Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Study Of Covenant, Part 2 - A Look At Examples Of Covenant in the Bible

As we continue our study of what it means to be in a covenant relationship with God I want to look at two of the covenants we see in the Old Testament: The covenant between God and Noah, and the covenant between Jonathan and David. The principles we learn from these covenants will help us to more fully understand and appreciate what we will see when we study the covenant of our salvation - the New Covenant - in a few weeks.

A. God’s Covenant with Noah

The first use of the word covenant in the Bible occurs in Genesis 6:18. In this verse God tells Noah that He will establish His covenant with Him, and in order to do this He must first save Noah and his family from the coming judgment:

Then God said to Noah, “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark.

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
Genesis 8:15-22

In these verses we see that after the flood was over God told Noah to come out of the ark, and the very first thing he did after leaving the ark was to build an alter and offer burnt offerings to God. The passage then tells us that when God smelled the pleasing aroma of the offering He said that He would never again curse the ground because of man, and would never again kill every living creature.

As we move then into chapter 9 we see God say to Noah:
And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Genesis 9:7-11

In these verses God is setting the conditions for the covenant; Noah and his family are to be fruitful and multiply, and spread out over the whole earth. God said that He was establishing this covenant not only with Noah, but also with all of Noah’s descendents and with every living creature on earth. God cut a covenant with Noah and his descendants, which included you and me, stating that He would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood.

And remember from part 1 that as part of the process of cutting a covenant a memorial was set up? Look at verses 12-17
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Genesis 9:12-17
There is a lot more we could go into here, but that is not the purpose of this lesson; what I want you to see here in this first mention of covenant in the Bible is that:
  • God was the one who initiated the covenant
  • God was the one who established the conditions of the covenant
  • God was the one who took all of the responsibility in the covenant.
The only condition, or responsibility, that Noah had in this covenant was to be fruitful and multiply. And we still benefit from this covenant today.

B. Jonathan’s covenant with David

The next covenant that I want to look at is the covenant between Jonathan and David; we find this covenant in 1 Samuel 18. In verse 1 we see that Jonathan committed himself to David because he loved him as much as he loved himself. Then in verse 3 we see that Jonathan made a covenant with David:
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
1 Samuel 18:3-4
We are not given the privilege of seeing the whole covenant ceremony here, but here is what we do get to see; Jonathan and David exchanged robes, weapons, and belts. Remember from part 1 the significance of this, as it will be important later on.

As we continue in 1 Samuel we learn that Saul (Jonathan’s father) begins to hate David and wants to kill him. He tries on several occasions but David is always able to escape. This goes on for the next two chapters, then in chapter 20 we pick up the story with David asking Jonathan what he did to anger Jonathan’s father and requesting that Jonathan help him in his escape from Saul. Jonathan tells David in verse 2 that Saul won’t do anything without first letting him know, so David has nothing to worry about. But David persists in his request and in verse 8 David reminds Jonathan about the covenant.
Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the Lord with you. But if there is guilt in me, kill me yourself, for why should you bring me to your father?”
1 Samuel 20:8
And Jonathan responds in verse 9.
And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! If I knew that it was determined by my father that harm should come to you, would I not tell you?”
1 Samuel 20:9
Why? Because of the covenant David is now more important to Jonathan that his own family. Remember that as part of covenant the enemies of one party become the enemies of the other party - even when this includes family. The covenant relationship supersedes all other relationships.

As we continue the story Jonathan does what David asks of him and helps him to escape from Saul, and in the process Saul actually tries to kill Jonathan. So Jonathan and David part company and David flees to Nob, but before they separate Jonathan revisits the covenant and expands it to include their descendants.
And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.”
1 Samuel 20:16
Fast forward several years to 1 Samuel 31 and we see the death of Saul and his sons, including Jonathan. This happened in a battle with the Philistines, and after the deaths of Saul and Jonathan David is made king of Israel. After David becomes king a civil war breaks out between the house of David and those remaining of the house of Saul. This culminates with the death of Saul’s only remaining son Ishbosheth, but what I want you to see here is in verse 4 of 2 Samuel chapter 4.
Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.
2 Samuel 4:4
This is important, and to fully appreciate the ramifications of covenant you must get this. Saul was king of Israel and he has just died. David became king and a civil war broke out that resulted in all of Saul’s descendents being killed – with the exception of one. There still remains a son of Jonathan named Mephibosheth that was crippled in both feet when his nurse dropped him trying to save him from the fate of the rest of Saul’s family. By all rights he has the legal claim the throne of Saul, but in fear for his life he is taken into hiding where he spends the next several years.

David , now king in Israel, has many victories over the next few chapters of 2 Samuel. Then in chapter 9 we again pick up the story of Mephibosheth. This is rather lengthy, but I think it is important that we read the whole passage.
And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
2 Samuel 9:1-13
I hear you asking, “Why is this so important?” Let’s look at it together and I will try to help you understand. As I have already said, Mephibosheth is the only remaining heir of Saul, and more importantly, he is Jonathan’s son. He has spent his entire life crippled and in hiding from the king. He has nothing to offer David, and when David inquires about the descendents of Saul and has Mephibosheth brought to him Mephibosheth is afraid for his life. And rightly so, as the only remaining heir of Saul’s household, and a cripple, I’m sure he thought he was about to be put to death.

But that is not what happened. Remember, David had a covenant with Jonathan; a covenant that Mephibosheth didn’t know anything about, but that covenant not only protected him, it actually became a blessing to him as he spent the rest of his life living in the king’s city and eating frequently at the kings table.

What a wonderful picture of covenant, and what a blessing to us when we realize that Mephibosheth is a picture of us, and our relationship, in covenant, with God!
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