This article looks at covenant renewal and the great deeds of God. It also discusses covenant loyalty.

Source: Clarion, 1996. 3 pages.

Covenant Renewal

Many Christians today have a sense that things are not as they should be in the Church. Try as they might, these believers cannot suppress an ominous feeling that something has gone awry. Symptoms include a general inability in the churches to articulate the basic features of Reformed religion and a general breakdown of a once commonly endorsed Reformed lifestyle. Not a few members experience an unhappy sense of spiritual, moral and ecclesiastical drifting. Old clarities appear to be yielding to newer confusions. Many time-tested and allegedly time-worn pieces of mental furniture are being hauled off to the antiquarian dealers of the mind. In times of emerging change, many questions arise. What shall we believe? How shall we live? How must we go on? How can we maintain our identity as the people of God?

In the face of what some even venture to describe as deformation, solutions are requested. How can the churches find renewal? What is the road to a revival of genuine religion? Sometimes, answers to questions like these seem to focus entirely on strategy and technique. According to thinkers in this vein, the present malaise may be attributed to a failure of strategic thinking. The loss of vision is due to the church’s ineptitude in getting out the Gospel message in a form and style that is appropriate to the age. Needed are new methods of packaging and presenting the Gospel. We’re also told that people can’t relate to the old ways of worshiping God; they need something new and different.

Naturally, all efforts to get truth into the hearts and minds of church members are to be applauded. Still, it may be asked whether stress on technique and strategy is appropriate. Are the alleged problems in the church due to weaknesses of method or to the condition of the heart of God’s people? Can we attribute a loss of zeal simply to poor technique? When the preaching of the prophets in Old Testament days often brought no repentance, was this reason to conclude that their strategies were inefficient and that a new method was needed? A low level of spiritual and moral life need not inevitably lead to a critique of method. Instead, it may lead to an intensified covenantal critique of God’s people!

Perhaps our search for answers to some current questions can find direction by looking to Scriptural patterns of covenant renewal. Covenant renewal is a constant theme in Scripture. Repeatedly, we see patterns of deformation followed by a call for recommitment which, if heeded, leads to renewal or, if not heeded, leads to covenant judgment. Let’s take a closer look at some aspects of covenant renewal in Scripture.

What God has Done!🔗

Examples of covenant renewal in Scripture include the events described in passages such as Exodus 19:3-8, the entire book as well as specific sections of Deuteronomy e.g., Deuteronomy 26:5-11, Joshua 8:30-35, Joshua 24, 1 Kings 18 and 2 Kings 22-23.

If we take Exodus 19:3-8 as our first example, we find Israel at Mt. Sinai – brought there by God’s mighty hand. What happens at Sinai is the beginning of a new phase of God’s salvation work. When Moses speaks to the people, he says on behalf of the LORD, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

The stress in this message is on what God has already done for His people. God has taken His people from Egypt, He has shown them mighty signs and wonders, He has drowned Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea and has now brought His people Israel to Sinai! Similarly, in chapter 20, verse 2, in the preamble to the Law, God declares, “I Am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Once again, the stress is on God’s initiative of grace. Law is set in the context of grace and is itself a gift of grace.

If we turn now to the book of Deuteronomy, we find out that it consists of a series of messages delivered by Moses to Israel on the Plains of Moab, just prior to Moses’ death and the entrance of Israel into Canaan. The whole book shows a clear covenantal structure. It is a covenant renewal document. It begins with a long and detailed summation of God’s redeeming actions in the past (chapters 1-4). Only after detailing what God has already done for Israel, does the book continue with an urgent appeal to be faithful to the LORD. Once again, the implication is that covenant renewal starts by focusing our hearts and minds on what God has already done for His people.

Specific examples within the book of Deuteronomy confirm this direction. Chapter eleven contains a concluding exhortation of Moses. He begins by detailing again the great, redemptive deeds performed by God in the midst of His people. What the LORD did in Egypt, how He gave deliverance through the Red Sea, how He showed judgment in the deaths of Dathan and Abiram — all this is summarized when Moses says, “Your eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD which He did” (verse 7). Only after this summary of God’s actions of redemption, does Moses continue with the words, “You shall therefore keep all the commandment which I command you this day.”

