet to come in Christ? We deny that they were simply temporal blessings and affirm that they were intrusions of eschatological blessings in Christ. This resolves itself into another question, "Is it possible to speak of the blessings of the Mosaic Covenant as intrusions of future blessings in Christ if the Mosaic Covenant was not a covenant of grace?" We deny.
Smith: "Well, since we were together last time I've rewritten the paper a little bitand switched the original third and fourth points around."
Cleaver: "Fair enough."
Smith: "So now it should read:
(3) Regarding typology: Is it possible to speak of the Mosaic Covenant as a typological covenant if its blessings were not an intrusion of future eschatological blessings? We deny. Instead, we affirm that the blessings (promised to obedience) must have been intrusions of the kingdom to come. Otherwise, they could not have been types of that kingdom. This resolves itself into a similar question, "Is it possible to speak of the Mosaic Covenant as a typological covenant if it was not a covenant of grace?" We deny. Instead, we affirm that the Mosaic Covenant must be a covenant of grace in order to be typological. (4) Was Israel's own merit the ground of her blessings in the land? That is, were the works of Old Testament believers (by which they received temporal blessings and curses in the land) strictly meritorious? We deny.
The position taken (by those with whom we dispute) on questions 2 through 4 (above) is not always clear. However, resolving these questions will support our main pointthat the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of grace (and its uniquely typological structure must be understood within this larger framework). Therefore, the main question resolves itself into this, "Was the covenant given at Mt. Sinai a covenant of grace?" We affirm this, and those with whom we dispute seem to deny it. (And if they don't deny it, it is not clear to us in what way they affirm it.)"
Smith: "Of course, we discussed the first part of this question last time we were together. So I'm going to skip over that and continue reading with the second question."
Cleaver: "But of course."
Smith reads: "Having concluded the first point of our question, we now move to the second, third, and fourth points.
Before embarking on a discussion of these points, let's get before us the big picture that ties them together. Those with whom we contend divide the Mosaic economy5 into two distinct levels that are controlled by two absolutely contrary principles. God's saving grace controls the first level, but Israel's meritorious works control the second.
On the first level, Israel received eternal salvation. God gave Israel eternal salvation by Christ's work alone. But (once in the land) the second level came into effect. In this level, Israel earned all her temporal blessings by her own meritorious works. This second level is the level on which typology functions. Thus, Israel earned those things that point to Christ by her meritorious obedience. She merited Old Testament types and shadows. Typology is dependent on merit. Or merit precedes typology.
Cleaver: "That's a bit of a stretch Smith. The Old Testament had its own already and not yet. That is, God already gave his grace to Israel in the sacraments. Thus, God's grace was a type of his grace to come. But Israel was called to accomplish those things that had not yet happened. Israel only merited this aspect of typologythat aspect that looked to the futureto that which hadn't been accomplished yet."
Smith: "But that completely undermines typologybecause all typology looks to the future. It's dependent on the sense that it lacks fulfillment. There isn't one kind of typology that simply looks to the past. It all looks to the future."
Cleaver: "Well, perhaps it does that. Maybe we have two types of typology in the Old Testament. One is dependent on the grace of God and looks ahead to the fulfillment of that grace. The other looks back to grace but is dependent on the merit of Israel for its fulfillment."
Smith: "Well, that's the point of the discussion. Can there be any typology like thatone that starts with grace and ends with merit? The other thing I'd like to point out is that you've said some things inconsistent with the views of your friends. For they say that the works principle only promised temporal blessings. But to look forward to the final fulfillment it would have to promise something more (which Israel failed to accomplish). It would have to promise the reward of the eschatological agefor perfect obedience. That's what Christ fulfilled."
Cleaver: "I'll have to think about that."
Smith: "Well, let's get back on track and read on. The view I'm critiquing teaches that there are two levels. And (on the second level) Israel earned a great deal of the Old Testament's typology. She merited all the blessings in the land. Therefore, she merited all the typology tied to these blessings. Thus, merit precedes this typology.
We can summarize our response to this view with the words of Geerhardus Vos.
