March 19, 2012

The Weightiness of Covenant

Covenant. 

It's a beautiful truth weaved throughout the Bible and in the Christian's life.

In the Hebrew, the word for covenant is berith. Berith can be summed up as the relationship between God and His children that cannot ever be broken.

Covenant isn't something we seem to talk about much which is odd considering it's a major theme throughout all of scripture and binds the Christian to Christ. God takes covenants seriously. Once a covenant has been made, it cannot be broken. The subject is such a vast one as whole books have been written on it, but the other day it hit me just how much covenants are belittled in our society. Our culture heavily promotes selfishness, not sacrifice. We focus in on our individuals rights and our desires. We're self-seeking, self-centered, and self-absorbed. The tradition now is to be un-traditional. If we make an agreement with someone we can always manage to find a way out, and if there's a fee, we'll pay it. I mean, is there anything that the masses hold in honor anymore? People rarely do the right thing irregardless of the cost, time, or pain it may require, be it very little or much. As one pastor I heard put it recently, "There's a major lack of noble people in the world." So we end up living these cheap, flippant, and impulsive lives. We've robbed all the weightiness and beauty covenants were meant to bring and showcase.

In many covenants throughout scripture we see the importance of thresholds. Thresholds are the bottoms of doorways that we step over to enter into a person's house (i.e. a doorstep). The first time we see it's importance is with the Passover in Exodus 12. To sum it up, the Lord tells His people that they're to slaughter a lamb, take the blood and paint it over their doorposts. The family then enters into the home and remains inside so when the Lord sees the blood sacrifice He will pass over the home and bring no harm to those inside:
The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. -Exodus 12:13 ESV
The blood served as a shroud or shadow of sorts. Those who took refuge under it we're protected from death.

The Threshold Convent. Still practiced to this day in parts of the Arab world, the threshold covenant is one in which hospitality is extended to those who walk across your threshold and into your house. Now what I'm talking about here is not what most of us think about when we think hospitality. When we think hospitality we think of having our neighbors or friends over for a nice meal or sharing small talk over coffee in our kitchens. The kind of hospitality that this covenant implies is radical. As a guest, when you step across that threshold you're making a covenant with the host. As long as you're in the host's home, it's his (or her) obligation and responsibility to welcome, care, and protect you the guest(s) at all times. Even if it meant giving up their lives to protect you. (Yes, there are recorded instances where it's gotten that extreme.) When was the last time you saw or heard or participated in that kind of hospitality? Uh... never! Think of the exceeding amount of trust that has to be shared between the guests and the hosts. And I'm sure there are plenty of times where they're strangers, people you've never met or talked with. We see the threshold covenant practiced in the Old Testament in Genesis 19. Lot protects two angels that are staying in his home (he doesn't know they're angels) when a group of men are own their way to a gay orgy (talk about awkward and out of nowhere) who try to harm Lot's guests. Then in the New Testament when Christians traveled to another town they had to stay in the homes of other Christians for safety due to the great deal of persecution that was going on (1 Peter 4:9 & Romans 12:13).

Think back to the story of Passover and how God protected those who crossed over the thresholds of homes where a sacrifice had been offered. There's this parallel between God acting as THE ultimate host and the hosts who offer up their homes as refuge in the threshold covenant. As Christians we're in covenant with God and He invites us to take shelter in Him.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. -Psalm 91:1 ESV
The Marriage Covenant. There's this tradition that's been practiced by many other cultures and you may even recognize a piece of it as it's still (sometimes) observed in our culture. After the wedding ceremony (but before the wedding night), the groom would go to the home that he and his wife were to live in, and he'd take an animal and sacrifice it, putting the blood around the door frame of the home. Then when the wedding party came to the house, the groom would carry his bride over the threshold and into their new house. This was to signify that both the bride and groom had entered into a covenant to protect one another. The groom is the head and he initiates it, but they're both obligated to one another. God calls marriage a covenant in Malachi 2:13-16. It's here that God specifically says that if the husband is not loyal to his wife and to the covenant he has made with her, that he ends up doing violence to himself (and I'm sure it works the same way if it were the wife). The marriage covenant implies there's this covering... a shadow... a wing (Ruth 2:12,3:9 and Ezekiel 16:8&9) of protection and love over one another. But, this is not how our culture and society view marriage.

Here in America we view marriage more as a contract than a covenant. A contract means I negotiate terms with you in order to get what I want. When marriages are built on contracts they do not last because they're rooted in selfishness and what the individual can gain from the other. Thus, we see divorce rates skyrocket (and they're not much better within the church either), cohabitation increases, marriage is put off for as long as possible, and nearly half the children born in this country go to bed without a dad. When you consider the whole span of history, casual dating is rather new. And I don't think we're better off for it either. In general, people treat relationships and marriage as contracts, and when the romance is gone we simply find a way out of the "contract." By doing so we've cheapened everything that's beautiful, deep, and precious about the marriage relationship. We treat our marriages far too flippantly. We make this weighty covenant into something is was never meant to be... a weightless contract.

Most of us want to find that one person whom we can give ourselves fully to, have them give themselves to us fully, and live together until one of us dies. And there's nothing wrong with that as it's how God designed marriage, but it's only found in a covenant. In the marriage covenant the husband and the wife look at one another and say "I desire to give myself to you for your benefit and ultimate good." It's built upon selflessness. This is what makes a solid marriage. Both the husband and wife sacrificially serving, loving, and looking out for the other's greatest joy. It's beautiful. 

Hesed. If you've stuck around here for a while you know that this is a favorite word of mine. Hesed is the word in Hebrew to explain how God makes a covenant with His children. Mark Driscoll in his book Doctrine defined Hesed as...
God's loving kindness--the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, one-way love of God. It is often translated as covenant love, loving kindness, mercy, steadfast love, loyal love, devotion, commitment, or reliability... it refers to a sort of love that has been promised and is owed--covenant love (178).
The second translation of Hesed that I love comes from The Jesus Storybook (yes, it's still pretty awesome even if you're not a kid) which defines it as this "...never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love." The covenants that God makes with you and I are one-way. He promises and delivers, we partake. At passover we see Jesus making a covenant with us:
He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you." -Luke 22:20 MSG
In the Hebrew culture there were four stages to a Jewish wedding: Pledging, betrothal, the ceremony, and then the consummation. During the betrothal stage, the couple was officially promised to one another. The groom would take a cup of wine, drink from it, then place it before the to-be bride, and if she drank from it signified her accepting his marriage proposal. At passover Jesus was proposing to us and by partaking in communion we're saying "yes" to His covenant proposal. If we just dwell on that, doesn't that make communion more meaningful and beautiful to us? Christ then seals His covenant with us by sacrificially dying on the cross in order that we may have an eternal, abundant, loving relationship with Him.

4 comments :

  1. You explained the Threshold idea brilliantly, wow great job!

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  2. Such a fantastic, thought provoking and encouraging post. Loved every word. Thank you so much for sharing :) xx

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  3. Ahh! You don't know how excited I am right now about this post. I've been doing some research lately on the topic of covenant and its so incredible how woven the concept is into every part of scripture and our lives. You might find this article interesting. http://www.ctr4process.org/affiliations/ort/2008/SheltonL-Relational%20Atonement.pdf -- It's pretty dense but it relates Christ's atoning work to the idea of covenant. Thank you for this post! Love it!

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