In the Image of God
A covenant is a special compact between God and man. Gods first covenant was an unconditional covenant of creation whereby He created and maintained a superior form of life for human beings. God demands nothing in return for people inhabiting this most unique and special planet in the universe. Yet, if people develop a taste for life on this Earth, He made conditional covenants to improve present existence and promised a possibility of continued life into eternity.
Before examining these two covenants, I need to develop fully the root sounds of the Hebrew for covenant, birith. The word has a sense of cutting because God had Abram cut some animals in two as part of a sign of a covenant. Still, it does mean compact, but as, determined by passing between pieces of flesh. The meaning while seeming strange has a powerful significance, as we will see.
Birith has as its root the Hebrew barah, which means to select, to feed, and to render clear. God chooses the things of life and the manner in which He will establish His covenants with whom He decides. Covenants make clear not only the nature of God, but also His plan for those whom He created. Of course, we understand how the knowledge of His covenants feed the mind and spirit God gave us. His Word containing the delineation of His covenants is the only food which can sustain the Spirit.
Interestingly, barayah, means God has created. The two roots barah and Yah together make that meaning.
Related to barah is bara, which means to create, to cut down a wood, select, feed as a formative process. Notice how the connotation of cutting and feeding permeated the two words. Creation, as artist will tell you, is a process of selection, picking and choosing, slicing and dicing.
Continuing the theme of Godly selection, bar, another related sound, has the sense of winnowing grain, even while standing in the field. Here cutting (winnowing) and feeding come together in bar.
Going back to the definition of rendering clear, two related sounds talk about cleanness, pureness, beloved and pure. The Hebrew words are bore and bar (a different bar; for we cannot properly transliterate the Hebrew spelling). Covenants meaning fills out with its meaning comprising purity and cleanness. Also, as we know of the New Covenant involving Jesus, God calls him the beloved. And another bar means son and heir, for Jesus is the first born son of God and heir to the Kingdom of God.
Related to covenant is barak, which means to bless God (as an act of adoration). Interestingly, barakah means benediction and blessing from God by keeping His conditional covenants. Finally, this other barak means to lighten, that is, to bring to light as opposed to making something less heavy. That Hebrew word may also be translated as lightning, which does tend to bring rather strong light even for a moment. By that light we get barah, which means brighten and clarifies as light can. But, it also has the sense of examining and selecting, as for the purpose of covenant, choosing to abide by its Godly provisions.
The best of all questions is why. Why does God choose to make a covenant with us, or certain patriarchs of the past? He never made a covenant with Adam or any of his progeny until Noah. God selected (barah) this man to establish His first official covenant. Why Noah? - because he was righteous and blameless in a world of destructive evil. Maybe some could be blameless when around blameless people, but to be righteous among the most evil people in the history of the Earth, was a substantial accomplishment. Not only that, he walked in Gods ways, or with Him. Therefore, God instructed him to build an ark to escape the coming devastation He planned to bring upon that evil generation.
The other man privileged to be a participant in a significant covenant was Abram. Why, we ask again, Abram? He, too, was righteous to a fault. He refused, even, to take a reward from the evil king of Sodom because he would not be beholden to evil, even for a deserved reward.
Abram established a particular level of righteousness, believing God, not in God. What he believed was Gods promises. Most people believe in God, but fail to prove their belief by action. Both men proved their faith, Noah by believing God and building an ark and Abram by agreeing to sacrifice his son through whom the promises would come.
God would never establish a covenant with any except those who walk with Him, then and now.
Need for the Two Covenants
Evil and sin determine the need for a covenant, as well as, Gods determination to bring people into His Family, into the Kingdom of God. It makes sense because depravation is the opposite of righteousness. Combing the two needs, God established his covenant.
The evil that lurked within during Noahs lifetime was, of course, the worst violence and evil ever on Earth that needed destruction. For that reason, God made a covenant with Noah.
After the flood, the Earth became better. But, there arose pockets of sin and evil. So God made a covenant with Abram to give his descendants the land of the Amorites when their sin reached its full measure. That time occurred some four hundreds plus years after his grandchildren entered the land of Egypt, at which point God encouraged Egypt to cast them out so they could inherit the Promised Land.
Covenant is the antidote to sin which devastates mankind with its violence, pain, disease, and finally death. But, the medicine will only work if the person takes the dosage. If a person does not agree to the covenant, sin takes its evil toll. You choose. God hopes you will choose the covenant of life.
The Nature of the Two covenants
With Noah, God made a covenant never to destroy the Earth again by flood. This is how He did it. He told Noah to make a vessel, a yacht 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. This huge ship was longer than a football field by half. Since gelcoat was not invented yet, God told Noah to seal the ship with pitch. So when the waters came, Noah, his family, and a slew of animals survived the flood in the ship.
