Covenant vs Contractual

Covenant in the Bible. the conditional promises made to humanity by God, as revealed in Scripture. The agreement between God and the ancient Israelites, in which God promised to protect them if they kept His law and were faithful to Him. a formal agreement of legal validity, especially one under seal.

Difference between covenant and contract 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.

1 Samuel 18:3-4(HCSB) Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as much as himself. Then Jonathan removed the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his military tunic, his sword, his bow, and his belt.

 The making of a covenant was serious business. It was the strongest bond known to men, and had both business and personal applications that extended even to the descendants of the two parties involved. A covenant was typically solemnized by great ceremony and ritual, some of which is mentioned in the passage above. All in all it went like this.

First, several animals were cut in half and arranged along a path. Their purpose was to symbolize the penalty for breaking the covenant. The two men entering into a covenant relationship walked between and around the animal parts in a figure eight. (An eight on its side is the symbol for infinity.) This was to show that they understood and accepted the penalty and that the agreement committed them forever. (When God entered into His covenant with Abraham, promising him an heir and giving him the Promised Land, He was the only one who walked between the animals. This meant that only He was bound to the terms. There was nothing Abraham had to do. In fact, God put him to sleep so he couldn’t participate. The land was given to Abraham and his descendants unconditionally and in perpetuity (Gen.15:9-21).

Seven Symbolic Steps

Then they performed up to seven ceremonial acts; each also designed to underscore the seriousness and permanence of the relationship they were entering. In the passage above, we see David and Jonathan formalizing their covenant with the first two of these.

  1. Each man handed his outer garment to the other, symbolizing that everything belonging to one also belonged to the other.
  2. Exchanging sword, bow, and other weapons indicated that each was pledging himself to the other’s defense; placing his power, as it were, at the other’s disposal.
  3. They each cut themselves in the wrist to make their blood flow and then joined their right hands and forearms together in a gesture from which we get the modern handshake. The idea here was that the blood from one was now mixed with the blood from the other. The two had become one. In some cultures a bride and groom still cut themselves this way and mingle their blood during their wedding ceremony, and the American Indian notion of becoming “blood brothers” is also derived from this. (The Hebrew word translated covenant comes from a root that means to cut. It could apply to the animals, the men, or both.)

We often hear the phrase, “blood is thicker than water.” It usually refers to the strength of family relationships, but its original intent was different. It meant that the blood of the covenant surpassed the birth waters. As Jonathan’s actions toward David demonstrate, covenant relationships exceeded family ties in strength and durability 1 Samuel 19:1-3 (HCSB)Saul ordered his son Jonathan and all his servants to kill David. But Saul’s son Jonathan liked David very much, so he told him: “My father Saul intends to kill you. Be on your guard in the morning and hide in a secret place and stay there. I’ll go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are and talk to him about you. When I see what he says, I’ll tell you.”.

  1. They let the cut heal in such a way as to leave a visible scar on their wrist. This was to alert people that they were stronger than they appeared to be, since others stood behind them pledged to their defense.
  2. They shared a ceremonial meal, usually of bread and wine. It was another way of uniting them since to this day middle-Easterners believe that sharing from the same loaf of bread or the same flask of wine binds the participants together. In the first Biblical mention of this, Melchizedek and Abraham shared such a meal (Genesis 14:18).
  3. Still another way was for each to take a portion of the other’s name, similar to the way the bride takes the name of the groom in Western culture. (When God entered into a covenant with Abram He changed his name to Abraham, requiring us to exhale when we speak his name. The exhaled breath symbolizes the Ruach Elohim or Spirit of God.)
  4. And finally they built a monument or memorial to the ceremony. This could be something as simple as a pile of stones or as complex as a forest or a flock of animals, such as when Jacob and Laban formed their covenant (Genesis 30:25-36).

They went through such ceremony because their lives depended on their covenant partners. There could be no doubt in their minds as to each other’s reliability.

Today in our culture, however, we have lost the understanding of covenants. We only think in terms of contracts. In our minds all of our agreements are contingent on both parties holding up their ends.

Perhaps that is why we have so many lawyers. Since everything is now based on contracts in our minds we need gobs of lawyers to tell us what we can and cannot do.

Or maybe it’s the other way around and because we have so many lawyers we have fixated on contracts and lost sight of covenants.

Either way, our lost understanding of covenants has significant repercussions in our society.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that comes out of “contract thinking” is that we misunderstand our relationship with God.

We naturally filter everything we understand about God in terms of a contract. We assume that if we don’t hold up our end then, contractually, God won’t hold up his. As a result we find it impossible to approach a Holy God because we know we can never hold up our end of the bargain. The standard is perfection and we know we’re not perfect.

The new covenant is spoken about first in the book of Jeremiah. The old covenant that God had established with His people required obedience to the Old Testament Mosaic law. Romans 6:23(HCSB) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. the law required that people perform rituals and sacrifices in order to please God and remain in His grace. The prophet Jeremiah predicted that there would be a time when God would make a new covenant with the nation of Israel.

“‘The day will come,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. . . . But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,’ says the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people’” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33). Jesus Christ came to fulfill the law of Moses Matthew 5:17(HCSB) “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. and create a new covenant between God and His people. The old covenant was written in stone, but the new covenant is written on our hearts, made possible only by faith in Christ, who shed His own blood to atone for the sins of the world. Luke 22:20 (ESV) says, “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”

Now that we are under the new covenant, we are not under the penalty of the law. We are now given the opportunity to receive salvation as a free gift Ephesians 2:8-9 (HCSB)For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. Through the life-giving Holy Spirit who lives in all believers (Romans 8:9-11You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you.), we can now share in the inheritance of Christ and enjoy a permanent, unbroken relationship with God. Hebrews 9:15 declares, “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

 God has a Covenant with us not a contract

Then He told us what His Son did for us. He said that Jesus,

  1. Gave us His robes of righteousness and clothed Himself in our garment of sin.
  2. Pledged His sword (the Word of His mouth) to our defense.
  3. In being nailed to the cross, His wrists were cut and allowed to heal so as to leave scars as evidence of the covenant.
  4. Allowed His blood to flow into and over us, cleansing us of all our impurities.
  5. Shared a covenant meal of bread and wine with us and asked that we do this with each other as a memorial to Him.
  6. Gave us His name, for we are called Christians.
  7. Built a monument, His covenant flock, and said the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

And as in Abraham’s case, all we have to do is receive it. It’s unconditional and perpetual.


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