My earlier post explaining that God does NOT bring calamity has stimulated some questions. That makes sense because it is a huge topic. Not only does it cover a wide ranging area, but is is also critical in understanding who God is and how we relate to him.
Today, in an effort to begin shedding more light on the topic, let’s talk about Covenants and how they affect our understanding of scripture.
Covenants vs. Contracts
It is important to understand a what a covenant is. The closet thing we have in our culture today to covenants are contracts. But those two concepts differ in at least one very important point.
With a contract, if one agreeing party does something in violation of the contract then it is considered broken. The whole contract becomes null and void. Basically the signers of a contract agree to hold up their ends as long as the other signatories hold up theirs too.
With a covenant, both parties agree to hold up their ends regardless of whether the other party keeps their part of the agreement. A violation of a covenant by one party doesn’t matter as far as the other party’s responsibility to continue to do what they agreed to do.
(This is why marriage is a covenant not a contract, but that’s a subject for another time.)
There are several covenants mentioned in the Bible. For example God made a covenant with Noah after the flood.
And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.— Genesis 9:12-13
Then there is the covenant that God made with Moses and the Children of Israel. This covenant is embodied by the Law. There are the Ten Commandments and a whole book of rules and regulations that lay out how Israel was to relate to God in Leviticus.
The easiest way to explain that covenant is by looking at Deuteronomy chapter 28. There God spells out a list of blessings and cursings. The blessings are what will result from keeping the law, doing all that it says and not doing all that it prohibits.
There are 14 verses of blessings and they are pretty powerful. For example,
- Your enemies will come at you one direction and flee 7 directions. (vs. 7)
- God will command a blessing on your storehouses and the work of your hands. (vs. 8)
- All the people of the earth will see that you blessed by God and be afraid of you. (vs. 10)
- You’ll be wealthy and never lack material goods. (vs. 11)
- You will lend to many nations and not borrow. (vs. 12)
Those are some exciting promises.
At the same time the curses promised for not following the law were pretty powerful too. For example, confusion and rebuke in all you put your hand to, disease, inflammation, and fever until you perish, draught and famine, defeat before your enemies, madness, oppression, blindness and confusion of heart… I mean it goes on and on and on – for 54 verses!
Once someone entered that covenant, breaking it had some serious consequences. And the people of Israel entered into that covenant with God while Moses was leading them.
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.”— Exodus 24:7-8
Curse of the Law
At first blush it sounds like a good deal. Receiving amazing blessings is pretty straight forward under the old covenant. Just do the things that God said to do.
The trouble is it’s
really hard impossible to keep God’s law. There’s a whole bunch of reasons for this. But mostly it has to do with how selfish we are.
We all mess up from time to time no matter how hard we try not to. And it doesn’t help that rules have a natural tendency to stir up the desire in us to break them. Paul explains this in Romans 7:7-12. God’s law awakens sin in us. We slip up and do something wrong. And as James said, if we keep the whole law and only miss it on one point, we’re still in violation of the whole thing.
That’s why Paul tells us that those who think that following a list of rules will make them right with God are under a curse.
But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.”— Galatians 3:10
So when you get right down to it, even though it seemed like a good idea the Old Covenant was a bad deal in the end.
A New Covenant
Fortunately for the world Jesus stepped into that situation with a solution. He lived a life without sin completely fulfilling the law.
Then he died in our place, paying the price for our sin.
Our sin is placed in his account. And we receive all the righteousness of Jesus, with just a couple conditions:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.— Romans 10:9
That’s it. No list of rules to keep. It couldn’t be more simple.
- Confess out loud that Jesus is Lord.
- Believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.
We make following Jesus WAY to complicated.
That’s why Hebrews says we have a better covenant established on better promises.
Anyone who does those two things above becomes a new creation. Jesus said it was like being born all over again. The Bible says we are then “in Christ.”
And that’s a very good place to be because then we are entitled to all the promised blessings of God. Paul said it this way.
For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.— 2 Corinthians 1:20
More to Come
While doesn’t really explain how it is that God doesn’t bring calamity, it is crucial background for that topic.
Unless we understand that there are two very different covenants in the Bible, things are very hard grasp. When we miss this important truth it’s easy to think that God is schizophrenic or that maybe God got saved in the New Testament.
But the truth is the two different covenants have very different parameters. They define how God relates to us as much as how we relate to him.