Rev. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Are you aware of the fact that the two main sections of our Bible, which are called the Old Testament and the New Testament, can also be called the Old Covenant and the New Covenant? Did you ever notice that even though we call the first 39 books in our Bible the Old Testament, we cannot in the King James Version of our Bibles find the word testament even once?
Given the privilege recently of speaking on the subject “Preaching From the Old Testament,” at a conference in our South Holland, Illinois church, I addressed the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and also that which these testaments have in common. Because there is spiritual edification, benefit, and encouragement in the fact that these two testaments bring us one glorious truth about God’s covenant with His elect children, I plan to present some of that speech in a few installments in this rubric. We certainly will be dealing with the day of shadows in these articles.
Let it first of all be established that a testament is a covenant, and that our covenant God presents that covenant to us in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. You may turn to Webster’s dictionary and find that he calls a testament “a covenant, an agreement between persons or parties.” He says that to make a testament means “to make one’s will.” Theologically, he says, a testament is “the promise of God revealed in the Scriptures.”
We likewise speak of a man’s last will and testament. What we mean is that a man wills to have his earthly possessions given to certain persons or institutions when he has passed away by death and can no longer use these possessions. The point is that we must keep in mind that God’s covenant is His will to bestow heavenly blessedness upon us through the death into which He entered. Yes, Christ Jesus our Savior is the second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who came into our flesh in His sovereign grace. And His covenant is the will and testament that decrees everlasting blessedness for us through that death. Because of His death we may enter into His house of many mansions and have an intimate covenant fellowship there with Him.
It is interesting to note—as already suggested—that although the Hebrew word berith, which means covenant, appears 250 times in the Old Testament, it is always translated as covenant, not testament. We, as the Old Testament clearly and powerfully teaches us, have a covenant God. We have a God Who establishes a relationship of friendship and fellowship with us through the death of His Son. Then, too, the New Testament word in its Greek form, namely,diatheke, is translated 20 times as covenant, but also 13 times as testament. When we find that word inHebrews 8:5, where we read of Christ as “the mediator of a better covenant,” we also find in some Bibles the marginal note that we can here read of a better “testament.” The word used in the Greek Bible, that is, in the original language, may be translated either as covenant or as testament.
Now the truth upon which we must insist is that although we may speak of an Old Testament or Old Covenant, and of a New Testament or New Covenant, there is only one covenant that God established with man, not two of them. What we have are two different forms of presentation of that one covenant. What we have are different presentations of the same promises of that covenant. But there is only one covenant that God established.
Do we not in Malachi 3:6 read, “For I am the Lord, I change not”? As the sovereign, almighty God He cannot be changed by our works or by our lack of interest in His covenant. What He eternally decreed stands exactly as it was divinely determined. No creature can by his mind, will, or acts cause God to change His mind and will. As Jehovah, the I AM, He never on His own part ever changes His mind or will.
That we in Hebrews 8:6 are informed by our covenant God that. Christ is the mediator of “a better covenant which is established upon better promises” does not meant therefore that He is the mediator of a covenant that is basically different and that rules out what had been promised in the old or first covenant. It does not mean that this better covenant presents gifts that are of a different nature than those enjoyed and promised by the old or first covenant. That which is better is always basically the same as the former thing with which it is compared. A better house is just as surely a house as the object with which it is compared. The word better stands between good and best, not between bad and worst. It speaks of that which is compared with something that is good. God’s covenant, presented to us in the Old Testament, presented to the saints of that day something very good. Did not the psalmist say inPsalm 34:8, “O taste and see that God is good”? He promises some very, very good things in that Old Testament. However, what He presents in Christ in the New Testament is a richer measure of goodness, a richer measure of the same goodness.
In fact, we may go a step further. As already stated, the word better stands between good and best. Therefore we may be assured by the New Testament that we are going to enjoy a higher blessedness than we can enjoy in this life. We do and can enjoy now, more fully than the Old Testament saints could, the blessings of God’s covenant. For we see Christ and His cross, while they saw the human high priests and the sacrifices of lambs. We see Christ in His resurrection, ascension up into heaven, and being seated at God’s right hand. That is shown to us in this better covenant or testament. What is more, the best is yet to come! We will soon see Christ personally and will live with Him in the new Jerusalem. Then we will have the best knowledge and enjoyment of God’s covenant.
