What does a covenant mean? What about a covenant with God, what does that mean?
What is a Covenant?
You don’t hear much about covenants today. You usually hear about contracts although contracts have some similarities with covenants, they are not the same at all. A covenant is generally understood to be a formal agreement between two or more persons to do or not do something that is specified in the covenant. It could include an incidental clause such as an agreement or even include a specific law and may include a binding agreement or a compact. A biblical covenant is similar in many ways with the only real differences being the parties involved are God and man.
The Abrahamic Covenant
In Genesis 12:1-3 we read God telling Abram (later changed to Abraham) “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Did Abram question God? What was his first reaction? It simply says “Abram went, as the Lord had told him” (Gen 12:4a). Where God tells Abram that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3b) this blessing of his would necessarily result in all the families of the earth being blessed but obviously this means that there is something more than a physical blessing and more than just a large number of people or descendants. In fact it is a spiritual blessing where all the families of the earth would be blessed by the coming sacrifice of the Promised Seed and this blessing is for all eternity for those who repent and trust in the Promised Seed. Peter spoke about this blessing in Acts 3:25 where he said of “Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” and this offspring is clearly not speaking about there being many but by the One, that is Christ.
Paul on God’s Covenant with Abraham
Paul wrote about this covenant in Galatians 3:15-16; “To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” The blessing comes from the fact that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:13-14). The law came as a result of the transgression or sin (Gal 3:19) and sin by definition is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4) but the law was only until the one Who was promised would come (Gal 3:19) and that was Christ because “the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Gal 3:17-18). This is not just a physical blessing and one only for Israel because in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:28-29).
Marriage is a Covenant
Marriage is not a contractual agreement, it is a covenant made between a man and a woman and was designed to last until the death. The word covenant in the original Latin means a coming (con) together (venire) which in the first marriage ceremony it was written that “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24) and as Jesus said “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:6). So a biblical covenant, like a marriage covenant, has two joined together in agreement where no man can separate and the two become one as the man was to “leave and cleave” to his wife.
Origins of the Covenant
The Hebrew word for covenant is always “berith” and may be derived from the Hebrew verb “barah,”meaning “to cut,” and therefore contains a reminder of the ceremony mentioned in Gen 15:17-18a where it was written “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” This might be where the phrase “cutting an agreement” came from. The covenant that God made with Abram didn’t depend on Abram but on God Who is always faithful to His Word because as you can see in Genesis 15:17-18, Abram did nothing and God did everything. The only thing that Abram did was to believe God.
A New and Better Covenant
On the night of His betrayal and during the Passover Meal Jesus said “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28) thusly “Jesus [is] the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel” (Heb 12:24). It is “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” (Heb 9:15). This new and better covenant doesn’t depend upon us, just as it didn’t depend on Abram (Gen 15), but on the promises of God for all who believe on Him.
Today you can be saved by believing on Jesus Christ and by a promise that was not sealed by animal blood but by the precious blood of the Lamb of God and for all who come to Him. To those who trust in Him, He will not ever turn away (John 6:37). These same have the unbreakable promise of eternal life (John 6:40, 47) and shall never perish (John 3:16) but not so with those who refuse to believe (John 3:36b).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.