Guest Post: Covenant Theology 101

The sermon this Sunday will be from  Daniel 9:1-19, which contains Daniel's intercessory prayer for his people. This prayer is characterized by confession and repentance. The prophet begins: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly land rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. . ."

What is the "covenant and steadfast love" to which Daniel refers? What is the nature of this covenant relationship between God and his people? Let’s take a look at Covenant Theology in three parts: What is a covenant? What covenants did God make with his people? How can a covenant be fulfilled?

As Lord, God deals with human beings through covenants. A covenant is like a treaty between a great king and a lesser king, in which the great king describes the relationship, imposes law, and promises blessing to those who obey the law and curses to those who don’t. In the Bible, God makes covenants with Adam, Noah, Israel under Moses, David, and with Christ.
— John Frame, "Salvation Belongs to the Lord"


What is a Covenant?

As we move through the Bible, although there are a number of individual covenants, we begin to understand that there is only one “Overarching” Covenant. It was given over many centuries and with expanding detail (each covenant). The nature of “Covenant” is that God has determined to have a relationship with mankind, built upon principles laid down in Scripture. He has called that relationship “Covenantal”. It is an intimate relationship between a Father and His children.

Covenant is a relation between the Lord and a people whom he has sovereignly consecrated to himself. . . The heart of the covenant is the promise “I will be your God, and you will be my people”. This implies that God will be with us as he was with Abraham, Jacob, and many others. He is committed to us, and in response he calls for our trust and obedience.
— John Frame, "Salvation Belongs to the Lord"


What covenants did God make with his people?

The Covenant mentioned in Daniel 9 is the same Covenant revealed to Moses in extraordinary detail. The Covenant between God and mankind is revealed early in Genesis where we see it in vague detail in Genesis 3; then to Noah as God covenants not to destroy the earth by flood again; then to Abraham where God pledges to be the God of Abraham and his descendants, through the “formal” act of Covenanting; then to Moses not only through the Covenant Documents (the tablets of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20) but also through the explanation of those commandments (Exodus through Deuteronomy) and finally through the introduction of a New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31) and Ezekiel (Ezk 36:26).

We learn about the covenant with Abraham and his children in Genesis 17. According to God’s instructions, the sign and seal of this covenant is circumcision, performed on all males eight days old and up. 

The Mosaic Covenant contains blessings by God for those who covenanted with Him and performed their obligations. It also brings curses to those who breach the Covenant. God promised them a land “flowing with milk and honey” (the “Promised Land”); homes they did not build; groves they did not plant. Nevertheless, in spite of these incredible blessings, almost immediately after they took possession, they began to breach the Covenant. 

Again and again God forgives their breaches (trespasses) but finally the breaches become so severe that God brings judgment upon them and removes them from the “Promised Land” into exile in Babylon. It is here, nearing the end of their exile, that Daniel recalls their abuses of the Covenant and begs God to relent concerning His people. This is the background of Daniel 9.


How Can a covenant be fulfilled?

But we are not finished with God’s Covenant—not even close to finished. As prophesied, God introduces a New Covenant which would provide remedies for the breach by His people of the Older Covenant and would be broadened to include the Gentiles as well as Israel. Since it was clear that His people could not perform the Older Covenant, He determines to perform the Older Covenant on behalf of His people through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. He will perform both sides of the Covenant, His and ours!!!  How does he do this?

Jesus takes upon Himself the burden of perfectly performing all of the obligations under the Older Covenant. Not only does Jesus perfectly perform the Older Covenant, but He takes upon Himself the punishment of God for the sins of all of God’s people in violation of the Older Covenant. If that were not enough, God then attributes the righteousness—which Jesus has thus obtained—to us.

Furthermore, to help His people more clearly understand His requirements for them, He gives each of us a New Heart and a New Spirit, emblazoning the Old Covenant requirements (the law) onto our hearts, but even then we cannot perfectly obey. However, He takes our imperfect obedience and perfects it in Christ.  

Finally, Jesus promises and the Father sends the Holy Spirit to seal our “sonship” as God’s children, to bring us into an intimate relationship with the Father and the Son and to guide us and lead us to the “Promised Land”.   The sign and seal of the New Covenant is baptism.

Certainly the Overarching Covenant belongs to us and to our children but it is also a Covenant with His Church. God seeks a “people” not just an individual or a family. This is why we sometime refer to the church as a “covenant community.”

Richard Hostetter serves as one of the elders at Lake Baldwin Church. He has a love for theology and is one of our favorite teachers of adult classes. Richard and his wife Susanne have a big heart for their shepherding group and for the mission of LBC. For years they have upheld the work of the church in their prayers.