Covenants are a more definitive way to describe contracts that have more substance or are of greater importance. It has been applied to politics, real estate law, and religion. Outside of those parameters we don’t seem to use it much. Surely covenants are old-fashioned, a thing of the past, right? The Bible is an ancient book, and it speaks about them over and over:
Where are Covenants in the Bible?
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, NIV).
“I will bless those who bless you [Abraham], and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3, NIV)
“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25, NIV)
So, why talk about covenants?
If the Bible is clear about anything, it is that God is the God of covenants. He made one with Noah (Genesis 9:9), Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 2:24), Moses (Exodus 19:5), David (2 Samuel 7:28), and with us (1 Corinthians 11:25).
What Did the Covenants Mean?
It is highly noteworthy that the Lord operates this way, and it teaches us some important things about His character and personality because he does. Here are a few observations:
1. In the Egyptian world and culture (among many others), people and priests were constantly making gods in the image of things; these gods were extensions of the physical creation, portrayed in the images of created things. Out of nowhere, Moses rises up and proclaims a God who stands apart from things, who instead asserts that He will not abide any physical representation of Himself, and that He alone is the creator of man, who is made in His OWN very image.
As the creator, He operates in the context of relationships, and calls mankind to walk with Him in faith. He created a covenant to define and extend His relationship with fallen man, and to provide context about how sinful man could still engage with a Holy creator.
2. While it may seem parochial and odd to us that God chose the Hebrew people, and that He gave the revelation about Himself to a chosen few, it was never His intent to limit that revelation or relationship to Israel. In Genesis 12 he told Abram the reason he had called him: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God extends covenants in order to extend blessing, a process that is still happening today. The Creator loves and wants to bless those whom He created in His image. Which brings us to
What Do Covenants Have to Do with Us?
3. Covenants are not some ancient ritual that faded into the distant past. Jesus intentionally connected his life and work to God’s covenants. The new covenant he described to his disciples is still alive and powerful today, and is celebrated in every mass and every Lord’s Supper around the world. Even as we celebrate it, remember that it is not ritual and it is not legalistic, but it is an act of spiritual devotion. The fact that it calls so many people into community is evidence of its spiritual reality.
As Hebrews 8:10 says, “This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” These three observations bring to mind three questions: How’s your relationship with your Creator? Who is God blessing through you? How full of God’s character and personality is your heart? Those might be great questions to ask yourself the next time you participate in the Lord’s Supper. Or, yeah, every day.
Covenants Old and New
Take a contract, fix a seal to show the world that it is real;
In the Garden, from the flood, the covenants were sealed with blood
That bound participants fast and firm to all prerequisites and terms.
Make each contract hard and fast; Make it binding, make it last.
This New Covenant, finally, will pay the Garden’s penalty:
“This is my body, take and eat”: this covenant is bittersweet;
“This my blood for you was shed–for you I died, for you I bled”–
Creating a covenant from the start that touches every human heart.
This new covenant was designed with you and all your friends in mind;
When Justice makes its cruel demand,
Within this covenant take your stand:
Here upon sin’s battlefield, Christ has offered us His shield!
God’s good Grace has been revealed;
By his stripes we have been healed,
And by His blood we have been sealed.
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