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Early Christianity with Peter Eyland


Covenants in the Bible

12th Dec 2012

Peter Eyland

A "covenant" is a contract or formal agreement to do something. It can be unilateral or bilateral.

A unilateral covenant is like the drawing up of a "will" or "testament" where the person has virtually no constraint on what they decide, and the other party or parties have no say at all.

A bilateral covenant is where the parties both contribute to the ultimately agreed position.

These days the formal agreement becomes binding by "signing on the dotted line." In Bible times there were certain procedures to be followed in "cutting" a covenant. There are three elements, a sign, a promise, and a meal.

The covenant of Jacob & Laban Genesis #31: 43 - 54

This was a classic bilateral covenant. The pile of stones was the sign, it reminded the parties of the promises they made and "sealed" with a meal. Since meat was an element of a covenant meal, an animal was killed by "cutting" - hence in Hebrew language a covenant is "cut".

The covenant with Noah Genesis #9

The sign was the rainbow, the promise was that there will be no other universal flood. The meal indicated the end of the vegetarian era, as it was the first meal with meat!

The covenant with Abraham Genesis #15 and #17

The sign was circumcision, the promise was about a son so that Abraham could be the father of many nations. Note the promise in #17:7 that "I will be your God and you will be my people". The cutting of the animals was required as part of the meal preparation.

The covenant with Israel Exodus #20 - #24

The sign was the blood on the altar, the promises start with "the ten words", the Elders have a meal.

Exodus 25:8, 27:45 Lev 26:1-13 This was a unilateral covenant by which God took for himself a people. He was to be exclusively "their God" and they were to be "his people". God would bless them if they kept their part of the agreement. The permanent sign was the ark which God chose as a place where his name would live among his people.

The covenant with David 2 Samuel #6 and #7.

David's re-possession of the ark revived the covenant between God and the people (they ate) and God made new apparently unconditional (#7:16) promises.

The covenant with Solomon 1 Kings #8

The new home of the ark in the temple was dedicated, the promises were reviewed, the people ate.

Josiah's renewal of the covenant 2 Kings #22 and #23

The promises were read, the people agreed, the passover was kept.

Isaiah's perspective

The covenant with Israel was not broken. Isaiah #50 asked "Where is the bill of divorce?" God declared they couldn't hinder his purposes because he still their God and they are still his people.

Jeremiah's perspective

The covenant was broken but there was to be a new covenant Jer #31:31 - 34

The promise was that there would no longer be an external written code to be obeyed no matter what the circumstances or motives. The apostle Paul saw this promise to be about new instinctive behaviour. Romans 2:14 - 15

The new covenant

Matthew #26: 27 The sign was the cup (not the wine or the loaf), the promise was forgiveness, the meal became the "agape" (love feast)

Note that in Leviticus #17: 10 - 14 there is a ban on drinking blood. Did the cup contain real blood?

In 2 Samuel #23: 13 - 17 David's men get water for David from the well at Bethlehem at the risk of their lives. David sees that drinking this water would be equivalent to drinking their blood. Hence the idiom, to accept a benefit obtained at the cost or risk of someone's life, is to drink their blood. The forgiveness obtained by Jesus' death is then in this sense drinking his blood.

The outcome of the new covenant Revelation #21: 1-4

God's presence, not just his name, dwells within his people, and they with him. The age long promise to Abraham is completed.

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