Covenant Renewal: Part 1 of 2
Covenant Renewal: A 2-Part Series
2 Kings 23:1-3
“A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution”
Well, Happy New Year one more time! Sorry I missed you last Sunday. I had a fight with the flu and the flu won! Thanks to Walter Myers for filling in at the last minute.
By now some of you have made and broken your New Year’s Resolution to lose weight by cutting out sweets, or breads, or by exercising more, etc. Some of you are still going strong in your resolutions—whatever they are. While most of us just skipped the whole process. I mean really, what’s the use!
Resolutions are not bad in and of themselves. The start of a new year seems like a perfectly reasonable time to take stock in yourself—health, finances, relationships, career, etc.—and to set some goals for creating a better YOU in 2018. I commend that! In fact, every year around this time I try to get away for a few days—away from electronic distractions and connections with others—so then I can listen to God and take stock in myself as a follower of Jesus. I’ve yet to make that brief sabbatical but, trust me, I will be going soon.
Today I want to begin a two-part conversation about a resolution of a different nature. I submit to you that, if we all commit to this resolution, then many of the other goals we might set for ourselves will not only fall into place, but some of the things we THINK are important will become suddenly less so.
This resolution centers around an Old and New Testament idea of COVENANT. We talked a lot about covenant earlier last year and, yes, I realize for some, the notion of covenant is outdated and unnecessary. But I contend that COVENANT is at the heart of every meaningful relationship each of us can has, especially with God.
- Those of you who are married or have been married through a Christian wedding ceremony entered into a covenant with your spouse
- When you went to work for a particular employer, there was some form of contract or covenant you both agreed to
- If you’ve ever had work done to your house or car, there was an agreement you each made.
Covenant and contracts are close cousins but not exactly the same. To help us understand covenant, I want us to look again at some of the most significant covenants in the Old and New Testaments. All of this is in preparation for next Sunday’s service in which I will invite you to enter into a COVENANT RENEWAL for 2018.
I didn’t want to spring it on you without warning; so today we are familiarizing ourselves with God’s idea of COVENANT and preparing ourselves for a time of renewal that I believe can be a RESOLUTION that honors God and empowers us to live into the covenant Jesus expects and deserves. So with that, let’s dig in again.
The Hebrew word for covenant is berit and is defined by scholars as follows:
“An agreement between two parties in which one or both make promises under oath to perform or refrain from certain actions stipulated in advance.”
The two main covenants made in the Ancient Near East were PARITY treaties and SUZERAIN/VASSAL treaties. A parity treaty was an international covenant made between equal city or nation-states. A suzerain/vassal treaty was an international covenant between a greater king/nation and a lesser king/nation.
Guess which kind of covenant God makes? Yep! Suzerain/Vassal. Why? Because God is God and we are not! Because he is creator of the universe and we are the created. He is greater and we are lesser.
According to Dr. Sandra Richter, there are 6 parts to a typical ANE Treaty format :
- Preamble/Titleà Gives title to the superior party
- Historical Prologueà offers the basis of obligation on the part of the vassal state and the motive for accepting the covenant’s stipulations as binding
- Stipulations/Obligations Imposed
- Deposition and Provision for periodic reading of the Treaty before the peopleà the text is archived in the temple of the vassal’s chief deity (i.e., the witness to his oath).
- List of Witnessesàthe deities of both parties are summoned to act as witnesses to the oaths taken
- Curses and BlessingsàWhat happens if covenant is upheld and what happens if violated
There are 6 major Covenants in Scripture
Adamic Covenant (Genesis 2:15-17; Genesis 3—the fall and the curse)
Though its missing some of the key aspects of covenant, make no mistake that the relationship between the Lord God and man was indeed a covenant. In Genesis 2:15-17, the Lord God placed man in the Garden of Eden to tend the garden and enjoy its bounty. The stipulation was that man was NOT to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden, lest man would die.
Through the temptation of the serpent, Adam and Eve failed to trust God, believing the enemy that God was holding out on them. They violated God’s stipulation of the covenant and thus received the curses imposed by the Lord Godà death to relationships, death to the earth, and death to the human experience in the Garden. But even with those curses, God did not abandon his creation, clothing them in their nakedness by killing a living creature for them…marking Cain for protection even after he killed his brother, Abel.
Noaic Covenant (Genesis 6)
Fast forward to Genesis, when the continual evil in the hearts of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve caused God to wish he had never created them. God decided to wipe out humanity, starting over with the only righteous man, Noah, and his sons and daughters in law. God made a covenant that he would save them from the flood through the ark that Noah and his sons would build. Then he place a rainbow in the sky as an everlasting covenant that He would never destroy the earth by flood again.
Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15)
Through Abraham, God formed a people for himself. Abraham, childless in his old age with Sarah, is promised to be the father of a great nation and that all nations would be blessed through Abraham’s offspring. Not only that, but Abraham’s descendants would be a numerous as the sands of the shore or stars in the sky and they would have a Promised Land of their own. What a promise! I’m going circle back to this in a second.
