GOD'S 'SOLEMN PROMISES' AS FOREGLEAMS

THROUGHOUT God's dealings with mankind, He has expressed various solemn promises. Scripture uses the word 'covenant' with reference to those promises. A covenant from the LORD could be thought of as God's declaration of intention, because His covenants pertained to things to come. God's covenants gave man a glimpse into the future, serving as foregleams of future events; of blessings to come to those whose response would be in harmony with His instruction.

Covenants emphasize the sure fulfillment of what is promised. Each of God's agreements or arrangements which the Bible has styled a 'covenant', contains an implied or plainly stated promise or promises. This thought is in the Apostle Paul's reference to "the covenants of promise."--Eph. 2:12

The first Bible promise is that contained in the warning to Adam regarding the tree of which he must not eat. Adam could have continued without death, remained deathless forever, as long as he was obedient in that simple test. (Gen. 1:27,28, 2:16,17) But "Adam...transgressed the covenant..."--Hosea 6:7 margin

The promise in the covenant spoken to Noah is very clear: "neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. I will remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth." (Gen. 9:8-17) From this, man knew there would never again be such a flood.

Covenant with Abraham

Several promises are included in God's covenant with Abraham. Certain promises pertained to his seed: that indeed he would have a seed; that his seed would be multiplied; be victorious over enemies; and bless all the nations of the earth. (Gen. 12:1-3, 13:15-17, 15:5-21, 17:6- 22, 22:17,18) Notable regarding the Abrahamic Covenant and its important, far-reaching promises, is that it contained no provision of a sacrifice, and thus no blood for use as an offering, atonement, or propitiation for sin through which to bring its promises to fulfillment.

Sacrifice and blood of atonement was later commanded in the Law Covenant. God's fulfillment of the several promises in that covenant (Exod. 19:5,6, 23:22-31) required Israel's obedient observance of the various sacrifices and offerings as directed in its Law.

Another important covenant of God is the one made with David. That faithful servant, as well as his son Solomon, viewed God's promises to him narrated in II Sam. 7:11-29 as an "everlasting covenant." (II Sam. 23:5, II Chron. 7:16-18) Peter and Paul believed and taught that God's covenant promises to David were fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ Jesus as king to reign upon the throne of David.--Acts 2:30, 13:32-36, Luke 1:32

"A New Covenant"

After our LORD had found fault with His people for more than a thousand years (Jer. 31:32, Heb. 8:8), God promised that He would make a "new covenant" with the house of Israel. God called it a "new covenant" because it would be an unaccustomed covenant, "new as to...quality, of different nature"[1] than the one which Israel repeatedly broke. (Jer. 31:32) Heb. 8:6 teaches that just such a New Covenant "was established upon better promises."

The promises of the "new" were incomparable to those of the former. "I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:33,34) None of those wonderful provisions are seen in any other covenant; no one was accustomed to a covenant of such quality, a covenant containing such promises. Regarding the ministry of the New Covenant, it was written over 1900 years ago of the greater than Moses that "now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises."--Heb. 8:6 NAS

The Hebrews' writer quoted once more from Jeremiah's prophecy, affirming that the offering for sin had been completed upon which the New Covenant blessings are based. The Holy Spirit witnessed that truth to him, and he would that its witness also be received by us. His thought is expressed in Heb. 10:14-18. "For by one offering He has perfected for all time the ones being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them, And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more'. Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin."--NAS

"With the House of Israel"

Jeremiah's prophecy, that the New Covenant would be made "with the house of Israel," has begun its fulfillment. That covenant is in operation. And thanks be to God that His gracious provision in Christ Jesus has enabled Gentiles to receive New Covenant forgiveness of sins. Paul understood all this, and explained that truth to the Ephesians. He acknowledged that Gentiles had been disadvantaged for a great while. "At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition; Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, the law of commandments in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby."--Eph. 2:12-16

The New Covenant is gloriously unique (II Cor. 3:6-18) among all of God's covenants. It is the only one that promised reconciliation, and the only one that reconciles. It is the only one that puts God's law in minds and writes it in hearts. It is the only one through which iniquity is forgiven. It is the only one that takes away sins. It is the only one in which Christians have received a ministry. This is all true for the fact that, although two covenants were sealed with blood, the New Covenant is the only covenant which has been sealed with blood of redemptive quality. It is the only covenant with which the blood of Christ is identified. "This is My blood of the covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." "This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is shed for you." (Matt. 26:28, Luke 22:20) Brethren, behold the blood of the covenant and the promises of that covenant of blessing!

Do You Need the New Covenant?

