Chapter 5: Continuity

Ray Sutton

Narrated By: Devan Lindsey
Book: That You May Prosper


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Chapter Text

E: Fifth Point of Covenantalism

(Deuteronomy 31-34)

Nobody wants to start from scratch. Actually, no man can ever start totally from scratch, for we are creatures living in history. Only God can start from scratch historically (Gen. 1:1). The Biblical man, especially, recognizes that he can move forward only on the basis of a legacy bequeathed to him by his righteous predecessors.

There is a story in the Old Testament that deals with a man who knew that he was in a position of having to start almost from scratch, and he took steps to overcome his predicament. His name was Joseph.

Joseph had to start almost from scratch several times. His brothers tossed him in a pit – clearly a symbol of hell – to keep him until they could kill him.[1] Judah spoke up for him, and wisely suggested that they sell him, something his greedy and short-sighted brothers immediately agreed to. So Joseph was carried down to Egypt by foreign traders. He was sold into bondage. But to sell him, they had to pull him out of the pit – resurrection.

He was sold to Potiphar. He then built up the household wealth of Potiphar. He used Potiphar’s capital, of course, but he multiplied it. Then Potiphar’s wife lied about his integrity, and Potiphar had him thrown into prison – right back in the pit! But this time, it was a bigger pit.

So he started over again. Before long, he had taken over the administration of the prison, under the authority of the captain of the prison. He also prophesied concerning the dreams of the Pharaoh’s baker and cup-bearer (probably second in command, or at least a very high official).[2] But the cup-bearer forgot about Joseph after he was released, as Joseph had prophesied, so Joseph remained a captive for several more years. At age 30, however, his fortunes changed (Gen. 41:46).

When the Pharaoh had a dream that he could not interpret, the cup-bearer remembered Joseph, and told the Pharaoh of Joseph’s skills of prophecy and dream interpretation. The king brought him out of prison – resurrection.

The rest of the story is familiar. He interprets the dream, prophesies, and recommends that the king choose a man to administer the grain storage program. The Pharaoh believes Joseph, and therefore believes God’s Word. He wisely chooses Joseph as the administrator.

Then he does something extremely important. He places the robe of office, a chain of authority, and the ring of authority on Joseph (Gen. 41:42). He was also given a chariot. As we have seen in Chapter Two, there is no authority without subordination. There is no power without bondage. We must wear someone’s yoke. Pharaoh places Joseph under the overall authority of Egypt. Egyptian theology taught that the Pharaoh was a divine figure, the link between the realm of the gods and man.

Pharaoh did what Laban had tried to do with Jacob and Nebuchadnezzar later tried to do with the Hebrew youths: bring God’s power and blessings under the authority of a foreign power system. Potiphar and the captain of the prison had done the same thing. This story is repeated throughout the Bible. Daniel under Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius is an example of this same process. Mordecai was also given a robe, crown (chain for the head), and a ring by Ahasuerus. Mordecai also was given access to the king’s chariot (Esther 8-9). But Ahasuerus was at least married to Mordecai’s niece, and may himself have been a converted man. He was not trying to manipulate God in the way that Laban tried.

What pagan kings wanted to do was to imprison God through imprisoning God’s servant. They were using God’s men as magical talismans, or manipulative implements that command supernatural power. This even applied to Nebuchadnezzar, for he was not really converted until after his time in the fields (wilderness).

Joseph ruled as the king’s delegated sovereign agent. He gave Joseph a wife: the daughter of the priest of On, the holy city. Her name? Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera (Gen. 41:45). He therefore became a son of the priest. He went from the house of Potiphar to the house of Potiphera. In effect, Joseph was brought under a new covenant. Covenantally, Joseph no longer was under Jacob’s authority. Jacob believed him to be dead. Joseph also thought he was covenantally dead. We should remember that he saw everything in terms of the covenant, and particularly the covenant made to Abraham. God had promised the first patriarch seed and land (Gen. 12:1-3). Joseph had been cut off from both. He had been disinherited by his brothers, and he had been sold into slavery. He was in Egypt, the Biblical symbol of hell (the pit), where even Jesus as an infant was carried to. Covenantally, Joseph appeared to be dead. He could not inherit from Jacob. His inheritance would come from Egypt. It would be a large inheritance, but it was nevertheless Egyptian. His only hope was for some kind of resurrection. More to the point, his two sons needed resurrection. He could not give them covenantal life. He was now a covenantal son of Egypt, not a covenantal son of Israel.

So alienated from the past had Joseph become that he named his two sons with pro-Egyptian names:

And Joseph named the first-born Manasseh [making to forget – R.S.], “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” And he named the second Ephraim [fruitfulness – R.S.], “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:51-52).

He named his sons as though he had forgotten two things. First, he had forgotten the dream that promised that his brothers and father would bow down to him. Second, he had forgotten God’s prophecy to Abraham, that before the Israelites could take the land of Canaan, they would be enslaved and oppressed – afflicted – for four generations (Gen. 15:13-16). God was not finished with him covenantally yet. He was therefore not finished with Joseph’s sons. There had to be a transfer of the inheritance.

The Inheritance

Eventually, Jacob and his family came to Egypt. Joseph’s father and his brothers were forced to bow down to him, even as he had foretold when interpreting the dream that had gotten him sold into bondage (Gen. 37:7-11). They were to dwell in the land of Egypt, as God had prophesied.

