Chapter 11 of God to Us focuses on the new covenant. Once again Myers is concerned to demonstrate that the new covenant is in continuity with the previous covenants and is, indeed, part of the one covenant of grace with them. This is a tall order since, as Myers notes, “Initially Jeremiah’s words can appear to place a very sharp division between the old covenant and the new covenant” (245).
Myers identifies the following elements of continuity:
- The new covenant is made with “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah,” which are established by the Abrahamic covenant and “given further shape” by the Mosaic and Davidic covenants (245).
- In the new covenant the law is written on the heart. Myers asserts, “Very clearly, here God is referring to the law given in the Mosaic covenant” (245).
- The goal of the new covenant is the same as the goal of the previous covenants: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33)(246).
- The blessings of the new covenant as described in Ezekiel 37:24-8 are the fulfillment of the promises of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants.
The Newness of the New Covenant
Given this continuity, Myers must then explain why the covenant is called “new.” He argues that the Hebrew word translated “new” has “a wide range of meaning” and that “the new covenant is new in the sense that each wave of new fruit [that grows on a given tree] is new” (247-48). Myers further argues that the Greek word used to refer to the new covenant in the New Testament is not the word for “brand new” but the word for “a new iteration of something previous” (248). Myers also clarifies that when God said that Israel “broke” the covenant, the meaning is that its laws were violated rather than that the covenant was put to an end.
These points established Myers then describes what factors make the new covenant new:
- The law before the new covenant was “something external, written on tablets of stone” (250). But in the new covenant, the law will be written on the heart.
- The Holy Spirit will be poured out to enable obedience.
- The sacrificial system has been fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Myers notes three complications to this understanding of the newness of the new covenant.
- There is an already/not yet aspect to these promises, which explains why Christians still struggle with sin (Romans 7).
- The Spirit was active in the Old Testament as well as the New.
- Old Testament saints were saved by the cross work of Christ
Given that the most significant realization of the new covenant is future and given that the Spirit is eternally active in working out the plan of redemption, even the discussion of the newness of the new covenant ends up focusing on continuity.
The Problem of Exile
Myers is concerned that the exile of Israel, especially as it is expounded in Hosea 1, could be read as an “annulment” of the old covenant, this creating the need for an entirely new covenant (255). Significantly, God declared Israel “not my people” in Hosea 1, which seems to be an “undoing” of the covenant with Israel. Myers asks, “Does the exile represent a revocation of, or alteration in, the covenant of grace, as Israel goes from being “My people” to being “not My people”?” He answers,” Quite simply, the answer to the last question is no” (256).
Myers reasons that since the exile is a reversal of the land promise, the Abrahamic covenant (which promised the land) is the covenant in view. However, since the validity of the Abrahamic covenant is immediately affirmed in Hosea 1:10, God cannot be revoking his covenant.
Myers proposes an alternative interpretation. He claims that in 1:9 God is declaring the Northern Kingdom as not his people, in distinction from Judah which is his people (cf. 1:7). He qualifies this by noting there are Israelites on the Northern Kingdom who are God’s people and people in the Southern Kingdom who are not. Thus, he refines the message of Hosea 1:9: “God is making clear that “national Israel” is not shorthand for “the people of God.” National Israel can be scattered to the winds and God’s covenant with His people remain untouched” (258). In fact, rather than seeing the exile negatively, Myers argues that it was a step forward toward the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.
Hebrews 9 and the Unity of the Covenant of Grace
Myers closes the chapter by arguing that Hebrews 9 teaches the unity of the covenant of grace. He sees here an affirmation that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were effective because the blood of Christ shed in the new covenant was in “organic connection” to them. Indeed, he thinks that the covenant spoken of in 9:20 is the covenant of grace that encompasses all the other covenants.
