LESSON ONE -- THE COVENANT-IDEA IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
Studies in the Covenants Part 1
INTRODUCTION: Progress toward a proper understanding of the Scriptures will be greatly advanced by the student's recognition of two basic facts: (1) The Bible is God-centered; it pictures Him as the absolute sovereign over all things. (2) His purpose is progressively set forth, as a self- revelation, under the concept of "covenants" that He has made to men. In this series of studies an attempt will be made to draw a brief outline of God's eternal purpose, as expressed in those covenants.
The attachment of significant importance to God's covenant-dealings with men is no new thing. The deep implications of this idea are reiterated again and again in the Scriptures; the historic faith and hope of the church are rooted in the Scriptures. From this viewpoint, history is regarded as a "process" governed by a divine plan anciently conceived, but being carefully, deliberately and steadily guided toward a definite and unfailing goal. That goal will involve a universal Kingdom of Righteousness fulfilling the deepest longings and grandest aspirations of the human heart; vindicating and satisfying the high, holy and eternal purpose of the covenant-God, Who will be the object of universal and eternal praise.
After a brief consideration of the covenant-idea, eight examples of God's covenant-dealings with men will be considered. Six of these are specifically designated "covenants" in the Scriptures; the others are set forth under such circumstances, and in such language, as to imply a covenant.
Divine blessings being "all of grace," there will be found in these studies no suggestion or implication that they are attainable through any deed of merit or effort of the flesh. Should anyone draw such a conclusion, he has completely missed the point; he should back up, lay aside his prejudices and traditions, and attempt to examine each idea in its proper context. It will be suggested that the rich blessings of covenant-grace are available ONLY to such as have entered into a special, peculiar relationship of "covenant fellowship" with God, and who, in that position, remain loyal to Him thus meeting their covenant responsibilities. At the proper place it will be shown that some have been severed from this position, through infidelity to their covenant-obligations.
The covenant-idea, as set forth in these lessons, illustrates the voluntary condescension and grace of God in offering to bless mankind. With a love that is warm and vibrant, He woos the affections and trust of men desiring a response that is spontaneous and sincere, (Hos. 6:4; 7:13; 9:10; 11:1-2; Isa. 1:2; 3:1; Jer. 2:1-8; 3:19; 5:1).
Once the covenants have been carefully examined, it will then be appropriate to consider their implications and to draw some practical conclusions.
I. THE COVENANT-IDEA MUST BE DEFINED BY ITS USAGE.
A. THERE ARE AT LEAST THREE DIFFERENT WAYS IN WHICH IT IS USED.
1. It is used of a relationship between man and man.
a. Private - as between Jonathan and David, (I Sam. 18:3; 20:8; 23:18).
b. Commercial-as between Solomon and Hiram, (I Kings 5:12).
c. Political, (Gen. 14:13; I Kings 15:18-19; Hos. 12:1).
2. Metaphorically, it is used of a relationship of God or man to animals or inanimate things.
a. A covenant with STONES, (Job 5:23).
b. A covenant with the EYES, (Job 31:1).
c. A covenant with LEVIATHAN, (Job 41:4).
d. A covenant with DEATH, (Isa. 28:15).
e. A covenant with DAY and NIGHT, (Jer. 33:20, 25).
f. A covenant with BEASTS, (Ezek. 34:25; Hos. 2:18).
3. Then it is used of a divinely-conceived, and initiated, relationship between God and man. This series of studies will be limited to an examination of only those covenants dealing with the divine - human relationship.
B. THE COVENANT-IDEA IN THE OLD TESTAMENT IS EXPRESSED BY THE HEBREW WORD, "BERITH," (Gen. 6:18; 9:9-17; 15:18; Ex. 19:5; Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 29:9; Jer. 31:31-33).
1. In the covenant, Girdlestone, an eminent Old Testament Hebrew scholar, sees the idea of "a legal disposition" - literally, some thing attested or borne witness to, but always used of a will whereby one disposes of his goods. He says that "translators have found much difficulty in giving a uniform rendering. . . and for this reason . . . while they represent the nature of a covenant between man and man, none of them are adequate for the purpose of setting forth the nature of God's gracious dealings with man."
2. Dr. James Maclagan, a Scottish theologian of the mid-ninteenth century, summarized the covenant-idea as "a declaration by God ... of the grace which He intends to show. . . and of the allegiance which He expects at their hands."
C. THE COVENANT - lDEA, IN THE NEW TESTAMENT IS EXPRESSED IN THE GREEK WORD "DIATHEKE," (Matt. 26:28; Lk. 1.72; Acts 3:25; Rom. 11:27; Eph. 2:12; Heb. 8:6; 12:24; 13:20).
1. Greek lexical evidence is almost unanimous in laying hold of this word as expressing God's "will, purpose and disposition" in certain blessings to men. In the covenant He indicates purposes to do, and will do, when the acts or conditions stated in the covenant are performed.
2. According to Moulton and Milligan, it is "an arrangement made by one party with plenary power, which the other party may accept or reject. but cannot alter."
D. IN ESSENCE, THEN, THE COVENANT-IDEA SUGGESTS: "a declaration of will or purpose"; in this case, an authoritative disposition of God's will toward men.
II. CONSIDER CAREFULLY THE NATURE OF GOD'S COVENANTS.
A. EACH OF THEM IS ESTABLISHED UNDER THE DIVINE INITIATIVE AND ROOTED IN WHAT THE HEBREW CALLS "HE’SED" - a word connected with "covenant" and "truth" in the law, the prophets and Psalms, (Deut. 7:9, 12; Neh. 1:5; 9:32; Dan. 9:4; Psa. 25:10).
