My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Psalm 89:34
God is a God of covenant. The Bible is the story of the covenants that God has made with human beings, amazing promises to us that He will never break. When we look at the promises of God, we begin to realize how much God cares about us and loves us; we realize that He actually enters into covenants with us where He binds Himself voluntarily to human beings, or puts Himself under obligation to us. Why would God do this? It is because He wants a family of sons and daughters where He can experience a great relationship with them. God wants a bride. The covenant defines our relationship with God, and in my opinion there is nothing more important to a human being.
The covenant is the backbone of our relationship with God, so it is important for us to understand what a covenant is. Modern society doesn’t really understand covenants anymore. We don’t have a word for it because in our society everything is ordered around the self’s pursuit of happiness. A covenant is a relationship more loving and intimate than a legal relationship, but more biding and accountable than a personal relationship because it is legal. In America, we understand contracts, agreements, lawyers, and courts. A covenant is an agreement, but it is much more than a contract.
A contract is when two equal parties that have bilateral negotiating rights enter into an agreement. For example, when we want to build a house, we may hire a contractor. The contractor provides the material and labor to build the house, and we provide the money. Both parties agree to and enter into a contract where either party can break the contract if one side doesn’t keep his end of the agreement. You are in essence saying, “I will be what I should be as long as and to the degree that you are what you should be.” Contracts are conditional.
Contrariwise, a covenant is when two parties are not equal, and they enter in to a unilateral agreement. The stronger person decides the terms, and the weaker person only has to decide whether or not to accept the terms and conditions. The closest thing that we have in our society to a covenant is when someone prepares a last will and testament. The person leaving the will is the stronger party, and it is his decision to leave the property to whomever he wants. It is his promise to his heirs.
A marriage should be a covenant, but it has evolved into a contract in our society today. In a covenant marriage, both parties should say, “I will be what I should be whether you are being what you should be or not. I will be committed to meeting your needs no matter what happens. I give you my freedom and independence. I will sacrifice for you.”
To understand what a Biblical covenant is, we need to look at the word for covenant in the Hebrew language. It is much more than just an agreement.
בְּרִית ber-eeth’- Strong’s #1285, in the sense of cutting; a compact (made by passing between pieces of flesh): confederacy, to eat together, a covenant, confederate, league, promise of God.
The ancient world operated with covenants. For example, when a great lord conquered some land and needed servants, he would enter into a covenant with them. They needed him to protect them, to provide food and shelter for them and their families. He needed them to serve him by working and farming his land. So they would kill an animal, cut up the pieces of flesh and divide them by putting them on both sides of an aisle. Then the servant would walk down the aisle, through the pieces of flesh; this was a blood covenant. What the servant was doing was pledging an oath or making a promise to always be loyal to his master, and the master was pledging an oath to always take care of the servant. If the servant broke the pledge of loyalty, then he would be punished with death, or his body would be cut up into pieces. The lord never walked through the pieces. The lord was the one who made the terms and conditions of the covenant, and the servant only had to accept or reject the covenant. This is crystal clear in the Bible as we find that ancient civilizations commonly entered into blood covenants with each other.
And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof, The princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf; I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life:... Jeremiah 34:18-20
God entered into a covenant with Abram in which God promised him many great things.
Promise: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. Genesis 12:2,3
In Genesis chapter 15, we see the very heart of the Gospel. This is an amazing passage of Scripture in which Abram was having trouble believing the promise of God because he was old and couldn’t understand how his seed would become great when he was childless. God gave him a spectacular experience in which Abram believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness.
After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. Genesis 15:1-7
Abram wanted God to answer his question of how he could know that God would keep His promise to him, and God answered Abram in an amazing and magnificent way.
And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates. Genesis 15:8-18
God was entering into a covenant with Abram, so He had Abram kill some animals, cut up their pieces of flesh, and divide them. Afterward, a horror of great darkness came upon Abram. Then what had to be to his amazement, a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between the pieces, which meant God passed between the pieces, instead of Abram. The Lord, the greater said, "I will pledge my loyalty to you, and if and when you break the covenant, I will take the punishment for you."
Two thousand years ago on a cross, on Calvary’s hill, a horror of great darkness came upon the land as the sun refused to shine. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was the sacrifice. He was slain, cut up, and broken. And God passed between the pieces. The smoking furnace was the Holy Spirit. The burning lamp was the Father. Abram was never even asked to pass through the pieces. God was saying, "You cannot keep your word. You cannot be holy or righteous on your own. So I will do it for you, and I will take your punishment for you."
The ceremony ended without Abram even making an oath or a promise. In the New Covenant, God knew that all of us would break the covenant. So God's Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, took our punishment for us, in our place, as our substitute. He is saying, "Not only will I be torn to pieces if I don’t keep the covenant, but I will be torn to pieces, if and when, you don’t keep the covenant." He is saying, "I will bless you, even if it means that My immortality must become mortal, even if I have to be torn in pieces because you can’t keep the covenant."
This story about Abram entering into God’s covenant gets to the very heart of the Gospel, and it is perhaps the greatest picture of the Gospel in the Old Testament. To establish the covenant, Abram should have passed between the pieces and made the oath to God. But God, in His great mercy, knew that Abram could never measure up or be perfect. So God did it for him.
Jesus Christ brought in and established the new covenant with anyone who will accept God’s terms and conditions, by simply believing and receiving. Jesus shed His precious blood at Calvary’s cross. In doing so, He was the sacrifice, cut up and divided, yet God passed between the pieces for us. God loves us so much that He not only keeps His part of the covenant, but He keeps our part by living the life for us that we cannot possibly live. He pays the price for us, as we break the covenant, by taking the punishment for us that we deserve. In this way, Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and established a New Covenant.
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Matthew 26:27,28
But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. Hebrews 8:6,7 NLT
I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors,…..They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people…,,‘You should know the Lord’…… And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear. Hebrews 8:8-13 NLT
With the New Covenant, a better covenant, God now writes His laws in our hearts and minds, instead of on stone. Now we are not only told how to live, but we are given the desire to live the way God wants us to live. Now we can know God intimately and personally, not through Moses or Aaron or a priest. The Holy Spirit will lead and guide us, and Jesus Himself is our Mediator. Now God will forgive our sins and remember them no more. God forgives and forgets. The New Covenant is made with individuals, not made with a nation. You come into this covenant by yourself, individually. It is for anyone who believes, Jew or Gentile.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
God loves us very much to establish such an amazing covenant with us. Through this agreement or covenant, any of us who will accept, believe, and receive Jesus Christ can be forgiven, made holy and righteous, and have an incredible relationship with God. He will fill us with His Spirit, give us power over the devil, and live the life through us that we could not have possibly lived on our own. God also promises us that He will complete the work that He has begun in our lives.
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: Philippians 1:6
We can receive all of these promises because of God’s new covenant with human beings. We should all accept the terms and conditions of the covenant; believe the promises of the covenant by faith, and receive Him into our heart.
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:9,10
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. Acts 2:38,39
Again, accept the terms and conditions; believe (repent, and be baptized) and receive the Holy Spirit. All who are in a New Covenant relationship with God through the blood and the broken body of Jesus Christ should be full of faith, hope, and victory. Just knowing God’s promises and understanding His covenant will change us in an amazing way for the better.