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Holman Bible Dictionary

Covenant

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A pact, treaty, alliance, or agreement between two parties of equal or of unequal authority. The convenant or testament is a central, unifying theme in Scripture, God's covenants with individuals and the nation Israel finding final fulfillment in the new covenant in Christ Jesus. God's covenants can be understood by humans because they are modeled on human covenants or treaties.

Near Eastern Covenants Biblical covenants do not represent something brand new in their world. They are built on normal patterns used in economics and politics of the day. Studies of political and economic agreements in the Ancient Near East have revealed the basic structure of a treaty, agreement, or covenant. Two types of treaties are available for study: those from the Hittite empire about 1400-1200 B.C. and those from the Assyrian Empire about 850-650 B.C. We have several Hittite examples but few Assyrian ones for study. Neither fits a rigid, unchangeable pattern, but the Hittite treaties between a king and vassal kings or between two kings of equal authority can be described with the following structure:

1. Royal Titles naming and identifying the Hittite king making the treaty;

2. Historical prologue reviewing in personal terms the past relationships between the two parties to the treaties, emphasizing the gracious acts of the Hittite king;

3. Treaty stipulations or agreements, often stating first the primary agreement or obligation agreed to by the two parties and then detailing the specific demands or agreements in a longer list;

4. A clause describing the way the treaty is to be stored and to be read regularly to the citizens affected by it; this does not always appear;

5. List of witnesses to the treaty including the gods and natural phenomena such as mountains, heaven, seas, the earth, etc.;

6. List of curses and blessings brought on by violating or observing the treaty demands.

The Assyrian treaties often do not have the historical prologue or the blessings.

The Book of Deuteronomy, Joshua 24:1 , and other Old Testament texts show that Israel was familiar with these treaty forms and used them in their literature. They may also show that Israel used these forms in their worship, renewing regularly the covenant relationship with God. No Old Testament text precisely follows the treaty forms without change, and no text states explicitly that covenant renewal ceremonies formed the center of Israel's worship.

Covenants among Humans In biblical language, people “cut” a covenant with another person or group of people. Abraham and Abimelech cut such a covenant as equal partners, agreeing that the well at Beersheba belonged to Abraham (Genesis 21:22-34 ). Sacrifices accompanied the covenant making. Apparently, Abraham gained the right to live among Abimelech's people, the Philistines (Genesis 21:34 ). Jonathan and David cut a covenant of friendship in which Jonathan acknowledged David's right to the throne (1 Samuel 18:3 ; 1 Samuel 23:18 ). Such an agreement was a “covenant of the Lord” (1 Samuel 20:1 8 ), that is the Lord was its witness and guarantee. At the time Jonathan possessed greater authority than David, but in the covenant he acknowledged David's coming authority over him. Abner led the tribes of northern Israel to cut a covenant with David, making David king over the north as well as over southern Judah (2 Samuel 3:1 ; Compare 2 Samuel 5:3 ; 1 Chronicles 11:3 ). David, who occupied the position of power and authority in the agreement, demanded that Abner also produce Saul's daughter who David had married earlier. Solomon and Hiram made a covenant of peace which apparently included certain trade agreements (1 Kings 5:12 ). Bible students differ as to whether Hiram or Solomon had authority over the other or whether the covenant was between equals. In any case, both sides entered into obligations with the other to provide certain commodities.

King Zedekiah made a covenant with the people of Jerusalem, releasing the Hebrews from slavery (Jeremiah 34:8 ). In so doing, he apparently implemented the laws concerning the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10 ), but he also conducted good politics in providing additional soldiers to protect Jerusalem against Babylon and in freeing Jerusalem's slaveholders from responsibilities to feed so many people in an economically insecure time.

When the danger appeared over, the people tried to take back their slaves (Jeremiah 34:11 ). A ceremony accompanied this covenant ritual—the two sides of the covenant agreement cut a calf in two and solemnly paraded between its parts (Jeremiah 34:18 ). This covenant was made “before Yahweh” (Jeremiah 34:18 ). What modern business might call a secular transaction was a religious one involving God as witness and guarantor. Covenant violation brought condemnation in public worship (Psalm 55:20 ).

