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Sermon No: 72355-Covenants - Part 1



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SERMON TOPIC: Covenants - Part 1

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 28 June 2020

Topic Groups: COVENANTS, NEW COVENANT

Sermon synopsis: A covenant is a legally enforceable agreement between 2 or more persons to do or to refrain from doing a certain act. Just as we have different kinds of contracts today, the same was true of covenants in the ancient Near East. Covenant is a legal concept often used in the Bible as a metaphor to describe the relationship between God and humankind. The idea of a covenant between God and humankind lies at the heart of the Bible.

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PART 1: COVENANT TERMS

SYNONYMS: Contract, deal, pact, agreement, treaty, alliance, pledge, constitution, testament or will.

DEFINITION: A covenant is a legally enforceable agreement between 2 or more persons to do or to refrain from doing a certain act.

EXAMPLES: Typical commonplace contracts are marriage, business partnerships, sale of property, insurance policies, hire-purchase agreements, rental or lease contracts, inter-country treaties etc.

The contract might be between equals or non-equals.

The contract might have all terms stipulated by one party (e.g. hire purchase) or could have terms negotiated by both parties (e.g. business partnership).

Both parties must voluntarily agree to enter into the contract (no duress).

A contract might require mediation by a third party.

There might be conditions (about either promised action and/ or non-action) attached to one or both parties (e.g. inter-country alliance treaty) or it may be unconditional (e.g. last will or testament).

If either party breaches the agreement by not adhering to the stipulated conditions, the other party is automatically released from their obligations, and the contract becomes null and void. There may be a penalty clause to penalise the offending party.

The contract must be signed by both parties and countersigned by witnesses to make it legally binding.

The conditions of the contract can only be legally changed by consent of both parties, or by the existence of a more recent contract, which supersedes the previous one.

A contract or covenant has always been a crucial part of God’s relationship with his people.

Covenant is a legal concept often used in the Bible as a metaphor to describe the relationship between God and humankind. The idea of a covenant between God and humankind lies at the heart of the Bible. This idea explains the selection of the word testament, a synonym for covenant, in naming the two parts of the Bible. 1

1 J.J.M. Roberts

EQUALS OR NON-EQUALS

Just as we have different kinds of contracts today, the same was true of covenants in the ancient Near East.

a voluntary agreement between equals - as with David and Jonathan (1 Sam 18:3). 1

treaties between a great king and a lesser king (his vassal). 1

Covenants between God and his people are always of the second type. God dictates the terms of the covenant (asserting his sovereignty and kingship) and the people have an obligation of obedience. 1 God does not enter into covenants of parity with men as we are not his equals.

Isaiah 40:25 (NIV) “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

1 Zondervan Bible Dictionary

Not only the Hebrew, but also the Greek, emphasises that God’s covenants are not an agreement between equals. The Septuagint (LXX), which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, is useful in ascertaining the equivalent Greek terms for the Hebrew. In its translation of the Hebrew berîth, more light is thrown in this regard:

The LXX avoided the usual Greek term for covenant, synthêke (meaning a thing mutually “put together”), as unsuitable for the action of the sovereign God and substituted diathêke (a thing, literally, “put through”), the primary meaning of which is “a disposition of property by a will.” 1

Diathêke (which the Greeks used in the sense of “testament”) is also the term used for covenant in the NT.

1 Zondervan Pictorial Bible dictionary

In modern times we have contracts where we are not able to negotiate conditions but are obliged to accept what the initiating party has stipulated (e.g. a rental agreement). Our extent of negotiation is in accepting or rejecting the terms altogether, but not in modifying them.

Likewise, the covenants between God and man do not have the conditions negotiated by both parties. God stipulates the conditions for men, but in his love, also imposes conditions on himself, albeit not due to pressure or bargaining by men (e.g. the Abrahamic covenant).

Man’s freedom of choice allows for acceptance or rejection of the contract, but not for variation of God’s stipulated terms. (Both parties must voluntarily agree to enter into the contract - no duress).

CONDITIONS

The covenant between equals can be further divided into ones that had conditions (about either promised action and/ or non-action) attached to one or both parties or to those that were unconditional.

