Bible Covenants - Introduction

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An introduction to covenants in the Bible.

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Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Introduction

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Take a Bible and open it to any page. Most likely, you are reading a passage involving one or more Bible covenants. Even if a covenant is not specifically mentioned, or covenant language used, the covenant relationship is always in the background informing every verse. The Bible is a book of covenants, and almost every word relates to those agreements.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants What is a covenant? In simple terms, a covenant, or testament, is an agreement between two parties. It establishes a relationship between them for mutual benefit. Both parties pledge to uphold the terms of the agreement and the consequences of defaulting are clearly defined.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants A covenant is a “compact or agreement between two parties binding them mutually to undertakings on each other’s behalf. Theologically (used of relations between God and man) it denotes a gracious undertaking entered into by God for the benefit and blessing of man, and specifically of those men who by faith receive the promises and commit themselves to the obligations which this undertaking involves.”—Gleason Archer

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The Hebrew word for covenant (“ berit ”) comes from a root word that means “to cut.” The cutting and offering of sacrifices and the shedding of blood were an integral part of covenant making. Abraham, for example, cut each of his sacrifices in half and laid the pieces out as an offering to God in response to the covenant God had made with him.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants God showed His acceptance of the offering when a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between the two pieces of each sacrifice (Ge. 15). This was God’s presence confirming the covenant. See Genesis 15:9-18.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The significance of God’s presence passing between the pieces of the sacrifice should not be missed. In ancient times those who made a covenant walked between the pieces and declared: “May it be so done to me if I do not keep my oath and pledge.”

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants In other words, what was done to the animal sacrifices was an illustration of what would be done to the persons entering into the covenant agreement if they defaulted . By passing through the halves of the sacrifices, God was making a solemn promise to keep the covenant. This provided complete assurance to Abram of God’s commitment.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The seriousness by which God regards covenant keeping can be seen in the consequences of transgressing the covenant:

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants “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.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants “Their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.” —Jeremiah 34:18-20 (NIV)

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Besides the Hebrew term, there are two Greek terms for covenant. “ Suntheke ” referred to an agreement made between two equal parties. “ Diatheke ” referred to an agreement where one party is greater than the other (as in a will).

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The New Testament authors always used “ diatheke ” to describe God’s New Covenant with humankind. Whenever God made a covenant with humankind, it was always God who extended His grace as the greater party.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants What kinds of covenants are there? There are general covenants in the Bible and special covenants with God. General covenants include property agreements (Ge. 21:22-32), marriages (Proverbs 2:16-17; Mal. 2:14), political alliances (1 Kings 20:34; Josh. 9:15), and even friendships (1 Sa. 17:8). Such covenants were considered binding and sacred.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants All covenants are made in the sight of God. However, in divine covenants God specifically offers humankind immanent relationship to Him. Humankind’s covenants are limited by time, circumstance, and the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of the parties involved. In contrast, God’s covenants are founded on His nature. God is a covenant-keeping God (Ps. 111:5b).

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants What are the Divine Covenants? Deuteronomy Scroll

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Cov . Name Scripture Terms Sign Adamic ( or Edenic ) Ge. 3:15 The seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head. Clothing ( Ge. 3:21 ) Noahic Ge. 6:18; 8:20-9:17 Earth never again destroyed by water. Rainbow ( Ge. 9:12-17 ) Abrahamic Ge. 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:1-19; 17:1-14; 2 Kings 13:23 Promised seed, nation, and land. Circumcision ( Ge. 17:9-14 )

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Cov . Name Scripture Terms Sign Mosaic (or Sinaitic ) Ex. 3:7-8; 19:1-25; 24:1-18 Deliverance from bondage to the land of rest. Sabbath Keeping ( Ex. 31:16-17 ) Palestinian Deut. 27-32 Blessings and curses. Mt. Gerizim (blessings) and Mt. Ebal (curses) (Deut. 27:12) Davidic 2 Sa. 7:4-16, 22:51; 23:5; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Lk. 1:32-33 Everlasting throne. Day Following Night (Jer. 33:19-22)

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Cov . Name Scripture Terms Sign New Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36-37; Mt. 26:28; Lk. 22:20; He. 8:8-12, 9:15 Kingdom of God (Lk. 22:29). This includes salvation and the law written on hearts. Communion (1 Cor. 11:24-25)

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Christ institutes the New Covenant with His disciples during Passover.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The Adamic covenant dealt with the global effects of the Fall (Ge. 3). The Noahic covenant dealt with the global effects of the flood (Ge. 6-8). The Abrahamic covenant brought a global promise (Ge. 12). The Mosiac covenant brought a global recognition of God’s love for His people (Deut. 4:6-8; Ps. 67). The New covenant brought global salvation through Christ (Jn. 3:16).

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants All but two (Mosaic and Palestinian) of the divine covenants are irrevocable. Regarding the irrevocable covenants, when God made His covenant with Abraham, for example, He alone passed through the pieces of the sacrifices. He did not require Abraham to do the same. Further, God alone swore by His eternal, unchangeable nature (He. 6:16-18).

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The promise and the oath guaranteed that God would unilaterally fulfill His covenant to Abraham. In this way, God’s covenant with Abraham was an irrevocable, “everlasting covenant” (Ge. 17:7, 13, 19). Taking another example, in the Davidic covenant, God promised a kingdom to David’s posterity. It was likewise irrevocable (see Psalm 89:28-37).

