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Lesson 11: The Covenant *

Introduction: A "covenant" is a contract, an agreement between two parties in which both agree to do something on behalf of the other. Some Christians think that God had a series of poor covenants that He made with humans. I'm exaggerating, but the theory goes that God kept suggesting covenants until He got one that would actually work. Our study this week looks at several covenants. Are they a series of improved versions, much like improved software? Some suggest that God has had only one basic covenant with humans. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between. One of the interesting discoveries about Jeremiah is that God has a very important covenant discussion with him. Let's dig into our study and learn more about what the Bible says on the issue of covenants!

  1. Jeremiah and the Covenant

    1. Read Jeremiah 31:31. How many covenants does this suggest? (At least two. A current covenant and a future covenant.)

    2. Read Jeremiah 31:32. What is the first covenant referred to in this verse? (The covenant made with God's people who left Egyptian slavery.)

      1. What was wrong with the "leaving Egypt covenant?" (The people did not keep their side of the agreement.)

    3. Read Jeremiah 31:33. Is this a covenant with different language? What is different about it? (It is a covenant written on human hearts and minds. It does not say that it is a different agreement.)

      1. What do you think it means to have an agreement written "in their minds" and "on their hearts?" (Compare being told to obey with being told that Jesus died on your behalf to pay the penalty for your sins. One motivates you to rebel (Romans 7), while the other motivates obedience through gratitude.)

    4. Read Jeremiah 31:34. When will all people know God so that no teaching about God is necessary? (When the righteous are in heaven? Those who are saved and living in heaven will be able to talk to God face to face.)

      1. On the other hand, when Jesus died for our sins, did this give us a much better knowledge of God?

    5. Read Jeremiah 31:35-36. What is God promising here? (God says that He controls the heavens and the seas. When He stops having days and nights for those who live on the earth, then Israel will cease to be a nation. It seems that God promises His people, who are facing destruction by Babylon, that God will preserve Israel as long as the earth exists.)

    6. Read Revelation 21:22-24. Does this describe the end of the day/night cycle? (Yes.)

      1. Where is this? (Heaven.)

  2. Covenant at Sinai

    1. Read Exodus 19:3-6. What does God offer to the "descendants of Jacob?" (They would be His treasured possession.)

    2. Read Exodus 19:7-8. What do the people agree to do? ("Everything the Lord has said.")

      1. Is this a covenant? (Absolutely.)

      2. More specifically, what have the people agreed to do? (Re-read Exodus 19:5. Obey God.)

      3. Read Exodus 24:3-4 and Exodus 24:7-8. How was this covenant ratified? (With blood.)

  3. The Covenant with Abraham

    1. Read Genesis 12:1-3. Does this sound like a covenant to you?

      1. What obligation is Abram undertaking? What obligation is God undertaking? (The mutual exchange of promises is that Abram agrees to leave his home and go to a place God will later disclose. God agrees that he will bless Abram and make both his name great and his descendants a great nation.)

      2. Notice especially Genesis 12:3. What is God promising here? (That other people on earth will be blessed (or not) depending on how they treat Abram's descendants. In addition, everyone is blessed "through" Abram.)

    2. As you think about this covenant, is it a covenant with all people on earth? (No. All people are affected by it in some way, but it is not an agreement potentially open to all.)

  4. The Covenant with Noah

    1. Read Genesis 9:7-11. Is this a covenant? (Yes.)

      1. Who are the parties to this agreement? (God, Noah and Noah's descendants.)

        1. Who are the descendants of Noah? (Every person alive. In addition, God includes the animals as parties to the agreement.)

          1. Can animals enter into an agreement?

      2. What are the mutual promises? (Humans and animals will increase in number. God will not drown all of them at some time in the future.)

    2. Read Genesis 9:12-13. How does God state the parties to the agreement? ("[T]he covenant between Me and the earth." Obviously, the earth cannot agree to anything. Thus, when God says that He is entering into a covenant with animals and the earth, what He really means is that the agreement is with humans, but it affects everything.)

  5. Covenant Comparison

    1. Let's step back and consider the first two covenants that we considered: the one with Jeremiah and the covenant at Sinai. How would you compare them? (They seem to be the same - at least the first covenant referred to by Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 31:32) is the one entered into after God's people left Egypt. This is the same as the covenant at Sinai. Thus, the first covenant is identical.)

    2. If the first Jeremiah covenant and the Exodus (Sinai) covenants are the same, how do they compare to the covenants with Noah and Abram? (The Noah and Abram covenants are more specific and more narrow. They deal with protection and blessings. They both have a universal aspect: no more world-wide floods, and all will be blessed through Abram. But, they do not broadly speak of obeying God.)

  6. Hunting for the "New" Covenant

    1. Read Hebrews 8:6-7. What does this say about the existence of a "new covenant?" (It exists.)

      1. What does the new covenant have? ("Better promises." Recall that a covenant is an exchange of promises.)

    2. Read Hebrews 8:8-12. Wait, isn't this the exact same thing discussed in Jeremiah 31:31-35? (Yes.)

    3. Read Hebrews 8:13. The old covenant is "obsolete." That does sound like a software upgrade, doesn't it? What do you think is meant by saying the Sinai Covenant was "obsolete?" (Read Hebrews 9:1 and Hebrews 9:11-14. Notice the parallel with the Old Testament sanctuary system. The people said, "We will obey," but they did not and the remedy for that was to sacrifice an animal. Indeed, the entire sanctuary system was the remedy for sin. Now, Jesus (as symbolized by the sacrificed animal) has died once on behalf of all humans. This is truly an "upgrade" to an obsolete system.)

      1. Are the principles the same in both systems, both covenants? We just have a great upgrade?

    4. Read Galatians 3:6-8. Does this sound familiar? (Yes, it is the last part of the covenant promise made to Abram ( Genesis 12:3). This shows that the "upgrade" to the Sinai Covenant was part of the original promise to Abram that applied to all humans.)

    5. Read Galatians 3:9. Who are the parties who get to take advantage of the covenant with Abraham? (The humans who rely on faith.)

    6. Read Galatians 3:10-12. Is this consistent with the covenant given at Sinai? (Yes, it involved obedience. Thus, if you did not obey you breached the contract.)

    7. Read Galatians 3:13-14. Is this a change in the first covenant referred to by Jeremiah and the covenant at Sinai? (God has fulfilled both sides of the agreement, He has done what humans said they would do.)

    8. Would you call this a "new covenant?" (The basic terms are the same, the difference is that God has done it all and humans can take advantage of the agreement through faith in what God has done.)

    9. Friend, this is the deal of the ages! Why not repent of your sins right now, and accept by faith what Jesus has done on your behalf?

  7. Next week: Back to Egypt.
* Copr. 2015, 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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