The attentive reader will know that I’ve been blogging over the last few weeks about the covenant that Jesus came to fulfill. Today, I want to shift the focus a little and talk about the covenant that Jesus came to replace.
Surprised? Yes, we are dealing with two separate covenants.
God gave us many covenants.
As previously discussed, God’s covenants can either be permanent, or they can be for a specific period of time.
God’s blood ratified covenants are, of course, everlasting. The sacrifice of an animal puts the seal on it. But there are also non-blood ratified agreements that are not necessarily everlasting.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 (NIV) states:
“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.
‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.'”
This new covenant was not a replacement of the salvation covenant – instead, it is a covenant designed to help us keep the salvation covenant.
A new heart
This is further confirmed in Ezekiel 36:26, where God talks about our new heart:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (NIV).
The goal of the new covenant is to help us live in a relationship with God and to be obedient: to His salvation covenant. God is trying to help us live in covenant agreement, in relationship with Him.
The question now arises: what old covenant did God give the people to help them keep the salvation covenant which they had agreed on? Why did this covenant need replacement?
In answer, let’s look at the events directly following the ratification of the blood covenant.
In Exodus 24, the salvation covenant was agreed upon, was blood ratified, and the parties shared a meal. Then, God directed Moses to go up the mountain to receive copies of the covenant written in stone.
Just a few chapters later, God tells Moses to go back down the mountain. The Israelites had already sinned and had broken the first and second commandments He gave them. They made a golden calf, worshipped to it and sacrificed to it. The penalty was death!
But Moses pleaded on the Israelites’ behalf. He was in covenant with the Lord, and he begged God to give the people another chance. God listened to Moses, but it was only a temporary stay of execution.
The Levitical priesthood
After their breach of contract, for their own good, God implemented a priesthood to help the people keep the salvation covenant through a system of enforcement.
We read about this in Exodus 32:25-28:
“Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.’ And all the Levites rallied to him.
Then he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each man straps a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day, about three thousand of the people died.”
This is the priesthood covenant that God established with the Levites.
Malachi 2: 4-7 states:
“‘And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,’ says the Lord Almighty.
‘My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness and turned many from sin.
For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.’”
This is the covenant of the Levitical priesthood and the Levitical Law. It was given by God to the people to help them keep their part of the agreed-upon salvation covenant – by control and force, if necessary.
It was never God’s plan that we should stray from Him. He wanted us to obey His voice and to keep His covenant. Then, we would be His people – a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Instead, we broke our side of the agreement. Instead of becoming a ‘kingdom of priests,’ His people were forced to become a kingdom under the Levitical priest compelled to keep the Levitical Law so that they will be able to keep the Book of the Covenant in practice.
The old covenant that needed to be replaced, therefore, was the Levitical priesthood and the Levitical Law. It was never for people to think that His salvation covenant was to be replaced. As if, we were not to fulfill our part of the salvation covenant. There is only one salvation covenant and it remains in place.
Why did God need to replace the Levitical priesthood and its Law? Why was the new covenant from Jesus ushered in to replace this old priesthood covenant?
We’ll discuss this (and more) in next week’s blog.