It is impossible for us in this modern world to imagine a book being entirely lost – every single copy gone. In the world before printing, it was a real possibility. Handwritten copies could easily be destroyed and works by some great authors have disappeared completely. The Book of the Law (Deuteronomy?) was lost in Josiah’s day, after the reigns of two evil kings. When it was rediscovered during renovations in the Jerusalem Temple, the effect on Josiah was powerful. He knew what had to be done. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 9. 2 Kings 23:3 Covenant renewal under Josiah
1. Repentance of sin
Josiah was a king who desired to serve God – ‘He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (22:2), despite having an evil father (Amon) and grandfather (Manasseh). Why was Josiah different? The only explanation is the grace of God at work in his life. When Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law (22:8) and it was read to the king, Josiah ‘tore his robes’ (22:11), a sign of heartfelt repentance. He recognised his own sin and that of the nation. This is reinforced by God’s word through Huldah the prophetess – ‘they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods’ (22:17). To enter into covenant with the Lord we must have experienced God’s saving grace and also have felt his Word uncover our sins. The sins of the nation of which we are a part ought also to grieve us.
2. Rededication to God
This godly king sets an example. Stirred by the reality of judgment and the hope of mercy to the repentant, he summons a gathering of the nation’s leaders and ‘read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant’ (v2). Together they will renew their covenant with the Lord, binding themselves to live out their obligations to God in their day, bringing their covenant commitment up to date. Their commitment is to ‘follow the Lord and keep all his commands’ (v3). It is to be ‘with all his heart and all his soul’ (see Deuteronomy 6:5). Outward conformity must be accompanied by heart commitment. Each one makes personal dedication: ‘all the people pledged themselves to the covenant’ (v3). Our covenanting is to be a personal response to God’s grace and can be a regular rededication of ourselves to the Lord.
3. Reformation of life
Pledging faithfulness to the Lord has practical effects on our lives. There needs to be ongoing thorough reformation, removing all that is offensive to God and contrary to his covenant law. Thus in v4-20 we have a description of the removal of all the trappings of idolatry. This had been done in part before, but covenant renewal gives fresh impetus. The evidence of vile pagan practices is destroyed. Our covenant commitment to the Lord requires nothing less. We need ongoing reformation that gets rid of any idol, any false god replacing the Lord in our hearts. We are always in danger of conforming to the thinking and standards of those around us. The Lord’s call is ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed’ (Romans 12:2). The Lord provides means of grace to strengthen us, like the Passover/Lord’s Supper (v21). It is Christ’s strength that empowers us (Philippians 4:13).
The early years of David’s reign in Jerusalem were characterised by warfare against a range of opponents. Battles were necessary in order to establish his authority and to secure his kingdom from external threats. Eventually a measure of security was achieved – ‘the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him’ (2 Samuel 7:1). He has time to think of other, deeper issues, such as the provision of a suitable resting place for the ark. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 8. 2 Samuel 7:1-17 God’s Covenant with David
1. The Lord rejects a plan
The ark of the covenant – the symbol of the Lord’s presence with his people – sits in a tent, the tabernacle. David wants to build a temple to house the ark that will be worthy of the Lord. Here is a mark of David’s spiritual mindedness, showing himself to be ‘a man after my own heart’ (Acts 13:22). It is a laudable aim, but it is not God’s will for David: ‘because you have shed much blood’ (1 Chronicles 22:8). The defensive wars were necessary, but it is not yet time for this decisive step regarding a temple. God also has a greater plan relating to his eternal covenant.
2. The Lord makes a covenant
This is a renewal of the Covenant of Grace with David – not Psalm 89:3 ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one’ (a poetic version of 2 Samuel 7). The Lord promises he will be God to David and his descendants. Instead of David building a house for the Lord, ‘the Lord himself will establish a house for you’ (v11). A line of descendants will occupy the throne, beginning with Solomon. He acknowledges this in 1 Kings 8:15-20. It will be a warm covenant relationship – ‘I will be his father’ (v14). A response of obedience is required. Though Solomon did stray gravely, the love of the Lord remains and overcomes.
3. The Lord provides a king
What is the relevance of this to us? The covenant promises were not fulfilled in any earthly king – all were imperfect, yet the Lord said, ‘your throne shall be established for ever’ (v16). This points to a future eternal king and is fulfilled in the incarnate Son of God (Acts 2:30-31; Luke 1:32-33). The Messiah is the ‘seed’ of David (v12). He fulfils the promise of an eternal king and enters upon his reign through his death on behalf of his people (Philippians 2:8-9). He reigns so that his people will enjoy all blessings of the covenant, to the glory of his name.
4. The Lord builds a house
More is involved in the covenant promise, all linked to the person and work of Christ. The temple was built by Solomon (v13), but it too is to be eternal (v16, 1 Kings 8:13). The temple symbolised the Lord’s presence among his people and is fulfilled in ‘Immanuel’ (Isaiah 7:14). Christ spoke of his body as a temple (John 2:19) – God present in a unique way. The final step in fulfilment is the building of the church, united to Christ crucified and risen (Ephesians 2:21). It is a holy place where covenant obedience is rendered to the Lord by his grace.
