If you've spent any time in church, or around Christians, then you've probably heard the word 'Covenant' bounded around a fair bit. However, do we really understand what a covenant is and what the covenants made in the Bible really are?
Over the coming weeks I hope to unpack and explore the different covenants that we see made between man and God in the Bible. But first, let's start by taking a deeper look into the origins behind the word to form some context and greater understanding.
I always find that one of the best places to start when trying to understand a biblical concept or principle is in the understanding of the Hebrew word behind our English counterpart. This often reveals more to use about the use, form and tense of a word that simply reading the translation.
The Hebrew word for covenant is 'berith',(בְּרִית), (pronounced as ber-eeth'). It's also important at this point to note, if you haven't read Hebrew before, it is written and read from right to left. This word is used 285 times in the Bible, 275 times it is translated into the word covenant, a few of the other translations form the words 'treaty', 'allies' and 'league'. Interestingly, each Hebrew letter also comes with symbol that it is connected to, if we were to spell out 'berith' using the Hebrew symbols we would find it as follows:
The first letter is known phonetically as 'Bet' (בְּ), and it produces a 'b' sound. It is represented by a picture of a tent. The tent is a symbol for the idea of a home or family.
The second letter is known phonetically as 'Resh' (רִ), and it produces a 'r' sound. It is represented by a picture of the head of a man. The head is a symbol for the idea of something being 'first' a 'beginning' or the 'top'.
The third letter is known phonetically as 'Yod' (י), and it produces a 'y' or 'ee' sound. It is represented by a picture of an arm. The arm is a symbol for working, throwing or worshipping.
The fourth and final letter is known phonetically as 'Tav' (ת), and it produces a 't' sound. It is represented by a picture of a cross. The cross is a symbol for a mark, sign, signal or monument.
So, in order we have the following pictures:
I believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God, written by God through man. I also believe that the words of the Bible were crafted with absolute purpose and intent, and that through God's inspiration they have a much greater depth and meaning than we could hope to understand in our own language.
If we use the basis formed above to picture the word 'berith', we can picture it as follows:
The first of which is:
The tent head's arm points to the cross. This line of symbols to me shows that the 'Head of the tent', who we know in our understanding of the New Testament to be Jesus, points directly to the cross. Where we will eventually end up for the New Covenant. It doesn't seem coincidental to me that the very word itself is surmised in imagery that represents the final biblical covenant that we see made.
Another point, that I believe adds to the validity of this, is the formation of words within the word 'berith' itself, the first two letters of the word are 'bet' and 'resh' (בְּרִ). These two Hebrew letters actually form the word 'bar', which can be translated into the word 'Son'. This again is a direct marker that points towards Jesus. Using 'bet' and 'resh' together would mean that the imagery would read: Jesus points to the cross. Another confirmation of what is to come in the New Covenant that we find grace under.
All of this points to the importance of the concept of a covenant, right from the beginning.
I found that this definition from Warren Wiersbe is a great summation of some key points that define what a covenant really is:
The Hebrew word translated “covenant” has several meanings: (1) to eat with, which suggests fellowship and agreement; (2) to bind or fetter, which means commitment; and (3) to allot, which suggests sharing. When God makes a covenant, He enters into an agreement to commit Himself to give what He promises. It is purely an act of grace.
The three key words to draw from this definition that I believe are essential to understanding and applying to concept of a covenant are agreement, commitment and sharing. The application of these three things is surmised in the final part of that definition where Wiersbe describes God's actions as an 'act of grace'.
The biblical covenants are binding agreements made between man and God, where a commitment is made from both parties and the most amazing thing of all is that God always upholds his promise in the fulfilment of the covenant that he makes, regardless of our failings, He acts with grace.
I hope this has given you a little bit of insight into the concept of a covenant and has set the scene for the different covenants that we will be exploring together over the coming weeks.
I will try and make the unpacking of the covenants themselves a little less nerdy!
Lord, help me to understand your word, help me to grasp and soak in the depth and richness of it. Thank you for providing me with all that I need, I pray that a desire will build within me to seek a deeper relationship with you. All worship and praise be to your name.