One of the most important doctrines Jesus Christ has put in His Church is that of the "Old" and "New Covenants." WHY should these be misunderstood? For that matter, WHY should the Sabbath truth, the annual Holy Days and festivals, tithing, healing or even salvation? Yet they are misunderstood. God has made a number of covenants, among them the Noachian covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, what we call the old covenant with the nation Israel, the separate covenant, etc. In fact it might be of passing interest to know that my first "sermon," if it could have been called that, was a message to Church of God people near Jefferson, Ore., on a covenant that appeared to be news to them — the separate Sabbath covenant of Exodus 31:12-18. Whether worthy to be called a sermon or not, it was enthusiastically received with joy — for those people loved the Sabbath and rejoiced in receiving new light concerning it. However, I am concerned here only about the "Old Covenant and the New Covenant."
Let me first define covenant. Webster defines the word as "a usually formal, solemn and binding agreement: compact." In the biblical usage a covenant is a contract or agreement, solemnly binding, under which God promises certain rewards or blessings, conditioned on man's promise of performance. A grave mistake very often carelessly made is to confuse the word covenant with testament. We speak of the New Testament and the Old Testament Scriptures. A testament is not a covenant, and a covenant is not a testament. Yet common usage seems to confuse them. It is important, at the outset, to understand the difference. The word testament is defined as an act or written instrument by which a person bequeaths or wills certain of his possessions to another. It may or may not be a conditioned will. It is not necessarily payment or reward for work or obligation performed. The old covenant between God and the nation Israel was NOT a testament or will. It was an agreement by which the children of Israel covenanted with God to obey Him, and God promised material and national blessings and dominance. But He did NOT give- or promise to give — the Holy Spirit and eternal salvation. Before proceeding further, let's get everything in its proper setting.
Adam had to choose
The first man, Adam, was required to make a choice. The super archangel Lucifer, having become Satan the devil, an immortal spirit being of tremendous supernatural power, was there when Adam and Eve were created. In order to QUALIFY to receive God's Holy Spirit — symbolized by the tree of life — and also to restore the government of God to earth, Adam had to make the choice of whether to reject Satan and Satan's attitude and way and choose to obey God and the government of God. But Adam chose to reject God and believe Satan. He made the fateful decision — for himself and his posterity, which is the whole world. God drove out the man from the Garden of Eden and shut mankind off from access to the Holy Spirit — except such as God should specially call. We need the above background to understand. Too often people start viewing biblical teaching in a manner comparable to tuning in a movie two-thirds of the way through. We need this background of what went before. But God had called Noah and saved humanity alive through his family. God had called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel), fathers of the PROMISES. One of the promises to Abraham was multiple "seed" — nations, the promised land — material national greatness. Four hundred thirty years after Abraham God called the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to be a special people of God and to inherit the promised land. Other nations were still CUT OFF from God. God had specially prepared and called Moses. Through Moses God made the proposition to the Israelites. He gave them their choice.
God's proposal to Israel
God proposed to the Israelites: "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians... Now, therefore, IF ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people..." (Exodus 19:4-5). There was a very large IF in this covenant agreement. But the people glibly agreed. "All that the Eternal hath spoken we will do..." they promised. So the covenant was ratified by blood (Exodus 24:4-8). It was also a marriage covenant by which Israel promised to obey her Husband. It made them a separate NATION. Its basic law was the spiritual Law — the Ten Commandments. He gave them His civil law of statutes and judgments to govern them as a nation. He also gave them (as a CHURCH or Congregation) the law of Moses — a sacrificial law as a substitute for the sacrifice of Christ to remind them of sin and a ceremonial law of physical works (Greek, ergon in New Testament), rituals, and things to do morning, noon and night — a temporary substitute for the Holy Spirit. But something was wrong with that covenant. Religionists generally seem to blame the wrong on God. What was wrong was the flagrant disobedience of the people.
