The word “covenant” has been thrown around freely in the world of Christianity over the past several years. You can hear the words “covenant relationship” frequently if you watch Christian television for any length of time. “Covenant” has become a buzzword in Christian circles. I take issue with the circulation of buzzwords because they are used frequently, often with little or no teaching to actually foster the understanding of the importance of the concept behind the word. The covenant relationship runs deep through God’s Word. It’s a very real agreement with long-standing (sometimes eternal) blessings or consequences, as the case may be. In order to understand the covenants of God, one must first understand that God’s plan is propelling humanity toward a planned eternal state. When you truly study God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation, it’s difficult to deny that God’s dealings with humanity can be divided into specific dispensations. These measurements of time and purpose can help us understand God’s purpose and actions throughout the ages. For instance, Abraham married Sarah, or more accurately, Abram married Sarai. Sarai, whose name God eventually changed to Sarah, was Abram’s sister, or half-sister, at the very least. They were very close blood relatives. God chose Abram to bring forth many nations and changed his name to Abraham. One of these nations would be the nation of God’s chosen people, the nation of Messiah, the nation of promise; Israel. This special and chosen nation would come from Abraham’s union with Sarah.
Now, fast forward to a different dispensation. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob/Israel, and his twelve great grandsons took their families to Egypt, at the invitation of Pharaoh. Years later, the family had greatly multiplied. A different pharaoh decided to greatly oppress the Israelites, as they were now called, making them slaves. After many years of bondage, God hears the cries of His people and calls Moses to deliver them. Moses is reluctant, but obedient and, after many miracles, Israel is delivered from the land of Egypt. God establishes His people as a nation and issues His law, which defines and condemns incest.
Was God contradicting Himself? Of course not! He’s God! Any time God’s Word seems to be contradictory or confusing, it’s time to dig deeper. God is not the problem. His Word is not the problem. Our flesh, mind-set, or understanding is the problem! Abraham was allowed to be married to his sister and this union was blessed because God’s purpose during this time was to bring forth Messiah through a nation, a people. It was actually advantageous that Abraham and Sarah were siblings. This began a very pure bloodline. Because God was in control, Isaac was intelligent and successful.
When God issued His law, there was no need for siblings to marry. The descendants of Abraham’s great-grandsons and great-great grandsons had now multiplied into twelve mighty tribes. The bloodline could be protected without reproducing with a close family member. A man from the tribe of Judah could marry a woman from his own tribe or even another tribe, let’s say from the tribe of Benjamin. This would be a purely Jewish union even though their only common relative might be Abraham, who lived hundreds of years before. In fact, since Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles, God inserted some chosen and “adopted” Gentiles in the Messianic bloodline. Now, since the need for marital unions with close family members was removed, God did away with a practice which, over time, could be harmful to families and to the human race. Today, if you have a kid with your brother, the kid may have some issues. God is still in control, but incest is now against His plan and in direct opposition to the law that He issued. There are many such examples of dispensationalism that can be easily gleaned from Scripture. For now, understanding the concept of dispensationalism is a means to an end. In the future, we will take a closer look at these divisions of time and purpose.
Since we now understand that God does not change, but that He deals with mankind in ways that are unique to His purpose for that time, we’re ready to explore a unit, so to speak, of these dealings; the covenant. God’s relationships with humans are often built on covenants. The covenants that God makes with man also serve to organize His timeline in an even more detailed way that dispensational organization can accomplish. This series, The Covenants of God, will explore the depths of many of these covenants. We’ll focus on the covenants most imperative to God’s ultimate plan.
So, what is a covenant? When you hear the word, you may think of marriage. If you are a church kid, you may think of God’s relationship with Abraham, or the rainbow, or the New Covenant/New Testament. All these associated words are accurate. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary gives some of the following definitions for the word covenant:
■ A formal and serious agreement or promise law: a formal written agreement between two or more people, businesses, countries, etc.
■ A usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement
■ A written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of action
Merriam-Webster is pretty spot on. A covenant is a big deal. It’s not like when your kids are getting on your nerves and you say, “I promise if you stop talking for five minutes, I’ll give you ten dollars.” It’s not a casual promise or deal. A covenant is a binding agreement. A Godly covenant is a binding agreement with the Lord of Hosts. When God makes a covenant, typically there are set terms. He is offering something which you will receive if you adhere to the terms He sets. Some of His covenants are not conditional. Some covenants are made to further His purpose and no action is needed in return. Most biblical covenants, however, are defined by God’s terms. In many instances, the consequences for disobedience are stated up front. God is not trying to trick people or manipulate them into a covenant relationship with Him. He clearly lets you know what you have to gain or lose and how to do both. Christians today need to understand the covenant relationship. Not because covenant is a recent buzzword on your favorite Christian network, but because God is a God of order and one unit of His order is the covenant relationship. In order to better understand God, we have to understand His character, His plan for humanity, His interactions with mankind. The covenant encompasses all of these principles. Don’t miss the next post in the Covenants of God Series, “The Solaric Covenant”.