THE MEANING OF A COVENANT
What is the meaning of a covenant? A covenant speaks of faithfulness and law. In the matter of a covenant, no preference and grace can be considered. A covenant must be carried out strictly according to faithfulness, justice, and law. If we make a covenant with someone, clearly recording in writing how we will perform and do not fulfill this covenant, this means we retract our words; we become unfaithful, unrighteous, and dishonest. Our moral level is immediately lowered. Moreover, the breaking of a covenant is usually punishable by law.
We see from this that God, by making a covenant with man, has put Himself into a restricted position. Originally, God could treat man as He liked. He could deal with him in grace, or He could treat him otherwise. He could save, or He could not save. If God had not made a covenant with man, He could do whatever He liked; He was at liberty. If He preferred to do something, He could do it; if He did not like to do anything, He need not do it. But once God made a covenant with man, He must be bound by the covenant. He must perform that which was clearly written.
We know that as far as the covenant is concerned, what is involved is only faithfulness, not grace. But as far as God’s willingness to be bound in making a covenant with man is concerned, the covenant is the highest expression of God’s grace. God condescended and seems to stand in the same position as man. He put Himself into the covenant. After He made the covenant, He had to be limited by the covenant. Whether He likes it or not, He still must do it. He cannot act contrary to the covenant which He has made. Oh, how great a thing it is for God to make a covenant with man! How noble it is!
THE APPLICATION OF THE COVENANT
If, having made a covenant with man, God does not fulfill it, He becomes unfaithful and unrighteous. We know that the reason God makes a covenant with man is that man may become bold enough to inquire of Him and demand Him to fulfill what He has promised in the covenant according to righteousness. God is bound by the covenant. He must act according to righteousness. So those who know what a covenant is also know how to pray; they can even pray with boldness. The following are some examples:
(1) In Psalm 143:1 we read: “Hear my prayer, O Jehovah; give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness.” Here David did not ask God to answer him according to His mercy or His lovingkindness and grace, but according to His faithfulness and righteousness. He was not begging in a poor way; he was boldly asking God to answer him. He knew what a covenant was, and by holding on to the covenant, he knew how to ask God to answer him.
(2) When Solomon finished building the temple he said, “Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel, who spake with his mouth unto David my father, and hath with his hands fulfilled it…” (2 Chron. 6:4; cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-13). Then he knelt down before the congregation of Israel, raised his hands towards the heavens and said, “O Jehovah, the God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven, or on earth; who keepest covenant and lovingkindness with thy servants, that walk before thee with all their heart….Now therefore, O Jehovah, the God of Israel, keep with thy servant David my father that which thou hast promised him, saying….Now therefore, O Jehovah, the God of Israel, let thy word be verified, which thou spakest unto thy servant David” (2 Chron. 6:14, 16-17). Solomon knew the covenant which God had made with David his father. Some parts had been fulfilled, but other parts needed yet to be fulfilled. Therefore, he asked God by His covenant to fulfill what He had promised. Thus, he prayed and inquired of God by clinging to the pledge which God had given, namely, the covenant.
(3) We have seen that Psalm 89 was written after the Israelites were captured and brought into Babylon. At that time, outwardly speaking, it seemed that everything was finished. It seemed that God’s promise had become void, and that God had forsaken the covenant which He had made with David. Therefore, it seems, the psalmist was reminding God: “Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy faithfulness?” (v. 49). This was praying by the covenant; this was praying by cleaving to the pledge which God had given in His covenant.
HOW CAN WE KNOW GOD’S COVENANT?
How can we truly know and understand God’s covenant? Psalm 25:14 tells us: “The secret (lit.) of Jehovah is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.” We know that unless God reveals His covenant to us, there is no way to know what the covenant is. You may hear others speak of God’s covenant; you may also know a little about the matter of a covenant; but unless God reveals it, you will still have no power; you still cannot hold fast God’s word. Therefore, God must show it to us in our spirit.
What kind of person can have God’s revelation? Only those who fear God. The Lord gives His secret only to those who fear Him, and His covenant to those who fear Him. What does it mean to fear Him? To fear means to magnify, to exalt Him. A person who fears God is one who seeks God’s will with a full heart, with the intention of completely submitting to God’s way. It is to this kind of person that God will reveal His secret and reveal His covenant. Those who are lazy, careless, double-minded, proud, and complacent can never expect God to reveal His secret to them. Neither can they expect God to reveal His covenant to them. The Lord only gives His secret and reveals His covenant to those who fear Him. This is the testimony of those who fear God. Therefore, if we truly want to know God’s covenant, we need to learn to fear God. (The New Covenant, pp. 29-38)