Living in covenant relationship should not be seen as a kind of divine Magna Carta. A covenant, unlike a decree, has mutuality and in the case of a divine covenant, has the hallmark of lovingkindness.
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
WE’RE not unfamiliar with the idea of binding agreements – the tension around the 1992 Maastricht Treaty which created the EU and the Euro, is headline news (will the offering of the Greeks be pleasing?) and last week we celebrated a centenary of the signing of Magna Carta, a covenant between king and people that guaranteed basic rights and justice for ordinary people in early thirteenth-century England.
Against that celebration there is the backdrop of religious extremist dictatorship affecting the Middle East and Africa provoking a refugee crisis across Europe, because rights and freedoms of the very basic kind enshrined in that 1215 document would be way too free and easy for this new wave of hateful religious fundamentalists.
The covenant provision and protection we enjoy as Christians has its roots in a time as many centuries before the Christian era, as the document presented for King John to sign was after it.
King John was no benevolent reformer wishing to give his subjects security and Magna Carta didn’t offer much justice to those accused of heresy or treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London in Henry VIII’s reign.
Relationship rather than rights
By contrast, the ‘covenant milestones’ established with Noah, Abraham, David spoke of loving provision and promise. The more complicated covenant framework established with Moses and Aaron and the Levitical priesthood, for priests to model and people to follow, portrayed a relationship of mutuality, one that was loving, protecting and providing. The covenant was about blessing.
You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people Exodus 19:5; Lev. 26:12.
We as followers of the Way of Jesus are more aware of the new and better covenant foretold by Jeremiah and made real for us, beyond the Jewish community, in Jesus’ death on the Cross, resurrection to life again and gift of The Holy Spirit as His continuing presence in our lives.
A binding agreement is both both releasing and restrictive. We tend to see restrictive as a negative word, but having good boundaries in place has its own way of being freeing.
Seven key characteristics of covenant
Covenant with God is:
- Relational, not just functional
- Permanent and non-political, not something that one of the parties can revoke (unlike a tenancy agreement or an overdraft arrangement or Maastricht, for that matter)
- Protective of the weaker party
- Unconditional, or has significant unconditional elements
- Benefits the weaker party
- Both parties agree it, maintain it and honour it
- Violation may put a party out of reach of the good effects of the covenant but does not of itself destroy the covenant.
A covenant that emanates from God, or has the heart of God, is an expression of the character of God, which is love. The other side of this coin is that God expects honour and praise and worship on the basis of who He is – in the same way that a bow or curtsy is the protocol appropriate to meeting Her Majesty the Queen.
It was the lack of honour and love returned to God Mal. 1:6 that Malachi criticised his hearers for so strongly.