A covenant is simply an agreement.
When we sign a contract, that is an agreement, and each country has many laws that detail just how binding such agreements are. These sorts of agreements and their associated laws have changed through history, and the Bible tells us of many agreements made thousands of years ago.
A few covenants between people are recorded in the Bible, normally agreements between leaders to achieve peace. Abimelech made agreements with Abraham and Isaac and Laban made an agreement with Jacob for peace. God forbade Israel from making agreements with the nations in the land of Israel, but in one case they were tricked into doing so. Jonathan made a covenant with David, David made one with Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, and so the list goes on.
Some agreements were kept and some were not. With our particular interest in the prophet Jeremiah, one particular covenant between people that is worth looking at further is in Jeremiah 34.
When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Judah, the inhabitants of Judah were afraid. Maybe because of the consistent messages of Jeremiah and other prophets, they feared that this might be a punishment for their behaviour and decided to do a little tidying around the edges of their religious life. God had strict rules about servants and slaves and the people knew they were breaking those rules. Possibly in a bid to avoid punishment for this, King Zedekiah made a covenant with all the people (Jeremiah 34:8) to free all of their Hebrew slaves (God’s law forbade the keeping of Hebrews as slaves (Leviticus 25:39-46)). Everyone did what they had agreed (Jeremiah 34:8-10) and all would have been well except that they later changed their mind and took them back as slaves again (Jeremiah 34:11). You may ask why they would do such a thing, and the answer is probably that the immediate fear of punishment receded because King Nebuchadnezzar temporarily withdrew his army from Jerusalem (Jeremiah 34:21) and the masters missed the service of their slaves.
God condemned this behaviour and reminded them that the covenant had been made before him in the temple and was really a covenant made with him. He told them that, because of their breach of trust, the Babylonian army would return and destroy Jerusalem, burning it with fire.
Covenants are important to God because agreements reflect commitment, and being faithful to a commitment is vital to God.
Have you ever made a commitment to do something and then broken it? – and I don’t mean accidentally. If so, then God doesn’t like it.
God has never broken a covenant. Let’s look at a few that have been or are still being kept:
Almost all of God’s Bible covenants are conditional: Noah had to obey and build the ark, Abraham had to obey as did his descendants, all male descendants of Abraham had to be circumcised, the Israelites had to obey the Law of Moses, Aaron’s descendants had to serve as priests.
Some Bible covenants had some form of proof or reminder associated with them:
When we make agreements now, both parties must agree. As our creator, God has rules for the people he created, but he also has special benefits which he offers – benefits that are only available for people who “sign up”. If people want the special offers that God makes, they have to agree to his conditions. For Abraham and his descendants, that meant being circumcised and following God’s requirements. For followers of Jesus, it means baptism, sharing bread and wine, and obeying God’s commands. The promised benefits? – Life forever. Abraham thought it was worth it and so did many righteous people who followed afterwards.
God will always keep his agreements. What about you?