THE GOD OF COVENANT

Part I


As preached at the PCC morning Worship Service on 12 August 2001 by bro Sim Yeow Meng.
Bro Yeow Meng is a licentiate in PCC. He was unable to complete the sermon as he was deeply affected
by what he was preaching and felt like fainting. We reproduce the excellent sermon in full, in two parts,
for the further edification of all present and those who missed it.


And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel
sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason
of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham,
with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel,
and God had respect unto them.
(Exodus 2:23–25)


Suppose you are a beggar, who has also been afflicted with leprosy. Day and night, you are weighed down by your great poverty and sufferings; and everyday, you would go around everywhere seeking desperately for relief and healing from your misery. However, relief and healing are nowhere to be found in the world, except in a place. And that is in the king’s palace! And not only so, but only the king himself can heal you. Hence, you direly need access to the king to seek him for remedy for your misery.


But, the question for you is, can you expect to get an access to the king? Maybe as a citizen of good standing of the country, you may. BUT, what if you are an outlaw who has rebelled against Him, and your present poverty and miseries are the just deserts of your rebellion?


Friends and brethren, this is not a mere supposition, for the Scripture speaks of our rebellion against God. For example, the Psalmist says,

Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us (Ps 2:1–3).


Access to God! How can a man have access to God to obtain the remedy for his misery and sufferings, and the blessings from Him for happiness? This is the subject that I would like to consider with you this morning.


The Great Bondage, A Common Experience


We read in our text the misery of the children of Israel. This is seen in their expression of sighing, crying and groaning.


What was the cause of their misery? We read in chapter 1 that it is due to the great hardship inflicted on them by the king of Egypt and his people. The Egyptians inflicted them in three ways: (1) they made them serve with great rigour (1:13); (2) they “made their lives bitter with hard bondage” (1:14; emph. mine); and (3) even more than that, after having their service, the king of Egypt also sought to make them extinct by way of death, commanding every son that was born to the children of Israel to be killed, first by the Hebrew midwives and then by casting them into the river (1:16, 22).


In short, the Israelites were suffering bondage and afflictions in Egypt.


But we must remember, that these things are written not only to tell us about the Israelites’ history, but to give us a true picture of our misery. There are divine truths and teachings in them. Romans 15:4 tells us: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”


Compare the misery of the Israelites in the land of Egypt with the misery of us mankind.


Firstly, just as the Egyptians made the Israelites served as slaves with great rigour, so men by nature are heavily laden by the prince of this world with the things of this world, with the wealth, pleasures and the excessive cares of a dying life in a perishing world. So then, men everywhere occupy themselves entirely and totally with that continual service to the neglect of true life.


So their lives waste away in much hard and long-drawn labour after something that neither truly rewards nor profits them. Though men may labour with great rigour, the Scripture calls their labour the hewing of broken cisterns. There was a point in time when the people of God was in such a state of hewing broken cisterns, when they departed from God and were far off from Him. And God says through the prophet Jeremiah,

My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water (Jer 2:13).


In ancient days, there were no pipes and water tanks, like what we have today, to collect and store rain water or spring water, so the people in those days would hew out cisterns for themselves for this purpose. And these cisterns had always been necessary, especially in a place such as the Middle East region, where large areas are ill-supplied with natural springs, and the summer is long and dry, and rainfall small. They were always necessary not only for domestic purposes, but also for irrigation, for watering of animals, and the convenience of travellers.


Mankind’s labour is likened to the hewing of broken cisterns, cisterns that are unable to hold water. It is a totally profitless and futile work. Men are heavily laden by the prince of this world so that they continually occupy their heart, mind and body, entirely and totally, with the things of this world to the neglect of true life.


Secondly, just as the Egyptians made the Israelites’ lives bitter with hard bondage, so men are kept in falsehoods, ignorance and sin, away from the liberty of the truth so that, as a result, their lives are bitter with misery and emptiness. “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor 4:4).


