Who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God…
To no nation under the sun does there belong so proud, so magnificent a heraldry. No minstrel of a country's fame was ever furnished so richly with topics; and the heart and fancy of our apostle seem to kindle at the enumeration of them. They were first Israelites, or descendants of a venerable patriarch — then, selected from among all the families of the earth, they were the adopted children of God, and to them belonged the glory of this high and heavenly relationship; and with their ancestors were those covenants made which enveloped the great spiritual destinies of the human race; and the dispensation of the Law from that mountain which smoked at the touch of the Divinity was theirs; and that solemn temple service where alone the true worship of the Eternal was kept up for ages was theirs; and as their history was noble from its commencement by the fathers from whom they sprung, so at its close did it gather upon it a nobility more wondrous still by the mighty and mysterious descendant in whom it may be said to have terminated — even Him who at once is the root and the offspring of David, and with the mention of whose name our apostle finishes this stately climax of their honours — "of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed for ever. Amen." They are far the most illustrious people on the face of the world. There shines upon them a transcendental glory from on high; and all that the history whether of classical or heroic ages hath enrolled of other nations are but as the lesser lights of the firmament before it.
(T. Chalmers, D.D.)
The covenants. —
I. THE TERM ITSELF bears a special Messianic meaning, as always having in view the fidelity of God to the design of human redemption through the sacrifice of His Son. The Hebrew Berith almost always translated in the LXX. by diatheke, signifies, not a compact as between man and man, but the disposition or arrangement assumed by the one supreme purpose of grace. Unlike human compacts it is invariably connected with sacrifice. The Hebrew contains an allusion to the custom of cutting and passing between the parts of a divided animal on the ratification of a covenant. The first express revelation of the covenant to Abraham (Genesis 15:18) gives the key to all its history. There all is based on a free Divine promise. The animals divided denoted the two parties to the great transaction; and the flame passing through was God, in His future Son, the Shekinah, uniting the parties alone, and thus ratifying His own covenant. The New Testament term diatheke does not preserve the original allusion; but it is never disconnected from the idea. The one covenant of grace has been ratified by an eternal sacrifice; which is at the same time the death of the Testator, who disposes the promise of eternal inheritance according to the counsel of His own will.
II. THE COVENANT OF REDEMPTION, OR OF GRACE, HAS ALWAYS BEEN CONNECTED WITH CHRIST, ITS UNREVEALED MEDIATOR. As its Mediator He is the medium through whom, or rather in whom, all its blessings are conveyed: that grace which is the one name and blessing of the covenant, the free bestowment of favour on sinful man, or "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 13:14). Therefore the term, which has a wider meaning than its relation to a compact, may be applied to Christ as the yet unknown Redeemer who was at once the ground of the covenant, and its promise, and its virtual administrator. After He came and was revealed, it is the term surety that more precisely expresses His mediatorship in the order of grace: in His Divine-human atoning personality, He is the Pledge to man of the bestowment by God of all blessings procured through His atoning work, and the Pledge to God on behalf of mankind of compliance with all the conditions of the covenant. In the Old Testament the future Redeemer is not termed either the Mediator or the Surety; though He was in the profoundest sense both as the Angel or "Messenger of the covenant" (Malachi 3:1), and Himself the embodied Covenant reserved for the future (Isaiah 49:8). What was thus given to Him by promise becomes the heritage of His people through faith, who as "Christ's are heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:18, 19, 29).
III. THIS ONE COVENANT HAS TAKEN THREE FORMS in the history of revelation.
1. As entered into with mankind, represented by Adam, its revelation began with the Fall, was ratified for the world with Noah, and was con- firmed to Abraham as the representative of all believers to the end of time.
2. But the covenant with Abraham for the world in all ages also introduced the special compact with his descendants after the flesh. The latter was established through Moses, its mediator; and blended the covenant of grace with a covenant of works. The law was given by Moses; and as an appended form or condition of the original institute of grace, perpetually convicted the people of their sin and impotence, drove them to take refuge in the hope of a future grace, the ground of which was kept before them in the institute of sacrifice.
