A Biblical Rebuttal of "The Fulfillment of the Promises of God"
Chapter 5: The Abrahamic Covenant
A Biblical Rebuttal of:
The Fulfillment of the Promises of God,
An Explanation of Covenant Theology
by Dr. Richard Belcher, 2020.
As mentioned in the Introduction, chapters 1 through 8 in this article match the chapter titles and ordering of their respective chapters in Dr. Belcher's book. This chapter overlays chapter 5, pages 61 through 74 in the book.
- Simple body text looks like this, this and this, and like this, this and this.
- A quote from Scripture looks like this.
- A quote from Dr. Belcher’s book “looks like this” [ch X, pg Y[, emphasis mine]]
- An inline comment [looks like this.]
Before I get to the first citations in chapter 5 (The Abrahamic Covenant), I need to remind my readers of previous statements made by Dr. Belcher in the previous chapter. Here are 10 silly statements regarding the “godly line” of Shem and Noah, because we will see that he contradicts himself in this chapter:
- “separation between the godly line and the ungodly line” [ch 4, pg 48]
- “The godly line of Adam is carried on through Seth”. [ch 4, pg 49]
- “intermarriages between the godly line and the ungodly line” [ch 4, pg 49]
- “the line of Seth, both by physical descent and moral conduct” [ch 4, pg 53]
- “gives priority of Shem who will be the godly line that will lead to Abram” [ch 4, pg 56]
- “the line of Shem, God promises to bless all the families of the Earth” [ch 4, pg 56]
- “through the family of Noah as the godly line” [ch 4, pg 57]
- “the separation of the godly from the ungodly line after the Flood” [ch 4, pg 57]
- “It also preserves the godly line” [ch 4, pg 57]
- “the Covenant of Grace in the godly line as Noah found favor with God” [ch 4, pg 57]
It is certainly true that no human author is 100% consistent (though that should be the goal). But this is especially necessary when the author undertakes to expound the Word of God. However, this next citation demonstrates an extraordinary inconsistency:
“The flood was a major Judgment of God against sin and a way to start anew with Noah and his family. Of course, the problem of sin continued within the family of Noah (Gen 9:20-27) and in his descendants at the Tower of Babel. …Babel expressed total confidence in human achievement apart from God. This is the logical end of Genesis 4-11 which is an account of human failure and the continuing problem of sin.” [ch 5, pg 61, emphasis mine.]
Even if I wasn’t biblically opposed to the framework of Covenant Theology (which I am!), I would be very suspect of the conclusions drawn by the author and the supposed correlation of the “godly line”, and the Covenant of Grace made in chapter 4. The lead statement in this chapter (as shown immediately above) annihilates those assertions. Dr. Belcher has moved solidly into the "I can’t trust anything he says…" mode as an author; this is especially shameful for a theologian.
There is something else here which was very interesting: the lack of reference to Gen 9.20-27 in chapter 4 (The Noahic Covenant), but its citation in the first paragraph of chapter 5 (the Abrahamic Covenant).
As I checked my notes, I found only this partial reference in all of chapter 4:
“Genesis 9.26-27 is a foreshadowing of the salvation that will come to the world and is the reason that there needed to be a covenant of Noah to ensure history would continue to carry out this plan of God's salvation.” [ch 4, pg 56]
[There may be other references in chapter 4 to Gen 9.20-27 which I didn’t find, since I annotated only those citations from Dr. Belcher which were needed for my critical review.]
The point is, Dr. Belcher cited a valid use of Gen 9.20-27 in chapter 5 but danced around and avoided the use of the full set of verses in a place where he should have used it (chapter 4), namely in the discussion of sin following the flood. I find no way of not interpreting this as avoiding Bible doctrine which contradicts what you teach, then teaching imaginary doctrine which supports your version of “truth”. Instead, he had to push the Covenant of Grace narrative, and the continued presence and activity of sin, immediately following the flood, as taught by Gen 9.20-27, something which did not fit well into that narrative. This is dishonest.
Genesis 12: The Promises of God [page 61]
“The word blessing occurs five times in Genesis 12.1-3. This matches the five times the word curse ('ārar) occurs in Genesis 1-11 (Gen 3.14; 3.17; 4.11; 5.29; 9.25).” [ch 5, pg 62, emphasis mine]
Let’s first look at Gen 12.1-3, it is a very familiar passage:
Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Yes, there are 5 uses of the word "bless" in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Ok, now what? Maybe we’ll see the significance of the five matches of the word "curse" with the five uses of the word "bless/blessing":
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;”
[The LORD speaking to the Serpent; no correlation to Gen 12.1-3.]
… Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
[The LORD speaking to the Serpent; no correlation to Gen 12.1-3.]
Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
[The LORD cursed Cain after he murdered Abel; no correlation to Gen 12.1-3.]
Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.”
[Noah did not bring rest, only the Lord Christ can do that; no correlation to Gen 12.1-3; other than the fact that Noah and Abram (as a descendant of Noah!) are in the line that survived the flood.]
So he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants
He shall be to his brothers.”
