Among the 52 chapters of the prophetic book of Jeremiah the most intriguing concept is the New Covenant. Would we like to know what is a “Covenant” and why is it called “New”? In this lesson we have a list of several covenants: Adamic, Universal, Abrahamic, Sinaitic, Davidic and the New. In addition, we have within the larger context of the Bible, the concept of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. What is the meaning of the word covenant? While today we do not use the word covenant in our everyday conversation, we use more contemporary words quite often. We use terms like: a deal, and agreement, an understanding, a plan, a contract, a pact, a promissory note, a demand, a stipulation, an instruction. There are many more synonyms that could be listed, but this gives us an idea of the broadness of the concept of relationships between two or more parties. We can, and should, distinguish between divine (God given and initiated) agreements (covenants) and the political, economic, social, and personal ones. While agreements are always interpersonal, they have many nuances that should be kept in mind.
Some questions will facilitate our discussion of the topic of covenants. Does God have only one covenant with everybody or different covenants for different parties and occasions? To begin with, when there were only two people on earth, the covenant was with “everybody.” The Old Covenant was made with Adam before the Fall. That is, God created humans, told them what and how to operate, but did not mention anything about a warranty in case something goes wrong.
Can a covenant be broken? Adam sinned and thus broke the Old Covenant. So the answer is yes. Is the New Covenant a restatement of the Old, or is it a completely different covenant? Is the New covenant a modification of the Old Covenant? What was changed? In both covenants the requirement is the same, but the methods of accomplishing it are different. In the Old Covenant the requirement had to be fulfilled by Adam and Eve. In the New Covenant, God is the active agent that helps us to fulfill the requirement.
Does covenant need to be understood by the recipients. Does the maker of a product have to explain the use of the product? Yes, indeed. Who is the target audience of God’s covenant/s? In Jeremiah, in the context of salvation and life, it is the people. What covenant pertains to us today? Only the one made between God and us. We remember the words: Today if you hear His voice…react. The study of the New Covenant is not merely a historical or theological exercise.
What is the personal goal of our study of the covenants today? To know what are our options in life. So, what is the covenant with Seventh-day Adventists today? Is it the same as the 28 fundamental beliefs, or baptismal vows? No. Every covenant has to be made individually. God instructs us about His work for us, and He works in different ways but the foundation of our instruction is the Bible. The 28 formulations are a partial attempt to facilitate our understanding of God’s plan. A bit of history will illustrate it.
The first time we find a record of an agreement (covenant) in the text of the Bible, it is between God and the created humans, Adam and Eve. This agreement stipulated the basis on which Adam and Eve could continue to operate as the “rulers” of this earth. We presume from the context, that Adam was given the rules and regulations that were to govern his behavior as the new governor of the Earth (the operating manual). The most basic of these stipulations was the loyalty to God the Creator and “owner” of the Earth. Included in the instructions given to Adam was a warning that rebellion (sin) against the “sovereign” would result in death. Adamic Covenants? Obey and live, disobey and the result will be death. For us the question is, was this an arbitrary imposition of the Creator’s will on His creation, or a simple statement of the designer’s law? In today’s world every mechanically produced creation like a watch, car, computer etc., comes with specific instructions of how to operate the product. When we break the designer’s instructions the product will not function properly. When the misuse of the product occurs, the producer/designer will not punish the product with destruction, but rather will try to repair the misused product. This arrangement is called warranty. The original instruction, expressed in the form of the designer laws, remains the same. Then Bible tells us that Adam and Eve broke their allegiance to God. Consequently, they became incapable of restoring their previous relationship to God. Therefore, God made a new covenant (another covenant).
The new covenant with Adam and Eve was to assure them that “they” can, and will, be repaired, but they would have to follow some additional requirements proposed by the designer (Creator). To facilitate the recovery process, Adam and Eve would experience, for their sake, some harsh realities of life: hard work and pain. The requirement of complete (perfect) allegiance to God remained the same. Chief actor in this “new” transaction was to be God Himself. In today’s terminology we may say: God suggested to Adam, check into my clinic/ repair shop and I will heal/restore your mind (computer?). The stress is on restoration and healing and not destruction and punishment, health and not death. It is interesting that Jeremiah appeals to God in exactly those terms. Jer. 17: 13b-14: Heal/save me and I shall be saved/healed.
Through the past ages God often approached different people with the proposition of a covenant: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel as a nation, David and others of whom we do not know today. What happened to those who broke the covenant like Adam and Eve and others, down the ages? God invited them to enter the rehabilitation/reparation/restoration program (the plan of salvation), in order to cure their mental addiction to sin, and to become again partners with God in reclaiming other broken beings, To cure the living broken minds/hearts. We read: come to me and I will heal your backsliding, come to me and I will give you “peace.”
How do we respond to this New Covenant invitation? An illustration may help us a bit. I will use the metaphor of a computer, symbolizing our minds/hearts. Since my son is a computer expert, he agreed to help me with my computer problems. There is a program which allows The Expert to control my computer from a distance. He gave me the program called “Team Viewer”. In real/spiritual life, God wants to have complete access to my mind (computer/heart), so that He can fix it and then teach me how to avoid breaking down again, and making my life useless. In Jeremiah’s words, God wants to make a “new arrangement” with us today, in which He will write “a consumer friendly program” (the Gospel of Salvation) that will alert me to and protect me from viruses, Trojan horses and similar problems. This is a picture of the New Covenant in contemporary terms. God will write His Law, (the Law of the Designer) in our minds. No matter how I try to manage my life/computer I always make it worse. So, God says, let me do it, you watch me, then do as I do, and together…you will become like new. Refurbished, restored, perfectly (fully) operational human being.