Covenant

Preaching and Worship Resources about Covenant

In Scripture a covenant is an agreement between God and human beings, always including God's promise of grace and sometimes, as in the grandest covenant (God's covenant of grace with Abraham), human vows of faith and obedience.

In Scripture

A Great Nation "`I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed'" (Gen. 12:2-3).

This Land "Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, `To your offspring I will give this land.' So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him" (Gen. 12:7).

This Land "On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, `To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, . . .'" (Gen. 15:18).

A Multitude "`As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations" (Gen. 17:4-5).

An Everlasting Covenant "`I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.' God said to Abraham, `As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. . . . Every male among you shall be circumcised'" (Gen 17:7-10).

Priestly Kingdom and Holy Nation "`You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation'" (Ex. 19:4-6a).

No other gods "Then God spoke all these words: `I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me'" (Ex. 20:1-3).

I will be their God "`This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people'" (Jer. 31:33, see repetition in Heb. 8:7-13).

Blood of the covenant "`This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'" (Matt. 26:28).

Faith "For this reason it [the promise to Abraham that he would inherit the whole world] depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us)" (Rom. 4:16).

Through the promise "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, `And to offsprings,' as of many; but it says, `And to your offspring,' that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise" (Gal. 3:16-18).

One in Christ Jesus "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).

Faithful "Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God's house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope" (Heb. 3:5-6).

A better covenant "But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry [than Moses], and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises" (Heb. 8:6).

Points to Ponder

Renewals of the grand covenant There are several covenants or renewals of the grand covenant in Scripture. For example, in Genesis 9 God makes an unconditional covenant with Noah and "every living creature" on the earth. God promises never again to flood the earth and destroy its creatures. The reminder to God to keep this covenant is the rainbow in the heavens. In Exodus 19-24 God amplifies and specifies the conditions of the grand covenant: in particular, God gives the Ten Commandments and other laws that Israel is to obey to keep covenant. In Jeremiah 31 and, by implication, in Hebrews 8:8-13, which quotes Jeremiah 31, God promises in the future to write his law on people's hearts so that obedience to it will be natural.

Covenants do not begin a relationship. They secure and administer an already existing relationship. Think of voluntary marriage, for example, which secures, legalizes, and regulates an already existing relationship. (The protest to a premature marriage proposal is "But I hardly know you.") So in Scripture, God calls Abram in Genesis 12 and establishes a relationship with him across chapters 12-14. It's not until the end of chapter 15 that God establishes a covenant with Abraham, and not until chapter 17 that God more fully explains the blessings inherent in the covenant. Abraham is to be the ancestor of "a multitude of nations" which, in chapter 12, God had already promised to bless through Abraham. God is to give Abraham's successors "all the land of Canaan." And God promises "to be God to you and to your descendants after you."

Mediator It appears from Romans 4:13 ff. and Galatians 3:6-8 and 16-18 that the covenant with Abraham is still in force ("he's the father of all of us"). (This claim and what follows from it are disputed.) In the New Testament, it's no longer Moses who is the mediator or representative personality of the covenant with Abraham. Now it's Jesus Christ. Paul writes that "our ancestors were . . . baptized into Moses" (1 Cor. 10:1-2), but now we are "baptized into Christ" (Rom. 6:3). The idea is that Moses and Christ are the "representative personalities" of the people of God. To be baptized into them is to be recognized ceremonially as belonging to the blessed community launched into history by their signature acts — for Moses, Passover and the exodus; for Christ, death and resurrection, with resurrection counting as the second exodus.

Covenant of grace Hebrews 8 states that the covenant of grace with Christ as mediator is "better" than the covenant of grace with Moses as mediator. One reason is that the mediator this time is not a mere mortal but the eternal Son of God incarnate, "the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being" (Heb. 1:3). Heb. 3:5-6 puts the contrast like this: Moses was a servant. Christ is a Son. Further, instead of offering to God "the blood of goats and calves," Jesus the High Priest offered to God "his own blood" (Heb. 9:12) and did it "once for all" (Heb. 7:27). Further, unlike Moses, Jesus the mediator is "without sin" (Heb. 4:15). When thinking of God's promise to bless all the nations through Israel, surely we may finally note that in "the better covenant" the great time of God's impartiality has arrived. All are welcome: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). In keeping with this expansionist tendency, the sign of membership in the Moses edition of the covenant was circumcision of Jewish males (and their slaves); in the Christ edition, the sign and seal of membership is baptism, available to anybody who is in Christ.

Worship is covenant renewal. In worship God says, "I am your God," and we say, "We are your people." The sacraments within worship are covenant binders. By them God deepens the faith that attaches us to Jesus Christ.

God is love. The fact that God binds himself by promise to human beings reveals God's character. God is love. God's promise "creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty" because God is love. In chapter 19 of C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, the devil Screwtape reveals his bafflement over how "God really loves the human vermin and really desires their freedom and continued existence." How can this be? "All His talk about love must be a disguise for something else — He must have some real motive for creating them and taking so much trouble about them. . .What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.