Throughout this year, we are exploring covenants. We are working our way toward the New Covenant. I can’t wait. But, we are not there, yet. The deeper we move in understanding the power of a covenant with our LORD, the more committed we will be to living a covenant life! So, we need to take our time. “Relax Tim, take your time. Let’s explore the covenants of the Old Testament.” It is stunning how many covenants there are in the Old Book. We are going to discover three more this morning… you may never have thought of before. I’m just saying.
I have continued to modify the Seven Elements of an Effective Biblical Covenant. I suspect this list will continue to evolve throughout our entire study. Here version 2.1.
Seven Elements of an Effective Biblical Covenant -- Version 2.1.
1) Covenants create relationships by giving identity. When a covenant is created the relationship between the parties involved in the covenant are changed. Some crisis in relationship needs to be resolved. The covenant “fixes” the problem by changing the relationship; by giving a new identity. More on this at the end of the sermon.
2) The parties in the covenant are named; one superior and one inferior.
3) There is a blessing granted. There is a benefit given because of the new relationship.
4) Oaths are given. These oaths are solemn. God takes his oaths seriously.
5) A sacrifice cuts the Covenant. The shedding of blood, typically, accompanies the initiation of a covenant. To “cut a covenant” refers to the offering of a sacrifice. When a covenant was formed in the Bible, it typically involves... blood. Blood, in the Old Testament, was considered sacred. Many covenants, particularly the major ones, were cut with blood. Blood is the binding agent. Often the sacrifice is eaten…
Number 5 Subpoint… Meals are involved in covenants.
6) There is a symbol to remember. There is a sign of the covenant. There are things that continually remind the participants of who they are in the covenant.
7) Names are given or changed. Names are given. Names are changed. A covenant is often behind a new name. If you see a name changed look for a covenant. Names and covenants go together.
This morning I want to work on the first element. Covenants create relationships by giving identity.
Let’s pick up the biblical story where we left off two weeks ago.
We stopped, last time, with the bound Isaac looking up into the teary eyes of his father, Abraham, as he is about to plunge a knife into him. I have thought about this scene. I think the typical picture here is wrong. Abraham would have bound Isaac and faced him away from him. So, he wouldn’t have to look into his eyes. I think Abraham intended to do to Isaac what he did to the ram. Gently, with surgical precision, cut his throat. Abraham intended to offer Isaac, as he had been commanded, as lovingly as possible. I don’t know. It makes more sense.
Anyway, the angel stops his hand. The ram is caught in a nearby bush. Never before, or since, has any animal been offered with more thanks than that ram.
Isaac knew his father’s faith, more than anyone else. Isaac knew his father’s love more than anyone else. Isaac, in this intense moment, knew who he is. Isaac knew his identity. Isaac knew he was “the son of the covenant.” Isaac knew the power of a covenant to create identity.
Let’s continue the story of Isaac.
Abraham knows that a wife for his son, Isaac, is crucial. Not just any wife. A wife that will be in the covenant with Isaac. Sarah was the mother of the covenant. Isaac needs a wife of the covenant.
Sarah dies. Abraham is way old. Abraham prays for a wife for Isaac. Abraham sends his most trusted servant back to his own people to find a special wife.
Genesis 24:9-16 So, the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels'- let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master." Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah… came out with her water jar on her shoulder. The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known.
Rebekah offers him water. The servant tells the family the whole story of Abraham and Isaac. Rebekah agrees to go with him back to be wife of Isaac. Sort of a mail-order bride. Listen to the touching scene when Rebekah first sees Isaac.
Genesis 24:63-67 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, "Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?" The servant said, "It is my master." So, she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her.
Everything is peachy. But, it’s not peachy for long.
Just like Sarah, Rebekah is also unable to have children. As I have said before, covenants are about kids. Without children the blessings of their covenant were not going to happen. So, Isaac, following in his father’s footsteps, prays. God answers. Rebekah gets pregnant. But there is a problem with her pregnancy.
Genesis 25:22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, "If it is thus, why is this happening to me?" So, she went to inquire of the LORD.
