The Better Covenant & Circumcision

Hebrews 8:6-13

V. 6, “more…better covenant…better promises.”

I realize I give far more details than is necessary, and I run the risk of boring my listeners or readers with too many details, which has been a continual problem. But the Word of God is so rich that it is difficult to “keep it simple”, unless it comes to presenting the gospel. My desire with these studies is to help people grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, as revealed in His Word. I greatly respect those who can say a lot in 30 minutes, and I can do that when necessary.

I love the study, and it seems like each point brings many more things to mind. In fact, at some point, I must stop reading the study through, because each reading brings more things to mind. So if these “studies” are too detailed, please let me know, and I will shorten them. Give my your thoughts.

A quick review:

V. 1, the author has presented the proof that "We have such a high priest, who is set...”

Vv. 2-4. The priest, priesthood, altar, offerings, sacrifice, even the law requiring these things were only a shadow. They were only human elements pointing to the true element, Christ in heaven, who is the true temple made without hands.

He also points out that the earthly priests had to approach God through the earthly tabernacle with gifts. Therefore, the man who has replaced the earthly priesthood (patterned after the law), also had to offer gifts. Hebrews makes it clear that Christ was not and is not an earthly priest, and since he has offered himself in the heavens, the earthly sanctuary is now empty shell.

10:11 points to Christ being that tabernacle, which the Lord, not man, pitched. (Jn. 2:21, Heb. 10:5) Since Christ, the only acceptable offering is what which was offered by God’s High Priest.

Vv. 4-5. Since Our High Priest ministers in a different tabernacle, he had to be of a different linage than Levi. The Levitical priesthood only pointed to the true heavenly priesthood, as did the tabernacle furnishings point to the true tabernacle in heaven.

“shadow”. A shadow has no substance. It has the exact form, outline and size of the real, yet it has no reality. The rites and rituals of the Hebrew religion were only a shadow, and God gave its detailed form to Moses. (Heb. 10:1, Col. 2:17) Only the God who gave the pattern knows what everything represented in Christ. We only know that everything represented the real.

V. 6. In every way, Christ is more excellent that what was revealed in his shadow. Only a foolish man would rather live in the shadow of a nice house, than in the house itself. How foolish of the Hebrews to desire to “worship” in the shadow rather than in the true house.

Thus, the old covenant with national Israel was only a shadow of the new covenant with spiritual Israel, which is the body of Christ.

Pink on vv. 6-9

The apostle’s object in introducing the "new covenant" at this stage of his argument is obvious. It was to the old covenant that the whole administration of the Levitical priesthood was confined. The entire church-state of the Jews, with all the ordinances and worship of it, and all the privileges connected with it, depended wholly on the covenant which God made with them at Sinai. But the introduction of the new Priesthood necessarily abolished that covenant, and put an end to all the sacred ministrations which belong to it. This it is which the apostle here undertakes to prove.

1) the new Priesthood abolished what was established by Moses, which centered around the ordinances and worship of it, preformed by the sons of Levi. Christ’s priesthood was not after the order of Moses, but of Melchizedek. Thus, the new priesthood changed the nature but not the law of the covenant between God and His people.

2) it abolished the national privileges connected with what was established at Sinai.

3) it put an end to all the “sacred ministrations” established at Sinai.

There were those who sought to hold on to the least of the ceremonies or “worship” practices of the old Hebrew religion as practiced in the temple before Christ. They denied the new Priesthood of Christ.

The Hebrew Christians had “to understand that Christ was the true and eternal High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, and that the new and everlasting covenant with Judah and Israel was connected with the gospel promise, and not with the law.” [Including the law of circumcision.] “God Himself had made the first covenant old by promising the new. And now that Christ had entered into the holy of holies by His own blood, the old covenant had passed away; and yet the promises of God to His chosen people remained firm and unchanged” (A. Saphir).

Observe: The “covenant/promises of God to His chosen people” are defined in Galatians 3:

First, the faith exemplified by Abraham makes one a child of Abraham, and heir to Abraham’s promise of justification by faith, vv. 6, 14.

Second, the promise was made to Abraham’s seed, which is Christ, v. 16. The promise to be an heir is secured by faith.

Third, the promise was made before any law was given, even 24 years before circumcision was given, vv. 17, 18, Romans 4:11. Abraham obtained the promised justification completely by faith. Thus, one cannot be heir to Abraham’s covenant-promise apart from faith in Christ.

Observe 1. Those who connect circumcision with baptism cannot claim that baptism makes one part of the covenant, for the covenant was before circumcision.

Observe 2. Esau’s circumcision did not make him part of the covenant-promise. Moreover, the uncircumcised children in the wilderness in Joshua 5 were not excluded from the promise made to national Israel. In fact, all the adult males 40 and under were uncircumcised, and had to be circumcised before going into the “promised land.” Hebrews 4 told us that under the new covenant, Christ is the promised land of rest.