Ezra reformed the restored Jewish community by leading them to make a covenant together in God's presence. They would agree to divorce foreign wives and separate themselves from the children so strongly influenced by the foreign mothers (Ezra 10:3 ).

The Hebrew language used different prepositions to state that a covenant has been made between parties. That such change of prepositions indicated difference of meaning is a debated topic. The ability to use such expressions as synonyms probably indicates that the Hebrews did not hear any significant difference in meaning when they heard the varying expressions.

This is seen in comparing Isaac's covenant concerning the digging of wells (Genesis 26:28 ) with Abraham's (Genesis 21:22-24 ) discussed above. Isaac's covenant did involve an oath sworn before God that the parties would deal peaceably with one another. Feasting and drinking accompanied the covenant making.

Hosea denounced the northern kingdom's covenant or vassal treaty with Assyria (Hosea 12:1 ; compare Hosea 7:8-14 ; Hosea 8:9 ; Hosea 10:4 ; 2 Kings 17:3-4 ). Such treaties sought to gain military protection from foreign countries rather than relying upon Yahweh, the covenant God. (See Exodus 23:32 ; Exodus 34:12 ,Exodus 34:12,34:15 ; Deuteronomy 7:2 ). God used a sarcastic tone to ask Job if he could impose a vassal treaty on the leviathan monster, Leviathan agreeing to become Job's docile slave (Job 41:4 ).

When Athaliah tried to usurp the throne and kill off the royal family, the priest Jehoiada made a covenant agreement with the army (2 Chronicles 23:1 ) and with all the people (2 Chronicles 23:3 ) to support the king Joash against Athaliah (compare 2 Kings 11:1 ). They made the covenant in the Temple, thus in the presence of God, seeking His blessing on the covenant and making Him a witness to it.

Israel's enemies plotted against Israel and made military covenants or alliances to support an attack on Israel (Psalm 83:4-8 ). They entered into economic covenants or agreements with one another (Isaiah 33:8 ).

Israel had a long history of making covenant agreements with foreigners, despite God's warnings not to do so. The Gibeonites deceived Israel under Joshua into making a vassal treaty. Israel easily occupied the position of authority in the treaty and subjected the Gibeonites to temple service, but still this violated God's commandments (Joshua 9:1 ; compare Judges 2:2 ). The Israelites in Jabesh Gilead begged for a treaty from Nahash, the Ammonite, but he demanded severe conditions. Saul delivered them, leading to affirmation of Saul's kingship (1 Samuel 11:1 ).

Ben-Hadad, king of Damascus in Syria, promised to return captured cities to Israel and to provide Israel with markets for its products in Damascus if the king of Israel would make a peace treaty or political alliance with him (1 Kings 20:31-35 ). Earlier, Asa, king of Judah, had used the Temple treasury to pay tribute to Ben-Hadad of Damascus to entice Ben-Hadad to break his vassal treaty with Baasha, king of Israel, and enter into a similar treaty with Judah (1 Kings 15:19 ; 2 Chronicles 16:3 ). This is the typical example of a political covenant. One party desires privileges from the other party and pays for the privileges. Such payment may be enforced by a victorious king or may be offered by a weak king needing help against enemies. Members of such a covenant alliance were called “baals of the covenant” or lords, owners of the covenant (Genesis 14:13 ), a technical term for allies. They could also be called “men of the covenant” (Obadiah 1:7 ). Covenant treaties carried expectations of humane and moral treatment of other members of the covenant, the covenant being literally a covenant of brothers (Amos 1:9 ; compare 1 Kings 20:32-33 ).

Each covenant had special conditions effecting the power in authority and the one becoming a vassal or imposing demands on each partner of a covenant between equals. Breaking covenant conditions meant treason and extreme punishment (Ezekiel 17:12-18 ; compare Amos 1:9 ).

