Restraint and Covenant

I’ve often told students that in order to understand the Bible, they must first understand covenant.  Without a working knowledge of the concept of Biblical covenant, the Bible is a tough book to follow, and it is this lack of understanding that has resulted in a great deal of confusion and division in the church over the centuries.  In fact, many of the theological debates that go on today arise from this issue. For example, if a Christian assumes that we live under both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, he will have quite a different understanding of the Bible and the faith than a Christian who believes that we live under the New Covenant only.  A Christian who believes that the Abrahamic Covenant is in force and effect will have an entirely different view of Revelation than one who believes that it was fulfilled by Jesus.Aug 024

Now before you get the idea that this is a complicated subject, please rest assured that it is not; it’s actually a very simple one, so hang in there!

A few days back, I posted about God’s most notable attribute, and indicated that for the ancient Hebrew, this was restraint. It is this restraint that makes Biblical covenants possible, and it is Biblical covenants that make God’s promises both possible and reliable, thus it behooves a Christian to understand this issue.

Covenant Basics

A covenant is an agreement between parties, something like a contract or a treaty.  (This is the simple non-academic explanation) This agreement or treaty (a treaty is a contract between nations, by the way) has parties, terms (or stipulations) and promises.  The parties are the people who are making the agreement.  The terms are the requirements under the agreement, and the promises are what the major party will do if the terms are kept.  To use an example, if you were going to borrow money to buy a house, you and the bank are the parties.  The terms would be the obligations of the borrower; have insurance, make the payments on time and so forth, and the promises would be that the bank would provide financing and not take away your house as long as you keep the terms.  Yes, preachers, I realize this is a very simplified example but we want people to understand the concept.

OK, everybody with me so far?

There is a lot more to say about the nature of Biblical covenants, and we will cover those things in future posts.  For now, let’s get the basic understanding of what it is…

God’s restraint comes into play in Biblical covenants because in agreeing to keep certain promises as long as His covenant partners keep their promises (terms) God has limited His course of action. This is how we can be assured of our salvation in Christ, for it is a function of God’s covenant promise. He has limited his action to keeping this promise and He cannot simply cast us off just because we are imperfect or because we simply make a mistake.  I don’t know about you, but this is a comforting thing for me, since I have been known to have my share of miscues!

In a few days, I will post on this topic again and we’ll take the subject another step forward.  Yes, I will be keeping this simple and will continue avoiding big academic terms that few are familiar with.  By the time we finish our examination of the subject, if you read all of these posts, you should have an understanding of the Bible that fully 80% of Christians lack.

Did you catch that?  It was an offer of a covenant:

Parties:  Blogger (me) and reader (you)

Terms:  Read all of the posts in this series

Promises:     I’ll avoid big academic terms

You should have an understanding of the Bible that…

See you next time!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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16 Responses to Restraint and Covenant

  1. Wm Haney says:

    Definately new covenant. When I was baptized in 2006, I had no idea of the concept of covenant. When I heard that word at first years ago, it came across as something witches and such do. Thank you Hollywood. Almost giving it an evil connotation. The new covenant is still as good as a few thousand years ago. Contrary to Bill Maher who said the well educated writers of the constitution did not use the bible as a base for the constitution, he is wrong completely blowing it off. I wonder how much of an influence the new covenant made on our constitution? I am sorry for going off the subject. The N.C. is lilke a “glue” or “substance” in the bible that if you just quote a verse or two is overlooked by the casual reader? Anyway, I ramble…..

  2. This is a cohesive, well written explanation of covenants and how that applies to the bible. I have always thought this way but never really voiced it, or even realized that I naturally believe this way, until I read this post. I loved this entry and can’t wait to read more! God bless and keep clarifying the confusion about something that should be so simple.

