The Covenants

by Dr. Randall E. Radic

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Introduction to The Covenants

In an effort to enhance our understanding of the Old Testament in general and, for that matter, the entire Bible, the author is going to examine the concept of 'covenant.' The motivation for this is the word Jehovah or YAHWEH, the tetragrammaton, which appears in many places in the Old Testament. And as will be seen, JHWH always speaks of the God of Covenant.

Psalm 25:14 reads, "The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them." And have you noticed how no matter where one stops to do a study in the Bible, whether it be Moses or Joshua, or Samuel, or David, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, or Isaiah, or even our Lord in His Incarnation in the New Testament, that they know something? It is almost as if they look across time and space and wink at each other. For the way that Elijah lived, prayed and depended on God has a parallel in Joshua's life. Abraham and Jeremiah seem to be almost identical in their 'faith-walk' with God. It is as if they know a secret. And the author maintains that this secret is an understanding of 'covenant.'

Therefore, if we can know that same secret, we, too, perhaps can live like these great 'lions of God.' This 'confiding' might put us in the same old boys' club as these great believers. Psalm 1037 reads, "He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel." That is God told Moses 'why' He was doing certain things; He took Moses into His confidence, His motivation. Whereas with Israel, they only saw what God did. They did not know why He did it, they did not know where it was leading. And this is why each miracle stood alone; Manna comes from heaven, but a few days later they are complaining that they are thirsty. The people received God's blessings, but Moses knew why they were there and Moses knew why he could approach God and make requests.

And the concept of 'covenant' explains why blessings exist. The Bible, then, is a covenant book; it declares a covenant purpose. And no other religion has such an idea that a god, of his own free will, his own initiative, would enter into covenant with a people. Covenant, then, is not just another subject in Scripture; it is much more. Covenant is the very foundation upon which everything in Scripture is sustained. Covenant couples the Old Testament with the New Testament.

What, then, is a covenant? Covenant is a blood pact for life or death between two participants. And covenant was always made escorted by the shedding of blood and the swearing of an oath. Covenant, then, is a life and death relationship that can never be disregarded or abrogated. Never. And in the Bible, it is God that takes the initiative and makes a covenant with mankind. Thus, in Scripture covenant is a blood pact for life or for death between two parties, attended by a sacred oath, inaugurated and administered by a Sovereign God.

Since covenants had no 'escape clause,' they were never entered into haphazardly. In fact, the covenant concept prevailed over even family ties. Indeed, at the present juncture in Arabia, the maxim exists, "Blood is thicker than milk." By this is meant that even though we had the same mother, and are 'milk brothers,' the blood covenant is more vehement than this familial bond.

And this concept is foreign to Western philosophy, where we have accepted mendacity as a way of life. For no one really believes politicians or their press secretaries. In the West, individuals give their word until it hurts them, and then they break it. For the concept of covenant is not typical to rational human beings. In contrast, though, undying loyalty and absolute faithfulness is typical of God. And when covenant is abrogated, even between human parties, it is as if they have slapped God in the face. For Amos 19 says, "For three sins of Tyre, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath." That is God will not withhold discipline to Tyre. Why? "Because she sold whole communities of captives to Edom, disregarding a covenant of brotherhood." Tyre abrogated covenant. And in Joshua 9, the Gibeonites deceived Joshua and entered into covenant with him. Thereafter the other tribes of Canaan attacked the Gibeonites, and the Gibeonites requested aid from Joshua. And even though he had been lied to, and had been instructed by God Himself to obliterate all the tribes of Canaan, Joshua honored his covenant. And God agreed with Joshua, and God performed a miracle to honor this counterfeit covenant -- the sun stood still! Thus, regardless of the circumstances, from God's viewpoint, covenant cannot and should not be invalidated. Covenant is immutable.

For example, suppose two nations desired to enter into covenant. Each nation would select a representative, and the representatives would meet; weapons would be exchanged, i.e., the strengths of each nation would be swapped. Cloaks would be exchanged; for the cloak was the 'selfhood' of each man and thus each nation. Then, covenant sacrifices were brought, two bulls. The bulls would be split down the middle, and between the halves would be a pool of blood. Then the representatives would walk through the blood and around the drawn carcasses in a figure eight (this is the provenance of the symbol for infinity). And they would finish their promenade standing in the blood, facing each other. And the statement being made was this "this covenant is to life, and if it is broken, I will die even as this animal has died. Unto death I make my vow." And it is fascinating to note that the Hebrew word for covenant, BERITH, is defined as "to cut."