We anticipate the time when all Christians will personally appreciate the blessings of the New Covenant, and discern the harmony of the divine testimony regarding it. The inability of some to acknowledge their need of the New Covenant is due to inharmonious interpretation of various Bible passages. That has led to their conclusion that other processes replace the Christian's need of the divine provisions only in the New Covenant.[2]

Having denied the present function of the New Covenant, all such are as a result left in the most disadvantageous position of being without a covenant having the solemn promise that God will reconcile sinners to Himself. Some think, however, that the covenant mentioned in Psalm 50:5 is satisfactory to their needs. That passage with its context is therefore fully considered.

A Judgment Psalm

The message of God's prophets and psalmists usually pertained to a contemporary circumstance touching their own experience. Often their words are also a prophecy of events considerably future from their own time. And their words may also house spiritual instruction important to Christian believers. In view of this, it is necessary to consider all the words of the context to fully understand the teaching God intended.

Psalm 50 details the circumstances which led to its writing, and identifies those for whom its immediate counsel was intended. Three of its first four verses declare that its burden is judgment. "The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Our God comes, He does not keep silence, before Him is a devouring fire, round about Him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people."--Psa. 50:1,3,4 RSV

The earth summoned in the first verse is not the literal, inanimate earth. It is a symbolic earth. Jeremiah counseled such an earth during his ministry. "O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD." (Jer. 22:29) The prophet there pleaded with Israel because as a nation they were God's people. It is that entity which is addressed in Psalm 50, an organized society under the instruction of God's law and prophets. All Israel was to receive warning and instruction regarding their religious worship. All the people of that 'earth' were to hear the divine complaints. He "summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting."

"Out of Zion...God Hath Shined Forth"

God's Law Covenant relationship with the special nation Israel began at Sinai. He there declared Israel's special privilege, and the people eagerly accepted its opportunity. "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do," was their enthusiastic response. (Exod. 19:8) But from the beginning they failed to keep their promises, and this disobedience brought God's correction and instruction throughout the service of Moses. Just before he died, that faithful servant summed up the divine judgments and instruction when he reminded Israel that God had "shown forth" unto them. "The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shown forth [Hebrew #3313, yah-phag] from Mount Paran, and He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones; At His right hand there was flashing lightning for them. Indeed, He loves the people; All Thy holy ones [saints] are in Thy hand, and they followed in Thy steps; Everyone receives of Thy words."--Deut. 33:2,3 NAS

The Psalmist implored God at another time to "shine forth" to rescue "the vineyard which Thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that Thou madest strong for Thyself." (Psa. 80:15) Israel had been judged, found disobedient, and in need of forgiveness and blessing. "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, Thou who leadest Joseph like a flock; Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth [yah-phag] before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh! Stir up Thy might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let Thy face shine, that we may be saved! Restore us, O God of hosts; let Thy face shine, that we may be saved! Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! let Thy face shine, that we may be saved!"-- Psa. 80:1-3,7,19 RSV

Israel's need of God's blessing is particularly seen in Psalm 50 by its enumeration of their poor response to His goodness. The nation is charged with disregard for God's statutes, just what they were guilty of in prior and subsequent centuries. That is why God judged His people throughout their history. The execution of God's judgments brought upon them difficulties, distresses, and captivity. All of this was designed to cause them to examine their hearts, confess their falsehoods, and change their practices.

"God hath shined forth," verse two, represents an expression of His instruction and judgment, designed to lead to their blessing. This verse also declares that the action of Psalm 50 proceeds from Zion. "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined forth [yah- phag]." (RSV) There was no Zion until David. Zion refers to the agency from which emanates God's rule, government and blessing. Jehovah "dwelleth in Zion." (Psa. 9:11) No wonder, then, the earnest prayer in Psa. 14:7, RSV, NEB: "Oh that deliverance for Israel would come out of Zion!" Perhaps the assurance in Psalm 50:2, "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined forth" was in connection with that prayer.

God had much more in mind for Israel than ritualistic observance of the ceremonial law which commanded individual offerings and national, repetitious, or yearly offerings. As a matter of fact, at no time did the LORD imply that all He required of Israel was external compliance with the carnal requirements of animal sacrifice. The ten commandments were intensely moral. (Exod. 20) Details of the sacrificial law directed identification of and repentance for sin. (Lev. 4) Kindness to fellows and to beasts was instructed. (Exod. 22) Death was the punishment for disobedience. (Lev. 10:1,2,7) The LORD's law should be in their mouth. (Exod. 13:9) Appointed feasts were holy rests, during which the law was to be read and heard. (Deut. 31:11,12, Exod. 23:14- 17, 34:21-34, Joshua 8:32-34, II Kings 22:10,11, Neh. 8:1-6) The LORD promised that He would be found by all who sincerely sought Him. (Deut. 4:29) The law must be in their hearts, must not depart from them, and must be taught to their sons' sons. (Deut. 4:9) They were instructed to circumcize the foreskin of their hearts. (Deut. 10:16) The spiritual comfort and encouragement so abundant throughout the Psalms was provided to assist God's people Israel in the proper application of the divine instruction, that they might truly be "a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people,...and...a kingdom of priests and an holy nation." (Exod. 19:5,6) God frequently urged Israel to attain to the station offered them. The message "out of Zion, the perfection of beauty," was a further admonishment to that end.