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants In contrast, the only revocable divine covenants are the Mosaic Covenant and the closely related Palestinian Covenant. The covenant made with Moses and the nation of Israel (Mosaic) and reiterated and updated by Joshua (Palestinian) was contingent upon their obedience to the law (Ex. 19:5-8).

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works, “not an unconditional promise of salvation made to the whole world but a special contract made with a special people...”.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants With the failure of Israel to keep their covenant (Jer. 31:32; Zech. 11:10), God promised a new covenant with the “house of Israel and the house of Judah” that was “ not like the covenant I made with their fathers” (Jer. 31:31-32). In fact, the writer of Hebrews declared that the Mosaic covenant was passing away (He. 8:13).

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants What does a covenant with God provide?

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants A covenant provides God’s grace. Covenants are not just legal treaties. They are gratuitous acts—divine dispositions of His grace and mercy. God initiates the covenant process (Ge. 6:18; 15:18; Ex. 24:8; Jer. 31:31; Lk. 22:20) and provides the means to fulfill the terms. Grace is God extending Himself to meet our needs. Without His grace, we would not be able to have a relationship with Him.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants A covenant provides great promises. God sovereignly makes wonderful promises to humankind in his covenants, and He keeps them! (cf. Ge. 12:1-3; Gal. 3:8-9). Not only did God promise to personally bless Abram, but all people—including Gentiles—have the promise of blessing as well.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants A covenant results in fellowship. This is one of the primary purposes for covenants (and we will discuss this further in the next lesson). God declared to Abram and Ezekiel the nature of the relationship in what is called the Tripartite Promise (Ge. 17:7-8; Ezek. 37:26-27).

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The tripartite promise states: “I will be their God, they will be my people, and I will dwell in their midst.” This is clearly covenant language) ”their God…my people”). This promise succinctly reveals God’s overall purpose for fellowship. This also shows that Abraham and his descendants were set apart as belonging to God.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Thus, the covenant defined who they were in relationship to God. God’s desire for fellowship further reveals His desire to communicate with His people. Through covenants He has revealed His will for fellowship and the conditions for having that fellowship.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants What are the parts of a covenant? The major Bible covenants contain three basic parts.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The terms of the agreement. This included the stipulations, curses and blessings, and the arrangement for the continuation of the agreement. The inauguration or ratification of the agreement. This often involved shedding of blood. The old covenants were inaugurated by shedding the blood of sacrifices. The New Covenant was inaugurated by the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The New Covenant was inaugurated by the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The reminder sign or seal of the agreement. This was to be “an ongoing tangible witness to the veracity of the covenant.” When God made a covenant with Noah, He set the rainbow in the heavens for the first time (Ge. 9:12-13). Circumcision was a sign God required of Abraham and his descendants. These signs served as a reminder of the terms of the covenant.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants The Rainbow was the sign of the Noahic Covenant .

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Just as an ancient Near Eastern sovereign would make a treaty with another nation to provide protection for it, so the Lord has pledged to protect His covenant people. As a result of the covenant, Israel’s enemies became God’s enemies. This is why we have the Psalmists crying out to God to judge Israel’s enemies. The Psalmist is appealing to God for his help according to the covenant terms.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Just as ancient treaties included a “curse” section for breaking the covenant, so God’s covenants contain curses for breaking the terms (Deut. 28:15ff). In fulfillment of these curses, the Lord brought judgments against the nation of Israel for breaking the covenant.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Just as the ancient treaties often required that the vassal must visit the king annually to renew the treaty, so the Israelites were required to gather at the temple during the feasts and hear the terms of the covenant read to them (Deut. 31:10-11).

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Just as the parties of an ancient treaty would have emissaries to declare an infraction or threaten enforcement of the terms, so God’s prophets are His covenant enforcers. Old Testament prophets were the covenant spokesmen for God.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants They spoke directly to the specific circumstances of the day in relation to the terms of the covenant between God and His people. Thus, prophets often warned the nation of Israel that they had violated their contract with God.

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Bible Covenants Prophets were covenant enforcers . Nathan Condemns King David

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Bible Covenants What is the covenant process? Keith Intrater summarizes:

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants “First there is an intervening act of redemption on the part of the savior. Then there is a gracious offer of relationship from the savior to the rescued party. “This relationship is the heart and the goal of the whole matter. Words and promises of a covenant are set forward to delineate the nature of that relationship.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants “Signs of remembrance are given to make a graphic impression upon both parties of the permanence of the covenant. “Terms of expectation between the two parties are set forth in the form of law.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants “The positive rewards (or blessings) for continuing in the covenant are set forth. “The punishments (or curses) for breaking the articles of the covenant are also set forward to enforce it. “The various parts of Scripture work together to form a composite picture that we call a covenant.”

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Summary It was by the means of covenants that God chose to relate to His people. God “cut” covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and the nation of Israel, and David. The blood of sacrifices flowed.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants A Christian’s relationship with God is through the New Covenant inaugurated by the once-for-all shedding of Christ’s blood and remembered in the communion service. Therefore, it is by covenants that we bind ourselves in intimate relationship to God.

Bible Covenants:

Bible Covenants Gleason Archer, Covenant , Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984) 276. Cited in Homer Kent, The New Covenant and the Church , Grace Theological Journal , vol. 6, Fall 1985, 289. Kevin Conner and Ken Malmin , The Covenants , (Portland: Bible Temple Publishing, 1983) . Keith Intrater , Covenant Relationships , (Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 1989). Eugene Merrill, The Mosaic Covenant: A Proposal for Its Theological Significance , 2. Paper delivered at the Southwest conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 1981. Archives of the Billy Graham Center.

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