Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Covenant – how to find traction in a slippery world
Extra traction – engage four-wheel-drive
WE SAW in the previous post how the praise prayer of the Levites, who were assisting Ezra the priest, used a particular kind of language – and understanding what this is about is a game changer for us. We find ourselves in slippery places, on our own – or so we think. All the time we have someone with us who knows where the four-wheel-drive switch is.
There is something in this that is a little difficult, a little unnatural to us, but when we get it, a lot of things make sense. The logs in our fire basket will sit up and form a picture. What Jesus taught and Paul re-emphasised and James and Peter underlined, we will recognise as coming from this place. It is recognising the language of covenant.
A little study in Nehemiah 9 highlights these kinds of phrases:
- “You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…”
- “…because of Your great compassion You did not abandon them…”
“…in Your great mercy… You are a gracious and merciful God…”
“You have kept Your promise…”
We soon discover that this kind of covenant language comes up in other passages, mainly in the Old Testament or where the O.T. is quoted. We look out for statements about promises, being gracious and merciful, compassionate and loving, faithful and forgiving. We also recognise a certain one-sidedness, where we seem to be getting the better deal.
The old adage that the Old Testament is Law and the New Testament is a new dispensation of grace starts to falls down when we discover strong strands of grace in the Old Testament, and consider that the Law undergirded everything that Jesus taught as he brought it into a ‘kingdom now’ context.
So that is grace, but there is also exchange. God gives His provision and protection. His people give Him… what do they have to give? What can they bring to the treaty? And in essence, the answer is nothing – apart from loyalty.
This is what political historians would call a suzerainty agreement. Suzerain is a similar word to sovereign and it is used of one party voluntarily giving a measure of control to the other.
That’s pretty much what happened when you accepted Jesus as Saviour and also as Lord. In an act of submission, you gave Him the right to speak into your life and act in your life, and you pledged ongoing loyalty and devotion. In return He takes death and exchanges it for life eternal, streams of living water and a sense of being loved unmatched by any other relationship or experience.
I had an older friend who related how, back in the day, he was articled to a chartered accountant. It was not considered that a young person starting out as a junior clerk, working six days a week, would contribute anything of worth (therefore it was not a paid position initially) but the ‘covenant’ benefit was training and practical experience, and above all being eligible to enter for the professional examinations – a way in to a professional career. People didn’t change jobs then, so loyalty was expected, but the firm was growing a possible future partner.
When we start to see this covenant way that God works in history and with us personally, Christian living gets exciting. We start to see the partnership, the possibilities, the empowering and God’s investment in us in Jesus to grow us as disciples. More on this tomorrow.