Friday, May 15, 2009

Heirs by grace

Now that I'm wrapping up several months of study in the Pentateuch, I was looking foward to spending some time again reading the Psalms. Well, lo and behold, the first psalm I read this morning, 105, was essentially a retelling of the Pentateuch's story. One interpretive feature of many psalms is that the meat of their content in the middle is framed by "bookends" that provide the main theme. In the case of Psalm 105, a retelling of Israel's deliverance from Egypt and entry into Canaan, the bookends are about God's righteousness in upholding his covenant with Abraham.

7 He is the LORD our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
8 He remembers his covenant forever,

the word he commanded, for a thousand generations,
9 the covenant he made with Abraham,

the oath he swore to Isaac.
10 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,

to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
11 "To you I will give the land of Canaan
as the portion you will inherit." (vv. 7-11)

42 For he remembered his holy promise
given to his servant Abraham.
43 He brought out his people with rejoicing,

his chosen ones with shouts of joy;
44 he gave them the lands of the nations,

and they fell heir to what others had toiled for-
45 that they might keep his precepts

and observe his laws.
Praise the LORD. (vv. 42-45)

We learn here that God's treaty with Abraham is a promise sworn "forever" by God (v. 8) and is an "everlasting covenant" (berith olam, v. 10). But wait a second--wasn't it fulfilled already? Didn't Israel inherit the land? Well, not quite.

Centuries later the priest Zechariah (whose name means "the LORD remembers") extolled the Lord's righteousness at the Messiah's advent (Luke 1:67-79): With the coming of the Messiah has God now remembered "the oath he swore to our father Abraham." What had God done? He had raised up the true Davidic king, Jesus Christ. Psalm 105 points us ahead to the One who would "fulfill all righteousness" on our behalf. Jesus, Abraham's true Seed (Galatians 3:15-22), has now by his own faith and righteousness inherited the true "promised land," the kingdom of heaven. He earned it by his own merit and righteousness, doing his Father's will even unto death. And by another covenant (diatheke) what he earned he now freely gives us by grace (Hebrews 9:15-17). Through no toil or merit of our own, we've "fallen heir to what others [or Another] had toiled for" (Psalm 105:44). We share in Christ the Son's own everlasting inheritance by open-handed faith.*

National Israel may have been given provisional access to a small plot of hotly-contested land. But now we see that in the Messiah God's promise to Abraham means so much more. His descendants--the Israel of faith--are nothing short of all peoples, tongues, and tribes**; his land is nothing short of the entire earth now, and "the new heavens and the new earth" in the age to come.

Not only do I think it's cool to see foreshadows of the gospel in the Old Testament. What is much, much better is our tenaciously faithful and furiously loving Father; our self-emptying Savior who suffered that we might become sons; and the Spirit who breathes the life of faith into us by which we grasp hold of Christ and life in his kingdom.
*See Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 3:26. Being "adopted as sons" in Roman times involved conferring a right to an inheritance.
**According to the Bible, Israel is no longer a plot of land or limited to Jewish people; the entire global church is Israel. "If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29; cf 6:16 and Romans 4).

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