Ancient Promises

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The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.” This famous statement by Saint Augustine expresses the remarkable way in which the two testaments of the Bible are so closely interrelated with each other. The key to understanding the New Testament in its fullest is to see in it the fulfillment of those things that were revealed in the background of the Old Testament. The Old Testament points forward in time, preparing God’s people for the work of Christ in the New Testament.

The history of redemption began with creation itself. The book of Genesis, the first book of the Pentateuch, starts with the beginning, or the “genesis,” of the universe as expressed in the revelation of God’s mighty work of creation. The creation of the universe culminated in the narrative of the creation of humanity. This was followed very shortly by humanity’s cataclysmic plunge into ruin as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. From the third chapter of Genesis through the end of the Bible, the rest of the narrative history is the history of God’s work of redeeming a fallen humanity. Genesis shows that the same God who is the God of creation is also the God of our redemption.

The book of Genesis gives us an overview of the patriarchal period and the covenants that God made with them. They form the foundation for everything that follows in redemptive history. Beginning with Noah and moving toward Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the sons of Jacob, the story unfolds God’s consistent pattern of redemption, which looks ahead for centuries, as God’s people awaited the ultimate fulfillment of the patriarchal promises. These promises were fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.

The book of Genesis ends with the children of Israel migrating into Egypt to be rescued by the intervention of Joseph, who ruled as the nation’s prime minister. Exodus opens with the scene having changed from one of benevolent circumstances under Joseph to one of dire circumstances, as the immigrant nation of Israel had been enslaved by Pharaoh. The stirring account in Exodus is the Old Testament, watershed work of divine redemption. It sets forth for us the narrative of the divine rescue of the slaves held captive in Egypt. The captives were redeemed by the triumph of God and His mercy over the strongest military force of this world embodied in Pharaoh and his army. It points forward to an even greater liberation by a greater Mediator from slavery to sin.

From this Old Testament group of slaves, God molded a nation and called them His people. Through the mediatorial work of their earthly leader, Moses, God gave to this people His law. The ultimate expression of the Law is found in the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments. The Decalogue sets forth the moral law, by which God’s people are to live. Ultimately the Law was designed to drive people to an awareness of their need for a redeemer. Exodus also added to the Ten Commandments a multitude of laws called the Holiness Code, which demonstrated, by way of case law, the practical applications of the moral law found in the Decalogue.

In the latter part of Exodus, and moving into the book of Leviticus, we see the laws governing worship, ritual, and the establishment of the priesthood, all of which are engaged as anticipating types, or shadows, of the work of the Christ who was to come. Of particular import is the institution of sacred festivals such as the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of the Ingathering, and, most importantly, the Day of Atonement. The drama of these events again prefigures the fulfillment of them in their ultimate form in the perfect sacrifice that was offered on the cross by Jesus.

The books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, which round out the first five books of the Bible called the “Pentateuch,” or the “Torah,” continue to develop the historical patterns of the experiences of Israel from the days of the exodus up until the departure of Moses at Moab. In these books, we also see the roles God assigns to the various tribes of Israel, as well as the giving of the second law (dueteronomos, the book of Deuteronomy), which again set forth the terms of the covenant God made with Israel. It spelled out the obligations, responsibilities, sanctions, and the blessings that were integral to that covenant. The establishment of curses and blessings set the foundation for the perfect ministry of Jesus, who, as our Mediator in the New Testament, satisfied the demands of the curse of our sin upon us and won for us, through His perfect obedience, the blessings promised in that covenant.

From Genesis through Deuteronomy, we have the most important theological foundation to provide the framework for our comprehensive understanding of the Christian faith. In earlier centuries, for someone to be recognized as a serious theologian, it would have been expected of that person to have written at least a commentary on the book of Genesis, because so many of the themes found in Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch are central to understanding the work of Christ. Indeed, in the Pentateuch, the entire New Testament is concealed, yet the revelation therein opens a gateway for us to understand all of the rest of the revelation that God provides from Joshua through Revelation.

In our day the covenantal structure of redemption is often obscured. What should be plain by even a cursory reading of the Pentateuch is passed off into darkness and replaced by some other structure or framework invented by human speculation.

The covenant structure of redemption does not end in the fifth book of the Pentateuch. It continues throughout the Old Testament.

At the advent of Christ, Mary sang the Magnificat, in which she rejoiced in the mercy of God that is “from generation to generation.” She sang of the remembrance of God’s ancient promises to the Patriarchs:

He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy.
As He spoke to our fathers.
To Abraham and to his seed forever
(Luke 1:54–55 NKJV).

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