The House of Israel and The House of Judah– With whom does God make the new covenant?

In Jeremiah 31:31, the prophet tells his readers God will make a new covenant with “the house of Israel” [the ten northern tribes] and “the house of Judah” [the southern tribes] for the following reasons:

1. Because these two houses together comprised the entire special natural seed of Abraham to whom God had promised blessing in the Abrahamic Covenant. Yet, God does not establish it with the houses of Israel and Judah as such any more than he establishes it with Gentiles as such. The promise is effective “to as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Also, Hebrews 9:15 says, “And for this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” When we remember that God calls believers according to His eternal purpose and grace, it becomes clear that He has made this promise to the elect within Israel. Those who are brought to faith in God’s anointed through the establishment of the new covenant will never “cease from being a nation before the Lord forever” (Jer 31:36).

2. Because the blessings of the new covenant extend to the most guilty who believe God’s promise. In this case, God promises to forgive even apostate Israel for playing the whore with pagan gods.

3. Because the northern ten tribes of Israel had become alienated from Jehovah because of their idolatry. In effect, they had, through their defection from Jehovah, become pagans. For this reason, they stand as a type of the Gentile nations who were alienated from Jehovah and His covenant promises. God’s promise to establish the new covenant with Israel and Judah is a foreshadowing of His reconciliation of Gentiles and visiting them to take out of them a people for his name. This seems to accord with Paul’s citation of Hosea 2:23; 1:10 in Romans 9:25-26, in confirmation of the call of the Gentiles. He wrote,

23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.25As He says also in Hosea, “I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, “MY PEOPLE,” AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, “BELOVED.”“ 26″AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, “YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,” THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.

It seems clear that in their original Old Testament context, these verses had reference to the northern ten tribes of Israel. Yet, it seems equally evident that Paul uses these verses to refer not to the restoration of apostate Israelites, but to the calling of Gentiles to faith in Christ. Concerning the seeming discrepancy, John Murray wrote,

There might appear to be a discrepancy between the purport and reference of these passages in the prophecy and as applied by Paul. In Hosea they refer to ten tribes of Israel and not to the Gentile nations. There should be no difficulty. Paul recognizes that the rejection and restoration of Israel of which Hosea spoke have their parallel in the exclusion of the Gentiles from God’s covenant favor and their reception into that favor. . . .the same procedure is exemplified in both cases and Paul finds in the restoration of Israel to love and favor the type in terms of which the Gentlies become partakers of the same grace [emphases mine].(Murray, Romans, p. 38).

Even James Stifler, a Dispensationalist, has commented, “The prophecy originally seems to refer to the ten tribes, but as they had been excluded from the nation and were practically heathen, Paul refers to them as a type of the call of the Gentiles.” (Stifler, Romans, p. 169).

Clearly it is legitimate to recognize apostate and reconciled Israel as a type of apostate and reconciled Gentiles [part of the Christian church]. It is also obvious that this is a passage that, in its OT context, plainly refers to the nation of Israel. Since it is legitimate to find in this passage a type of the ingathering of the Gentiles, there is no reason why we should not understand such passages as Jeremiah 31:31-34 in the same way.

4. Because He wanted to show that the fulfillment of the new covenant would bring unity between those who, formerly, had been bitter enemies (Eph. 2:14-15). The northern ten tribes, the house of Israel, had, by their apostasy from Jehovah, essentially become pagans. Using circumstances in the life of the prophet Hosea, God illustrated what His relationship with Israel had become because of their idolatry.

And the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.” Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; And it will come about that, in the place where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” It will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God (Hosea 1:9-10).

5. Because Israel and Judah were the parties that had broken covenant with God. It is within the redemptive-historical context of Israel that the covenant must be kept. It was in the very place where the trespass had overflowed that grace overflowed all the more. Paul wrote, “And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,”(Rom. 5:20). It was against the backdrop of the broken covenant that Jesus established the new covenant by making redemption for the transgressions that were under the first covenant. It was because Israel was under the curse of the law that the Messiah became a curse. He established the new covenant by fulfilling the old covenant. Thus, it was necessary that the drama of redemption be played out on the stage of Israel’s national covenant.

