The Lord’s Covenantal Compassion

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 4 Dec 2009

“And the LORD was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet” (2 Kings 13:23).

We are in a series of messages on the Great and Precious promises of God found in the Bible. Now, you will probably realise by now that some verses which we will examine as promises are not really direct statements of promises. This is especially so in the historical books in the Bible such as the first 17 books of the Old Testament. In a number of these books, you will not find significant expressions of promise by the LORD. However, even in these books, you will find statements that are extremely encouraging, and carry with them implied promises.

An example is our text for consideration from 1st Kings. There we considered 1 Kings 19:18—“Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”

Now, this is technically not a promise, but a declaration. Nevertheless, when we look at the context of the verse, we realise that it implies a promise, even a promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church of Christ.

Well, in our present study, we want to consider a promise drawn from the book of 2nd Kings. And again, we find that there are no direct statements of promise in this book. I think part of the reason for this lack can be found in the difference between the book of Kings and Chronicles.

What is the difference between the books of Kings and Chronicles? The most obvious difference is that Kings record for us the life and reign of the kings of both the Northern and Southern Kingdom. But there is another important difference, namely the purpose of the books.

The books of Chronicles were written after the exile when the nation was being rebuilt under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. They were written to remind the people of the faithfulness and mercy of the Lord.

The books of Kings, on the other hand, were written before the end of the Babylonian Exile. They were written to explain why God’s covenant people could end up in the hand of God’s enemies the state of exile. They ended up in exile because of their apostasy.

So the book of kings carries more a message of warning and judgement against apostasy. Nevertheless, God’s covenant is a unilateral one. Even despite the sin of his people, God will keep his promises. And so we can expect to find this theme in the book of kings even though there is an emphasis on God judgement. This is why we consider the promise of the Seven Thousand in First Kings. And in this study we have an implied promise along the same theme, namely, 2 Kings 13:23—

And the LORD was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet.

Now this is a rather remarkable statement that teaches us a couple of things about God’s covenant relationship with his people, namely, His covenant compassion; and His covenant chastisement.

1. God’s Covenant Compassion

In our study of the promise from 1st Kings, we considered a verse set at the end of the ministry of Elijah. Well, our text for our present study is set at the end of the ministry of Elisha. Elijah and Elisha, you would know, are prophets who ministered in the Northern Kingdom, Israel.

While the Southern Kingdom, Judah had her ups and downs, the condition in the Northern Kingdom could only be described as bad or worst, never good or bad. At the moment at the end of the ministry of Elisha, Jehoash, the grandson of Jehu was on the throne. Jehu was one of the better kings in the North. He was anointed by Elijah to exterminate the dynasty of Ahab. But he himself was not faithful to Jehovah, and neither was his son nor grandson, for we are told none of them turned away from the sin of Jeroboam. Yes, they worshipped Jehovah, but they did evil and they worshipped Him in the way of Jeroboam,—by using golden calves.

The result was that Israel was tormented by numerous foreign powers such as the Syrians and the Moabites.

But remarkably, God dealt very kindly with them. Did he not send Elijah and Elisha to minister to them? Did Elisha not oblige to enquire of the Lord for Jehoash even though he was sick? Did God not help Jehoash to defeat the Syrian army and to recover some of the cities of Israel?

Israel deserved to be cast away completely because of their apostasy. But “the LORD was gracious unto them and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them” (v. 23).

Why? God is a just God and jealous God. Why does He not deal with them after their sin deserved? Why does he not destroy them? Why does He still help them when they are blaspheming his name?

The answer, we are told, is: “because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Now, that is remarkable isn’t it? What we are told here is that God is gracious and compassionate to Israel because of his covenant promise to their fathers. What this means is that if God had not made a covenant with Abraham, and with Isaac and Jacob, He would have dealt with them justly. He would have vindicated His name. He would have destroyed them completely.

What does this mean for us? Well, the covenant that God made with Abraham is unto us and to our children too. This is what the apostle Peter assures us in his Petecostal sermon. This is also what the apostle Paul mean when he says: “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29).

Therefore, the promised implied in our text has to be relevant to us! How is it relevant to us? I believe it is relevant to us in that God will have mercy and compassion on our children.