  3. hubertwrites says:

    Without the true new birth the bible is impossible to understand, because to the flesh it is the book of death leading to death but through the Spirit life leading to life. Blind Pride is the single factor to all sectarianism and false teaching. Jesus’ single most goal was that we be born into the eternal kingdom of God here and now through an actual Birth, not any form of learning teaching or dogmatic Doctrine. Hubert rondeau

  4. Look forward to reading the rest. To be honest, I’ve never given this much thought. My understanding at this point is that Jesus said His was a new covenant of His blood. Although I’m Abe’s “spiritual” child, I think I’m under the New Covenant. Can’t wait to find out how the cards fall. 🙂


  5. imperatorwall says:

    *rolls up sleeves*

    Come Don, you don’t debate, but let us do discuss this topic! There is a lot of healthy, chewy meat here for us to enjoy in mutual edification. And perhaps for those who read our ramblings.

    So let us start at the beginning here and work up. Please realize I mean no offense, I simply have drunk long and deep from our reformed and puritan fathers and must challenge you where you differentiate from them to prove your assertions to the same standards that they have.

    First and foremost, the fundamental truth of God’s covenant with His people is that He made a covenant with them, but they are not a partner of that covenant. God made the covenant with Himself, as the triune Godhead, alone. You are exactly correct that a covenant is typically a contract between two parties that requires commitment and action by both. But that is the wonder of God’s covenant with His people! He has not made us partners such that He demands performance of us based on the covenant, but rather beneficiaries of the wonders and grace that are the result of His covenant.

    This truth is wonderfully illustrated when God makes the covenant with Abraham in Genesis.

    To confirm the covenant, God walks through the pieces of heifer, goat, and ram:

    Genesis 15:17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

    Abraham does not pass between the pieces, and thus does not become a partner in the covenant. The covenant was one sided, all God towards man; He requires nothing of man, nor is there anything Abraham can give.

    I trust you agree that historically the partners of the covenant were required to seal it by walking through the slain animals.

    For the sake of establishing the hermeneutic:

    Jeremiah 34:18 And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof,

    Those men who violated the law of Moses that they were bound to obey had indeed entered into a two sided covenant with God, and had passed between the slain calf; as Abraham did not in Genesis.

    This is a fundamental tenet of covenental theology, as a proper understanding of the covenant God made with His people (spiritual Israel) is vital to grasping all of Scripture.

    I’m interested to hear your response. I’m certain you must have heard these ideas before with the seminary training you have.

    • Don Merritt says:

      I appreciate your questions and welcome an interesting discussion of these issues; this will no doubt be fascinating and enjoyable as we both consider and reflect.

      I’d like to make a slight clarification before i try to answer, as you have made reference to “God’s covenant with His people” in paragraph 3 and then stated a conclusion using similar wording just before the end that is notated ‘spiritual Israel’. I am assuming that you are referring to the New Covenant in these comments with the Abrahamic covenant as an example of oath swearing as contrasted with the oath swearing of the Law… right?

      Assuming that I’ve got this correctly, let’s take a look at the oath swearing of the Abrahamic Covenant in your example.

      In your summation of the Gen. 15 passage, you’ve asserted two things clearly, first that Abraham was not a covenant partner because he didn’t pass through the sacrifices of oath swearing, and second that his covenant contains no terms (stipulations). If I understand you correctly, you are saying that God made that covenant with Himself and imposed it upon Abraham without conditions… right?

      Assuming that I’ve understood you correctly, then let’s consider the following:

      1. I agree that the text does not state explicitly that Abraham pass through the carcasses, but I would assert that it doesn’t need to; it’s a given. Abrahm is said to have slaughtered and hacked the carcasses in two and arranged them opposite each other (15:10). He couldn’t have done so without passing through.

      2. Abraham was clearly a covenant partner because 15:18 says so. Please note that the word rendered “covenant” is the Hebrew word beriyth (an. b’rth, H1285) which means “covenant, league, confederacy.” If Abraham is in “covenant, league, confederacy” with God, then he is by definition a partner.

