Covenant

Scripture: Exodus 24:1-11

Title: Covenant

Key Idea: A covenant is a sacred agreement for attachment

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Communication
  • Commitment
  • Communion
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

[Display slide 1]

 

On the wall here we have three images…

  • Some rope, a paper clip and a mother & baby having a cuddle
  • One word connects them. Can anyone tell me that word? [Wait]
  • Yes, that’s right – attachment

[Stop displaying slide 1]

This morning we are talking about covenant

  • A covenant is a sacred agreement for attachment
  • A covenant connects people – it holds relationships together

Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 24, page 85 in your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series on Moses
  • Last week we heard about the Decalogue – God’s 10 words in Exodus 20
  • These words of instruction are His recipe for living well
  • This week, in Exodus 24, we are still at Mt Sinai where the covenant between God & Israel is formalised. From verse 1 we read…

Read Exodus 24:1-11

 

May we be aware of God’s presence with us now

Today’s reading describes how the covenant between God & Israel was formalised

  • More than just a regular contract a covenant is a sacred agreement for attachment
  • A covenant goes above and beyond a regular contract to bind relationships together
  • There are three aspects to a covenantal agreement, each of which support attachment. They are: Communication, commitment and communion

Communication:

Cell phones – it is difficult for many of us to remember how we ever got on without them

  • They are so convenient and helpful for keeping us in contact with each other. It’s the same with the internet
  • Cell phones & internet give us a feeling of attachment
  • It’s not real attachment – it’s only virtual – but we can still get a bit anxious if someone doesn’t reply to our text or email quickly enough

Of course to be able to use a cell phone or the internet you need a network provider – whether that’s 2 Degrees or Spark or Vodafone or whatever

  • There isn’t much loyalty with network providers these days – we tend to go with whoever happens to be offering the best deal at the time
  • You might be on a contract with some company but a contract is different from a covenant
  • With a covenant both parties to the agreement have a sense of loyalty to each other
  • So a covenant is more permanent – less fickle – than a contract

As I mentioned before one of the key aspects of a covenant is communication

  • Communication supports attachment by creating a shared understanding, which in turn enables an agreement to be reached

What we see in the Bible is that God initiates the communication

  • From chapter 19 of the book of Exodus God has been communicating the terms of His offer to Moses
  • Now in verses 3-8 of Exodus 24 Moses leads the people through a ritual of communication & commitment to formalise the covenant

The ritual of communication begins with Moses telling the people all the Lord’s commands & instructions and the people respond by giving a verbal agreement

  • Then Moses puts it in writing
  • So far it is looking very much like a regular commercial contract
  • Except the way you seal a covenant is different from the way you seal a contract
  • You seal a contract by signing it – with your signature
  • But you don’t sign a covenant – you cut a covenant
  • Sealing a covenant, therefore, involves the shedding of blood

Blood is an interesting thing to use for sealing the deal

  • Unlike ink, blood is potent – it represents life
  • If you have a wound or an infection in some part of your body, it is the flow of blood which heals it – without blood flow the wound won’t heal
  • Using blood to seal the agreement gives the covenant more weight, more significance, more meaning
  • This covenant between God & Israel is a sacred agreement for life and healing

To cut this covenant, Moses gets some fit young men to sacrifice some animals

  • He takes half the blood and sets it aside in bowls
  • Then he takes the other half of the blood and throws it against the altar
  • This is messy stuff – but essentially the blood on the altar represents God’s signature – His part in cutting the deal

Before getting the people’s signature though, Moses first reads the book of the covenant to the Israelites

  • This details the terms of the agreement – both God’s promises to them and their responsibilities to God and each other

Commitment:

When you attach a trailer to a car you don’t just tie it on with rope or stick it on with masking tape – that would never hold

  • You need something strong, firm and able to take the weight, like a tow bar bolted (or welded) to the frame of your car
  • The coupling at the pointy end of the trailer is attached to the tow ball with a clasp, a bolt to hold the clasp in place and a safety chain

The genius of the tow bar and trailer arrangement is the capacity for movement

  • The attachment to the tow ball allows some pivoting from side to side so you can turn corners and back the trailer
  • If the attachment was completely rigid, allowing no movement at all, something would break or you’d never make it around a bend

The second aspect of covenant is commitment

  • A covenant commitment is firm and strong like a tow bar
  • But it’s not completely rigid
  • There is some room for movement in the commitment