With the arrival of Jacob in the land, Joseph knew that he was back in the family covenant. But his two sons had been born in Egypt while Joseph was outside the family, and outside his father’s authority. In effect, they were Egyptians, and their names testified to Joseph’s Egyptian covenant. Would they inherit? Could they? Wouldn’t their inheritance be subject to some future challenge by his brothers or their descendants, as Egyptians?

One day Joseph heard that his father was sick (Gen. 48:1). Joseph could not wait any longer, just as Jacob could not wait when his father Isaac was about to give the family blessing to his brother Esau. If Jacob died before his inheritance could be transferred to Joseph’s heirs, they could not be included in the covenant. They were sons of Egypt. Joseph had to act immediately. His oldest son needed to receive the special blessing from his grandfather. Without it, he had no inheritance with the people of Israel

But how could they be given the inheritance if they were sons of Egypt? There was only one way: they had to be adopted by the dying old man. If he refused, there was no hope. Joseph’s line would be cut off. Joseph had “died” in order to save the people of Israel. He could not pass the inheritance to his own sons by himself. The blessing had to skip generations.

Jacob understood what had to be done, and he did it. To help us to understand exactly what he did, I have emphasized some neglected key words:

And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are [the first two sons of Jacob by Leah] (Gen. 48:5).

The boys were born in Egypt before Jacob arrived. They had been born outside the land, and therefore outside Jacob’s familial authority. They were outside the hierarchy of covenantal authority. Their father was a covenantal agent of Pharaoh, not Jacob. How could they inherit? Jacob adopted the two boys as his own sons, equal in authority to the two sons by Leah. This placed them back inside the covenant.

Joseph had two sons who needed to inherit. Joseph therefore transferred to them the double portion of the family’s inheritance that he was entitled to as the son who was feeding his father. In making the transfer of his inheritance, Joseph was claiming the double portion, as Jacob recognized: ”And I give you one portion more than your brothers” (Gen. 48:22a). In short, Joseph transferred his birthright to his sons. Unlike his present-oriented uncle Esau, who had transferred his birthright to Jacob because Jacob promised to feed him, Joseph acted as a future-oriented man.

There is no doubt concerning Joseph’s forfeiture of his birthright. Jacob made it plain that other children born out of Joseph’s loins and the womb of the Egyptian could come into covenant only by joining the tribes of Ephraim or Manasseh. By handing over the double portion to the “Egyptian” sons, Joseph had nothing left of the Hebrew inheritance to transfer to his other children who had been born (or would be born) under the biological family covenant, since Jacob and the family were now reunited to Joseph’s household. The sons who would be considered sons of the covenant by birth would participate in the covenant only through their older Egyptian brothers. The two boys had to be adopted by Jacob, and any other children had to be adopted by the two boys. The other children could become sons of the covenant only through adoption, just as Ephraim and Manasseh were adopted.

But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance (Gen. 48:6).

Why should they be called by the names of their brothers? Because they could not be called by the name of their father. Their father had no family inheritance in Israel. He was clearly outside the covenant.

This points directly to the Jews’ need for adoption in Christ’s day. Christ left His birthright to those who would affirm Him as their brothers. The gentiles would inherit, and the Jews could claim their birthright only by being adopted by the gentile Christian believers. Only in the covenant of the dead testator’s gentile heirs is there salvation, deliverance, and resurrection.

Joseph knew exactly what he was doing when he brought only the two older sons and not the others, who were obviously alive at the time. He brought in his first-born son and his second-born son. The theme of the first-born and second-born sons is one which is basic to the book of Genesis, and to the Gospel: Adam and Christ.

First-born and Second-born

The two boys entered Jacob’s presence. They could now tell that their grandfather was blind. They stood there and stared. They could see him, but he couldn’t see them. Their father pushed them forward in a special arrangement. To make sure the inheritance went to the first-born, Joseph placed Manasseh (the first-born) opposite Jacob’s right hand and Ephraim in front of the left. There could be no mistake. All Jacob had to do was stick out his right hand and touch the boy in front of him.

To everyone’s surprise, Jacob stretched his hand in a diagonal direction and put it on Ephraim, the second-born. Joseph was in dismay. He said to his father, “Stop, Manasseh is the first-born.” Jacob answered, “1 know, he will be a great tribe too, but the younger one will be greater” (Gen. 48:1-22). Once again, the second-born son would inherit the double portion instead of the first-born, which is God’s normal pattern of inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). Sin disrupts the normal pattern, and God’s grace intervenes to re-establish legitimate inheritance on ethical and covenantal lines. Jacob inherited, not Esau; Ephraim inherited, not Manasseh – Jacob’s reminder to Joseph of the source of his inheritance: a God-established break with the normal pattern, God’s sign of special grace.

Who received the double portion in the family of Jacob? No one did. The land later was distributed by family size (Nu. 26:54), and no family received a double portion. Normally, with twelve sons, the inheritance would have been divided into thirteenths, with the eldest son inheriting a double portion. But with respect to the land, two sons received no land, Levi (which became the priestly tribe) and

Joseph (who was covenantally dead). Ephraim and Manasseh replaced them.

Joseph’s heirs did receive a double portion, however. Ordinarily, all Joseph’s sons would have divided his single portion. But the adoption of Manasseh and Ephraim as Jacob’s sons gave them two portions to share equally. The real winner was Ephraim, for had he been simply an heir of Joseph rather than Jacob, all of Joseph’s sons would have inherited equal portions of Joseph’s portion, with Manasseh receiving the double portion. But Ephraim received a full portion as an adopted son of Jacob, not simply a partial portion of Joseph’s inheritance. However, his name, fruitful, proved accurate. But the Biblical rule prevailed: greater blessings bring greater responsibility. Joshua, an Ephraimite (Nu. 13:8,16), led them into the Promised Land. Joshua becomes Israel’s deliverer. In a symbolic sense, Joshua is Joseph resurrected, and he carries Joseph’s bones up to the Promised Land.

