Covenants part 1
When seeking inspiration for these weekly columns, I often ask friends to suggest topics that they find especially meaningful or puzzling in scripture that will give me an opportunity for exploration and research. Very often these are well-encapsulated nuggets that I can easily write about without becoming a substitute for a sleep aid.
But this week I had a friend suggest that I delve into “covenant living”.
This is a subject that is far too rich to complete in the space I have available, so as my title implies I plan — a number as yet unknown — more thoughts to follow in this series.
At its most basic, a covenant spells out a “working arrangement” for how two or more parties will interact with each other. The terms and definitions of the covenant, spell out the obligations of the parties and, in later iterations of the form, the benefits that will be received as well as consequences following a breaking of the covenant.
It is probably true to say that most biblical scholars have not come to agreement on how many covenants are contained in the scripture we have today, with numbers ranging from one to at least twelve.
But regardless most will agree on a few of the highlights including the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly and Davidic covenants in the Hebrew Bible as well as the Christian “New” Covenant explained by Jesus at the last supper.
We know from ancient writings of other cultures apart from the history of the Israelites that covenants were not uncommon and basically took two forms: the obligatory type and the promissory type. Obligatory covenants were most often entered into by parties of equal standing. We have records of these from the Hittite peoples who were neighbors of the Israelites.
Most of the covenants in our scriptures are of the promissory type which focus on the relationship of a King or Ruler and his subjects and are very similar to “Royal Grant” legal documents seen in other cultures. These “Royal Grants” generally adhere to a set format and include an historical introduction, border delineations, stipulations, witnesses, blessings, and curses. Here, “blessings” refer to the benefits being distributed, and “curses” to the consequences to be suffered by the person giving the grant if he should break the covenant. The covenants put in place by Yahweh usually omit the “curses” section, since God cannot, by His nature, break His promises.
We will for now, skip over the promises made to Adam and Eve (even although they are covenantal in form and nature) and look at the first great covenant that applies to you and me — and everything that has lived, is alive, or will live on the earth — the Noahic covenant.
I encourage you to read again the whole passage in Genesis 9:1-17. There you will see the boundaries —“all living beings in all generations” , stipulations — “I will never again destroy the earth with water”, witnesses — “whenever the rainbow appears I will see and remember my covenant” and blessings — “be fruitful and multiply”.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
*So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 NIV
In this first great covenant we see the willingness of God to let the consequences of His gift of free will play out to their logical conclusion without Him intervening and just destroying His creation by natural disaster.
Be thankful we still live under that covenant today — “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God is showing his forbearance and love for His creation in this the earliest covenant for all time, all people and all living things.
As we shall see, God gradually reveals His true nature and character in the (mostly) one-sided promises He makes to the people He has chosen to be examples for the rest of Creation until He fulfills them all in the ultimate sacrificial promise of all — Himself in the form of Jesus Christ.
Raise a hallelujah!
Next time we will look at some of the covenants God made with Abraham and the means used to make them indelible on the minds of His chosen people.
But until then,
Blessings on you and yours!