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Relevant Verses: Nehemiah 10

Leading question: Does the biblical concept of covenant make any sense in our modern world?

Where we live in College Place (“Highland Park Drive”) a “covenant” used to be taken very seriously. Those who lived in the Highland Park area faced certain restrictions on what they could do with their property. It limited, for example, the kind of separate buildings could be built on an individual lot. And I think I heard somewhere that originally wooden “shake roofing” was required for all buildings constructed in the “covenant” area. Google not only defines “Shake-style roofing” but also suggests why our “covenant” has let the matter slide:

“What Is Shake-Style Roofing? Shake shingles traditionally have been made of wood. But today’s shake-style roofing shingles are asphalt and fiberglass-constructed shingles designed to deliver the charm and character of hand-split wood shakes but at a fraction of the cost and maintenance.”

In short, times have changed, but our covenant has not. It has simply been ignored.

But next to our property is a newer private sub-division which still has some “teeth” in it. Of particular interest to us is the prohibition against overnight on-the-street parking. Even parking overnight in your own driveway is prohibited, a provision that is now sometimes ignored.

Increasing pressure from homeowners means that a change in the covenant is being proposed that would allow people to park a car in their own driveway overnight, a change that we would welcome because, even though we are outside the covenant area, some conscientious souls within the covenant area have been parking their cars on the street outside the gates, indeed in front of our house!

Question: Does God change his covenant when the times change?

The official study guide includes this comment and list:

“The Bible identifies seven major covenants that God has made with people:
1st Covenant – Adam (Genesis 1–3)
2nd Covenant – Noah (Genesis 6–9)
3rd Covenant – Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3)
4th Covenant – Moses and the Israelite nation (known as Sinaitic or Mosaic Covenant; Exodus 19–24)
5th Covenant – Phineas (Num. 25:10–13)
6th Covenant – David (2 Sam. 7:5–16)
7th Covenant – New Covenant (Jer. 31:31–34)”

The official study guide also briefly discusses the word “everlasting” as applied to the covenant. But these covenants change. The official study guide states that “each consecutive covenant serves to expound and deepen our understanding of the everlasting covenant of love…”

Yet that word “everlasting” is applied to the Abrahamic covenant and the promise of the “land.” (Gen. 17:7-8). The whole system of “dispensationalism” as proclaimed by Evangelicals, is an attempt to retain the “everlasting” concept. Seventh-day Adventists generally take a different approach, one characterized by the word “conditionalism.” Yet devout people are much inclined to hear the words of King Darius reverberating in their ears: “Just like all written laws of the Medes and Persians, it cannot be changed.”

It can be noted here that both the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament give us a very flexible perspective on all the words that belong to the “everlasting/eternal/forever” cluster. In Jonah’s experience, he was in the belly of the whale for 3 days (Jonah 1:17), yet that stay inside the whale is described a few verses later as being” forever” (Jonah 2:6).

An even more vivid example involves God’s dealings with Eli. A “man of God” (1 Sam. 1:27) reminded him that God had promised: “your family and the family of your ancestor should go in and out before me forever” (1 Sam.2:30). But because of the wickedness of his sons, all that had been lost. In its place, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed one forever” (NRSV).

So how long is forever and everlasting? Perhaps three days (Jonah); perhaps several years (Eli). And note that in Eli’s situation, one “forever” priestly line was being dumped and another “forever” line would be put in its place.

Question: How different is the new covenant of Jer. 31:31-34 from all the covenants that went before?

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (NRSV)

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