And in the Old Testament, the life of the animal is declared to be in its blood. So blood represented life in this ceremony; thus to shed blood was a judgment on life. The concept, then, was loyalty to the point of death. Only death could discharge the obligation of the covenant.

Then the treaty would be written, i.e., what each nation would do for the other. Then it would be signed by the representatives and sealed before all the witnesses. Then the representatives would be cut; in some instances the palm would be cut and the two representatives would clasp hands, intermingling their blood. And Scripture confirms this in Isaiah 49:16, "See, I (God) have engraved you on the palms of my hands." Or, in many cases, the wrists of the representatives would be cut, and the arms (the symbol of strength) would be raised to God as the blood ran down the arm, and the oath of efficacy would be taken. Then the wrists would be brought together. And Scripture confirms this method in Isaiah 62:8, "The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm." Here, then, is God taking oath by his Omnipotence.

And it is fascinating to note that the flags of most nations of the world contain the color red. And the red is the reverberation of ancient covenants, i.e., the people of that nation have declared that they have been forged together as one nation, for life or for death.

The scars of the two representatives were the living seals of the covenant. A living reminder of a covenant to death. Then the representatives would exchange names, i.e., each nation would add to their reputation the other nation's reputation. And this exchange of names meant "blood brothers." The two nations were now closer than bloodbrothers, closer than family. And this is probably the provenance of a woman taking the name of her husband in marriage, or at least hyphenating her name.

And the covenant implied two things lovingkindness and remembrance. All actions would be based upon lovingkindness and the covenant would always be in the forefront of each nation's mind.

Then, the covenant meal would be celebrated. The eating was a statement of covenant. The two representatives would sit down to a meal with their hands upon the table. Each would eat bread, signifying 'all that I am is yours,' and each would drink from the same cup, signifying 'I will shed my blood for you.'

And what is so significant concerning this process is that God Himself has entered into covenant with mankind from the beginning. No other religion in the world has such a marvelous article of faith and covenant.

As illustration, I Samuel 18 and 19 relate the covenant of David and Jonathan. These two men performed the aforementioned rituals. And remember, that Jonathan was the son of Saul ben Kish, who hated and despised David. Both these men, David and Jonathan, were the representatives for all their descendants, for their houses, for their tribes. They vowed never to leave, never to forsake. Jonathan later had a son, Mephibosheth, who was raised in the royal palace of Saul, whose passionate hatred of David pervaded his entire family. Then Saul and Jonathan were both killed while in battle against the Philistines. David's lament was heartbreaking. While David cried, the family of Saul fled, taking Mephibosheth with them. For they were convinced that as soon as David became king he would murder them all. But as his nurse was racing down the stairs, Mephibosheth was dropped, and both his legs were broken. He became a paralytic for the rest of his life. He was raised to hate David by his family. His was brainwashed against David. The entire family lived as outlaws. In the meantime David searched relentlessly for some relative of Jonathan to whom he might fulfill the covenant; for everyday David looked at the living reminder of that covenant the scar on his wrist. Finally, David located Mephibosheth, and sent troops to secure him.

And there, as he crawled in before the King of Israel, Mephibosheth waited to be murdered. Yet miraculously, David stated that you are now a prince. You are accepted as if you were Jonathan. Why? And David pointed at the scar on his wrist. Because of the covenant made before you were born. And Mephibosheth had to make a decision. He had to change his mind about David. And he did. He changed his mind because he was accepted; he was not accepted because he changed his mind. In effect, then, he was accepted before he was born.

And here, of course, is the family of mankind portrayed; for born into mankind was the representative of God, God Himself as Man. This Man, this Christ, was our covenant representative. Mankind was accepted before being born. And Christ walked through the shed blood of Himself. And when He rose from the dead in Resurrection, this was the sign that the covenant was sealed. And most interesting, our Lord, even in His resurrection body, bears the scars on His wrists where the nails went in. And when He entered the upper room, the first thing our Lord did was show His wrists.

