Posts Tagged ‘covenant faithfulness’

I call it “a hundred page headache.”

Since my library does not have enough books on the Trinity I was drawn to Eternal Covenant by its subtitle: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology. Perhaps it should have been entitled how one idea of Meredith Kline’s reshaped some people’s covenant theology. This was tough reading, for me.

I had been wanting to read up on the Federal Vision. I didn’t know I’d bought a book connected to the Federal Vision. The connections to Cannon Press and Peter Leithart were clear. He also offers James Jordan, whom one of my professors called a “hug-able theonomist”, a debt.

The book really centers on the so-called Covenant of Works and in what way the Covenant of Grace is eternal. There is an issue about the nature of that covenant. Reformed theologians have been all over the map on this issue, as Ralph Smith lays out for people at the beginning of the book. He uses this, in part, to illustrate that the Westminster Confession of Faith could use some revision in this matter.


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Jonah ran from the face of God, not wanting to bring a message to Ninevah.  He declined (repetition of “went down”) spiritually.  In the midst of a horrific storm he was sound asleep, but for very different reasons than Jesus would sleep in a storm centuries later.  Just as the Lord told him to arise, so did the Captain of the ship.  There it was learned he was the reason for the storm.

Jonah probably didn’t have a death wish at this point, that would come later.  But he knew that the storm would only stop if the Maker of the sea and land, whom he worshipped, was appeased.  Lacking any sacrificial animals, Jonah told them to toss him over.

At this point God again intervenes.  He appointed a fish to swallow Jonah.  Jonah was in the midst of a typical Middle Eastern water ordeal to determine guilt and innocence.  If he survives he is innocent, and if he drowns he is guilty.  It was sink or swim for the Israelite who probably didn’t know how to swim.  He was a dead man, until that fish swallowed him.  And he probably still thought he was a dead man.

It in while Jonah is in the swimming tomb that God begins to work on Jonah’s heart.  Biblical narratives are filled with miracles, and this is just another one.  Biblical narratives are filled with prayers and songs – Hebrew poetry- and this is just another one.  Jonah, perishing in the belly of the fish, returns to the face of God through prayer, prayer which reflects His Word.

This prayer focuses on what God has done, and it isn’t pleasant.  Jonah is in this mess because God put him there as a result of his own disobedience.  Jonah fears for his life, and recognizes that his life is in God’s hand.  He is experiencing the merciful wrath of God- for God’s purpose is to restore Jonah, not destroy him.

“Restoration to fellowship with God must begin in the very areas where rebellion formerly existed.  This is what repentance basically involves.”  Sinclair Ferguson

We cannot underestimate these key issues.  God continues to pursue Jonah, utlizing both ordinary and extraordinary providences.  He does this in the lives of all His adopted children as well.  He pursues us, just as I just pursued my petulent daughter.  He pursues to bring repentance and restoration.  Like my daughter, we doubt His intentions and seek to run further.

His prayer reflects God’s mercy toward him.  God brought him up, and brought him out.  Jonah did not do this- he did not accomplish restoration on his own.  God did it.

I love this difficult to interpret phrase- “those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the [hesed] that could be theirs.”  We tend to treasure all kinds of worthless things more than God.  We think that somehow our reputation, wealth or goodness will deliver us.  However, we forsake hesed, covenant love, when we do.  This word is translated “grace” here, but that word is typically ‘hin‘.  ‘Hesed‘ is usually translated enduring love, faithfulness, etc.  Jonah recognized that he almost threw it all away to protect ….

It is open-ended.  This is because Jonah in this way represents us all.  When we pursue our various idols and addictions, we forsake the mercy, love and covenant faithfulness that could be ours by faith and repentance.  In Jonah’s case it was probably his reputation.  He’d be viewed as a traitor for preaching to the Ninevites, especially since he thought they’d repent (otherwise why preach to them at all?).

We come to the crux of the matter- Salvation is from the Lord.  This has rightly been called the hinge of the Bible.  Jonah confesses that salvation comes from the Lord, and He is a Lord that loves to save.

“No aid and no help can be expected from any other quarter than from the only true God.”  John Calvin

The Lord then commands the fish to spit him out.  Again we see God’s providence in Jonah’s life spelled out for us.  God delivered Jonah from the judicial ordeal, not because he was innocent but  because One greater than Jonah would enter a similar ordeal in his place (and ours).

The sign of Jonah refers to this death that Jonah experienced in the belly of the whale.  He suffered for his sin.  But Jesus would suffer for the sin of others.  Like Jonah he would be hidden from the world, experiencing the wrath of God.  Like Jonah Jesus would be delivered from death.  He was vindicated as righteous- the sin he bore was ours.  So as a result we are free, able to experience the covenant faithfulness we forfeited by our idolatrous pursuits.

Before we can go to our Ninevah, the people God calls us to, we must be humbled and restored for our own sinful pursuits.  This is not something that happens only once- at conversion.  It can happen any number of times as the Father deepens our understanding of our sin, His mercy and His mission.  Let us “marvel at the lengths to which God is prepared to go for his children, and the efforts he is willing to make for them (Sinclair Ferguson).”  Even the death of His Son.

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