Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Covenants

Most Christians are familiar with the term "the New Covenant", but many don't know the whole story of the covenants. There are actually five covenants mentioned in the Bible. A covenant is a way in which God expresses His plan to humans, in the form of a promise. We have been talking about the covenants in Transformation and had some great discussion last night. A good understanding of the covenants opens up a greater understanding of the other stuff that's in the Bible and how to properly apply it. God's intention throughout all time has been to bless man. But man keeps rebelling, to God modifies His covenant throughout history in order to keep blessing.

The Noahic Covenant
The first covenant was made to Noah. You can find it in Genesis 9:11 and God basically says, Never again will I destroy the earth with a flood. This was an undonditional covenant, meaning man didn't have to do anything in order for God to keep His end. Regardless of all else, God wouldn't flood the earth again. And we have the rainbow in the sky to remind us of that still today.

The Abrahamic Covenant
The second covenant was made to Abraham. In Genesis 17:1-8, God changes Abram's name (meaning exalted father) to Abraham (meaning father of many). He also promises that He will make Abraham's descendants a great nation, that will be God's nation, and that He will give them Canaan as their own land. This too was an unconditional covenant, meaning God would do this, regardless. As you read what has happened in between the first and second covenants, you see that man in general has continued in its wicked ways, so God now wants to establish just one nation as His own, to be "a kingdom of priests."

The Mosaic Covenant
The third covenant was made to Moses, in Exodus 19:5-6. This covenant had a condition though. It basically said, IF you obey Me, then I will bless you. The implication here is the opposite - that if you don't obey God, you will not have His blessing. In fact, in Deuteronomy 28, Moses even explains it very clearly that obedience will be followed by blessing, disobedience will result in God cursing you (through failing crops, disease, military defeat, etc.). (Cursing is not synonymous with cussing.)

The Davidic Covenant
The fourth covenant was made with David, in 2 Samuel 7:14-16. This covenant was also conditional but was conditional not on the entire nation, but upon the kings (David's descendants). God says that if the kings obey, the people will be blessed. God also promises that He will establish that throne (the line of David) forever. This covenant had the same implication as the other though, that if the king was not obedient to God, the people would not receive blessing.

The New Covenant
The fifth and final covenant is the New Covenant, and we find it in Jeremiah 31:31-34. In this covenant God declares that this covenant won't be like the old ones, but instead He will forgive their sins and remember them no more. This is a covenant He will establish in the future, which He ended up doing through Jesus Christ. "I will be their God, and they will be my people...they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest." And we know that this was implemented because Jesus died for all of our sins, thus allowing us to no longer be separated from God, but be in relationship with Him in a way that wasn't possible before. And this is the covenant that we are under still today.

There are several reasons why the covenants are so important and foundational to our understanding. First, the Bible is God's Word to us about our past, present, and future and how He is involved in all three. It is a theological history book, showing us what role God has played in human history, and also what His plan is for the future. As we read that history, we can use these covenants as landmarks to see what God was doing in order to bless man throughout history. If you are reading say, in the book of Joshua, and you read that someone disobeyed God and was put to death, keeping in mind the Mosaic covenant allows a proper application of that Scripture. God won't put someone to death today for disobedience, why? Because we are under a different covenant now. All of our sins are forgiven. But, back in that day, there was a different covenant, and that's how it worked. Everything in the Bible is worthy of application to our lives today, but it needs to be properly applied. A good understanding of the covenants is one thing that helps us to do that. We can apply from something like that that God REALLY desires obedience from us. We can also be thankful that God established the New Covenant with us.

Reading about the covenants also helps us really see just how much God wants to have a relationship with us and desires to bless us. He could easily have given up long ago, but instead He established continuing covenants to let us know He has not given up and He still desires great things for us.

Another way that the covenants can be of assistance is that they can literally be landmarks as you study the Bible. If you know when in history God made the various covenants, then regardless of what you are studying, you have a better overall understanding of what the situation was at that time, based on the covenant that the people were under.

In our Bible study last night, there were many great questions about the covenants. Hopefully this will inspire you to study them, and develop questions and then seek to answer them in fellowship with other Christians. What other overarching themes are in the Bible that help us to understand the finer points of our theology? Get into God's Word and discover them today. It is impossible for us to have great understanding of something we refuse to read.

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