March 29, 2017
The Covenants of God
There has been quite a bit of discussion as of late concerning covenants and God. The big question for the seeker is what does it have to do with him and what is one’s obligation for his part of the covenant? After all, the covenants mentioned in the scriptures are two way, are they not – like a marriage agreement?
Not exactly, and this is part of the problem with understanding covenants as taught in the scriptures. Some enterprising individual will teach about the covenants that God has made to us and then comes up with a list of promises in return that we are supposed to make back.
The problem with this return list is that it usually includes ideas that originated with fallible man and not God. Such promises to God often wind up being a means of controlling the people and have little to d o with reaping the benefits promised from a loving God.
To understand the covenants of God as related in the scriptures we must first understand what is meant when the word is used. First we need to clear up a common misunderstanding. I have heard it said in Sunday School that a covenant is a two way promise. God makes promises and then we make promises in return.
That is not really the case. A covenant from God in the scriptures is generally a one-way promise from Him to us.
There is no mention anywhere that I recall of us being required to make any promise back in return.
Here is a definite example of this:
Genesis 9:9 And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;
Genesis 9:10 And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.
Genesis 9:11 And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.
Genesis 9:12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
Genesis 9:13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
So, this is a covenant that God made not only to humans, but to “every living creature” as well as the earth itself.
The non human living creatures were incapable of making any return promise to God.
This covenant, as most are, represent a one way promise from God to those receiving it.
One way to define God’s covenant is to merely say that it is God’s testimony, or His word concerning what he will do for us.
In the New Testament the word is translated from the Greek DIATHĒKĒ, which is sometimes translated as “testament” as in this verse.
“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matt 26:28
“Testament” here is translated from DIATHĒKĒ, the word for covenant. In fact saying the words “Old and New Testament” is the same thing as saying “Old and New Covenant.” The Old Testament contains the promises or covenants of God to man before Christ and the New contains them after Christ.
Now the question arises that if God’s covenants are one way, as made in Noah’s time, does this mean there is no obligation on our part? Do we not have to pledge anything in return?
The answer is that we have to examine the covenants of God on a case by case basis to find out if humans have any responsibility and what that may be.
Here was the major covenant that God gave to Abraham:
“And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” Genesis 22:18
Notice that God did not say to Abraham that he had to do anything to obtain this blessing. He had already done his part in that he obeyed the voice of God and having obeyed he obtained a promise of covenant of God.
And this is the general pattern concerning the promises or covenants of God. They are not determined by the people making promises that they may or may not keep, but by their actual actions and works. If the works are in harmony with Divine Will then God will give a promise as a reward, as he did with Abraham.
The New Testament speaks of the old covenant (testament) and the new. It tells us that the old with its strict laws and black and white rules no longer apply. Paul says:
Gal 4:23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Gal 4:24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar (Hagar).
Gal 4:25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
Gal 4:26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
Gal 4:31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
Gal 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Here Paul tells us that Hagar and Sarah are an allegory representing the old and the new. Hagar was a slave and Sarah was free. Similarly, the covenant under Moses brought bondage, but under Christ we are free without the need of all the black and white laws.
And why is this?
Heb 8:8 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
Heb 8:9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
Heb 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
Heb 8:11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
Heb 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
Heb 8:13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
Here we are told that Christ opened the door to new unbounded promises of God and those who take upon themselves the name of Christ will not need to sign any contract or give any oath, but will have the laws written in their minds and hearts. The sincere followers of Christ will know what to do to please God without hearing some preacher telling him how to “know the Lord.”
That said, aren’t we supposed to make a covenant, or promise to God, at baptism?
Not really. Rather than being a symbol of an oath, baptism is a symbol of an inner change which was supposed to have already taken place.
Jesus set the example here. He did not take any covenant to make a change when he was baptized, but he was already spiritually born again. The baptism was merely a sign of what has already occurred.
