Friday, April 5, 2013

Covenant -- a Greater with a Lesser

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Friday, April 5, 2013:  Deuteronomy 28:1-68

1“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lordyour God will set you high above all nations of the earth.And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God:  Deuteronomy 28:1-2 (NKJV)

Thus begins the classic listing of BLESSINGS AND CURSES tied to the law of Moses.  For 14 verses, a host of "life-situation" blessings are laid out.  They are truly exciting to read.  But then, for 54 verses, all kinds of negative things are predicted for those who disobey God's word in the law.

It is important for us to put all of this in correct context.  These blessings and curses are part of the larger concept of COVENANT.  When we read a list like this, it is covenant language and reveals a covenant mindset.  So, let's take a moment and look at the biblical concept of COVENANT that runs through the entirety of Scripture.

The Hebrew word for "covenant" is berith.  The root meaning of berith is "to cut", therefore we may use the phrase "to cut the covenant".  It speaks of making an agreement by blood.  This is, of course, more serious than a handshake or a signature.  We seal the agreement with blood indicating that breaking of the covenant will require death.  It is as strong a term as can be imagined.

The New Testament Greek word that mirrors berith is diatheke.  This is the word regularly used when the New Testament speaks of our covenant with God.  It is interesting and important to note that diatheke refers to a covenant between a GREATER AND A LESSER.  There was another Greek word that was widely used in biblical times for "covenant".  That word was suntheke.  Suntheke refers to a covenant between EQUALS.  

Both berith and diatheke point us, as one author put it, to "a one-sided promise or grant given by a GREATER TO A LESSER."  The God of creation has stooped to make covenant with us!  If you stop to meditate on this, it is truly amazing and is the grounds for WORSHIP!

There are seven parts to any covenant between a GREATER AND A LESSER.  This has often been called a sovereign covenant or a suzerain covenant (these terms are similar).  The seven parts are:

1.  A Preamble identifying the parties of the covenant.
2.  A Prologue listing the things the GREATER has already done for the LESSER.
3.  The Stipulations.  This is the meat.  These are the terms to be held up by the LESSER and the responsibilities assumed by the GREATER.  This is something like the job description.
4.  The Provisions of the covenant are listed.  This may refer to regular public readings or how it will be maintained in days to come.
5.  Witnesses.  Like any marriage or legal document, the witnesses are listed.  In the case of God, this is where Heb. 6:13 comes alive to us when it says, "because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself."  
6.  Blessings and Curses.  Promises are listed if the covenant is kept, and curses is it is broken.
7.  A Sacrificial Meal.  To seal the covenant, the two parties sit down to eat together.  

When we read the Bible from the perspective of covenant, it comes alive to us.  This list of blessings and curses is more than just a random lecture by a distant observer.  It becomes part of God's relationship with us -- His covenant with us.  It is part of a bigger picture.

In closing, it is obvious to me how these seven parts of the covenant apply to us as New Testament believers.  The original covenant between God and man (the greater and the lesser) now has a MEDIATOR -- a GOD/MAN.  Jesus Christ is exactly in the center of our covenant with God.  We call it a "New Covenant" and so it is.  But in a larger sense it is the Old Covenant fulfilled in Christ.  In the words of the book of Hebrews, it is not different, it is "BETTER."  Soli deo gloria!!!

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