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Lesson 10: Christ, the Law and the Covenants *

Introduction: "Covenant" is not a common term these days. The modern legal word would be "contract." The Bible speaks repeatedly of "covenants" between God and humans. Normally contracts are entered into by two parties with relatively equal bargaining powers. Would "contract" be correct when referring to an arrangement between God and humans? Could we enter into a contract with our Creator, the one who sustains us moment by moment? Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see what we can discover!

  1. Animal Parts and Rocks

    1. Read Genesis 15:9-10. Can you picture this in your mind? Abram cuts animals in half and arranges the halves opposite each other. What do you think is going on?(Read Jeremiah 34:18-19. This helps us understand. The Hebrew word for "covenant" means "divide" or "cut in two" according to Fausset's Bible Dictionary. People would cut an animal in two, and then walk between the parts. That signified that they had entered into a contract.)

      1. Can you relate the logic of this to today's contracts? (Yes! Generally two parties enter into an agreement in which they divide responsibilities. Each promises something. This is called "consideration" and it is necessary for a valid contract. I will build you a house if you pay me a certain amount of money. Your responsibility is to pay and my responsibility is to build.)

    2. Read Genesis 31:44-45 and Genesis 31:48-49. What is the sign of the contract here? (Stones piled up.)

      1. Why do you think they used stones for the contract?

      2. What relationship, if any, do the animal parts have to do with the stones? (The purpose of the stones is to symbolize or memorialize the agreement. I think cutting the animal in half and walking between the parts also symbolized the contractual agreement.)

      3. What parallel do we have today? (We write down our contracts, and each party signs his name. The writing is like the stones - so you have proof of the agreement. Your signature represents you, it is your personal identification with the contract - like walking between the halves of the animal.)

  2. Rainbow

    1. Read Genesis 9:8-11. What is the contract here? (God will not destroy the earth and life on it by a world-wide flood.)

    2. Read Genesis 9:12-15. What symbolizes this contract? (The rainbow in the sky.)

    3. We see several similarities with what we have already studied. The animal halves, the stones, the rainbow are proof of the contract. What is the division of responsibilities here? We see God's part, what part are humans undertaking? What part are animals ( Genesis 9:9-10)undertaking?(This does not seem to be the usual two-party agreement. God is the One doing all the promising. If humans and animals have something to promise, it would seem to be to acknowledge that God is their God.)

  3. Circumcision

    1. Read Genesis 17:1-2. What does this tell us about the contract between God and Abram? (It already existed. This is a confirmation of an existing contract.)

    2. Read Genesis 17:3-8. What is God promising for His side of the agreement? (He will make Abraham the "father of many nations," He will be the God of Abraham and his descendants, He will give them a specific land "as an everlasting possession.")

    3. Read Genesis 17:9-13. What is Abraham promising for his side of the agreement? ("Every male ... shall be circumcised.")

      1. Does this seem to be more of a sign of the contract then the actual agreement?

      2. Is this contract more like the flood/rainbow contract? Are humans promising anything?

    4. Read Galatians 3:6-9. This is looking back at the very discussion we just read. What does this say that Abraham promised? What is Abraham's part of the contract? (Believing God.)

      1. What does this suggest about the flood/rainbow contract? (The same - our part is believing God.)

  4. Contracts and Grace

    1. Read Galatians 3:15. This sounds like lawyer talk. How do you understand this? (Once you have an enforceable contract, it cannot be set aside without the agreement of both parties. In addition, one party cannot add to the obligations of the other.)

    2. Read Galatians 3:16. How do you understand this? It seems to say that Abraham and Jesus were promised righteousness by faith. Did Jesus need grace? (No! This cannot mean Jesus was saved by faith. We rely on His perfect life for our salvation.)

      1. Let's back up a minute, and read a verse that I skipped over. Read Galatians 3:14. How does this say that we Gentiles are given the blessing promised through Abraham? (Through Christ Jesus.)

        1. Does that help us understand Paul's meaning when he wrote that the "promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed" and that "seed" means "one person, who is Christ?" (Yes. The promise was to Jesus, because only through Jesus do all of us receive righteousness by faith. Jesus is our gateway to eternal life. Thus, our promise comes only through Him!)

    3. Read Galatians 3:17-18. We already learned that one party to an enforceable contract cannot add to its terms. What does Paul say cannot be added here? (Obedience to the Ten Commandments. The "430 years later" refers to the Ten Commandments and the other laws given through Moses.)

      1. Re-read Genesis 15:6. As we discussed before, the contract between Abraham and God was that Abraham believed, and God "credited it to him as righteousness." What is Paul saying about the Ten Commandments? (Since Abraham and God already had an enforceable contract, and since we are successors to that contract through Jesus, God cannot change the terms of the contract by adding "And, you must keep the law to be saved.")

      2. Let's step back a minute. In seven places in the Bible it refers to a "new covenant." See, for example, Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, and Hebrews 12:24. How can we have a "new covenant," when Paul just explained how the original contract is the same unbroken contract?

      3. Read Exodus 19:3-8. What is this? (This is a contract between God and His people at the time of the giving of the Ten Commandments.)

        1. How does this contract fit into our discussion? This is the "430 years later" addition, and Paul argues that it was an improper addition! How can that be?(Paul tells us that the original promise was to Abraham and Jesus. God knew that His people could not keep the Ten Commandments to earn salvation, but He asked the people to keep them so that they would have a special relationship with Him. When Jesus came later, and perfectly kept the law, this was new. At that point the promise of righteousness by faith came to all of us through Jesus. We get to take advantage of the "original" deal, the original contract!)

    4. Read Galatians 3:19. Since the Ten Commandments cannot be added to the grace contract, why did God give them? (Because of our sins!)

    5. Read Galatians 3:23-25. How does the law lead us to Jesus? (We know about our miserable, rotten lives. We know that we have a sin problem. This teaches us that the only way to eternal life is through the promise made to Abraham and Jesus, the promise that belief credits us with righteousness. We take advantage of that promise only through Jesus! Praise God!)

    6. What does this do to my theory that the Ten Commandments protect us from being harmed by natural law? (Nothing. It is still true that God gave us the law because of love. It is still true that God wants a people who obey His law (just like at Sinai). But, it is also true that righteousness comes only through faith - the contract that we can take advantage of only through Jesus!)

    7. Friend, will you, through Jesus, become a party to the original contract of righteousness by faith alone? Why not accept Jesus right now?

  5. Next week: The Apostles and the Law.
* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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