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Covenant To Serve

So Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him." And they said, "We are witnesses!" "Now therefore," he said, "put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel." And the people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!" So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, "Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God." (Joshua 24:22-27)

What is a covenant?

A covenant implies much more than a contract or simple agreement between two people or two groups. A contract always has an expiry date, while a covenant is a permanent eternal arrangement. A covenant cannot be broken. This agreement involves promises on the part of one to the other.

Another distinction is that a contract generally involves only one part of a person, such as a skill, while a covenant covers the total being and character of a person .

The word for covenant comes from a Hebrew root word beriyth, which means, "to cut." The Hebraic custom requires the two people to pass through the cut bodies of slain animals after making an agreement with each other (Jer. 34:18). Such ritual or ceremony always accompanied the making of a covenant in the Old Testament.

Sometimes a holy meal is shared by those entering into a covenant (Gen. 31:54). As a sign of their covenant with God, Abraham and his children were commanded to be circumcised (Gen. 17:10-11). At Mount Sinai, Moses sprinkled the blood of animals on the altar and upon the people who entered into covenant with God (Exo. 24:3-8).

The concept of covenant between God and His people is one of the most important theological truths of the Bible. By making a covenant with Abraham, God promised to bless His descendants and to make them His special people. Abraham, in return, was to remain faithful to God and to serve as a channel through which God's blessings could flow to the rest of the world (Gen. 12:1-3).

The Old Testament contains many examples of covenants between two persons. For example, David and Jonathan entered into a covenant because of their love for each other. This agreement bound each of them to certain responsibilities and accountabilities (1 Sam. 18:3).

But the striking difference about God's covenant with His people is that God is holy, all-knowing, and all powerful; but He consents to enter into a covenant with man, who is weak, sinful, and imperfect.

In the Old Testament, God's Chosen People confirmed their covenant with God with oaths or promises to keep the agreement. At Mount Sinai, the nation of Israel promised to perform "all the words which the Lord has said" (Ex. 24:3). When the people later broke this promise, they were called by their leaders to renew their oath (2 Kings 23:3). By contrast, God does not break promises. His oath to raise up believing children to Abraham (Gen. 22:16-17) is an "everlasting" covenant (Gen. 17:7).

What is to serve?

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave (servant) of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45)

To be a servant of God is to serve Him continually (Dan. 6:20). A servant's mission is to serve God and others, and not to be served.

No servant will be involved in foolish and ignorant arguments that do no good, but bring ruin to both the talkers and listeners. No servant will boast that he is doing the right thing while the rest are doing all the wrong ones. He will do nothing through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, he will esteem other better than himself (Philippians 2:3). He will hold on to the true teachings of the pure Word of God, and do his duties proclaiming the Good News in the face of sufferings and opposition.

Jesus taught His followers to view His mission, and theirs as well, in terms of servanthood. He Himself not only would encounter and accept sufferings in the course of His work, but also to the degree of giving His life as a ransom for others.

What is a covenant to serve?

It is an everlasting agreement to serve God and others continually. A contract that cannot be broken.

Unless we understand the meaning of these words, we will continue to make cheap promises which will fall short of the agreement as we will not be able to deliver the goods and services. There are already too many broken promises - broken marriages, broken relationships, broken partnerships etc.

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary