Old Testament Covenant and New Testament Grace

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Minor essay 1: Old Testament Covenant

Introduction
The idea of covenant is central to the Bible’s story. “Covenant presents God’s desire to enter into relationship with men and women created in his image. This is reflected in the repeated covenant refrain, “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Exodus 6:6-8). Covenant is all about the relationship between the Creator and his creation. The idea may seem simple; however the implications of covenant and covenant relationship between God and humankind are immeasurable” (Gentry & Wellum, 2012, p21).

What is Covenant?
The English word ‘covenant’ suggests legal restrictions, documents tied with pink tapes and sealing wax.

In Biblical context, the Hebrew word that is translated as “covenant” in our Bibles is berit. Berit is the bond, which united people in mutual obligations whether through a marriage contract, a commercial enterprise or a verbal undertaking. It was only natural that people’s relationship to God should also have been expressed in terms of a covenant.

On three separate occasions in the Pentateuch, these covenant terms are used when God promises Noah that he will never again send a flood upon the earth (Genesis 9:9); when God makes his promises to Abraham (Genesis 15:18; 17:4); when the Sinai covenant is established with Moses and summarised in the ‘book of covenant’ (Exodus 24:7).

Although in everyday use covenants were made between equals, the religious use of the term always referred to a relationship between a greater and a lesser partner. The form of the covenant between God and Israel in Exodus and Deuteronomy has been helpfully illuminated by the discoveries of Hittite suzerainty treaties made between a king and his vassal. They consisted of a historical introduction; a lost of stipulations; curses and blessings invoked on the parties; a solemn oath; and a religious ceremony to ratify the covenant. Most of these features can be found in the Old Testament pattern of covenants (Alexander, Pat and David, 1999).

Theological Significance
More important than the form of the covenant however, was its theological significance. It was based on the initiative of God (Alexander, Pat and David, 1999). God acted in mercy and with sovereignty, making an unconditional promise never to judge humanity with another flood (Genesis 9:11). God chose Abraham and his descendants to be the channels of his mercy to a fallen world. He cemented this choice by committing himself to the Israelite nation with the words, ‘I will take you for my people, and I will be your God’ (Exodus 6:7).

The Covenant implied a new revelation of God (Alexander, Pat and David, 1999). God appeared to Abraham as his shield (Genesis 15:1) and as God Almighty (‘El Shaddai’, Genesis 17:1). He appeared to Moses as ‘Yahweh’ (‘I am who I am’, Exodus 3:14), and later on as ‘Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 20:2).

In addition, the Covenant made moral and ritual demands upon the people (Alexander, Pat and David, 1999). The stipulations of the covenant included both these features. Ritual was represented by the rite of circumcision given to Abraham (Genesis 17:10), by the keeping of the Sabbath, the day of rest (Exodus 20:8ff) and by all the detailed requirements relating to worship and sacrifice found in the Pentateuch. At the same time the ethical requirements were spelt out in the Ten Commandments and other laws.

Though at first sight these two demands seem strangely unrelated, they do in fact meet in the idea of God’s holiness. A holy God requires his people to reflect his character both in worship and in behaviour.

Application

We need to realize that the Old Testament applies to us in a different way than the New Testament. The New Testament was written to believers in Jesus Christ who had become believers after Jesus died on the cross and the Holy Spirit was given to us at Pentecost. That’s who we are. Therefore, many of the...
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