“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised … ” (Genesis 17:9-10).
What is a Covenant?
Covenant simply means agreement, or contract between two parties,equal or unequal in rank. Covenant can be between man and man, or God and man e.g. God and Abraham.
In a covenant between two equals, there must be an agreement based on conditions or responsibilities. In a covenant between God and man or between the Superior and inferior, God being the Superior dictates the contents of the covenant while the inferior, that is man is subjected to the condition(s) imposed upon him. Thus, a covenant is meant to be binding on the parties concerned, a breach of which results in penalties. The covenant illustrated in this chapter involved God and man.
God’s Covenant with Abraham – Gen 12:1-19; 17:1-21; 21:1-8; 25:19-26
Originally, Abraham with his father lived in Haran in Mesopotamia before God called him to leave his country and move to a land He would show him. As at the time of the call, his name was Abram, meaning ‘exalted father’. Abram was 75 years old when he was called by God. The call was with a promise:-
- He would make him a great nation.
- He would bless him and make his name great.
- He would bless those who bless him and those who curse him he would curse.
- In him, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Abram obeyed God and went with his wife (Sarai) and his nephew (Lot). The Lord appeared to him when he got to Shechem and said “To your descendants I will give this land, he built an altar there to the Lord”
The Lord appeared to him again when he was 99 years old charging him to walk before him and be blameless. At this stage, God announced his intention of making a covenant with Abram. The basis of the covenant is God’s promise to “multiply Abram exceedingly”. It was a promise – a covenant and to be his God forever. God then changed his name to Abraham.
The circumcision of all males (including slaves) in Abraham’s household was to be the sign of this covenant. This meant that henceforth, all males must be circumcised on the eighth day. God threatened to cut off any male not circumcised. All these took place at Canaan where Abraham had been directed to go. Another significant aspect of the covenant between Abraham and God was His promise to give Abraham and his descendants the whole land of Canaan where they now sojourn for an inheritance (Gen. 17:8).
God then changed Sarai’s (Abraham’s wife) name to Sarah with a promise to give her a son (she was ninety years old). She will be the mother of nations and princes. In all these, Abraham showed amazing faith in God and God fulfilled his promise (covenant) of making Abraham the father of all nations by giving him a son, Isaac – meaning “God has made me laugh” and Isaac married Rebekah at the age of forty. Isaac’s wife gave birth to Esau and Jacob.
It may be important to point out here that both Abraham and God fulfilled their parts of the covenant. God made him the father of many nations, starting with the birth of his son and successor – Isaac. Abraham, on his part, remained faithful to God by circumcising all male children including himself, believing God and making, sacrifices to Him.
- A covenant is an agreement or contract between two parties equal or unequal in rank.
- God made a covenant with Abraham and his seeds to be their God and to bless them.
- Circumcision of the male foreskin was the sign of the covenant between Abraham (and his seeds) and God.
- Abraham responded positively, left Haran and his relatives to Canaan land and was circumcised with all his slaves in obedience to God’s instruction.
- Abram’s name was changed to Abraham meaning – a father of many nations. Sarai’s name was also changed to Sarah (mother of many nations).
- We must respond positively to God’s call so that our heart will be circumcised, that we might serve God who blesses the faithful.
Lessons To Learn
- We must humbly accept and obey God’s call upon us.
- It is only when we are willing and obedient that we can eat the fruits of the land.
- His promises are ‘Yea’ and ‘Amen’ to those who keep or fulfil their own part of the covenant.
God’s Covenant with Israel – Exodus 2:23-25; 19:20; 24:1-11, 32:1-20, 30-34.
The Israelites were in bondage in Egypt, they cried unto the Lord. God remembered His covenant with their fore-fathers-Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Israelites settled in the wilderness of Sinai where God decided to establish a lasting covenant with them through his servant Moses. He promised to be their God forever if they are faithful to the covenant.
The people received the terms of this covenant through Moses. They all accepted to abide by it. Exodus 19:8 “All that the Lord had spoken, we will do”. The terms of the covenant consist of the ten commandments, which God gave Moses to guide them in their daily activities.
God directed Moses to sanctify the people and to meet him on the mountain. This was to make the people believe Moses and to formally constitute them into a nation of God.
Coming down from the mountain, (the people remained a reasonable distance from the top of the mountain) Moses read out the covenant to the people, who again pledged their loyalty to observe their side of the covenant. Moses sacrificed an animal on the altar the blood of which he poured on the people. Used in this way the blood symbolized the bringing together of the two parties in the covenant – God and the people of Israel; this blood is the blood of the covenant, by which the covenant is established.
Moses went to the top of the mountain to receive the tablets containing the ten commandments. The people waited long for him. When he delayed in coming, they therefore turned to Aaron and asked him to make for them gods that would go before them as they do not know what has become of Moses. Aaron obliged, asking women for their earrings which he fashioned into a golden calf. He then told them “These are your gods that brought you out of the land of Egypt”.
The feast was celebrated with burnt and peace offering. They danced and practised sexual immorality. God’s anger burnt against the people of Israel. He wanted to destroy them and make a nation out of Moses. Moses pleaded for the Israelites and reminded God of the promise He had made to their ancestors, to create a nation out of them and give them the promised land.
God therefore changed his mind and did not destroy them. As the feast continued, Moses and Joshua came down from the mount with the two tablets containing the ten commandments. Joshua heard the noise and thought it was the noise of war. Then Moses confirmed it to be sound of singing. They saw the people dancing round the calf. Moses was angry, he broke the tablets containing the commandments. He also broke the golden calf, ground it into power, mixed it with water and gave the people to drink.
