The Unbreakable Covenant
August 16, 2020 / No. 4050
We continue this month with looking at God’s covenant of grace. It is an unbreakable covenant. We read in Psalm 89:34: “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” Psalm 89 is called the “Majestic Covenant Psalm.” It is the utterance of a believer, a believer who stands in the presence of great national disaster. He pleads with his God, urging the grand argument of God’s covenant and expecting deliverance and help because of the faithfulness of Jehovah.
Charles Spurgeon wrote that this is fitly called a Maschil, for it is most instructive. I quote from Spurgeon: “No subject is more important or is so fully the key to all theology as that of the covenant. He who is taught by the Holy Spirit to be clear on the covenant of grace will be a scribe well instructed in the things of the kingdom. He whose doctrine is a mingle-mangle of works and grace is scarcely fit to be a teacher of babes.”
Ethan the Ezrahite is a musician. He writes this psalm. He was one of the four wisest men during the reign of King Solomon and later of his son Rehoboam. Probably this psalm was written by him in his old age, when troubles were coming thick and heavy upon the dynasty of David in the land of Judah. Ethan begins this psalm by affirming his belief in the faithfulness of the Lord to His covenant with the house of David. He wrote in verses 3 and 4, “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations.” This is the theme. Verses 28 and 29 read: “My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.” Yes, Ethan rehearses the glorious covenant of God with delight.
It is an unbreakable covenant. Verse 34: “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” Verse 36: “His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.” But while he extols God for the unbreakable covenant, this psalm ends with a great lament, beginning at verse 38. We read there, “But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed. Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.” Verse 46: “How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?” Verse 49: “Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?” Ethan comes with the covenant of grace that is established forever, but then he asked the question in his lament: “Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant, thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground? How long, Lord, wilt thou hide thyself for ever, shall thy wrath burn like fire?”
No wonder that Ethan begins the psalm with praise to God and by rehearsing God’s covenant of grace with David and ends with a lament. What a blessed covenant it is. Many Reformed folk talk about conditions in God’s covenant. But there are none. God’s promises are as absolute as they can be conceived of. No conditions. So, my theme in this message is “God’s Unbreakable Covenant with David.” God’s children sin, and God will chastise them for their sin, but God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness go on forever because of His unbreakable covenant. Listen to verse 30: “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments.”
“If!” It was possible, it was terribly possible, that David’s posterity might wander from the Lord. Not only is it a possibility, it is a reality. David, who had a heart for the Lord, sinned terribly, did he not? Caught up in adultery, he murders the woman’s husband; in pride he counts Israel’s fighting men. His son Solomon, the wisest man, foolishly married heathen wives, even building temples for their gods in Jerusalem. Solomon’s son, King Rehoboam, whose mother was an Ammonitess, did not walk with the Lord, but rather, we read, did evil in the sight of the Lord, he provoked God to jealousy with his sins; he built high places and images and groves, and there were sodomites in the land. And we read in God’s Word that Israel under Rehoboam did according to the abominations of the nations that the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. Then there were the ten tribes who, under Rehoboam, left. They said, “What portion have we in David? and we have none inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to your tents, O Israel: and now, David, see to thine own house” (II Chron. 11:16. So Israel departed, choosing Jeroboam to be their king, who set up two golden calves, one in Bethel and the other in Dan. What a rejection, that was, of God’s reign over them in the house of David. It was a rejection of the promise of the Seed of David who would come, who would have a throne forever. It was a rejection of Christ Jesus.
So, forsaking God’s commandments was not just a possibility, but it was an actual deed in Ethan the Ezrahite’s day. Israel violated the covenant. Verse 31 continues: “If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments.” Yes, although there were a few God-fearing kings on the throne of David, namely, Jehoshaphat, Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah, but even those God-fearing kings sinned against God time and time again. So, is the promise of a son of David on the throne forever made invalid? Was the mercy of God to completely pass away? Is the covenant broken?
Not a single word of our passage gives liberty to such an idea. Again I quote from Charles Spurgeon: “Expositors, in their fear of Calvinistic doctrine, shake off the fear of adding to the word of God, or else they would not have spent their time in talking about ‘the conditions’ of God’s absolutely unconditional covenant.” Conditions and, therefore, the covenant is broken. If, or we could say, since the house of David and God’s people as a whole, walk in terrible sin and apostasy, is there only death and rejection? Is Ethan correct when he says, “Thou hast made void the covenant of Thy servant?” The answer is: Absolutely not. Our obedience does not earn us salvation and life. And our disobedience does not annul God’s everlasting covenant. If, or when, we sin, what then?