Marriage involved covenant obligations with God as the witness (Malachi 2:14 ). This could be used to describe the covenant relationship between God and His people (Ezekiel 16:8 ; Hosea 2:19-20 ).

Isaiah spoke menacingly of a covenant of death political leaders had made (Isaiah 28:15 ). They thought they had bought protection from their enemies. The prophet reminded them nothing made them secure against God's judgment. The action behind the covenant of death can be variously interpreted: a ritual with a foreign god of the underworld or of death, a mutual alliance to fight to the death, a treaty with a foreign power that brought God's judgment and thus death.

God's Covenants with His People God's grace in relating to His people by initiating covenants with them is a major theme of the Bible. The Old Testament story can be related as the story of God making covenants with His people and responding to them out of that covenant relationship. The New Testament can be described as the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant hope in the establishment of God's new covenant in Jesus Christ.

Noah received God's first covenant (Genesis 9:9-17 ). This was a divine oath or promise not to repeat the flood. This covenant extended beyond Noah to all the animals who had experienced the massive destruction and death associated with the flood. The rainbow stands eternally as a sign of God's promise. This covenant called for no human response. It was solely a promise and oath from God. God's covenant with Noah was not a divine afterthought to the flood, a way of making up to His creation for all the destruction. God established the covenant relationship prior to the flood (Genesis 6:18 ). The Hebrew verb here means literally, “to cause to stand.” Some interpreters take this to mean that even in Genesis 6:1 God was confirming a covenant already established, though most see this as a formula for the establishment of the covenant. All agree that the formula underlines the lasting guarantee behind the covenant. The covenant is established and will stand. God's first covenant protected life—both human and animal—in the face of massive destruction. That priority on and protection of life remains the foundation of God's relationship with His creation. Neither “natural” catastrophe nor human sin (compare Genesis 6:5 ; Genesis 8:21 ) can prevent God from maintaining His priority on life.

God made His second covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:18 ; Genesis 17:2 ). As the covenant with Noah involved a righteous man (Genesis 6:8-9 ), so the covenant with Abraham involved a man of faith (Genesis 15:6 ). God initiated His covenant with this type of person, but this does not mean that the person earned God's covenant with good works. Rather, this type of person was open to God's actions and could be directed by God for His purposes. The covenant with Abraham, like that with Noah, involved divine promises, not human obedience. God promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham's descendants after a long sojourn to a foreign land. He symbolized this promise through an ancient covenant ceremony (compare Jeremiah 34:1 ), known from other cultures also, in which animals are cut and covenant participants pass through. Normally, the human covenant partners swear that they will abide by covenant conditions or will face the fate of the animals. For Abraham, the rite became a sacrifice to God and a sign of his devotion to the rite even when attacking birds threatened to spoil it. Abraham did not walk through the divided animals. Symbols of God's presence did. God made the oath to keep His promise. Genesis 17:1 shows the initiation of circumcision as the sign of the covenant. God's covenant promise was extended to include international-relations, many descendants, and to be God of the people descended from Abraham forever.

Redemption from Egyptian slavery found its climax in God's covenant with Israel. This covenant differed from those with Noah and Abraham. The situation was not an affirmation of human faithfulness or righteousness, but the confession of God's salvation (Exodus 19:4 ). The oath or promise came not from God but from the people. They were to “obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant.” Then they would be “a peculiar treasure unto me above all people a kingdom of priests an holy nation” (Exodus 6:5-6 ). Covenant law was then revealed to God's people. They had responsibilities within the covenant relationship. The people accepted this responsibility in a solemn ceremony in which covenant law was read from the “book of the covenant” and “the blood of the covenant” was sprinkled on the altar and on the people (Exodus 24:3-8 ). The covenant with Yahweh meant Israel could make covenants with no other gods (Exodus 23:32 ). Within the covenant agreement, God included the Sabbath covenant, Israel's perpetual promise to observe the seventh day as a day of rest, reflecting God's practice in creation (Exodus 31:16 ).