Thus there were 3 main types of covenants:

BETWEEN EQUALS

The Covenant of Parity (CONDITIONAL)

BETWEEN NON-EQUALS

A Royal Grant (UNCONDITIONAL)

The Suzerain-Vassal covenant (CONDITIONAL)

All covenants between God and man are either of the Royal Grant or Suzerain-Vassal type, or both.

COVENANT TYPES

A Covenant of Parity was a conditional covenant between equals, binding them to mutual friendship or at least to mutual respect for each other’s spheres and interests. 1

Participants called each other “brothers”. 1

This was the type of covenant entered into by Abraham and Abimelech, Jacob and Laban, and David and Jonathan.

1 Zondervan All-in-One Bible Reference Guide

A Suzerain-Vassal (conditional) covenant regulated the relationship between a great king and a subject king.

The great king claimed absolute right of sovereignty, demanded total loyalty and service (the vassal must “love” his suzerain) and pledged protection of the subject’s realm and dynasty, conditional on the vassal’s faithfulness and loyalty to him. 1

The vassal pledged absolute loyalty to his suzerain - whatever service his suzerain demanded - an exclusive reliance on the suzerain’s protection. 1

Participants called each other “lord” and “servant”, or “father” and “son”. 1

The Mosaic covenant was modelled on this covenant.

1 Zondervan All-in-One Bible Reference Guide

A Royal Grant covenant (unconditional) was a king’s grant to a loyal servant for faithful or exceptional service.

In this type of covenant, a king rewards a loyal subject by granting him an office, land, exemption from taxes, or the like. 1

The grant was normally unconditional, focusing on rewarding loyalty or good deeds that had already been performed by the beneficiary. Hence, such covenants are also termed covenants of promise.

It is typical of such covenants that only the superior party binds himself; conditions are not imposed on the inferior party. 2

1 https:// en.wikibooks.org/ wiki/ Hebrew_Roots/ The_Law_and_the_Covenants/ Covenant"> 2 J.J.M. Roberts

The covenants God made with Abraham (Genesis 15:18), and David (2 Samuel 7; 23:5) fit this pattern. In each of these cases, it is God alone who binds himself by a solemn oath to keep the covenant. 1

Further underlying the idea that these covenants were grant-like in nature is the similar language used in both. In the grant of Ashurbanipal, an Assyrian, to his servant Bulta, he describes Bulta’s loyalty with the phrase “kept the charge of my kinship”. Abraham similarly kept God's charge in Genesis 26:4–5: “I will give to your descendants all these lands...in as much as Abraham obeyed me and kept my charge, my commandments, my rules and my teachings.” 2

1 https:// en.wikibooks.org/ wiki/ Hebrew_Roots/ The_Law_and_the_Covenants/ Covenant 2 https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Covenant_(biblical)">

Testament or will: Jesus added another model, that of a last will and testament. At the Last Supper, he interpreted his own life and death as the perfect covenant. 1

The main difference between this and a royal grant is that a testament (will) requires the death of the testator in order to be put into effect.

Heb 9:16-17 (NIV) In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.

1 J.J.M. Roberts

COVENANT

TYPE

PARTICIPANTS

Edenic

Suzerain-Vassal

Adam & Eve

Adamic

Royal Grant

All mankind

Noachic

Royal Grant / Suzerain-Vassal

Noah, his descendants and every living thing on earth

Abrahamic

Royal Grant

Abraham

Mosaic

Suzerain-Vassal

Israel

Phinehas

Royal Grant

Phinehas

Davidic

Royal Grant

David

New

Royal grant /

Last will or testament

All men who believe

COVENANT MEDIATORS

A covenant might require mediation by a third party.

A mediator is someone who acts as a negotiator between 2 or more parties either to settle a dispute, or to bring about an agreement.

Gal 3:20 (NIV) A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

A covenant mediator arbitrates between the covenant parties to bring about agreement on the covenant terms. Thus a royal grant requires no mediator. E.g. Since the promise God covenanted with Abraham involved commitment only from God’s side, no mediator was involved.

However even when a mediator is not required, they may be used to communicate the covenant terms to man e.g. in the royal grant that David received, the prophet Nathan still functions as a mediator – he takes David’s proposal to build a temple to God and returns to David with God’s reply and covenant promises.