“But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Gal 3:25-29
Notice the wording here. Those who have been truly baptized have already “put on Christ.” No covenant or oath is necessary. The schoolmaster of any past oaths to God are supposed to have already had their effect and the disciple merely acknowledges his new birth with the outward ordinance.
The inward change is what is essential for salvation, not the outward as noted here:
“Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works.” D&C 22:2
Moroni sheds some additional light on this:
“For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing.” Moroni 8:22
Basically, the physical act of baptism is a sign and symbol of a spiritual rebirth that should have already transpired in the seeker. When the outer sign matches the inner change the seeker may have an additional spiritual experience. This happened to Jesus when the Spirit descended upon him and he heard the approving voice of God at John’s baptism.
Some may assume that the prophets and their people often made covenants to God, but such has not been demanded in the scriptures. Instead, God makes His promise to us and tells us the conditions that must be met to receive the benefits. That usually requires correct action on our part, not promises, for promises are often not kept.
It is interesting to consider that the great disciple Peter gave the strongest promise or oath in all the Bible. When Jesus told them
of his upcoming death Peter said:
“Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.” Matt 26:33-35
Luke gives the promise of Peter in even stronger terms:
“And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.” Luke 22:33
We all knew what happened. Within a few hours Peter broke his oath.
As unreliable as oath taking is, is it any wonder that Jesus spoke against it:
“Again, you have learned that our forefathers were told, “Do not break your oath”, and, “Oaths sworn to the Lord must be kept.” But what I tell you is this: You are not to swear at all—not by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by earth, for it is his footstool, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King, nor by your own head, because you cannot turn one hair of it white or black. Plain “Yes” or “No” is all you need to say; anything beyond that comes from the devil.” Matt 5:33-37 New English Version
There are two examples in the Book of Mormon where human covenants are presented in a positive light. The first is King Benjamin and his people. The people came to the king and expressed a desire to commit themselves to following the commandments of God. There was no written oath, but merely and expressed commitment from the people done of their own initiative. It was beyond anything that was demanded.
The same situation occurred with the people of Ammon who made an oath to not shed blood. They basically became conscientious objectors.
This was an oath they took upon themselves of their own initiative – not by way of any commandment from God – as many righteous men did not take the oath.
On the other hand, many oaths in the scriptures are obviously dark and harmful. In the Book of Acts we read of a group of Jews who hated Paul so much that they took an oath to neither eat or drink until they killed him.
Since they were not successful I would guess that most of them broke their oath and ate and drank again.
Negative oaths were a great curse to the people in the Book of Mormon. Concerning the oaths of the Gadianton Robbers it is written:
“And it came to pass that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant, that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant.
“And thus they might murder, and plunder, and steal, and commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness, contrary to the laws of their country and also the laws of their God.
“And whosoever of those who belonged to their band should reveal unto the world of their wickedness and their abominations, should be tried, not according to the laws of their country, but according to the laws of their wickedness, which had been given by Gadianton and Kishkumen.
“Now behold, it is these secret oaths and covenants which Alma commanded his son should not go forth unto the world, lest they should be a means of bringing down the people unto destruction.” Hellman 6:22-25
Even though the LDS had the book of Mormon as a warning these powerful controlling oaths crept into the early Mormon church though an organization called the Danites.
Then many also believe these oaths made their way into the temple ordinances that millions still hold sacred. The current church has altered the worst of them to make them more palatable.
Solomon tells us that there is a time ad place for all things and there are some circumstances that demand strong commitments. For instance, during World War II the good guys had to make some commitments of secrecy to win the war. A marriage agreement demands a commitment from both parties. A business may place an employee under contract to not reveal its secrets.
The disciple must be very careful of the commitments he makes as the broken word hinders the seeker’s spiritual progress. This is why God merely gives us his promise and lets us decide the best way to fulfill our part in reaping the benefit by seeking the law written within our own hearts.
Copyright by J J Dewey
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