Why do we make legal agreements with each other?
The study this week summarizes some of the major covenant experiences throughout Scripture, which later lessons will focus on more specifically. For our purposes here, we’ll summarize these covenant experiences, then ask some broad questions about covenant, examining how the Bible paints the broad strokes.
Covenants Throughout the Bible
Some covenant theologians would see a covenant in Genesis with the creation of humankind, a sort of covenant with Adam, Eve, and even the Serpent, after the fall, and then with Cain after he murders his brother. But actual terms for “covenant aren’t found in these verses, so any attempt to call them “covenants” will be tenuous.
- The first time the Hebrew term for covenant—berith—shows up in the Hebrew Bible, it is with Noah (Genesis 6-9), but extends well beyond to Noah’s family, and ultimately, every descendant—that is, all people on earth. God’s covenants have long-ranging effects. It becomes clear that God’s involvement in history is not intended for just one or a few people.
- Next, the word shows up in Abraham’s call and God’s ratifying a covenant. The story from Genesis 15-17 expresses God’s role, Abraham’s role, and the consequences of the broken covenant. The promises (Gen 12) to Abraham are threefold: Land, offspring (seed), and that his descendants would be a blessing to the nations. Once again, the covenant extends far beyond Abraham, and beyond the ethnic boundaries of his family.
- Exodus 2 next mentions a covenant between God and His people, Israel, who are in Egypt as slaves. God takes them to Mt. Sinai, and there invites the newly-redeemed people of Israel into a covenant with Him. They are given the law, but maybe more importantly, the sanctuary as a means of dealing with sin so that God could dwell among them. The role of the lamb in the covenant process isn’t death with this week, but hopefully more will be said, as without it, Israel’s future, even their promise “all that the Lord has spoken, we will do,” is empty. The Sinai covenant, likewise, is not just for that generation, but generations following.
- The last covenant the quarterly examines is the New Covenant, mentioned in Jeremiah 31. This passage suggests another, a new, covenant. Just as in the law of Moses formed a critical aspect of the Sinai covenant, the law again is vital. But unlike Exodus where the law is written on tablets of stone, now it is engraved on human hearts. The text of Jer. 31 implies that this covenant will find fulfillment in the hearts of all people, from the least to the greatest. Knowledge of God is a covenant result here.
Examining these covenants briefly brings up many questions. Below are some that you might consider asking, and as always, you can and should add your own. We don’t learn if we don’t ask good questions!
Are there other covenants God made in the Old Testament not mentioned here, or reiterations to other individuals? If so, why do you supposed the quarterly didn’t mention them?
How many years intervene between each of these various covenant ratifications? Why did God wait so long in between covenant visits? Why doesn’t He show up to each generation and people group on earth, to every individual with a covenant? Or does He?
What similarities do we see in these covenants? What is God’s role in each, and what is the role of the person or people with whom He makes the covenant?
What does God hope to accomplish by making covenants with His people?
A study of the covenants in Scripture opens many doors into God’s character, human nature and responsibility, and the entire theme of sin and salvation. Throughout this quarter, we’ll see some wonderful glimpses into God’s amazing love.