3. Finally the new covenant, established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6), was ratified in the death of Christ. It was at once the abrogation of the Mosaic, or later old covenant, so far as concerns its national relation and its legal condition, and the renewal unto perfection of the more ancient covenant, always in force and never superseded, with mankind.
(W. B. Pope, D.D.)
The giving of the law. —
1. The act as described (Exodus 20:18; Deuteronomy 4:32, etc.).
2. The law itself. System of laws given (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Psalm 147:19, 20). A distinction exalting Israel above every other nation, served —
(1) For instruction.
(2) For restraint.
(3) For conviction.Prepared the way for the promised Saviour (Galatians 3:21). Its observance brought national blessings in its train.
(T. Robinson, D.D.)
The service of God. — A technical term for Divine worship. The apostle is detailing the privileges which constituted Israel a peculiar people. This was one of the most conspicuous. For the service of Jehovah was distinguished from all heathen cults: —
I. In its ORIGIN. This was Divine. God Himself arranged the whole Hebrew ritual down to its minutest details. Man was not left to his own blind instincts as to the manner in which his Maker was to be approached. No doubt all worship was Divine in its origin, and were we able to thread the labyrinths of heathen devotion we should arrive ultimately at a primitive revelation. But this is impossible; and the great mass of heathen worship is the offspring of irrational superstition when it was not the device of a fraudulent priesthood.
II. In its NATURE.
1. It was spiritual. The forms were materialistic as all forms must necessarily be; but it was not mere form as heathen worship was. Time after time it was carefully explained that the sacrifices, etc., were symbolic, and that without the corresponding spiritual reality they were an abomination to Deity. To what an extent this was realised by the best spirits of the nation, the Psalms and prophets abundantly testify.
2. It was intelligent. The heathen worshipped "they knew not what." To worship all the objects presented to their devotion was an impossibility, and had it been possible, ineffectual, for prayers offered to one God would have been neutralised by those offered to another. And the intelligent heathen, while he conformed to the superstitions of his fellow-country-men, knew the host of Olympus to be a myth. The Hebrews knew whom they worshipped. The Shekinah glory was a standing evidence of the Divine existence and presence, and the revelations of His character from time to time exhibited Him as worthy of the homage of rational beings.
III. In its EFFECTS. These were —
1. Humbling. The whole system was calculated to reveal the Divine greatness and holiness on the one hand and human insignificance and sinfulness on the other, and thus was discouraging to pride and self-confidence. It was not the fault of the system if men thanked God that they were not as other men were. Heathen worship encouraged no such notions of God or man, and hence humility was never a heathen virtue.
2. Joyful. God was served with gladness; and the joy of the Lord was the people's strength for services. The great festivals are proofs of this. Heathenism had plenty of hilarity, but little joy. How could it have had when their worship brought no manifestation of the Divine presence and no consciousness of the Divine favour?
3. Moral. Holiness unto the Lord was the legitimate and only issue of the Mosaic system: whereas we know that many heathen gods were served with obscene rites, and that the whole tendency of idolatry was degrading to intellect, heart and life. Conclusion: The comparative value of heathen and Hebrew worship may be seen in their devotional manuals. To estimate this let the Book of Psalms be read side by side with the Vedas, Shasters, etc.
(J. W. Burn.)
The promises. —
1. Of blessings in general (Leviticus 26:43; Deuteronomy 28:1-14).
2. Of the Messiah in particular. Given various times and in various ways (Hebrews 1:1; Romans 1:2). Some already fulfilled in Christ's first coming (Acts 3:18, 22-26). Others yet to be fulfilled in Israel's experience (Ezekiel 37; Isaiah 66:1.). All the promises of God, yea and amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Gentiles by faith made fellow-heirs of the promises (Ephesians 3:6; Galatians 3:29). Promises all fulfilled at Christ's second appearing (chap. Romans 11:26; Acts 1:6; Acts 3:19-21). Mentioned last as the transition to Christ Himself.
(T. Robinson, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;