The 2 central mediators in the Bible are:

Mediator of the Old Covenant (Testament): Moses

Mediator of the New Covenant (Testament): Jesus

John 1:17 (NIV) For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The Mosaic covenant was a formal arrangement of mutual commitments between God and Israel, with Moses as the mediator between the Israelites and the angels who put the covenant into effect.

Gal 3:19 (NIV) …The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.

Moses’ mediatory role involved communicating the terms of the covenant to Israel.

The people lost their mediator when Moses died so the priesthood was instituted.

With the New Covenant between God and all mankind, Jesus acted as mediator between God and men:

1 Tim 2:5 (NIV) For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.

Heb 9:15 (NIV) ... Christ is the mediator of a new covenant

If either party breaches the agreement by not adhering to the stipulated conditions, the other party is automatically released from their obligations, and the contract becomes null and void. There may be a penalty clause to penalise the offending party.

Heb 8:9 (NIV) It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.

BREACH

God always honours his covenants, unlike people who often make covenant vows and then dishonour them. The marriage covenant where people swear “until death us do part” with God as a witness, and then disregard this is but one example.

Malachi 2:13-16 (NIV) … You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings … You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his … So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the LORD …

COVENANT SIGNS

The contract must be signed to make it legally binding.

A covenant sign was a visible seal and reminder of covenant commitments.

COVENANT

SIGN

Noachic

Rainbow

Abrahamic

Circumcision

Mosaic

Sabbath

New

Baptism, Communion

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (Gen 9:13)

The rainbow was the sign of the covenant with Noah.

The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant is circumcision.

Gen 17:9-11 (NIV) Then God said to Abraham, “…This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you…”

Rom 4:11 (NIV) And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised…

Acts 7:8 (NIV) Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision.

This is why when under Greek rule, some Jews tried to remove the evidence of their circumcision, it was considered to be abandoning their covenant

1 Maccabees 1:13-15 (CEB) Some of them eagerly went to King Antiochus, who gave them permission to start living by the laws of the Gentiles. Consequently, they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, following Gentile custom. They even took steps to remove the marks of circumcision, utterly abandoning the holy covenant

The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant with Israel at Sinai.

Ex 31:16-17 (NIV) The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.’”

Circumcision was the sign of the covenant with Abraham, and the Sabbath was the sign of the covenant with Israel at Sinai. Both of these practices have been contentious issues in the church. However as they are remnants of previous covenants, it is important to remember that legally a more recent covenant supersedes previous ones. This explains why neither of these apply to those who partake of the New Covenant.

The NT makes it clear that we are no longer required to be circumcised. Paul writes to those partaking of the New Covenant:

Gal 5:6 (NIV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

The signs of the New Covenant are:

Baptism:

Col 2:11-12 (NIV) In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

In the Old (Mosaic Covenant), circumcision was a sign that the individual stood in covenant relation with God. While the above passage is the only reference where circumcision is associated with baptism, some see the passage as implying that, for the Christian, water baptism is the parallel sign of the covenant relationship.

The cup (Communion) also is a sign of the covenant:

Luke 22:20 (NKJV) Likewise, He also took the cup after supper, saying, this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.

BLOOD COVENANTS

Just as a contract without signatures is not legally binding, so God’s covenants with man are often sealed with a “blood signature.”

COVENANT

BLOOD

Adamic

Animals killed for garments

Noachic

Sacrifice of clean animals and birds

Abrahamic

Sacrifice of heifer, a goat and a ram, along with a dove and a young pigeon.

Old (Mosaic)

Blood of lambs, bulls and goats

New

Jesus’ blood on the cross

CUTTING A COVENANT

The Hebrew term bĕriyth for “covenant” is from a root with the sense of “cutting”, because pacts or covenants were made by passing between cut pieces of flesh of the victim of an animal sacrifice. 1 E.g. Genesis 15:1-21

Gen 15:18 - made a covenant, Literally, “cut a covenant,” referring to the slaughtering of the animals (the same Hebrew verb is translated “made” and “cut” in Jeremiah 34:18). 2

Passing between the pieces of the slaughtered animals had the following significance. In ancient times the parties solemnised a covenant by walking down an aisle flanked by the pieces of slaughtered animals.