Moses denounced the people and prayed to God on their behalf for forgiveness.
However, God agreed to pardon them but insisted on punishing the ringleaders and bringing plagues upon the Israelites.
- God established an everlasting covenant with Israel through Moses in the wilderness of Sinai.
- The covenant was in form of ten commandments, written on two tablets of stone engraved by God.
- Israel accepted the conditions of the covenant but could not keep them for they made a molten calf and worshipped it as their god.
- On Moses return from the mountain after 40 days, out of anger he broke the two tablets of stone, burned the molten calf and made the people drink its ashes in water.
- God further punished them by bringing plagues upon them.
Lessons to Learn
- You must learn to keep your promise made to God and man.
- In all life situations never break your vows to God
- Every oath taken has a blessing if kept, but if broken, there is danger thereafter.
- We must learn to have patience and endurance to wait upon God to fulfill his promise.
- We should not take matters into our hands. Moses broke the tablets containing the ten commandments.
- A good leader must be prepared to work and defend the cause of his people.
The New Covenant – Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:36-41; Ezekiel 36:25-28.
At the period that Jeremiah prophesied, his focal point of prophecy was Israel’s unfaithfulness. Repeatedly, he warned about the imminent punishment that was to come in form of defeat and destruction. He recalled how the people had made void the wilderness covenant with all its ritual ceremonies and observances He prophesied about a new, more spiritual, non-physical covenant which will be written in the heart and which must come from within
If this is done according to him, God will automatically forget and forgive Israel and will forever be their God. Israel’s promised inheritance will then be restored to them. By then, it will be useless for a man to teach his neighbour “to know God”, since even the least among them will have the laws of the covenant written in his heart and will come to know and appreciate the Lord’s goodness.
Ezekiel equally prophesied, confirming Jeremiah’s position and foreseeing a period when the people will be given a new heart. This spirit will enable them keep the Lord’s statues and thus dwell in that “Promised Land.”
The summary of the two prophets are as follows:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand … But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them; and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people … for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34).
“I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you: and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. Ezekiel 36:25-26.
Implications of the New Covenant to Christians
Jesus Christ is the manifestation of the new covenant.
The new covenant was made for all the nations of the world; not for Israel alone. When Israel rejected and crucified Christ, the Jewish people renounced the covenant and were rejected as the chosen people. At the same time, God transferred the privileges and responsibilities of the covenant relationship to His new chosen people, the Christian church.
Christians believe that Christ’s activities approximate to the fulfilment of God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel. By the sacrament of the holy communion, Jesus instituted the new covenant during the Last Supper when he said – “this cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). It stands to reason therefore, ( that the blood of Jesus shed on the cross is the fulfilment of the new covenant. Through Christ, we can obtain salvation by just believing in him, thereby entering into a new relationship with God. Thus, the sins of the world were wiped away by the blood of Jesus.
Old and New Covenants Compared
- The old covenant was sealed with the blood of an animal, while the new one was by the blood of Jesus.
- Whereas the old one was written in a tablet or stone, the new one was written in the heart.
- Whereas the old one was based on law, the new one was based on grace and faith.
- The old covenant was to be fulfilled by man by obeying the ten commandments, whereas the new one was by believing in Jesus Christ.
- The old covenant was external while the new one was internal and spiritual.
- The old covenant with Abraham was marked by circumcision, but the new one was marked by the presence of the holy spirit.
- The fulfilment of the old covenant required the keeping of the ten commandments which the Israelites were not able to meet while the new covenant simply requires belief in Jesus Christ.
Significance of the Covenants and Lessons to Learn From Them
- It is always very risky breaking a covenant especially with God. Violating God’s covenant brings punishment.
- Impatience does not pay but we should wait upon God. The Israelites became impatient and sought another god.
- We should think deeply on the implication of covenants before entering into it.
- Jesus Christ is the mediator between the old and new covenant. It is through the Holy Spirit that the new covenant is administered.
- It is only God that can perfect our imperfection e.g. God changed the name of Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah.
- The new covenant is for the whole world and as such everybody has access to God’s salvation through Christ Jesus:
- Except we remain faithful to God as Abraham, God cannot honour his own aspect or side of our covenant with him.
- The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the new testament is the manifestation of the old testament prophecy of a new covenant.
How Our Society Today Has Broken God’s Covenant
- The society has turned away from Christian standards.
- Sin has permeated the church deeply.
- Materialism is the order of the day among christians.
- There is injustice everywhere even in the church.
- There is total disregard of God’s injunctions.
- The name of the Lord is being profaned.
- Injustice, favouritism and immorality are everywhere.
- Even some ministers of God have become corrupt.
- Some christians do not have circumcision of the heart.
- We are very disobedient to God, contrary to Abraham’s obedience.
- We swear falsely with God’s name.
- Some christians worship other gods.
- The new covenant became necessary because the first one God made with Israel became faulty. For Israel was not faithful.
- The covenant with Israel was on national level while the new is on individual basis.
- The old was sealed with animal blood while the new is on Christ’s blood. Christ is the actor of the new, unlike a lamb which stood as the picture of the true Christ.
- The new covenant (new testament) or agreement is therefore everlasting as against the old which was temporary.
Lessons to Learn
- Christ laid down his life in order to bring about the new covenant, hence, there are still opportunities to all mankind to enter into this covenant with God through Christ.
- Failure to enter into this must result to life punishment in hell-fire while the crown of glory awaits those who are faithful to the covenant in heaven.