Amazing Grace: Baptism, Part 5 (The Outside the Covenant Argument–Patriarchs and the Law of Moses)

grace2.jpgRecall that we’ve always taught that Bible history should be divided between the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the Christian dispensations, each dispensation having a distinctive covenant with God, that being a distinctive means of salvation.

In each dispensation, God has had a covenant under which sin was forgiven. And in each dispensation God has forgiven sin and has accepted people outside the terms of the stated covenant—even when the terms of the covenant were stated in terms indicating that the terms of the covenant were mandatory.

The Fall of Man

God told Adam that if he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he would “surely die.” Once Adam and Eve had eaten, God pronounced a curse on all creation in Genesis 3. The final curse was “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen 3:19). God promised death to Adam and all his descendents. And even Jesus died. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).

And yet at two people never died. “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death … .” (Heb. 11:5a) And Elijah ascended to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). In each case, God had promised death but God was more generous than his promises. But this is not unusual for our gracious God.

The Patriarchal dispensation

In the Patriarchal age, God made a covenant with Abraham under which Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. God promised his favor to all Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15:6,22). And yet, at the same time we find Melchizedek, who was a “priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18).

After Abraham defeated four rival kings, Abraham gave a tithe of the spoils to Melchizedek. Jesus himself is compared to Melchizedek in Heb. 7. Clearly, Melchizedek had been granted God’s favor outside the covenant.

Why? All we know is that Melchizedek served God. Plainly, Melchizedek was not a descendant of Abraham and was not part of the Patriarchal Dispensation. Melchizedek did not receive the promises made to the Jews. And yet he was a priest of God. He was accepted outside the covenant then in effect.

The Mosaic dispensation

In the Mosaic dispensation, sins were forgiven by various sacrifices and by the ritual of the Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur) (Lev. 4-6, 16). Indeed, the Law of Moses says that these sacrifices are the only means of forgiveness. Lev. 6:4-6 says that a sinner “must” make restitution with a 20% penalty and “must” bring a ram for sacrifice. Similar mandatory language is found throughout Lev. 4-6. Or as the Hebrews writer states, “In fact, the law requires that … without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22).

And yet God has never limited himself to the legally specified means of forgiving sins. For example, when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed, the prophet Nathan charged David with sin, and David repented. God forgave David’s sin on the spot (2 Sam. 12:13). There was no sacrifice, tabernacle ritual, or the like. David confessed sin and God forgave him—quite outside the Mosaic covenant.

David wrote in response to God’s forgiveness —

(Psa. 51:16-17) You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

In the time of John the Baptist, baptism was for the forgiveness of sins. Sins were forgiven by repentance and immersion by the prophet (Mark 1:4). And nowhere is this practice found in the Law of Moses. God was again acting outside the covenant to forgive sins.

While Jesus walked this earth, he freely forgave sins, based on faith — but without the baptism of John and without compliance with the sacrifices demanded by the Law of Moses. Even on the cross, Jesus forgave the sins of the thief (Luke 23:40-43), saving him based on faith. Once again, God was forgiving outside the covenant.

In each case, the forgiven person had faith and sought to live the life God would have him lead (to the extent possible under the circumstances). In none of these cases was God’s covenant-means of forgiving sins followed.

Now, we often reject that argument that the thief on the cross was forgiven without baptism, because the Christian dispensation had not yet begun. The thief was forgiven, we argue, under the Mosaic dispensation, which is true. But the thief was forgiven without complying with the covenant-means of forgiveness then in effect. God accepted his faith outside God’s own rules for how forgiveness was supposed to be gained.

Hezekiah’s Passover

We rarely study 2 Chronicles, but 2 Chr. 30 tells an important story. Hezekiah was king of the southern tribes of Israel and a reformer. He decided to restore the celebration of Passover, which had been forgotten for generations. He sent letters to the northern tribes, under a different kingship, inviting them to join in the Passover in Jerusalem.

