The terms contract, agreement, treaty and covenant have the same basic legal interpretation. Two or more sides, or parties, have agreed to carry out obligations or responsibilities in exchange for favors from the other party.
We live with these kinds of agreements on a daily basis. When we write a check, use a credit card, take out a loan, or sign a lease, we are engaging in a covenant relationship with the merchant or lender. With our signature on the check, credit card or loan application, we promise to pay for the goods or services in the future. We must be faithful to carry out our regular payments, or the agreement will be terminated by the other party. If either party becomes dissatisfied with the behavior of the other party, the right to end the relationship is exercised.
When I hear the word “covenant,” I am reminded of the marriage vows, most sacred of all covenants in our human world. The man and the woman take vows to love and support each other in the good times as well as the bad and to forsake all others while putting one another first. If one person breaks the covenant, the relationship is tested, or perhaps broken. It is a covenant made and ratified in heaven.
So how often do we hear or think about the word “covenant” when describing our relationship with God? This idea of covenant was important to the formation and continuation of the political, military and economical relationships among many of the ancient kingdoms. Alliances and empires were built largely upon covenants — covenants which were often very fragile.
God chose to pursue his people by the use of this covenant idea. In Malachi 2 we find several references to this idea that God reveals who he is through covenant-making. God’s covenant sets him off from all other gods and tells us that there is none other than him. He is a God who keeps his promises, and his nature promotes obedience in us his people. As we look deeper, we find that the covenant that God offers his people has a quality that is not found in any of the other covenants. God’s covenant includes grace and love and is expressed by the Hebrew word “hesed.”
Hesed can be defined as “passionately loyal, a deep, never-ending love.” Both sides in the covenant “doing hesed” toward each other. Scripture reveals that the ancient Hebrews soon realized that God’s hesed was everlasting. Here was a God who kept on “doing hesed” with them even when they had broken relationship with him.
John Oswalt writes in “Where Are You God?”: “What sort of God is this? Not only is he trustworthy, but persistently trustworthy, not only loving, but insistently loving. It was embarrassing! Had he no pride? Slowly, but surely, these ancient people realized they had not found God, but that he had found them, and his very nature was hesed.”
The God of the ancient covenant is the same God of the Christian faith today. The invitation is the same today as we hear the words paraphrased from scripture, “I will be their God, they will be my people, if they turn their faces toward me and surrender themselves completely.” Our God is a God who is “passionately loyal” to us his people, desperately wanting to “do hesed,” eagerly pursuing us.
Are we consistently in covenant with the God of hesed?