What is covenant? What is the mystery in the covenant of Abraham? Today we talk about the New Testament revelation of the mystery in that covenant.
The Mysterious Covenant
Key passage: Deuteronomy 29:9-18
What is a covenant?
Verse 12-13 shows us a covenant is personally possessive by both parties but it’s made through a legal arrangement. It is the blending of law and love. Modern society has no real concept of this because they order everything around the concept of experiencing happiness and fulfillment of self. (I will be what I should be as long as you are what you should be… otherwise I’m out). This is not a covenant but is consumerism. A covenant relationship says, I will be what I should be, whether you are or not. This makes covenants scary because only works well if both parties agree to that.
The mystery of this covenant
Verse 9 and 18 tell us that covenants have terms and conditions. If they are met there are rewards. If they are not there are penalties. The seeming contradiction in scripture about this is when on one hand God says I cannot bless a disobedient people. I am a just judge and cannot overlook guilt. I will only bless you if you obey. But on the other hand says, I will never leave you or forsake you. I will finish the work I created in you. I will bless you no matter what.
This perceivably irresolvable tension is the very plotline of the whole Bible. People fail. Does God accept them anyway (what about his Holiness?). Does He forsake them (what about his Faithfulness?). Is this conditional or unconditional? The Bible seems to give contradictory statements which lead people to fall in one camp or another. This seeming contradiction is never openly addressed in the Old Testament… hence it is a mystery.
In verse 13, this covenant is explained as one made previously to Abraham. This is explained by understanding that covenant in Genesis 15.
The Covenant Sacrifice
God makes his promises to Abraham then seals the contract with a strange ritual of sacrificing and splitting some animals. Then God comes and walks between them. This is a reference to a ritual done to seal covenants usually between a lord and a servant. The sacrifice is made, the rewards and penalties of the covenant are then recited as the servant passes through the blood of the animals signifying that the penalty of breaking the covenant was to be torn apart as the animals were. But Abraham awakes to see God taking this covenantal walk without him. This would’ve been shocking on two levels.
1) God himself came down in human form and walked through (which is the servants role).
2) Abraham was never asked to walk through the sacrifice!
In essence, this says God is to fulfill both roles. The servant’s role to take the penalty of death if the covenant vows are broken as well as the master’s role of bestowing the blessings. The types abound in this model as well. God came in the form of a man. The role of a servant. Darkness was upon the Earth. The promise to be torn apart. All of these were fulfilled by Jesus.
The mystery is revealed
In Galatians 3:15-25 and Romans 4:13-17, Paul declares this promise made in Genesis 15 to be fulfilled by Jesus. He is the ultimate blend of law and love. So are the blessings of God conditional or unconditional? The answer is Yes. At the cross, Christ fulfilled the conditions of the law so God can love us unconditionally. With his perfect life he fulfilled the conditions of the covenant to provide the rewards of the covenant but with his sacrificial death he received the penalty of the covenant.