Israel Transgresses God’s Covenant

November 11, 2018 / No. 3958

Dear Radio Friends,

The nation of Israel was divided in two. The ten tribes in the north of Canaan had separated themselves from two tribes in the south of Canaan. The ten tribes became known as the kingdom of Israel. The two tribes in the south were named after the large tribe that made up most of this kingdom: the kingdom of Judah. Since the northern kingdom of Israel had separated from the line of David and the temple in Jerusalem, this kingdom began an immediate descent into immorality and false worship. The prophet Hosea was called to prophesy in this northern kingdom—the apostate kingdom of Israel. He began his work toward the very end of this kingdom—during the last seven kings of Israel. His prophecy was that of doom and destruction upon a nation that had fallen into such moral decay that the land was filled with whoredoms. It had become a nation of adulterers and adulteresses. Their very worship centered in the horrible promiscuity that always accompanied the worship of heathen gods. For this reason, God’s judgment rested on this nation. Hosea, therefore, called this kingdom to repentance. In the verse we study today, God Himself through Hosea levels an accusation against Israel. We read in Hosea 6:7, “But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.” Israel had dealt treacherously with God by transgressing His covenant.

There is something more we learn from this verse. God tells Israel that this nation like men transgressed the covenant. The term “men” in our text is translated wrongly by the King James translators. The Hebrew term used here in our text definitely means “man.” There is no mistake about that. But the term in Hebrew that is translated man is literally this, “Adam.” Do you recognize that name? Adam is the father of the whole human race. The name Adam means man, but in this passage of God’s word to translate it as man makes no sense. What God says here in Hosea 6:7 makes sense when we read, “But they, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant.” And that teaches something of importance in this verse that must not be overlooked in its instruction. God entered into the selfsame covenant with Adam, the first man, that He had entered with the nation of Israel. We must not overlook that when considering the sin of the nation of Israel.

I. God’s Covenant

It is striking that nowhere in the Bible do we read that God established His covenant with Adam in Paradise. This is the only verse of the Bible that speaks of God’s covenant with him. It is striking, however, that the Bible never speaks of God entering into covenant with Adam. There are those who look for this in the Genesis account. They concentrate their attention on Genesis 2:16, 17: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat, for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” These verses say nothing of a covenant. They simply give a command of God to Adam and Eve. But those who insist that the covenant is an agreement between God and man contend that these verses teach that God entered into a formal pact with Adam. This pact included a mutual agreement, with certain conditions that Adam had to fulfill. God would fellowship with Adam and Eve if they kept the twofold command He gave them. They must dress the Garden of Eden and refuse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they kept this command, God would dwell with them and fellowship together with them in Paradise forever. If they did not keep it, they would be cast out of God’s presence and lose God’s fellowship and favor. This is what has become known as the covenant of works with Adam. The problem with this whole idea is that it is based on very little, if any, real evidence. Besides, it is based on a false premise: that the covenant is an agreement God makes with man. With a false premise comes a false way of reasoning about God’s covenant.

The covenant is not an agreement but a relationship of friendship and fellowship that God establishes with men. The covenant is an unbreakable relationship of love and favor into which God enters with His elect people in Christ. But then, how can Hosea speak of God’s covenant with Adam if there is no evidence for it in Genesis? There is evidence! But we do not read of God entering into a covenant with Adam, because He did not. God did not enter into any formal pact with Adam. God, however, created Adam to dwell in fellowship with Him. You see, if we understand what the essence of the covenant is, that is, fellowship, it is not difficult to explain how God and Adam dwelt together in covenant with each other. In Genesis 2: 7 we find that God created Adam and Eve as rational, volitional creatures. He endowed them with reasoning and willing. God created them personal creatures. He did so because he as God is a thinking, willing Being. Our God is a personal God. Adam and Eve could not have shared in God’s fellowship with Him if they were created as animals or as plants. One must have a mind and a will in order to be able to converse and dwell in love together with another. That God created man with a mind and a will set him apart from the rest of creation as a creature that could fellowship with God. God created Adam and Eve to have fellowship with Him therefore. It was not a covenant of works. It was a covenant of creation.