[The curse was upon a son of Ham because of Ham’s sin; no correlation to Gen 12.1-3.]
There is no correlation of any kind! And, in fact, Dr. Belcher makes no attempt at a correlation other than that implied by the citations above. It is another example of the sweeping generalizations he appears prone to make without thought as to whether or not it is supported by the Scripture. It appears to be nothing more than a futile attempt at empty intellectualism.
Genesis 15: The Establishment of the Covenant [page 63]
Dr. Belcher now proceeds to his teachings about the Abrahamic covenant.
“God makes promises to Abram in Genesis 12 concerning land and seed. Genesis 12-14 focuses on the promise of land and Genesis 16-22 focuses on the promise of seed. Both promises concerning land and seed come together in Genesis 15 which culminates in God's covenant with Abraham.” [ch 5, pg 63, emphasis mine]
In Appendix: The Real Covenants in the Old Testament, I handle the many details of the covenants of Gen 15 and of Gen 17; the former is with Abram and his descendants, and the latter is with Abram and his male descendants, along with the male servants and foreigners living with the Jews. Dr. Belcher’s statement cited above is factually incorrect; there is no difference in focus, only in the use of tenses.
I won’t repeat here the full argument found in the Appendix cited above except to say that the promises in Gen 12 are pre-covenant (“I will make you …”), while the covenant in Gen 15 describes the process by which the LORD made His covenant with Abram and his descendants (“On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram…”).
At least Dr. Belcher appears here to recognize a single covenant … sort of.
As we will see in additional details below, Dr. Belcher does not treat the covenant of circumcision as a separate covenant from the covenant of Gen 15. This really is indefensible since the language of the covenant of circumcision says nothing of land while the covenant of Gen 15 says nothing of male slaves and foreigners. They are very different covenants. This is a problem since Dr. Belcher ‘lumps them together’ in a statement that encloses Gen 17: “Genesis 16-22 focuses on”. Once again, this is an example of careless ‘exposition’ (though I’m loath to call it ‘exposition’ in the first place).
“Abram is told to bring several animals, to cut them in half, and to lay the halves over against each other (15.9-10).” [ch 5, pg 63]
This is an example of reading into the Scripture: Abram may have been instructed to cut the animals in half; the text does not say one way or the other.
So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.
[I believe that Bible teachers and preachers should teach exactly what the text says, no more, no less. The LORD may indeed have instructed Abram to do what he did, but since the text does not provide that detail, it should never be part of an exposition.]
Dr. Belcher now moves into more details of the Abrahamic Covenant.
“The promise of land will be fulfilled even though the fulfillment is in the distant future.” [ch 5, pg 64, emphasis mine]
This seems to be a hollow statement, given that CT Eschatology denies that future Israel will exist – at least as national Israel, the physical posterity of Abram.
[Remember, in CT eschatology, unfulfilled prophecy is spiritualized, so they reject a literal nation of Israel. The promise of the and is unequivocally associated with physical Israel and the physical descendants of Abram. This major detail can't be "spiritualized" away.]
Actually, his statement is true, as my articles (below) point out, but for very different reasons.
[The following links are to a pair of biblically documented articles on my site: the introduction of The Day of the LORD and in chapter 7 of the same article, Addendum: The Extended Region of the Middle East the LORD Promised to Give Israel. I will therefore not include inline any discussion of this topic.]
We now encounter what I regard as the single most egregious doctrinal error in the entire book, something which I thoroughly rebut in its own appendix, Appendix: The Heresy of Dr. Belcher’s “Self-Maledictory Oath”.
“The smoking fire pot and a flaming torch symbolize the presence of God as they pass between the slain animals. Normally, both parties of the covenant would walk through the animals but here God is the only party to pass between them. He places himself under Covenant curse if he does not keep the promises. In other words, the curse would fall on God, and he would become like the slain animals if he is not faithful to the covenant (a self-maledictory oath). Support for understanding the ceremony as involving a self-maledictory oath is found in ancient Near Eastern texts and in a similar covenant ceremony described in Jeremiah 34.17-20.” [ch 5, pg 64, emphasis mine]
The error above (in red) is heresy, no more no less!
When I read this, I could not believe that a “theologian” who professes to love the Word and teaches at a 'reformed' seminary would even be capable of believing it, much less committing it to print for the entire world to see! Shame on you, Dr. Belcher!
I’ll make no comments here on the citation above, except this short one: Dr. Belcher's comment of “Normally, both parties …” is so nonchalant that it's easy to skip over the fact that he also has no biblical proof (once again!) for this assertion, nor was this ceremony seen prior to this event in the Scripture. Therefore, there is no “normally” to which to appeal. Moreover, Jer 34.18+ can’t be used as support.
Dr. Belcher returns to discussion about the covenant of Gen 15:
“There's some debate whether Genesis 15 is the establishment of the covenant with Abram. Some argue that the covenant was established in Genesis 12. Dumbrell argues that Genesis 15 cannot be the inauguration of the Covenant because both parts of the chapter are bound by the common theme of divine assurance concerning promises already given in chapter 12.”
