In Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan, John Walton suggests that the entirety of scripture and the entirety of God’s relationship with humanity are held together by the theme of God’s self-revelation. God made the covenants and inspired the scriptures to tell us about himself. Why? Well, we’ll get there.
In the previous post of this series, we see how God’s self-revelation to Adam and Eve allowed them to be sinless, indeed, to exist as the very images and likenesses of God, until they sinned in response to the serpent’s temptation.
God’s dealings with Abram/Abraham also do not speak directly in terms of knowledge of God. And yet God plainly is revealing himself —
(Gen 15:4-6 ESV) 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
God is a God of grace, who makes promises to the undeserving.
Later we read,
(Gen 18:19 ESV) 19 “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
God says that the “way of the LORD” is “doing righteousness and justice,” two words (tsedaqah and mishpat) repeatedly used by the prophets to describe God himself. God chose Abraham so that he’d take on the character of God — and so that his descendants would do the same.
God expected Abraham to know him well enough to know how to be righteous and just. And yet God did not issue a series of laws and commands. It was entirely based on relationship and Abraham’s knowledge of God.
When God speaks to Moses before the exodus, he speaks in terms of self-revelation —
(Exo 6:6-8 ESV) 6 “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.'”
(Exo 16:12 ESV) 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'”
(Deu 4:32-35 ESV) “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.“
(Deu 7:9 ESV) 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,
Quotations such as these could go be extended for days and days of posts.
And we again see that God expects Israel to take on the character of God.
(Deu 10:16-19 ESV) 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
The point of the passage is not “Behold my fine, upstanding moral character!” Rather, it’s “Follow my example by caring about what I care about.” This is how to walk in the way of the LORD. This is how to pursue justice and righteousness. And there are many similar passages in the Law of Moses.
What qualified David not only to be king but the recipient of a covenant to be father of the Messiah?
(1Sa 13:13-14 ESV) 13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”
The Messianic king must be in God’s image. He must have God’s own heart. After all, it’s far more about compliance with God’s general revelation, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom 1:20 ESV).
David seems to have learned the importance of knowing God well, even as a shepherd
(1Sa 17:45-47 ESV) 45 Then David said to the Philistine [Goliath], “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.“
When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he declared,
(1Ki 8:56-61 ESV) 56 “Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. 57 The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, 58 that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. 59 Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, 60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other. 61 Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”
We see that, particularly under the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, God had as a major purpose revealing himself — but not just to Israel. He wanted the entire world to know his nature by his revelation through the Jews.
And yet beginning especially with God’s covenant with David, Israel began looking forward to a Messiah, a renewed kingdom, and a new covenant. After all, Israel soon fell into idolatry — and was hardly demonstrating that “the LORD is God; there is no other.” The plan would need to be changed — not repealed but stepped up.
The New Covenant
We need to consider a couple of passages we’ve covered before —
(Isa 11:6-9 NIV) 6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
To me, this is one of the most beautiful passages in all of scripture. It predates Jesus by hundreds of years, and yet it looks ahead to what Christians call the Second Coming. And the ultimate end — the goal — the teleios — is “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
What, therefore, is the problem that needs to be solved by God’s covenants? Well, people not knowing God.
That should remind us of —
(Jer 31:31-34 ESV) “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
In Jeremiah’s prophecy of the new covenant, one result will be “they shall all know [the LORD].” This knowledge comes, at least in part, from having God’s law written on their hearts by God himself. But it is, of course, much more than that.
Again, this tells us one reason that God was to grant the new covenant. There was a problem that needed to be solved: a lack of knowledge of God.
And then there’s this passage, frequently quoted in the NT —
(Hos 6:6 ESV) 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
The NT picks up this theme —
(Joh 17:3 ESV) 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
(Gal 4:8-9 ESV) Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
(1Jo 4:7-8 ESV) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
A little epistemology
N.T. Wright explains,
And the result of the gospel is that those who are liberated from slavery have come ‘to know God’ ([Gal] 4:9)—or rather, as Paul quickly modifies it, to be known by God (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1–6). Just as the Israelites were granted a fresh revelation of the true God in the exodus, so the events of the new exodus have truly revealed this same God in a new way.
But the whole idea of ‘knowledge’, and with it of truth itself, is hereby set on a new footing. No longer is it the brittle and arrogant knowledge of the post-Enlightenment world, making the hard sciences its primary paradigm and ‘relationships’ simply a matter of ‘feeling’. Nor is it the soft and fuzzy knowledge of the postmodern world, where ‘feeling’ and ‘impression’ are all that there is.
The primary knowledge, declares Paul, is the knowledge of God—God’s knowledge of you, and yours of God in grateful answer. This is a relationship, one that produces the deepest feelings ever known, but it is true knowledge nonetheless—both in that it is knowledge of the truth and in that it constitutes the truest mode of knowing. All other knowing is first relativized and then, when and as appropriate, reaffirmed in new ways from that point. This is a knowing like no other, because it is knowledge of a reality like no other.
N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978–2013, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 222-223.