IS IT DISRESPECTFUL TO CALL IT THE “OLD TESTAMENT?” IS IT REALLY “OLD” AS IN IRRELEVANT?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Some take exception to calling the Law of Moses the “Old Covenant” or “Old Testament.” (Note: While “covenant” and “testament” are similar ideas, the latter accentuates the death on which such an agreement is made. See our related study linked at the end of this article.) They believe that the adjective “old” makes it seem like we are free to live however we want, that God’s laws do not apply to us anymore, that the Law of Moses is irrelevant and inapplicable. Is it disrespectful to call it the “Old Testament” or “Old Covenant?” “For what saith the Scriptures?”
Read the Prophet Jeremiah’s words beginning in chapter 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:  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:  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.  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.
“ Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name:  If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.  Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD.”
Here is the well-known New Covenant, the heart of the hope of the nation Israel. Without it, they would be permanently out of God’s plan. Let us notice how merciful and gracious the LORD God is toward Israel in these most precious promises given her. Pay attention to the appellations “house of Israel” and “house of Judah.” They first appeared in Scripture in 1 Kings 12:21: “And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.”
Since King Solomon pursued heathen women and corrupted himself and the nation Israel with pagan idolatry, God initiated the second course of chastisement after his death (1 Kings 11:1-13,26-42; 1 Kings 12:1-19). Israel’s government, her “power,” was weakened (Leviticus 26:18-19). The kingdom was split between its 10 northern tribes (taking the name “Israel”) and two southern tribes (assuming the designation “Judah”).
That divided kingdom existed during the time of the Prophet Jeremiah, some 300 years later. Jeremiah preached just before and during the fifth course of chastisement—the Babylonian captivity (Leviticus 26:27-39). However, his message also focused on Israel’s hope, her eventual return to the Promised Land after being exiled in foreign (Gentile) territories. This re-gathering and restoration of Israel is found in Jeremiah chapter 31.
Going back to the passage we were reading in Jeremiah: “ 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:  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:….” The Law of Moses, the contract into which Israel entered on Mount Sinai 900 years prior to Jeremiah, demanded Israel’s exclusive worship of JEHOVAH God. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Time and time and time again, they broke that covenant, disobeyed God’s Word, and came under His curse. As a wife being unfaithful to her husband, Israel ran after idols and cheated on JEHOVAH God, bringing upon herself unspeakable judgment.
Through the writer of the Book of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit commented: “But now hath he [the Lord Jesus Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…” (Hebrews 8:6-8). Verse 13, “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” At this point, we have two covenants—an “Old” and a “New.” The first is transitory, fleeting, passing. It was never a perpetual arrangement. Why could it not last forever? It was conditional. Why?
Turn to Exodus chapter 19 for the answer: “ In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.  For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.  And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;  Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.  Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” The Old Covenant depended upon Israel’s faithfulness, her performance.
Exodus 19:3-6 identifies the problem with being under the Old Covenant. God’s Word itself is perfect, but we sinners are not. “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine” (verse 5). This “if… then” principle shows the conditional nature of the Law. It leaves open the possibility that the individual may not live up to the demands, and curses resulting instead of blessings.
Romans 3:19-20 remarks: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” The Law is the means whereby we recognize sin for what it really is. Stated another way, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). The Law outlines a certain type of behavior, and we sin when we cross those boundaries. We do what it prohibits; we do not do what it commands.
The Law proves our guilt as it exposed Israel’s imperfections. Jew and Gentile alike, we all are descendants of Adam, “shapen in iniquity, and in sin did [our] mother conceive [us]” (Psalm 51:5). The nation Israel, however, did not learn the lesson of the Law. In fact, like most even now, they assumed they could “do” everything God demanded (Exodus 19:8). From the time of Moses onward, they accrued a sin debt, repeatedly breaking God’s Law Covenant. They failed to perform as JEHOVAH God ordered them, so they were severely judged (as evidenced in Jeremiah’s messages). If God is to use the nation Israel in the ages to come, He must deal with her differently. Since the Old Covenant is not advantageous, a New Covenant is required.