Mosaic (Sinai) Covenant (Exodus 20)
Probably the most familiar covenant for us is the covenant at Mt. Sinai, when the newly freed Hebrew slaves of Egypt find themselves at the foot of a mountain that Moses descends and offers the people the Ten Commandments. Listen to how the covenant starts out:
“I am the Lord your God (preamble/title) who brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (historical prologue). You shall have no other gods before me (stipulation #1)…”
This covenant goes on for 17 verses, giving four stipulations of how to related to God and six stipulations of how to relate to one another.
There are many others parts of the covenant between God and his people, which are detailed in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Later in Deuteronomy 6 we read the famous “Shema” which means “hear”à Read 6:1-8. To live in a covenant relationship with God is to live a life of shalom (peace) and abundance. To live apart from the covenant was to live in chaos and scarcity. Friends, is there anything different about the covenant we have with God through Jesus Christ our Lord? No Jesus, no peace.
All of the stipulations of the OT were given by Yahweh in order to create a people set apart from the world who worshipped the one true living God rather than the man-made gods of the ANE. There were three offices of people who provided a framework to realize the covenant:
- The priests of Israel were to represent the people to God through the sacrificial atonement system.
- The prophets of Israel spoke for God to the people about the importance of being a covenant-keeping people and what would happen if they did not.
- And the king of Israel was to live before the people a life of covenant loyalty so they could see a human expression of what God intended.
But, as history records, the priests failed in their duties and abused their office. The kings let personal power and wealth cloud their judgment. Most did wicked in the sight of God. And many so-called prophets who worked for these wicked kings only prophesied what the king wanted to hear. Only a handful were true prophets of the Lord (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and the like). In essence, the peopled called Israel—set apart to be a holy nation and a light to all nations—only looked to her own interests. Her new-year’s resolutions were about self-advancement, self-improvement, and self-preservation. Sound familiar?
In 2 Kings 22-23 we read the story of the reign of one of the few good kings, Josiah, who began to reign when he was only 8 years old! When he’s 26, the Temple is getting a much-needed cleaning (physically and spiritually) when the book of the Law was found. After hearing God’s Word, Josiah tore his clothes, realizing that Israel had not kept covenant with the Lord. He calls all the elders together and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow Him and keep his commands. Reform took place for as long as Josiah was king, but went back the way it was…and worse…after his untimely death.
Here’s the deal: Time has shown that we can’t restore the covenant relationship with God even with the Law of Moses. Sin that separates us from God was just too great a divide. There had to be another way. So God set about a new resolution. Actually, it’s the fulfillment of the original rescue plan. In the fullness of time, God became one of us in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ. He came to be one of us so that he could identify with our weakness, yet not violate the covenant with the father. He was the true Servant of Israel who took the punishment for our sins on the cross.
And when He rose from the dead on the third day, Jesus overcame death itself so that all who put their faith in Him will be saved from the penalty of sin and death forever. This is the Good News! And it’s why we gather every week as a reunion of the rescued…a people of the New Covenant.
Let’s look back at one more specific OT covenant and tie it to the Covenant of Jesus Christ. In Genesis 15 we read about a covenant ratification ceremony involving Yahweh and Abraham. We’ve spoken of it many months ago, but it bears repeating on this day of Holy Communion.
Abraham (or Abram, as he is known at first) was visited by the Lord in a vision and in the conversation, Abram asks the Lord how the Lord would fulfill his promise to Abram to be the father of a great nation since he had no offspring. The Lord took Abram outside and told him to count the stars if indeed he could count them. “So shall your offspring be.” The Bible says that “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
This is significant! Do we believe the promises of God’s word? Remember the definition of faith? Confident trust in the promises of God no matter our circumstances or outcomes.
Because there was belief in God’s promises, God ratified his promise to Abram through the cutting of a covenant (karit berit).
Abram is told to bring a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon. Abram brought them, cut them in two halves opposite each other (except the birds). There would been a trough running between the two halves where the blood would run. In a traditional treaty ceremony, the vassal king would walk through the blood of the animals reciting the stipulations of the covenant, in essence saying, “may it be unto me as these animals if I do not keep the stipulations of this covenant.”
Now watch what happens! Let me pick up in verse 17 of chapter 15à When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, the Kenizites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”
The greater King (Suzerain) passed through the blood, reciting the covenant and (in essence) saying may it be unto me as these animals if this covenant gets broken. And, even though everything happened as God had said—the Twelve Tribes of Israel were rescued from slavery in Egypt and inhabited land and houses they did not build…enjoying the fruit of the land they did not plant…the people of God failed to keep covenant with God. But God was faithful!
In the fullness of time, because of God’s great love for us and because of his amazing grace, he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves and create a New Covenant with all nations ratified by his blood. Here now the words of Jesus on the night he was arrested to be crucified for our sins:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The plan of God has always been the same: To have the pinnacle of his creation—you and me—to freely worship our Creator by trusting and following His Word. Our faithful obedience to the covenant brings honor and glory to God, it restores relationships among God’s people, and calls others to do the same. We are ambassadors for Christ when we allow the covenant of Christ’s atoning work on the cross penetrate every part of our being. Christ in us, the hope of glory!
THAT’S why I’m calling us to this covenant renewal service together next week as we kick off a new year. We may not have set any new year’s resolutions, but we can resolve to be in a right relationship with God this year. So I encourage you to be here next week for this significant covenant ceremony. Invite others to join you! AMEN.