And like Mephibosheth, mankind is born suspicious and wary of God. If God gets us, because of our sins, we will be destroyed. But just as when David met with Mephibosheth, David was being faithful to Jonathan, so also when we meet with God, i.e., when we change our minds about God, God is faithful to His Son. For covenant has been made. And lovingkindness and remembrance are the foundation of His present actions toward mankind.

Psalm 633 reads, "Because your love is better than life." The word for "love" here is a covenant word. It is defined as "steadfast love." And remember, that in his song, Moses said, in Exodus 15:11, "Who among all the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you -- majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?" And in some strange way, we, at our present juncture in history, have lost sight of this aspect of God.

We speak the word, "Hallelujah." And this word is usually translated "praise." However, it means "to boast, to rave, to brag." And how many of us "boast" or "brag" about our God? A God that has entered into covenant with mankind. Where has the excitement about God disappeared to? We have become hypercivilized epicenes, politely acknowledging God, yet never knowing Him, or rejoicing in His covenant with us.

What kind of God would do such a thing? Answer God is love. Thus, the God that is always there, the God that is all-powerful, the God that is all-knowing, the God that is perfect Righteousness, the God that is perfect Justice, Sovereignty, and Veracity, is Love. For the Apostle John hears in Revelation that "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has overcome." And John turns, and rather than beholding a terrible, ferocious beast, he sees a Lamb that has been slain. Thus, God is Love.

This word, love, in today's society, is almost useless. For it is vastly overused "I love ice-cream. I love baseball." Eighty percent of all songs are written about love. It is nothing more than a sound of appreciation anymore. For mankind discards the objects of his love capriciously.

Love, then, is the way God is. God's love reaches out and down. God's love reaches even to His enemies. God, then, is the reverse of everything that mankind would expect it to be. For He reaches out to all. To all races, to all religions, to all. Even to those that mankind would call "trash." Now be careful, the author is not saying that sin is not sin or that mankind is worthy. But Christ said "they are lost." And remember, God does not 'fall into love.' God is love; God has chosen to love because He is love; God does not just love the best and the highest, the most beautiful. For if this were so, then today we would be saved, and tomorrow we would be damned -- for we might do something that would cause God to fall out of love with us.

This, then, is the God who enters into covenant. When mankind enters into covenant, mankind negotiates. When God initiates a covenant, He does not negotiate; no vote is taken, no opinion is sought. Mankind's only choice is to enter or not, to obey or not. And God enters into covenant on the basis of grace, i.e., He does it because He wants to, not because mankind asked Him to.

And the single word that describes covenant is "lovingkindness." When mankind made covenants it was strained. And this is the reason for the elaborate ritual blood, vows, the death of animals. Mankind begins with the covenant, the ritual, and through this life and death binding, hopes that the covenant can be fulfilled, and that lovingkindness will be a result. Whereas with God, because of His lovingkindness, He enters into the covenant. So with God the ritual of a sacred oath is that mankind might understand what is taking place. For mankind is suspicious of just His word.

Lovingkindness, then, is indicative of a love founded in a covenant. Lovingkindness is "tenacious love; a love that will not let go." It is loyalty even when acknowledging a failure. It is the love of a mother for her child. It is a love that "pursues." Lovingkindness is an "action word." It is something that is done, not something that is discoursed about, analyzed and dissected.

Exodus 33:18 reads, "Then Moses said, 'Now show me your glory.'" And in Exodus 34:6,7, Who and What God Is was revealed to Moses "And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." Here, then, God states unreservedly that He is "lovingkindness," and that He punishes only those who abrogate His covenant, i.e., those who commit the sin of their fathers, which sin is self-sufficiency, or cutting themselves off from the life and love of God. In other words, mankind must fight his way through the love of God to receive punishment!

And this is why, in Psalm 633, the Psalmist states that he will "boast" of his God, of the "lovingkindness" of his God. Hebrews 13, verses 5 and 6, state, "...because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me.'" And the same passage from the Contemporary English Version reads "The Lord has promised that he will not leave us or desert us. That should make you feel like saying, 'The Lord helps me! Why should I be afraid of what people can do to me?'"

This, then, is "lovingkindness;" and this is the way God is. And this is the reason that God entered into covenant with mankind. [1]


[1] Based upon the scholarship of, and unabashedly borrowed from, Bishop Smith, E.W. Bullinger, Robert Thieme, Merrill F. Unger, and M. Weinfeld.

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