A few notes from A. W. Pink’s Exposition of Hebrews.
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 (Hos. 6:7 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 (Gen. 3:15) and confirmed to Abraham (Gen. 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 Corinthians chapter 3, Galatians chapter 3 and 4, Hebrews chapters 8, 9 and 12.
Pink, following Owen’s lead, views the old Mosaic covenant as a republication of the covenant of works made with Adam before the fall. He also finds evidence for the new covenant of grace promised to Adam after the fall, fulfilled by the death of the testator Jesus Christ. [Proto-Evangelium]
Commenting on Hebrews 8.6:
This more excellent ministry Christ is here said to have “obtained.” The way whereby the Lord Jesus entered on the whole office and work of His mediation has been expressed in Hebrews 1:4 as by “inheritance”: that is, by free grant and perpetual donation, made unto Him as the Son
The ministry of the old covenant was powerless, it never obtained anything and only looked forward to the promised Messiah.
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.” Hebrews 8.7
The covenant which is here referred to is that into which Jehovah entered with Israel at Sinai: see Exodus 19:5; 34:27, 28; Deuteronomy 4:13. Israel’s response is recorded in Exodus 19:8, 24:3. It was ratified by blood: Exodus 24:4-8. This was not the “first” covenant absolutely, but the first made with Israel nationally. Previously, God had made a covenant with Adam (Hos. 6:7), and in some respects the Covenant at Sinai adumbrated [adumbrated: To give a sketchy outline of; To prefigure indistinctly; foreshadow.] it, for it was chiefly one of works.So too He had made a covenant with Abraham, which in some respects adumbrated the Everlasting Covenant, inasmuch as it was one purely of grace. Prior to Sinai, God dealt with Israel on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant, as is clear from Exodus 2:24; 6:3, 4. But it was on the ground of the Sinaitic covenant that Israel entered Canaan: see Joshua 7:11, 15; Judges 2:19-21; 1 Kings 11:11; Jeremiah 34:18, 19.
Pink asks the question, Wherein lay its “faultiness?”
It was wholly external, accompanied by no internal efficacy. It set before Israel an objective standard but supplied no power to measure up to it. It treated with men in the flesh, and therefore the law was impotent through the weakness of the flesh (Rom. 8:3). It provided a sacrifice for sin, but the value thereof was only ceremonial and transient, failing to actually put away sin. It was unable to secure actual redemption. Hence because of its inadequacy, a new and better covenant was needed.
Understanding Israel [for my Dispensational brothers and sisters] in the new covenant:
This new covenant God promised to make with “the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” The word, “Israel” is used in the Scriptures in no less than four distinct senses. First, it is the name which God gave to Jacob when he wrestled with the angel and prevailed as a prince (Gen. 32:28). Second, it denotes his fleshly descendants called “the children of Israel,” that is, the Jewish nation. Third, it is employed of the ten tribes, the kingdom of Samaria or Ephraim, in contradistinction from the kingdom of Judah, and this, after the Nation was rent asunder in the days of Jeroboam. Fourth, it is applied spiritually to the whole of God’s people (Gal. 6:16). To which we may add, Fifth, in Isaiah 49:3 (note the verses which follow) it appears to be applied to Christ Himself, as identified with His people. Personally, we believe that it is the second and the fourth of these usages that obtain in our present passage.
A future for ethnic Israel? Pink thinks so:
The writer has no doubt whatever in his mind that the time is not far distant when God is going to resume His dealings with the Jewish people, restore them unto their own land, send back their Messiah and Redeemer, save them from their sins, and fulfill to them His ancient promise through Jeremiah. Nevertheless, we are fully assured that it is a serious mistake to limit the prophecy of Jeremiah (or any other prediction) to a single fulfillment. It is abundantly clear from 2 Corinthians 3 that Christians in this dispensation are already enjoying the good of the new covenant which God has made with them.
The ‘wall’ that separated God’s elect:
There was a middle wall or partition between them (Eph. 2:14). There was “enmity” between them (Eph. 2:16). But just as God announced through Ezekiel (37:16, 17) that the diversified houses of Judah and Israel should “become one,” so His elect among the Jews and the Gentiles are now one in Christ (Eph. 2:14-18)! Therefore are all born-again believers designated the “children” and “seed” of Abraham (Gal. 3:7, 29), and thus are they “blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal. 3:9).
Contrasting the covenant of works with the covenant of grace:
The contrast between the two covenants is first expressed negatively: “not according.” The differences between them are many and great. The former was mainly typical, the latter has the substance. The one was administered under an imperfect priesthood, the latter under a perfect one. The one had to do, primarily, with that which was external; the other is, mainly, internal. The Mosaic covenant was restricted to one nation, the Christian is international in its scope.
The old covenant is spoken of as dating from the day when the Lord took Israel, “by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” This language emphasizes the woeful and helpless condition that Israel was then in: unable to deliver themselves out of their bondage, like children incapable of walking unless supported and led. As Deuteronomy 1:31 says, “The Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went.” So in Hosea 11:3 God says, “I taught them to go, taking them by the arms.” Such expressions also accentuate the infinite condescension of God toward His people: that He should (so to speak) bow down Himself to reach them in their lowly estate.
Yours in the Lord,