There is a word that appears 280 times in the King James Bible. That number jumps to 328 times in the NLT Bible. And climbs to 332 times in the NIV Bible. In fact the number is higher than that since the original word isn’t always translated the same way. For example, we talk about the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word is actually ‘covenant’.
Our reading today is from Psalm 89. Covenant appears four times in Psalm 89. Verse 3: ‘The Lord said, “I have made a covenant with David, my chosen servant. I have sworn this oath to him:”.’ Verse 28: ‘I will love him and be kind to him forever; my covenant with him will never end.’ Verse 34: ‘I will not break my covenant; I will not take back a single word I said.’ Verse 39: ‘You have renounced your covenant with him; you have thrown his crown in the dust.’
First, what a covenant is not. It is not a contract. A contract is a legal agreement. It might be a contract between an employer and an employee. Such a contract would state all the things each party must do. This would include details of work, holiday, pay etc. It might be a sales contract with details of the goods and terms for payment.
The American rock group Van Halen had a contract that required concert venues to provide the band with a bowl of M&Ms that had no brown ones. This sounds silly. The reason was not that they hated brown M&Ms. It was a test to see if the contract was being kept. If there were brown ones, it showed that other things might be wrong. This shows us the attitude a lot of people have to a contract. A lot of people seek to give only the least the contract requires and extract the most they can from it. They see how much they can get away with. An insurance company will seek all possible ways to pay as little as possible according to the contract.
If you treat marriage as a contract, you might constantly be measuring just how faithful you need to be to your spouse. You might ask, how many times can I cheat before you divorce me? You might wonder how much can you get away with before the contract is broken. Imagine if a parent were to treat a child like that. They give the child three meals a day as it says in the contract, but the meals are small and not nourishing. There are no plates, because plates are not in the contract.
You can see it’s wrong. These are supposed to be covenantal relationships.
When the Bible talks about God having a covenant relationship with his people, it isn’t talking about a contract. The Bible is not talking about a legal relationship. We might be tempted to thing like that because of the laws in the Bible. It’s a temptation we must resist.
“The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.” (Genesis 2:15)
God is establishing a relationship with Adam. He is not making a contract. God is doing everything he can possibly do to ensure a great relationship with Adam, including warning him of a fruit. Eating that fruit would damage their relationship.
When God makes his covenant with Noah, it’s for the same reason. It isn’t a contract. It’s a covenant. The rainbow is a reminder of that covenant. The difference is that in a covenant relationship, both parties have agreed to do all they can to improve their relationship. A covenant is a statement or an agreement that both parties want to have a better relationship. It might list ways of doing that.
A covenant is an alliance to which one is pledged. Faith is doing all one can to make the covenant succeed. Being faithful is not believing in the covenant, but living by it.
The Bible is not a book of rules to be obeyed. It’s not a contract whereby if we obey to the letter every demand, then God will allow us to enter heaven. And if we break even the smallest part of the smallest rule, he will keep us out. The Bible is all about establishing a relationship with God, and with his son. It is full of information about how we can improve our relationship with God, such as not worshipping idols and not telling lies.
Righteousness is not doing right things. Righteousness is not saying right words. If you say Jesus is Lord but don’t have a relationship with Jesus, you cannot be righteous. Righteousness in the Bible is having a right relationship with God. Righteousness is a consequence being faithful to the covenant.
The truth is that we have all broken this covenant. Just like David in Psalm 89:39 where it says that David broke the covenant with God, and God rejected David. ‘You have renounced your covenant with him; you have thrown his crown in the dust.’
Nobody was able to keep the covenant. In other words, no one was ever able to have a proper relationship with God. No one until Jesus.
By becoming a human and sacrificing himself on the cross, the God who had bound himself in a covenant relationship with Israel unilaterally fulfilled the promises and obligations of this covenant while unilaterally paying the price for Israel’s failure to live up to this covenant. Peter says in Acts 3, just after Pentecost. “You are the children of those prophets, and you are included in the covenant God promised to your ancestors.” He also says, “When God raised up his servant, Jesus, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.”
The relationship that God began with Adam is the relationship that he tried to restore with Noah, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David etc. It’s a covenant for all people. There are no people with whom God doesn’t want a close relationship. There are no people whom God doesn’t want to bless.
You may feel unworthy. Do not allow that to blind you to the fact that since he created Adam, God has been seeking a close relationship with you. He has included you in all the covenants.
Today, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we are able to have that relationship. We are people of the new covenant. Jesus has made the way. He is the way. Jesus is the way for you to have a close relationship with God.
When we look at the Bible as a contract, we look for the things we have to do to get to heaven.
We look for how much we don’t have to do and still can go to heaven. If you say Jesus is your Lord, can you then do whatever you want?
When you have a covenant view, you will see the Bible as a book of God’s promises for a relationship with you. It is filled with evidence of him keeping his promises, being faithful to the covenant. The goal is no longer to do what is necessary to get to heaven. The goal is to do all you can to develop a loving relationship with God. Of course, the other part is that in every relationship with people we are seeking to help them have a better relationship with God.
That’s why Jesus will say to some people, I never knew you. “But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7:23)
Because he never knew them, they are outside. Strangers are not part of the family.
The sign of this covenant is not a rainbow any more. The sign now is Jesus blood. The sign is in the Holy Communion. The sign is the presence in all believers of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus showed that the covenant is more important than life itself. Through our relationship with God and Jesus, we have new life, eternal life. And so Jesus told us that the first command is to love God and the second is to love each other. In all life, nothing is more important than this covenant relationship of loving God and each other. It should shape every moment of our lives. It should fill our conversations. It should direct our thoughts.
Life is not a contract. Life is covenant. Life is love. Life is a relationship with God and his children.