Now, take note that our text does not give us assurance that all our children will be saved. Peter’s statement that the promise is unto us and our children implies that the elect will be found amongst our children but it does not imply that our children will be head-for-head the elect of God. 

What our text does assure us is that the LORD will be very merciful and compassionate to our children even if they were to begin to apostatising like the children of Israel.

Is this not a comforting assurance? To me it is, for despite our best effort to train our children, I know there is a strong possibility that our children will stray into the world and live an apostatising life at least for a season. We will teach them that they belong to the Lord. We will teach them that they bear the sign and seal of Christ and that they must repent of their waywardness. But unless the Lord has compassion and mercy on them, there will be little hope for them.

Thank God, therefore, for His covenant mercy and compassion.

But as much as our text promises God’s covenantal compassion and mercy, it also warns about God’s covenantal chastisement…

2. God’s Covenant Chastisement

Notice the little word ‘yet’ at the end of our text:

And the LORD was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet.

Now the word ‘yet’ adds a new dimension to the declaration, does it not? God, we are told, had not destroyed Israel for the sake of their fathers. But there was coming a time when he would destroy them!

Well, in some sense, this actually happen eventually. You see, the Northern kingdom never recovered from the apostasy of Jeroboam. Jehu who was anointed by Elijah checked the downward declension somewhat. But the reformation was only half-hearted. The people went back to their idolatry. And soon, God’s patience ran out. He began to bring upon Israel the covenant curses that He warned against in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.

He allowed the Assyrians to attacked them and, in fact, to destroy them. The Ten Northern tribes of Israel never recovered. A remnant of them did move down to Judah after the Assyrian invasion. And after the Babylonian exile of Judah some of them did return to dwell in Judah. But by and large the population was killed or dispersed.

Now, how does that apply to us? Well, it applies to us in that we must understand that God’s covenantal compassion to His visible church is not an unlimited licence to apostatise.

Indeed, when God would take us as His people, implicit in his receiving and blessing us is that as a people we must remain faithful and obedient to him.

Now, God’s covenant with his elect in Christ will never change. But remember that we are here talking about God’s covenant relationship with his people in her visible gathering. Israel in the Old Covenant was God’s covenant people despite their apostasy until God cast them away. But God’s covenant with the true Jew and the true Israelite will never change.

The same is true today. The apostatising church can expect God’s chastisement and even destruction. It is for this reason that the Reformers in the 16th Century make it a point to define what are some things that define the being and well-being of a church. The thing is: a church can continue to gather and to have worship and yet ceases to be a church of Christ—just like Israel today. Israel may be a nation, but they are not the covenant people of God. So we believe that the Roman Catholic Church is not part of the covenant people of God.

So what are the marks of a true church? What defines the being and what defines the well-being of a church? Well, it is generally agreed that a true church of Christ must uphold true doctrine; exercise faithful church discipline and properly administer the sacraments of Christ.

To the reformers, any church which fails on any of these point ceases to be a true church to the degree of their failure. Thus all the cults which do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity or the deity of Christ would not be true churches. Likewise churches that tolerate scandalous sin and would not do anything about it would cease to be true churches. Or if a church refuses altogether or abuses baptism and the Lord’s Supper, then the church would also cease to be a true church accordingly.

But there is one more mark which may be regarded as relating to the well-being of the church, namely biblical worship. By this reckoning, a church which ceases to be worship God according to God’s appointment is apostatising just as the Northern kingdom was apostatising. The idea is that a church that has all three marks of a true church of Christ, but has ceased to worship God in the way he has appointed is still a church of Christ, but is apostatising and in danger of rapid decline.

Now, all these, we must understand, are not unimportant to us; for they behove us to guard the purity of the church and to pray for the ministry of the church.

Beloved brethren, youths and children, let us not take for granted what we enjoy, but rather, let us gratefully seek the good of the church in prayer and deeds. For the sake of our children, let us pray that the Lord will preserve His church.


Let us thank God for His covenantal compassion and mercies towards us and our children. Let us thank him that he does not deal with us as our sin deserve. But let us also seek grace to repent of our sins and failure and to reform ourselves more and more to God’s Word. Amen. Ω