Covenant: A Long-Term Plan
The connection between God and humanity, between people and between humanity and the creation is what constitutes life. These connections are all part of the authentic created order and their disruption and disintegration are all manifestations of their opposite: i.e. sin and death. Despite the entrance of death into creation through Adam and Eve, God has not given up on his creation. In the story concerning the flood it seems God was sorely tempted to wipe the creation out and start again (Genesis 6:6-9). However, God being God, it would have been antithetical to his nature to give up and show himself unfaithful. But something had to be done to avert a potential catastrophe and the untimely demise of humanity. The flood, for all its terrible intent, was in fact a severe mercy.
When we closely examine the post-flood re-boot of creation we discover that God stayed the intent of creation with a long-term plan for the restoration and redemption of it. After the waters receded God underscored his original intent in a formal covenantal declaration to Noah. This is the first formal mention of covenant in the Bible. God declared to Noah and his family, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you – every living creature on the earth.” (Genesis. 9:9-10).
The word ‘establish’ here is important because it does not mean that God is initiating a new thing. The word is best understood to mean reiterate, underscore or ratify. In other words, God is saying, “That which has always been I am now underscoring and re-establishing with every living creature.” Indeed, all the covenants in the scriptures are enlargements of the unspoken covenant of creation.
This, I believe, is the mysterious thing we almost grasp when confronted with beauty and joy in the creation, what C.S. Lewis calls the “inconsolable secret,” that mysterious but not quite concealed truth of the love of God permeating every piece of creation. The covenant is being worked out on a grand scale in the galaxies and stars, right down to the sub-atomic particles. God is sustaining and nurturing every fragment of his creation for the long-term outcome of the covenant he has with creation.
Covenant is the backdrop of the entire biblical narrative. The Bible is divided into the testament of the Old Covenant and the testament of the New Covenant. In it we discover that God’s goal for history is a surprisingly domestic and familial one. God, so it would appear, is out to gather his family to his table, to bring his children into his home. Unless we get a hold of the covenantal foundation of the biblical story we are almost certain to miss the point.
In the story of Noah and his family we begin to see the truth of covenant being spelled out and begin to realise the enormity and grandeur of God’s plan for creation to be ultimately fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Everything has its place, and everything has meaning. Things that happened back then affect us here and now. Reading the Old Testament is not dry old history. It’s the story of us.