Read Galatians chapter 3: “ Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.  Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.  Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
“ But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.  But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.  Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”
What God desires first and foremost is faith, not works. He wants us to trust His Word, the Divine revelation that shows us that we are totally helpless sinners who cannot save ourselves. We need Him to function as our Saviour. Israel did not learn that lesson. Rather than letting it be a mirror to show them their sin, they assumed the Law gave them a right standing before God. Romans 10:1-3 describes apostate Israel during the Acts period: “ Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.  For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.  For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” However, when the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 is fulfilled, Israel will have finally learned the lesson of the Law.
God did not deal with Israel via a performance-based acceptance system until they wanted it. They preferred to work for the blessings instead of enjoying those blessings God would give them simply because of His grace. Many such people even now favor laboring under the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law). They ignore the grace-based acceptance system available through Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork! Christ worked, He paid our sin debt in full with His shed blood, and He resurrected on the third day to give us a right standing before God. We trust Him alone, place our faith in Him exclusively, and His merits are applied to us. We are blessed, becoming God’s righteousness in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Calvary’s finished crosswork is how God will cleanse Israel of her Old Covenant sins. He will also use that blood shed as the basis for Israel’s New Covenant. Hebrews chapter 10: “ By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:  But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;…  For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
“ Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before [Jeremiah 31:33-34],  This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;  And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.  Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.  Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,  By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;….”
Commenting on Jeremiah 31:31, Hebrews 8:13 declares: “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” Some people want to say that it is not appropriate to call it “the Old Testament” or “Old Covenant” and yet God Himself titles it that very way. It is “old” because it is no longer the method whereby God deals with Israel—whether right now in the Dispensation of Grace or even in the ages to come. The Old Covenant or Old Testament is outdated, as it was never meant to be permanent. It was added because of transgressions. It was fading, as something better was coming.
Considering Israel’s sinful past, how could her people ever have a future in the LORD God’s program? After all, they habitually broke the Old Covenant by worshipping and serving pagan gods. We must remember that, long before the Law/Mosaic Covenant (Exodus chapters 19–24), God had promised to make Israel His people via the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3). The Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional; it depends solely upon God’s performance to bless Israel.
However, sin deceived Israel and she assumed she could make herself God’s people. She wanted that legalistic system at Mount Sinai. God knew it would end in failure—Israel did not. The Jews had to learn firsthand that their works would never, ever be a substitute for God’s grace. Therefore, God let the Mosaic economy operate for over 1,500 years. It was to point them to the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Alas, when He visited them, they preferred the Law and demanded His crucifixion! They supposed they were “good enough,” without a sin problem. The Old Covenant was God putting Israel on the performance-based acceptance system. She had to perform to get the blessing and avoid the curse. If she did not obey everything God commanded, then she would not be God’s people. This was not to cancel the Abrahamic Covenant, but only to show the Abrahamic Covenant was all about grace from the very beginning and never about man’s efforts.
Romans chapter 11 describes Israel’s glorious future despite her failures: “ And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:  For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34). After our Dispensation of Grace concludes, national Israel will be saved at Christ’s Second Coming. Her sins will then be “blotted out” (Acts 3:19-21). Ezekiel 36:21-38 says JEHOVAH God will then put His Holy Spirit in the Jews and cause them to keep His laws—what they could never do by themselves! God will indeed make them His people, one united kingdom (Judah and Israel reunified).
While we are not under the Old Covenant, and yet it condemns us (Romans 3:19,20), so the New Covenant (to be made with Israel in the future) impacts us. The blood shed to ratify the New Covenant can save us, for the same blood that saves Israel saves the Church the Body of Christ (without any covenants—see Ephesians 2:11-22)!
» What is the difference between “covenant” and “testament?”
» Are Matthew through John “Old Testament” or “New Testament” books?
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