As You Read Week Ten: Covenant

As you read this week, remember earlier covenants we have seen throughout our Genesis readings.

  • First the Noahic covenant after the great flood; a covenrainbow-wall-sky-rainbowant with all Creation and the sign of the covenant was a rainbow.
  • Then the Abrahamic covenant; a covenant with one man and his descendants and the sign of that covenant was circumcision.
  • In the Exodus readings, we experience the Mosaic covenant or the covenant with the people of Israel; the sign of this covenant is Sabbath.

The purpose of all these God initiated relationships is to reveal the Divine to the human: “so that you may know…”

As you read Exodus 25-34

This Exodus reading includes some puzzling stories. Recall in last week’s reading, we joined Moses and the 70 elders on Sinai:

Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

Covenant making here involves the shedding of blood and the sharing of a meal. Most other stories assert that no one can see God and live so this little piece of the story intrigues us.

Covenant making and Law giving are closely related in the Exodus story. As you read this week, you will hear instructions for some of the furnishings of the tabernacle. Foremost is the ark (sometimes called by us the “ark of the covenant,”) in the text referred to as the ark of the testimony. Within the ark are the tablets of stone given by YHWH on the mountaintop. Above the ark is the mercy seat between the two cherubim – the intersection of heaven and earth, the meeting place where God comes to God’s people.

But in the story, as Moses returns with the commandments, instructions, testimony, the very first thing he encounters is the people breaking the Law. They have built a golden calf. They have proclaimed an image as the the one who had rescued them from Egypt. They sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

The back and forth conversation between YHWH and Moses shows their intimacy and demonstrates the fragility of this new people of God. But finally, the covenant is secured by the God who rescues. Obstinate, double-minded, faithless people are brought into relationship with the God who is jealous for their love, single minded in commitment and faithful to covenant love no matter the heart and acts of the people. Read Charlotte’s blog on covenant for this week to understand more about how Law and Covenant interact.

As you read the Psalms (81, 106, 114), watch how the stories of the patriarchs and these stories of Exodus are so deeply intertwined in the identity of Israel. Remember that many ancient peoples were storytellers, teaching the generations about the meaning of who they were and where they had come from by telling the stories. In the Psalms, we see how the oral history of this people are incorporated into their hymns in order to continue the legacy of teaching and communicating the meaning of their life together as a people and their life together with their God.

As you read Matthew 8-13, you will see some of the miracle stories you have already encountered in Mark. Notice how Matthew changes some of the details. You will also watch Matthew explore the meaning of “the kingdom” by offering a variety of parables with a mix of impressions about what “kingdom” could look like. I love this little summary of Jesus’ ministry and mission from Matthew 9:

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every diseasAfghanistan_12e and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Also, as you read Matthew, don’t miss the little story about Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees on the Sabbath day. Remember how Sabbath-keeping was a core “sign” of the covenant with Israel. So consider how heretical it might seem for these passionately observant Jews to hear Matthew’s Jesus claim to be “Lord of the the Sabbath.” Here is an important turn in the story as Matthew tells it: the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

As you read 1 Corinthians 10-16

When we read through 1 Corinthians, we can’t help but see the (all too) familiar struggles of these long ago brothers and sisters: division and competition, pettiness and self-centeredness. (From Genesis to Exodus to the Corinthians to you and me – will we ever get this right?!)

We can’t miss how Paul begins this section by re-telling the story of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant:

Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.”

Paul is steeped in The Story and sees countless connections between the ancients and his own people. Paul is a master at re-reading The Story in light of the new covenant God has made through the faithfulness of Jesus. Now we who are “in Christ” are incorporated into that unbreakable covenant of Love.

In chapters 11-14, Paul is dealing with a variety of issues that distracted the church’s focus on their mission and threatened their witness to the gospel. Most of this section addresses issues of worship

Consider Paul’s instructions about women’s behavior in public worship in the same context as his words for several other groups. Remember we don’t know what the original questions were; we don’t know what issues were going on that were causing some sort of conflict (i.e. women wearing veils and women speaking out in a public gathering.) The-Veiled-Virgin-is-a-Carrara-marble-statue-carved-in-Rome-by-Italian-sculptor-Giovanni-Strazza Paul’s statements about these women in this context should not be taken as eternal truth about all women in all situations; these teachings were culturally specific for these people in first century Corinth. Drawing conclusions from any of these texts about eternal truths for all people in all places demands prayerful and careful interpretive approaches.

Sometimes Paul takes an approach of law: do this, don’t do that. But in chapter 13, Paul describes an undergirding powerful reality; he describes what it looks like when people who have been covenanted by Love actually live within that covenant. When love happens, the character of the God-who-is-Love is reproduced within those who love. I find it fascinating that this famous chapter is the centerpiece for Paul’s teaching on how to get along as a worshiping community. Historically, it has been matters of worship (actually matters of personal preference about worship!) that have contributed to many of our church splits and denominational divides.

Read 1 Corinthians 13 again and consider Paul’s words on covenant love in light of how we are to treat one another within our worshiping communities.

 

Image credit: The Veiled Virgin, Giovanni Strazza

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Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a graduate of Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth.

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