Why We Need Covenants
Over the many years, God made several contacts with humans. He interacted, among others, with Noah, Abraham, the children of Israel and the New Testament believers. God offered people certain benefits for faithfully following His Word.
God interacted with Adam and Eve. He told Adam if he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. Naturally, the converse of that would be, if Adam did not eat of the fruit, he would not die. God promised him and, by extension, his progeny, life. Of course, we know Adam failed to follow Gods instruction, and Adam, and Eve, were cast out of the garden of Eden and eventually died. God gave Adam instructions, which he refused to follow.
Gen. 2:16 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
Gen. 2:17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.
Gen. 3:22 ¶ Then the LORD God said, Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever
Gen. 3:23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.
Gen. 3:24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
Because of Adams disobedience, the people of Earth became quite evil, so much so, that God decided to obliterate this evil from His planet. He planned to destroy them, and He did. However, one individual remained loyal to Him; so, God told Noah about the forthcoming devastation and His plan to save Noah, and his family, from the coming onslaught. First, God tested Noah; He told him to build an ark in the middle of nowhere and nowhere near the water.
Gen. 6:13 ¶ Then God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.
Gen. 6:14 Make for yourself an ark
Noah actually followed Gods instructions unlike most of the people God came in contact with and built this ark according to specifications God gave. When the waters came to drown the inhabitants, and even the animals not in the ark, God saved Noah and his family.
However, even with Gods promises never to destroy the Earth by water, people still distrusted Him, think He might (but actually could not) renege on His Word. How could we count on the promises? Were people safe from planet wide destruction? Where was the guarantee?
Nonetheless, Noah trusted God. Not only Noah, but also Abraham believed Him as well.
God told Abraham, who descended from Noah through Shem by implication in the narrative a righteous man, to leave his homeland, family and friends to move to unknown land. Upon his doing what God said, He would make Abraham a great nation even though Sarah, his wife, was barren. Abraham took God at His Word and move out of his homeland.
Gen. 12:1 ¶ Now the LORD said to Abram,
Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your fathers house,
To the land which I will show you;
Gen. 12:2 And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
Gen. 12:3 And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
However much Abraham believed God, nothing happened. No children. At the suggestion of his wife, he had a son by her servant. God reminded Abraham that the promise would come through Sarah. As we all know, Sarah finally gave birth to a son, Isaac, through whom the promises would come.
Gen. 21:5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
Even so, God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. How could the promise take place without Isaac? Just before the sacrifice, an angel intervened to save Isaac.
Gen. 22:1 ¶ Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, Abraham! And he said, Here I am.
Gen. 22:2 He said, Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.
Gen. 22:3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
Gen. 22:4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.
Gen. 22:5 Abraham said to his young men, Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.
Gen. 22:6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.
Gen. 22:7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, My father! And he said, Here I am, my son. And he said, Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?
Gen. 22:8 Abraham said, God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. So the two of them walked on together.
Gen. 22:9 ¶ Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
Gen. 22:10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
Gen. 22:11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, Abraham, Abraham! And he said, Here I am.
Gen. 22:12 He said, Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.
Yet, what guarantee did Abraham have of the promise?
Many years ago, I had to take a classroom test, teach a develop-mental lesson, to get a license from the City of New York. This lesson, in addition to two written tests and an oral exam, obtained that license.
Boys and girls, a long time ago the colonists fought for many years to bring freedom to America. After a long struggle in which many died, the colonists finally defeated the British soldiers, and Cornwallis accepted defeat for the British. But, the war was not yet over and America was not yet free.
A boy with a look of disgust on his face raised his hand. I pointed to him and said, yes?
He said, after the British were defeated how could the war not be over?
That, I said, he is an excellent question. I turned around and wrote his question on the board. I wrote, Aim: How could the Revolutionary war not be over after the colonists won.
I asked, how many agree that we need to find out why the war was not over. Every hand in the classroom went up. Then that is our aim, I said.
How many of you are familiar with what happened in America after Cornwallis was defeated? No one raised his hand. I asked, what do we have to do them?
A girl on the left raised her hand. She said, we have to learn about that era in American history.
How can we do that?
A youngster in the middle raised his hand. Yes, I said. We have an American history textbook here. We can read about it.
Very good, I said. I told them to turn to the chapter on the postwar period in America.
After they finished reading, we discussed the events following the war. They particularly noted that America sent delegates to Paris to sign a treaty of peace. As they talked, I wrote their important points on the board under the aim.
But, I said, why wasnt the signed surrender good enough? Why did they need a treaty of peace? They could give no good answer.
Suppose, I said, you had just gotten a new bike and want to sell your old one. Someone in the neighborhood agreed to give you $25 for your old bike. You pushed your bike toward them and he handed you... well almost handed you $25.
Why wouldnt he pay the $25, I asked. One of the students suggested, Im not sure that would work.