“The promises of Genesis 12 set forth the provisions of the Covenant that are authenticated in the establishment of the Covenant in Genesis 15, particularly land and seed (15:18).” [ch 4, pg 64-65, emphasis mine]
I have no idea who Dumbrell is, nor do I care what his theories or theology are. His argument (as expressed by Dr. Belcher) makes no sense to me and seems only to muddy the waters. I’m not sure what Dr. Belcher was trying to accomplish here (other than to appear well-read?).
The second paragraph holds more upon which to comment. As I cover in Appendix: The Real Covenants in the Old Testament, Gen 12 is the announcement of the covenant of Gen 15. It is just that simple (as I’ve noted from the verb tenses used). Again, why complicate a matter which is simple?
Genesis 17: the Confirmation of the Covenant [page 66]
“The fact that God alone walks through the slain animals in Genesis 15 shows that He obligated Himself to make sure that the promises of the covenant are fulfilled.” [ch 5, pg 66, emphasis mine]
The text does say that it was the “smoking oven and the flaming torch”; the text does not say that these represent the LORD: they may, or they may not. However, in either case, Dr. Belcher’s conclusion simply does not make sense.
I am not suggesting this as an interpretation, but let’s pretend that they represent either:
- the LORD and Abram; and
- neither the LORD nor Abram.
Would either interpretation change the fact that the LORD would ensure that the promises of the covenant are fulfilled? No, of course not! The LORD’s Word is trustworthy and faithful, yet there have been several times we’ve encountered thus far to show us that Dr. Belcher's interpretation of the Word is questionable and foolish.
“On one level, this means that the covenant promises will come to pass regardless of whether Abram and his descendants continue to trust God.” [ch 5, pg 66, emphasis mine]
Ignoring for a moment the "On one level ...", this would be an accurate statement of an unconditional covenant. But, Dr. Belcher, what is the 'level' in which the covenant promises will fail? An unconditional covenant is unconditional! Period. End of Story. What is this nonsense about "level"?
“And yet, it is important how Abram and his descendants respond to God and his promises. Abram is in a relationship with God and has already shown loyalty to Him by trust in his word and obedience (Gen 12.1-3). Although not perfect (Gen 12.10-20), he has consistently lived a life of faith up to this point, and he responds with faith in God's assurance that He will fulfill His promises (Gen 15.6).” [ch 5, pg 66]
Of course, it is important how a person of faith lives; this is true of all faithful persons of all ages! Gen 15.6 is pivotal: it is the definitive statement of faith and will be used centuries later by the Apostle Paul to codify the doctrine of justification by faith. [Rom 4.3,9; Gal 3.6] Just as importantly, the text speaks here of faith, not sanctification! Dr. Belcher's comments ("Although not perfect ...") tend to conflate them.
“Plus, each of the Patriarchs commit themselves to the covenant promises (Isaac in 26.1-5, 23-25 and Jacob in 28.10-22).” [ch 5, pg 66]
Isaac was obedient to the LORD's command; if that is what Dr. Belcher terms “committing himself” to the covenant promises, then his statement is adequate if not well-expressed.
Dr. Belcher's citation of Gen 28 (Jacob) is a joke; all that reference establishes is that the LORD repeated His promises to Jacob. Note, though, how Jacob responds:
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “IF God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, THEN the Lord will be my God.”
Jacob conditioned his faith on whether the LORD would keep His side of the promises! Remember, this is years after he had deceived his twin brother. His cunning to ensure that he'd receive the blessing shows that he doubted the LORD’s simple statement in the first place. Jacob is hardly a sterling example of faith and obedience! He is an example of the opposite! Remember Jacob’s treachery and the response in kind of his father-in-law Laban. At the end of his life, Jacob had this to say:
Then Joseph brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many years have you lived?” So Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning.”
Did the LORD bless Jacob? Yes! But was Jacob an example of this NT truth? Yes!
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Absolutely! A good part of Jacob’s life was spent on “sowing to the flesh”: they were years that were “unpleasant” in many ways.
This is yet another example of just how careless Dr. Belcher is with the Scripture: he reads into it whatever he wants to maintain his narrative of the “Patriarchs commit[ting] themselves to the covenant promises”. Jacob did no such thing.
“The statement at the beginning of Genesis 16 that Sarai had not produced any children stands in sharp contrast to the promise of Genesis 15 that their descendants would be as innumerable as the stars of heaven. Sarai becomes impatient and comes up with a plan of her own to produce an heir.”
“Sarai perceives that Hagar is a threat to her place in the house and she blames Abram for the situation even though it was her idea (16.15).”
“The whole household loses: Sarai loses respect, Hagar loses a home, and Abram is caught in the middle of a quarrel between two women.”
“It was important that Abram should have responded with faith in order to avoid disastrous consequences.” [ch 5, pg 66-67]
Finally, Dr. Belcher gets around to a real issue. The problem is that this is exactly the opposite of his claim of “Abram … has already shown loyalty to Him by trust in his word and obedience”. This episode with Hagar shows it was neither trust nor obedience.