In determining the function of the ceremonial law we must take into consideration its two large aspects, the symbolical and typical, and the relation between these two. The same things were, looked at from one point of view, symbols, and, from another point of view, types. A symbol is in its religious significance something that profoundly portrays a certain fact or principle or relationship of a spiritual nature in a visible form. The things it pictures are of present existence and present application. They are in force at the time in which the symbol operates. With the same thing, regarded as a type, it is different. A typical thing is prospective; it relates to what will become real or applicable in the future.6
The main problem to understand is, how the same system of portrayals can have served at one and the same time in a symbolical and a typical capacity. Obviously this would have been impossible if the things portrayed had been in each case different or diverse, unrelated to each other. If something is an accurate picture of a certain reality, then it would seem disqualified by this very fact for pointing to another future reality of a quite different nature. The solution of the problem lies in this, that the things symbolized and the things typified are not different sets of things. They are in reality the same things, only different in this respect that they come first on a lower stage of development in redemption, and then again, in a later period, on a higher stage. Thus what is symbolical with regard to the already existing edition of the fact or truth becomes typical, prophetic, of the later, final edition of that same fact or truth. From this it will be perceived that a type can never be a type independently of its being first a symbol. The gateway to the house of typology is at the farther end of the house of symbolism. This is the fundamental rule to be observed in ascertaining what elements in the Old Testament are typical, and wherein the things corresponding to them as antitypes consist. Only after having discovered what a thing symbolizes, can we legitimately proceed to put the question what it typifies, for the latter can never be aught else than the former lifted to a higher plane. The bond that holds type and antitype together must be a bond of vital continuity in the progress of redemption. Where this is ignored, and in place of this bond are put accidental resemblances, void of inherent spiritual significance, all sorts of absurdities will result, such as must bring the whole subject of typology into disrepute.7
In this section, Vos indicates that nothing in the Old Testament was a type unless it was a symbol. That is, to be a type it had to be a real blessing from the heavenly throne of God.
Take the sacrifices for instance. They were both sacraments and typessacraments of the Mosaic covenant of grace and types of Christ. The only reason they were types is because they were intrusions of the grace of Christ to come. In other words, the only reason they were types is because they were sacraments of the covenant of grace.
Of course, the blessings given in Christ are fuller than those given through the sacrifices. But they gave the same grace in substance. They were eschatological intrusions of the grace of Christ to come. That is why they could be types of Christ to come.
As Vos states, "the things symbolized and the things typified are the same things." This explains how "what is symbolical with regard to the already existing edition of the fact or truth becomes typical, prophetic, of the later, final edition of that same fact or truth." For "The bond that holds type and antitype together must be a bond of vital continuity in the progress of redemption"8(emphases mine). (While Vos is discussing the sacrificial system specifically, we can relate this to the blessings of the land. In fact, Vos's use of "symbol" here sheds light on his own view of land-inheritance. For he says that the land blessings "belong to the symbolico-typical sphere"9).
Therefore, we should not speak of two separate levels. The typological "level" of the Mosaic covenant was fully dependent on and integrated with the "level" of eternal salvation. In other words, there aren't two sharply defined levels of the Mosaic covenant. We can make theological distinctions in the Mosaic covenant, but these distinctions don't amount to making two entirely different levels.
Thus, to make the typological aspect of the Mosaic covenant a separate level (governed by a totally different principle from that of eternal redemption) is mistaken.
In the end, it undermines the insight of Vos (which we hope to show is taught in Scripture). In their view, Old Testament types are on a separate level, entirely distinct from eternal redemption. As a result, these types are not symbols. They can not arise from an intrusion of Christ's eternal redemption in history. They are not intrusions of eschatological grace. They become mere abstractionsabstractions from the whole history of redemptionand arbitrarily overlaid on top of it. They do not flow from the organic continuum of redemption and revelation."
Cleaver: "That's a rather extreme charge Smith. I don't know anyone who would actually say that."
Smith: "Of course not. I'm sure they'd shrink from itor at least I'd hope so. But I believe that's the implication. And you can see it in the way many of your friends preachalways focusing on the discontinuity of the old and new covenants. They seem to give so little reflection to how every Old Testament text is a positive intrusion of Christ's eschatological grace."
Cleaver: "But what about discontinuity?"
Smith: "Of coursewe preach the positive intrusion of Christ's eschatological grace in the old covenant. Then we see the failure of Israel. This shows us that God's grace had not come in fullness. This leads us on to the fullness of grace in Christ's death and resurrection. He had to come in order to perfect redemption."
Cleaver: "Well, we can discuss this more later. Read on."
Smith: "Just to remind you, Vos is suggesting something crucial about the typology of the Old Testament. Nothing was a type unless it was a symbol. That is, nothing was a type unless it was an intrusion of Christ's grace to come.
The two things are so interrelated that they can't simply be divided into two levels. This is especially the case if these levels are governed by two opposing principles. That is, if one is governed by grace and one is governed absolutely by works. They can't be governed by two principles that are in absolute antithesis to one another."
Cleaver: "I thought you believed in a relative contrast between the old and new covenants?"
Smith: "Yes, I do. But that is different than an absolute contrast. A relative contrast suggests that there is relatively more grace in the new covenant than the old. I believe this is consistent with Vos's view. But if meritorious works governed the typological level, then it is in absolute contrast to the covenant of grace. These two things are not compatible."
Cleaver: "Alright, read on."
Smith reads: "We now summarize our critique. All Old Testament typology was dependent on the intrusion of Christ's grace in it. Therefore, Christ's grace (and not human merit) was the foundation of all Old Testament typology.
God gave this grace more immediately in the exodus. But after the law at Sinai, he administered this grace through their faith and obedience. Still, his sovereign grace (as revealed in the exodus) was always the first cause of their obedience. Thus, God's sovereign grace was always the first cause of all Old Testament typology.
And further, God did not produce merit within the Israelites. Thus, he did not reward their sanctified obedience10 because the Spirit worked merit in them. This could never be. Besides, God ultimately gave them these blessings because of his covenant of grace with Abraham. Just as he gave them their obedience by graceso he rewarded their obedience by grace.
This gracious arrangement was set forth in the Mosaic covenantespecially in its final form in Deuteronomy.
Our claim is that the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of grace uniquely legally administered. And this legal administration was according to the pattern of the covenant of works, but it was not a covenant of works properly speaking. Thus, we might say it was patterned after merit, but it was not merit properly speaking. (It was not even merit in the way that we may speak of Adam's work being meritorious.) Israel's obedience resulted in the removal of curse from their inheritance. Thus, it was a type of Christ's merit (which finally took away the curse separating us from the eschatological inheritance of the Spirit.) But it was not merit properly speaking.
God gave Israel their inheritance blessings by redemptive graceeven when he gave them this grace through their sanctified obedience. Therefore, their works were not meritorious. And there are not two levels of the Mosaic covenant or economyone determined by redemptive grace and the other determined by merit.
[Further, Paul contrasted the eschatological justification in Christ to the works of the law. But (insofar as this contrast refers to the state of the regenerate under the Mosaic covenant) it is only a relative contrast. In it, Paul only contrasts the sanctified works of Israel (as types of the work of Christ) to the work of Christthe reality.]
Points two to four of this article are difficult to separate, so we will be constantly relating them to one another. However, for the sake of discussion we can focus attention on one at a time. We now proceed to the second point. This point we might call sub-question two.
2) Were the temporal blessings simply temporal blessings or were they foretastes/intrusions of the eschatological blessings yet to come in Christ? We deny that they were simply temporal blessings and affirm that they were intrusions of eschatological blessings in Christ. This resolves itself into another question, "Is it possible to speak of the blessings of the Mosaic Covenant as intrusions of future blessings in Christ if the Mosaic Covenant was not a covenant of grace?" We deny.
The two crucial propositions of this point are the following: (1) the theocratic blessings of Israel ultimately arose from the grace of the Abrahamic covenant. Therefore, they are intrusions of the redemptive grace of God. (2) When Israel partook in these blessings, she anticipated the blessings of Christ to come.
(1) The blessings of Israel ultimately arose from the grace of the Abrahamic covenant.
Those with whom we dispute partially agree with us on this proposition. We all agree that Israel initially possessed her blessings by grace. However, according to them, she retained those blessings by meritorious works. By works she stored up more and more of those blessings.
Both groups agree that God first gave Israel her blessed state by grace. However, we believe that God continued to give Israel her blessings by gracenot by merit.
Thus, the question at issue is whether God gave Israel these blessings by his redemptive graceeven after he gave them the law and brought them into the land. The question is not whether there is a difference in the way God administered his blessing to Israel before and after the law. For we acknowledge that after the giving of the law there was a change in the administration of his grace. After the law his blessing was more clearly mediated through Israel's faith and obedience.