Joseph should have received the double portion, for it was he who protected his father in the father’s old age. Joseph was Israel’s savior. But to offer this protection, Joseph had to die covenantally. Thus, his two sons inherited the equivalent of his double portion, but only by their adoption into the family of Joseph’s father. This sealed their inheritance. It could never be challenged by Jacob’s other sons or by their heirs. No better example can be found in the Old Testament concerning the basis of the inheritance of the Church. The Church inherits the double portion that belongs by right to Christ, but only because of the death of the Savior-Testator does the Father in heaven adopt the Church.

It is worth mentioning that Jesus was the son of another Joseph, who was himself faithful to the word of the angel, and who did not put Mary away, but married her and reared her son Jesus as his own. He therefore adopted Jesus, making Him covenantally legitimate in terms of Hebrew law. This act of adoption by Joseph established Christ’s legal birthright. Like Joshua, after whom Jesus is named, the Deliverer came through adoption.

It is also worth mentioning that the only two men of Moses’ generation who were totally faithful (Nu. 14:5-6), and who therefore were allowed by God to cross into the Promised Land (Nu. 32:12) had been adopted into the covenant. Joshua was the descendant of Ephraim, who was adopted in, and Caleb, who was a Kennezite (Nu. 32:12), and the Kennezites were a tribe that dwelt in Canaan, and which had been marked out for destruction by God in His original covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:19).

False Inheritance

The one who feeds his father is the true first-born son and the one who deserves the double portion. Joseph fed the Pharaoh, too. Joseph said to his brothers, after they had come to be fed in Egypt,

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt (Gen. 45:7-8).

He had fed the Pharaoh and his people; he had delivered them, too. He was therefore the true first-born son of Pharaoh, the covenantally legitimate heir of the Pharaoh’s double portion. Pharaoh understood this. He gave Joseph the double portion in Egypt, the land of Goshen, the best of Egypt (Gen. 47:6). But the Egyptians did what he had feared that his brothers and their descendants might do: deny the legitimacy of his birthright. The Egyptians hated Egypt’s true first-born son, the family that had fed Egypt and saved it: the Hebrews. The Book of Exodus speaks of another Pharaoh who arose who did not remember Joseph – h did not acknowledge the lawful inheritance that Joseph and his family had been given. The later Pharaoh stole the inheritance by placing the Hebrews in slavery, just as Jacob’s sons had done to Joseph in Dothan. Egypt once again proved itself to be a pit, a place of bondage, just as God had told Abraham it would. There can be no salvation in Egypt.

What was God’s response? He killed the first-born sons of Egypt as His final plague, and the Egyptians let them go free. The Egyptian kidnappers of the Hebrews died, just as the kidnapping brothers of Joseph would have died of starvation, had not God through Joseph showed them grace. We need to be fed by the true first-born son, or else we die.


I call what happens in this story the principle of continuity. What is it? Continuity is the confirmation of the legitimate heir, thereby transferring the inheritance to him. First, the inheritance is confirmed by the laying on of hands.[3] The ratification process of circumcision normally would have entitled Joseph’s sons to their inheritance. But they were probably uncircumcised because they were the sons of a covenantally dead man. Probably, they would have been circumcised in connection with the process of adoption, though the Bible does not say. They were nevertheless sons by declaration, and the laying on of hands was a judicial act that simply declared who the heirs were, symbolizing a transfer from one generation to the next.

What happens to Joseph’s sons does not disrupt the covenantal progression from ratification to continuity that we see in Deuteronomy. Nor should the Joseph situation confuse in the reader’s mind ratification and the last step of covenantalism. The Deuteronomic covenant places ratification before the final stage of covenantalism; most of the time ratification and continuity are simultaneous to one another, which may explain the Joseph account. At any rate, ratification does provide an element of continuity. It (circumcision in the Old Covenant and baptism in the New Covenant) initially establishes continuity. Ratification places legal claim on the recipient by means of the “first” sacrament. It entitles him to an inheritance. It officially guarantees a legacy even to the household, as we learned in the last chapter. So it is obvious that the fourth and fifth points of the covenant are inseparably bound. But the final point of the covenant, what I am calling “continuity,” is a continuation of ratification. It is the means whereby the claim is actually extended. It is a confirmation process that usually involves the second sacrament (passover in the Old Covenant and communion in the New Covenant) as we shall see. In Deuteronomy, the continuity section begins with the laying on of hands (via a sacred meal), and then it moves to a second element that we also see in the Joseph account.

Second, the covenant transfer is confirmed by the actual conquest of the land. After joseph’s second-born becomes the heir, Jacob describes how God will bring the nation to the Promised Land again (Gen. 48:19-22). If there is no actual conquest of the land, Jacob’s transfer is invalidated. This would mean his heirs are not the true heirs, and he would not get to come back to the land. To the victors go, not the spoils, but in this case, the inheritance.

Third, the inheritance is not confirmed on the basis of natural descent. Man’s fallen nature disrupted the natural flow of things. Normally, the first-born would have been the recipient of the double portion of the blessing, but the Fall of man morally disabled him. In the Bible, the first-born is covenantally unable to obtain the inheritance: Adam, Cain, Esau, Ishmael, Reuben, and so forth. The constant failure of the first-born goes back to Adam, and the constant success of the second-born points forward to Jesus, the second Adam and true first-born.

