The Importance of Covenant
When I was a young teen, a close buddy and I decided to become “blood brothers”. I really had no idea what it meant, nor did I realize any of the ramifications involved in such a pact. All I knew is that we were making ourselves “blood brothers.”
Our ceremony was simple. Each cut somewhere on his hand—these many years later, I am not sure exactly where—and then put the cut places together and held them there for maybe a minute. We may have even said something like “now we are blood brothers.” Well, it was probably a year or so later that he and I were separated by a family move—mine—to another State. I was in touch with him a few times by mail (even once several years later), and in recent years have made contact with him again and exchange Christmas mail.
King Saul’s son Jonathan apparently met David right after David killed Goliath. In fact, Scripture says,
“And it happened when he [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was joined with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as he did his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1)
David and Jonathan became very close friends. There was such a strong bond of love between them that they made a pact—a covenant: “And Jonathan and David cut a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:3). It was a bond that was to impact the remainder of their lives.
A covenant is basically a treaty, but much more binding and with potentially greater benefits and consequences. And though David and Jonathan made a personal covenant, we generally think of a covenant as a binding event between two groups such as two nations.
There are basically two types of covenant. One is between equals, such as between two equal empires; for example, the ancient Hittites and Egyptians. Both parties negotiate the terms and conditions of the covenant. And both receive generally equal benefit. This type of pact is known as a parity covenant.
The other type of covenant sets into treaty relationship an overlord with an underling. A major empire, such as Babylon makes war against the Syrian territory, and then controls the nation through a one-sided treaty. The ruling king of the empire, known as a suzerain (pronounced SOO-zer-ane), dictates the terms and conditions to the underling, known as a vassal (pronounced VAS-sul), in what is called a suzerainty covenant. The benefits were protection by the empire, the responsibility of the vassal usually amounted to tribute payments, and the consequences for breaking the covenant were destruction of the vassal nation by conquest.
The reason for covenant is to produce a bond between two parties, whether between two individuals or two groups. Its use in business is very common—we usually refer to that type of covenant as a contract.
But whatever the case, a covenant binds the two parties together for some purpose. For example, when ancient Rome covenanted with a small territory like Asia Minor, the people received benefits. Sometimes the smaller kingdom received great autonomy in self-government, and the people would even receive full Roman citizenship. And in the case of the modern American military, a person enlists under a four-year contract. The individual serves to protect the United States, while at the same time receives certain educational, medical and other benefits.
One point missed by many Christians is the fact that salvation in Christ entails a whole lot more than just forgiveness and a free ticket to Heaven. A relationship is established between you and God through Christ. It is a covenant. And in that covenant God has specific things for which He is responsible, and so do you.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the covenant in Christ is not like the Old Testament Law Covenant. The Law Covenant was a national covenant and by necessity was law-oriented. Instead, the covenant in Christ is a relationship covenant. In fact, Paul writes that a marriage between a man and a woman actually speaks of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32).
The point is that you have a relationship with God, and just as there are protocols and responsibilities in making a marriage covenant relationship work, so too there are protocols and responsibilities in keeping the relationship covenant with God in Christ. If you want to get the best out of that relationship with God as a Christian, it is important to study and learn the spiritual principles taught in the writings of the New Testament. The Scriptures reveal what is required and the eternal blessings that can be gotten in a covenant with God through Christ.
So a covenant is actually the way that two parties are able to work together. And the highest form of covenant is a committed, life-long, personal relationship such as a marriage between a man and a woman or a devoted relationship to God through Christ.
What happened when Judah, under a forced covenant with Babylon, rebelled and asked Egypt for help? Well, Babylon came and punished Judah by taking many thousands of people away from their homes to a foreign land. It was a costly mistake for the king of Judah to have broken the suzerainty covenant that had been forced upon the small nation.
What happens when a husband or wife is unfaithful to their spouse? The marriage is usually broken beyond repair, and a penalty of alimony and child support will often be imposed—a potentially very expensive punishment for breaking the relationship covenant of marriage.
What happens when a Christian backslides into sin. First, let me say that the term used for a heart that turns away from God is called apostasy. This is not referring to the occasional sinning that we do, which grieves God, but a full turning away in a complete rejection of Him. When a person apostatizes, he or she opens the door to all sorts of trouble. God loves you continually. But Scripture clearly says that God has "magnified His Word above His Name" (Psalm 138:2); that is, God has to abide by the rules of covenant that He Himself has set up.
The Plan of Redemption, which God established at the beginning of the world, is a spiritual force that continually operates—just like gravity is a force of nature that continually holds you and everything else to the ground—and God Himself always functions within that plan, just like everything on earth leans, tilts, falls, or clings to the earth because of gravity. Now, in order for Him to work with man, He uses covenant relationship. But His covenant relationship with man is always within the framework of His Plan of Redemption.
Simply said, that plan works like this:
Each and every soul is born with a sin nature. We are defiled before a holy and pure God. By definition, we are unworthy to be in His divine holy and eternal presence.
However, God’s holy and pure nature includes an undying love. He has a compassionate, caring concern for you that never changes. His love for you motivates Him to reach out to you to make you worthy to be in His presence eternally.
Because covenant is the binding of two parties together, He works by covenant to establish a permanent relationship with you. He uses a one-sided, suzerainty type covenant because we are defiled and have nothing to offer that would independently make us worthy of having a covenant with a holy God on an equal basis. God cannot use a parity covenant.
God will always be faithful because His holy nature makes Him that way. But terms and conditions are embedded into the covenant because our defiled sinful nature makes you and me unreliable. Under Christ, the benefits are His personal presence in your life through His Holy Spirit: His blessings and favor; communication with Him through prayer; His wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and eternal life; and more. But breaking the covenant can reap serious consequences. In that case there is no guaranteed protection, no guaranteed answered prayer, no inner presence of His Holy Spirit, and certainly no eternal life.
Contrary to certain religious teachings about salvation without responsibility, there is a protocol of covenant to maintain. Not a legalistic form of "holiness or Hell" that forces you into Hell for a mistake here or there; but the maintenance of a covenant relationship with God. As I wrote earlier, Paul likened it to a covenant of marriage. Divorce is not an action taken for a single offense; it is the final ending of a marriage relationship gone sour. Breaking the covenant relationship with God is not accomplished by a single lie or theft or offense against God; it is the end result of a heart that has apostatized.
So I need to keep covenant. I need to keep it with my wife in our marriage, as a parent with my kids, as a friend to my buddies, as an employee to my employer, and most of all, as a repentant-sinner-turned-Christian to God through His Christian Covenant.
Each one of us will one day stand before God in judgment. Many souls will find they have lost out with God and will spend eternity in Hell, with all of the unrelenting horror of unbearable pain, frustration, loneliness, and so on that can be experienced. Many others will find a great destiny of love, joy, peace, real satisfaction, and the unrelenting and precious Presence of God Almighty, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit for eternity in that glorious place we call Heaven.
Covenants are important, especially the New Covenant in Christ. Let me not be a covenant breaker. Let me keep my covenants with others. And most important, let me be found faithful to that covenant relationship with God in Christ, no matter what it takes during this life on earth.
I invite you to do the same.
Rev. Pat Reynolds
Wayne Parks Ministries