While most from the Northern Kingdom scorned the message, a few men “humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem” (v. 11). We learn in verse 18 that those of the northern tribes “had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written.” By the time those in the Northern Kingdom learned of the Passover celebration, it was too late to undergo the required ritual purification from ceremonial uncleanness (Num. 9:6, for example).

The Law of Moses penalizes with death entry into the Tabernacle while defiled (Lev. 15:31). Hezekiah prayed to God, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of our fathers — even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary” (2 Chr. 30:18-19) — and God overlooked the transgression.

The Israelites then celebrated the Passover “with great rejoicing, while the Levites and priests sang to the Lord every day, accompanied by the Lord’s instruments of praise” (v. 21). And God heard their prayers (v. 27).

In this case, even under the severity of the Law of Moses, God allowed ignorance of the Law to be an excuse — because those in ignorance were turning toward him. God accepted imperfect worship, judging the hearts rather than the “cleanness” of the worshippers. (And cleanness was achieved by a ceremonial washing, a precursor of baptism!)

We cannot lightly dismiss this lesson as limited to the Old Testament. After all, Paul refers to Jesus as our Passover lamb:

(1 Cor. 5:7-8) Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

If the death of Christ is comparable to the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, then our baptism, which is a re-enactment of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, is comparable to being cleansed to celebrate the Passover.

Does the God of Hezekiah still make exceptions? If the humble Israelites could participate without the required washings in the Passover, surely we can participate without the required washing in Christ.

Naaman

One of the Old Testament’s most fascinating accounts is the story of Naaman. Naaman was a commander in the Syrian army. He was struck with leprosy and could find no cure. Eventually, he came to Elisha, a prophet of God, and Elisha told Naaman that he would be cured if he dipped seven times in the Jordan River. (2 Kings 5:11-14)

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

This passage has often been used, by analogy, to demonstrate the importance of strict compliance with the ordinance of baptism. After all, Naaman was not cleansed until he had followed all of Elisha’s instructions — only on the seventh dip was Naaman cured. Thus, we have argued (correctly, I think) that one who has received instructions on baptism should do precisely as he has been told, for the promise is given only to those who meet the terms of the promise.

But we often overlook another intriguing element of the account:

(2 Kings 5:17-19a) [S]aid Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.”

“Go in peace,” Elisha said.

Amazingly, Naaman (a) was not a proselyte to Judaism — nothing remotely suggests that he was, for example, circumcised, and (b) intended to continue to enter the temple of an idol and to feign worship of the idol. And yet Elisha approved Naaman’s proposal.

Here’s another example of worship and faith being accepted outside the covenant. Naaman came nowhere close to meeting the terms of the Law of Moses, and yet he is accepted by God’s prophet.

What does Elisha in fact do? He says to Naaman, “Go in peace.” “Go in peace,” says the prophet of the Lord to this man torn between the ideals of his new faith and the realities of his old life. …

“Go in peace,” says the prophet to the people we so quickly judge and dismiss when we make idols of our limited understandings. “Go in peace.” The words swirl in the air surrounding Naaman and surrounding us, telling us our God is not a tame God. We can grasp at him through our theologies of peace, hope, liberation, grace, or personal salvation through Christ. But always we know him only in part, always he rises fiercely and wildly above us just when we think we have pinned him down. He is not a butterfly to be chased and stuck to a board and admired. He is, finally, as we see in Jesus, a God of joy and love, but he is a God also whose ways remain partly mysterious and unknowable, and before whom we do well to bow with fear and trembling as he touches and moves our lives in ways our bottles of theology and doctrine are too small and fragile to contain.

Michael A. King, “Naaman and the Wild God of Israel,” Spirituality Today (Spring 1986), Vol. 38, pp. 4-8.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Amazing Grace: Baptism, Part 5 (The Outside the Covenant Argument–Patriarchs and the Law of Moses)

  1. josh keele says:

    Allow me to look at each era and show that your exception either are not exceptions, up till Naaman which is clearly an exception but one that Paul explains in the New Testament well enough.