Circumcision is fulfilled in the circumcised ear, i.e., hearing the word of God, and the circumcised heart, i.e. taking heed to, doing the word of God. (Jer 6:10, 9:26, Acts 7:51) Thus, bringing an uncircumcised heart into the sanctuary pollutes his house. 1 Corinthians 5 tells us that one with an obvious “uncircumcised” heart is to be excluded from the local fellowship.

Fourth, the law was not given to make one a part of the covenant/promise, but to show the need of faith and responsibility, vv. 21-24.

Fifth, only through faith in Christ, which is a gift of God to his Elect, is one an heir to the covenant/promise, v. 29.

Sixth, the covenant made at Herob, in the land of Moab, was done away with in Christ. (Deut 29:1, Heb 8) Under the old, the priesthood belonged to Levi. Under the new, the priesthood belongs to Judah. The priesthood changed just as sure as the kingship of Israel changed from tribe of Bingaman to the tribe of Judah.

In approaching the subject of the two covenants, the old and the new, it should be pointed out that it is not always an easy matter to determine whether the "old covenant" designates the Mosaic economy or the covenant of works which God made with Adam (Ho 6:6 margin); nor to decide whether the "new covenant" refers to the Gospel dispensation introduced by Christ, or to the covenant of grace which was inaugurated by the first promise made to Adam (#Ge 3:15) and confirmed to Abraham (Ge 17). In each case the context must decide. We may add that the principal passages where the two covenants are described and contrasted are found in 2 Co 3, Ga 3, 4, He 8, 9, 12. (Pink)

Hebrews 8:6 would have been considered a very bold statement by the Hebrews to whom this was written, for they had been raised on the excellency of Moses. It went against every tradition of the elders as well as everything they had been taught from their youth up.

In order to prove his point, the author refers to Jeremiah 31:31-34, which promised a new and better, more perfect covenant yet to come. Jeremiah clearly stated that a better covenant would be made in the due process of time---in “the fullness of time”. (Ro 15:29, Ga 4:4, Eph 1:10)

Imperfect replaced by the perfect. What changes?

It was certainly not God’s law that changed, for it is as unchangeable as is God. If the law changed with the new and better covenant, then the God of the covenant changed, which was and is impossible.

What changed if God’s law cannot and did not change, and God did not suddenly invalidate anything that He declared to be Law as He gave it to Moses? Among other things,

First, the mediator changed from Moses (Levi) to Christ (Judah). (Ex 20:19)

Second, the manner of writing the law of God changed from being written with ink, to being written with the “Spirit of the living God”.

Third, the location of the writing of the law of God changed from “tables of stone” to the “fleshy tables of the heart”. (2 Cor. 3:3)

Forth, the atoning sacrifice changed from the blood of bulls and goats to the blood of the Lamb of God.

Fifth, the location of the altar for the presentation of the sacrificial blood changed from the earthly altar to the heavenly altar.

Sixth, the efficacy of the sacrifice changed from having to do it once a year to “once for all.”

Seventh, the people of the covenant changes from a physical nation located in Palestine to a spiritual nation located world wide. Rather than the promised land being limited to Palestine, under the new covenant, the whole earth is promised to the seed of Abraham. (Ro 4:13)

“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” (Gen 17:7)

“And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.” (Acts 7:8)

“The idea of a strict compact or agreement between God and man, as between equal parties, is not found in the Bible. It is commonly used, as here, to denote a promise on the part of God, attended with pledges, and demanding, on the part of man, in order to avail himself of its benefits, a stipulated course of conduct.” (Barnes)

Hebrews 8:6, 7, covenant:

As the Father by free resolve has ordained a kingdom for Jesus, so by a similar free resolve he has ordained that the disciples should reign with him. Elsewhere the term is used with diatheke {#Ac 3:25 Heb 8:10?} to denote God’s sovereign disposition in salvation history. (TDONT, Online Bible)

That covenant also included by name those who, down through the centuries, would be brought into that covenant by “grace through faith”.

Accordingly, man has no “free will” in the matter. He can choose neither his physical nor his spiritual “birth”. Barnes:

(2) man is not at liberty to reject any proposal which God shall make. The word, therefore, is used in a more general sense, and more in accordance with the original meaning of the Greek word. It has been above remarked, See Heb 8:6, that the proper word to denote covenant, or compact-- sunyhkh syntheke --is never used either in the Septuagint or in the New Testament; another word diayhkh -- diathake--being carefully employed. Whether the reason there suggested for the adoption of this word in the Septuagint be the real one or not, the fact is indisputable. I may be allowed to suggest, as possible, here an additional reason why this so uniformly occurs in the New Testament. It is, that the writers of the New Testament never meant to represent the transactions between God and man as a compact or covenant, properly so called. They have studiously avoided it; and their uniform practice, in making this nice distinction between the two words, may show the real sense in which the Hebrew word rendered covenant HEBREW, berith -is used in the Old Testament. The word which they employ-- diayhkh -never means a compact or agreement as between equals. It remotely and secondarily means a will, or testament-- and hence our word "New Testament." But this is not the sense in which it is used in the Bible--for God has never made a will in the sense of a testamentary disposition of what belongs to him. We are referred, therefore, in order to arrive at the true Scripture view of this whole matter, to the original meaning of the word-- diatheke diyhkh --as denoting a disposition, arrangement, plan; then that which is ordered, a law, precept, promise, etc. Unhappily, we have no single word which expresses the idea, and hence a constant error has existed in the church--either keeping up the notion of a compact [a formal agreement between two parties, ed.]--as if God could make one with men; or the idea of a will--equally repugnant to truth. The word diayhkh is derived from a verb--diatiyhmi--meaning, to place apart, to set in order; and then to appoint, to make over, to make an arrangement with. Hence the word diayhkh diatheke--means, properly, the arrangement or disposition which God made with men in regard to salvation; the system of statutes, directions, laws, and promises, by which men are to become subject to him, and to be saved. The meaning here is, that he would make a new arrangement, contemplating, as a primary thing, that the law should be written in the heart; an arrangement which would be peculiarly spiritual in its character, and which would be attended with the diffusion of just views of the Lord. (Barnes. OLB)

That is, man is not at liberty to reject God’s covenant, any more than Abraham could reject the covenant-promise made to him, for he was asleep. He had no part in the covenant--it was all by grace. In addition, the initial and eternal covenant was made among the triune God before time began, and included by name all who would be saved. The word employed “covenant” was never meant to imply a compact or agreement between two equals.

A secondary meaning of the Greek is a will or testament: “New Testament”, which the author uses in Chapter 9.

“1) a disposition, arrangement, of any sort, which one wishes to be valid, the last disposition which one makes of his earthly possessions after his death, a testament or will”. (TDONT, Online Bible)

In the meaning of “testament”, there is no mutual agreement. A testament is one sided on the side of the testator. The terms of a last will and testament cannot be enforced until the death of the testator, and the heirs may be surprised at those terms. The heirs do not choose to be in the will; the choice is the testator’s. There is a secular movie, “The Gift” that truly presents what takes place concerning a “last will and testament”. NetFlix has it, and it is worth watching. I believe it is PG

Bettie had a “Living Trust” in force when we married. I was added into that trust. The trust includes a will for each of us. Though the trust itself can be public knowledge, the wills are not until we die. The trust can be added to or taken from as needed with a simple page added to or removed from the trust document. Let me urge you to look in to establishing a “Living Trust”. It is very simple and inexpensive, and need not involve a lawyer. It will prevent a lot of legal headaches, and keep your heirs out of probate court.

I am sure many of us have been named in a “last will and testament”, not knowing we were in it. It was not until the testator’s death that we received the inherence meant for us. My dad had a small insurance policy through the Steam Fitters’ Union. I did not know I was named in it until after his death. Dad’s death secured what was there for me.

God told Abraham he was going to do something, and neither Abraham nor his seed after him had any choice in the matter of whether or not to be included in the “seed of Abraham”. Man was not and is not at liberty to either choose or refuse to be in God’s covenant or testament.

“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” (Jn 15:16, &c.)

The heirs to the covenant were there from before the foundation of the world when God chose them to be part of his kingdom. (Eph 1:4, &c.)

Man’s “free will” and God’s choosing in eternity past? From the start, men have wrestled with election, and have tried to reduce it to man’s understanding. In doing so, they are saying they can be as God, and able to know the secret workings and mind of God.

The change was that the mediator is now God the Son, Jesus Christ not Moses, and the atonement made by God the Son was not a typical one. It was the sacrifice of Himself.

The word “Covenant” obscures the fact that salvation is totally the work of God, and must be given to men “by grace through faith” in Christ. On the other hand, using the word “testament” enforces the fact that salvation totally “is the gift of God.” In a testament, as in last will and testament, it is obvious that there has been no agreement made with God. In a “last will and testament” one decrees something which upon his death becomes valid.

The person who, as an heir, receives from the testament has no say-so in it. Thus, “testament” is used frequently in Hebrews to strengthen this fact that the covenant is not a mutual agreement between God and man. We are speaking in terms of redemption, forgiveness of sin and salvation. Certainly, the law of the covenant and the blessings therof, which are very much in effect, is an “if-then” covenant, e.g., Deuteronomy 28, 28.

One receives the benefits of the covenant on the death of the other, which is what the New Covenant is about. The Greek word means Testament or a will, as in “last will and testament.” In a Greek will, the conditions of inheritance were at the sole discretion of the testator, which we have still.

