Covenant with God

Anne Garber Kompaoré

NOTE: This is the text of the meditation that I gave on June 15, 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand, at the Triennial Translation Workshop for Translation Consultants working with United Bibles Societies. 

The audience

What is BERIYT?

Today I will be meditating on the notion of beriyt, a Hebrew word which corresponds to several words in English:   covenant, treaty, alliance, agreement, contract, pact.

In a beriyt, there are normally two parties who make a promise to the other, normally on the basis of an oath.

There are two basic types of beriyt : one in which an initiator makes a promise but expects obedience or allegiance and loyalty from the other party; in the other the initiator may make a request or a demand to another party, and in return promises peace or alliance against a common enemy.  God is the initiator of many beriyt throughout the Bible. In fact it is the core of our relationship with God, but he consistently makes the first kind of beriyt. He shows his acts of compassion, then makes his promises, showing as proof of his word the acts that he has already accomplished. In each case he expects reciprocal obedience and loyalty to follow. He is not like the second kind of initiator who demands first and only when his demands are granted will he make good on his promise.  The first kind of beriyt is more risky because one cannot guarantee 100% that the other party will respond.  Except for the marriage beriyt, most beriyt between humans in the OT consist of the less risky type – if you do this for me, then I will do such and so for you.

To use a colloquial term in English, God stuck his neck out for his people. 

Today I want to simply read through several passages, and pause at intervals for private reflection. Reflect on these questions as I read :

How was/is God’s love and compassion for the human race.

How he came to be so so frustrated and furious with his wayward chosen people.

And yet how his heart broke again for them when he saw their tears and their anguish and their contrite heart.

And how he made yet another covenant, even more wonderful than the first, to enable them to come back to him and to worship him in fullness and to follow him.

Let us read and reflect:

God promises deliverance from Egypt and renewal of the Covenant with the Patriarchs
Exodus 6:2-8 NJPS

2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name YHWH. 4 I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. 5 I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. 6 Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. 7 And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord.”

Covenant to be the God of the Hebrews
Exodus 19:1-6  NJPS

1 On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai. 2 ... and encamped in the wilderness. Israel encamped there in front of the mountain, 3 and Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Me. 5 Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, 6 but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ ...”

Warning against the Transgression of God’s Covenant
Leviticus 26 NJPS

11 I will establish My abode in your midst, and I will not spurn you. 12 I will be ever present in your midst: I will be your God, and you shall be My people. 13 I the Lord am your God who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.
14 But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, 15 if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant
 17 I will set My face against you: you shall be routed by your enemies, and your foes shall dominate you.
31 I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors. 32 I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled by it. 33 And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword against you. ...

But God will still remember His covenant regardless
Leviticus 26 NJPS

39 Those of you who survive shall be heartsick over their iniquity in the land of your enemies; more, they shall be heartsick over the iniquities of their fathers; 40 and they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, in that they trespassed against Me, yea, were hostile to Me. 41 When I, in turn, have been hostile to them and have removed them into the land of their enemies, then at last shall their obdurate heart humble itself, and they shall atone for their iniquity. 42 Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob; I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham; and I will remember the land.
44 Yet, even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurn them so as to destroy them, annulling My covenant with them: for I the Lord am their God. 45 I will remember in their favor the covenant with the ancients, whom I freed from the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God: I, the Lord.

God will cleanse and put a new spirit within his people
Ezekiel  36 NJPS

23 I will sanctify My great name which has been profaned among the nations—among whom you have caused it to be profaned. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord—declares the Lord God—when I manifest My holiness before their eyes through you. 24 I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes. 26 And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; 27 and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules.

God will make a new covenant and put his Teaching (law) into the hearts of His people.
Jeremiah 31: 31  NJPS Also Hebrews 8:8 and following

31 See, a time is coming—declares the Lord—when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, though I espoused them—declares the Lord. 33 But such is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after these days—declares the Lord: I will put My Teaching (law) into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, “Heed the Lord”; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me—declares the Lord.

God swears never to be angry any more with His people
6 The Lord has called you back
As a wife forlorn and forsaken.
Can one cast off the wife of his youth?
                                   —said your God.
7 For a little while I forsook you,
But with vast love I will bring you back.
8 In slight anger, for a moment,
I hid My face from you;
But with kindness everlasting
I will take you back in love
                                    —said the Lord your Redeemer.
9 For this to Me is like the waters of Noah:
As I swore that the waters of Noah
Nevermore would flood the earth,
So I swear that I will not
Be angry with you or rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may move
And the hills be shaken,
But my loyalty (steadfast love) shall never move from you,
Nor My covenant of friendship (peace) be shaken
                                    —said the Lord, who takes you back in love.

The Blood of the Covenant
Mark 14 ESV

22 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

A Chosen Race
1  Peter 2:1 ESV

2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Through His covenant, God enables us to do His will
Hebrews 13

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead by the blood of the eternal covenant, our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, 21 May he equip you with everything good that will enable you to do his will, as he works in us that which is pleasing in his sight.

Being strengthened through His Spirit with power, and the knowledge of Christ’s love for us
Ephesians 3

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Hymn : To God be the glory - 

Prayer – Lord, we pray to you today, purify us, cleanse us, inscribe your law on our hearts, enable us to do your will so that we are pleasing to you, fill us with your love and your power. We praise and thank you our God of peace, who gave us your wonderful covenant of peace through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Author