I feel like I may already know the answer to this question before I even ask it. But I'm going to ask anyway...
Has anyone ever broken a promise to you?
I am even guilty of breaking them. And with my kids, nonetheless.! I learned early on, as a young mother, that you have to be careful what you promise. Because, often, it is beyond our control to keep a promise.
The Bible contains both promises and covenants.
The promises of God reveal His heart, His character, and even His will. Oftentimes they are a great comfort to us—especially when we see His faithfulness to them. Covenant, on the other hand, is far more challenging . . . and sometimes requires something of us.
There are passages of Scripture which reveal covenant and those of promise. Here’s a promise: “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Ps 121:8).
There is a whole chain of promises by God: the promise to bless the world through Abraham and his descendants; the promise of land; the promise to David for a Coming Messiah, who would establish an eternal kingdom; and promises through the prophets of the new covenant of transformation—creating in man a new heart and a new spirit—for a new relationship to God.
Here are some promises I’ve gathered just for you...
I had never fully grasped the beauty and brilliance of covenant until I took an online course through Dallas Theological Seminary. I am amazed at the complexities of covenant—many of which I’m still discovering.
D A Carson wrote, “The covenants are not the central theme of Scripture. Instead, the covenants form the backbone of the Bible’s metanarrative.”
Covenant establishes relationship. There are various types. There are those man-to-man, those ruler-to-subject, and of course God-to-man. The Bible records examples of each of these.
The most common person-to-person covenant today is that of a wedding.
Even though it has become culturally understood as a wedding vow, that vow is actually covenant.
Here’s a little background on covenant. A covenant is a binding agreement. It’s wasn't just a biblical practice. It was used as the foundation to various cultural relations. It was used between nations as a treaty, among individuals as a pledge, among a ruler and his subjects, or even as a business contract.
Biblically speaking, Zondervan’s New International Encyclopedia of Bible Words says this: “A biblical covenant is a clear statement of God’s purposes and intentions expressed in terms that bind God by solemn oath to perform what he has promised.”
Five of the main covenants mentioned in our online Bible study discussion were the covenants of God:
With Noah and Abraham – also known as covenants of promise
The Mosaic – commonly referred to as a covenant of law
And the eternal covenants with David and the New Covenant of Christ
God used covenants as a means to keep His central promise: “I will be your God and you will be My people.”
God cut a covenant with the patriarch Abraham and chose a people for Himself to inherit certain promises. Through the bloodline of Abraham would come God’s promised Seed—the Seed promised back in Genesis 1. One of His promises was for a new and better covenant to come. God would bless the entire world with a Savior for all mankind. And He kept that promise! Jesus is the “Amen!” to all of God’s promises!
Many of God’s promises were ratified in covenant.
I have selected two passages – one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament – to see how two of God’s covenants were ratified.
The Mosaic Covenant established on Mt. Sinai is recorded in Exodus 24. I encourage you to read the entire chapter. But here is a brief summary:
Moses received the covenant laws (v2)
He stated them to the people gathered at the mountain. It was followed by a ceremony and oath to ratify the covenant (v4b, 7). It was sealed in blood of the sacrifice
There was then a covenant meal to celebrate (v11)
Finally, Moses received the tablets with the commandments and law over the course of 40 days in the cloud of God’s presence on the mountain (v12)
The covenant was ratified and celebrated with a meal on Mt. Sinai.
There, God was establishing relationship with Israel and the Mosaic Covenant defined that relationship.
God clearly stated the terms of the covenant—and the people agreed. They made a vow—equivalent to a wedding vow. But they immediately broke that vow with their idolatry of the Golden Calf. It was compared to committing adultery.
Let’s compare the making of that covenant with the New Covenant…
The Lord instituted the New Covenant in a covenant meal in the Upper Room, recorded in all four gospels:
Mt 26:20ff (v28); Mk 14:17ff (v24); Lk 22:14ff (v20); Jn 13ff
This covenant, too, was ratified in blood (see 1 Corinthians 11:25).
Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and ushered in the New. And Hebrews 12:24 tells us that Jesus is also the Mediator of this Covenant.
Like the Mosaic Covenant with the Israelites, God has provided a means for relationship with the New Covenant. The Book of Hebrews compares and contrasts those two covenants.
There are New Testament verses that tell us the condition of the promise, like Romans 4:16. And Galatians 3:14 reads: Jesus “redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”
That same verse also refers to another promise. The promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
We are gathered in God’s family – not by physical descent, in the line of Abraham – but by promise (Rm 9:8, Gal 3:29; 4:18).
And the Spirit is the Seal as guarantee of God’s promised inheritance as children of God.
We are both children of promise and a people of God’s covenant in Christ. It is a covenant to be taken seriously . . . and lived out faithfully.
Our Covenant Keeping God gathered the Israelites to Himself and called them children. And He has gathered those in Christ to Himself and calls us His children. We are family—united in the beautiful new covenant of Christ.
I’ll close with another promise of our hope, found in Revelation 21:6-7: Jesus “said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’”