This took place in two stages. First, directly after the giving of the law, Israel's entrance into the land was dependent on her faith in God's promise. Second, only after Israel's entrance into the land, could she keep the whole law. For much of the law depended on her life in the land. Thus, a change occurred in his administration after Israel's entrance into the land. God gave her immediate (though progressive) possession of the blessings of the land. He mediated these blessings to her by means of her faith and obedience (as taught in Deuteronomy).
However, Christ purchased these blessings for Israel by his death and resurrectionjust as he purchases our sanctification by his death and resurrection. He simply mediated those blessings to her by giving her faith and obedience. She received these blessings by faith and obedience in the same way that we (and the saints of the Old Testament) continually lay up treasures in heaven by faith and obedience.
God gave Israel the blessings of the land in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. Thus, these blessings arose from the covenant of grace. This was also true of the blessings God gave her once she was settled in the land. They arose from the Abrahamic covenanteven though God gave them to Israel through her sanctified obedience.
And sometimes he gave them to her in spite of her disobedience in the land. This is another indication that they finally came from the Abrahamic covenant.
These claims do not detract from the fact that Israel's blessings had a special function in the land. To quote Geerhardus Vos (who notes the unique function of Israel's obedience after denying that it was meritorious):
The connection . . . belongs not to the legal sphere of merit, but to the symbolico-typical sphere of appropriateness of expression . . . the abode of Israel in Canaan typified the heavenly, perfected state of God's people. Under these circumstances the ideal of absolute conformity to God's law of legal holiness had to be upheld . . . When apostasy on a general scale took place, they could not remain in the promised land. When they disqualified themselves for typifying the state of holiness, they ipso facto disqualified themselves for typifying that of blessedness and had to go into captivity.11
Then Vos emphasizes the gracious nature of this arrangement, beginning with these words, "This did not mean that every individual Israelite, in every detail of his life, had to be perfect, and that on this was suspended the continuance of God's favor."12
On this most fundamental level we agree with Vos (while adding our own unique nuances).13 Among these nuances is the claim that Israel's blessings were a partial reversal of the curse given to Adam. In this way, Israel's blessings anticipated Christ's final reversal of the cursehis eschatological justification. As such they were blessings earned by the resurrection of Christgiven before the time. Through these blessings Israel partook in the inheritance of the age to comelifted to glory and seated with Christ in heavenly places. (We will expound on this in more detail in its own place.)
This leads us to our next point.
2) When Israel partook in these blessings, she anticipated the blessings of Christ to come.
God gave Israel the blessings of the land by grace. Therefore, God purchased these blessings for Israel by the work of Christ. Christ's blessed life was truly anticipated in these blessings (for those who possessed him by faith).
We do not wish to claim that these earthly blessings were absolute embodiments of graceas if possessing them meant possessing grace (ex opera operata). That is at odds with all of Old Testament history. For many wicked people partook of these blessings. Instead, we claim that those who believed possessed the blessings of Christ through them. But Israelites who did not believe only participated in the blessings of the covenant externally (as hypocrites do now in the church, Heb. 6:4-6).
But believers had vital covenant union with God. And for them, the blessings of the land were blessings of that vital union. Thus, they communed with God in all these blessings.
However, those with whom we dispute distinguish two levels in the Mosaic economy (or covenant). The first is the covenant of graceby which righteous Israel had union with God. The second is the meritorious typological levelwhere we find the blessings of the land. According to them, these two levels cannot be confused.
If this is the case, the blessings of the land cannot be vital blessings of union with God. That is, righteous Israel did not participate in God through the blessings (because these were on an absolutely separate level14). As a result, the blessings of the land were not real eschatological intrusions for anyone.
We hope to show that the blessings of the land were the blessings of union with God. And they were the blessings of vital union with God for the righteous. Thus, while we can distinguish these blessings from the final reality, we cannot separate them from itthe final reality of life in God himself.
Deuteronomy 7 and 8, Psalm 67 and 2 Kings 13:22 and 23 indicate these points.
Deuteronomy teaches that God gave Israel blessings through her sanctified obedience. But chapter eight shows that God still considered these blessings to be gifts of his grace. Therefore, Israel did not earn these blessings by her merit.
Deuteronomy 7:12 says, "Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which he swore to your forefathers."
Verse 13 continues, "And he will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock in the land which he swore to your forefathers to give you."