After hearing God’s offer and terms read aloud the people say…

  • “We will obey the Lord and do everything that he has commanded”
  • This shows us the people entered into the agreement knowingly & freely

Then Moses took the blood in the bowls and threw it on the people

  • He said, “This is the blood that seals the covenant which the Lord made with you when he gave you these commands”
  • In other words, ‘This is your signature which seals the deal’
  • Now the people are officially attached by their commitment to Yahweh as He is attached and committed to them

One of the key differences between a covenant and a contract is the strength of the commitment

  • The commitment inherent in a covenant is far greater than the commitment stipulated in a contract
  • The strength of a contract is like masking tape compared to the strength of a covenant, which is like a tow bar

A contractual commitment tends to be limited

  • It is usually for a fixed period of time (like a lease agreement)
  • Or until one of the parties decides they want out (like an employment agreement)
  • But a covenantal commitment is more open ended – it doesn’t have an expiry date
  • A covenant is till death do us part (like with marriage)

This is not to say there is no room for movement with a covenant

  • Like a trailer on a tow ball there is capacity to turn corners and make minor adjustments
  • The point is, a covenant is stronger and more fit for purpose when it comes to carrying anything of weight or substance

The sacrifices made in verse 5 aren’t just a way of obtaining blood to seal the deal – they are also an acted out parable or a visual symbol of the commitment required by the people

  • The message is: Being in a covenant relationship with God will cost you
  • Moses is up front about that cost and so is Jesus
  • ‘Pick up your cross and follow me’, is what Christ said

The Israelites did two things in particular to remember their commitment to God’s covenant

  • The first was male circumcision – cutting the foreskin and shedding the blood of sons at eight days old
  • This was like adding your signature to the covenant in a personal way
  • The second sign of the covenant, for Israel, was keeping the Sabbath
  • Dedicating one day in seven to the Lord by stopping to rest

We Christians also do two things to remember God’s new covenant with us through Christ

  • We commit initially (and personally) by being baptised in water
  • And we remember the covenant on-going by sharing communion together

 

Communion:

Perhaps my favourite image of attachment is that of tree roots in the ground

  • Not only do the roots keep the tree firmly in place through all sorts of weather, they also draw up water & nutrients from the soil to feed the tree
  • There is an organic closeness between the roots and the soil

The third aspect of covenant present in today’s reading from Exodus is communion

  • After the ritual of communication and commitment, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the 70 elders of Israel went up the mountain and communed with God

Verse 10 tells us they saw God and beneath His feet was what looked like a pavement of sapphire, as blue as the sky

This verse is shrouded in mystery

  • We don’t get a description of what God looks like, God is indescribable
  • The most we get is a description of God’s footpath

God does not say anything here – He just lets the men gaze in awe and wonder

  • They saw God and then they ate and drank together
  • It is unclear whether this means the men actually ate with God or whether they simply ate with each other after seeing God
  • Either way we know they enjoyed a unique communion with the Lord, for God did not harm these leading men of Israel

Communion – this is perhaps the most important difference between a covenant and a contract

  • The primary purpose of a contract is to protect the parties from each other
  • By contrast the purpose of a covenant is not to protect but to share
  • With a contract the different parties to the agreement are trying to maintain their separateness – this is mine, this is yours
  • But with a covenant the parties are aiming for oneness – what’s mine is yours – like tree roots in the soil
  • Marriage is a covenant in which the two become one

God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai is similar to marriage in that both God and Israel are agreeing to work together (as one) for the same purpose, with each other’s well-being in mind

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve heard how a covenant is a sacred agreement for attachment

  • A covenant holds relationships together with communication, commitment and communion
  • It combines strength with movement – like a tow bar
  • And it allows closeness and sharing – like tree roots in soil

Not every agreement we enter into needs to be a covenant

  • In fact, because covenants are so demanding, we human beings can only handle 1 or 2 at a time
  • Those two being marriage and our relationship with God through Christ

Jesus came to establish a new covenant between God and humanity

  • It is a covenant in which God’s words are written on our heart so that we internalise them and obey God from the inside out
  • It is a covenant in which Jesus is sacrificed on the cross so that His blood seals the deal
  • And it is a covenant which makes communion or closeness with God and each other possible, so that we may share in God’s life

In a few minutes we will remember the new covenant made possible through Christ as we share together in the living ritual of communion

  • To help us prepare let’s stand and sing, ‘Only by grace can we enter…’
  • I ask the communion stewards to come forward at the end of the song

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+24%3A1-11&version=GNT

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