“Failure to bring about the promised heir through human, natural means does not destroy the covenant promise. This fits the unilateral nature of the ceremony in Genesis 15 where God takes upon himself the responsibility to fulfill the promises of the covenant.” [ch 5, pg 67]
Here, Dr. Belcher states the obvious: the covenant that the LORD made with Abram was unconditional. He told Abram that He was going to make a covenant in Gen 12 and fulfilled it in Gen 15. There were no conditions and it was completely unilateral.
“He then exhorts Abram with two imperatives, ‘walk before me and be blameless’ (NKJV), which emphasizes Abraham's faithfulness and obedience.”. [ch 5, pg 67-68]
Dr. Belcher properly cites the verbs as exhortations, but then states “which emphasizes Abraham's faithfulness and obedience”, a seeming statement of state/character, not a statement of command. This is a classic non sequitur.
“Genesis 17 should be understood as the confirmation of the covenant promises and not as a second covenant. The promises of blessing, seed, and land (17.5-8) are the same promises as in Genesis 12 and 15.” [ch 5, pg 68]
First, yes, the LORD repeated the promise of the land and seed. These were established/confirmed here from the covenant made in Gen 15.
Second, Dr. Belcher misses an important point here: the LORD then proceeds to declare another unconditional covenant: circumcision. He did not add more details ("confirm") to the covenant of Gen 15, as Dr. Belcher affirms. [More on this below.]
“The need for a covenant sign to confirm God's promises is demonstrated by the lack of faith in Genesis 16.
God confirms that he will bring about what He has already promised. The sign of circumcision will testify to the reality of a covenant relationship already established.” [ch 5, pg 68]
What?!?! The covenant sign was “needed to confirm” the LORD's promises!?!?
If this spectacularly foolish comment is true, then the covenant of Gen 15 is suddenly dependent on Abram's obedience to the covenant of circumcision approximately 14 years later! The truth of the matter is that the covenant of circumcision was imposed on Abraham: the LORD did not open it for discussion or debate. [More below…]
And, not to put too fine a point on it, during that interval of 14 years, we need to ask a few questions: Was the covenant of Gen 15 invalid? Was it on shaky ground? Was it merely a suggestion awaiting more conditions? You see that Dr. Belcher has opened a theological Pandora’s box with his very ill-advised “needed to confirm” comment. This is yet another example of his carelessness.
[I’ll leave the proof for the “14 years” as an exercise for the reader.]
“The phrase 'that I may make my covenant between me and you' (17.2 NKJV) use of the verb nāṯan ('to give, set'), which is the verb used in Genesis 9:12-13 for the appointment of the rainbow as the sign of the covenant with Noah.” [ch 5, pg 68]
The “appointment of the rainbow” is not the declaration of the covenant: it is the sign of the (just declared) covenant.
“The statement 'my covenant is with you' (17.4 NKJV) refers to an ongoing covenant relationship, the confirmation of which will have a significant implication for Abram and his descendants. The phrase 'I will establish my covenant' is used to confirm a covenant already established.” [ch 5, pg 68]
Yes, Dr. Belcher is correct here; this is the significance of the verb establish/confirm. The early verses of Gen 17 confirm (approximately 14 years later) the covenant of Gen 15. But this does not disallow the fact that Gen 17.9-14 is another covenant, namely, the Covenant of Circumcision.
The Covenant of Circumcision was itself the sign of the covenant. It was to be a physical mark to distinguish the (male) ancient Jews from the people around them. It was to be their unique property.
There are also legal reasons that the covenant of Gen 17.9-14 must be a distinct covenant from Gen 15, as the Apostle Paul establishes (cf., Rom 4.9-12 below),
Another reason for circumcision is that the LORD was ensuring that saving faith was established while Abram was uncircumcised: faith would in no way depend upon some “good deed” to be performed to earn the LORD's good will, even if it was one of His commands.
Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.
It cannot be that the LORD would unilaterally impose an additional condition (circumcision) on the established covenant of Gen 15 many years later.
The covenant which the LORD established with Abram (Gen 15) stands on its own and therefore the covenant of Gen 17.9-14 must be a different covenant for the following reasons:
- It is with a different group: “every male among you” including those who were not native Jews.
- It is for a very different purpose: the covenant of Gen 15 was for the promise of the land “from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates”.
- There is no overlap in the words used to express them.
The second covenant with Abram (Gen 17.9-14, circumcision) does not abrogate the first covenant with Abram (Gen 15). Each stands on its own.
“In Genesis 17. 9-14 God tells Abraham ('as for you' CSB NIV) that he and his offspring shall keep the covenant by circumcising every male infant when he is eight days old. This is a sign of the covenant and it is so important that is identified with the covenant itself: 'this is My covenant' (17.10 CSB, NIV, NKJV). To fail to circumcise an eight-day old male child is to break the covenant which will lead to very serious consequences: 'any uncircumcised male … shall be cut off from his people' (17.14 NKJV).” [ch 5, pg 69]
Here is the obvious problem when attempting to make the covenant of Gen 17.9-14 an "extension" or "addendum" (my term) of Gen 15.17-21. Taken at face value, Dr. Belcher's tacit assumption would mean that the LORD made an unconditional covenant with Abram in Gen 15, then 14 years later decided to amend it by attaching a new condition to it (circumcision).
