Vol. 1 - No. 7
by Byron Gage
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT COVENANT, by Mont W. Smith, College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Mo., 1981, is a comprehensive look at covenants between men and between man and God. It is a comparative study of various covenants including their likenesses and differences. Its format is as follows: Chapter One deals with "Covenant As Treaty" and describes the covenants of ancient people as compared to covenants of God. It includes the various aspects or features of covenants and striking similarities exist in the covenants of man with the covenants of God. For example, the Suzerainty‑Vassal Treaty (Hittite and Neo‑Assyrian type of Alliance Treaty) had these features: The Preamble introduced the parties to the pact. The Historical Prologue told how the parties came to be associated with one another including relative strengths and weaknesses. Stipulations referred to the obligations of the weaker party to the stronger. The Depository of the covenant document was extremely important for safe keeping and that it might be read often in public in order to insure the keeping of the stipulations. The Witnesses of the covenant were listed and often included prominent features of the earth (mountains, rivers, etc.) and honorable men. Curses and Blessings were stated in order to inform all parties as to the results of either loyalty or treason. The Sovereign obligated himself to bless (with specific blessings) the loyal parties of the second part. If they were not loyal, the Sovereign was declared just in dealing out specified punishments. And, finally, the Covenant Oath was the actual pledge made by the vassal to the lord. Interestingly, it involved the killing of an animal or animals and each party touching blood. This was indicative of their unity, but also reminded of the type of punishment for a broken covenant.
Chapter Two, "Plato or Moses," deals with the differing philosophies as to the nature of man, reality, free will, Deity, etc., and is quite interesting as it relates to our understanding of the importance of covenants of God. Without a proper concept of man and God, any covenant between the two is virtually meaningless. Until man understands the awesome power and absolute sovereignty of God, any covenant we might have with Him will not be as highly esteemed or regarded by us. Therefore, our keeping of the covenant diminishes in importance in our own eyes. This, to me, appears to be a present and persistent problem.
Chapter Three discusses the Major Covenants of the Old Testament comparing their constituent elements. Chapters Four through Nine are: Prophet and Covenant, The Apostolic Theology of Two Covenants, The New Covenant, New Testament Hesed, and Types of Covenant Theology.
Chapter Ten is simply the Conclusion of all that went before and summarizes the rest of the book. We will let the author's own statements describe the book. He states: "This study was undertaken because of the confusion over the concept of covenant in the average church. The Bible was called the Old and New Testaments or Covenants. It would be unfortunate if the words did not convey to the readers what they meant to the writer." Further, he says, "The assumption of the study was that one must take seriously the notion of covenant or risk creating a religion of one's own, calling it Christianity." Later on, with regard to the New Covenant, we read, "The covenant‑keeping required of the Christian was summarized. Details of the church, of the personal life, of holiness, of duty were only summarized, not detailed in this book. The summation took two forms, corresponding to the classes of mankind: those in Christ, and those outside Christ. The duty of the church to those outside Christ was summed as participating in the 'ministry of reconciliation.' The duty of the believer toward the church, his own soul, and all human social order was Christlikeness."
The basic message of the book, if I have properly assessed it, is that it is time to get serious about the covenant of God. If we can learn anything at all about the dealings of God with man down through the ages it is that He will not tolerate the discounting of His law. He expects the lesser parties of the covenant to be faithful to the stipulations of it. He has given us every means and provision for being able to do so, and expects, yea, demands our very best effort. Every aspect of the New Covenant is to our advantage and for our blessing. God has provided (and only God could) a means of reconciliation, a peace‑treaty as it were, the basis of which is the satisfaction of justice and the showing of mercy by the blood of Jesus.
I can readily recommend this book as a study aid.