All this, however, does not mean that the Old Testament saints did not enjoy the same covenant blessings, the same good that we now know better and enjoy more richly. Christ having come reveals Himself far more richly to us. We see a far more wonderful and powerful high priest. And we see more fully how our covenant God realizes His covenant promises, but also why we can be so sure of that covenant. Turn to Psalm 25:14, which we find in the Old Testament or Old Covenant. There we see how richly the saints in that period of time, which we call the Old Testament dispensation, knew God’s promises to us. There David wrote, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.”
Now, that covenant which God will show us, and did show to the Old Testament saints, and is mentioned there in Psalm 25:14, presents God’s will and testament to bless us through the death of Christ, so that we may enjoy His secret. And that secret very plainly David enjoyed. We today will enjoy that secret more fully when we look at the meaning of that Hebrew word which is translated as secret. The Old Testament saints who spoke the Hebrew language knew the richness of what David wrote. They saw this as a very wonderful promise of God, a very rich blessing which His covenant assures us will be ours in His grace.
Indeed, a secret is a wonderful thing. God’s secret is that which the unbelievers cannot and will not enjoy. They laugh at us, and laughed in the Old Testament dispensation at the people of God who confessed that they were Jehovah’s covenant children. They today consider us to be fools, a very silly people. However, look up that word “secret” in a Hebrew dictionary and you will see how tremendously rich the truth is here that God’s secret will be with us. Gesenius, in his Hebrew dictionary tells us that the root meaning of this word is “divan” or “couch.” He also tells us that the word secret means “a circle of people sitting together.” We may, therefore, explain that word “divan” or “couch” as a “love seat” upon which God sits with us in a most intimate fellowship of friendship. That is what God’s covenant is, namely, a relationship of friendship and fellowship between God and those whom He chose in His Son, and gave the right for them to have this by His Son’s death. Does this not reveal how rich the Old Testament is in presenting God’s covenant with His elect children?
Adam and Eve enjoyed covenant fellowship with God in the garden of Eden. They came to the tree of life by going around the tree of knowledge of good and evil, leaving it alone, refusing to sin against God by eating its forbidden fruit. Eating of that fruit—as they did—revealed a lack of desire for fellowship with God. They revealed that Satan was their friend with whom they desired to sit down for fellowship. They threw away God’s covenant fellowship and chose the curse which is in Satan’s covenant.
But God in His sovereign grace came and, in their hearing, told Satan that He would establish a new covenant with part of the human race. Satan and his spiritual seed will be hated and punished. They will have their heads broken and thus suffer a fatal blow. The Hebrew word which Moses used, as led by God, is better translated as “break,” not merely “bruise.” It is used that way in Job 9:17 where we read, “For He breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth without cause.” And do we not also in Romans 6:17 read that the wages of sin is death? To break one’s head is to kill him!
Now, since the love of God assures us that He has prepared a love seat for us and has caused David to reveal that to us, we certainly have the truth established that, in the Old Testament, God’s covenant with His people is presented very richly, even before the giving of the better covenant, .after Christ was born and earned salvation for us by His cross. The Old Testament types and shadows did richly present to the church God’s wonderful covenant; and the saints, as is plain from Hebrews 11 in the New Testament, enjoyed a very good presentation of that covenant. The shed blood and clothes of skin not only gave Adam and Eve .the promise of Christ’s coming but also the beginning of the enjoyment of that secret of the Lord, His fellowship because of His love and concern for His elect. He came to a spiritually dead man and brought him spiritual life. And we, in the New Testament dispensation, have that Old Testament promise to encourage and comfort us. Let us appreciate how rich the Old Testament presents to us God’s covenant. Doing so will help us to enjoy the richer, better promises of the New Testament. Without that Old Testament we cannot understand and enjoy the New Testament promises.
We will, the Lord willing, continue this truth next time and point out the richness of the Old Testament for our comfort and spiritual joy. Without that very good, that very rich Old Testament, we cannot even see the better promises of the New Testament.