In a related context, the Apostle Paul argues from the inviolable nature of a ratified covenant. The LORD does not, and could never, change His covenant once He has established it!
Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.
The Covenant of Circumcision was a new, unconditional covenant with Abram and his descendants: that is, it was imposed upon Abram and his descendants (no conditions!). If a male was not circumcised, then he was to be “cut off from his people” because he broke the covenant.
[It was also at this time that the LORD changed Abram’s name to Abraham.]
Note that this was applied to the existing males of Abraham's time and household (both adult and child) but would also apply to all infants at the time of their birth. This also clearly implies that any parents who would not circumcise their infant son would automatically condemn him “to be cut off from his people”. There is no mention of what would happen to the parents.
Circumcision was to “be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.”.
The Meaning of Circumcision [page 69]
“Circumcision is the ritual act performed on a male infant when he is eight days old that has spiritual implications.” [ch 5, pg 69]
It was at this point that I expected the beginning of the tortured and convolved logic associated with attempting to prove that infant baptism derives from circumcision. (OK, Dr. Belcher spent some time on that topic. It would be fantasy to expect the CT to avoid the topic.)
“For Israel circumcision was a sign of the covenant, but who was it a sign for and what did signify? First, it was a sign of the covenant that applied only to male infants. Does this mean the females were not considered part of the covenant? Several reasons have been given to explain why a sign of God's covenant would only be applied to males, such as it shows the necessity for males to be involved in the religion of Israel (Exo 23.17; 34.23; Deu 16.16), or that the one flesh relationship of male and female would include females in the sign.” [ch 5, pg 70, emphasis mine]
Dr. Belcher's reasoning here is weak, futile, desperate and bizarre! This is the 'Hail Mary' of theological argumentation – especially that "one flesh relationship" last-ditch effort! What ridiculous, out-of-context reasoning!
The passages cited do indeed specify that the LORD commanded that the males come before Him three times a year:
Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.
Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.
Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.
When I read these verses, my response is "The LORD called the men to Himself. The women were not invited." Conversely, I don't respond by thinking: "The LORD called the men to Himself. He must have meant to include the women too, so I'll assume that He did because, after all, He declared a one-flesh relationship between men and women at the creation." (Of course, the LORD was not speaking about infants or children at the Creation, now, was He?)
“that applied only to male infants” No, it applied to all males regardless of age. It would have to be performed on all the infant/child/teen/adult men in the Israel soon after the imposing of the covenant, and upon all males unconditionally (either upon their birth, or when they came into Israel to live). And remember that the covenant was perpetual. (Gen 17.13: "My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.")
“the one flesh relationship of male and female” Dr. Belcher then appeals to the marriage relationship (“one flesh”) to artificially include the females under the sign of circumcision. Even he implies that this reasoning is weak (as shown in the citation below). He makes no attempt to show how a marriage relationship (between adults) is going to apply to male and female infants, or to prove from the Scripture that such a substitutionary relationship existed (yet another example of reading into the Scripture and rampant speculation).
“A better explanation relates circumcision to the struggle of Abraham to believe in the promise of God that a son would be born to him through Sarah. By performing circumcision on his household Abraham demonstrated that he believed in God's promise of a seed will be produced through a physical relationship with Sarah. The sign testifies that Abraham himself will be the progenitor of a seed.” [ch 5, pg 70]
It is true that Abraham was initially startled by the LORD's promise, since he had long passed the time of being able to father a child. But the Holy Spirit's record of what actually took place shows just how wrong Dr. Belcher's interpretation is:
Rom 4. 18-21
In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.
[This is how the Holy Spirit defines Abraham’s “struggle” (something quite different from Dr. Belcher’s definition!).]
I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her.
But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac;
Abraham “grew strong in faith”: it was a dynamic, growing response to the incredible promise of the LORD. It may have been initially something which Abraham would not naturally believe, but the record of his growing and final response was hardly a “struggle to believe”. The Apostle Paul (under the Holy Spirits inspiration) sees Abraham’s faith; Dr. Belcher, the CT practitioner, sees the "struggle".
Dr. Belcher's claim that Abraham struggled to believe, and was therefore to be reminded of the LORD’s promise to bring the promised seed, ignores two items:
- The sign of circumcision applied to males who were not Abraham's direct descendants.
- The Scripture records that it was Sarah who 'struggled' to believe:
Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
But, like her husband Abraham, faith grew and prospered in Sarah as well.
By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
“Also the sign of the Covenant does not exclude females from being a covenant member because covenants operate by a principle of representation.” [ch 5, pg 70]
Yes, representation is a principle that runs throughout the Bible. However, at this point Dr. Belcher has not proven from the Scripture that the covenant sign of circumcision applied in any way to females, nor that it had any principle of "representation".
[Conflation of dissimilar elements is a common trait with Dr. Belcher in this book.]
