<<legally binding or lasting contract>>
Biblical covenants are solemn agreements, negotiated or unilaterally imposed, that bind the parties to each other in permanent, defined relationships with specific promises, claims and obligations on both sides. In contrast, a contract remains in force as long as both parties commit to it – when one party goes back on the deal the other party is released from its obligations. A covenant is also a voluntary agreement but when one party fails to honour their commitment, the other maintains their same position; the prime example is God loving humanity regardless of how rebellious and sinful we are.
Do I endeavour to do what I have said?
promise. These conditional covenants, have an ‘if’ attached, and result in blessing when there is obedience or a curse when disobeyed. He determines the terms and conditions, mankind choosing to accept or reject the offer. God will not forget the covenants made, He will keep them (Deut 4:31; Ps 145:13). When we break our side of the covenant, God views this seriously and He is released from His side of the deal (Deut 29:24-28; Jdg 2:1-3; Ezek 17:15-21).
Other covenants were unconditional – man had to do nothing to make its provision happen, its fulfillment being entirely dependent on God who declared, “My covenant I will not break, … nor change what I have said” (Ps 89:30-34). Often a sign was given as the point of reference. In the Bible, a covenant could be made with either an individual (ultimately, this would spread down the family line, eg. Noah and Abraham), a nation (the Israelites), or all people.
These examples are elaborated on here:
Noah was told to build the ark and to provide safety for his family and the animals during God’s judgment (Gen 6:11-22). It was after the flood that God declared His part of the covenant – that never again would the earth be destroyed by water – and He gave the rainbow as a sign or reminder of that covenant (Gen 9:9-17). God told Abraham He would make a great nation of his family, and they would inherit the land of Canaan and He would be their God (Gen 12:1-3, 15:1-21, 17:3-8). Abraham’s part was to ensure that all his male descendants were circumcised – a sign in their bodies that they accepted the covenant (Gen 17:9-14).
The OT or agreement was the covenant of law between God and Israel based on works, observing numerous rules and standards (Ex 19:5,6). They would be God’s special people. Approach to God was only through the priests and the blood of repeated animal sacrifices yet was “weak through the flesh”, being often neglected and disobeyed, with discipline resulting (Rom 8:3). The covenant was often restated with the terms spelt out again (Ex 23:22; Deut 14:2). God “keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commands…rewarding those that diligently seek Him” (Deut 4:29; Neh 1:5; Dan 9:4; Heb 11:6). Because the Israelites failed to obey or maintain their side of the agreement the old covenant (as recorded in the Bible from Genesis to Malachi) was replaced by a new agreement (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:6-13). In fact the old was fulfilled when Christ implemented the new, which completed everything the old pointed forward to (Jn 19:30).
In the new covenant of grace, Christ offers to forgive sin and to bring people to God by His once only sacrificial death. This gift of salvation is available to everybody however, He won’t force it on anyone. Personal faith and responsibility are required, with God declaring He will give a new heart to those who enter into this agreement (Ezek 11:19, 36:26; Jn 1:12, 3:16; Rom 10:13). This new covenant is based on the fact that man cannot save himself by his works, rather his hope is placed entirely on the love, grace and mercy of God, being made acceptable by the blood of Christ (Eph 1:6-8, 2:8,9). While the OT was based on a formula of regulations and rules, the NT is centered on relationship and grace (Jn 1:12,17, 15:14,15; Rom 6:14). Our part is to repent of sin, and accept Christ’s offer of salvation, to take up our cross daily and to be a witness for Him. He will forgive our sin, be within us, and enable us to increasingly appropriate the salvation of our soul (Jn 14:17; 1 Pet 1:8,9; 1 Jn 1:9).
At the Last Supper Jesus said, “My blood is the blood of the new covenant” (Mt 26:28). Partaking of Communion shows we are recommitting ourselves to the new agreement which will culminate with our entrance into heaven (1 Cor 11:25).
The Marriage Covenant. Marriage should be viewed as a covenant, with a strong and unyielding commitment, that includes forsaking our individual independent views, and a promise to remain loyal to our spouse (Mal 2:14-16; Mt 19:4-6,9; Mk 10:11,12). It is more than a legal contact evidenced by a certificate. Do I view my marriage as a lasting commitment or just a temporary causal convenience until the novelty wears off or there is a conflict of opinion?
David and Jonathan whose hearts were ‘knit together’ entered into a covenant (1 Sam 18:1-4, 20:16,17). This was much more than a shallow friendship agreement. Covenants are not to be entered into lightly; “They (the people) entered into a covenant to seek the Lord...with all their heart and soul” (2 Chr 15:12). Job even made a personal rule for his life in the form of a covenant “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1).