We read of what happens in verses 31, 32. God says, “If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.” That sounds terrible. But notice with me that God does not say, “I’m going to visit you with the sword.” That is, God is not going to visit them with death and destruction as they deserve. God is not going to wipe them away. But God will come with a smarting, tingling, and painful rod. You see, God’s saints must smart if they sin. God will see to that, for God hates sin too much not to visit it. And God loves His saints too much not to chasten them. As we read in the book of Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 6: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” God never plays with His rod. He lays it home to His children. He visits them with that rod in their home and on their bodies and in their hearts and makes them know that He is grieved with their sinful ways. David, through his way of adultery and murder, brought trouble in his home—continual trouble with his sons and his daughters. King Solomon, with his heathen wives and temples, brought God’s wrath. God took away the ten tribes. But in God’s faithfulness to His covenant with David, two tribes would remain. Both the nation of Israel and, later on, the nation of Judah, would, for their sins, be delivered over, first to the Assyrians and later to the Babylonians. In God’s family, the rod is not spared, or the children would be spoiled.
Do you see with me God’s rod as a covenant blessing? And it is meant to be used. You do that in your own families, do you not? When your children disobey, you spank, you correct them in your love. What does David say? “When I kept silence [by that he means, when I did not confess my sins], my bones waxed old through their roaring all the day long, for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer” (Ps. 32:3, 4). God chastens those whom He loves. He chastens their iniquity with stripes, and it hurts! It is given in order to correct.
No, children do not ask their parents and say, “Please spank me. Put the rod to me.” The rod is not pleasant, not for a moment. But it is absolutely necessary and good. God chastens His people in their sins. We read in verse 33: “Nevertheless.” Oh, what a beautiful word that is! A glorious nevertheless. Yes, God’s people do walk in sin. “Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.”
Let me give a little illustration of this, too. One of the days last week, we had a very cloudy sky and, even later, dark clouds of rain blocked out the sunshine. One could not see the sun in the sky. Did that mean that the sun was not shining? Get yourself up in an airplane, ride above the clouds, and you will see that the sun is just as bright as can be. So our sins and disobedience, like dark clouds, will hide God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness from us. But it is still there. Oh, we will not experience God’s favor and grace in the way of our sins, will we? We are going to feel instead His smarting hand with the rod. Under the most trying circumstances, the Lord’s lovingkindness to each of His chosen people will endure the strain. If the covenant could be made void by our sins, it would have been void long ago.
God will not suffer His faithfulness to fail. We all fail in everything that we do. But God does not. God does not fail in His promises. God does not fail in His lovingkindness. God does not fail in His faithfulness. Jeremiah the prophet writes in Lamentations 3:21ff.: “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” God preserves His saints. As Reformed churches, we confess the safety of God’s people. The heirs of God’s glory shall not be cut off utterly.
Yes, there were troubles in David’s house, but the throne was intact. The ten tribes were taken away, but two tribes were left. Later the remnant came back again from Babylon. The two tribes were down there in captivity, but we read that 50,000 returned to Jerusalem. God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness continue. In His mercy and righteousness, He will correct His sons and His daughters, but He will not forsake them forever. His covenant is not void.
How can we be so sure? Look at the Bible. Verse 34 of Psalm 89 reads: “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” In that verse we read, first of all, that it is God’s own covenant. He says, “My covenant will I not break.” God devised it. God established it. God maintains it. God develops it. God realizes that covenant. Yes, the Lord claims His covenant of grace as His own. Covenants of men can be broken, but not God’s covenant. We might violate the obligations that are upon us as God’s children, but God says, “My covenant will I not break.” There are no conditions that we have to meet in order for that covenant to continue. In God’s Word we hear very clearly that it is an unbreakable covenant, it is an everlasting covenant. God’s heart does not change, so there is no shifting of the sand. God’s covenant is an unbreakable covenant because our God is an immutable God. He is immutable, unchangeable in His very nature and therefore in His designs and therefore in His covenant. His promise is sure. His Word, once given, is sacred. He says, “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.”
So, in our text, God reasserts His covenant with David. He has established a relationship of friendship with His elect people in Jesus Christ, the Son of David. The covenant is sure and unbreakable through that Seed of David, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins. He died the death that we deserved. And He imputes His righteousness to us. Our sins are blotted out.
Oh, take assurance then as Ethan the Ezrahite was able to. When things looked dark because of their sins; when your sins are so thick, what does God say? “Oh, child of God, by faith grasp this: My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.”
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy covenant of grace, established with us in Jesus Christ. We thank Thee for Thy faithfulness and Thy mercies that are new every morning, therefore we are not consumed, and we have confidence and we can sing praises to Thee. Accept our thanks and help us to live in thankfulness and obedience. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.