Rooted – Covenant (3rd May 2020)

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Big Words Series
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Today in our Big Words series, we are looking at the word ‘Covenant’.

The idea of covenant is strongly present in the Old Testament, and particularly the stories that describe the start of God working with humanity, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.

What does the Bible say?

The Old Testament part of the bible would have originally been written in Hebrew, and the term for covenant would have been ‘berit’. This word appears 280 times in the Old Testament, highlighting the importance of this concept. In simple terms, a covenant is a legally binding agreement between two parties; it involves a cost to both sides involved in the agreement (which could be a property or marriage contract, or a God-human covenant). It is designed to ultimately bring blessing to both parties through a mutually beneficial arrangement.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

These are these two particular covenants in Genesis 1-11. The emphasis shifts in these from a covenant with creation and all humanity to a single person, commencing with a family and extending out to a nation.

Why do you think that is?
What has happened in between these two sets of verses?

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.

The covenant with Abraham appears in two places – Genesis 15 and 17. While there is a very clear crossover, there are also points of change between the two covenants. This is often viewed as two separate covenants, the second being an extension of the first, or two separate traditions of the same covenant.

The covenant begins an ongoing relationship. The importance of God’s covenant with Abraham is demonstrated by its extension beyond his death, as we can see in Genesis 26:24-25 and 28:10-15. This ongoing commitment to promises He made, continuing the relationship with Isaac, Jacob and then his sons show us God’s continued desire to enter into relationship with His world.

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

Exodus 19-24 describe the ongoing relationship of God and the people of Israel – the descendants of Abraham. This agreement highlights that the covenant is not just something agreed, but it is personal and needs a response. 

The agreement is outlined by God and started by Him, but only if Israel follows God’s rules will they benefit from the promises in the covenant. God would continue to be with Israel, in return for them keeping His standards. These standards were communicated to the people in the 10 commandments, and the laws given to them. The sacrifices that the priests in the Old Testament made were there to help strengthen this personal and moral commitment to God – and to make things right when the law was broken.

And so...

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

In the New Testament, the word covenant, the Greek ‘diatheke’, appears much less. When it does, it keeps the idea of relationship with God, but now it is through the sacrifice of Jesus. This is referred to as the new covenant. This makes it something that is not just available to those who have received the law and the sacrificial system of the past, but this covenant with God is now available to all who will accept it in Jesus. This also means that Jesus’ sacrifice is what makes things right between people and God.

Jesus sacrifice, his death and resurrection, delivers humanity from sin and establishes a new covenant, a new relationship, with God, available to all.