Covenant Relationship

In our last post, we looked briefly at the Ark of the Covenant, a piece of furniture in the Tabernacle, which the ordinary Israelite never saw.  Only the high priest was allowed into the compartment where the ark was kept and that only on special and very limited occasions.

The word “covenant” occurs numerous times in Scripture.  What is a “covenant”?  Simply put, it is an agreement between people or groups of people to do certain things, or perhaps not to do them.  We might use the word “treaty.”  And this covenant might be “conditional” or “unconditional”.  A “conditional” covenant is an “if-then” covenant.  One or both parties are required to do or not do certain things, upon which certain results depend.  An “unconditional” covenant is one which does not have such requirements, but is basically a promise by one party to do something for another party regardless of what that other party does.

There are several “covenants” of both kinds in Scripture.  And there is a great deal of discussion about them.  It’s not our purpose here to get into that discussion.  We only want to look at a couple of these covenants and then spend some time on the covenant referred in particular by the Ark of  The Covenant.

The first covenant in Scripture is the one God made with Noah after the flood, the first covenant God made with men.  In Genesis 9:8-11, God said,

“And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you:  the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you:  Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  (NKJV)

These verses ought to answer those who believe that the Flood was just some local affair, blown out of proportion by eager ignorance.  It will soon be spring and floods will be reported all over the country.  If Genesis just refers to some local event, then God lied, because there have been innumerable “floods” since then.  But there has never been another universal flood.

There are those who believe that there was an earlier covenant – in the Garden of Eden.  Referring to Hosea 6:7, these scholars speak of a “covenant of works” God entered into with Adam.  In many versions, Hosea 6:7 says, But like Adam they transgressed the covenant.  The discussion centers around the word translated “Adam.”  It is also translated “man” or “men”.

Genesis 1-3 gives us the account of Adam and Eve.  It clearly shows the responsibility Adam had to take care of the Garden and the one restriction which was placed on him: he could not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Every other tree was made available for his use, God saying to him, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat,” Genesis 2:16, emphasis added.   Some teach that if Adam had been obedient to God, he eventually would have entered a state where he would have been confirmed in righteousness or innocence or some such thing.  The thing is, there was no restriction placed on him with regard to the tree of life.  He could have gone immediately and eaten of the fruit of that tree.  By doing so, he could have gained “eternal life” right away.  There was no “covenant of works.”  There was just his dismal failure.

The second covenant we’re interested in is found in Genesis 12:

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

“Get out from your country.
From your family,
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;..,”

Genesis 12:1, 2a, emphases added.

In Genesis 13, we have the account of Abram’s trip from Egypt.  Leaving aside the difficulties encountered because he didn’t fully obey God in this trip, we read in v. 14, And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward:  for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.  And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth:..,” emphasis added.

The book of Joshua gives us the account of Israel as they began to enter that land God had promised Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob.  In Joshua 1, after the death of Moses, God told his successor Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead.  Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving them – the children of Israel.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory,” vs. 2-4.  This is the only “land” and its location described as being given to a particular people – Israel, and it’s repeated in different forms several times.

Granted, Israel has had a lot of ups and downs during her history, and still isn’t done with them, for that matter.  If I read Scripture correctly, there is coming a time when it will finally seem that Israel has been destroyed, Zechariah 14:2.  This isn’t the only such reference.  But God isn’t done with her, in spite of those who teach otherwise.

Ezekiel 48:1-29, which is yet future, gives an extensive listing of the division of the land of Israel, beginning with the tribe of Dan to the north and ending with the tribe of Gad on the south.  “This is the land which you shall divided by lot as an inheritance among the tribes of Israel, and these are their portions,” says the LORD GOD, v. 29.

Israel’s possession of the land doesn’t depend on her military prowess, on the agreement of other nations or groups or on political pronouncements from, say, the UN.  It depends on the purpose, promise and power of God.  It is His covenant with them.

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Hebrews 11:32-38, Faith: Paradox and Promise.

[32]And what shall I say more?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthtah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:  [33]who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, [34]quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  [35]Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  
[36]Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  [37]They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword.  They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – [38]of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11 has been called “the hall of heroes.”  Men and women who did great things for God and were themselves great saints.  Yet this portion starts with men that we might not put into that category.  Here are some men of whom we might say, “What?!  Wait!  Why are they included?”

Gideon did indeed bring a great deliverance to Israel, but then led her into idolatry, Judges 6-8.  Barak, probably the least known of the four, was a man who reluctantly obeyed God, Judges 4, 5.  Jephthah is a man about whom the world and even many Christians have nothing good to say, Judges 11.  I’ve done a post on him if you’re interested.  He certainly isn’t one who is thought to be a “hero.”  Samson, who did do some mighty things, yet is perhaps best remembered for his dalliance with Delilah and his eventual death while a prisoner of and serving to amuse the enemies of his people and his God, Judges 13-16.

Here’s the first paradox.

To have faith doesn’t mean to be perfect and without faults.

There’s only ever been One who was able to say, “I always do those things that please Him,” John 8:29, emphasis added.  All the rest of us fall way short.

God doesn’t deny the faults of His people.

But then, neither does He define His people by those faults….

The second paradox is found in the rest of our text.

Some of God’s people may indeed do great things, vs. 33-35a.  While it’s difficult to know exactly who, if anyone, the author had in mind on some of these things, still, it could be said of Joshua that he conquered kingdoms.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even David, received great and wonderful promises.  Daniel certainly is one who stopped the mouths of lions.  His three friends quenched the violence of fire.  More than once, a badly outnumbered Israel turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  At least one grieving woman saw her dead raised to life again.  There are a lot of people the author could have had in mind.

The paradox is this:

Some of God’s people may suffer great things, vs. 35b-38.

We live in a time when, at least in this country, folks on TV tell us that health and prosperity and all good things are the lot of the Christian.  Great ministries have been built on this premise.  The truth is that while these things may and do come to Christians, more often than not their history has been written in their own blood.  This is especially true of those times when “the church” has sat on the throne.  This was true both of Rome and of the Reformers.  And suffering Christians, of whom the world [is] not worthy, live today in a large part of the world, and always have.  We just don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news.

The Apostle Peter put it like this, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, 1 Peter 4:12, emphasis added.  The word translated “strange” doesn’t mean “unusual,” but “foreign.”  Some folks seem to have the idea that any idea of “suffering,” whether personal or otherwise, should be “foreign” to them.  But you can’t really read the New Testament without seeing that this is not true.

But, if this world is all there is, as some think, or if we’re all headed to “a better place,” as others think, why would people endure such things?  The answer’s found in v. 35, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Now, that word “might” doesn’t mean “might or might not,” as if there’s some question about it.  It speaks to purpose, not just possibility.  Faith understands the paradox, but rests on the promise.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.  Or Peter, We according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [is at home], 2 Peter 3:13.

For the Christian, this world is neither our home, our heaven or our hope.