There is a temporal priority in God’s dealings with the Jews and their situation under the law. Unless the demands of the law were met, there could be no free bestowal of blessings on either believing Jews or believing Gentiles. Thus, Paul tells us that, “. . .when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law [the Jews], that we [Jews and Gentiles alike] might receive the adoption as sons [son-placing]” (Gal: 4:4-5).

Paul also presents this truth plainly in Galatians 3:13-14 where he writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE” in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” In the Greek text, the words, “that on the Gentiles the blessing of Abraham might come in Christ” are in the emphatic position and are juxtaposed to the clause that describes the work of Christ in which he was made a curse for those who were under the law, i. e., Israel under the old covenant.

One of the keys to understanding that God has already established the new covenant with Israel, i.e., the true, elect Israel within the nation, is to understand the nature of biblical covenants. We have considered this issue in some detail in the body of this work [reference to a commentary I am writing on Hebrews]. Some Dispensationalists have spoken about the nation of Israel’s need to ratify the new covenant by their acceptance of it at Jesus’ return. The implication is that this covenant cannot be in force until the nation of Israel, as a whole, accepts it as their covenant. It is important for us to remember that biblical covenants were not bilateral but unilateral. Though faith is essential if anyone is to enjoy the blessings of the new covenant, the ratification of the covenant is not dependent on anyone’s acceptance. Jesus ratified the new covenant at the cross. Thus, the New Testament Scripture focuses on Christ’s accomplishments at His first coming, not on the application of those accomplishments at His second coming.

6. Because Abraham’s special natural seed (Isaac and his posterity) stand as a type of the new covenant people of God, elect Jews and Gentiles. It seems clear from the New Testament Scriptures that God has established this covenant with all in Christ. We must remember that Christ was in every sense an Israelite. In fact, he was the only Israelite who was faithful to the covenant. He, and thus all who are united to him through faith are the true (as opposed to the typical) Israel of God. Consider his statement “I am the true” (John 15:1) in contrast to natural Israel (e.g. Isaiah 5). If this is the case, then this was God’s intention from the beginning in making His promises to Israel.

Much of the language of the Old Testament Scriptures should be understood in terms of typology, not in a strictly literal sense. God fulfilled many of these promises in a literal sense, but these fulfillments, for example, Israel’s return to the land after the Babylonian captivity, which stood as types of a further fulfillment in Christ, were always inferior to the ultimate fulfillment.

7. Because the blessings of the new covenant were first offered to ethnic Israelites and were first welcomed by them.

These blessings were first offered to ethnic Israelites:

“It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.” “For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3: 25-26).

And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46).

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom 1:16).

The first citizens of this new nation to welcome these new covenant blessings were ethnic Israelites:

In Matthew 21:42-3, Jesus cited a prophecy from Psalm 118 concerning a stone that the builders had rejected becoming the chief corner stone. He then informed them that because they had rejected Him, God would take the kingdom from them and give it to a nation that would produce the fruit that the husbandman was seeking.

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES”? “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.” (Matthew 21:42-3).

What is the identity of this nation about whom Jesus spoke?

Was He speaking about a restored Israel that, after His second coming, would finally fulfill the purposes for which God had chosen it? The Apostle Peter, in his first epistle, plainly identified the nation to which Jesus referred when he spoke of a nation bring forth the fruit of God’s kingdom. He wrote,

2:6For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” 2:7This precious value, then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,” 2:8and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 2:9But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 2:10for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY (1 Pet 2:6-10).

When did God establish this new nation?

Remembering Jesus’ words, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” the disciples asked Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). Based on Old Testament prophecy, they had every reason to believe that such a restoration was to occur. If they were mistaken, it was because they though there was to be a retrogression to a kingdom that would be restored within the confines of Judaism. J.A. Alexander wrote, “. . .they were only mistaken, if at all, in expecting it to be restored in its primeval form.” (Alexander, Acts, p. 10). Since they had been taught to associate the coming of the Spirit with the inauguration of the kingdom, it seems likely that the question they asked was linked with His promise about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In other words, they were asking, “will you restore the kingdom to Israel when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit?” Though Jesus did not directly answer the question they had asked, he plainly revealed the answer to them when the day of Pentecost fully came. As Luke records,

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:

Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “”In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:14-20).