Joshua 24 is a moving chapter. After a lifetime of faithfully leading Israel, including the entry into the Promised Land, Joshua knows that the end of his life is near. The initial stages of the conquest are over and Israel enjoys a measure of peace. Now a great test is looming as the leader the people have known for so long is about to depart. To strengthen their resolve to follow the Lord, Joshua leads them in a renewal of their covenant with the Lord. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 7. Joshua 24:1-27 Covenant renewal at Shechem.
1. Divine mercy
Joshua speaks the word of the Lord to the gathered Israelites (v2ff). Much of what he says surveys key events of the history of God’s people. All are recounted in terms of God’s actions: ‘I took…I sent…I brought’ (v3,5,8). The focus is on the sovereign working of the Lord. The events chosen by Joshua are all tokens of the mercy of God to an undeserving people. The blessings Israel received were not due to their own goodness, but to the Lord’s keeping covenant with Abraham’s descendants. As in Exodus 2:24 ‘he remembered his covenant’. God’s covenant is always the fruit of his love and grace. Our position is no different. The gift of a Saviour flows from the love of God (John 3:16). Note also 1 John 3:1, where our being ‘children of God’ is rooted in the Father’s great love. We enter the Covenant of Grace through Christ’s shedding his ‘blood of the covenant’ (Mark 14:24).
2. Sincere commitment
In the light of what God has done, what is the response of his people to be? In v14 Joshua applies the lesson of history. The gratitude of Israel should compel this response: ‘Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness’. It is a summons to a sincere covenant commitment to the Lord. They are to give themselves to the Lord’s service, as in Genesis 17:1 ‘walk before me and be blameless.’ Their response is to be free, not forced – ‘if choosing the Lord seems undesirable, then choose…whom you will serve’ (v15). Joshua leads by example – ‘as for me and my household’ (v15). Commitment cannot be given in our own strength – ‘You are not able to serve the Lord’ (v19). It is a vivid way of stressing our need of the grace of God: ‘it is God who works in you to will and to act’ (Philippians 2:13). Love demands our whole heart (Deuteronomy 6:5). Israel’s response – ‘We will serve the Lord’ (v21) – should be the resolve of every believer.
3. Thorough reformation
Covenant commitment is not something to be taken lightly. Our whole life is to be lived in total dedication to the Lord. The call of Romans 12:1 is ‘present your bodies a living sacrifice’. Covenant renewal simply reminds us of how we should live. In particular there must be a definite turning away from everything that is contrary to our commitment to the Lord or that would draw us away from him. In practice that means throwing away anything that has become an idol, that takes the place due to God alone. Even good and worthy things can become idols. God alone is to be the centre of life. We should pray, ‘Search me, O God’ (Psalm 139:23) so that all idols can be rooted out and God acknowledged as supreme.
Promises are easily forgotten, even when sincerely made. With the passage of time vows taken wholeheartedly can be neglected or broken. An initial covenant commitment to the Lord may have been made with enthusiasm, recognising our own sinfulness and the free offer of salvation in Christ, but as time passes that commitment may weaken into spiritual coldness and sin.
There is therefore great value in renewing, with God’s help, our commitment to him. In turning to Deuteronomy 29 we must remember the unity of God’s Covenant of Grace, such that the principles of covenant renewal apply to both the Old and the New Covenant. We consider Deuteronomy 29:1-29 Renewing our covenant.
1. The foundation of covenant renewal
Before covenant renewal Moses reminds Israel of God’s mighty acts – ‘you have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes’ (v2). He begins with the deliverance from Egypt (v2-3), whilst v5-8 trace their history up to the present moment. They are not told to look back on their own achievements but on the work of the Lord. The stress is on what God has done to bring them to this point, although they have lacked the spiritual insight to grasp this (v4). As we prepare to renew covenant, we begin by looking back in order to give God the glory for what he has done. We think of election (Ephesians 1:4), which removes any ground for pride. This is worked out in redemption (1 Peter 2:24), applied by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). We have so much evidence of his love and grace, so we renew covenant in humble thankfulness.
2. The form of covenant renewal
The actual ceremony is not described, but the necessary elements for covenant renewal are present. Note the reference to the covenant at Horeb (Sinai, v1) – this is a renewal of an existing relationship. Covenant renewal is for those who are the Lord’s redeemed people. Renewal does not add extra requirements, but reinforces obligations already accepted. It is an updating of commitment – note ‘standing today’ (v10). Commitment to the Lord is always to be fresh and vital. It affects ‘today’, it is a present reality. The Lord is central to covenant renewal. The initiative is always his – ‘which the Lord your God is making with you’ (v12). He decrees the terms on which we belong to his people and his grace enables us to respond in love. Our covenanting is an acceptance of God’s promises (v3). We are his ‘friends’ (John 15:15), ‘children of God’ (1 John 3:1). Covenant children (v11) and succeeding generations (v15) are also in view, the future members of the church of God.
3. The fruit of covenant renewal
We see what the ongoing result of renewal should be in v9 ‘keep the words of this covenant and do them’. Obedience to God’s covenant law is the evidence of the reality of our covenant commitment (see John 14:15). Note ‘that you may prosper’ – there will be growth in grace and useful service. We must guard against hypocrisy and self-deception (v19ff), but the ending is positive – v29 – grace-enabled obedience is possible for God’s covenant people.