1 Strong’s Concordance 2 NIV Study Bible Notes

Gen 15:7-18 (NIV) He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half… On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land…

The practice signified a self-maledictory oath: “May it be so done to me if I do not keep my oath and pledge.”

Note the following example of this in Jeremiah:

Jer 34:18-20 (NIV) The men who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the Covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will hand over to their enemies who seek their lives. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.

The Covenant with Israel was a “blood covenant.”

Exodus 24:8 (NIV) Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Heb 9:18-21 (NIV) This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies.

The Law required that the blood of animals be sprinkled on the altar for a sin offering, indicating the substitution of the victim’s blood for that of the sinner.

Heb 9:22 (NIV) In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

To bring about atonement and to establish the New Covenant it was necessary for Jesus to shed his blood.

Luke 22:20 (NIV) In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

COVENANT HEADS

The two participants in the cutting of the covenant are called covenant heads. The covenant remains in effect until both covenant heads die. If one covenant head dies, the other will extend the benefits and blessings of the covenant to the family of the deceased covenant head. In essence, a blood covenant not only joins the two covenant heads together, but also joins the families as well. 1

E.g. the covenants with Noah, Abraham and David are still in place even though they have died.

1 God’s Covenant with You for Your Family - By John Eckhardt

COVENANT MEAL

In the ancient Middle East there was often a covenant meal, celebrating the sealing of the covenant. Hence we read regarding the treaty between Isaac and Abimelech:

Gen 26:28-31 (ESV) They said, “… let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you… So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank.

When Jacob and Laban entered into a covenant we also read of a covenant meal.

Gen 31:43-54 (NIV) Laban answered Jacob, “… Come now, let’s make a covenant…” So Jacob … offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal.

When the Israelites made a covenant with the Gibeonites, there is a reference to what could be a covenant meal:

Josh 9:14-15 (ESV) So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.

The first Passover and all subsequent ones were associated with a covenant meal.

Ex 12:3-11 (NIV) Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household… That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast… This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

While hearing the terms of the Mosaic covenant read to them, the people partook in a meal.

Ex 24:7-11 (NIV) Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” … But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

Jesus used his last Passover meal with his disciples as a covenant meal to institute the New Covenant in which he would be the Passover lamb - who was symbolically eaten by his disciples as a covenant meal. Thus the bread and the wine have become the symbols or sign of this covenant

Luke 22:20 (NIV) In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

THE OATH

As was common practice, the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech was sealed with an oath (Gen 21:31). So too were the covenants between Isaac and Abimelech (26:31), and Jacob and Laban.

Gen 31:43-53 (NIV) Laban answered Jacob, “… Come now, let’s make a covenant…” So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac.

Jacob insisted on Esau swearing an oath when he covenanted to give him the birthright.

Gen 25:33 (NIV) But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

The oath made the covenant binding.

Hebrews 6:16 (NIV) Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.

The oath was seen as a ratification of the covenant, as evidenced by Joshua’s treaty with the Gibeonites.

Josh 9:15 (NASB) Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them.

Jehoida’s covenant with the commanders (2 Kings 11:4) and David’s covenant with Jonathan were also sealed with oaths.

1 Sam 20:16-17 (NIV). So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

So too God confirms his covenants with an oath.

Abraham tells his servant about God’s oath.

Gen 24:7 (NIV) “The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’”

Moses emphasises to Israel that their covenant is sealed with an oath from God.

Deut 4:31 (NIV) For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.

Deut 29:12-15 (NIV) “You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the LORD your God, a covenant the LORD is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you who are standing here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God but also with those who are not here today.”

The Davidic covenant was bound with the surety of an irrevocable oath:

Psalm 132:11 (NIV) The LORD swore an oath to David, a sure oath that he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne …”

We too as the “heirs of what was promised” in the New Covenant have our covenant confirmed by God’s oath.

Heb 6:17 (NIV) Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.

When Jesus is appointed the high priest of the New Covenant forever, God guarantees this with an oath.

Heb 7:20-22 (NIV) And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever.” Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are taken from the NIV: THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. (http:// www.lockman.org)

Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV: Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.




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