New covenant prophesied
The prophet Jeremiah summed it up: "Behold the days come, saith the Eternal, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers... which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Eternal: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the House of Israel; after those days, saith the Eternal, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:31-33). This prophecy was inspired by one of God's holy prophets to become part of the FOUNDATION of the Church of God under the New Testament. And so, in teaching the Church, this was quoted in Hebrews 8:6-10. Most Protestant churches teach that the fault with the old covenant was God's law, and that as the old covenant was made with Israel the new will be made with GENTILES — and as the old had law, the new abolishes God's Ten Commandments and is based wholly on PROMISES. Our ministers need to know how to meet that erroneous teaching. The new covenant is made also with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Hebrews 8:8). A Spirit-begotten gentile becomes one of Israel spiritually, of the household of GOD (Ephesians 2:19). It will remedy the fault of the old covenant (disobedience of the people) and will be made with those in whose hearts is the spiritual law of God, as these scriptures say.
Old covenant a marriage contract
The old covenant was made with the carnal children of Israel and was a marriage contract in which Israel engaged in whoredom exceeding individual human harlots. The old covenant was made with a people on their PROMISE to obey. They disobeyed. The new shall be made only with a Spirit-born Church, a people who, in this mortal lifetime, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, have OVERCOME Satan (as Jesus did, and as the first Adam failed to do), have been begotten of the Holy Spirit, have already PROVED their obedience. The old covenant was made with sinning mortals. The new will be made with righteous immortals! Now, where are we, today? Both Israel and Judah violated their solemn agreement with God (actually who became Christ). As a wife, they spiritually ran off. Finally God gave Israel a bill of divorce. Yet, even after that He entreated Israel to return to Him — but she wouldn't. To make that Old Testament marriage finally end, Christ, her Husband, died, so that she might be cleansed of her sins and become party to the New Testament. In Romans 11 we read of how converted gentiles are like branches of a wild olive tree, broken off and grafted into the natural olive tree of Israel. But it shows how the natural branches broken off because of sin may also be grafted back into the Israel tree.
What are we under TODAY?
Then WHAT ARE WE UNDER TODAY? The old covenant is ENDED. The apostle Paul said, "... God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (II Corinthians 3:6). Yet the new covenant HAS NOT YET BEEN MADE! Its terms and conditions have been revealed to us through Christ. We ministers preach it. And even though as a final MARRIAGE COVENANT it has not been made — that is, in contract language, signed, sealed and delivered, those whom God has called are privileged to have God's law written in our hearts, to have the life-begetting sin-overcoming Holy Spirit to open our minds to spiritual UNDERSTANDING, to guide us in God's ways, and, within us, to EMPOWER us to overcome Satan and DO THE WORK OF GOD!
Some have misunderstood
But some have seriously MISUNDERSTOOD — hopefully not any of our ministers. Seeing that the old covenant has ended and supposing the old covenant and the old testament are one and the same thing, they reject, for example, Malachi 3:8-12, which makes failure to PAY the tithe each OWES to God the SIN of STEALING — and the HEINOUS SIN of stealing from GOD at that! In the days of Jesus' ministry, the writings we now call "the Old Testament," were not called that. In fact the old covenant was NOT A TESTAMENT AT ALL! Those writings then were called "the law, the prophets and the writings," or "the Psalms." When Jesus said, "Think not that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets," He was saying that He did not come to end the Old Testament (as we now call them) Scriptures. God's CHURCH is built on the very FOUNDATION of the apostles AND THE PROPHETS, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone! Much of the Church's doctrine and teaching comes from the prophets, as their writings are recorded in what today we call Old Testament Scriptures. The Old Testament Scriptures record for us, today, all the history of ancient Israel, the old covenant and God's dealings under that covenant. The Worldwide Church of God is based on THE WHOLE BIBLE. Those CALLED of God are privileged to live according to the conditions of the NEW covenant, though the actual covenant has not been, as we might say today, yet "signed, sealed and delivered." Those NOT called specially by God are, as were all outside Israel in Old Testament times, cut off from God — not being now judged — neither lost nor saved. Their time is yet to come!