This brief introduction takes us directly to the fifth point of covenantalism in Deuteronomy (31-34). The obvious connection is that Joshua is a descendant of Joseph. But more importantly, we see how a process of confirmation follows ratification, forming continuity from one generation to another.[4]

Confirmation (Deut. 31-34)

Continuity is a process of confirmation. Ratification, the fourth point, was only the beginning. It brought a person under the covenant, but he also needed confirmation. He needed to receive the full benefits of being a covenant member. This inheritance did not come all at once but in stages. The confirmation of Deuteronomy is three-fold.

  1. Covenant Renewal

Moses first engaged Joshua and the congregation in covenant renewal. This was done by means of a large worship service (Deut. 31-32). The service was covenantal. The Song of Moses part of worship followed the outline of the covenant (Deut. 32).[5] From this we should learn that the church’s formal worship service is not a time of entertainment, but simply a renewal of God’s covenant. Furthermore, worship is the logical step after the covenant has been cut. If for some reason a person cuts the covenant, and then never attends or even drops out of worship, his ratification of the covenant is not confirmed, meaning he never truly covenanted with God. On this basis, his inheritance in the covenant is forfeited (Heb. 10:22-25).

A meal is often associated with worship. Why? It is a way of confirming a covenant that has previously been cut.[6] In the suzerain covenants, the soon-to-die suzerain would gather all of his followers together at a special ceremony involving a sacred meal. He would require them to pledge an oath of allegiance to his successor. Then, after he died, the successor would have another ceremony and meal.

The followers would again pledge an oath and renew their covenant to seal legally and ritually the transfer of power.[7] In Deuteronomy and Joshua the same process takes place. Israel is confirmed in its allegiance to Joshua with Moses. After the death of Moses, they have other ceremonies and meals to renew their covenant with their new leader (Josh. 5:10; 8:30-35). The confirmation of communion is supposed to be an ongoing process.

These events were, in the ancient world, a combination of civil and ecclesiastical. Today, we separate the two governments more clearly, but similar rituals still exist. Many churches ordain pastors, elders, and deacons by the practice of the laying on of hands. Existing elders touch the shoulders of kneeling men who have been ordained but not yet confirmed. This is the act of confirmation. Sometimes they celebrate communion immediately after the laying on of hands. In civil government, there must also be confirmation and some variant of the laying on of hands. In this context, Moses laid hands on Joshua (Deut. 34:9). This was a judicial act. It was not magical. Nothing of substance flowed from Moses to Joshua. But this legal act symbolized that Joshua was in continuity with the historic covenant. Historic continuity is extremely important. To cut oneself off from history results in fighting the same battles of the past. It is a common saying that those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.

For example, the modern Church generally reacts to the creeds of the early Church. The liberals want to change them, and the evangelicals want to curse them: “No creed but Christ,” and so forth. What happens? The Church finds its old enemies creeping back into history. It fights Arian theology of the third and fourth centuries in the form of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It fights gnostic theology in the form of the New Age movement. So, essentially, it becomes difficult for the Church to make progress without the confirmation process of the historic Church.[8]

We should always maintain that the basis of continuity is the Word of God. The Bible does not change. Secondarily, the creeds of the Church serve as sources of continuity, though they can and must be changed as major Biblical insights are discovered, and as crucial historic issues arise that the Church must address. (Abortion in our day is one such issue; yet the historic creeds do not specifically refer to it.) Continuity is provided to the Church by the Bible; continuity is then provided by the Church through preaching, sacraments, and discipline – its unique marks.

There must be a link between heaven and earth. Christ is that link. His Church continues institutionally and covenantally the link that Christ established. But there must be an absolute confirmation which supports the historic confirmations of the Church. Without this, the confirmations of the Church would become relative. This raises the question of “binding and loosing.”

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:19).

Truly I say unto you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 18:18).

Like prayers that God promises to honor, so are the disciplinary and confirmatory actions of the Church: they must be. As always, the Bible is the standard, not the mouth of man. But when the lawfully ordained man speaks God’s Word appropriately to the historical situation, God promises to confirm that word.

  1. Conquest

Moses says their confirmation comes through the actual conquest of the land: “Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers [historic continuity] to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance… which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess'” (Deut. 31:7). The requirement of possessing the land is restated by God, when He speaks to Joshua, saying, “To possess the land which the Lord your God is giving to you, to possess it” (Josh. 1:11). The Hebrew word for “possess” (yarash) conveys the way Israel was to conquer. One commentator says:

The verb yarash has three meanings when used in relation to land. The first is to receive the land as a gift [Lev. 20:24; RSV “inherit”].

The second is to occupy and organize the land according to God’s teaching.… again and again they [the Scriptures] say that the commandments are to be applied “in the land to which you are going over, to possess it…. that it may go well with you…” [Deut. 6:1-3, etc.]. Conversely, failure to observe the conditions of faithful tenants will mean that the rights of tenancy of “possession” will be taken away [Deut. 4:26; 28:63]. The tenants will be “dispossessed” [Num. 14:12].

The third meaning derives from the first two. Receiving the right of tenancy [possessing in the sense of inheriting] and living on the land [possessing in the sense of a proper ordering of society on the land] can be effected only if there is actual control…. The causative form of the verb yarash means to cause a change in the power structure on the land… so that a new social order may be set up.[9]

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Deut. 34:9), Joshua was called to “possess” the land in this threefold sense. He was to lead Israel to take what was theirs – not by “natural right,” but because they were “covenantal tenants.” They were to apply the covenant, and they were to set up a new social order under the Word of God. They were to conquer the land by obedience to the law.