In these verses, God tells Israel how she will maintain the blessings of the landand how she will increase in them. It expresses the conditional promises of the Mosaic covenantsimilar to Leviticus 18:5 ("the man who does these things will live by them"). Here it is "because you listen to these judgments" (v. 12). This is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew word akev and can be translated "as a consequence of." It is clearly a conditional promise.
But does this mean it is meritorious? The text leads us away from this conclusion. It teaches us that these blessings result from the Abrahamic promise. It is "because you keep" that "God will keep with youHis covenant . . . which he swore to your forefathers."
The blessings that follow result from the covenant sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They come from the covenant of graceeven when they are given to Israel because of her obedience. God is simply mediating these gracious blessings to Israel through her obedience. Thus, even her obedience functions within the covenant of grace.
This is again emphasized by two other factors: (1) the repetition of the oath sworn to the forefathers at the end of verse 13, and (2) the use of the Hebrew word hesed in verse 12.
First, God repeats his oath to the patriarchs in verse 13. The words "which he swore to your forefathers" (to describe the land) are not incidental. They emphasize the gracious nature of the blessings.
Second, God tells themif they are obedient, he will keep with them his covenant and his "lovingkindness" which he swore to their forefathers. The Hebrew word for "lovingkindness" is hesed. In connection with the Abrahamic covenant, it refers to the covenant mercies of God. It emphasizes the gracious character of the covenant God made with the forefathers.
Clearly, God's redemptive grace is the source of Israel's blessings in the land. God himself emphasizes this. In the same context where he mentions the Mosaic covenant's conditions and blessings, he underscores their gracious nature. They result from the hesed of the Abrahamic covenant.
The theocratic blessings flow from the Abrahamic covenant. They flow from God's redemptive love. But the blessings enumerated are those of the Mosaic covenant. Thus, the theocratic blessings of the Mosaic covenant flow from the Abrahamic covenant. This can be seen in the following way: If the people keep the conditional promises of the Mosaic covenant they will find themselves recipients of the unconditional promises of that covenant. These unconditional promises flow from the unconditional promises of the Abrahamic covenant. Thus, all theocratic blessings ultimately come from the Abrahamic covenant.
Further, the blessings promised to Abraham were eschatological in nature. That is, God promised Abraham that he would be heir of the world (Rom. 4:13). The blessing promised to Abraham (Gal. 3:14) was the eschatological gift of the Spirit. This was his true inheritance (Gal. 3:18). Therefore, he looked ahead to the eschatological city whose maker and builder is God (Heb. 11:8-10).
Again, the theocratic blessings in the land flow from God's "keeping" his covenant with Abraham. Therefore, these blessings must be a foretaste of eschatological blessings. That is, the blessings promised in the Abrahamic covenant were eschatological in nature. Later theocratic blessings arose from these promises. Therefore, they must have been an intrusion of eschatological blessings.
Through redemptive history God comes closer and closer to his people. He progressively unveils his heavenly presence to them. And he does this harmoniously (i.e., organically). Thus the earlier Abrahamic covenant administers theocratic blessings in the land through the Mosaic covenant. These theocratic blessings are an intrusion of future eschatological blessings in Christ.
The Abrahamic covenant unfolds into the Mosaic covenant (administering partially mixed eschatology), which, in turn, unfolds into the New Covenant (which administers semi-eschatological blessings). In this way, the New Covenant is the final unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant.
These conclusions cannot follow unless the Mosaic covenant was a redemptive covenant of grace in Christ. It also lends further support to our previous claim, that the blessings of the law were not based on strict merit. And it strengthens the point we are making here, that these blessings are not simply temporal blessings. All three covenants administer God's eschatological presence redemptively. Therefore, they administer eternal salvation. This is the thread that runs through them all.
The fact that the central blessing promised is God's lovingkindness underscores that this is a covenant bond with God himself. It was a sweet bond. In it God possessed Israel with his lovingkindness when he gave them the blessings of the land. Thus, in possessing the blessings of the land, Israel possessed God's lovingkindnessyea God himself. What a sweet foretaste of eschatological life.
God was present in the land. And it was natural that God's love would mean blessing for his people in the arena of his presence. Thus, they received blessings in the land as a foretaste of future eschatological blessings. In these blessings they possess the eschatological love of Christ before the time. Yeah, in such blessings they receive Christ himself. Truly, the theocracy speaks of him."