The will was publically and solemnly executed, and thus became at once absolute, irrevocable and unalterable. There was no challenging of the will, and it could not be contested in court, as is done many times today.

A valid will in New Testament times was beyond contesting. The author’s use of the word “testament” gave a finality to the covenant. The covenant made of old as fully set forth through Moses now had its finality through the great mediator, Jesus Christ, whose atoning death ratifies and validates the ancient covenant, and puts it into effect.

In the covenant between the two parties, God and man, there had to be a law, and the shedding of blood to seal the covenant. (Gen 15) By the sacrifice of Himself, the covenant, or testament, took on its final form.

The law had already been given by God through Moses. Now the sacrifice of the Lamb of God had come from the Throne on High to make the final atonement for the sins of His people as foreshadowed in the law. His people are “born again” into his new human race, the new nation of God. (1 Pet 1:23)

Jeremiah gave the promise of that covenant which could not be placed in effect at the death of the testator, Christ Jesus.

Jeremiah 31: 31 “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Hebrews 8:8, God spoke of finding fault with them, i.e., Israel. The covenant was good, but Israel was not. Therefore a new covenant must be made. It was new in that another people will replace Israel. (Mark 12)

Therefore, the twelve apostle’s replaced the twelve patriarchs, the sons of Jacob, or Israel, to indicate that while there was an uninterrupted connection, new peoples would be grafted into Abrahams stocks. God’s covenant is the same as he made with the patriarchs, but new in that another people now replaced most of Israel.

V. 9 tells us of the difference between the covenant made by Moses and that made by Jesus Christ. In the covenant at Sinai, God demonstrated in a very remarkable and miraculous way his redeeming power towards Israel. But they were faithless and rebellious. With the new covenant in Jeremiah, God promised to write His covenant and the covenant law in the hearts of His people. God’s Spirit gives the law to their minds and writes it on their hearts. It is now not only God’s law, but the very personal and indwelling law of His people who have been given his new nature.

The law was then graved on tablets of stone, now graved in the lifeblood and in the flesh of His people. 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 tells us that the Holy Spirit indwells Christ’s new human race in a way surpassing His presence in the Old Testament era. Because God’s law now indwells His people, He is fully their God and they are His new human race.

When the fullness of this change triumphs, then in the words of Isaiah 11:2 will be fulfilled:

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11:9)

The Old Covenant abounds with the promise that in His time of victory, all men shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest. That promise was place in effect by the work of the Great High Priest, Mediator and King of his new creation.

There will be greater knowledge, victory and power because of God’s grace and mercy. Through the meditational work of Christ, their sins are forgiven and forgotten, and they are thereby freed from the curse and from its power. We will all appear before Christ and give an account for everything done in the flesh. (Rom 14:12) But through Christ, our conscience is “free” of guilt, though we may weight ourselves down with guilt. (See 1 Tim 1:19ff.)

The foundation for a renewed mankind and a cleansed world is the atonement by Jesus Christ. The Hebrews who were seeking to continue with the line of Levi are told that the great victory and renewed earth foreseen by the prophets is totally dependent on Jesus Christ’s High Priestly work. His atonement allows the regenerating power of the Triune God to complete God’s creative purpose. Rejecting Jesus Christ as our High Priest is to reject His atonement and to abandon His victory.

V. 13, the old covenant was ready to vanish away forever. The Jewish Roman war, 56-70 A.D. destroyed Israel and the Temple. The Hebrews were told that to cling to the Levitical High Priesthood was to insist on perishing with that order. In the new order, God’s covenant law would not be merely external, but fully internal.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 119. There the Psalmist demonstrates how intensely internalized the law was before Christ. The difference now is the atonement, and the radical forgiveness of sins. In the New Covenant, the nagging handicap of sin and the lingering problem of a troubled conscience is replaced with freedom in Christ.

Antinomians, anti-God’s law, rather than seeing the law as the burden and penalty of sin upon the unregenerate, see it as a disappearing element. (“Under grace, not law.”) They thereby warp the meaning of the atonement. They are really more radical than the Hebrews who wanted to go back to the temple and synagogue. It is not the moral and health law that disappear, but the old sacrificial system, and its priesthood. Christ’s atonement gives freedom from guilt and the power to conquer all things through Christ who strengthens us. “Ye shall know the truth, Christ, and the truth shall make you free.” The truth of the atonement and his power, not the truth of various conspiracies, as many would have us believe.

The shadow of the good things to come:

Psalms 110:4 “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. 5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. 6 He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.”

Psalms 86:8 “Among the gods (earthly authorities) there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works. 9 All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name. 10 For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone. 11 Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.”

Let us rejoice in and not depart from the victory assured us by our King and High Priest, Jesus Christ.

For a more complete study on Circumcision, see “Paedobaptism and the Word of God”, by Bro Need