A Reminder to the Covenant God
By John HendryxIt is pretty common knowledge that it rains quite a bit here in our city of Portland, Oregon. Most often it is a very light rain such that the city-dwellers do not even use umbrellas when they go about their business. But recently we had quite an unusual phenomenon. My wife and I were in our home early in the evening just before sunset and over the airwaves came the news that a major electrical storm would be passing over our area. It is not very often that thunder and lightning accompanies the rain here, but especially at this magnitude. As we went out on our front porch the sky became dark and gloomy while lightning flashed from one end of the sky to the other. But since the sun was near to setting in the west, its light came through underneath the dark clouds creating a surreal glow among the half-darkness. Then as we looked out at the beauty of the moment, what appeared to be a transcendent rainbow, one like I had never seen in my life, sprang to life in full color in the midst of the mournful sky. While most rainbows seem to be partial, disappearing into the clouds, this one created a full arc or a half-circle from one end of the heavens to the other. Then another rainbow was revealed creating a double rainbow. We just stood in awe at its dreamlike quality and immediately both my wife and I, who were now sitting on the front porch transfixed at the vision, recalling its biblical significance spoke of it as a sign of a great blessing from God. I also saw several neighbors come out of their houses to view the unusual prism of colors. I approached to see if our next door neighbors had seen it and one of them said they thought was that it was “the end of the world”, but my wife and I recalled that rainbows are not signs of the end but of a new beginning in which God looks at His creation with favor. God uses covenant signs to create and affirm His covenant favor toward us.
In fact, if we look back into the Old Testament book of Genesis, the rainbow was a sign of the covenant in which God would not again destroy creation with a flood. The word of God reads:
Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying "Now, behold, I Myself do establish with you, and with your children after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between Me and all flesh that is on the earth." And God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth."
So first of all, before anything else, it is a reminder to God of the covenant He has made with us. The first purpose, therefore, isn’t so much that this covenant reminds us, but it reminds God of His promise to us. God looks at the sign and remembers that He will not do to creation that which it justly deserves. Of course this is anthropomorphism. God does not need reminding of His promise since He is omniscient, knowing and remembering the end from the beginning. But it is written as an assurance and comfort to us that God remembers his covenant with us and will keep His word. Interestingly the Hebrew word for rainbow is the same word they used for a bow of war. Apparently God takes the sign to the weapon for judgement to men and placed it in the sky promising that he would never again flood the world to destroy all life, so the sign of war, instead becomes a symbol of God's mercy toward us.
In fact it appears that all the covenants God gives his children are accompanied by signs which remind God of something He has done for us, usually a promise. The Lord’s Supper, for instance, is a new covenant in Jesus’ blood … blood which reminds God not to treat us as our sins deserve. Thus we take comfort when we approach and take the sacrament. We know that His blood, which the elements spiritually represent, are the only thing which God accepts on our behalf lest we be utterly consumed. We do not come to the Lord’s Table thinking we are a little better than last time and God may receive us because of our piety. No, the more we grow in grace, the more we recognize that we can only approach God as needy sinners. There is nothing you can bring out from your own resources. Do you, right now, love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself? Since you do not, you offend God’s law and need a Savior. Christ is your only righteousness before God and anything else you may imagine you can bring to Him is the utmost folly and absurdity. The covenant is for us and for our good that and it reminds God not to come and trample us in the winepress of His fury, but rather, to show us mercy. Mercy meaning, not getting what we deserve.
Consider that God’s delivering His people from the bondage of Egypt is a type of His deliverance of His people to the bondage to sin in the new covenant. God commanded all of the Israelites to apply the blood or a lamb to the doorposts of their homes as a sign for them and for God then recall what he says about the Passover:
For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments--I am the LORD. The blood [of the lamb] shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.
