Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Study Of Covenant, Part 3 - The Abrahamic & Mosaic Covenants

These next two parts are where I want to spend the most time and go into the most detail in this series on Covenant, because this is where covenant becomes very important to us. In this part we are going to look at the covenants that God made with Abraham, and with Moses and the people of Israel, and then next time The New Covenant that Jesus made with the Church.

There are other covenants we could look at when we discuss salvation; covenants that directly relate, and covenants that allude, in types and shadows, to our salvation, and I encourage you to study these on your own. I have picked these three because they each directly play a part in our salvation, and by understanding these three covenants you will understand what it means to be in a covenant relationship with God.

1. The Abrahamic Covenant

Let me set the scene; Abram, the son of Terah lived in Ur of the Chaldeans with his father and his extended family. The family was moving from Ur to Canaan but when they came to Haran they settled there. When Abram was 75 years old God appeared to him in Haran and made him a promise (actually it was several promises)
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And 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 him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:1-3
So Abram did what the Lord told him and he left his home and headed for the land God had promised him. In the next few chapters we are able to journey with Abram as he escapes a famine by going to Egypt, we see family problems arise as he separates with his nephew Lot, we see Lot get captured and Abram waging a war against several kings to get Lot back, and we see Abram receive a blessing from one of the most mysterious people in the Bible, Melchizedek. But what we don’t see in all this time is Abram and his wife Sarai having any children. This is a problem because as pointed out above, Abram was already 75 years old before any of this took place.

After Abram and Lot separated in chapter 13 God once again appeared to Abram and said:
“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”
Genesis 13:14-17
Here we see God reemphasizing His earlier promise to Abram. From here we go into the war with the kings that was mentioned above which culminates at the end of chapter 14 with Abram receiving a blessing from the king and priest of Jerusalem, Melchizedek. At this time Abram refused to accept any reward from the king of Sodom because he didn’t want him to be able to say that he made Abram rich; he was still relying on the promise that God had made to him.

Then in chapter 15 God once again appears to Abram and tells him in verse 1, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.” (Genesis 15:1) And Abram asks God in verse 2 how any of this can come to pass since he is childless. Then Abram comes up with a solution to help God out; Abram says since I don’t have any offspring of my own I can name an heir from among those born in my house. I have a servant that fits this bill; his name is Eliezer of Damascus and he can be my heir.

Look at how God replies to Abram:
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”
Genesis 15:4-7
Please note that this is where Abram received salvation; this is where he believed God, believed the promise, and it was credited to him as righteousness. The word translated here “credited” is the Hebrew word Hoseb, and it is an accounting term which means to put on the credit side of the ledger.

So, Abram believed God and took Him at his word, but he still had questions. In verse 8 Abram asks how will I know that I will possess this land? And god says:
“Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
Genesis 15:9
Why did God tell Abram to do this? He was going to make a covenant with him, a solemn binding agreement.

Abram did as he was told. He brought the animals that God requested, and he split them down the middle and laid the pieces out opposite each other. Then we see beginning in verse 13:
Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
Genesis 15:13-21
There are a few important things to point out here: First please note that Abram did not pass between the animals, only God did; God was assuming the full weight and responsibility of the covenant He was making with Abram. Second I think in this passage we can see a picture of the Trinity; we see God the Father represented by the smoking fire pot, and we see the Holy Spirit represented by the flaming torch, and I think Jesus was represented here by the animals that were slain. Third we see that the covenant promised Abram both offspring and a land.

In chapter 16 we see Sarai get into the act as she is now trying to help God out with keeping his promise. In this chapter we see Sarai give Abram her maid Hagar thinking that if Abram and Hagar had a child it would be the offspring that God had promised and everything would be good. We know now that things didn’t work out as she had planned, and she ended up blaming Abram for the problems this caused.

Then in chapter 17 God again appears to Abram and instituted the covenant that He had cut with Abram back in chapter 15. God restates the terms of the covenant by telling Abram that he would be the father of many nations. God then changed his name from Abram to Abraham, and changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Many Hebrew scholars believe that what God did here was insert part of His own name into Abram and Sarai’s names.

God also instituted a sign of the covenant, the sign of circumcision. He said, “Every one of your males must be circumcised. You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin to serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and you. “ (Genesis 17:10-11). Why circumcision you ask; remember early on in this discussion we noted that as part of the covenant ritual some from of scar was used as a sign to remember that you had a covenant partner? Well, that is what circumcision is; the scar that reminds of the covenant. And I hear you say, “OK I get the scar thing, but I still don’t understand why circumcision.” I think Kay Arthur has the best explanation I have ever read; in her book on covenant she says:
Because, beloved, the cut is at the closest site of paternity—and it is for Abraham’s descendents! The seed is from the man. It comes from where the covenant will be made. It is a covenant with Abraham and his seed.1
In this chapter we also see Abraham laughing because he is now 99 years old and Sarah is 89, and the thought of two people as old as they are having a baby is funny. Again Abraham has a solution to help God out; he says to God, “If only Ishmael could live before You.” In other words, “why don’t you just establish your covenant through Ishmael?” But God said, “No, not through Ishmael. You will bear a son with Sarah, your wife, and you will call his name Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him and with his offspring.” One year later, when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 Isaac was born. God had kept His promise, because His promise was based on covenant.

