I’ve often heard it claimed that the Bible makes no reference to someone’s physical characteristics when determining anything important.
Usually this is an overly-general statement intending to generate a scholarly sounding rebuttal to real or imagined forms of “racism.”
When pointed out that the entire covenantal system is predicated on blood-relations among people-groups, the usual response is to deny, deny! “The covenant was certainly not about physical ties,” they say…“but rather, it was about an intellectual assent to spiritual ideals!” Or else they’ll just say that it was a “spiritual” covenant, and leave their debate opponent wondering at the ambiguous phrase.
I was of the opinion that the genealogical administration of the covenant was so well-established in Christian literature that it needed only assertion as a quick reminder. I didn’t suspect that I would have to argue for it! To be fair to my sleeping brethren, perhaps we wouldn’t have to argue were the topic approached from a non-threatening direction? It is the implication of genealogical unity that, when pointed out, causes the disturbance.
O. Palmer Robertson’s book “The Christ of the Covenants” presents a succinct and clear argument for the unity of the covenants, specifically their genealogical unity. I’ll sum up his case here, and Christians can wrestle with God over the implications:
He begins by claiming that the genealogical unity is seen in the “seed-concept” found in (Gen 15:18; Exod. 20:5, 6; Deut. 7:9; and II Sam. 7:12)
There are two specific verses that highlight this unity in a dramatic way, says Robertson, and they are: Deut. 5:2,3; and Deut. 29:14.
In Deut. 5:2,3, Moses affirms that the covenant of Sinai was made with “those of us alive here today.” The problem is, the people being addressed were not alive during the covenant at Sinai! The text indicates that Moses is clearly implying that the promises at Sinai apply equally to the blood descendants. To get a better sense of what is being said in these verses, Robertson offers this restatement: “…with us, the Christians of the twentieth century, all of us alive in Christ today, God made the covenant at Sinai.”
Moses assembled all of Israel onto the plains of Moab, including women and children (according to verse 11). But, in verse 14, Moses says that he is addressing both “those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.” Moses is extending the covenant promises to those not yet born!
There are many references in the Bible to a genealogical unity of the covenants, but Palmer chose the above two because of their dramatic and clear presentation of the concept.
In closing, it must be noted that Robertson is very quick to acknowledge that this in no way invalidates a “grafting” and “pruning” process. While true, he admits, non-blood related peoples could be grafted into the covenant; the covenant itself is established through blood relation. Unlike the exegesis of democrats, Robertson’s view of covenant relationship is not one of abstract intellectual assent but is based firmly in blood relations.
While the “pruning” principle may threaten any who would be presumptuous, it does not intend to suggest that God’s grace works against the natural order of creation. The grace of God in salvation is not against creation’s order; it is against sin. The Christian must avoid being lured into a nature / grace dichotomy as he considers the working of God in salvation. Redemption has the effect of restoring the order of creation, and the solidarity of the family is one of the greatest of creation’s ordinances. The genealogical character of redemption’s activity underscores the intention of God to work in accord rather than in discord with this creational ordering.
– pg. 40 (The emphasis is mine.)