Israel refused to take covenant commitment seriously almost from the start. While Moses climbed the mountain and stayed in God's presence to receive the Ten Commandments, the people worshiped golden calves (Exodus 32:1 ). God renewed the covenant with His people, making explicit His covenant promise to conquer miraculously the land of Canaan promised to Abraham (Exodus 34:1 ; note Exodus 34:10 ). Again, covenant with Israel involved Israel's pledge to make no other covenants (Exodus 34:12 ,Exodus 34:12,34:15 ; Deuteronomy 7:2 ) and God's commandments as His expectations of a covenant people (Exodus 34:27-28 ; Deuteronomy 4:13 ). See Ten Commandments .

Israel's sacrificial worship included reminders of the covenant relationship. Salt added to offerings was the “salt of the covenant” (Leviticus 2:13 ). Salt symbolized covenant relationships among Arabs and Greeks and probably other peoples of Israel's day. The symbolic meaning is not precisely known. It may have reflected on understanding of salt as something eternal and thus as a sign of the everlasting effect of the agreements reached in a covenant relationship (compare Numbers 18:19 ; 2 Chronicles 13:5 ). The bread of the altar also symbolized Israel's everlasting covenant (Leviticus 24:8 ).

Israel apparently celebrated its covenant with ceremonies helping the people identify themselves as the covenant people as they heard, “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day” (Deuteronomy 5:2-3 ; compare Deuteronomy 29:1 ,Deuteronomy 29:1,29:12 ,Deuteronomy 29:12,29:14-15 ; Joshua 8:30-35 ; Joshua 24:1-28 ). Israel's ceremonies had some of the same components that Near Eastern covenants or treaties had, particularly blessings for covenant obedience and cursings for disobedience (Exodus 23:25-30 ; Leviticus 26:1-46 ; Deuteronomy 27:11-26 ; Deuteronomy 28:1-68 ). A major element of blessing is that God will make His covenant stand for His people (Leviticus 26:9 ). Curses come when God's people break the covenant (Leviticus 26:15 ; Deuteronomy 29:25 ; Deuteronomy 31:16 ; Joshua 7:11 ,Joshua 7:11,7:15 ,Joshua 7:15,23:16 ; Judges 2:20 ). Curse is not the final word for covenant breaking, however. After covenant curse or punishment takes effect, God expects the people to confess sin and return to Him (Leviticus 26:40 ; Deuteronomy 4:30-31 ; Deuteronomy 30:1-3 ). God, on the other side, does not “break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God” (Leviticus 26:44 ; compare Deuteronomy 7:9 , Deuteronomy 7:12 : Judges 2:1 ; Zechariah 11:10 ). For the sake of His promises to the ancestors and because of His nature as Yahweh, the God of Israel, God “will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors” (Leviticus 26:45 ). God's eternal devotion to His covenant does not nullify the effect of the curses. They are real and enforced, for “the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24 ).

God's covenant is not simply the selfish demands of a victorious, powerful overlord placing unreasonable demands on His subjects. God works for His covenant people. He protected them in the wilderness, gave them the land, and gave “power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18 ; Deuteronomy 29:9 ). The blessings of the covenant are more than part of a ceremony. They become reality in the life of His people. Why? Not so the people can become conceited and self-confident (Deuteronomy 8:17 ) but that God can have a powerful people with whom to establish His covenant and thus to accomplish His purposes for His creation (Deuteronomy 8:18 ). This did not mean that all God's people would be rich or that only the rich could enter the covenant. God invited persons from every economic level of Israelite society to join His covenant (Deuteronomy 29:10-12 ). Even those not physically present at the covenant ceremony were covenant members (Deuteronomy 29:15 ).