But Dr. Belcher’s reasoning is irresponsible in the first place because the LORD made the covenant with males!
“Both males and females born into a covenant household become members of the covenant and come under the requirement of the covenant, including the blessings and the curses of the covenant.” [ch 5, pg 70]
Again, Dr. Belcher has not proven that a uniquely male covenant and covenant sign applies to females. He therefore failed to prove that “females born into a covenant household become members of the covenant”.
Moreover, Dr. Belcher has not even defined the term “covenant household”, much less produced any biblical proof for it. Dr. Belcher's exposition leaves us with a few questions:
- How would a distinctly male sign apply to a household?
- How can a “household” be created or maintained only by the male persons in the family (to which the sign applied)?
- What about those males who were not Jewish, but were foreign slaves and proselytes; that is, non-Jews who nonetheless were “among” a Jewish group?
- Where is the definition of the “covenant household” that includes the non-Jews?
- What about the plain and simple fact the covenant of circumcision is physically impossible to be applied to females!?!?
[Truly, Covenant 'Theologians' are a very foolish group when it comes to this fact! How is it not possible to think of this verse from the Lord Christ:
You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!]
There are many holes in Dr. Belcher's assertions so far. We'll see in later sections if he is able to patch up this monstrosity.
“Circumcision as the sign of the covenant also pointed to the true meaning of the covenant relationship. Each person who was a member of the covenant had privileges and responsibilities that came with being a member of it.” [ch 5, pg 70, emphasis mine]
Dr. Belcher is here very careless because he treats the (new) covenant of circumcision of Gen 17.9-14 as a restated(?)/modified(?) covenant of Gen 15.17-21. The only 'privilege' of the covenant of Gen 17.9-14 is that the circumcised male would be regarded as a member of the people of Israel. There is no requirement for any other behavior or spirituality: the covenant was strictly “in the flesh” (Gen 17.11,13).
And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. … A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
I want to emphasize that no standard of behavior was expressed or implied: the most corrupt Jew of OT Israel would be a member of the covenant of circumcision as long as he was circumcised. Conversely, the most holy of the OT Jews would be excluded from Israel if he was not circumcised. The covenant of circumcision was physical, not spiritual.
The only possible "privilege" was that the male who had been circumcised would not be excluded from the assembly. There were no possible "responsibilities" because the covenant was imposed and circumcision could not be reversed – ever!
“The principle of representation works differently in the covenant with Abraham than it does in the covenant with Adam (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p, 296). Abraham cannot be considered the head of the Covenant of Grace as Adam was in the Covenant of the Works. The Abrahamic Covenant did not include the believers who preceded him who were in the Covenant of Grace. Abraham could not accept the promises for us or believe in our stead. The representative head in the Covenant of Grace who Acts on our behalf can only be Christ. Abraham can be called head only in the sense that he received the promise of the continuance in the line of his natural and spiritual descendants (Rom 4.11).” [ch 5, pg 70, footnote 28, emphasis mine]
The footnote above is nearly plagiarized by Dr. Belcher; it also notes Rom 4.11 but does not add any additional information. There is a rather convolved, several-sentence "explanation" of the use of the term "head" and "descendants", but never establishes biblically the premise that the “principle of representation works differently in the covenant with Abraham than it does in the covenant with Adam”. The entire section from Berkhof is one mass/mess of unsupported statements of CT dogma.
How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.
This text contradicts, not reinforces, Berkhof’s claim that “Abraham can be called head only in the sense that …”. In short, the entire footnote borders on the illogical and nonsensical.
[I have Berkhof's Systematic Theology; generally, it is very solid. However, he falls apart IMO when the topic touches on CT.]
“The physical act of cutting the foreskin showed the importance of the covenant relationship in any male who was not 'cut' in this way would be cut off from God's people because he had broken the covenant (Gen 17.14). The blessings of the covenant included a spiritual relationship with God and the promise of descendants and land.” [ch 5, pg71, emphasis mine]
Again, because Dr. Belcher views Gen 17.9-14 as the covenant of Gen 15.17-21, he assumes the blessings of the covenant of Gen 15.17-21 apply to the 'covenant in the flesh' of Gen 17.9-14. As I’ve pointed out earlier, this is a major error.
Dr. Belcher completely misses the significance of the “covenant in the flesh”.
There are six additional/summary points which refute the foolishness of CT and Dr. Belcher regarding his 'exposition' of the Covenant of Circumcision:
- There is no spiritual relationship created in the covenant of Gen 17.9-14: it is strictly “in the flesh” (a phrase used 3 times). The most corrupt male Jew who was circumcised could remain a member of the people of Israel within the requirements and definition of this covenant!
- The LORD placed Abraham into the “covenant of the flesh” and essentially forced him to keep its requirement of circumcision to not be “cut off from the people of Israel”.
- Once a male had been circumcised, it would be impossible for him to ever be in breach of the covenant of circumcision. That is, he could never become “uncircumcised” and thereby be cut off from the people of Israel. The covenant of circumcision was “one-way”.