When we ask… why is the happening to me, we need to be reminded of our covenant. So, the LORD then gives a covenant to Rebekah…
Genesis 25:23-24 And the LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger." When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb.
Rebekah is told who she is in the covenant… You are the mother of two nations! Rebekah is a covenant mother! Identity. We will talk about the twins next week. Note the first covenant you never thought about…the covenant between the LORD and Rebekah.
Now watch as Isaac continues in his father’s footsteps. Watch the exact footsteps.
First, there is a famine, just like for Abraham.
Second, Isaac is in the same place Abraham lived… Gerar.
Third, the king of Gerar has the same name… Abimelech.
Fourth, the Lord renews his covenant with Isaac…
Genesis 26:3-4 “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
The second covenant you never thought about… The LORD and Isaac.
Fifth, in walking in his father’s steps, Isaac decides to lie just like his father Abraham…
Genesis 26:7 When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, "She is my sister," for he feared to say, "My wife," thinking, "lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah," because she was attractive in appearance.
Seriously? “Hey, it worked for dad.” Seriously? “I don’t want to lose Rebekah.” Seriously? “I don’t want to die.” Have a little faith in who you are… in the covenant… in the LORD. I think Isaac forgot who he was. When we do irrational things… we need to remember our identity in the covenant.
Genesis 26:8-12 When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. So, Abimelech called Isaac and said, "Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, 'She is my sister'?" Isaac said to him, "Because I thought, 'Lest I die because of her.'" Abimelech said, "What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us." So, Abimelech warned all the people, saying, "Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death." And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The LORD blessed him,
In spite of Isaac forgetting who he was, God never forgot. YHWH kept on blessing him anyway; unconditional covenant.
One more quick story about Isaac… actually, more about Abimelech. Abimelech has politely asked Isaac to go somewhere else.
Genesis 26:26-31 Then Abimelech went to Isaac… Isaac said to them, "Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?" They said, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD." So, he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace.
The third covenant you never thought about… Isaac and Abimelech. Here is what I want to note. Abimelech saw who Isaac was. Isaac may have forgotten his identity… But Abimelech saw who he was. Abimelech wanted a covenant with Isaac because he knew the power of the LORD’s covenant in Isaac’s life!
Let’s take a glimpse into the New Covenant. I know we are not there yet. I can’t help it. Let’s sneak a quick look at what this means for us.
Your worth… Your value… Your significance is based in your identity.
You are either going earn your significance from “others” or you're going to accept your significance as a gift of covenant from the LORD.
Receiving your worth as a gift of grace is the only way to escape the neurotic trap that 99.99% of the world finds itself caught up in.
99.99% of the world secures their value through the opinions of “others”. “Do they like me? Do they approve of me? Am I a failure? Am I successful? What do they think?” This pursuit of significance leads to neurotic behavior. People do weird stuff attempting to obtain their value through the opinion of the “others”. Life is a series of successes and failures based upon your popularity. Life becomes a roller-coaster ride as your stock rises and falls. This is a miserable way to live. 99.99% of the world is up and down and sideways as their value is determined by “others”.
By contrast, if you have your significance is based in covenant with the LORD, there is nothing that can touch that.
--If you see your significance as fulfilling the covenant… You can escape the neurotic behavior of approval seeking.
--If you see your value in the faithfulness of God… You will stop attempting to please them.
--If you see your worth as esteemed of God… You can live in the purpose of the covenant.
--If you see your identity as loved by God… You live in that identity.
Covenant-identity liberates you from the neurotic trap of pleasing others. Covenant-identity liberates you to live, truly live, in the new covenant.
Now, of course this is more easily said than done. We need constant reminders to live in covenant. It seems even Isaac forgot on occasions. I'm not suggesting that "covenant-identity" is easy. This choice between neurosis and covenant-identity is a choice we make over and over again, moment by moment, breath after breath, heartbeat to heartbeat.
The more we
can remind each other that Covenants
create relationships by giving us identity, the more we will live in the
love of our covenant LORD.
April 28, 2019
Los Alamos Church of Christ