1. It is variously translated by such inadequate words as "mercy, kindness, goodness, favor, loving kindness and pity."
2. When used of God, it speaks of His abounding grace, His steadfast love and unwavering loyalty to truth and to His people - in spite of their unworthiness. It always suggests "faithfulness" on God’s part in every covenant partnership.
3. When used of men, it describes the only proper response to God's covenant grace - utter loyalty and devoted obedience to His perfect will.
a. Castigating the bankruptcy of external forms of religion, God spoke through Hosea; "For I desired mercy (he’sed), and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings," (Hos. 6:6; comp. Matt. 9:10-13; 12:7; Hos. 2:20).
b. Concerning His faithfulness to the covenant, God spoke through Isaiah of the nation (Israel), temporarily cast off be cause of her infidelity to the covenant vows: "In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness (hesed) will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer," (Isa. 54:8).
c. That Israel had such a God was meant to be a cause for joy and glory (Jer. 9:23-24); He practices "hesed," justice and righteousness - finding in them His delight.
B. THESE COVENANTS ARE SOMETIMES STATED WITHOUT QUALIFICATION OR CONDITION. This may be illustrated by:
1. God's purpose for man to subdue and rule the earth, (Gen. 1:28).
2. His purpose to redeem mankind, (Gen. 3:15).
3. His promise concerning the natural order and preservation of the earth, (Gen. 8:20-22).
C. THE ENJOYMENT OF COVENANT BLESSINGS, BY INDIVIDUALS OR GROUPS, IS SOMETIMES CONDITIONED ON THEIR RESPONSE TO GOD'S EXPRESSED WILL AND RECOGNITION OF HIS ABSOLUTE LORDSHIP OVER THEIR LIVES.
1. There is nothing to suggest "equality" of the parties to such a covenant.
a. Rather, one party held a decisive position and laid down the conditions of agreement; the other party accepted or rejected the offer.
b. It is always GOD'S COVENANT; not once does He mention "our covenant."
2. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that man has never been in a position to "bargain" with God.
a. All covenant dealings between God and men have been on the Divine initiative; rooted in His grace.
(1) Entrance into covenant relationship is never the result of man's endeavor to earn favor through some human merit.
(2) It is, rather, the acceptance of His proffered grace - accompanied by a pledge, on man's part, to fulfill the obligations inherent in this exalted position.
b. Maintenance of this covenant-fellowship, once established, has always involved the second party (man) in tremendous responsibility.
(1) It is only by divine grace (hesed) that one is brought into such a position of blessing.
(2) Only by a proper and gracious response (hesed) to the divine will may one "abide" (continue, or remain) in the sphere, or position, where covenant blessings freely flow.
D. GOD IS FAITHFUL TO HIS THREATENINGS AS WELL AS TO HIS PROMISE OF BLESSINGS. Let man never forget this!
E. THE BINDING FORCE OF A COVENANT IS ILLUSTRATED BY JOSHUA 9:1-27.
1. Though hastily making a covenant with deceivers, without seeking God's counsel, Joshua and the princes of Israel would not multiply iniquity by breaking the covenant to which they had sworn.
2. They knew that breach of their oath would bring down the swift wrath of God upon their heads.
3. Therefore, they made the Gibeonites slaves - to hew wood and draw water for the house of God.
4. And they defended the Gibeonites against the revenge of Adonizedek and his hosts.
III. WHEN DEALING WITH COVENANTS IT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THE EXACT MEANING OF WORDS.
A. GOD HAS CAREFULLY CHOSEN WORDS THAT EXPRESS HIS PURPOSE PRECISELY; the "jot and tittle" are important, (Deut. 29:1; Matt. 5:18; I Kings 8:56).
CONCLUSION: God's purpose is eternal and unchanging. (Jn. 1:45; Rom. 3:21-22; I Pet. 1:18-20). The usage of "old" and "new," as regards His covenant dealings with men, is accommodative language designed to aid the understanding of finite men.
The revelation of God's purpose has necessarily been "progressive" (here a little, and there a little) limited by man's inability to grasp it all at once, and sometimes specifically designed to arouse him to an awareness of his spiritual bankruptcy, (Heb. 1:1-2; Dan. 12:8-9; Matt. 13:16-17; Jn. 16:12-13; Eph. 3:4-6; Rom. 3:19-20).
The covenant-idea in both testaments emphasizes the supremacy of God; man is merely the consenting recipient of divine blessings and directions. He rejects or neglects God's offer to his own eternal loss.
How will YOU respond to His gracious offer?
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
1. What is a covenant?
2. How many different types of covenant-relationships were discussed?
3. How many different areas for covenant agreements between men?
4. How many metaphorical usages of a covenant can you recall?
5. How should the covenant-idea in the Scriptures be defined?
6. Who has always initiated the covenants between God and man?
7. In what principle are all of God's covenants rooted?
8. what is meant by a "conditional" covenant?
9. Can you name some covenant promises that were made without condiditions?
10. Has God generally required men to meet certain covenant-conditions before they can claim covenant-blessings?
11. what is indicated by one's failure to walk in God's way?
12. Is God as faithful to His warnings as to His promise of blessings?
13. why is it so important to know the precise meaning of covenant-words?
14. Has God revealed His purpose all-at-once, or progressively?
15. Should YOU be concerned to understand God's covenants? why?