We live in a world where men are constantly and continually seeking happiness and comforts, but in vain. Men labour much and hard, and so often they are in much anxiety first to earn a living, thereafter, to seek happiness and comforts. Yet, the world is unable to find happiness. Men hunt for happiness everywhere in the world, and go through much pains and great lengths of journey, yet instead of obtaining happiness, the world found meaninglessness of their existence and discontentment of life. There is an inner mourning, and crying of emptiness and misery within. Despite much effort, men is helpless to the miseries of life. This is because they hunt for happiness in a place where it can never be found.


Rather, what they found are many counterfeits of happiness, which fade, to tranquillise the cries and miseries within. But that is not true happiness. Francis Turretin says it well: “Good things could not make us perfectly happy, unless perpetuity was added to them” (IET, 2:182).


In other words, happiness, unless it is perpetual, is no true happiness. Temporal happiness is just like bringing a poor orphan out for a good time, but as soon as the orphan steps back into the orphanage, sadness and misery return to him.


But men continue their endeavours because the world is a large place and the prince of this world has put in it many counterfeits of happiness and good things to briefly satisfy us and suppress our cries of misery.


My 91-year-old grandmother whom I have been praying regularly for her salvation for the past 15 years, and visiting her every Saturday, would frequently tell me of her wish to depart from this life, finding nothing meaningful nor satisfying in her life, but miseries. This is in spite of the fact that she is still healthy and suffers from minimal bodily afflictions.


Man’s entire life is lived in fake happiness. His life is spent in true bitter misery.


Thirdly, just as the king of Egypt sought the death of the Israelites, so both the eternal death of the world and us is also sought by the prince of this world.


When Moses asked Pharaoh for leave for the Israelites so that they may go and hold a feast to God in the wilderness (Ex 5:1), it was an attempt to thwart the purpose of Pharaoh. But instead of heeding Moses’ request, he commanded his taskmasters of the people the same day that more work be laid upon the people, that they may work continually (Ex 5:9).


In the same way, Satan seeks to keep men firmly and securely in bondage, by all means. As long as man is prevented from getting out of that bondage, till their present life expires, he is silently pleased and at rest. This is because the expiry of their present life will usher in an eternally unending death.


From the first day of their existence to the last day of their life on earth, men are kept in bondage of sin, ignorance and falsehood, till they are met with everlasting death for their sin against God. It is like the foreign workers we see on our way home from worship. We see them doing construction and road works under the hot sun and into the late evenings. They have no time to hear the Gospel of their everlasting salvation and to worship God, having even to toil and labour on the day that God has appointed for men to rest and enjoy Him in worship.


Just as the death of the Israelites was sought after by Pharaoh, the eternal death of man is sought after by the god of this world.


Thus men are, throughout their life, kept in the misery of their bondage. The misery of the Israelites in our text is a type of the misery of the entire world. As you consider this passage, remember, it is written that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning….” Moreover, remember that all that happened to the Israelites occurred to them “for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor 10:11).


God Heard Their Groaning


But read the words in our text. It says that God heard the groaning of the children of Israel. Now certainly at any point in time throughout history, it is certain that there are innumerable people groaning throughout the whole world due to the bondage, for all are bonded. The whole creation is groaning and travailing in pain together, and not only they, but we ourselves also. All have a common experience of the misery. Likewise it is certain that there was no exception during the time of Moses.


But consider how it is said here that God heard the groaning of the children of Israel. Why was their groaning alone being heard? Why not the groaning of the children of China, or the children of India, or the children of Europe, or any other country around Egypt? There were many more people suffering and groaning in those lands and regions, and many of them with greater suffering and misery. Why was the groaning of only the children of Israel heard?


Just as neither rebels nor law-breakers deserve to be heard of the king, so no man deserves to be heard of God. But here, God heard the groaning of the children of Israel, but not the groaning of the rest of mankind in the whole world. It is as if God had turned a deaf ear to all other people’s groaning of misery. It is as if He has ignored all their cries.


And He not only heard their groaning, but it is also written here that He also looked upon them and had respect unto them. The original for the words “had respect upon” is the word yada (Heb.). It means “to know.” He knows the children of Israel. Not that God does not know the rest of the men in the world, for we are told that God is all-knowing—not one sparrow falls on the ground without His permitting (Mt 10:29). But the word to know here means an intimate knowledge, a knowledge of affection. It is the same word used in Jeremiah 1:5 when God says to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knewthee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”


And what is the reason for this? What is so special and different about the children of Israel from the rest of the world? The Holy Spirit tells us that it is because God remembered “his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” It is because He has made a covenant with the fathers of the children of Israel.


