The Concept of Covenant

As I mentioned in last Saturday’s posting, the nature of my contribution to LifeTalk is changing a little. I’ll now be writing on Wednesdays and Fridays, with these devotions serving as preludes to what will be preached at Holston View United Methodist Church on Sundays.

The Sermon for Sunday, July 4 is “Covenant with Freedom,” which will draw primarily from 2 Samuel 5:1-5. It will be viewable online.

Today’s Bible passage: Genesis 15


By Chuck Griffin

Religious covenants are serious business, much more serious than a simple contract. Hey, blood usually is involved.

To set aside a people through whom a savior eventually would come, God first established a covenant with Abram, later renamed Abraham after being designated father of the Israelites. In the 15th chapter of Genesis, we see that covenant formalized in a vision, one where God made binding the promises he had offered Abram if the old, childless man would move to a new place.

God’s grant of land, a vast number of descendants and even a blessing unto the whole world became guarantees for Abraham and his descendants at this point. A smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, symbols of God’s zeal and holiness, passed between the halves of sacrificial animals arranged at God’s instruction. In effect, God was saying, “If I fail in my promises, may the same be done to me as was done to these animals.”

Contracts usually have a termination point. A covenant with God goes much further, potentially creating an eternal relationship. It takes a lot of reading to explore the biblical concept of covenant—in many ways, it is the primary theme of the Bible. This covenant with Abraham and its ensuing effects keep arising in Scripture until finally we have that great blessing for the world, Jesus Christ.

Christ both affirmed the covenant made with Abraham and established a new way for all people to enter a covenant with God. He did this, of course, by going to the cross, shedding blood and dying to pay for our sins.

Again, God did all the real work and made all the promises in this relationship. Believe in what has been done, and we are drawn into the arrangement.

As the Book of Hebrews reminds us, this new covenant is embedded in our minds and written on our hearts. We are changed the moment we formally enter it through baptism, and the Holy Spirit continues to work within us for our betterment the rest of our lives.

Lord, help us as we read your word to grasp the importance of a covenant life with you. We thank you for the great gift of life you offer us. Amen.

Bad Timing, Bad Results

“Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away,” woodblock print, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860.

Genesis 16:1-6 (NRSV)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.


This piece of a larger story can sound foreign, but there is a behavior within that should be familiar to us.

In the previous chapter in Genesis, we hear the Lord make powerful, ceremonially bound promises to the man we now know as Abraham, including the promise of a son. This son was to result in an uncountable multitude of descendants.

While no details were given regarding how the son would be born, there also were no codicils added to the promise—God simply told Abraham, “No one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”

Rather than simply accepting the promise, the ancient man and his old wife, who believed she was far beyond child-bearing years, tried to figure out what they must do to make the promise come true. The plan to impregnate a young servant sprang from Sarai’s mind, but her husband, who had witnessed God’s dramatically presented covenant, did nothing to dissuade her.

What ensues is a story of rivalry, jealousy, and some painful choices that have to be made once the real child of promise arrives.

Need I say it? God’s timing is what matters, not ours. In our haste, in our eagerness to see things the way we want them to be, we may take some of the shine off the miracle that will eventually happen.

It seems to me that the best strategy is to be faithful in our everyday tasks, trusting that God will lead us to better places and situations than we could ever devise on our own.

Lord, we are all afraid to pray for patience, but we do need it. May we rejoice one day in how perfect your timing has been throughout history. Amen.

Ultimate Covenant

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Jeremiah 31:31-34

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”


If we are going to grasp what’s going on in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, there are a handful of critical concepts. Two major ones are in this prophecy from Jeremiah.

First, there is the idea of “covenant.” God’s covenants with humanity evolve through time, growing ever more expansive regarding whom they reach. You can see the potential for expansion was there from the start, when God entered a covenant, a holy contract, with the man we would come to know as Abraham.

Genesis 12:1-3: “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.'”

Followers of Jesus Christ see his death on the cross thousands of years later as establishing a new covenant that makes salvation possible for all the families on earth. 

As covenants are established through time, we better understand a second critical concept, the idea of holiness. As God expands his relationship with humanity through Jesus Christ globally, he also begins to penetrate the hearts of his followers more deeply.

Jeremiah speaks of a time when holiness is complete, when God’s followers are so closely aligned with him that they have no need of written or spoken instruction. God will be so present within us that we simply will know God’s will for ourselves, enabling us to live in perfect harmony.

We obviously are not there yet. But as we practice faithful discipleship, it’s good to know where we are headed.

Lord, help us grow in holiness as we accept the eternal covenant offered us through Jesus Christ. Thank you for meeting us in our imperfect states, rescuing us from sin and death. Amen.