The conquest in this regard was rather unique. We see an example at Jericho. Israel marched around the city, symbolically circumcising it, and performing a divine liturgy against the enemy. Israel obeyed God’s word. The walls of paganism could not collapse by brute power. God defeated the Canaanites through obedience to the covenant. As the words of the title of this book go, “So keep the words of this covenant to do them that you may prosper in all that you do” (Deut. 29:9). Covenant renewal by worship and the laying on of hands was not enough. The confirmation of one’s inheritance started there, but it could not end there. Covenant renewal is supposed to move out from around the throne of God and into civilization. If it doesn’t, the inheritance is lost. Churches that are only caught up in their liturgies forfeit society, and consequently forfeit everything. Liturgy should translate into life. When it does, the inheritance is fully realized.

Moses addresses a third aspect of confirmation. He tells them to read the law every seven years at the “remission of debts” (Deut. 31:10). It was for “their children, who have not known” the ways of the Lord (Deut. 31:13). He had established continuity with the past and confirmed them with the obligation of conquest in the present. Now he prepares them for the future with the requirement of perpetual instruction in the law. The children and everyone were to be educated in the Lord. I call this process discipleship.

Civilization cannot be maintained by force. Societies are preserved by God’s power, self-discipline, and the day-to-day disciplining of the three institutional covenants: Family, Church, and State. People need to be instructed and disciplined in the ways of righteousness. Their habits have to be changed. This takes time. The Biblical way requires constant evangelization, missions, and grassroots discipleship. Recognition of the past and the present are not enough. Discipleship extends historically what has happened in the past and is happening in the present. Without discipleship, the next generation will simply lose everything worth having. Without raising up the next generation, there can be no real dominion.

Overcoming Illegitimacy

In Israel, anyone could become a king within ten generations. The law said that the Moabite and the Ammonite had to wait ten generations before they could enter the presence of the Lord (Deut. 23:3). Why did it take that long, when it took an Egyptian, the oppressor state, only three generations to become a ruler (Deut. 23:8)? Because Moab and Ammon were bastards, the sons of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. The rule applied to Moab and Ammon that applied to bastards in general: ten generations of circumcised sons or faithful daughters before a descendent could become a full citizen – a ruler (Deut. 23:2).

David was the descendent of Tamar, who committed adultery with Judah. He was the tenth generation after Judah and Tamar’s son, Perez (Ruth 4:18-22), which represents approximately six hundred years, or about half a millennium. This indicates that it takes time to change civilization and secure the inheritance of the Lord. David represented ten generations of discipleship and future-oriented preparation. It took those generations of parents a long time, but consider the effects. He began a Davidic millennium that lasted until the time of Christ.

It is interesting that Jacob’s blessing for Judah included this promise: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes. And to Him shall be the obedience of peoples” (Gen. 49:10). Yet this promise was conditional. From Perez to David, no one in Judah’s line could rule. Yet the promise came true because each father circumcised his sons. Each looked forward ritually to the fulfillment of Jacob’s promise. Then, with David, came the most powerful king in Israel’s history. This was a typical fulfillment: from darkness to the highest blessing. We see it in Joseph’s life, in Job’s life, and in Nebuchadnezzar’s after his years in the fields. The resurrection is greater than a person’s position before his fall.

Overcoming Debt

Moses also ties the process of instruction in the law to the “debt cancellation laws” (Deut. 31:10). Every seventh year the debts were cancelled. Every seventh year the Bible was read to the people. Every seventh sabbatic cycle, the land was returned to its owners, the year of Jubilee. The principle: debt could not extend beyond the preaching of the law. If it did, the civilization became debt-oriented and lost its inheritance. If it did, they would have two gods: God and Mammon. Debt-oriented societies are polytheistic cultures that simply cannot hang on to their inheritance. They are not future-oriented because they end up inflating their way out. This is nothing else but theft. The present cannot be conquered by stealing from the future.

Moses knew Israel was receiving covenant renewal and was willing to possess the land. He also knew they would fall in the future if the present generation was not discipled. They would end up with a great past and a semi-great present, but no future. Any society that is not discipled for the future becomes a culture of death and debt.

This is the process of transferring inheritance. Continuity is created through confirmation. It consists of covenant renewal, conquest by obedience, and discipleship.


Discontinuity is the opposite of continuity. Just as heirs are transferred their inheritance by confirmation, so are the false heirs disinherited.

Dissolubility of the Covenant

The covenant can be terminated, or dissolved. The continuity of all the covenants-God to God, God to man, and man to man-is in fact dissoluble.[10]

The “primary” covenant – God to God – could be broken upon covenantal death. Even though Jesus perfectly obeyed God, the Cross is a picture of God the Father forsaking God the Son.[11] Jesus said, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46). This is truly a great mystery, but Jesus was covenantally cut off from the “land of the living.”[12] A kind of “covenantal death” occurred prior to physical death.

The secondary level of covenant – God to man – can be broken upon covenantal separation. The writer to the Hebrews warns the believers not to forsake their covenant. He urges them to “press on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1), the implication being that they were thinking of departing from their covenant with God. Again, we take notice of the following sobering words:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame (Heb. 6:4-6).

Notice that the writer makes the connection between the cutting off of Christ at the crucifixion, and apostasy. I pointed out above that Christ’s death was actually a covenantal separation. So, the point about covenantal death is extended to the God-to-man level.

