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Nature of covenants

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A solemn agreement or promise, sometimes confirmed by sacrifice or by sharing in a meal, by which two or more parties commit themselves to the rights and responsibilities demanded by their relationship and their agreed course of action, and accept the serious consequences of breaking faith.

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Kinds of covenant relationship

The relationship between king and people

2 Samuel 5:3 NRSV
So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.
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Terms for peace granted to a weaker party

Joshua 9:15 NRSV
And Joshua made peace with them, guaranteeing their lives by a treaty; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them.
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A mutual commitment to peaceful relations

1 Kings 5:12 NRSV
So the Lord gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him. There was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and the two of them made a treaty.
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An agreement on a common course of action

Jeremiah 34:8 NRSV
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them—
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The relationship between husband and wife


God’s covenant with Israel is likened to a marriage:


An expression of friendship

1 Samuel 18:3 NRSV
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.
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Sealing a covenant

By sharing a meal


The meal Jesus Christ shared with his disciples is an important part of the institution of the new covenant:


By offering a sacrifice

The Hebrew expression for making a covenant means, literally, “to cut a covenant”. This may refer to the solemn practice, described here, of cutting an animal in half and walking between its pieces; ; ; ; Sacrifice is an important part in sealing covenants made by God.

By making an oath

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The obligations of a covenant

Covenant responsibilities must be honoured

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Covenant obligations are watched over by God

1 Samuel 20:42 NRSV
Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, forever.’ ” He got up and left; and Jonathan went into the city.
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The consequences of breaking covenant faith

Joshua 9:20 NRSV
This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that wrath may not come upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.”
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Covenants with other nations are forbidden

Exodus 34:12 NRSV
Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you.
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Covenants with other nations lead to a commitment to foreign gods

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Covenants with other nations lead to a denial of faith in God

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