Given for a Covenant

“I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.” —Isaiah 42:6

THERE are many texts in the Old Testament that the Heavenly Father caused to be recorded for the specific purpose of giving instructions and encouragement to his beloved Son during his first advent.

Until the proper time these texts lay dormant in God’s storehouse of wisdom, the Bible. One of these texts is the 110th Psalm. The word “said” in the first verse is from a Hebrew root which means “an oracle” and carries the connotation of uttering as in a whisper. Another such text is Leviticus 23, which is a prophecy concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Isaiah the 42nd chapter is another of these wonderful texts which were meant to inform and encourage Jesus. The opening words of this text are beautiful and must have been of great comfort to Jesus: “Behold My servant, Whom I uphold; Mine Elect, in Whom My soul delighteth; I have put My Spirit upon Him: He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.”

There are several points that were very meaningful to Jesus: the promise that the Father would uphold him, give him strength and help in every time of need; the statement that Jesus was his elect, or chosen; the unqualified expression of pleasure that Jesus, because of his faithfulness, was able to give to the Father.

In verse 2 the prophet states, “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.” The thought here seems to be an assurance of our Lord’s humility and proper conduct. The word “cry” carries the thought of striving or contention, and the idea that his voice would not be heard in the street would seem to indicate that he would not be boisterous or ostentatious in carrying out the work that the Heavenly Father had given him to do.

The prophet, in verse 3, uses a very beautiful metaphor in describing the tender nature of the work to be done by Jesus, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.”

A bruised reed is a very fragile thing. Even though it may be standing, a touch will cause it to fall and lie broken on the ground. How beautifully this pictures fallen man. It was not the purpose of God to destroy men but rather to save them. We think of the beautiful statement of Jesus in John 3:17, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

The burning lamp (with its wick, or flax) pictures the manifestation of God’s Spirit by his covenanted people, the nation of Israel. The prophet illustrates the nation of Israel at the time of the Lord’s first advent by the lamp that is almost out. But God’s purpose for his Son is not to quench the small flame, but to trim the wick and eventually cause it to burn brightly.

The New English Bible translates the last part of this verse, “He will make justice shine on every race.” This is a prophecy concerning the equity that will be universal in the kingdom. “When Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”—Isa. 26:9

In verse 4 the prophet, as the mouthpiece of God, seems to give further assurance to Jesus with reference to the success of his mission at his first advent: “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for His law.”

The word “fail” in the text means to go out, as a lamp, and “discouraged” has the meaning of being broken in pieces, or bruised, or crushed. The thought seems to be that he would not be bruised or crushed until judgment was established in the earth.

The Law Covenant as given to the nation of Israel was an expression of God’s perfect law. None of the Israelites, however, were able to keep its precepts because of their fallen condition. But when Jesus came at his first advent he stated, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt. 5:17,18) By fulfilling the law he established its righteousness and proved God’s law to be just.

The divine principle of justice was to be further illustrated by Jesus’ offering himself as a sacrifice to take Adam’s place in death so that Adam might have a second chance for life and his progeny might have a first.

Jesus demonstrated his awareness of this entire prophecy concerning him when he quoted it in connection with an experience recorded in Matthew 12:14-21. In this instance Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees took counsel together to see how they might destroy him. But Jesus knew of the plot and withdrew himself, “and charged them [his followers] that they should not make him known: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet,” (vss. 16,17) and then he continued, repeating verbatim the first four verses of Isaiah 42.

In the 5th verse of this wonderful prophecy there is a break in the continuity of thought. It is as if the Heavenly Father felt the need to preface what was to follow by a description of his own majesty and power in order to fortify and assure the Son concerning the remaining portion of the prophecy. Verse 5 reads, “Thus saith God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein.”

All of God’s awesome power and wisdom, illustrated in the creation of the universe and the subsequent preparation of this earth for habitation by man, and finally the creation of man himself, was to be directed toward the personal supervision and care of Jesus as he was to carry out the Heavenly Father’s will.

Verse 6 reads, “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.”

The expression “give thee for a covenant” was a meaningful expression to the people of Isaiah’s day. It was the practice to complete or ratify an agreement, or covenant, between two parties by slaying an animal and sprinkling blood upon the document. The word “covenant” is from the Hebrew word berith, which means primarily “a cutting.” It was also the early custom to slay and divide an animal in two and pass between the parts in order to ratify the covenant.