    The Fall of Man

    The first argument that God promised death to Adam and all his descendants, but yet let Enoch and Elijah go scott-free and have an exception and not die is not as proven as you think that it is. Did God just break the promise? Did God just lie and say everyone would die and then break that? No, but God looked forward to the cross and judged along with Paul "that if one died for all, then were all dead:" (2 Cor 5:14) It is not that God disregarded or broke his promise that all men should die, but that God fulfilled that promise in Christ dying on behalf of all men, and in that Christ died for all, all died. So then, God is able to exempt Enoch and Elijah from death, not by breaking his promise as you claim, but by the fact that Christ died for all, even for them, and that therefore, they did die for in that one died for all, all died–and Christ was slain before the foundation of the world (in purpose) and therefore God could look forward to that future event as already accomplished. Your first point, then, is NOT an exception after all.

    The Patriarchal dispensation

    Here you claim that Melchisedek was not in the Partiarchal covenant because he was not a descendant of Abraham. You misunderstand what is meant by the Partiarchal age, for no man that I have ever heard speak of it has ever meant by it only Abraham and his family, but that God delt with all men through the heads of their particular families. So, you find God speaking to king Abimelech not through a prophet, but directly. So also, Balaam, being a Gentile appears to be a holdover prophet from Patriarchal times, having no descent from Abraham whatsoever nor any relation to the Levites. And the point of the Hebrew writer so far from alleging that Melchisedek was out of covenant with God by not being descended from Abraham alleges that this man was greater than Abraham since Abraham payed tithes to him! You misunderstand the whole notion of the Patriarchal age, and thus have no example of an exception from it.

    The Mosaic dispensation

    In the Mosaic times you find what appear to be exceptions. But the reality is that the Jews broke the covenant as soon as it was given, and when God allowed Moses to rewrite the tablets they immediately broke it again. They disannulled their own covenant so many times that it was simply not actually in effect. God dealt with them as though it was so as to not drive them into terror, but very many passages show that in reality the covenant was gone already. This is why when they disregarded the Passover for all those years God never sent a prophet to recall them to it! Don't you find that strange? Under the reigns of so many kings no prophet of God ever said "hey…guys…why aren't we keeping the Passover?" It was because they had thrown God's covenant away and it was gone and God was dealing with them merely on the basis of his promise to Abraham and no longer on the basis of the Mosaic covenant. But Hezekiah thought to bring the people back to the Mosaic covenant, and God allowed him to try….but again they broke it and disannulled it. These then are not exceptions either, since the covenant had already been killed by them.

    Before I get to Naaman, I have a comment: You want to use these sort of weak arguments against baptism. But soon enough you will sink into using them against belief itself and will begin (as the pope already does) saying that Muslims will be saved (even though they reject Christ) because they beleive in the "same" God .

    But the whole of the matter is easily summarized in your question "Does the God of Hezekiah still make exceptions?" and its answer "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:" (Acts 17:30)

    Naaman

    Whereas Naaman the Syrian was pardoned for going into the temple of an idol and pretending to worship the idol to keep his political station, will a Christian be so pardoned for going into the house of an idol and feigning worship of the idol? Far from it! For Paul even says that a Christian who goes and eats in the idol's temple for recreational purposes only, not even feigning to worship the idol, is doing wrong, and "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils." Why can't I drink at the devils' tables Paul, when Naaman the Syrian got to? Could it be because "the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent"? I trow that it is.

    And wherefore doth God require more repentance today of us than he did of Naaman the Syrian? What has changed? Jesus Christ our Passover was crucified. Seeing the example of Jesus' death, being behooved by the love there demonstrated it is not proper for us to hide our faith in him and feign to worship an idol, but Naaman had not that great display of love to embolden him. Naaman was not able to say "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ &c." because Naaman had not the gospel of Christ being before its time.