Cleaver: "Very interesting, but I still think that Deuteronomy 7 and 8 speak of different things. Deuteronomy 8 is about God's grace in delivering Israel in the exodus, but Deuteronomy 7 is about Israel's later merit in the land."
Smith: "Even with the emphasis on hesed in Deuteronomy 7?"
Cleaver: "Well . . ."
Smith: "Perhaps we can read on. The next part deals with the relation between chapters 7 and 8."
Cleaver: "Go ahead."
Smith reads: "The connection between Deuteronomy 7 and 8 supports what we've seen in chapter 7. For there God says, "he will multiply you" (7:13) in his hesed (7:12). Deuteronomy 8:13 repeats the word "multiply." Lest when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied (8:12-13).
These two passages unite the two chapters together. They are both speaking of Israel's later blessings in the land. The word "multiply" emphasizes this. For multiply does not simply designate God initially giving Israel the land. It also points to God later giving Israel blessings in greater or lesser degrees (multiplication), and that through her obedience.
And in chapter 8, God says that the same grace involved in the exodus is at work in these blessings in the land.
"Lest you say in your heart, My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth. But you shall remember Jehovah your God, for it is he that gives you power to get wealth; that he may establish his covenant which he swore unto your fathers, as at this day" (Deut. 8:17-18).
The flow of thought in chapter 8 clearly connects the blessings in the land (mediated through Israel's obedience) to the mercy of the exodus. In chapter 8, we find that the blessings of the land arise from God's covenant mercies to the fathers just as they do in chapter 7.
Thus, Israel's obediencethrough which these blessings are mediated to hercannot be meritorious. They arise from the grace of Christ to come. This is clearly indicated in these passageseven if the new covenant progresses beyond Deuteronomy 7 and 8 (relatively speaking)."
Cleaver: "On first glance, you may seem to be right about Deuteronomy 7 and 8. But I believe that Scripture interprets Scripture. And from the rest of the Old Testament you certainly don't get the impression you're giving to this text."
Smith: "I'm not so sure about that Cleaver. Have you considered Psalm 67?"
Cleaver: "No, which Psalm is that?"
Smith, handing Cleaver a Bible: "Perhaps you'd like to look it up."
Smith and Cleaver look up the Psalm and read it together.
Cleaver: "Interesting, but how does this support your point?"
Smith: "To answer that, do you mind if I just continue to read my paper?"
Cleaver: "No, that's fine. Go right ahead."
Smith reads: "Psalm 67 highlights God's mercy and salvation as the source of his blessing (v. 1), even the blessing of Israel's increase in the land (vv. 6 and 7 in the English translation). The structure of the Psalm connects them.
This language most likely alludes to various passages, including Leviticus 26:4 and 20. In Leviticus 26:3-4 we read: "If you walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give your rains in their season, and the land will yield its increase, and the trees of the field will yield their fruit."
This speaks of the conditional nature of the Mosaic covenant. It points out its unique legal administration. But Psalm 67 indicates that God's mercy is the ultimate source of this legal administration (and its blessings).
That's how Psalm 67 can have an eschatological referent in the center (v. 4 framed by similar language in vv. 3 and 5). It is precisely because these blessings (in the land) arise from God's mercy (v. 1) that they can make God's name known throughout the earth (v. 2). It is precisely because these blessings arise from God's mercy that they can point to the final eschatological blessings in Christ. Because they arise from mercy they anticipate final eschatological blessings. As such, they transport the Psalmist into the eschatological futureto call upon all the nations to praise him (vv. 3 and 5).
They are to sing for joy because God will govern them (v. 4). This indicates that he will govern them in grace. He will bless us, and thus they will fear him (savingly, v. 7).
The Psalmist anticipates God's future eschatological mercy in his merciful blessings to Israel. That is how he sees its eschatological fulfillment in Christ.
If Israel earned these blessings by her merit, they would not anticipate future blessings in Christ that arise from mercy.
If Israel earned her blessings by merit, there is no eschatological vector in the Psalms or in any portion of the Old Testament.
But the Psalmist knows otherwise."
Cleaver: "Perhaps, but maybe that's just talking about Israel's return from captivity and not her later blessings in the land. For surely, Israel's retention of the land was by her merit."
Smith: "But how can you say that after we've looked at Deuteronomy 7? Isn't Deuteronomy 7 clearly speaking about Israel's continual blessings in the land? And that multiplication is by God's hesed. If Psalm 67 refers to God's mercy in increasing Israel's blessing, why should that be restricted to her return from exile? Isn't it more likely that it reflects on all the increase God gives Israelincluding that of Leviticus 26:4?"