Psalm 50:5: "Covenant...Over a Sacrifice"

A proper identification of the 'saints' of Psalm 50 is critical to its understanding. Several translations are helpful.

"Gather ye to Me My saints, Making covenant with Me over a sacrifice."--Young's Literal Translation

"Gather yourselves unto Me--ye My men of lovingkindness, Who have solemnised My covenant over sacrifice."--Joseph Rotherham

"Gather to Me My saints, those cutting My covenant by sacrifice."-- Green Interlinear

"Gather! to Me consecrated-ones-of-Me ones-making-of covenant-of-Me by sacrifice."--Zondervan Interlinear, Kohlenberger

"Assemble ye His saints to Him, those that have engaged in a covenant with Him upon sacrifices."--Septuagint

The above translations indicate that those commanded to gather together were already in covenant with God through the Law-instructed sacrifices.[3] Verse 4 reveals the purpose of the gathering, "that He may judge His people"; and verse 6 affirms that their judge is God Himself. "My people" are then told to hear what their God will speak, assured that "I will testify against thee."[4] Verse 8 opens the promised indictment.

It is seen from contextual study that those 'saints' whom God summoned to hear His judgment were the entire nation in covenant with God through the appointed animal sacrifices. Such sacrifices began with those of Exodus 24, and included the other offerings bound upon them by their Law. The entire nation was "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ." (I Cor. 10:2-4 NAS) The LORD assured Israel of His love for them (Deut. 7:7,8,13; 33:3), so much as to "give men for thee, and people for thy life" (Isa. 43:3,4), and He entered into covenant with them.--Ezek. 16:8

A message similar to Psalm 50 was given to Israel hundreds of years later when God reminded His people of their special relationship. "Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities."--Amos 3:1,2

Those addressed as 'saints' in Psalm 50:5 were God's professed people. They had entered into covenant relationship with Him, bound in the most solemn manner to be His. They did this in connection with the sacrifices which accompanied their worship. They brought their sacrifices and bloody offerings as a pledge that they meant to be His. Over those solemn sacrifices they bound themselves to be the LORD's. The purpose of the judgment was to reveal to them their true condition and the righteousness of God's just complaints.

God Himself the Judge

The combined testimony regarding the judgment of "my saints" seen in verse 4,6,7 is now considered. The detail in verse 4, that He would call "to the heavens above, and to the earth," brings to mind the warning which Moses delivered to the elders and officers of Israel, "...that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them." (Deut. 31:28) Every circumstance leading to the many unpleasant experiences which God visited upon Israel testifies to the needed correction and punishment which God righteously visited upon His people. "The heavens above" probably refers to the angelic host, frequently represented as present at times of judgment, decision, or approval. Scripture represents their presence and/or testimony at other junctures in God's relationship with Israel (Psa. 68:17, Deut. 33:2); at the glorification of Jesus (Rev. 5:11); at the judgment of the little horn (Dan. 7:10); at the judgment of the ungodly (Jude 14,15); and on another occasion noted in Zech. 14:5. The language in the Hebrew does not require that the declaration of the heavens be audibly declared, but rather that it be manifest or exposed.

There was a gracious purpose in God's promised testimony "against thee," Psa. 50:7--the same purpose as that recorded in Neh. 9:29: "Thou testifiedst against them, that Thou mightest bring them again unto Thy law."

Spiritual Instruction

Psalm 50:8-13 acknowledge that the Lord does not reprove or rebuke His 'saints', those He has set His love upon, in respect to the withholding of sacrifices. They are not charged with neglect, nor of indifference or failure in regard to the external duties of worship. The rebuke relates rather to the want of a proper spirit, to the withholding of the heart. They supposed that they laid God under obligation by so constant and expensive offerings. But God did not need such offerings; He was not dependent on them; for all the beasts of the earth, and its fowls were His. God's desire is expressed in verses 14,15. "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee; and thou shalt glorify Me."

Micah 6:6-8 affirms what pleased the LORD. "Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" The ones who earnestly desired His favor acted upon those instructions in their continued faithfulness in that covenant.