It is because of this covenant that God has made with their fathers that He heard their groaning alone, even though the rest of the world were also crying. It is because of this covenant that He has made with their fathers that He also “looked upon the children of Israel” in the great misery, and “had respect unto them,” knowing them. No other reason is given except the covenant that He has made with their fathers. It is through this covenant, that He gives His ear to their cries and shall now begin to act for them.


The Way of Covenant


The WCF 7.1 reads:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do own obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.


Now consider the importance of this covenant. This covenant is so necessary and important that no man may expect any HEARING from Him without this covenant, not to mention expecting any remedy or blessings from Him.


This is because God has ordained that the way whereby men may get audience from God for the remedy of their misery is by way of a divine covenant. Mark this: God has ordained that a divine covenant is the only way that He has made Himself accessible to men acceptably.


What is a covenant? It is a pact or agreement between two parties, binding themselves to a mutual promise, based on a condition, the failing of which a penalty will be exacted. In a covenant, one will find certain things, generally four to be exact: (1) Two parties; (2) A Condition; (3) A Promise; and (4) A Penalty.


This is the essential meaning of a covenant. And in the entire Scripture, you will never find a man having any access to God, communion with Him and fruition of Him as his blessedness and reward, except by way of a covenant.


With Adam, God made a covenant. And that was the first covenant. God commanded him, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:16–17).


You see here two parties, in God and Adam. You see here the condition that Adam is not to eat of the forbidden fruit. And you see here the penalty and promise. If Adam eats, he shall die. That’s the penalty. And we may infer from the penalty, the promise, that if Adam refrains from eating the fruit, he shall not die, that is, he shall live. That is the promise.


Likewise, God made a covenant with Noah. It is written that God said to Noah, “But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee” (Gen 6:18).


Similarly, God has also made a covenant with Abraham, which may be seen from our text. In Genesis 17:7, God says to Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”


In the same manner, the saints of God are in a covenant with God. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews writes this to believers,

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Heb 13:20–21).


Thus you can never find a man throughout the Scripture, not even one, who may have access to God, communion with Him, and fruition of Him as his blessedness and reward without being in a covenant. God has ordained that the only channel that man may have access to Him acceptably is by way of a covenant.


God has only created a door for men to enter into His presence. It is like the path that God opened up in the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through to safety, when they were at a dead end and panicking, with the Red Sea before them and the pursuing Egyptians behind them. That path is the sole channel they may go to escape. Likewise, the covenant that God has offered to man is like that path in the Red Sea. And it is offered to men who are in anguish of their soul and at a dead end, with their life being sought after.


You see here how God is a God of covenant! When He of His infinitude chose to condescend to men to offer them to have the “fruition of Him as their blessedness,” He does so by way of a covenant. He made a covenant with Adam, with Noah, with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all believers.


When He wants to bless men, and do exceeding good to them, He does not do so in an uncertain and wavering manner. But He brings men to a permanent and definite engagement and bond, and from there, He pours down blessing after blessing through that bond.


And unless men are in this covenant, they are excluded from that blessedness and remain in bondage and misery, left to perish!


You see in our text, when the Israelites, who were in the covenant with God by way of their forefathers, were in trouble and misery, God then remembered His covenant with them and looked upon them and had respect unto them, and ensure that they were delivered from their trouble and misery.


The Covenant Considered

(adapted from Francis Turretin)


Now let us consider this covenant.


You may note that the covenant, which God made with Abraham in Genesis, is called the everlasting covenant. It is a covenant that never ends. And in the New Testament, it is again mentioned in Hebrews 13:20. Needless to say, they are the same covenant. The covenant God made with Abraham is the same covenant that God made with believers today.


In this covenant, the parties are God and men. And in this covenant, God promised that He will be a God to them and that they will be a people to Him. He said to Abraham,

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee (Gen 17:7).


