Covenant Challenges and Commitment
The concept of covenant has deep roots in the ancient Near East. Such covenants involved a solemn agreement between two or more parties, and were made binding by some sort of oath or commitment. What was mutually agreed upon usually involved the future conduct of one or both of the parties concerned. The imagery of covenant is presupposed or alluded to in the Bible much more frequently than a simple study of vocabulary might suggest. Covenant relationships could include commitments between private persons, or alliances between kings and/or political states as well as covenants between God and human beings.
When we speak of ‘Testament’ when referring to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, we may not be aware that this term ‘testament’ goes back into the ancient Near Eastern world in which our Bible came to be. In the time of Moses (about 1200 BC), and onward, the formation of a ‘chosen people’ rescued from slavery in Egypt came to be expressed in covenant terms: ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people.’ The ethical character of the covenant-makers is crucial, and thus almost all covenants have a spiritual dimension insofar as they depend upon a genuine commitment to values such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, trust, selflessness, and love.
The faith of Abraham and his successors was to be tested and refined through the centuries. This was so in the person of Moses and his experience of God’s revelation of the divine name at Mount Sinai (‘I am who I am’). This was also the case for the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah in particular, when they gave new hope to an exiled people that God would restore them to their homeland, and would thus enter into a new covenant with them. In the case of the prophet Hosea the deeply emotional invitation to return to the Lord is based on the imagery of faithfulness to one’s marriage commitments, and was further refined through brave women such as Ruth and Esther.
Messages to: Carmel McCarthy rsm