Furthermore, God endowed Adam and Eve with His image. They were created in righteousness and holiness, and with a true knowledge of God. God made them capable of sharing in His fellowship by endowing them with attributes that reflected His own divine attributes. God cannot have fellowship with that which is not righteous and holy as He is. Adam and Eve were created in such a way, therefore, that they were able to enjoy a relationship with the most holy God. Again, they were created this way. They were created unto fellowship with God. In this light we can view the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3. After tracing the line of Jesus to the very beginning of time, Luke informs us in verse 38 that Adam was the son of God. Adam was created God’s son. He stood in a father/son relationship with God.

But there is more. Adam and Eve indeed were created the friends of God. But they were, after all, creatures and God is Creator. That means that in this covenant relationship of friendship Adam and Eve were servants! They were friend-servants of God. They had a part in the covenant. They were called to obey God. They needed to obey God by caring for the Garden of Eden. But they also had to obey God by saying “no” to evil and sin. They must refuse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So, Adam and Eve were called unto obedience in their relationship with God. Neither may that be ignored in the verse we consider. Life and fellowship with God is never conditioned on obedience. If it were, there would be no fellowship with God anymore, at all, with anyone. Nevertheless, Adam and Eve enjoyed fellowship with God as servants, that is, in the way of obedience. That too is important as we examine what happened to the nation of Israel.

Hosea points out something very significant about this covenant Adam enjoyed with God. It is exactly the same covenant God shared with the nation of Israel. The same covenant! God’s covenant had its beginnings with creation, and God was still preserving His covenant with His elect people in the nation of Israel. God established the same fellowship of friendship with this seed of Abraham—the nation of Israel. God was their friend. They were His sons and daughters.

But there is something different between God’s covenant with Adam and that with the nation of Israel. The difference lies in this: Adam was an individual person and the nation of Israel was made up of millions of people. God’s covenant with Adam was personal. God’s covenant with the nation of Israel encompassed a broad range of people—including, we might be prone to say, those who were wicked and unbelieving. We have learned in past broadcasts that God establishes His covenant only with elect believers who are by faith in Christ. Yet, now it seems God was carrying on His covenant with a whole nation of unbelievers! This is exactly why we need to distinguish the covenant God established with Adam as an individual from the covenant God established with an entire nation.

You see, the nations of Israel and Judah in the Old Testament were the instituted church of that day: Israel was the apostate church and Judah an apostatizing church. The nations of Israel and Judah were the spheres in which God established His covenant. They were known as God’s covenant people because God had established His covenant among them. What had happened in these nations, however, is that the unbelieving children born into the generations of believers were predominant in the nation of Israel. The unbelieving children were going through the motions of fellowshipping with God. They were sacrificing and offering burnt offerings in worship to Jehovah, but they were not doing this in faith. God states in verse 6, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Outwardly, therefore, this nation still appeared as if they were keeping covenant with God. But it was not true. They were dealing treacherously against God in the sphere of the covenant. They were not living in faith and therefore in obedience to God. They were not true members of God’s covenant.

Within that kingdom of Israel God still had His people. They were very few. They were a remnant according to grace. This elect remnant according to grace were the true recipients of God’s favor and love. But Israel as a whole, as a nation, was transgressing God’s covenant, of which they claimed, and even believed, they were a part, but were not.

II. Israel’s Transgression

It is only in light of this difference that we are able to explain what Hosea now declares of Israel in the verse we consider. The nation of Israel, like Adam, transgressed the covenant. That is a striking statement! Usually we read that a person transgresses the law of God. But Hosea says to Israel: you, your nation as a whole, the vast majority of people in the nation of Israel, have transgressed God’s covenant!