The first, third, and fourth elements of continuity between the new covenant and previous covenants are valid. All three of these points would be affirmed by those who see in the biblical covenants a unified, progressing, plan of redemption. Regarding the second element, it is not very clear that the law written on the heart is “the law given in the Mosaic covenant.” The law written on the heart in the new covenant does not include circumcision, dietary laws, the sacrificial system, civil penalties for disobedience, etc. This is not to deny the overlap between the content of some laws in the Mosaic covenant and the law that is written on the heart. This overlap accounts for the fact that the New Testament authors can quote from the Decalogue, and other parts of the Mosaic code, in describing expectations for Christian behavior. But Christians do not follow the dietary laws of the Mosaic code, for instance, because they are under a different covenant with a law that does not include those provisions.
The Newness of the New Covenant
Myers is correct that the new covenant is new because it is internal rather than external, because the Spirit is poured out to enable obedience, and because it is founded on the sacrifice of Christ. However, the three caveats that Myers makes to these points tend to undercut the newness of the covenant.
A better way forward is to understand that the benefits of the new covenant were not benefits that were offered by the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant and the prophets pointed forward to the new covenant, and individuals in the Old Testament could, by faith, experience some of the benefits of the new covenant proleptically. In addition, while the Spirt was active in the Old Testament, and while he played an essential role in regenerating OT saints, the Spirit did not indwell Old Testament believers as he now indwells members of the new covenant (see Jim Hamilton’s book God’s Indwelling Presence). Thus, there are substantive differences in the benefits that OT and NT saints experience.
The substantive differences between the new covenant and the previous covenants (“not like the covenant that I made with their fathers”) calls into question Myers’s claim that “new” in the label “new covenant” simply refers to “a new iteration of something previous. The Hebrew word can clearly refer to something that is “brand new,” and the contrast (“not like the [Mosaic] covenant”) points to something new in kind rather than a mere “new iteration of something previous.” Regarding καινός, the word used in the New Testament, BDAG lists new covenant passages under the following sense: “pert. to that which is recent in contrast to someth. old, new…in the sense that what is old has become obsolete, and should be replaced by that which is new” (BDAG, s.v., καινός sense 3b).
The Problem of Exile
Myers’s claim that Hosea 1:9 refers to the Abrahamic covenant and is a statement that the Northern Kingdom is not part of the people of God does not withstand scrutiny.
- Myers argues that the Abrahamic covenant must be in view since the exile is “the removal of Israel from the Land of Promise,” which is a promise of the Abrahamic covenant. But exile is one of the sanctions of the Mosaic covenant (Lev. 26:333-39; Dt. 28:37, 64-65).
- The name of Hosea’s daughter, No Mercy, alludes to Exodus 33:19; 34:7 in which God showed mercy toward Israel and established the Mosaic covenant with them despite their rebellion in the golden calf incident. The name of Hosea’s second son, Not My People and his statement, “And I am not I AM to you” (Dearman, NICOT, 990-100; Stuart, WBC 33) is also a reversal of the Mosaic covenant’s promises (Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Dt. 27:9).
- In breaking the Mosaic covenant, Israel made itself like the Gentiles: not God’s people. However, Hosea 1:10 contrasts the broken Mosaic covenant with the future hope that Israel (and the Gentiles) have via the Abrahamic covenant (1:10 alludes to Genesis 22:17).
- Myers is correct that in 1:7 the Lord distinguishes between Israel and Judah. God will have mercy on Judah (for a while longer) while he no longer will have mercy on Israel. But in the end the judgment of exile will fall on both kingdoms, and both will be restored under the rule of the Messiah (1:11).
Read rightly, Hosea 1 presents the Mosaic covenant as a bilateral covenant that Israel has violated such that it has come under the covenant curses. The Abrahamic covenant, by contrast, is presented as a unilateral covenant which provides hope for restoration.
The covenant mentioned in Hebrews 9:20 is not the covenant of grace but is clearly the Mosaic covenant (Hebrews is here quoting Ex. 24:8). The whole passage draws comparisons and contrasts between two different covenants.