“For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female” (Genesis 6:17-19).
Because God “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and it grieved Him to His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6), and He resolved to destroy every living thing, except for the righteous man Noah and his family. Even though God saw it fit to destroy every living thing, He also saw it fit to preserve mankind and all creation by making a covenant with Noah and every living creature.
What is a covenant? The dictionary supplies a definition, “an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.” Yet this definition doesn’t quite fit because Noah doesn’t really agree to anything. Perhaps the dictionary’s definition of “covenant” as a transitive verb is most helpful: “to promise by covenant; a pledge.”
A covenant is to make a pledge, or vow, or oath—a promise. God made a vow with Noah and every living thing—He made a promise—that He would preserve them despite His wrath. Thus, when God makes a covenant, He promises life. Here in Genesis, God promises Noah and all creation that He will save them from His coming wrath, and He does so when He causes the massive flood of waters on the earth to subside. Then God makes another covenant—another promise—with Noah and all creation when He sets the rainbow in the sky as a reminder of His promise to never again destroy the Earth by flood (Genesis 9:8-17).
Later on, God makes a covenant with all Israel in what we call the Covenant Code, or the Book of the Covenant, in Exodus 20:22-23:19. Here, the word “covenant” fits the first dictionary definition in which God promises to be their God and His chosen people promise to be His people and, therefore, to live accordingly as holy people. Of course, as we know from Israel’s history, they don’t keep their end of the covenant. They continually commit apostasy—that is, they keep rebelling against God (remember original sin?).
So, Israel keeps breaking their covenant with God. Is that it? Is it over? Has God abandoned us? Not at all.
Although the Lord sends many of His prophets to preach to Israel that the due punishment for their apostasy is exile, the Lord nevertheless makes a promise, which He repeats several times through His prophets. One such occasion is when Zephaniah prophesies:
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgements against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
“Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the LORD.Zephaniah 3:14-20
God fulfills this prophesied promise in Jesus. In Genesis 6, God required the blood of man for all the evil he has done, yet He graciously preserves mankind. God still requires the blood of man for all the evil we do, yet His judgement is satisfied in the blood of Christ so that our blood does not have to be shed in His coming final Judgement.
Thus, Christ our Lord instituted a new covenant in His body and blood. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins‘” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Therefore, when you partake of Jesus’ body and blood in the Holy Eucharist, you participate in the new covenant with God, which is His promise to you that your sins are forgiven—that you have been cleansed—by the blood of Christ right now and forevermore. In this covenant, you receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation (SC VI, The Sacrament of the Altar). In this new covenant, the Lord promises you life, which you receive in Christ’s true body and blood here in the present and in Christ’s Parousia to come.
Theology Terms Used
- Covenant: “an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.” OR, “to promise; a pledge.”
- The New Covenant: God’s promise that your sins are freely forgiven in the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, of which we partake in the Lord’s Supper.
- Parousia: Jesus’ second coming.