- Understood for what it is and for whom the covenant applies, it is a "male-only" covenant that can never be applied to females. Since it is a “covenant in the flesh”, and since females do not have foreskins, it can never be fulfilled in females. It is amazing that Dr. Belcher attempts to twist this to apply to females!
- There is no way the covenant of circumcision can biblically be distorted to prepare the way for the baptism of infants. (Thankfully, Dr. Belcher did very little of this. It would have been a section very annoying to read and review!)
- There was no direct blessing associated with the covenant of circumcision.
Dr. Belcher continues to attempt to make of the covenant of circumcision something spiritual, all the while ignoring that it is a “covenant in the flesh”:
“The two imperatives to Abraham in Genesis 17.1 to walk before God and to be blameless emphasized the importance of a spiritual relationship with God. The result would be the God would grant to Abram descendants and land (17.4, 7-8). The physical sign of the covenant was meant to lead to a spiritual relationship, the kind of relationship that Abraham already had with God.” [ch 5, pg 71, emphasis mine]
If Abram already had a “spiritual relationship with God” (which he did!), why then did the LORD need to impose upon Abram such a fleshly (carnal!) reminder? How could a "physical sign in the flesh" be the impetus to a "spiritual relationship", especially given the Bible's use of the term “flesh” and its implicit use as that principle which is opposed to the “Spirit” and all things “spiritual”?
This is an astonishingly stupid assertion. Here are three reminders to the truth about the “flesh”:
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,
“The physical sign of the covenant …”: this comment is non-sensical. There was only the physical sign; this is like saying “wet water”. Circumcision is physical! There was no non-physical ("spiritual") sign of circumcision! Moreover, the covenant was circumcision! It was its own sign!
“Later passages in scripture will emphasize the circumcision of the heart (Deu 10.16; 30.6), a fitting phrase to show that the physical sign of circumcision pointed to a spiritual relationship. Such a relationship only came about through faith in God and His promises.” [ch 5, pg 71, emphasis mine]
Dr. Belcher's note is partially true: the LORD used circumcision metaphorically as well as literally. The point of physical circumcision was the physical identification of males required by the LORD to be a member of national Israel. The point of metaphorical circumcision was to highlight the removal of dead obstinance and serve the LORD in love and obedience. If anything, physical circumcision was a negative reminder of what not to be since it was associated with obstinance and unbelief.
So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.
“Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.”
[The words of Stephen just before he was stoned in Jerusalem by the obstinate Jews of his day.]
It was a lesson that only the tiniest number of Jewish males in the OT learned (of that group there were men like Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Samuel, David, some of the kings of the Southern Kingdom), and the prophets).
In NT times, the Apostle Paul’s extended argument in Galatians shows that circumcision was “nothing”. (Gal 5.6)
“Even though the sign of circumcision pointed to a spiritual relationship with God, the covenant with Abraham also had a legal side to it. Not everyone who was a member of the Covenant had spiritual relationship with God, but they enjoyed the temporal blessings of the covenant.” [ch 5, pg 71, emphasis mine]
We need to carefully think about this assertion: “they enjoyed the temporal blessings of the covenant”. Exactly what were those “temporal blessings”?
- In Gen 12, in the context of the LORD's promise, 5 times He says, “I will”, clearly placing the promise of land into the future tense. There were no immediate “temporal blessings” aside from the relationship that a generally obedient Abram enjoyed.
- In Gen 15, we have the clear declaration “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram.” Again, there were no immediate “temporal blessings” aside from the relationship that a generally obedient Abram enjoyed. Abram did not "own" (from a practical perspective) any of the land “from the river of Egypt ….”. Israel owns only a tiny part of that specified land today.
- In Gen 17.1-3, the LORD reiterates and confirms the covenant he made with Abram in Gen 15. Again, he owned none of the promised land considered from any practical perspective.
- In Gen 17.6-8, the LORD specifically states that He “will establish His covenant” (terminology for enforcing an existing covenant, which would be the covenant of Gen 15), clearly placing His promise in the future. Twice in this passage He says “I will”; viewed in context, this promise looks to the Mosaic Covenant in Exo 19+. The LORD made it very clear in that covenant that Canaan would belong to Israel for “an everlasting possession” (which it will), but the Mosaic Covenant is the first conditional covenant in the OT. But, again, there is no immediate, temporal blessing associated with it.
- In Gen 17.9-14, the LORD imposed the physical covenant (circumcision). There was no immediate blessing; the only positive effect was that circumcised males were not excluded from the people of Israel and could never break that covenant. There were no other "blessing".
In short, there were no direct “blessings” that would come to Abram/Abraham because of the Covenant of Circumcision.
That Abram walked with God and thereby enjoyed the LORD's blessings is certainly true. However, when we think of what would happen within a few generations of Abram:
• the need for Israel to be rescued from slavery in Egypt,
• the need to be rescued from the various powers in the days of the Judges,
• the complete destruction Jerusalem in 586 BC,
the claim of “temporal blessings” evaporates.
[See The Day of the LORD: Addendum: The Promised Land Fulfilled.]