How does one transgress God’s covenant? Well, to transgress means to “pass beyond” or “pass over.” So, Israel passed over the covenant. What did she pass over in that covenant? Her part in the covenant. The wicked people of Israel thought that Jehovah would still maintain His love and fellowship toward them despite their disobedience! They sacrificed, they burned their offerings, with no knowledge! They thought that simply going through the motions would earn God’s favor. They did not offer them in faith in the coming Messiah, whose shed blood was pictured in their sacrifices. There was no faith in God or in His Son. They thought the ceremonies of the law would earn them the right to have fellowship with God. They convinced themselves that God would continue to dwell with them even though they horribly transgressed the law of God. They disobeyed God by walking in lewdness and sin. They were a nation of adulterers. They walked in open rebellion against God’s Word to them through the mouths of the prophets God had sent. Yet, the unbelieving people of Israel thought they were indeed enjoying God’s fellowship while they openly passed over, or transgressed, their part in the covenant.

This is how Israel also dealt treacherously against God. Israel was acting underhandedly, deceitfully, against God. They did what looked good on the outside as far as their worship of Jehovah was concerned, but in the secrets of their hearts they despised God and His prophets. They worshiped one way outwardly, but their heart was far from God. Their worship was only a show worship. In this we need to examine ourselves today too. We may not walk in such a way that we pass over, transgress, the part God has given us in His covenant.

For this the nation of Israel would soon be destroyed. Would God break covenant with His chosen few yet left in Israel? Never! What God may do to unbelieving church institutes, He never does with His elect people in Christ. The elect remnant in Israel according to grace was saved—through judgment no doubt, but they were saved. God will never cast away His people whom He foreknows, Paul writes in Romans 11:2.

Hosea likens the transgression of Israel to that of Adam. This shows us the seriousness of what Adam did in Paradise when he fell into sin. Though certainly Adam’s sin was not that of whoredom and adultery as was the sin plaguing Israel, nevertheless Adam’s sin was a violation of God’s command to Adam. That was similar to Israel’s transgression. Israel’s sin was rebellion against God. So was Adam’s. Israel’s sin was a passing over her part in God’s covenant, that of obedience. So was Adam’s. Adam was a friend/servant of God. But Adam failed to walk in obedience to God, and therefore he passed beyond his place in God’s covenant.

In so doing Adam plunged himself and the whole human race into sin. That is how serious his sin was. That was how serious Israel’s sin was too. God’s punishment upon this nation would be her utter desolation. The king of Assyria would come and totally destroy this nation. God had cast her off. Yet, God did not cast off those few elect in Israel who yet clung to the promises of God. It is in this that the hope of those who believe yet resides.

III. The Elect’s Preservation

Adam was one of God’s elect. Though he sinned terribly against God, though he dealt treacherously against God, he was one of God’s chosen. Though in Adam all died, even so all those in Christ shall be made alive. That is the comfort and hope we receive today too. When Adam fell, God saved him from that sin and preserved him by means of the blood of Jesus Christ. God covered Adam and Eve in the skins of animals—animals the blood of which was offered as a sacrifice for sin. Adam and Eve were taught to sacrifice. God led them to the only source of deliverance from sin: the seed of the woman who would come and crush the head of Satan. God’s people are saved in Christ from sin, and it is through Christ alone that God preserves them from utter destruction. Such is always the case. God preserves His elect people—always and ever. These He will not cast from Him though they at times certainly deserve it.

Is that not true, fellow believers? How often we ourselves personally transgress God’s covenant by means of our own disobedience. When we do we are deserving of being cut off from God’s presence and fellowship. But God has justified us in the precious blood of our Savior. His blood covers our sins. God maintains His covenant with us, and in Christ we are preserved in His fellowship and favor.

What separates us from those in Israel who sinned and perished under God’s just judgment? God’s grace! God freely chose us in Christ. And because He has, God works in our hearts sorrow over sin and repentance. In faith we come to the cross and there confess our sins. And we are covered in the blood of Christ. Repentance and faith. We were chosen unto faith. We belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

Adam was saved by faith. God’s elect kernel in Israel was saved by faith. God’s people today are saved by faith. Though many church institutes have toppled in unbelief throughout the ages, God always preserves His people. All because of Christ. God maintains His covenant with us all because of Christ. May we never depart from His cross.

May God preserve us in His grace. May we then strive to walk as servants of our God. In Him we rejoice. To Him our praises are raised. Oh God, preserve us, for in thee alone our trust has stood!