The third level of covenants – man to man – can also be terminated by covenantal death. At this level we find the three institutions of society: Family, Church, and State. Although they are covenants among men, they all have a special relationship to God, yet not indissoluble. Take marriage as an example. Jesus says, “What God has brought together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:9). This is an imperative (ethical requirement), not a declaration. He does not say, “No man can separate.” There is quite a difference between a “negative” command and the assertion that the bond cannot be broken. The Apostle Paul argues that, indeed, covenantal as well as physical death can break the marriage bond (Rom. 7:1-4).

The context of this death is covenantal. The verse immediately preceding this section is Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, the context directly following is a discussion about death to the law. So, it is clear that covenantal death is in view regarding the marriage covenant, implying that the marriage bond can be severed, “covenantally” as well as physically. The point is that even at the tertiary level of covenants, the same principle of termination appears. This is only one example of how the man-to-man covenant can be destroyed through covenantal death. But it proves that the “indissolubility doctrine” is unbiblical.

The fact that covenants can be dissolved is certain. Let us now consider how covenantal discontinuity comes about. It is the opposite of the confirmation process.

  1. Covenant Denial

The covenant should be continually renewed. Renewal leads to the laying on of hands, a confirmation of the true heir. If the covenant is denied, however, the blessing is lost. The heir becomes a bastard son. One clear example of this is Esau. He was the first-born son, entitled to be the heir of the double portion, the one through whom the seed would come. But Esau was a man of war. The text calls attention to the fact that he was a hunter (Gen. 27:3). His name literally means “hairy” (Gen. 27:11). His name compares him to an animal, a beast. He is also called “Edom,” meaning “red,” probably referring to blood (Gen. 36:8). He had a “taste for game.” He liked the taste of blood. Esau believed in power religion. Force was the means of acquiring and sustaining the inheritance. And his warring nature turned against him.

Esau was not a man of the covenant. His power-oriented way is contrasted to Jacob’s “peace-loving” ways (Gen. 25:27). This means that Jacob dealt with people according to the covenant. Esau was the opposite. He dealt according to power, blood, and the desires of his own stomach. He was not past-oriented or future-oriented. One day he went into the field to hunt. He came back and found Jacob cooking a “red stew” (Gen. 25:30). Again the red is probably a reference to “blood.” Esau was hungry and wanted something to eat immediately. The fact that it was a “blood” stew made him desperate. Of course the stew was not a blood dish. It was a lentil stew (Gen. 25:34). I believe Jacob knew his brother was a bloody man and would be reminded of blood when he saw it.

Jacob took advantage of the situation. He was a man of the covenant. He knew and respected the covenantal transfer of inheritance. He had to have the laying on of hands. But since he was not a power-oriented person, he wanted to acquire the legal right of the first-born by Esau’s choice. He told Esau that he could have some food if he would give up his birthright. Esau agreed. The way Esau so quickly agreed, as a matter of fact, proves that Esau did not regard his birthright very highly. He probably thought this covenantal oath to his brother was worthless. He believed in power, and he perceived that he could hang on to his inheritance by power and blood.

The conflict between Esau and Jacob does not stop here. Even after Jacob lawfully obtained the birthright, Esau still wanted to have the blessing of his father. He wanted to be a man of blood and also have the benediction of the covenant. The two do not mix. Rebekah and Jacob knew it. They also knew that Jacob needed more than Esau’s oath. Jacob had to have his father’s confirmation. So a plan was devised to obtain the blessing (Gen. 27:6-17). Jacob dressed up like Esau and went into his father. He served a meal. (Remember the covenant renewal process involves a meal.) But Isaac was blind. He smelled and touched Jacob. He was not able to tell the difference. Jacob received the blessing.

Esau was cursed. His father told him he would always be a man of war (Gen. 27:40). As Jacob had been communicated, Esau was excommunicated from his father’s table of blessings. From that point forward, Esau sought to destroy Jacob.[13] This conflict runs all the way through the Bible, coming to a head in Jesus’ day. The Herodian kings, who sought to kill the baby Jesus through genocide, and who eventually crucified Him, were Edomites. Like their original ancestor, the Herodians did not want to inherit by covenant renewal. They wanted inheritance through the power-state. They wanted covenant denial with all the benefits of the covenant. For this they lost the inheritance in 70 A.D.

  1. Defeat

The second phase of covenant transferal is conquest by faithfulness. The Biblical man is confirmed in his inheritance when he takes dominion over what belongs to him. Yet, his dominion mandate must be carried out according to the Word of God. He must trust and obey. So the second aspect of discontinuity is defeat by disobedience. This is covenant renewal without dominion. The connection with the past is made, but it is not pulled into the present.

There is an example of this when Israel entered the Promised Land. Israel had had its greatest victory at Jericho. But God had told them not to take anything from the city. Everything was to be placed totally under the “ban,” that is, totally devoted to God. They were to build their new civilization on devotion and covenant renewal, not the corruption of a decadent society. One man named Achan disobeyed. How did they find out? After Jericho, Israel discovered that it could not defeat the smallest of enemies (Josh. 7:2-5).

Joshua was alarmed. He thought as a covenant man. He knew something was wrong. He sought God and was told that there was “sin in the camp”! Achan had disobeyed and brought defeat on everyone. Because of Achan’s sin, thirty-six men lost their lives, a graphic illustration of the doctrine of representation (Josh. 7:5). Joshua understood what had to be done. Achan and his entire family were judged covenantally.