In other words, Israel’s obedience is a response based on what God has already done! In Deuteronomy, Moses often uses phrases such as, “And now, Israel,” or, “Now, then,” or, “Therefore.” This is covenantal language. After summarizing the acts of God, the author comes to his application: now then, therefore, and now ... live in obedience before God (for a similar pattern, see Deuteronomy 6:20-24).

For a somewhat different example, we may turn to Deuteronomy 26, where we find some rules about the tithes in Israel. When a Jew wished to bring his tithe to the Lord, he had to first recite a moving Old Testamentic Credo. We could think of this Credo as an Old Testamentic Apostles’ Creed. This is what the worshiper had to say:

A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. Then we cried to the LORD the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.

Once again we see the pattern: human response of gratitude based on God’s great acts of grace.

In the famous events of Joshua 24, we find a similar style. This chapter consists of Joshua’s last address to Israel – a short form of Moses’ address of a generation earlier (the book Deuteronomy). In verses 1-13, Joshua first recounts the astonishing deeds of the LORD. What we find in this part of his speech is pure Gospel! We are reminded by Joshua that God is the God of redeeming grace, the God who sets free and liberates His people. After this extensive review of God’s acts, we find the familiar phrase, “now therefore.” Yes,

Now therefore, Israel, fear the LORD, and serve Him in sincerity and faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served Beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

New Testament covenant history, although shorter than Old Testament history, is much more powerful. As New Testament believers, we have a richer and deeper Credo in which we confess God’s actions in Christ Jesus to overcome sin, death and the devil and to bring about His own everlasting Kingdom. Also as New Testament believers, we must call to mind what God has already done for us. After all, God is Yahweh, I AM WHO I AM, the God who has been dynamically at work to rescue His people.

Thus, the pattern which emerges from the Bible is that covenant renewal begins by focusing our hearts and minds on what the LORD has already done for us! Covenant renewal involves remembering the great deeds of the LORD. We could say that covenant renewal always involves confessional reawakening. For the confession of the faith is a summary of God’s great works in Christ. By focusing on God’s great acts summarized in our Credo and elaborated upon in the confessions, we put the LORD back in the center. In our act of confessing, we realize anew that God has done all, that He is an active God who has long been busy for our salvation. Renewal cannot happen if we don’t know and love the work of God summarized in the Credo! It may be asked: are we impressed by Yahweh in action, Father, Son and Spirit busy for us, as summarized by the Credo?

What God Requires🔗

As already mentioned, the covenant renewal episodes of Scripture involved a recapitulation of covenant history followed by the inevitable word, “therefore” or “now then.” The reasoning of covenant renewal goes like this: “Israel, seeing that God has done so much for you, now then, believe in Him and walk in His ways.” The “therefore” of Biblical religion is based on the acts of God. On the basis of His already revealed saving deeds, the LORD calls for respect, love and obedience.

The central covenant response sought by God is loyalty. He reveals Himself to His people as redeeming God and King. In the covenant renewal events, the LORD urges upon His people the need for making a clear choice! For example, after a description of the LORD’s great deeds, Moses says,

See I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil... I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life, that you and your descendants may live.Deuteronomy 30:15, 19

From this example, we can see that the covenant renewal episodes force the issue. The objective of these episodes is to restore integrity to God’s people. The objective is to overcome the attitude of pretended neutrality. Repeatedly, it could be observed that the people of God wanted to serve the Lord and the Baals, the Lord and the world, but the covenant renewal event made clear that such duplicity could not be maintained. What the LORD asks of His people is undivided loyalty and allegiance.

In covenant renewal, God shows how He does all for us and now wants all from us. Yes, God wants to be everything to us! By describing His great deeds to us, the Lord lays claim to our whole existence. Since we are created by the Father, redeemed by the Son and sanctified by the Spirit, our entire existence belongs to Him! What He desires is a bond of burning love. His goal is a covenant fellowship of fiery zeal, a covenant people with passion for their King. The Lord is not prepared to stand idly by while His people attempt to get by with part-time and half-hearted service. That kind of covenant service amounts to idolatry and the result of such a life will be covenant judgment.

Really, we have only two options: covenant renewal or covenant wrath. The God who gives all and does all will not allow Himself to be treated as a God-on-the-sidelines, called in when all else fails.

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