Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Not Your Everyday Bible Study: Introduction

Before this semester, I placed little significance on the word covenant. This isn't to mean I hadn't ever heard of it or anything...it's just that the word meant little to me. But, I'm currently taking a class on the Old Testament and a big part of the class is learning about the theme of covenant. I've been thinking about trying to do a blog series on here and in the meantime, I had been mapping out the theme and application of covenant in the bible. This was partially due to me having a paper due for my religion class, but it was also done for myself as I read through the Bible. Since this theme has become so applicable to my spiritual life, I wanted to share it will all of you. I have a small plan mapped out, but it may change slightly as we go, since I'm writing most of the material as we go. First, we will address the definition of covenant, YHWH, and Israel. Then, we will dig deeper into some of the biblical covenants, such as the Covenant with Creation, the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, etc. Rather than focusing on all the nitty gritty details, I also want to explore some of the larger themes and what it means to our life today. Finally, we will end up with the New Covenant, which came with Jesus. Please know that I don't have all the answers, I'm so not claiming to. I'm praying that God will show himself through this study and help each of us as we go along. I'm going to have some discussion at the end and throughout for you (and me!). Feel free to answer them if you want to. You can answer in the comments or in your own notebook, whichever you like. No pressure. If you have some thoughts on a particular lesson, feel free to comment or email me. I've never done this kind of this, so I'm learning as we go! I appreciate any constructive feedback you offer. I'm thinking there may be video blogs for some of the days (if I can ever get my webcam to cooperate with YouTube! Haha!). I'm also working on a button for you to place on your blog or in a post (or for me to use to identify the Bible Study posts) that will be available soon on the sidebar.

Let's go! 
Today, we are going to begin by talking about the definition of covenant. 

Dictionary.com defines "covenant" as being "an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified." In the legal sense, covenants have been made outside of the Bible for as long as they have been made inside the Bible. The theme of covenant meant much more to the people in the Bible times. They would have known the seriousness of the matter. When we think of covenant today, we do not understand the seriousness of it. In our minds, contracts and covenants and promises and the like are made to be broken. When signing a marriage license, many people do not realize they are entering into a covenental relationship. They are promising to love each other forever and ever. Yet, couples still get divorced. You have no idea how many girls my age that I hear say things like, "Yeah, he may not really be 'the one', but we can always get divorced". Or "Marriage isn't really forever. That's just in fairytales". The sacredness of marriage and the seriousness of promising someone forever has been lost. 

Berit is the Hebrew word that describes the covenant between God and His chosen people. When translated, it means something similar to promise or pledge. This theme of covenant is repeated throughout the Bible, in both the Old and the New Testaments. The most basic definition of a covenant is a legal agreement held together by relationship. This differs from a contract, which is held together by law. When God created the covenant with Israel in the Old Testament, he gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and required sacrifices to be made when the Israelites messed up. But, he wanted more than just obedience from his people. God’s intention for humanity was to enter into a loving relationship. But, in order for there to be true love, he had to give man the option to reject his love.  Following the rules without a relationship means nothing. God could have created a tiny army of minions that had no choice by to obey him and love him. But, that's not the foundation true love is built upon. He didn't want to have to force creation to obey Him, he wanted his creation to love him so much that they chose to obey Him all by themselves. 

In order for the covenant to be valid, it has to be ratified.There are typically three ways to ratify the covenant: offer a blood sacrifice, share a meal, or identify with a garment. All three ways were used in the Bible. For example, when God made a covenant with Abraham, he entered into a blood covenant with him. The Lord promised Abraham that he would be given descendants. As part of the blood sacrifice ritual, the Lord walked through the sacrificed animal, but Abraham did not. This signified the Lord essentially saying, “If I ever break this covenant, may what happened to this animal happen to me.” We will discuss more about this later when we talk about the Abrahamic Covenant in a few days. The important thing to know at this point is that the biblical covenant was only based on God's faithfulness- not Israel's.

Earlier, we talked about how "following the rules without a relationship means nothing". 
  1. What does this mean to you?
  2. How does it make you feel that the creator of the universe created you, designed you, for the sole purpose of entering into a loving relationship with him?
  3. How can you take your role in the covenant seriously and what kind of changes in focus do you need to make in your own life? (Meaning, how does your "relationship" need to change? Don't focus on the rules here. That will come with a better relationship.)

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