The first recorded instance of cutting an animal to ratify a covenant is given to us in Genesis the 15th chapter. In verses 5,6 God had assured Abram that he would have a seed as promised, and then in verse 7 God also promised Abram that he would receive the land. But Abram wanted additional assurance, “And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” (vs. 8) Then the great God of the universe condescended to ratify a covenant with Abram to give him absolute assurance that he would receive the promised land. Abram knew that a covenant so ratified was certain and unchangeable. God instructed Abram to slay three animals and divide them in the midst, and in addition there was added a turtledove and a young pigeon. Then in verse 17 we read, “And it came to pass, that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.” Apparently God was represented as a brilliant consuming fire passing between the pieces, sealing, or ratifying, the covenant concerning the land to be given to Abram (see also Jer. 34:18,19).

In the next verse we read, “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.”

So when Jesus read of himself in Isaiah 42:6 that he was to be “given for a covenant of the people,” he knew that he was destined to die for the purpose of ratifying the New Covenant that was to be the means of blessing all peoples.

On the night that Jesus instituted the Memorial Supper, we are certain that he was aware that the focus of prophetic fulfillment was upon him at that moment. He realized that in order to fulfill the type of the passover lamb it was necessary for him to die on the 14th of Nisan. (I Cor. 5:7) The voluntary surrender of his life would release Adam, and therefore all of his progeny, from Adamic condemnation. But more than this was needed if the ultimate objective of complete reconciliation between God and the human race was to be attained. Since the beginning mankind has developed a natural propensity for sin, and they have gone down into the dust with these weaknesses of the flesh that will still be present even after they have come back in the resurrection.

The vast majority of the inhabitants of the earth have never known God or been instructed in the way of righteousness. And those who have had a limited knowledge have been instructed imperfectly. A very important part of God’s plan of salvation, therefore, is a period of instruction—a thousand years long—that is to be conducted under the terms of the New Covenant. It will provide for the instruction of the world in righteousness and bring them to a condition of perfection.

At the end of this time everyone who has heard and obeyed the voice of that Prophet will attain to life and be in direct covenant relationship with the Heavenly Father.—Acts 3:22,23; Jer. 31:28-33

As Jesus further contemplated the prophecy concerning him, he would find in the 7th verse of Isaiah 42 something of the wonderful time that would be made possible through his sacrifice, which would seal the New Covenant, “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” The bringing out of the prisoners from the prison house is a reference to the resurrection of the dead. This glorious prospect is one of the principal themes of the Bible. (John 5:25-29) And continuing in verse 16 we read, “And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

We know that blindness and other physical handicaps will actually be healed under the New Covenant arrangement. We do not believe, however, that this prophecy is speaking of physical blindness, but rather of intellectual blindness aided and abetted by ignorance, prejudice, and the influence of Satan. Under the New Covenant this blindness will be lifted, and the inhabitants of the earth will learn righteousness. The Prophet Isaiah, in another prophecy concerning this wonderful time, states, “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”—Isa. 26:9

After the passover supper on the historic night of the fulfillment of the type, “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it [or, all of ye drink of it]; for this is my blood of the New Testament [Covenant] which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”—Matt. 26:26-28

When Jesus spoke of the cup as being his blood of the New Covenant, he indicated that he was aware of the fact that he was fulfilling prophecy, that it was his blood that would ratify the New Covenant. And his directive to his disciples to drink of the cup was a fulfillment of another prophecy that pointed to them and to all of the footstep followers of Jesus down through the Gospel Age.

The Apostle Paul referred to this prophecy in II Corinthians 6:2. In the previous verses he had pointed out that the footstep followers were a new creation: “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (II Cor. 5:17) Then, because of being reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus, these were given the ministry of reconciliation, and thereby they become ambassadors for Christ. This was the ultimate design of God, who gave his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be a sin offering for them, that they might be the righteousness of God in Jesus.—II Cor. 5:21

Then in II Corinthians 6:1 the apostle states, “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” The thought is that, in view of the great favor and privilege extended to these called out ones, they should yield themselves to do the Heavenly Father’s will.

The next verse is the quotation from Isaiah the 49th chapter and is used to give authenticity and power to his plea for action. “Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.”—Isa. 49:8,9

What a wonderful assurance and encouragement to note the similar language and expressions used in this prophecy, which concerns the footstep followers of Jesus, and the prophecy in the 42nd chapter, which concerns Jesus alone! Of particular interest to us in this study is the statement that God will “give thee for a covenant of the people.”

The word “covenant” here is the same word as previously used in Isaiah 42:6 and means “a cutting.” This brings us to the inescapable conclusion that the footstep followers of Jesus—the church of the Gospel Age—are sacrificed with our Lord in the sealing of the New Covenant. Not that their sacrifice adds anything to the efficacious sacrifice of Jesus, but that by God’s arrangement and grace they are simply counted in as a part of Jesus’ sacrifice.