“With this information about Ishmael, Abraham circumcised him along with the rest of the males of his household. The circumcision of Ishmael is emphasized by being mentioned three times in 17.22-27. He received the sign of the covenant and was a member of the covenant community even though the promises of the covenant would continue with Isaac. The descendants of Ishmael settled outside the boundaries of the promised land (Gen 25.12-18) and were not part of the community of God's people. It was possible to be in the covenant legally by receiving the sign of the covenant and not to develop a spiritual relationship with God.” [ch 5, pg 72]
Here, Dr. Belcher must handle the problem created by his foolish assertion that (circumcised) Ishmael “was a member of the covenant community”. His reasoning here is especially floundering and confused: "be in the covenant legally by receiving the sign of the covenant and not to develop a spiritual relationship with God.” What!?!? Does that sentence actually have any meaning!?!?
Dr. Belcher should have studied the Apostle Paul and his inspired understanding of the matter of both Ishmael and Esau.
Regarding Ishmael, the Scripture says:
This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
This verse contradicts the idiotic notion of “Ishmael was a member of the covenant community.” The Apostle teaches us that Ishmael and his children are in slavery. So, is it really slavery which defines the “covenant community”.
Regarding Esau, the Scripture says:
But what does the Scripture say?
“Cast out the bondwoman and her son,
For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.”
Dr. Belcher now wanders into even more bizarre territory:
“This distinction becomes important for later theological developments, such as the distinction between the visible and invisible church and the administration of the covenant under the New Covenant (Rom 11.16-24).” [ch 5, pg 72]
Dr. Belcher has been talking about Ishmael and his “legal” membership in the “covenant community”. Then, from the context of the clip (Abram and his descendants and Ishmael and his descendants) he suddenly changes gears (and centuries!) to talk about “the visible and invisible church” and the New Covenant!
Wow, what a leap! Moreover, I have no idea of what he is saying and where he is going!
So, we are to assume that there is some correlation with Ishmael and the visible/invisible church!?!? What would this even mean?
How does Dr. Belcher move from OT theology to suddenly jump into NT ecclesiology by claiming an irresponsible and completely unsupported assertion that – somehow – the distinction between the “visible and invisible church” is illustrated by the circumcision of Ishmael, and that one of those groups (“invisible”, “visible”, I'm not sure what Dr. Belcher means here!) are somehow represented by Ishmael!?!?
As I’ve said earlier: What a mess!!
Within NT ecclesiology, it is a basic truth that a "visible" church exists (locally, in time and space), and that the "universal/invisible" church is typically that designation used for all true saints throughout all time. So, is Dr. Belcher trying to say that Ishmael and his descendants represents one of these two groups? If so, which? Regardless of which you choose, you end up with a major problem: it is an historical fact that the descendants of Ishmael would produce the enemies of Israel throughout time, generally regarded as the family of the Arab nations. Many of them are Muslims. But, according to Dr. Belcher, they are part of either the visible or invisible church!?!?
The reference to Rom 16.16-24 is astonishing. Paul's main illustration is that the church of his day (and of the immediate future) consisted in Gentiles and Jews. The branch that was grafted into the true root was the Gentiles, not the descendants of Ishmael!
Remember, Paul is writing to a Gentile church, not the descendants of Ishmael! Dr. Belcher is truly grasping at straws here and appears to show no respect for the context of the passages he selects because they happen to use some of the same words (I guess!).
[Should we call this "sound-alike" exposition. Or perhaps "matching-words' exposition?]
The Emphasis on Offspring [page 72]
In this last section of chapter 5, Dr. Belcher adds the subtitle “The Emphasis on Offspring”. He is correct to associate the promise to Abram (“in you shall all the nations be blessed”) with succeeding generations, and that the LORD's promise to Abram will succeed by means of Abram's progeny: that is, his progeny who are of the true faith, Jews and Gentiles alike.
“These principles become important for later discussions of the covenant (Acts 2.39; Gal 3.29) and show the primacy of the Abrahamic Covenant for the New Covenant as fulfilled in one seed, Jesus Christ (Gal 3.16). In fact, the Abrahamic Covenant can be considered the primary revelation of the Covenant of Grace. Paul connects the promise to Abraham that 'in you shall all the nations be blessed' as being fulfilled in the New Covenant in the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles (Gal 3.8).” [ch 5, pg 73, emphasis mine]
Let’s look at the referenced passages first. They have some problems with the manner in which they are cited by Dr. Belcher:
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
[There is no discussion of the "covenant" in this text. This is yet another example of a text used out-of-context.]
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
[Dr. Belcher sees "promise" and automatically includes the so-called Covenant of Grace with the Abrahamic Covenant.]
Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
[By the way, Dr. Belcher: did it escape your notice that the text Paul uses is from Gen 12 – before the LORD made the covenant of Gen 15 with Abram?]
The argument runs off the rails with this statement: “the Abrahamic Covenant can be considered the primary revelation of the Covenant of Grace”, since he hasn't proven that a Covenant of Grace exists (anymore then he proved that a Covenant of Works exists). The real question is, if the Abrahamic Covenant is the “primary revelation”, why is the Covenant of Grace needed at all?
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