Views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Israel Today.
I’m not referring to the political document governing the current State of Israel. But rather the God-given covenant under which the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants abides. Because there seems to be some confusion among both Jews and Christians as to what Israel’s constitutional covenant is.
Israelis, and Jews worldwide, consider it to be the Mosaic Law. In fact, many Christians think that, too. And it’s easy to understand why. That covenant not only gave Israel the judicial, social and moral framework that distinguished it from the other nations, it revealed God’s highest standard of moral living on earth. Of course we know the nation hasn’t functioned in that covenant for over 2000 years because of the exile and destruction of the Temple. But that has not kept the Jewish people from continuing to observe a remnant of the Law’s practices, which has helped maintain their identity throughout the centuries.
But here is the problem. The Mosaic Law was never the constitutional covenant upon which Israel was founded. The Abrahamic Covenant was. And the two were fundamentally different at their core.
In Galatians 3:15-25, the apostle Paul compares the two covenants and shows the Abrahamic covenant was based solely on a promise, which had to be received by faith. And since that is what Abraham did, God had declared him righteous by that faith. But the law covenant, which came four hundred and thirty years later, did not require faith. “For the Law is not of faith” (Gal 3:12). It was based on 100% obedience. Not upon God keeping His word. And because Israel, no matter how hard she tried, could never obey it, the nation paid an awful price for failure. Including three horrific expulsions.
But here is the main point Paul wanted us to see. Because the Law was based on a totally different premise it could “not invalidate the [Abrahamic] covenant previously ratified by God” (Gal. 3:17). If it had it would have replaced that covenant, and the inheritance would have been based on Law and not on a promise. But “God had given it to Abraham by means of a promise” (Gal 3:18). Therefore, even when the Law ruled over Israel, the Abrahamic covenant continued as Israel’s main constitutional covenant right up until the first century when Yeshua entered the picture. And then everything changed.
Now, most Christians understand that the law covenant was completely fulfilled by Yeshua. For as Scripture informs, “it had been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made” (Gal. 3:19). That meant the Mosaic Law had an expiration date tied to the coming of “the seed,” who we know was Messiah Yeshua.
But if he was the promised “seed,” the heir to all that was spoken to Abraham, it meant he also fulfilled the Abrahamic covenant. However, God did not leave Israel without a governing covenant. As we know, before Yeshua ascended to Heaven he instituted a new covenant based on God’s mercy and grace, making the New Covenant Israel’s official constitutional covenant today. Even if Jewish Israel does not yet accept it as such.
Does that mean the first two covenants no longer have a voice? Not at all. I like to think of Israel’s new constitution as a three-layer covenant cake. And that the top layer, the New Covenant, is still dependent upon the bottom two layers for support. For the spiritual truths established by the two former covenants are very much present in the New Covenant.
The founding Abrahamic covenant still testifies to the truth “that the righteous man shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). And that, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). It also supports the historic claim of Abraham’s chosen line of descendants to the land and the promises, as represented by today’s returning Jews. The only part God changed was the sign of the covenant – the requirement for physical circumcision. That initiation rite, the seal of righteousness, transitioned to a spiritual circumcision of the heart, known as the “born again” experience.
The same with the Mosaic Law. It continues to testify to the accuracy of New Covenant doctrine based on the Law’s types and shadows. And still reminds the righteous of God’s demand for holiness and obedience – “to walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own Kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). And it can still confront the lawless for their immoral, ungodly behavior. But the 613 commands of the Law as mediated by Moses are now “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13). The power of the indwelling Holy Spirit now makes it possible for us to keep the intent of the whole Law, to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, without benefit of a priesthood, ritual or holy day. “For he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law” (Rom. 13:8).
We are just waiting now for the day when all Israel will recognize its New Covenant constitution. When that happens, Jewish and non-Jewish believers will then be able to enter God’s restored Kingdom of Israel in a covenant of peace.
“My servant David will be king over them, and they will have one shepherd.…and I will make a covenant of peace with them; and it will be an everlasting covenant…and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forever” (Ezek. 37:26).
Brian Hennessy is author of Valley of the Steeples