And this promise is not only made to Abraham or at that time only, but it is also made to all who are in this covenant. It is mentioned again and again in the New Testament, such as 2 Corinthians 6:16, Hebrews 8:10, and Revelation 21:3. In these passages, you will find the same promise.


And this promise should not be underestimated, as it often is. This promise is in reality a promise of promises; it contains many other promises of God. You see, when I tell my son, “Son, I am your father,” those words would not only imply the bare meaning of the words, but it would also naturally imply that all that I have, my assets, my wealth, and all my possessions are all his.


Likewise, when God promised a man that He shall be His God, it implies also a great host of great things from Him. These great things may be found in the promises of God in the Scripture. Hence, the second epistle of Peter speaks of the people of God being given the “exceeding great and precious promises.” Note that it is not one promise, but many, promises such as:


a.  Reconciliation with Him, and His determination to do one good. Hence it is said in Jeremiah 32:40–41: “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good…. Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul.”


b.  His perfect love, where He shall take us to be His children, and shall love us with a tender and everlasting love.


c.  Conformity to God in holiness and godliness, where He shall teach us what is good and right, that we shall not be led away to follow false and corrupt ways.


d.  Communication of goods. Hence, Abraham was promised a land by God, and Abraham was later given the understanding that this land is none other than heaven, for we are told that Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10).


e.  All in all, it is this, that He shall be ours. Hence God said to Abraham, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen 15:1).


These are the chief things contained in the promise of God in this covenant that He shall be a God to men and they shall be His people.


In this covenant, moreover, God has also provided a Mediator. And this Mediator is none other person than Jesus Christ. This Mediator is needed because the two parties in the covenant are not neutral parties.


Should the two parties in this covenant be neutral to each other, there would be no need of a Mediator. But the two parties in this covenant are an offended God and offending men. It is a covenant between a just and almighty King who is able to destroy His rebels and outlawed subjects who are rebelling continually.


You remember that in the beginning, I ask the question, What if you are a rebel? And I have quoted to you from the Word of God how all men have taken counsel against God, and set themselves against Him. Man is no mere subject of God. He is an outlawed subject. He is an insurrectionist and a mutineer. And this covenant is about bringing the greatly offended God and offending men together, through a Mediator. Turretin writes: “God on account of his own justice not enduring us guilty men and we on account of our unrighteousness being unable to approach God” (IET 2:176).


And what does the Mediator do? This is what He does.


First, on the behalf of those men who are in this covenant, He stands before the offended God, appeasing Him, and interceding for sinners before Him, promising to pay God all the things which were owed by those who are in this covenant. It is like the Apostle Paul interceding with Philemon for his runaway slave Onesimus. He said to Philemon in the epistle to Philemon, “receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it…” (Phlm 17–19).


Likewise, in this covenant, Christ the Mediator says the same thing to God, “receive them as myself. If they hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Jesus Thy Son have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it.…”


And not only so, but secondly, the Mediator also speaks to men. He promises men that God will remember their sins no more and will accept them. And all the blessings promised by God to men in this covenant shall surely be fulfilled to them. Therefore, come, come to God, He urges them.


It is like He says to them, “Be not afraid, for you are coming to God not by anything of yourselves, but by Me His Son. Neither worry, for as God my Father accepts Me, He will accept you. As He delights in Me, He will delight in you. And as He loves Me, He will love you.”


This is what the Mediator does in this covenant, reconciling between an offended God and offending sinners.


Finally, there is also a requirement for sinners coming to this covenant. And that requirement is simple, it is, faith. Faith in the Mediator, simply and humbly believing in His Person and His work. How did Abraham come into this covenant and obtain the promise in this covenant? It is written in Genesis 15:6 that “he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” While divine covenant is like the path that God opened up in the Red Sea for His people to pass through to safety in their moment of anguish, faith is like their simple trust in God in going forward into that path in the midst of that great sea. It is plainly trusting, plainly believing and plainly resting on God.


Without faith, one will only be left outside that path, unable to cross over to safety from the land of Egypt, he will either be recaptured by the Egyptians to be brought back to bondage and misery or be slew by them.


 continued next week


— 
Sim Yeow Meng
(edited by J.J. Lim)