God's covenant with Abraham and with Israel found its special climax in God's covenant with David (2 Samuel 23:5 ; compare 2 Samuel 7:12-16 ; 2 Chronicles 13:5 ; Psalm 89:3-34 ; Psalm 132:12 ). God would establish the house of David to rule His people forever. Perennial disobedience led to Judah's exile and complaint, “thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant” (Psalm 89:39 ).

Making covenants with His people characterized God and distinguished Him from the other gods of the nations. Israel's God was the one “who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart” (1 Kings 8:23 ; 2 Chronicles 6:14 ; Nehemiah 1:5 ; Nehemiah 9:32 ; Psalm 105:8 , Psalm 105:10 ; compare Isaiah 54:10 ).

Sadly, God's people did not mirror Him in faithfulness to covenant. David's son King Solomon blazed the trail of covenant-breaking, worshiping other gods and setting a model Israel consistently followed through their history (1 Kings 11:11 ). Israel chose to listen to Dame Folly's strange wooings and forget the covenant with God (Proverbs 2:17 ). God had to punish. Even in punishment, He remained faithful, preserving two tribes for the family of David (1 Kings 11:12-13 ) and protecting the people from enemies (2 Kings 13:23 ; 2 Chronicles 21:7 ). Israel's covenant breaking, on the other hand, became so extreme that a lonely, persecuted prophet could claim, “I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life” (1 Kings 19:10 ). Occasionally, faithful people gained control and led the people to renew the covenant with God (2 Kings 17:35 ; 2 Kings 23:3 ; 2 Chronicles 15:12 ; 2 Chronicles 29:10 ; 2 Chronicles 34:31-32 ). Eventually, covenant-breaking led God to send the northern kingdom into eternal exile (2 Kings 17:15-18 ; 2 Kings 18:11-12 ). Punishment was not God's final word. He heard His people's cry and “remembered for them his covenant” (Psalm 106:45 ).

The covenant relationship became so characteristic for Israel and their God that the Psalmists in worship and in wisdom teaching called Israel to remember God and His covenants. Covenant keeping led to mercy and truth (Psalm 25:10 ; Psalm 103:18 ) and to participation in the intimate covenant relationship (Psalm 25:14 ). In times of trouble the worshiper could call on God, claiming “neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant” (Psalm 44:17 ). In worship the covenant people gathered to hear God's judgment (Psalm 50:5 ; compare Psalm 78:10 , Psalm 78:37 : Jeremiah 11:2-3 ). A strong word of judgment rebuked those who entered God's covenant with false intentions and results (Psalm 50:16 ). In worship they also claimed God's covenant promises, asking deliverance from trouble by calling on God to “have respect unto the covenant” (Psalm 74:20 ). They praised God for covenant faithfulness (Psalm 111:5 ,Psalms 111:5,111:9 ). God also made a covenant with the priests, acknowledging their obedient and even heroic acts by promising them the office of the priest forever (Numbers 25:12-13 ; Exodus 40:15 ; compare Deuteronomy 33:8-11 ). Even the priests proved unfaithful and drew God's anger (Nehemiah 13:29 ; Malachi 2:1-9 ).

Covenant theology did not concentrate solely on Israel. Just as the covenant with Noah reached to all people, so God had an “everlasting covenant” with the earth (Isaiah 24:5 ). This covenant included obligations on both parties. The inhabitants of the earth knew basic moral laws. These self-evident moral rules of the universe formed God's expectations for all people, but the people of the earth disobeyed these basic rules and thus brought on God's covenant curses (compare Amos 1:1-2:8 ).

God's covenant has a future. It was not limited to a brief period of human history. God's covenant with Israel was a covenant pointed to all the earth, to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6 ; compare Isaiah 49:8 ). If Israel would not be God's servant to fulfill the Gentile mission, God would raise up a servant who would be a “light to the Gentiles.” This passage has led to several interpretations, making Cyrus of Persia the servant and seeing the command to impose God's obligations on the nations rather than to bring salvation to people. Such interpretations appear to miss the larger biblical context and message as well as imposing an unnecessary limitation on Israel's theological horizons.

