when a promise is more than a promise

I’ve been talking about covenants for the past few entries.  About how a covenant is the most solemn vow that can be made.  About how it’s a life or death bond.  About how the ceremony that formally initiates a covenant includes things like exchanging promises or oaths, conditions, blood sacrifices, signs, meals, and name changes.  But did you further know that God Himself actually chose to bind Himself by covenant promise to people He’d created and even to plants and animals?  It sounds incredible but it’s true.  If you’ve spent any time around me, you probably know that this is one of my favorite subjects.  Read on and it will become one of yours!

Double Alaskan Rainbow

God initiated a covenant with Noah and all living things after the great flood.  Noah made sacrifices of animals on an altar.  God promised never again to destroy the earth with a flood.  The sign of this covenant is the rainbow (see Genesis 8:20-9:17).  God places supreme value on keeping covenant promises.  Even when Joshua and the Israelites entered into a covenant with a Canaanite people against His explicit command, He expected them to honor it once it had been made and brought judgment on future generations when they broke it (see Joshua 9:1-16; II Samuel 21:1-4).  A well-known covenant of friendship and protection in Scripture is the one between Jonathan and David (see I Samuel 18:1-4).  In it, Jonathan initiates a covenant because of his love for David.  The sign of their covenant oneness is Jonathan’s robe and armor.  Jonathan symbolically places his identity (robe) and protection (armor) upon David.  When Jonathan’s loyalty is tested by King Saul, David reminds him of his promise (I Samuel 20:8).  True to his word in this and other instances, Jonathan heroically risks his father’s wrath and even his own life to protect David.  They keep covenant with one another. Covenant meals occur in the covenants between Isaac and Abimelech (Genesis 26:28-31) Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:43-55); and even God and the Israelites (Exodus 24:1-11).  Name changes take place in God’s covenant with Abraham (see Genesis 17 esp. vs. 5, 15) and with Jacob (Genesis 32:28).

God uses the language of covenant to communicate His plan for the redemption of humanity. As He calls out Abram to covenant with him, He makes it very clear that all nations will be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-3).  And what is that blessing?  It is Christ Himself and the salvation He makes possible. He makes a covenant with Abraham over time and through a number of stages (Genesis 15 & 17).  He confirms that covenant with its promises of land, a seed, and blessings with Isaac (Genesis 26:24-25) and again with Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22).  The land promised is Canaan; the descendants are the children of Israel in general and Christ in particular; and the blessing is the presence and prospering of God Himself that is fulfilled in part with Abraham and the Israelites but in full with His descendants who are filled with the Holy Spirit of the living God. He makes a covenant with the entire nation of Israel (Exodus 24:1-11; 34: 27-28) in which He presents the Law including the 10 commandments for their obedience.

Abraham & Abimelech

The Israelites make a promise to do so that they do not keep.  Because they do not keep the covenant, God brings plagues and cursing to them.  But even in the midst of His righteous judgment, He began to speak through His prophets of a New Covenant.  It was to be a covenant in which He would write His laws on their hearts instead of on tablets of stone and in which He would put His Spirit within them (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Ezekiel 36:26-28).  And a day came in which the mighty, eternal, Creator God took on flesh and came to live among us and make that covenant (Matthew 1:23; John 1:1).  It was a covenant in His blood (Matthew 26:20-29; Luke 22:17-20).  Because the sacrifice in this covenant was the flesh and blood of the Son of God Himself, it is eternal and unbreakable.  Those of us who live under the New Covenant do indeed have the Spirit of the Living God within us; we experience the covenant exchange of identities with our Creator.  He took on our sin nature; we receive His righteousness and holiness in return.  We share a covenant meal with our brothers and sisters in Him (communion).  As David wore Jonathan’s royal robe, so we wear the robe of His righteousness (Ephesians 4:17-32; Colossians 3:1-17).  And one day, we will be reunited with Him for eternity (Hebrews 9:15, 13:20-21; I Thessalonians 4:16-18).

Wow, that is a lot to think about.  These things absolutely changed the way I think about life and how I love the salvation God provided for ME.  Hope it is fodder for thought, prayer, thanksgiving, and wonder for you today!

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the covenant of marriage.


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