So while God promised, unconditionally, never to destroy people on earth again by flood, the promise came because of Noahs faithful righteousness, that is, he believed God, built an ark in the middle of nowhere, nowhere near the water, and entered the ark with animals from throughout the planet.
Because of Noahs faithful obedience, God saved the planet by destroying everything except those on the ark. Because of Abrams faithful righteousness, God promised a special piece of the planet as the Promised Land for the progeny of Abram and Sara. But, Abram was about a hundred years old and Sara about ninety. Normal circumstance precluded them from having any children. So God told Abram to look up at the heavens; his off spring will be like stars he could see in the firmament. Also, the heavens showed the greatness of Gods creation. If God could create the Earth and all the heavens, He could, Abram knew, cause Sara to become pregnant with Isaac.
God promised Noah by the sign of the rainbow never to destroy life on Earth by flood. Remember that as long as the rainbow would appear in the sky, God would remember the covenant. Nothing man could or could not do would change the nature of the covenant; it was unconditional. But, the covenant with Abram was conditional upon certain activities, which I will hold in abeyance, imposed on those receiving the covenant beginning with Abram. To receive the blessing of this covenant, people would have to obey God.
With Noah, God promised the safety of life on the planet from a watery grave, forever. Period.
With Abraham, God established an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendent forever, if...if they kept the provisions of the covenant. Before telling Abram about the everlasting covenant, God changed Abrams name to Abraham, father of nations, and Sara to Sarah.
If Abraham and his descendants became circumcised, they would receive the blessing of the covenant, that is, inherit the Promised Land. The condition of the covenant was being circumcised. Indeed, circumcision was so important that it became a covenant itself.
Everyone in the household, slaves, servants, and foreigners must be circumcised to part of the covenant.
Purpose of the Covenants
With Noah, the purpose was to preserve life on Earth, to maintain the original covenant of creation. Even pervasive evil would not dissuade God from His plan to beget for Himself a family. He found one man and one family that resisted evil and had faithful obedience in Him.
With Abraham, God intended to establish a nation through which He could teach them about His Laws, show His love, and finally redeem His wayward children. In Abraham, He found a man who was faithfully obedient. There was no one like him.
Signs of the Covenants
With Noah, the sign was, of course, the rainbow. As long as rainbows grace the stormy skies, God will remember His promise, indeed, His covenant to maintain life on Earth, at least, not to destroy it by flood. Fire is another story, for another time.
With Abraham, God had a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch pass between the pieces of animals Abraham had cut in two. The further sign was similar to the slaughtered and sliced animals, the circumcision.
Righteous life, like circumcision, means one must cut out of his life those things which bring death instead of life. The main evil which must be excised is stubborn, hardhearted pride. What remains is the kind of humility that allows a person to be approached by God, taught by Him, and led by Him.
Permanence of the Covenants
As repeatedly mentioned, God will never destroy life on Earth by flood. He is the life-bringer. Satan and its servant, sin, bring death.
With Abraham, although the covenant was conditional depending on keeping the conditions, Gods covenant was permanent and eternal for all who would keep it. In a certain sense, Gods covenant with Abraham had an everlasting quality, as in eternal life for obedient believers.
God promised that Abrahams offspring would inherit the land even though is was impossible for them to have children. By a miracle, they did. Even when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, through whom the promise would come, he faithfully tried to obey when an angel stopped him.
Although Abrahams progeny were trapped in Egypt far from the Promised Land, God brought them out with a mighty hand. Even when those in Israel deserved death, He again and again rescued them. Finally, when they were returned to the Promised Land after banishment, as a vassal state, a son of Abraham and the only begotten son of God made possible the establishment of a new Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, the new Jerusalem.
Blessings of the Covenants
Noah became the first patriarch of the Earth, its first ruler. For the first time on the planet, God had a ruler who would bow to Him and follow His Way. Because of Noah, governments, all of which descended from Noah, received the rules to proper governance. Through Noah, governments were instructed to increase and multiply, that is, maintain the integrity of the family, which included blessing marriage and attacking crime. He also told governments to rule over nature. And, He told them to execute murderers because they took away life, which God so assiduity maintained.
When governments follow Gods laws, the people and nation prosper. But, when governments rebel against God, the people and nations suffer, and are often overrun by foreign powers. God will often unleash the violence of nature against recalcitrant countries with hurricanes, volcanoes, pestilence, and drought.
Abraham became the father of many. Through Israel, God more fully developed the Way of Life for nations and people. He gave them the Ten Commandments and many other Laws for good. But most importantly, He set in motion the circumstances which would end with the death and resurrection of His Son, who would bring eternal life to all people by his taking on all sins and dying for the sinners so they would be able to have eternal life.
Covenants are meant to destroy evil and promote life. Amen
Verses for Two Covenants.pdf