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The Abrahamic covenant developed through various phases. Every time God confirmed it and sometimes gave it a “new face”. But it remained the same covenant that He made with Abraham. He also sent covenant messengers to warn them of their transgressions.
Let us then examine how a covenant was applied in everyday life.
The pattern of covenanting that God used, was the Hittite Vassal Covenant. When two kings went to war and (say “A") was the victor, he would enter into a “vassal covenant” with the defeated king (say “B”).
He would then “lay down the rules” of the covenant – which means that the defeated king would remain king in his own domain, but he would be a vassal (subject to) A. B would then rule as A had directed, and also pay dues to A.
If B would violate any of the rules (and this is important to note), immediately A (the ruling king) has the full right to execute the curse of the covenant on B (his vassal). Remember the self-accursing phrase at the making of the covenant? (Mentioned in the post - Jesus in the darkness)– “If I should violate any stipulation of this covenant, may I then be accursed and may happen to me what has happened to these (slaughtered) animals”.
But normally A would send a “covenant messenger” to B, informing him of his violation and enquiring into how B intended to repair/make repairs for the violation. Only one such “second chance” was normally given.
Now B has two options: He may obediently ask forgiveness and repair the damage. Or he could challenge "A" outright. He could send such a message in various ways: Sometimes he would then abuse the messenger by cutting off all or half of his hair and beard and send him back, or he may even kill the messenger. According to the covenant, he is then irrevocably accursed.
The Development and Course of the Abrahamic Covenant
The covenant that God made with Abraham took approximately the same course, but with significant differences.
Exactly as God knew beforehand, His covenant people of Israel, the posterity of Abraham, frequently violated His covenant.
But God had a purpose, a goal, and nothing would stop Him from reaching it – Himself taking on the flesh of man in the person of Jesus and working His plan of salvation through Him.
And God, forever merciful and long-suffering, did not stop at sending just one messenger to His people. He sent many covenant messengers and warned them of their transgressions. All the prophets of the Old Testament that confronted Israel with their wrong-doings, were God’s messengers of the covenant.
But these prophets were not always welcome. They were insulted and chased away, some were persecuted and some covenant messengers were even killed!! That is why Jesus said: (Luke.13:34): “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! - the one killing the prophets, and stoning those having been sent to her; how often have I desired to gather your children in the way a hen gathers her brood under the wings, and you did not desire it.”
God’s Final Messenger
We read of this final Messenger in the New Testament. But before we discuss this, just note the following:
The New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek word for “messenger” is “Angelos”. This word is translated into English as “angel”.
Now you and I know that people usually think of an “angel” as an ethereal human figure with wings. In some Biblical events, this may hold true, but the basic intention of the word is what we call in English, “messenger”. That is the basic function of an angel – being a messenger.
God did not intend sending covenant messengers forever. As He had planned, He would send a final - a very last - Messenger. We read about Him in the Book of Malachi – the last book before the era of the New Testament dawned. It dates from about 450 years before Christ and is generally known as the Covenantal Book.
The Jewish Expectation of the Messiah
Note: The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew. The Hebrew word “Messiah” means “Anointed One”. In Greek (the language of the New Testament) “Anointed One” is called “Christos”, which we translate into the English word “Christ”.
The Jewish nation (Israel) expected, desired and longed for the coming of the Messiah - according to Scripture (Old Testament). And, unhappily, they are still waiting. They are still waiting because they have never recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ.
Isaiah prophesied about (who turned out to be) John the Baptist: “The voice of him who cries in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight a highway in the desert for our God.” (Isa.40:3). When John was asked who he really is, he replied: “I am not the Christ” (John.1:20). “I am "the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord," as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John.1:23; Mat.3:3).
The Role/Function of John the Baptist
We must clearly understand John’s role in this respect. He was sent for one purpose, as described above – to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus. To do this, he explained: “that He be revealed to Israel, therefore I have come baptizing with water.”
The apostle John wrote about John the Baptist (John.1:6-8): “There was a man sent from God; his name was John. This one came as a witness, to bear witness concerning the Light so that all might believe through him. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.”
Please note that John was NOT sent to call heathen to believe in God. No, he was specifically sent to God’s wayward people, Israel, to call upon them to repent of their sins of violating God’s covenant. Thus the purpose of his baptism was that he was to become known as the baptizer of sinners who would repent and confess their betrayal of the covenant, in order that Jesus, at His baptism, could be made manifest and be revealed to Israel (John.1:31).
Now that we understand exactly what John was about, let us see what the prophet Malachi said about him 450 years before he was even born: “Behold, I will send My messenger, and He will clear the way before Me” (Mal.3:1). And v.1 continues: “Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
And there we have it – God’s final Messenger, the Light of the world, Jesus! God Himself, having taken on the flesh of man! Jesus came to fulfill God’s promises. He came to defeat Satan and crush his head and to draw ALL who would believe in Him, into the covenant, and to make them also the (spiritual) posterity of Abraham.
In my next article (God willing) I want to continue and explain something wonderful in the Bible: Why Jesus had to be baptized by John, and how He actually took the sin of the world upon Himself – all directly from the Bible, God’s inerrant Word.
Covenant messengers sent by God - by Gideon Aggenbag
Part three of the Series - Jesus in the Old Testament
Read part four - The Baptism of Jesus Christ
Mind On Jesus