By: William J. Dumbrell
Wipf & Stock (2009)
Guest Review By: J. Bisbee
William J. Dumbrell (Th.D., Harvard University) is the author of Covenant and Creation, A Theology of the Old Testament Covenants. He has taught at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, Regent College in Vancouver, and Trinity Theological College in Singapore. Dumbrell explains the background and content of each biblical covenant (Noahic, Abrahamic, Sinai, Davidic and New). This book is helpful for scholar and layman alike who need a complete overview of each covenant. It is also helpful for understanding the theological developments during the New Testament era.
Chapter one delves right into the Noahic covenant. The first reference to the Noahic covenant is found in Gen. 6:17-18. According to Dumbrell, Noah (a righteous man in an age of violence) was chosen to functions as a “Second Adam” in response to the Fall. The covenant is not with Noah only but with Noah as representative of the human race (cf. 9:9).The sin of Adam constituted a breach in covenant (Gen. 2:17; 3:1-5). The original goal of creation was divine rest. Noah and his seed were chosen to usher in that rest in the New Creation.
Chapter two describes the Abrahamic covenant, which is also a redemptive response to the human dilemma created at the Fall. The content of the covenant is a Promised Land and people for Abraham (Gen. 15:18), from which Israel will emerge. Similar to the Noahic covenant, the call of Abraham aims at the redemption of man so that the original “rest” of the creation covenant will be realized. The redemption will take place through Abraham becoming a great nation and blessing to all peoples. Abraham as a great nation will provide a “symbol of divine rule manifested within a political framework” (p. 67). It becomes an “image of the shape of the final world government” (p. 67).
Chapter three reviews the Sinai covenant. This covenant sets forth Israel’s vocation, which, according to Dumbrell becomes the background for the rest of the Old Testament: “The history of Israel from this point on is in reality merely a commentary upon the degree of fidelity with which Israel adhered to this Sinai-given vocation” (p. 80). Israel is to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation displaying God’s character to the world. Their purpose is to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant, which calls Israel to bless the nations. The ultimate goal is to bring about the realization of God’s original creation purpose: divine rest.
Chapter 4 describes the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7). The reign of the Davidic line was to reflect the rule of Yahweh, and fulfill what Israel as a whole had failed to do. According to Dumbrell, David is “. . .the agent through whom the Exodus deliverance (rest in the land) is finally achieved. Sonship terms applied to Israel (Ex. 4:22) are now applied to David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14) . . . The Promised Land has now been secured . . . the sanctuary presence of God in the midst of his people . . . would secure the blessing of ‘rest’ . . .” (p. 151). But, David fails to fulfill the desired expectation resulting in an eschatology built on Israel and David’s failures.
Chapter 5 introduces this new eschatology. Dumbrell introduces the New Covenant by looking at the effects of the Babylonian exile. Israel held a faulty understanding of covenant which thought God guaranteed her position despite her failures. Exile came as a result, but not all hope was lost. The New Covenant described in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah, “looked forward to the realization in the new age of the political forms originally developed at Sinai for Israel. At the same time the notion of Israel as the centre of world blessing was not lost . . .” (p. 164). The New Covenant is capable to bring about the creation ideal, where the Sinai covenant failed, because it would regenerate the hearts of men (Jer. 31: 31-34).
Dumbrell does a fantastic job. The only disadvantage is Dumbrell’s lack of stated method and goal before diving right into the Noahic covenant. Old Testament theologies tend to include a statement of method to help the reader understand how the author arrived at his conclusions. Does Dumbrell approach the text with a synchronic and/or diachronic method? Does he limit his material to the Hebrew canon? What is his stance on Canonical structure, etc.? The reader can glean these answers from reading Dumbrell’s text, but a chapter devoted to this topic would be extremely helpful. Other than this critique, Dumbrell’s Covenant and Creation, A Theology of the Old Testament Covenants is highly recommended for anyone who needs an overview of the Covenants and their relationship to one another.