      3.The covenant terms of this covenant are :
      1) Dwell in Canaan (12:4)
      2) Trust God and Him only (14:22; 15:4-7)
      3) Circumcise all males (17:9)
      4) Establish Isaac as covenant heir (17:19)
      5) “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years”

      I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on a question, purely philosophical in nature:

      Does it strike you as oddly inconsistent that God would impose a covenant on His people, giving them no opportunity whatsoever to decline, almost by force in which He requires nothing from them in return, no terms, no stipulations, no obedience, no nothing?

      • imperatorwall says:

        Good afternoon Don! I’m on break at work and so only have time to respond to your last question, I’ll reply to the rest when I have more time.

        As for your philosophical query; ah, my friend, I would hug you if I could! Your question quickens the heart and focuses the mind prompting a fierce desire, no a need, to provide an answer.

        Dear friend, indeed it strikes one as odd, for what you have touched on is the very gospel of Christ!

        1 Corinthians 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

        Nowhere will you find another religion that takes that responsibility and power of adherence out of the hands of man and places both fully in the hands of God. The wisdom of the world cannot grasp it, and the philosophy of man cannot comprehend it. Why would an omnipotent God condescend to save a people unworthy of even His acknowledgement, asking nothing in return? We both know that it was for His glory, but how this could glorify God is inconceivable to man! This is the stumbling block that doomed the Jews, who were looking for a conquering hero, not a sacrificial Lamb.

        Here is the grace of God, who so loved the world that He gave His only Son that men might believe and be saved! Here is the Lamb that was slain before the world began such that those he went to redeem on the cross, past, present, and future, He held in His heart as He suffered for them.

        Revelation 13:8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

        If grace requires of its benefactors a response or adherence to rules to qualify for it, it is not grace! Not of ourselves do we merit this grace, it is all of God.

        Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

        But I can hear your response already, and if you could see my eyes, you would see a twinkle.

        Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 6:2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein ?

        My dear friend, those who are redeemed by Christ’s blood and ushered into the covenant of grace, must manifest the fruits of that conversion! There is no other option, the old man dies and the new man lives.

        Ephesians 4:21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: 4:22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 4:24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

        This is not of our power, but by the grace of a loving God!

        Hebrews 10:10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once [for all].

        Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ:

        For which is the greater love; the father who presents to his son a challenge, tells him that he loves him, but if he does not acquit himself well he will turn away in disappointment; or the father who presents the same challenge, but encourages his son that he will never forsake him nor leave him, and should the struggling son stumble and fall the father promises that he will lift him up such that his success is assured?

        When I pray, I find I can say naught but the same as Augustine: “command what thou wilt and grant what thou commandest,” for it is not in my power to keep God’s covenant; only by His grace do I stand.

        Here is the gospel, here is the message that transforms hearts and souls, here is the truth that shakes the foundations of the world!

        Sorry I waxed eloquent, but I find I cannot sit still or hold back when it comes to sharing the gospel, even with those who hold it as dearly as I do. 🙂

        • Don Merritt says:

          What a wonderful essay! it is eloquent, well written and inspiring; well done! I am sure we’ll come back to it as we discuss these wonderful things.

          By the way, yesterday was a really interesting day on the old blog, for you were not the only one who took me to task on the same point. That debating post has been out there for a month or so, and when I posted it, I imagined that I would receive a lot of replies on baptism, yet I had none at all… until yesterday when I had three people setting me straight. I’ll never figure this blogging thing out!

          Thanks for your wonderful rely, I’m looking forward to more when you have the time.


  6. imperatorwall says:

    Small error I just realized I made, I meant to say “beneficiary” not “benefactor,” as in those who receive God’s grace, not He who gives it.

  7. imperatorwall says:

    I was going to write more tonight, but I don’t have the heart right now. Hopefully I’ll get a chance sometime this weekend.

  8. imperatorwall says:

    I have not forgotten about our discussion Don, and dearly wish to continue it. I’ve just been super busy and find myself too tired but do anything other than read in the evenings. I’m currently working through “The Forgotten Spurgeon” by Ian Murray.

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