What about those covenants? : A Covenant Forgotten – Part 5

It’s amazing that so many preachers and teachers can read the New Testament and come to so many different conclusions.  Particularly I’m surprised by the many misconceptions about covenants since they are so easy to compare and contrast. I suspect that many teachers choose to view the important covenants through the lens of the doctrine they’ve grown up with and feel the need to protect.

The three major covenants are the Lord’s covenant with Abraham, His covenant with Moses and Jesus’ New Covenant. Each of those covenants is very similar, and you’ll see that each one has conditions, promises and each was ratified or officially validated by a ceremonial sacrifice.

There is not disagreement among theologians about all the covenants or about some aspects of covenants. For example there isn’t really any disagreement in theological circles about the promises of the covenants or the ratification of the covenants. It’s just about universally accepted that the Lord promised blessings (or curses) in each covenants and that each covenant was ratified. It’s the conditions in them that some just can’t seem to agree on.  

There really isn’t much disagreement over Moses’ covenant, clearly, obedience to the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses were the conditions. But when it comes to the Abrahamic many teachers deny that there were any conditions at all, while others recognize that there were certain conditions that Abraham had to meet. The same is true of the New Covenant as well. There are those who can’t see that there are indeed conditions that the Christ follower must meet and others who do.

Much of the confusion comes from centuries of teachers who read Paul’s letters out of their historical context and then misunderstand what he’s saying.  It’s important, when reading the letter to the Romans or any other letter, to pay attention to the historical and cultural context of what was written. Paul had some serious problems with Jews who followed him and taught the churches that he planted that they must follow parts of the Law of Moses.  Usually they taught those young Christians that they must be circumcised, observe the Sabbath, and/or observe Jewish dietary law.

Paul’s response was to write letters to the churches to correct what the false teachers had taught. What Paul taught is that keeping the Law of Moses is not a condition of the New Covenant, especially for those of us who are not Jewish. He then used Abraham to prove his point, because the Lord declared Abraham righteous before the Law of Moses existed. That is the lens that we must use when we read Paul’s letters. Paul was not saying that obeying Jesus was wrong or that obedience is not needed for salvation.

Below I’ve made a table that makes it easy to compare those three covenants and if you want to see the conditions and promises you will easily see them.  But first let me point out some things.

What are “conditions” and “promises”?  The promises are the rewards or punishments you’ll receive if you do whatever it is the covenant calls for you to do. The conditions are the things the covenant calls for you to do. Look at Abraham’s covenant and you’ll that the Lord gave some conditions in the first verse of Genesis 12 and later gave the promises. He gave the conditions, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you….” The Lord then gave Abraham some promises, “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; 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.”

In these few verses it’s easy to see what the conditions and promises are, and we see that the Lord simply told Abraham “do this and I will do that.” Easy to see and understand right?  We could only wish it was that easy, and you may have doubts yourself. But, if you think there were no conditions given then read what the Lord said to Isaac. 

“I will make you descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.” (Gen. 26:4) 

And there you have it. Why did the Lord keep His promises? Because Abraham obeyed the Lord, he kept the covenant.

Before I go further look at the table below and see how much all three covenants have in common.

Abraham’s Covenants

Moses’ Covenant

The New Covenant

 

Conditions

 

Genesis 12:1

Now the Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,

And from your relatives

And from your father’s house,

To the land which I will show you…

 

Genesis 17:1

This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.  And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 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. 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.”

Exodus 19:5-8

“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

 

Exodus 20:3-17

 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

 

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

 

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not [d]leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

 

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

John 15:1-10

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit [of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.  Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

 

Promises

 

Genesis 15:4-7

“… one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”  And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. And He said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.”

 

Genesis 26:4-5

I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your [descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.”

 

Exodus 20

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

John 15:1-10

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.  Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

 

Ratification

 

Genesis 15:8-17

He said, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?”  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.” Then he [n]brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.

 

Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 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. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.

 

It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.

Exodus 24:1-9

 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.”

 

When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.

 

He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”

 

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

 

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

Matthew 26: 26-29

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”


2Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Notice that each covenant has its own unique conditions but that in essence each has the same condition, “obey the Lord.” Also notice how very similar Exodus 19:5-8 is to John 15:10

Exodus 19:5-8 “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

John 15:10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

There can be no doubt that our New Covenant has conditions just as the Older Covenants do.