Myers turns to the Abrahamic covenant in his seventh chapter. He begins the chapter by noting the gracious origins of this covenant. He observes that the giving of the covenant follows the Babel account, and he notes that Joshua 24:2 reveals that God graciously called Abram out of idolatry.
Promise Covenants and Law Covenants
Myers then turns to Genesis 12:1 and observes that God begins this covenant by issuing commands to Abram. He concludes from this that the distinction between law covenants and promise covenants is a false distinction.
In this complex texture of the Abrahamic covenant, the supposed distinction between law covenants and promise covenants continues to break down. If a stark division has to be made between these two covenant types, and each historical covenant has to be placed in one of the two categories—either having practically nothing to do with command and obedience, or being based almost entirely on command and obedience—the Abrahamic covenant is left without any satisfactory category. In that covenant, there is both gracious, divine, initiating promise and necessary, subsequent human response. One cannot even get out of Genesis 12:1 without being confronted with this complexity. In that one verse, there is both radical grace in God’s call of Abram and subsequent, necessary human response embodied in the commands that God speaks to Abram. As this one verse makes immediately clear, God is graciously initiating a covenant in which Abram has responsibility.page 159
However, Myers seems to have created a straw man. Those who hold to a distinction between law and promise covenants do not claim that promise covenants “practically nothing to do with command and obedience” but explicitly state the contrary (Blaising & Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 132-34; Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, 41; Lunde, Following Jesus the Servant King, 39; Horton, “Covenant Theology,” in Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies, 44). Furthermore, there are biblical grounds for distinguishing between promise and law covenants since Paul makes this distinction central to his argument in Galatians.
And yet, I wonder how substantive my disagreement with Myers is on this point. Later, when discussing God alone passing through the cut animals in Genesis 15, Myers says, “In doing so, God declares that either He will keep His covenant promises or He Himself will die. The fulfillment of the covenant, then, rests entirely on God, and He guarantees that His promises will be fulfilled” (176). This is a perfect statement of what it means for a covenant to be a unilateral, unconditional, or promise covenant. Myers must also believe in the category of law covenants as well, for this is what the covenant of works is. Myers closes this chapter with a warning against antinomianism, and that may be one of the things that he is guarding against by denying the distinction between law and promise covenants. I agree with his concern, but I also think that antinomianism can be opposed while also making the distinction between promise and law covenants.
Promises and Types
Before turning to the promises of the covenant as stated in Genesis 12:2-3, Myers discusses the nature of typology. Based on statements in Hebrews 8:5 and 9:23-25 Myers argues that types are earthly realities that point believers to a heavenly reality that will come to fulfillment in the future. Thus “types point both forward and upward” (163). Myers concludes that though the promises of land, seed, and universal blessing “each had physical fulfillments along the way,” “those physical fulfillments never were the point” (167). Thus, “many types are abrogated and move past any contemporary redemptive significance” (163).
There are a number of points that I would clarify or correct.
- In the case of the tabernacle, the Holy Places were from the beginning intended to symbolize heaven. But this does not mean that all types point to something eternal and heavenly rather than to something physical. Even the tabernacle as a whole pointed to the cosmos and finds its fulfillment God dwelling with redeemed man in the new creation. Interestingly, even the heavenly most holy place, the New Jerusalem, descends to the new creation as a physical dwelling place for the redeemed.
- In the case of the Abrahamic covenant, the distinction between the initial, typological fulfillments and the ultimate fulfillment is not that the former are physical and the latter is heavenly. Myers appeals to Hebrews 11:16, which says that Abraham desired “a better, that is, a heavenly country.” But Abraham did not desire a country located in heaven. He looked forward to the day when Canaan could be characterized as heavenly. Again, the city that God has prepared for Abraham will descend from heaven to earth.
- It is important for orthodox theology to not oppose the heavenly and spiritual to the physical. The heavenly country promised to Abraham is physical and located on earth just as the spiritual body of resurrected saints is a physical body. The contrast that Scripture draws between earthly, fleshly things and heavenly, spiritual things is not necessarily a contrast between the material and non-material.
- Promises are different from structures like the tabernacle/temple and sacrifices. The latter are inherently typological and thus pass away when reality arrives. However, promises are speech acts that commit the promiser to perform the thing promised. A promise is not a type. Even though the initial fulfillments of a promise are types of the ultimate fulfillment of the promise, these are often not mere symbols but are often down payments, as it were, of the full reality to come. For instance, Isaac as the seed of Abraham is a type of Jesus the Seed of Abraham. But Isaac is not a mere symbol that passes away but a redeemed man who will live forever in the new creation.
- It is true that the promises of the Abrahamic covenant are universalized so that the seed promise is fulfilled ultimately in Christ and thus includes all the Gentile believers in him. It is also true that the land promise is expanded to include the entire earth. However, these expansions are a function of the universal blessing promise, and they are stated in seed form in Genesis 22. Because the expansions are explicit, the expansions of the promises do not rest merely upon typology. (Myers does not treat Genesis 22 at any length.)
- The universalization of the promises does not abrogate the particular promises. Romans 11 makes clear that the redemption of Abraham’s physical seed remains part of God’s plan. Likewise, the universalization of the land promise does not abrogate the promise for Israel as there are numerous passages that predict a restoration of Israel to the land.
Myers’s exposition of Genesis 15 brims with insight. For instance, Myers notes that Abraham’s story up to Genesis 15:6 this point has included some remarkable works of obedience (as well as some faltering along the way), but God is clear that Abraham is counted as righteous before God not on account of those works but by faith.
Myers also skillfully interprets the latter part of chapter 15. He observes that the phrase ’emah khashekah gedolah indicates that Abraham is in God’s Presence (Ex. 15:16; Deut. 32:2; Ps. 18:11). He also explains the ceremony of cutting the covenant (with recourse to Jer. 34:18-20), in which the parties that pass through the cut animals are by their action declaring that they should be as those animals are if they break the covenant (that is, they should die). Myers rightly observes that it is God alone who passes between the animals in Genesis 15.
Myers rightly rejects interpretations in which Christ is said to come under this curse on the cross. Rather, God’s action in cutting the Abrahamic covenant is an affirmation of the sure fulfillment of the covenant promises since “the eternal God who walks the path of self-malediction in Genesis 15 cannot not exist” (176).
Myers begins his exposition of Genesis 17 by correcting a potential misreading of the opening verses of the chapter. God did not tell Abraham that he would make a covenant with Abraham if he were sinless. Rather, God promises to confirm the covenant to Abraham as a single-hearted follower of God.
His treatment of circumcision as the sign of the covenant is also well done, though he overstates the case when he says that the circumcision of all the males in Abraham’s house (and not his biological sons only) demonstrates that “God’s true covenant people would not be defined or delineated by visible realties or ethnic lines.” Ethnicity is not determined only by genealogy. Understanding the NT debate over circumcision requires understanding that in the OT Gentiles could become Israelites through proselytization and circumcision whereas in the NT Gentiles can become part of God’s people without adopting Jewish ethnicity.
Though I think that Myers would be wise to adopt the distinction between promise and law covenants, and while his discussion of typology needs refinement, this chapter nonetheless provides an insightful exposition of the Abrahamic covenant, especially as presented in Genesis 12, 15, and 17. Myers’s writing also has a refreshing devotional quality that does not come through in my summaries. He rightly recognizes that the goal of understanding the biblical covenants is richer devotion to and fellowship with God.