Another student said, suppose the seller changed his mind. Sup-pose he said the buyer just took the bike. Suppose he even went to the police.
Another student continued, even if the buyer said, you told me you gave me the bike for the $25, the seller could deny the sale, because there were no witnesses. They needed some way to finalize the deal. The seller said, OK I will give you a bill of sale, which they both would sign. That will make it legal, and no one can change the deal. They agreed to the deal wrote and signed the bill of sale.
All right, I said, how is having a bill of sale for the bicycle similar to having a signed treaty of peace.
Many raised their hands in the classroom. I called on a girl in the front row. She explained that once they signed the treaty it was final and no one could go back on the deal just as no one could go back on the bill of sale of the bicycle. I called on several others in the class who gave me similar answers. They had a guarantee.
I wrote their conclusion on the board and asked them to copy the few sentences written there.
Each individual in the class had that look of ah hah, I understand.
The lesson was over.
A covenant has the same effect as this bill of sale. The buyer had the bicycle and the written proof of the sale. The seller had the money. Each fulfilled his part of the bargain.
Noah agreed to build an ark, which saved his life and the life of his progeny. To consummate the agreement, God signed a bill of sale. However, God did not use paper and pencil, which might get lost, destroyed or hidden from view. Instead, God used a rainbow that people would see from time to time throughout time as proof of His intention never to destroy mankind by flood again. This agreement was final, just as the sale of the bicycle was final. Mankind had a guarantee in the heavens.
Abraham left town and had a child some time later. However, like the bicycle sale, the agreement could be taken back without some proof like the rainbow. In this case, God proffered two covenants. The first sealed the agreement.
Gen. 15:8 He said, O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?
Gen. 15:9 So He said to him, Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
Gen. 15:10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.
Gen. 15:11 The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.
Gen. 15:12 ¶ Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.
Gen. 15:13 God said to Abram, Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.
Gen. 15:14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.
Unlike the rainbow, which was between God and mankind, this covenant was between God and Abrahams descendents. Unlike the sale of the bicycle, this agreement went beyond a single event. Like a treaty of peace, the peace lasted as long as there were adherents to the treaty. The covenant of life Abraham having descendents between God and Abraham lasted as long as there were descendents of Abraham. How would we know who were descendents of Abraham? God initiated a sign of those belonging to the covenant: circumcision. Abraham had a guarantee.
Gen. 17:13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
Gen. 17:14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.
When those descendents became part of the covenant, they accepted the sign, circumcision. As we know, descendents of Abraham even today are circumcised, thus keeping the covenant alive. Furthermore, we know that a person who wished to be a part of Abrahams family, but did not have the opportunity of being born into the family, could become adopted sons of Abraham by signing on to the covenant and have the guarantee.
Gen. 21:4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.
Gen. 34:15 Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised,
Ex. 12:48 But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it.
Lev. 12:3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
Mere circumcision could not maintain a covenant of life, for Abraham, Moses and others effectively upheld the covenant in deed and not only in flesh, just as Britain and the United States upheld the treaty of peace until Britain broke it. God intended that His covenant would not be broken. He elevated the covenant to a higher plane.
Deut. 10:16 So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.
Deut. 30:6 ¶ Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.
However, this covenant of life relates only to Abrahams descendents in the flesh. God had eternal life to sell. What finalized that agreement or covenant? For obviously, circumcision of the heart does not reach the level of scrutiny as a signed treaty, a rainbow, or a flame passing between animals. So, what is the outward sign, a guarantee?
God gives the seventh day as the sign. As the rainbow after a storm reminds us that God guaranteed never to flood the Earth again, so the weekly setting of the sun on our Friday announces the coming of the Sabbath. That setting sun each Friday has greater impact, regularity and permanence than an occasional rainbow, a bill of sale or treaty made of paper. The Sabbath is the sign between God and His people that He is the One God and Creator. Just as the Rainbow Covenant represented Gods intent to keep man alive until the end time and the covenant between God and Abraham represents life in that his progeny would continue to exists on Earth, the Sabbath covenant represents Gods commitment of eternal life to those loyal to Him through Jesus the Lord of the Sabbath. Until the sun and Earth cease to exist, God writes His Sabbath Covenant of eternal life in the sky as the sun sets Friday evening. No other bill of sale, treaty or flame passing between halves of animals even begins to approach the significance and power of the Sabbath Covenant.
Ezek. 20:20 Sanctify My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.
Lev. 24:8 Every sabbath day he shall set it in order before the LORD continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel.
Is. 56:6 ¶ Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Each week God shows His commitment to the Covenant of Life with the setting sun on Friday. Each week, after the setting sun, those who are His keep His Day holy as participants in the Covenant of life. For God and for us, keeping the weekly Sabbath both affirms and guarantees the covenant of life.
Gil Kovacs, Pastor
Sabbath Christian Church