If we were to write out a timeline of the Bible, we could have the “old covenant” representing the Old Testament from about the year 4000 B.C. unto 1 B.C. I’m not trying to make a point of young earth or old earth creation, but simply making it simple. It is assumed that those of the old covenant era were somehow different than we are, being under the “new covenant”. Thus, there is a division between Pentecost and everything before it.
This brings an interesting question. What about when Jesus was on the earth? There is a bizarre gap in our theology, no matter who you read, where it is almost impossible to explain whether there was a new covenant or not during the life of Jesus, or if it went into effect after His death, or was it after His resurrection, or was it not in effect until His ascension? Or, even more difficult is why was there no outpouring of the Spirit for 30 years after Jesus was birthed, lived, died, resurrected, and ascended? It wasn’t for another few days (I think ten?) until the Day of Pentecost.
What makes this difficult is not only that we’re left in the dark as to when the New Covenant begins, but also that we’re stuck questioning about various times in the Old Testament where it seems to contradict this thinking. For example, it is said of Saul that when he goes home, he shall be turned into a new person (1 Samuel 10:6). It is this verse that seems to spark what Paul declares is ours in the New Covenant in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Or, what about Enoch and Elijah? If the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), and if the old covenant sacrifices could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:4, 11), then how is it that these two men never died?
Please understand the power of that question. This can’t be waved away by simply declaring “by God’s grace…” No, there demands something that would be able to take away the sin of Enoch and Elijah, otherwise there is absolutely no way for them to enter into heaven without death. So, we’re back to square one.
Is it possible we’ve been misunderstanding?
Maybe instead of writing out a dividing line between Old and New Testament, we should be writing out a dividing line between old and new covenants. What does that mean? The book of Hebrews is a desperate attempt to get us to understand that the whole point of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, the outpouring of the Spirit, the coming of the new covenant, etc is to bring us into the eternal covenant. What do I mean by eternal covenant?
In Hebrews 3-4, the author is trying to get us to understand that there is an eternal rest, an eternal Sabbath, that was established on the seventh day when God rested. Notice Hebrews 4:3, “And yet His work has been finished since the creation of the world…”
His work has been finished since the creation of the world. How is it that God has ceased His work since day seven of creation? What, then, was the point of Jesus’ coming?
We enter into Hebrews 5, and the author discusses this Melchizedek priesthood. You see, the Old Testament has a problem within it. Aaron and his sons are priests. No one else is. So, how is it that David eats of the consecrated bread, and even gives it to his men? How does Elijah offer sacrifices? How does Moses offer sacrifices to consecrate Aaron and his sons? Why does God accept the sacrifice of David to stop the angel of death? Why are David’s sons called kohanim (priests)?
This is not something we can wave away quickly. None of these men were of the sons of Aaron. There are many more examples (not the least of which being Samuel). How can a just God accept these sacrifices? The answer, dear children, is that there is an eternal priesthood, one that Aaron was only a reflection of, identified as the Melchizedek priesthood.
In Hebrews 8-10, the whole point is that the sacrifices of the old covenant were not the end in themselves, but also just reflections – patterns – of the ultimate eternal sacrifice (Christ Jesus). Once again, the point of quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34 is not to establish that we’re looking at a “new covenant” (as if the old is before the new covenant), but that there is something that goes beyond the old covenant – before the old covenant. Sinai was the establishment of the old covenant, but before that was the eternal covenant (brit olam first being mentioned in Genesis 9:16).
Before the Sabbath of Exodus 20:8 there was Genesis 2:1-5. Before the priesthood of Aaron in Leviticus 8-9, there was Melchizedek. Before there was a sacrificial system in order, we see Abel sacrificing, Abraham tithing, Noah sacrificing when he got off the ark, etc. What is it that these men are a part of? What I would like to suggest is that they were a part of the eternal covenant – what we call the “new covenant”.
It is with this context that we enter into Hebrews 11. The saints that are mentioned here are not to be considered because they fought a good fight. They are to be considered because this is our heritage. They were of the new covenant, even before the ‘establishment’ of the new covenant. They were of a different caliber, a different reality – the eternal reality.
Just like we are told in Hebrews 12:18-24 that we have not come to Sinai, the covenant that was patterned after the heavenly reality, but rather we have come unto Zion – the true heavenly Mount of God – the saints of the Old Testament did not come unto the mount burning with fire, but to the holy Zion of God.
You might be wondering by this time what this has to do with the name of God…
The answer should be obvious:
In the Hebrew word shem (which means name) there is an interpretation not always understood. It doesn’t just mean name, or stature, but character. It is the quintessence of the person. So, when Moses asks God, “What is your name?” he is asking for the quintessential ‘God’. The answer is yod hey waw hey. We pronounce it in English as Yahweh, or Jehovah. There isn’t good enough consensus on the Hebrew pronunciation to authoritatively say.
What is it about this name that is so important? Why do the Jews to this day not pronounce the name except in holy times, such as prayer or celebrating the high feasts? Why the reverence? Why the hubbub? Why the solemnity? Because this name represents the very core nature, the crux, the quiddity of the Being we call the Living God.
What could the name mean?
In the Hebrew letters, there is a story in itself. Ancient Hebrew was pictographs, and some scholars believe that the letters had significance to understanding the meaning of the words of ancient Hebrew (I happen to agree). So, for example, the word av (father) is made with an aleph (ox head) and a beth (tent). Why? Because the ox represents strength, and the father is the strength of the tent, or family. But the real question before us is what the yod hey waw hey means, right?
The yod was a forearm, also considered the hand. The hey was a man beholding, or worshiping. The waw was a tent peg, or nail. Thus, we have a sentence emerge: “Behold the hand; behold the nail.”
The quintessential nature of God is “behold the hand; behold the nail.” It is Jesus dying upon the cross. It is the eternal covenant, the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. For us to believe in, or into, the name of Jesus, we are believing into this already finished work – the work that God finished and therefore rested on the seventh day. Somehow Jesus appeared at the end of the age, but is the Lamb slain from the foundation (or creation) of earth.
This is what the name of God signifies. It signifies that they who believed in the name of Yahweh did believe into the name of Jesus. Those saints of the Old Testament are not unlike we. You see, what happened at Pentecost was that the Spirit was poured out upon the entirety of the ecclesia, the assembly, the people of God. No more is it the prophets, priests, and saints that alone enter into this “eternal covenant”. Now it is that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved”.
Does this make sense? For some it is semantics. For me it is one of the most important doctrines within Christianity. We have been grafted into the roots already formed. We are a part of something already in existence – into the eternal covenant that the saints of old were brought into. This is why the only text in the entirety of the Old Testament that speaks of a “new covenant” is Jeremiah 31. You cannot find it anywhere else. If it is so darn important that God is establishing a “new covenant” and doing away with the “old covenant”, then why is this teaching blatantly absent from everything in the Scripture except a few questionable texts of the New Testament?
It makes much more sense when we understand the whole picture here. The new covenant is the same as the eternal covenant. The eternal covenant is that heavenly covenant – the eternal that Hebrews is constantly pointing to and saying that the “old” was only a shadow of.