Peter was not suggesting that everything that Joel prophesied had already transpired or was going to occur immediately. Instead, he was proclaiming the good news that the long awaited and earnestly anticipated time of fulfillment had finally come. In sending His Son to accomplish the redemption and reconciliation of His elect people, God had “remembered his holy covenant” (Luke 1:72). All that now remains is the full application of those redemptive accomplishments by which Jesus ratified the new covenant for His people.

If there are any “land promises” that have not yet been fulfilled, they find fulfillment two ways. 1. God’s New Covenant people now enjoy these blessings, in an antitypical sense, in the inheritance we now have through faith, because of our union with Christ. 2. God will fulfill such promises in the eternal kingdom when believers enjoy their full inheritance, including the new earth.


12 Responses to “The House of Israel and The House of Judah– With whom does God make the new covenant?”

  1. February 17, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    You said, “Much of the language of the Old Testament Scriptures should be understood in terms of typology, not in a strictly literal sense. God fulfilled many of these promises in a literal sense, but these fulfillments, for example, Israel’s return to the land after the Babylonian captivity, which stood as types of a further fulfillment in Christ, were always inferior to the ultimate fulfillment.” This is a main point that God’s people need to keep in mind, else we will be led astray by many twisted interpretations!

    Many thanks, my brother!

  2. February 17, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Good to hear from you. I believe a proper understanding of typology is essential to sound hermeneutics.

    • February 17, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Amen, Randy. And, as Spurgeon once said, the area causing the most wreckage in understanding Scripture is a failure to properly comprehend the covenant structure therein. Without understanding the discontinuity between national Israel and the church, one will be led to embrace many erroneous positions.

      • February 17, 2014 at 2:19 pm

        This is where I believe NCT has played an important role in properly understanding the relationship between Israel and the Church. While not discarding the covenantal structure of the Scriptures, it recognizes the discontinuity between Israel and the Church. Any continuity that exists between Israel and the church is typical in nature.

      • February 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm

        I agree with that, my brother. There are NCT folk who deny being covenantal – so allergic are they to paedobaptist covenant theology. And these are used as “easy targets” by reformed folk in Presbyterian and Baptist camps who see NCT as a threat. If you don’t hold to the Westminster view of the Mosaic Covenant, you are antinomian! Case closed! sigh

      • February 17, 2014 at 2:43 pm

        Unfortunately, the NCT movement became splintered very early on. I actually suggested the title to John Reisinger and Dr. Gary Long and to my knowledge was the first to use it in a booklet titled, “The Cross, the heart of New Covenant Theology.” Jon Zens had earlier spoken of the need for “a new Covenant Theology,” but I think he meant a NEW as opposed to an OLD CT. Our use of the term included that sense as well the sense that the revelation that accompanied the ratification of the New Covenant radically affects our approach to God and carries with it its own NCT.

        Soon others came into the movement whose views were similar to ours but were closer to those of progressive Dispensationalists. In my view, they never really understood what we called NCT. Since then, others have introduced ideas that in my view have spoiled the original concept.

      • February 17, 2014 at 2:52 pm

        I’ve seen exactly what you describe. I think it’s the consequence of laziness – people latch on to an idea without taking the time to research and understand it, then get emotional in defending or attacking it.

      • February 17, 2014 at 3:03 pm

        I think people spend most of their time in debate talking past each other. It is too easy to accuse the advocates of NTC of antinomianism. Why bother to consider what we are really saying?

      • February 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm

        Have you read Thomas Schreiner’s 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law? I am reading a borrowed copy, just now into #8.

  3. February 17, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    No I have not. Is it helpful? Have you read “God’s Law, Absolute and Covenantal” by Dr. Gary Long?

  4. February 19, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    I just finished Schreiner’s book on Biblical Law and the Christian. It is very good! I think he fits in what I view as the proper view of the application of Biblical Law – it’s not as simple as saying the Decalogue is the law and all must obey, nor is it as simple as saying the laws found in Moses and Prophets have nothing to say to us. I dare say you would be most comfortable with his examination of how the law is discussed and applied as he reviews myriad New Testament books. This is a book I plan to buy and have on my shelf as a resource.

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