Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Covenant Pattern

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).

The Bible for the early church was the Old Testament because the New Testament had not yet been written. All of the teaching and study that took place was based on the Old Testament. The early Christians studied its promises and their fulfillment in Christ. They studied Law and Gospel, type and antitype. They thoroughly related the Old Testament revelation of God with the new covenant. Sadly, we do not hear that taught frequently today.

One of the great unifying structures of the old and new covenants is the covenant structure itself. By coming to grips with that covenant pattern we can see one of the most important ways of relating the Old and New Testaments. Recent studies in Ancient Near Eastern documents and more importantly in the Bible itself have shown that covenants between a lord and a vassal always follow a certain format and contain certain elements. The first element in a covenant is the Preamble, which identifies the parties in the covenant, particularly the superior party initiating the covenant. In Exodus 20 the Preamble says that the LORD, Yahweh, is sovereign and that He is “your” God. Thus, both parties are identified.

The second element in the covenant is the Historical Prologue, which tells what the master has previously done for his vassal and establishes why the vassal should serve the master. In biblical covenants, the Historical Prologue states what God has done to redeem His people, rehearsing the history of redemption by including His bringing them out of slavery in Egypt. In theological terms, we call this “grace.” God graciously delivers His people, and only on the basis of that grace does He then give them His Law by which to live.

The Law then becomes the third element in the covenant Stipulations. In a non-negotiable fashion, the lord tells his vassal what is expected of him. These laws become morally binding upon the entire covenant community.

The Old Testament covenants were never negotiated. God Himself drew up all the stipulations. Despite the bounty of the new covenant, we still tend to seek to negotiate with God. Search for instances in your life where you have done this. Seek to live by and thank God for the riches of His covenant.