Covenantal judgment

Defeat through disobedience is a sign of judgment. Also, God judges disobedience and defeat covenantally. This is a foreign idea to a world lost in “hyper-individualism.” Let us consider briefly several points about covenantal discontinuity.

First, there is no such thing as a “natural” catastrophe. Nature is not neutral. Nothing takes place in nature by chance. God governs all things. Not even a bird falls to the ground that God does not control (Matt. 10:29). What happens in nature happens as a result of God’s involvement with the physical universe. Catastrophes are included. Although we may not know the exact sin being judged, what occurs results from God. Often, God may send a series of natural judgments to warn a whole civilization that it is about to be judged in greater finality. It is remarkable throughout the history of man how such things come about shortly before the fall of a great empire. Many of those are happening in the West today: herpes, the AIDS plague, cancer, soil erosion, drought, and so on. Perhaps God is warning that a more comprehensive judgment approaches.

Second, God uses a lex talionis system of judgment. Lex talionis means an “eye for eye” and “tooth for tooth.” He always secures His restitution. When the evil Haman tried to have Mordecai hanged, God punished Haman by having him hanged from his own gallows (Esther 7:1-10). God judges in kind. If millions of babies are murdered before they are born, I think we can expect God to render lex talionis. One provision should be made, however. God gets His restitution through conversion as well as destruction. When one is converted, he dies in Christ (Rom. 6:2-7). Conversion has a killing-unto-life effect. Therefore, the West is either standing on the edge of the greatest revival or the greatest disaster of its history. Perhaps it will be both: disaster followed by revival. The Reformation began in 1517, just 24 years after Columbus’ crew brought back syphilis and began a massive, deadly infection of Europe.

Third, most modern Christians only think of judgment in terms of the individual. But God destroys groups as well as individuals. Moses emphasizes covenantal judgment when he says, “I will heap misfortunes on them; I will use My arrows on them. They shall be wasted by famine, and consumed by plague and bitter destruction” (Deut. 32:23-24). The third person plural pronoun indicates that God judges the group. Judgment of entire households serves as a recurring Biblical example. God judged the households of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram for rebelling against Moses’ leadership (Nu. 16:32).[14] Achan’s family was destroyed. The entire household of Haman was destroyed for his sin against Mordecai and the people of God (Esther 9:1-19). Many other examples could be given. God imposes covenantal discontinuity on households, and not just on individuals.

In view of the third point, it should be added that the innocent sometimes die along with the wicked. If they are in the proximity of a covenantal judgment, they will also be destroyed. When Elijah brought famine on the land through his prayers, many of the righteous were affected by this judgment (James 5:17). Often God makes a way of escape, but certainly many Christians have died in history as a result of covenantal disasters. Of course, the faithful immediately go to be with the Lord. But they may have to suffer with the wicked. It is quite possible that many innocent will die from the AIDS plague in our own day, not because of any immorality but because they are in the sphere of an overall judgment on the land.

Just as blessing comes according to the covenant, so does judgment. As the wicked benefit from living near the righteous, so the people of God suffer from sin in the land. Continuity and discontinuity are covenantal transmissions of the inheritance of God. Obedience leads to continuity. Disobedience results in discontinuity.

  1. Permissiveness

Discipleship, education, and missions are necessary for the perpetuation of inheritance. The future is lost without them. Neglect in these areas is devastating.

Lot’s life is a case in point. He started out so well. He was given the choice of his inheritance, something God rarely gives anyone. He was confirmed by Abraham. He even experienced conquest in the land (Gen. 14:1-16). But Lot ended up being disinherited. Why? He chose Sodom as a place to live, an evil and corrupt environment (Gen. 13:13).[15] He selected a city where his children could not be discipled and educated properly in the Bible. He wanted to live in the luxury of a corrupt society with a wicked educational system, instead of wandering around in a bunch of tents with Abraham. Lot was a man who only lived for the present.

The long-term price was great. Lot ended up living in a cave, a symbol of death (Gen. 19:30). More importantly, he lost his children. The city of Sodom had been destroyed, but its educational influence was still left on the children. Under the influence of Sodom, they became spiritual sodomites. One day his two daughters caused their father to get drunk, and then they seduced him. This incestuous relationship eventually produced children: Moab and Ammon (Gen. 19:37-38). The covenantal way of expansion was inverted. The original marital covenant said the children were supposed to “leave father and mother” (Gen. 2:24). With their inheritance they were supposed to take their new marital covenant and expand. Incest turns back into the family and mutates expansion.[16] In the case of Moab and Ammon, they were never able to have part of the inheritance. Their land was always just outside of the Promised Land. Lot did not disciple the future, and he and his children were disinherited.

Dispossession is a variation of disinheritance. Sometimes, when enough of the people of God do not disciple their children in the covenant, God brings a foreign power to dispossess and place them in captivity. This slavery becomes the very instrument by God to restore the covenant. But note: this can only happen when there is a faithful remnant. It is the show of good faith that God should preserve the whole group for the sake of the righteous.

For example, Daniel and his three friends were taken into Babylon with the rest of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar wanted them to become talismans to force God to bless their kingdom. But God forced their hand. He spared Daniel and his friends from the fiery furnace and the lion’s den. And eventually, Cyrus was raised up to take them back to their inheritance. The nation had been prepared by captivity and imprisonment to receive its legacy. Yet even in this situation, someone had discipled Daniel and his friends (Dan. 1:8-21). Our point stands. Without discipleship, education, and missions there is no future.


