I am preparing to teach lesson 1 from the Precept Bible study entitled “Covenant“. This is one of my favorite Bible studies to teach and study with others. It is such an eye opening experience. We will discover how the three major covenants in the Bible, Abrahamic, Old, and New Covenants all fit together. By understanding the subject of covenant, the Old Testament comes alive in a way previously unseen. I am excited to begin this journey with these students and I want to share what I will be teaching here.
First, we must understand what our English word “covenant” means in Hebrew and Greek. The Hebrew word that is translated covenant is “ber-eeth” and it means “a solemn binding agreement between two or more parties“. By definition, there is a bloody cut, usually the sacrifice of an animal that is involved in making the covenant. The Greek word for covenant is “Diatheke“. This idea here is “a compact, an arrangement, agreement between two or more parties“. Both of these words have the idea of a solemn agreement between two parties. It is so solemn that death is involved. Since it is an agreement, conditions are set and promises are made.
There are two basic kinds of covenant. The first is covenant between God and man. The second is covenant between man and man. Let’s examine the Scriptures and see what we can learn.
I. God and man
Covenant is mentioned in Genesis 9. The motives are mentioned in this chapter. God, the stronger party, initiates the covenant with Noah and his family. Noah is a righteous man. He is walking with God. In other words, Noah is obedient to God and has a personal relationship with God. The conditions that must be met are that Noah must build an ark. Then, Noah is to load the animals into the ark along with his family. After exiting the ark, Noah builds an altar and offers a sacrifice to God. There is sign to this covenant and it is the rainbow. The promises, set by the initiator and for the benefit of the weaker party, are that this covenant will be for Noah and his descendants. Not only is this covenant for Noah and his family, it is also extended to the earth and the living creatures on the earth. So, the stronger comes to the weaker and initiates the covenant for the good of the weaker. All Noah is required to do is be obedient to what God says and receive the benefits of being in covenant with God.
The next two mentions of covenant are in Genesis 15 and 17. This covenant is between God and Abraham. The motivation behind this covenant is that God wants to bless Abraham, his family, his descendants, and the entire world (see Genesis 12). Abraham is to take 3 animals and sacrifice them, splitting them in half and laying the halves opposite of each other. God passes between the pieces of flesh. There is a sign of this covenant and that sign is circumcision of the males. Abraham has his name changed from Abram to Abraham and his wife Sarah has her name changed from Sarai to Sarah. The promises are land, descendants, and an eternal covenant.
The next covenant under consideration is the Old Covenant (testament) between God and the nation of Israel. This is what is known as the Law. It is found in Exodus 24. God, the stronger party, initiates the covenant with the nation of Israel, the weaker part, for the good of the weaker party. The conditions are obedience for blessings. If they are disobedient, there are curses. The conditions are building an altar, animal sacrifices, 2 halves, half the blood is sprinkled on the people and half on the altar. There is eating and drinking involved. The promises of this covenant are conditional. If the people are obedient, they will be blessed. If the people are disobedient, they will be punished. The sign of this covenant is the book of the Law.
The final covenant between God and man is the New Covenant (testament). This covenant is between Jesus Christ and His disciples. It is described in Matthew 26 and Luke 22. The motivation behind this covenant is to forgive people of their sins. There is a sacrifice, not animal but human. Jesus Christ is the sacrifice. Blood is involved because of the sacrifice. There is eating and drinking involved. There is a sign of this covenant, the Lord’s Supper (Communion). The promises of this covenant are forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The stronger initiates the covenant with the weaker for the good of the weaker.
Now let’s change gears and take a look at covenants between man and man. It is very eye opening.
II. Man and man
The first covenant that I would like to examine is a covenant between Abimelech and Abram (Abraham). It is found in Genesis 21. In this case, the weaker comes to the stronger and initiates the covenant for the benefit of the weaker. Abimelech saw that God was with Abram and he wanted protection from Abram. There was a witness to this covenant, besides God, 7 ewe lambs. The promise is that Abram would not harm Abimelech. This is a conditional covenant initiated by the weaker for the benefits of the weaker.
The second covenant between man and man is the covenant between Abimelech and Isaac. Abimelech came to Isaac just as he had done with Isaac’s father, Abraham. Abimelech saw that God was with Isaac and he wanted protection. The weaker comes to the stronger again, setting conditions that benefit the weaker party. God is the witness as Issac and Abimelech make oaths with each other. There is also eating and drinking involved.
The third covenant between man and man that I would like to examine is a covenant between Laban and Jacob, Isaac’s son, Abraham’s grandson. Laban, the weaker party, came to Jacob, the stronger party and wanted to make a covenant with him because he noticed that God was with Jacob. The weaker is the benefactor of the covenant. There is a witness other than God, a stone pillar. There is a sacrifice and they share a meal together.
I want to ask you, my dear friend, have you entered into covenant with God? He wants to be in covenant with you. He has done everything to initiate covenant with you and the benefits are all for you. What stops you from entering into covenant with God? Would you rather enter into covenant with man? Men want to be in covenant with you, but for their own benefit, not yours. If you are in covenant with God, how are you reminding yourself of that covenant daily? Do you treat your covenant with God as a solemn, binding agreement, with conditions that you must meet?