What is a covenant?

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In the Old Testament, a covenant is understood to be an alliance, an agreement, a treaty between either humans and other humans — two parties on earth — or, more theologically rich, between God and humans, particularly in the case of the Old Testament, his elect people of Israel. Covenants have occurred throughout Scripture. Agreements have been made between God and humans. First we see it with an explicit covenant being made with Noah. Next, God makes a covenant with Abraham that's reiterated several times in the middle text of Genesis. God then makes a covenant with Moses at Sinai in the giving of the Law. God also institutes a covenant that perpetuates this agreement God has set with his people Israel. He does it with the king, David. And then finally, Jeremiah promises that this new covenant will be understood in a new way or new mode at some point in the future, which we see inaugurated in the person of Jesus Christ at the institution of the Lord's Supper. When we think about covenant, however, it's important to realize, covenant was not an end in itself. Covenant was a means to an end. The end was relationship with God. No other ancient Near Eastern religion thought of their god in these personal terms. They obeyed, enacted sacrifice, performed duties in order to receive the blessings of their god. However, in the Old Testament, God comes to his people, he elects them out of his sovereign goodness, and he performs the covenant duties in Genesis because Abraham can't. God knows this… Throughout Scripture we see God at pains to keep this relationship alive. Now, the covenant can be understood in some ways as a conduit, not an end in itself. The conduit enables God's people to experience God's chesed, his lovingkindness, his goodness. And in that they can enjoy God's shalom.

Answer by Dr. Seth Tarrer