A Christian's Personal Sacrifice

The only basis upon which one may now draw nigh unto God is by faith in the shed blood of Christ, whose one sacrifice can deliver from sin all who believe into it. His sacrifice met the requirements which Heb. 9:22 points out: "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (RSV) Peter identified Jesus as the great sacrifice for sin which has enabled "the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood." He also wrote that it is "through Jesus Christ" that believers become living stones "built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God."--1 Pet. 1:2, 2:5 NAS

The covenant assured by the prophets, in which God promised to forgive iniquity, and remember sin no more, is the covenant in which every believer must be involved before he is in a position to make individual vows of allegiance and submission. The Apostle Paul's counsel and exhortation to the brethren at Rome teaches that full devotion to God is an essential Christian objective. Believers are encouraged to offer themselves as a living sacrifice, including every earthly, temporal ambition and expectation. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Rom. 12:1,2) An individual's complete dedication to the service of God in full heart devotion is most important in order to receive God's present spiritual blessings and an inheritance with Him in glory.

Interrogations and Charges

Verses 16-22 were addressed to those among them whose hearts did not seek righteousness. A probing question was addressed to the disobedient regarding their iniquitous conduct: "But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth?" A similar interrogation is seen in Isaiah 1:11. 'Why do you sacrifice multitudes of animals to Me?' Again, observing the hard ness of the people, it was inquired: "Who is blind, but My serv ant? or deaf, as My messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD's servant?"- -Isaiah 42:19

To effect reformation in Israel, the LORD also used Jeremiah to call attention to the evil of their ways. "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away." (Hosea 6:4-10) God put other questions to His people through Jeremiah, to cause examination of both their privileges and their trespasses. Some of them are seen in Jer. 2:5,31; 3:4,5; 9:9,12, 23:23-29. The reading of those questions will impress the wisdom of God in placing before Israel the important interrogations of Psalm 50.

Severe charges are recorded in Psalm 50:17-22 against those whose response in their covenant had been reprehensible. "Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest My words behind thee. When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver." But, in the Psalm's closing verse, words of encouragement are addressed to those who really endeavored to keep that covenant. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me: and to him that ordereth his conversation [conduct] aright will I shew the salvation of God."

The "Once-for-All" Sacrifice

Psalm 50 has similar implications when applied to professed believers under the Christian arrangement. The vow to be the Lord's has been made over the body and blood of the Redeemer once offered as a sacrifice. And by partaking of the memorials of that sacrifice they confirm having entered into a solemn covenant to be the Lord's. But as with those under the covenant made over animal sacrifices, this does not reveal the true heart condition of all who may be involved in the New Covenant. The mere outward act, no matter how solemn, does not decide the question. Judgment is also necessary of all who profess to believe in Jesus. "Judgment must begin at the house of God." (1 Pet. 4:17) And judgment is the burden of Psalm 50, from beginning to end.

NOTES:

  1. This definition is from Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words for the Greek #2537, kainos, always used in 'new covenant' except in Heb. 12:24.
  2. All students of the Bible should carefully study Scripture context to determine if a Bible passage really teaches what some understand from it. It is unreasonable to consider unintended meaning as instruction from God, and improper to use a non-contextual thought as an interpretive tool to conclude that the blessings of the New Covenant are non-essential to present believers. Only one covenant was made effective by the atoning blood of Christ, and Scripture names it the New Covenant. (Luke 22:20, II Cor. 3:6, Heb. 8:5, 9:15, 10:15-18) That covenant enables us to present ourselves to God, and Him to accept us. (Psa. 51:17-19, 116:17, Prov. 15:8, 21:3, Rom. 12:1) It is unavailing for any Christian to think that his necessary blessing through the New Covenant can be supplanted by his personal resolve. Such vows do not provide reconciliation, but are required for a personal relationship with God through the intercession of our mediator Christ Jesus.
  3. It is difficult to disregard inappropriate religious concepts when they are repeatedly read or heard. This is so regarding Psalm 50:5. Surely many whose faith is imputed to them for righteousness (Rom. 4:3-8) have been reconciled to God while lacking accurate knowledge of some features of His purpose. But God's bounteous mercy does not replace one's personal responsibility to bring every thought into harmony with the instruction and will of God. The New Testament encourages the perception and proclamation of truth. Paul prayed that our love abound more and more in knowledge and perception, that we may prove the things differing in order that we may be sincere and unoffending in the day of Christ.--Phil. 1:9,10
  4. God does not testify 'against' His new-creature sons of the High Calling Age who benefit from the intercession of their Mediator and His advocacy.