So when Jesus instituted the Memorial Supper and asked his disciples to drink from the cup, it signified their partnership with the Lord in being a sacrificial offering to ratify the New Covenant.

The emblems of the Memorial Supper are especially meaningful in illustrating the Christian’s relationship to our Lord and the Heavenly Father. The bread, which was unleavened, pictured the perfect humanity of our Lord, the perfect life that was willingly surrendered as a substitute (or corresponding price) for the forfeited life of Adam. As we partake of the bread it pictures the privilege that we have now of appropriating to ourselves the merit of that perfect sacrifice—the ransom price.

This gives us a standing with God because our Adamic weaknesses and sins are covered. (Rom. 3:24; 8:1) We have been justified. Then the Apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 10:16 that the bread that we break also pictures our partnership with the Lord as part of his body. And as the bread is broken and eaten, it pictures our willingness to be broken with him.

The cup is a picture of our Lord’s life poured out, his suffering and death. And as we partake of it we are mindful of his suffering and death on our behalf. Again, in I Corinthians 10:16, the Apostle Paul reminds us that by partaking of the cup we are indicating our determination to be dead with him, to be a partner in his sacrificial death. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [partnership] of the blood of Christ?” And again, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”—Rom. 6:5

So when Jesus invited his disciples to drink of the cup, he was inviting them and us to die a sacrificial death with him. He then confirms the reason for his invitation, “For [because] this is my blood of the New Testament [Covenant], which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matt. 26:28) And, according to the Apostle Paul, we are partners with our Lord in the blood.—I Cor. 10:16

In other words, if we, his disciples, expect to be associated with Jesus in the great work of the next age in administering the work of the New Covenant, it is necessary that we yield ourselves so that we, like our Lord, might be given for a covenant of the people.

The Apostle Paul points out in the 9th chapter of Hebrews that the sealing of the Law Covenant was typical and pictured the sealing of the New Covenant. In verse 12 he states, “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” In other words, Jesus’ death on Calvary’s cross supplanted the old Law Covenant arrangement, where forgiveness was typically provided by the sacrifice of animals. The death of Jesus was the reality and provided eternal redemption for us.

Then in verses 13 and 14 the apostle again compares the typical arrangement under the Law Covenant with the reality being fulfilled under the Sarah feature of the Abrahamic Covenant, which paves the way for the sealing of the New Covenant. “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

Under the Law Covenant arrangement the provision for cleansing the Israelites from sin was the Atonement-Day sacrifices of bulls and goats, and the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer was prescribed for those who came in contact with death. The antitypical significance of the sacrifices of bulls and goats on the Day of Atonement was the cleansing of moral sins through the ransom price provided by Christ on Calvary’s cross. The ashes of a heifer would seem to picture the cleansing process of ridding mankind of all the defilements of Adamic death during the Millennial Age.

But the Apostle Paul says that if this were true under the typical arrangement, or in a typical sense, “How much more shall the blood of the anointed One … cleanse your conscience from the works of death for the service of the living God.”—Heb. 9:14, Diaglott

In the 15th verse the Apostle Paul states that because Jesus is able to cleanse the world of sin and death, he is made the Mediator of a New Covenant. Then he proceeds to buttress his statement concerning the mediatorship of Jesus by referring back to the arrangement in Abraham’s day of sealing a covenant with a sacrifice.

We read in the 16th and 17th verses, “For where a covenant exists, the death of that which has ratified it is necessary to be produced; because a covenant is firm over dead victims, since it is never valid when that which ratifies it is alive.” (Diaglott) The essence of what the Apostle Paul is saying is that it was necessary for Jesus to die in order to provide the means for sealing the New Covenant. Then in verse 18 he makes the very positive point that the Law Covenant, which was a type of the New Covenant, was sealed with blood, pointing to the fulfillment that was to come through Christ’s death.

In verse 22 the Apostle Paul states, “And without shedding of blood is no remission [of sins].” And again, think of Jesus’ statement on the night of instituting the Memorial Supper, “For this is my blood of the New Testament [Covenant] which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”—Matt. 26:28

The apostle concludes his comparison of the two covenants in verse 23: “It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these.” In other words, the sacrifice of the animals purified only in connection with the pattern, or the type. “But the heavenly things themselves [or, the reality]” we understand must be purified “with better sacrifices than these.”

We realize and appreciate very much that Christ and his church are the better sacrifices of the Gospel Age. It is through the one efficacious offering of Jesus that all of this is possible. And it is by grace and not of any merit of our own that we, together with our Lord, are privileged to be the sacrifice that will seal the covenant that is for the people.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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