One important reality that we need to remember when we read the Bible is that we live in a different culture than the culture it was originally written in. Bible translators do their best to produce a translation that captures the original intent while making it understandable to us, but we still need to do the work of understanding the original context of Scripture. This will help us grasp the full message God has for us in His Word.
An important concept that we need to understand is the concept of covenant. The theme of covenant runs through the entire Bible. Since we live in a society is based on contracts rather than covenants it can be difficult to understand exactly what a covenant is.
The man who taught me about the importance of covenants, Chuck McCoy (one of my professors in college), wrote this; “In the ancient Middle East and Biblical world, a ‘covenant’ was a solemn, blood-sealed agreement between parties that both establishes and regulates a relationship between them and is made binding by an oath.”
There are three important implications of covenants that I want to identify:
- Covenants demonstrate that the God of the Bible (YHWH) is different from the gods of the pagans. People imagined the pagan gods to be fickle, cruel, mean, and unreliable. They could not be trusted, for they were really nothing more than super humans using people as pawns in their sadistic games. YHWH, the covenant making God of the Bible, is different. He could be trusted and He had a desire for people to succeed and become the people He created them to be. Think about that reality for a moment. When we have a covenant relationship with God He has a great desire for us to up hold our end of the covenant! We don’t have to be fearful that God is looking for a reason to punish us, rather, we can go boldly to our Father in Heaven and ask for the wisdom, the strength, and the support we need to live the life He created us to live. Ultimately, knowing that we are in a covenant relationship with God means we can trust God to help us along the way.
- Covenants provide the expectations God has for people. A crucial element of covenants are the terms or the expectations of the covenant. In essence the 10 Commandments are the basic terms of the covenant God established with Israel. The terms of the New Covenant, established by Jesus, are written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit, but are summed up in the commands to love God and love people. These expectations help us understand what it means to be faithful. In a culture that equates faith with belief we need the parameters of faithfulness defined for us. I don’t remain faithful to God because I maintain my belief that He exists and that Jesus died for the sins of the world. My faithfulness to God is demonstrated by keeping the terms of the covenant He made with His people. Just as Jesus remained faithful to God through obedience to His will, we remain faithful to God through our obedience.
- Covenants allow us to be confident in our relationship with God. I am confident in my relationship to my wife because of the commitment we made to each other. The same is true with our covenant relationship with God. He has made a commitment to us, and demonstrated that commitment through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The covenant we have with God declares that our redemption, our place in His kingdom, is not the result of our behavior, but the result of His grace. God is the one that took the initiative to save us, He has promised to provide for our needs, and He has declared that He will forgive our sins. Our salvation is secure because of the covenant God established with us.
Covenants are not incidental to our theology, they are the very foundation of Christian theology. We worship a covenant making God, and those covenants give us confidence and security.
Yes, we have a personal relationship with God, but that personal relationship is based on covenant. I think the more we understand about covenants, especially the New Covenant God established through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the more confident and hopeful we will be in our relationship with Him.