When God sees the blood he did not deliver over the firstborn Israelites to what they deserved. Only the Egyptians, who were not given this sign, were not sparred. Did God treat them differently because the Israelites were naturally better? No, He treated them better because of great His love for them and His remembrance of the covenant He made with Abraham. In other words, He redeemed them simply because of His sovereign good pleasure, not because He saw something in them which was better. And likewise God also sees the blood of Christ and passes over those to whom it has been applied so that no plague would befall us and destroy us, the plague that we would justly deserve. But what does it mean to take the Lord ’s Supper worthily then? It does not mean that we need to show God how well we have obeyed and bring him a list of our good deeds. On the contrary, it is when we think we are rich like this, that we are poor and show we have misapprehended the gospel. The gospel, rather, reminds us that the more we grow in understanding the more we must come like unto publicans who look down to the ground and say, “Have mercy on me Lord, the sinner.” Look at Jesus’ words in his revelation through John to the church at Laodicea. He scolds them for thinking they were rich and needed nothing, and were in danger of having Him vomit them out of His mouth because they were lukewarm. Instead they should have realized “that [they were] wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” He then counseled them to “buy from me gold refined by fire, so that [they] may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe [themselves] and the shame of [their] nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint [their] eyes, so that [they] see.” Jesus is not here saying that you need to be good or else. No, he is reminding them that it their trust in their own goodness (not needing anything) that is actually the cause of their problem. Instead they must realize their poverty of spirit and flee to Christ’s mercy alone.
Those who have placed their faith in Christ and what He has done, have their faith as a sign that they are God’s covenant people. But He did not choose us because of our faith, but UNTO faith. God does not favor people because one is wiser by nature. Rather it is the grace of God that we are what we are. For left to ourselves we would have only used our “free will” to perish and declare autonomy from God. But God’s love is so great to His children that He runs after them and delivers them from the wolf’s mouth. He doesn’t wait to see it they will utilize their will for Him. That would be to end all hope for every last person in the human race. Rather He gathers them up in His arms in spite of their hardened heart because He will not let them perish. What kind of love would leave us to ourselves and not give His Holy Spirit to help us? It is certainly what we deserve if He did so, but His love for us is so great that His Son’s life was not sparred in order to bring us to Himself. Jesus did not die for an abstract opportunity, but He died to secure the salvation of His people.
Here we discover the stark contrast in understanding the concept of love between synergistic traditions (Arminianism, Modern Evangelicalism) and the Augustinian tradition:
“[Arminians] ... say that the Augustinian tradition subordinates the love of God to the will of God ...But this is not what distinguishes the Augustinian tradition from the Arminian tradition. The distinction is between intensive and extensive love, between an intensive love that saves its loved ones, and an extensive love that loves everyone in general and saves no one in particular. Or if you really wish to cast this in terms of willpower, it's the distinction between divine willpower and human willpower. Or, to put the two together, does God will the salvation of everyone with a weak-willed, ineffectual love, or does God love his loved ones with a resolute will that gets the job done? ... The God of Calvin is the good shepherd, who names and numbers his sheep, who saves the lost sheep and fends off the wolf. The God of Wesley is the hireling, who knows not the flock by name and number, who lets the sheep go astray and be eaten by the wolf. Which is more loving, I ask?” - Steve Hays
After reading this above quote, Ted (a frequent visitor to Monergism.com), said had a response, itself worth quoting:
"Wow, now THAT is a great quote! … That is really good. After I read that last paragraph I began thinking to myself: Any true loving parent tries to shield their child from the evils of this world. No true loving parent will allow their kid to do what they please just because they respect their "right to choose." They will rather seek to raise their kids in the ways of the Lord and shield them from evil even "against their will." This is interpreted as love. However, Arminians expect us to believe that God does not have that kind of love for us. No, He will allow us to choose to walk away and follow Satan. God respects our "free will." Even so much so that He calls on dead men to believe on Him...without His help of course. We have to do that ourselves. But when a Calvinist says that God is so loving that he changes the disposition of our heart (and therefore does not impose on our will) and does not allow the enemy to sift us, this is viewed as unloving and "monstrous." I've never heard anything so backwards.”
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