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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Covenantal Curses

I was reading The Covenantal Gospel by Cornelis van der Waal this afternoon – or at least attempting to read. I was struggling to keep my eyes open as my body was telling me it was Sunday. So I suppose you might say I was dozing with a book in my hand - when I was snapped from my Sabbath slumbers by the following passage, taken from the section on the covenant with Levi and the priests (3.10). Van der Waal has been speaking of how the Levites were a zealous people for the covenant, which God praised them for, and then he says the following:


The opposite is mentioned in Mal. 2:8, where the priests are rebuked: “You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” therefore “I will curse your blessings” (vs. 2). The structure of the covenant of peace appears to be the same as that of all other covenants in that its violation is threatened with a curse. This is nothing new. What happened to Shiloh in the time of Eli (Jer. 7:12, 14)? And recall how the prophets fulminated against the priesthood and threatened the destruction of the temple (Jer. 6:13; 7; 8:10; 23:11; Zeph.3:4)!

The categorical promise of the covenant with Levi (Jer. 33:17-26) does not preclude judgment. No one would believe that the enemy would enter the gates of Jerusalem, it says in Lam. 4:12, 13. “This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous” (compare Neh. 9:17).

In the framework of the covenant with Levi we can see the action of the priesthood against Jesus Christ correctly, as well as Christ’s threats against city and temple. It is because the LORD maintained His covenant with Levi, that Jer. 7 would be realized once more (Matt. 21:13 – Jer. 7:11; Matt. 24:2 – Jer 7:14, 15; 1 Kings 9:6-9; Micah 3:11, 12).

The covenant with Levi, too, had its conditions and threats. (pp. 39-40, emphasis in the original)


There is a lot of good stuff in here to consider. But what struck me was the statement about the prophets having threatened the destruction of the temple. I am what is usually called a partial preterist in my view of eschatology, meaning that while I believe in a future return of Christ, I hold much of Biblical prophecy to have been fulfilled in the destruction of the Jerusalem in 70 A.D. I had recognized this as part of Jesus’s prophecy in Matt. 24. But due to my ignorance of the Old Testament, I didn’t realize how this was part of the covenant curses as given by Yahweh and that the threat of the destruction of the temple was so clearly stated. The contrast of Jerusalem with the removal of the presence of Yahweh from Shiloh (Jer 7:12-14; cf. 1 Sam. 4) is amazing as well, signaling the continuity of the covenants, including the curses. It is interesting to note that the judgment brought through Shiloh involved the death of the high priest as well. I’ll leave it to the real scholars to expound on that particular point.

What else should be noted in this are Jesus’s comments about tearing down the temple. Jesus said he would tear down the temple and raise it up in three days (John 2:19), the one statement mentioned specifically by Scripture as brought out against him in his so-called trial (Matt. 26:60-61; Mark 14:58). Scripture says he was speaking of his body. It is amazing that his disciples actually made the connection to this after his resurrection, considering how dense they seemed when it came to so many of the other metaphors Jesus used. And yet this is in contrast to the average Joe unrepentant Jew who didn’t get it. When one considers Jesus’s statement along with his actions in cleansing the temple (I am assuming that he did it twice, once at the beginning of his ministry – John 2 – and once at the end of his ministry – Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Lk. 19:45-46) one wonders at how this doesn’t seem to be connected by anybody that he encounters with the curses of the covenant, especially considering how clearly stated it is in the OT. One might simply mark this up to ignorance. But one would think the teachers of the Law would know the prophecy. Then again, Jesus’s point in Matthew 23 was that those who knew the Law didn’t really know the Law, wasn’t it? Or, at least, they didn’t live it. Jesus’s list of woes in Matt. 23 was in fact a declaration of the arrival of the covenantal curses upon Israel through her leaders(cf. Deut. 27-28). Jesus concluded this declaration by referencing the prophets, drawing a connection they shouldn’t have missed. He then practically invites them to kill him and his disciples, prophesying of what they will do to them (Matt. 23:32-36). One might also suggest that Jesus is here telling of his establishing of his own leaders in the New Israel, replacing the Old Israel and her leaders and inviting the faithful into the New Israel (vss. 34, 1-12). But that’s just some speculation off the top of my head – don’t take it as orthodox truth.

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