We began the chapter with the story of Jacob’s transfer of his inheritance to Joseph’s son Ephraim. This introduced us to the final point of covenantalism: continuity. I defined it as a confirmation of the true heirs that transfers inheritance. This confirmation has three parts. First, there must be covenant renewal. Normally, this is some kind of worship service where laying on of hands judicially transfers inheritance. A meal is often part of this ceremony, sealing the benefits of the covenant. Second, there should also be conquest by obedience. There must be a connection with the present as well. Third, the future generation should be discipled. If not, they will lose everything given to them. The inheritance will be lost.

Discontinuity or disinheritance results if the covenant is not confirmed. The covenant is dissoluble. It can be broken. And it can be killed. There are three aspects of discontinuity. First, covenant denial: the covenant can be denied and consequently the inheritance will be forfeited. Second, due to disobedience, the inheritance can be lost through defeat. Finally, permissiveness: lack of discipleship results in disinheritance. The wicked end up providing their wealth for the righteous (Prov. 13:22b).

This concludes our introduction to the five points of covenantalism. Can you remember all five of the points? Can you summarize them? In case you have forgotten, the next chapter will briefly summarize. Then we want to consider how they work. They are the mechanism for dominion.

[1] This took place in Dothan (Gen. 37:17). Dothan was the place of the pit, an historical symbol of hell for Israel. The Hebrew root word for Dothan is the same as the root for Dathan. Dathan and his family revolted against Moses, “and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Nu. 16:32-33).

[2] Baker and cup-bearer: bread and wine.

[3] An inheritance of seed and land is passed from Israel (Jacob) to Ephraim. God calls it a “blessing” to Abraham (Gen. 12:2). This fact connects it with the original blessing promised to man in the garden. In the last chapter we called it “rest” (Gen. 2:1-3). But now we should expand our understanding of blessing. It is a person and an environment. The person is the Seed-Man, the Messianic line and eventually none other than Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16). The environment is the Promised Land in the Old Testament, which becomes the whole world in the New Testament (cf. Exod. 20:12; Eph. 6:3; Note the shift from “land” to “earth”). When Christ saves the world, Paul describes this as the coming of true “rest” (Heb. 4:1-11). His argument is that Christ’s First Advent brought this rest, so the Church is supposed to enter into it by applying the Word of God to the world.

[4] 4. Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 197. Kline says, “This final section of the covenant document has as its unifying theme the perpetuation of the covenant relationship. Of special importance is the subject of royal succession…. This succession is provided for by the appointment and commissioning of Joshua as the dynamic heir to Moses in the office of mediatorial representative of the Lord (ch. 31). The testamentary assignment of kingdom inheritance to the several tribes of Israel (ch. 33) reckons with the status of all God’s people as royal heirs. Included also are two other standard elements in the international (Ancient Near Eastern) treaties. One is the invocation of covenant witnesses, here represented chiefly by the Song of Witness (ch. 32). The other is the directions for the disposition of the treaty document after the ceremony (31:9-13). By way of notarizing the document, an account of the death of Moses is affixed at the end (ch. 34).”

[5]  Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 199-201.

[6] Still today, a meal often follows a business agreement, or other important meetings. In China it is the same way.

[7] Don Sinnema, Reclaiming the Land (Toronto, Canada: Joy in Learning Curriculum Development and Training Center, 1977), pp. 45-46.

[8] This bears on the “Apostolic Succession” question. Some would argue that only the ordination of a “certain” church is to be recognized. East and West have been divided on this matter. But recently, there have been Catholic and Orthodox scholars who see the succession question in a more “processional” sense, meaning the succession is in the body “politic,” and not just in the bishop. See Alexander Schmemann, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1977), p. 45.

[9] E. John Hamlin, Joshua: Inheriting the Land (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 9-10.

[10] There are three levels of covenants in the Bible. The primary level of covenants is the God-to-God-covenant. This is the covenant among the Godhead, illustrated in the Abrahamic covenant where God took a covenantal “oath” to Himself and used the other members of the Godhead to “witness” (Gen. 15:1-21). The secondary level is from God to man. When one is converted, he enters this covenant. Finally, there is the tertiary level of covenants from man to man, falling into two categories: Self-maledictory covenants which are binding until the “death” of those involved, and contracts which should not be accompanied by “self-maledictory” oaths, oaths that call down death to the one who breaks the covenant.

[11] Klaas Schilder, Christ Crucified (Grand Rapids: Baker, [1940] 1979), pp. 371-426. As indicated by one of Schilder’s sermon titles, “Christ Thrust Away But Not Separated,” Christ’s death did not do “violence” to the Godhead. Nevertheless, the covenant was fractured such that God the Son incurred the full fury of the wrath of God the Father.

[12] Here, by the way, is a classic example of how physical death is based on “covenantal” separation. The physical death of one’s spouse causes the covenantal death of the marriage, but only because all physical death is the result of the covenantal violation of Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:11-12).

[13] The greatest enemies of the kingdom of God are always its former members!

[14] Korah was also involved with Dathan and Abiram. But God often gives the family members an opportunity to distance themselves from the sins of the one bringing judgment on the whole family. Evidently, some of Korah’s children did not stand with him. They did not die (Nu. 26:9-11). Moreover, later in the Bible their descendants stand and “praise the Lord” (II Chron. 20:19).

[15] The Book of Proverbs begins with the concept of moral environment. Obviously the author of wisdom wants covenantal parents to see that next to the “fear of the Lord,” moral environment is the most important issue (Prov. 1:8-19).

[16] The biological results of incest are often some kind of deformity.