God extended His covenant with David for the sake of the nations. The entire nation of Israel would fulfill David's role and would bring the nations streaming to Jerusalem to find God's glory (Isaiah 55:1-5 ). God extended His covenant to the outsiders among His own people—eunuchs otherwise forbidden to worship (Isaiah 56:3-5 ; compare Deuteronomy 23:1 ) and foreigners (Isaiah 56:6 ; compare Deuteronomy 23:2-9 ).

The emphasis on a covenant with the nations did not diminish God's covenant care for His people. He continued His promise to come and redeem them from the power of the capturing nations (Isaiah 59:21 ; Isaiah 61:8 ).

The prophets seldom mention the covenant with Israel explicitly. Bible students have sought many explanations for this. The most popular among critical scholars is that covenant theology was a late development in Israel's history, appearing only in the eighth century under Hezekiah. Some scholars would place the concept as late as the Exile. Such scholarship approaches the texts with reverence and respect yet with an inclination to find a long history of editorial work and to deny major theological categories to Israel's founding fathers. Israel's understanding of covenant and the vocabulary used to describe covenant theology may well have developed through the years, but the foundation of such theology forms the basic roots of Israel's history with God and self identity as a people. It may be that covenant theology found greater emphasis in Northern Israel than it did in Southern Judah.

Hosea condemned Israel for transgressing the covenant (Hosea 6:7 ; Hosea 8:1 ). This involved making an international alliance or covenant with Assyria, seeking protection from enemies and freedom from Assyrian attack (Hosea 12:1 ). Egypt was also involved in such international treaty making with Israel. Still, Hosea pointed forward to a day of hope when God would renew the covenant with Israel (Hosea 2:18 ).

Jeremiah based his preaching on the covenant (Jeremiah 11:6 ,Jeremiah 11:6,11:8 ), claiming Israel of his day had broken the covenant just like those in Moses' day (Jeremiah 11:10 ). He could also use God's covenant faithfulness as the theological basis of his prayer for deliverance and restoration (Jeremiah 14:21 ). He could explain Israel's disaster as resulting from breaking the covenant (Jeremiah 22:9 ). Jeremiah's strongest contribution to covenant theology was his portrait of God's promise of a new covenant, a covenant whose stipulations would not stand on tables of stone as did the old one but whose obligations would be deeply nested in the hearts of the people so they would have will and power to obey (Jeremiah 33:31-34 ; compare Jeremiah 32:40-44 ; Jeremiah 50:5 ). Forgiveness would characterize God's relationship to the new covenant people. Jeremiah's new covenant preaching extended to the covenant with David (Jeremiah 33:19-26 ).

Ezekiel related the history of Israel as God's covenant of mercy, broken by a people who despised it but renewed in an eternal covenant (Ezekiel 16:8 ,Ezekiel 16:8,16:59-63 ; compare Ezekiel 20:37 ). The new covenant would bring a new David and a new era of peace not only with human enemies but with the beasts of the natural world (Ezekiel 34:22-31 ; compare Ezekiel 37:24-28 ). Ezekiel judged Israel for having broken the law of Numbers 18:4 by bringing “unclean” foreigners into the Temple ( Ezekiel 44:7 ). He also interpreted King Zedekiah's breaking of his vassal covenant with Babylon as a breaking of Israel's covenant with God (Ezekiel 17:19 ).

Zechariah promised that exiles would return to Jerusalem because God would be true to the covenant of blood He made with Moses (Zechariah 9:11 ; compare Exodus 24:1 ). The prophetic vision of Zechariah 11:1 has produced many interpretations: “And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people.” The prophet denounced the wicked leaders of God's people and claimed the leadership role for himself in the vision. He could not get cooperation and turned against the people, breaking his covenant and breaking the union of Israel and Judah ( Zechariah 11:14 ). The broken covenant could be between king and people, between king and allied nations, between God and His people, or between God and the nations. Whichever interpretation is correct, it shows that a covenant agreement could be brought to an end.