    And again, how do we compare God overlooking the priests for not cleansing themselves with a bare ritual properly before ministering the Passover and yet God does not overlook us for rejecting baptism which is of course more than a cleansing ritual? The Passover was but a national deliverance and an physical salvation effected by the blood of brute animals. And the cleansing for the Passover consisted in nothing more than taking a bath. And what's more the covenant had been annuled by them already for a long time. But our Passover, Jesus Christ, is no brute beast whose blood is cheap and worthless. Nor is our deliverance a mere national one or physical, or temporary (as you must admit, after bringing them out of Egypt that time, he sent them back into slavery in Babylon!)–but ours is a perfect deliverance and eternal. Now if God will pardon the light offense of rejecting the blood of lambs which have no sense and mocking and trampling on such worthless blood, is it not understandable? But that God will not pardon the heavy offense of trampling on the blood of his own dear and only-begotten Son, is that not even more understandable? For how much worse punishment do they deserve who trample the blood of Christ rather than that of a brute beast? And secondly, baptism is not a mere purification of the body, as were those purifications of the priests, but Peter says in 1 Peter 3:21 "And baptism, which this [the flood of Noah's day] prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,"–whereas those priests had merely neglected to take a bath, to remove dirt from the body, those who neglect or reject baptism have neglected or rejected to make the necessary appeal to God for the cleansing of the heart and have neglected also to put on Christ, for Paul says in Galatians 3:25-27 "But after faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster, because you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, because as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." It is one thing to ignore taking a bath before sacrificing a brute animal, and another to ignoring putting on Christ the Lord.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Josh,

    Let me take these in order —

    Fall of man: Yes, not dying is exceptional. If not, then why do the rest of us all die? Yes, Jesus paid the penalty for his disciples, and yet even they die.

    Patriarchal: This dispensation is better referred to as Abrahamic, and in a real sense, we're still in it, although God has changed it in many respects. But faith is still imputed as righteousness for us just as for Abraham. Our salvation is God's fulfillment of his promises to Abraham.

    In Sunday school, as a child, I was taught that the Patriarchal Dispensation was a time when God dealt directly with the heads of households. That's not quite right. It was really a time when God chose Abram and his descendants to be in covenant relationship with him.

    Therefore, until the time of Christ, the promise was to Abraham and his physical descendants (Gen 15:18, for example). Melchizedek was obviously not in that category.

    Christ, however, tore down the dividing wall of hostility so that the nations might be grafted into the Abrahamic promise.

    Now, this is very much the theme of all of scripture. No one else was in covenant relationship. God, however, could speak to anyone else he so chose and did speak to others. None of the others were privy to the covenant. They were not part of the "dispensation."

    You see, "dispensation" literally means a "giving out." That is, a dispensing of something, that is, God's grace.

    Nonetheless, although God's promise of grace was given to Abraham and his descendants, Melchizedek was a priest before God himself, and honored by Abraham. And this despite the fact that Melchizedek was not part of the covenant that defines the flow and story of all of scripture.

    Mosaic: You wrote, "They disannulled their own covenant so many times that it was simply not actually in effect." Are you kidding? I mean, have you read the New Testament? Or the prophets? Did Jesus consider the Law annulled? Did Isaiah?

    Certainly the Jews often violated the Law, but it's absurd beyond words to imagine that it had been annulled before the completed work of Jesus.

    I'm beginning to see why you and I disagree on so many things. You have been very badly instructed on some of the most elemental scriptural truths.

  3. paul says:

    Sometimes it seems like many people have a small God; He doesn't fit in any box that the mind of any man can create. God can do anything He wants, and He will, that includes changing His mind or making exceptions. Scripture is full of examples of His sovereignty and here is but one of many examples:

    I Chronicles 21:15-15 – ASV
    And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was about to destroy, Jehovah beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the destroying angel, It is enough; now stay thy hand. And the angel of Jehovah was standing by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

  4. Pingback: Amazing Grace: The ICOC and Baptism, Part 2 « One In Jesus.info

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