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Covenant Making God

by Louise Lee  
12/21/2013 / Bible Studies


Why do people enter agreement with each other? Isn't it for the purpose of protection, benefits of some kind or establishing binding relationships? But, being God, why does he need to make agreement with mankind? Does God need anything from them? Furthermore, in any kind of agreement, there are terms and conditions for both parties to abide. In a similar manner, being a sovereign God, why would He want to be bound by human agreements? This study seeks to answer these questions from the books of Old Testament with the perspective of God being the initiator or the covenant-making God, entering covenantal relationship with mankind, according to his own faithfulness and graciousness, which makes the purpose of eternal blessings certain and unchangeable.
The covenant idea is similar to today's agreement or contract. It is an ancient idea that was familiar among the people in the Palestine area or Middle Eastern area. People of those days understood covenant as "the solemn agreement or bond between two parties, by which each pledges to do or acknowledge something of value to the other. When the covenant is pledged in blood, it is called the blood covenant." (Nelson's New Christian Dictionary). Human covenants are between two equal parties or between a superior to inferior. Divine covenants are made between deity and mankind belongs to the latter.
In the Old Testament, God had been the covenant initiator, who takes what is current and understandable for His eternal purpose. What purpose then is God wants to accomplish through this human idea of covenant? The development of the covenant idea throughout the Old Testament shows a divine purpose that He would make a covenant people out of Israel. And out of this covenant relationship, He binds Himself to bring eternal salvation to mankind.
In Gen 3:15, the idea of covenant is implicit in the promise of God made to Adam and Eve, and it is extended to Cain (Gen 4:15) as a promise of protection from God. Before the flood, God initiated a covenant with Noah by saying " I will establish my covenant with you" (Gen. 6:18), which signifies a promise of deliverance for his family. The covenant made after the flood (Gen. 9:1-17) is an extension of its coverage not just for Noah's family but all living creature and that is universal.
God keeps this His promise for many decades before He initiates another covenant with Abraham. In Gen. 12:1-3, by calling Abraham to leave his home and promise to make him a great nation, God establishes the basis of another covenant. In Chapter 15, 17:8, "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram" and as a result a land is promised to his offspring. And to Abraham's offspring Issac, God promises that "kings shall come forth from him, and he shall be the father of nations." Further to this, God is establishing an everlasting covenant through the offspring after Issac. However, unlike the rainbow covenant, God requires reciprocity. Circumcision is the obligation of man's part and it acts as a "sign" of the covenant.
God being the initiator shows that promises are unconditional and it demonstrates God's desire to have communion with his people. On the other hand, the conditional part of man's responsibility is to respond in faith to the promise. The unconditional and conditional parts of make the covenant eternal and universal. God being the initiator also ensures continuity even after passing of generations.
Now, the children of Israel become slaves in Egypt. God sends Moses to deliver them as a remembrance of the earlier covenant made with Abraham, Issac and Jacob. The motive of God's deliverance is his love for them (Deut. 7:6-8). Through the continuity of Abrahamic covenant, God initiates the Sinai covenant with the children of Israel, and there he establishes himself as the king to his people and the Father to his children. However, this is not a covenant without stipulations. In another words, being chosen as God's people is not changeable, but only in obedience will bring the promised blessings upon them.
However, the generation fails without entering into the promise (Num. 13, 14) where "the report" was given, people responded in unbelief to reject the Promised Land. This costs them 40-year of wandering in the desert being the experience of "breaching the promise" (Num 14:34) God then initiated another covenant, the Palestinian Covenant, to the second generation at Moab in order to continue his blessings upon the Israelites. Even comes with stipulations, it should not be viewed as the covenant being built upon, but rather this covenant requires a life of obedience in which his holy character is reflected. It is God's choice of His people that they ought to reflect this reality. The only way to achieve this is to follow the Laws and regulations God has given. However, fulfilling this stipulation is a constant challenge to the Israelites in the books of Kings (or Deuteronomic history). Again, they failed terribly that they lost the Promised Land and the curses come upon them because of the result of their disobedience. Nevertheless, God does not cease to be the covenant initiator. Running parallel to this history was the promise to David one covenant that does not come with stipulations. We can see God's pattern of taking up His promises again and again but to a larger and broader sense.
While Palestinian covenant is still in force, God initiates another everlasting covenant with David after Saul's death and his enthronement at Jerusalem. The focus of the covenant is on eternal kingship upon the Seed of David. Like the Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant has no curses attached to it. This promise to David is a word spoken through the prophet Nathan (2 Sam 7:12-17). Though the word covenant is not found there, but the idea is present. The elements of Davidic Covenant are also found in other Scriptures in 1 Chronicles. 17; Psalms 89; Psalms 132 and Jeremiah 33.
Behind the covenants is the sovereign will of the gracious God upon a people (Lev. 26:12). Their life and history are directed by God and carries significant meanings when God enter their history by establishing covenants. His promises have everlasting consequences. Being the covenant making God, He sets the terms and He fixes His goals. The implications for His covenant people are that there is a security in life. The covenant gives the Law and allows man to know where they stand. Trust is possible. Men and women are called to respond in obedience and love. The goal of the covenants is the personal relationship with God. Though He started off with making covenants with one man or one nation, His intention is to extend its inclusion to all mankind with continuity in eternity. Always and forever, an eternal relationship with mankind is in God's heart.

Louise Lee
(My first illustrated book Psalm 23 for Kids is now available at

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