Do not be afraid, I am your shield. I am the way, the truth, & the life. I am the beginning, the present, the end – the Alpha & Omega. I am today, tomorrow & the next day. God’s promises reiterated today in our Old & New Testament readings. Just as God promised Abraham many descendants; just as God promised He would never leave the Israelites & led His enslaved people out of Egypt into the promised land, so He promises to be with us, to help us, & continues to lead us today to a new promised land – life with Him forever. This is His covenant. His promise. Covenant is about relationship – relationship with God & believing in His promises. In the Bible, the covenants God makes with individuals & groups are never the basis for establishing a relationship but a way of defining, living out, that relationship. The covenant God makes with people always follows on from either a promise or call, salvation & redemption. For example, the giving of the 10 commandments comes after God has saved & redeemed His people, not before. In the Bible, covenants are essentially a way of defining the nature & responsibilities of a relationship, a bit like the traditional wedding vows of promising to love, honour & obey.
Included in it are 5 covenants:
1.The Noahic Covenant
We all know the story of Noah. The wickedness of man had become so great that God decided to destroy humanity, but Noah found grace with God & he & his family were saved. This is also known as the universal covenant because it was made with all humanity through Noah, & marked a new beginning for the world.
2.The Abrahamic Covenant
This is the covenant our OT passage speaks of today. Abraham is promised that he will have many offspring, they will be a great nation. We are told of the ceremony with the animal offerings but instead of God & Abraham moving between the halves of them, only God moves between the pieces, making the covenant unconditional. Circumcision later became a sign of this covenant.
3.The Mosaic Covenant
This was made between God & the Israelites on Mt Sinai. It set His people apart from other nations as God’s chosen people. They received the promise of being a holy nation, a kingdom of priests if they obeyed God’s will & His commandments. Hence the relationship was conditional.
4.The Davidic Covenant
David is promised that the Messiah would come through his lineage. God promises to provide a place for His people Israel. He tells David that his own son will succeed him as king, & it is that son who will build God a temple & his throne will endure forever.
5.The New Covenant
This is fulfilled in the coming of Christ. Under the old covenant the children of Israel were expected to follow the laws God had given them through Moses. They had to perform sacrifices in atonement for sin. In the new covenant, God promises to change man’s hearts & give them a new spirit. Instead of writing the laws on tablets of stone, like in the old covenant, God’s laws are written on man’s heart. Instead of man having a cold & impenetrable heart, God gives him a new heart & spirit where the Holy Spirit comes & dwells. Through the blood of Christ, the heart of man is cleansed & changed to become a holy dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Thus, when we accept Christ as our saviour & Lord, the Holy Spirit dwells deep within us & causes us to be obedient to the Lord. Part of our relationship is learning to see God more clearly & be obedient to him. Again & again, in the gospels, Jesus invites us to see. There is a particular focus on healing the blind but what He is really doing is rebuking those who think they can see, particularly the religious elite. Jesus is constantly inviting us to develop our capacity to see clearly just as God did in the Old Testament. Failure to do this, to stay in close relationship with Him & follow Him will lead to punishment – separation from Him. Israel in the OT was punished because it failed to see God clearly & live up to the responsibilities of the covenant. God’s punishment, though, is never an end in itself, nor does He punish in wild anger or frustration. Rather, He punishes in the best way and at the best time to bring individuals to repentance. He has not forgotten His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but He will correct their descendants so that He can eventually save His people and give them the promises. The process will be painful but also effective; Israel will come to repentance (Romans 11:25-29). Reflecting on the history of the British Commonwealth and America in the last two hundred years, we see two nations quickly rising to prominence along with unparalleled accomplishments. The British produced a great empire far out of proportion to their population, native wealth, and abilities. Through her commercial power, the United States became the single richest nation that has ever existed. American influence has since exceeded even that of Britain, making English the universal language of business and politics.
Thousands of academic, scientific, and engineering breakthroughs and inventions have sprung from British and American individuals, discoveries which greatly affected the rest of this world. Such power and influence have made both nations feel they have an unlimited reservoir of natural ability and wealth. They even feel a kind of invincibility. Today we also see the arrogance & power of a Russian leader but just as Amos warned ancient Israel and her modern descendants, however, no nation is so great that it can stand without God. He makes and unmakes nations. There is always hope when we believe & trust in God. “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “when the plougher shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them.” (Amos 9:13-15). Central to both the punishment and the restitution is loving and living the truth of God. This is the responsibility of those who have made a covenant with Him, whether the Old or the New Covenant. It is our part of the deal—a small part really but a difficult one that must be kept (Matthew 7:13-14). If we do not keep it, God must correct us. But if we keep our part of the agreement, we will reap the benefits that flow with God keeping His. He promises good health (Exodus 15:26), prosperity (Malachi 3:8-12), children (Psalm 127:3-5), security (Psalm 46), and many other blessings besides His greatest gift, eternal life in His Kingdom (John 17:1-3; Romans 6:23). In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus laments over Jerusalem as He prepares for what awaits him there. Jerusalem has failed to pay attention, to notice what God is doing. God invites us to SEE salvation, to SEE the glory of God revealed in the crucified Messiah. To see the glories of his kingdom. The old covenant created a barrier between God and man because even though people, for example, the Pharisees, knew all the laws, their hearts were not close to God. Jesus said that they honoured God only with their words, but their hearts were so very distant from Him. In other words, the Pharisees did not have a personal relationship with God. In the new covenant, God made this promise: “I will be their God and they will be my people.” This shows that God established an intimate relationship with man through His son Jesus Christ with the new covenant God. So there is nothing that separates us from God. The wall of separation that had been erected by sin was broken.
Today man can have an intimate relationship with God if he accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. This acceptance is revealed when we follow His new commandments: “To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind & strength, & to love our neighbour as ourselves.” Note: the first commandment, to love God. You can only love someone when you have a personal relationship with them, so to love God we need to be in relationship with Him. That means knowing Him. How do we get to know Him? Through scripture, prayer & worship. That’s why we have formal services of worship, prayer & praise. That’s why we have our Bible. It is the Word of God & how He would like us to live our lives – in obedience to Him & His Word – not in obedience to the world & what man wants, but in obedience to God. And that in many ways, because of man’s interpretation of the commandment ‘to love’, remains a challenge. So as we look at the covenants between God & mankind, we may well be challenged about our Christian living. However, we should be sure that neither the Church, nor we as individuals, neglect our covenant responsibilities. We have entered into a covenant relationship with God through belief in Jesus Christ; Christ is our shield. God desires to gather us together as a hen gathers her brood under her wing & protects them & so we can be encouraged & reassured that God remains committed to His new covenant responsibilities now, until the end of time. And that is the Good News of this book & God’s love for each one of us.