Malachi joined the chorus condemning Israel for ignoring God's covenant expectations by treating each other “treacherously” (Malachi 2:10 ).

Old Testament covenant language ends in Malachi 3:1 with God's announcement that the “messenger of the covenant” will come representing God, proving the covenant relationship is not a thing of the past. He will show God continues to punish those who ignore or reject His covenant.

Covenant in the New Testament The New Testament by use of the Greek diatheke transformed covenant into testament, diatheke referring to a binding will a person made to ensure proper disposal of goods upon the death of the person making the will (see Galatians 3:15 ; Hebrews 9:17 ). Still, the New Testament followed the Septaugint, the earliest Greek translation, in using diatheke to translate the Hebrew berith or covenant. New Testament language is thus Greek with a strong Hebrew flavoring.

The Qumran community which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls gave new significance to covenant theology. They saw themselves as the people of the new covenant. They had strict regulations for applicants for membership, and they expected members to obey the Old Testament law as they interpreted it.

Jesus used the last supper as opportunity to interpret His ministry, and particularly His death, as fulfillment of Jeremiah's new covenant prophecy. His death represented the shedding of the blood of the new covenant. People who repeated the rites of the last supper drank the blood of the new covenant, remembering His death as the sacrifice for sins (Matthew 26:28 ; Mark 14:24 ; Luke 22:20 ; 1 Corinthians 11:25 ).

Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, interpreted the announcement of John's birth as evidence that God had remembered His holy covenant (Luke 1:72 ). Peter told skeptical Jews that they were children of the covenant with Abraham and that Christ had come first to them to fulfill the promise of blessing to Abraham by turning them away from their sinful ways (Acts 3:25 ). Stephen reminded those who would murder him that the covenant of circumcision with Abraham continued as part of God's history of salvation leading to Jesus (Acts 7:8 ). Paul confirmed that just as a human last will and testament could not be changed by another person, so God's covenant with Abraham could not be changed or annulled (Galatians 3:15-17 ). Paul asserted that with the coming of Christ and Israel's rejection of Him, God still had a covenant to save Israel (Romans 11:27 ). Paul interpreted Christ as the one who had made the meaning of the Old Testament plain, removing the veil that caused the Jews to continue looking only to Moses rather than to look to Christ as God's final revelation (2 Corinthians 3:14 ). Paul was a minister of the new covenant, not of the old (2 Corinthians 3:6 ), a ministry of the Spirit and of life, not of dead literalism.

In the New Testament only Hebrews makes covenant a central theological theme. The emphasis is on Jesus, the perfect High Priest, providing a new, better, superior covenant (Hebrews 7:22 ; Hebrews 8:6 ). Jesus represented the fulfillment of Jeremiah's new covenant promise (Hebrews 8:8 ,Hebrews 8:8,8:10 ; Hebrews 10:16 ). Jesus was the perfect covenant Mediator (Hebrews 9:15 ), providing an eternal inheritance in a way the old covenant could not (compare Hebrews 12:24 ). Jesus' death on the cross satisfied the requirement that all covenants be established by blood (Hebrews 9:18 ,Hebrews 9:18,9:20 ) just as was the first covenant (Exodus 24:8 ). Christ's blood established an everlasting covenant (Hebrews 13:20 ). If Israel suffered for breaking the Sinai covenant (Hebrews 8:9-10 ), how much more should people expect to suffer if they have “counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing” (Hebrews 10:29 ).

The Greek word testament eventually gave its name to the two parts of our Bible—the Old and the New Testaments. In many ways the name is appropriate to show that the two parts of Scripture rest on God's gracious action in redeeming His people and making a covenant with them, showing them the living conditions in the kingdom of God, conditions which also reflect His grace because they are best for the citizens of the kingdom.

Trent C. Butler


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Covenant'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/c/covenant.html. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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