Jacob’s Trouble and the Dilemma of the Covenant

This is how I approach the question of the futurity of Jacob’s trouble. It is to build first the covenant background and the eschatology that grows out of the covenant, particularly what I like to call ‘the dilemma of the covenant’, as the question of how God will accomplish His unconditional promise to not only bring the particular people into this particular Land, but most importantly, keep them there.

He will accomplish His unconditional promise by meeting the imposed conditions Himself by means of atonement and the gift of the Spirit. It was a remarkable epiphany when I discovered how God had used the issue of covenant jeopardy that always threatened Israel’s abiding security in the Land as the means by which God would constrain the prophets to see ahead to the necessity of the great apocalyptic in-breaking of the day of the Lord, but also the revelation of the mystery of the gospel as the basis of the ‘everlasting righteousness’ that could indeed guarantee an eternally secure peace in the Land, because He would become, “the Lord our Righteousness (Jer 23:5-6).

The logic goes like this: History is proof that if God were waiting on Israel, He’d be waiting forever. It is only if the tendency to backslide can be cured, once and for all, that the promise can be sure of everlasting continuance. With the covenant curses threatened on disobedience hanging always overhead, and with the tendency to slip back again into apostasy after every fleeting revival or reform, how can the promise of eternal security in the Land ever be sure to the wayward nation?

The jeopardy posed by the conditional covenant can only be overcome if all of the people, and not only a remnant, are partakers of an eternal righteousness that is unchangeable and secure, so that none will go back or depart, even unto children’s children (Isa 54:13; 59:21). This is exactly what is promised in the everlasting covenant, and it is all built around the promise of the Land as an everlasting possession by this ‘particular’ people, forever free from the curses of the law that that continually threaten invasion, desolation, and exile.

If we juxtapose Deut 4:29ff with Deut 29:4 (the inversion helps memory), we find an important clue in Moses that sets up the whole theology of the Day of the Lord that would be carried forward by the prophets. According to Moses, Israel’s days could not be prolonged in the Land (Deut 4:26; 30:18) until they would receive the heart that until now, God had not yet given them (Deut 29:4). This would not come to the nation as a whole (there was always a remnant who had the new heart) until after the ‘great tribulation’ of the latter days (Deut 4:26-31). This alone would overcome the perennial curse of the broken covenant, thus assuring unending security in the Land, from which they would “never again” be plucked up or afflicted anymore forever (2Sam 7:10; Jer 31:40; Amos 9:15).

This is the background for the eschatology of the day of the Lord as partial solution to the dilemma of covenant jeopardy. That the promise must wait until after the unequaled the tribulation of the Day of the Lord was well known. Unknown was the deeper and even more glorious solution that lay hidden in the mystery of Christ. You see then how God has built His plan around the all constraining question: How does a backsliding nation ever come to lie down safely in their own Land, never again to fear cursing or oppression from their enemies? The Land can only be eternally secure if all the nation, and not only a remnant, has a righteousness that is eternally secure unto children’s children, world without end. This is exactly what was promised in the everlasting covenant. It is the ‘everlasting righteousness’ that will come in at the end of Daniel’s final week (Dan 9:24).

However, the deeper mystery, hid in other ages, is that the New Covenant could only be purchased through the ‘blood of the everlasting covenant’ as basis for the imputation and indwelling of that righteousness that is ‘wholly other’ as perfected on the principle of an endless life in the humanity of the elect Servant Son. So the post-tribulational Day of the Lord (the time of Israel’s resurrection / birth into New Covenant righteousness), together with the revelation of the gospel, becomes the ultimate divine solution to the dilemma of the covenant, or perhaps I should say covenants, plural.

Paul shows that the addition of the Law, with its imposition of conditions, could not annul the immutability of the promise, because the meeting of the conditions would not be by the power of man but by the God who raises the dead. The giving of the Law creates the dilemma of how the promise could be certain of fulfillment, since if anything is left to man, the promise is at risk. Only through resurrection would a people who are dead be able to so fulfill the law as to be safe in the Land forever.

This is why Paul is so vehement against making the promise to depend on anything of man, else it would be uncertain and subject to defeat. But faith, rightly understood, is impossible to the flesh. Faith that is quickened of God is born of God. As such, it is as far removed from human ability as the living from the dead. Faith is not a work of man but of God. The devils believe but the faith of God’s elect is an overcoming faith precisely because it is born of God (1Jn 5:4). In that sense, the faith that is quickened by the Spirit is in itself ‘a piece of resurrection’ (Art’s words).

The sudden revelation of Christ to the surviving remnant of Israel at Jesus’ return, analogous to Paul’s revelation on the Damascus road, is all about God’s determination to show in Israel’s resurrection the same power that He showed in Christ’s resurrection. But whereas Jesus was seen alive by chosen witnesses, every survivor from among the nations in that day will see the spiritual resurrection and return of the national servant / son (Ex 4:23-24; Hos 1:11; Isa 41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 49:3).

It is the covenant as fulfilled through the death and resurrection of the personal Servant Son in the midst of history that becomes the basis by which He will raise the corporate son at the end of history, all in open vindication of His unfailing power to fulfill the conditions of the covenant by Himself alone, precisely so that no flesh might glory, and for this, it must be by grace alone from start to finish, with nothing depending on man, else all is put at risk, even His eternal inheritance in Christ.

That Abraham fell into a deep sleep and was not permitted to pass between the pieces was to underscore that this everlasting covenant was made within the Godhead and was not lent out to the mercy of human will or cooperation, but of Christ who was in Abraham by the divine nature, as one born of Word and Spirit. So, in that sense, it is not I but Christ who is the true cooperator, as certainly obedience is required but only Christ’s obedience through the Spirit can fulfill the righteousness required by the Law in a way that is living and acceptable.

It must be so, because the obedience of which man is capable is fatally short. This is why Paul will speak of the obedience of faith, which is really the obedience of Christ at work in the believer through the Spirit, as it was no less the Spirit of Christ in the OT righteous (1Pet 1:11). This is also how there is ultimately and essentially only one Seed that inherits the promise, as the inheritance of the corporate seed is only by Him, as partakers of His divine nature, as born of the Word of God.

Thus, Israel is given to show the true nature of grace as a resurrection phenomenon through the quickening of Spirit in those who are called according to His purpose, before and apart from consideration of their works. (Ro 9:11, 16). An all saved, holy nation, compromised specifically of Jews, will exist in that specific Land for a thousand years to give continuous witness that men live by mercy and not by works of righteousness which they have done. In that sense, Israel exists to destroy all boasting by putting this great principle of grace on display. This is why He requires that Israel’s special covenant election be recognized and honored by the nations for a thousand years.

For one thousand years, an all saved, eternally preserved nation will witness to what Satan and flesh protests and hates the most. That is discriminating grace that has the right to visit or to pass over without obligation, as so well captured in the glorious old hymn that says, “while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.” Nothing is more despised by the pride of man. This is why for one thousand years, Israel will embody this principle openly, that through them, God might impress upon all flesh His righteous prerogative to save and keep apart from works of righteousness which have done. Yet, the righteousness that is wrought in us through the Spirit received by faith could never be more actual and real, yet nothing of ourselves.

The divine upholding of God’s right to choose and quicken whom He will does not cut off anyone from hope unless they insist on including something of themselves or their own power in that hope. Like Israel, election exists to destroy all boasting, but it cuts off no one, only the lie of human entitlement based on merit. I hope that is clear.

This is some of the more salient points that I see God making through the prophetic purpose that He has built around the election, the fall and rising again of Israel in that faithful pattern of life out of death.

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