Smith: "Haven't we seen from Deuteronomy 8 that the Old Testament doesn't make an absolute distinction between God's mercy in the exodus and his continual blessing of his people? In fact, it makes the mercy of the exodus the proof that Israel's continual blessings arise from his grace."
Smith: "So, if the Psalmist reflects on return from exile, would not the mercy of that exodus argue that Israel's continual increase is by God's mercy too?"
Cleaver: "It still seems to me that there is a difference between God's initial exodus and Israel's retention of the land."
Smith: "Certainly there's a difference. But it's not an absolute difference. Israel's obedience isn't meritorious."
Cleaver: "You've made some good arguments Smith. But somehow, it still seems to me that Israel earned blessings in the land by her own merit, even if God gave her the land by grace."
Smith: "Cleaver, tell me what you think of the following passage. (It's the next one in my paper.)
'And Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. But Jehovah was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet.' That's 2 Kings 13:22-23."
Cleaver: "Well . . ."
Smith: "Isn't it clear that God ultimately keeps Israel in the land because of his covenant mercies to the fathersnot because of their own merits?"
Cleaver: "It's been interesting Smith, but I think I need to get home and take a hot shower."
Smith: "Of course."
Cleaver: "Then maybe sit by the fire and read the Bible for a while."
Smith: "The Psalms perhaps."
Cleaver, getting up: "Thanks for having me over."
Smith, escorting Cleaver to the door: "Any time Cleaver. You know that, any time."
1 Since I have found the style of Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology helpful in clarifying the theological question being discussed, I have followed its format in this article. Also, the use of "we" should be understood as a literary "we," not a claim to represent an ecclesiastical body or any other group.
2 For want of better names, I have chosen "Cleaver" because he cleaves the covenants apart, while "Smith" seeks to forge things together.
3 Turretin seems to ask a similar question in his Institutes, Twelfth Topic, Twelfth Question (Vol. 2, p. 262). See also Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, pp. 112-13. However, the position discussed by Turretin and Bolton may differ from the position of those with whom we argue, for the latter position seems to contend that strict merit was the foundation of Israel's blessings in the land.
4 Also, we should not be misinterpreted as criticizing our opponents for believing that the Mosaic Covenant was a mere repetition of the Covenant of Works with Adam, promising eternal life for perfect obedience. For they do not believe this. Instead, they believe that the Mosaic Covenant simply promised temporal blessings and curses for obedience. However, we disagree with them on this point also, holding that the Mosaic Covenant was both a covenant of redemptive grace and an absolute repetition of the covenant of works, promising eschatological blessedness for perfect obedience. However, that is not the point of dispute in this section. That will be dealt with later in "Question Two."
5 Those with whom we contend appear to be divided into two groups on how this relates to the Mosaic Covenant. Some believe that both levels were administered through the Mosaic covenant. Others distinguish between the Mosaic economy and the Mosaic covenant. They believe that both levels function in the Mosaic economy. But (during the Mosaic economy) the first level was administered through the Abrahamic covenant alonenot the Mosaic. At the same time, the second level was administered through the Mosaic covenant alone.
6 Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Edinburgh, 1996: The Banner of Truth Trust) 144.
7 Ibid., pp. 145-46.
9 Ibid., p. 127.
10 In this article, Israel's sanctified works and sanctified obedience refers (primarily) to the obedience wrought in Israel's elect by the Holy Spirit. But it also refers to the external obedience of Israel's future apostates. For these are (for a time) external members of the covenant of grace and it's blessings. Thus, their obedience is externally sanctified by Christ to comeset apart to be externally rewarded with the blessings of the land.
11 Vos, Biblical Theology, 127.
12Ibid., pp.127 and 128.
13 We have quoted Vos here on specific claims. Still, this is not a work of historical theology, and we have not done two things required in a more exact presentation. First, we have not done justice to the many nuances of Vos's view. And second, we have not compared these nuances with our own and those of Cleaver. However, we would claim that the sections of Vos's Biblical Theology quoted support the main thrust of our argument against those with whom we dispute.
14 We say 'absolutely separate' level because (according to this view) the means by which Israel received her blessings (merit) was in absolute antithesis to the covenant of grace.