We will come back to this covenant later in our discussion, but for now just remember that God made a covenant with Abram and that covenant promised a seed and a land.

Now let’s move on to the next covenant we want to look at; the covenant made at Mount Sinai; the covenant of the law.

2. The Sinai Covenant

It is now several years after God made the covenant with Abraham. Abraham’s descendents have been enslaved for 400 years just as God had prophesied to Abram on the day He cut covenant with him. They have been released from captivity and are now camped at the base of Mount Sinai where God is about to make a second covenant with the children of Israel.

Will this covenant invalidate or replace the covenant God made with Abraham? No, that was an everlasting covenant that cannot be altered and cannot be replaced. So why make another covenant? The answer to that is found in the New Testament book a Galatians, which we will look at in detail later on, but right now let’s just look at this details of this covenant and see what we can learn.

First of all, as the name implies, this covenant was made with Moses on Mt. Sinai. We can see this in Exodus 34. We will not look at the whole chapter here, but I do want to look at a few verses from this chapter. In verses one through nine we see God telling Moses to cut two stone tablets and to bring them up the mountain where he is to meet with God. While he is on the mountain God came down in a cloud and stood there with him. These verses tell us that Moses spent 40 days on this mountain, and that while he was there he didn’t eat of drink anything. But why was he there? We get the answer in verse 10:
And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
Exodus 34:10
God was making a covenant with the people, with His people, Israel.

In verses 11 through the end of the chapter God give Moses instruction for the Israelites to follow. Then look at what He says in verse 27:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”
Exodus 34:27
And what did Moses write down? Look at verse 28:
And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 34:28b
The covenant God mad with Moses and the children of Israel was what we know as the Ten Commandments. As we have already seen, in a covenant there are duties imposed and blessings and consequences for either keeping or breaking the covenant. Do we have these here?

In verse eleven God tells Moses that if they obey He will drive out the nations that inhabit the land that they are about to inherit, but if they disobey there will be consequences. We also saw that when a covenant is made between a superior and inferior the inferior has the responsibility to either accept or reject the terms of the covenant. Did they accept the terms of the covenant? For the answer to this let’s look at Deuteronomy chapter five.

Deuteronomy is the last book of the Torah, the five books of Moses. In this book Moses is restating the terms of the covenant that God made on Mount Sinai with those who came out of Egypt. It has been forty years since the exodus and he is talking to the generation that is about to enter the Promised Land to possess it. In chapter five he says:
“Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain."
Deuteronomy 5:1-5
Then he proceeds to restate the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. In Deuteronomy 5:22-33 the Israelites tell Moses that they are afraid that they will die if they hear God speaking to them, so they tell Moses to go listen to what God has to say and then report it to them, and whatever it is they will obey. The whole rest of the book of Deuteronomy is a restating of the terms of the covenant, the blessings for keeping it, and the curses for not keeping it.

Look now at Deuteronomy 26:16-19 for a summary of the covenant:
“This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared today that the Lord is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice. And the Lord has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.”
Deuteronomy 26:16-19
Remember back to the beginning of this study I said that part of the covenant ceremony was to set up a memorial to be a testament to the covenant. Look now at Deuteronomy 27:1-8
Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”
Deuteronomy 27:1-8
The people have been commanded to create a memorial so that they would remember the terms of the covenant. Moses tells them in chapter 30 that this is not too difficult for them to do; all they have to do is obey. They have a choice to make, life and prosperity or death and adversity. If they obey, God promises them every blessing, but if they disobey they will be driven out of the land that He gave them.

Moses dies at the end of Deuteronomy and Joshua becomes the new leader of the nation. In the book of Joshua we see the Israelites enter the land just as God had promised. At the end of the book of Joshua, as he is about to die, the nation is again addressed and reminded of the terms of the covenant. In chapter 24 Joshua gives us a condensed version of the history of Israel followed by this exchange:

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.”
Joshua 24:14-22
The rest of the Old Testament chronicles the history of the nation of Israel as they turn from God and are exiled from the land, return to God and come back to the land, and repeat the process again and again, just as God stated in the terms of the covenant. But this is not the end of the story, there is still another covenant, a New Covenant, a covenant that does what we could not do on our own, empower us to obey; we will look at this covenant next time.

1 Arthur, Kay: Our Covenant God: Learning to Trust Him. Colorado Springs CO.: WaterBrook Press, c1993. Pg. 233
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