Christian Marriage Sermon Notes

#5 The Marriage Covenant

 

Genesis 2:21-25 & Ezekiel 16:1-42

 

Pastor Jeffrey J. Meyers

 

 

Marriage is God’s wonderful gift to humanity.  First, it is a gift that enables humanity, male and female, to rule over the earth (Gen. 1:26) and fulfil God’s purposes for creation (see sermon #1).  Second, when men and women experience of the most intimate of all interpersonal relations they are thereby gifted with something of the blessedness that our eternal three-in-one God experiences.  God also gifts us with marriage as one of the primary images or symbols of his own relationship with humanity. We have seen that marriage is much more than a utilitarian institution for human beings, rather it manifests the very mystery of the story of God and man, the story of the Son of God’s love for and union with his people.  The true mystery of marriage is made manifest in the Son’s love for his bride, the church (sermon #2).  Furthermore, we have been gifted with marriage in order that we not be alone in this world.  At least until the consummation of God’s relationship with man at the last day, we need such an intimate human bond (sermon #3).  This is why, fifthly, the woman is given to man as a helper (Gen. 2;18)—so that they can be companions, working together to glorify God in the world (sermon #4). 

Now this morning, it is important to reckon with the fundamental structure or form of the marriage relationship.  The marital union between a man and a woman is a covenant.

Read Genesis 2:21-24 and Ezekiel 16:1-42 & Prayer for Illumination.

 

Maximal Mystification

A good many Christians, even life-long Presbyterians, are often mystified by the concept of the covenant.  What is a covenant?  You know, don’t you, that in days past, in early American social life, one could not live too many days without hearing the word “covenant” uttered by all sorts of people applying it to many different kinds of situations.  Some legal documents could be described as covenants.  A civil magistrate covenanted with God and the people to serve them as ruler.  Covenants were written up and signed by nations outlining international agreements.  Employers entered into covenants with their employees.   And men and women would stand before pastors and judges on their wedding day and repeat these words:

 

I, Jeff, take you, Chris; To be my wedded wife; And I do promise and covenant; Before God and these witnesses; To be your loving and faithful husband; In plenty and in want; In joy and in sorrow; In sickness and in health; As long as we both shall live.

 

Part of the reason why so many are mystified by the concept of covenanting is that it is almost impossible to reduce it to a slogan or nice neat definition.  It is a very rich, pregnant idea or relation.  It is not an agreement, not merely.  It is not simply a promise.  It isn’t soley about law and legal status.  It’s more than friendship.  A covenant is not just an association or even a contract.  We may not talk about the marriage deal.  Or the marriage partnership.  Or the marriage compromise.  There is no simple definition I can give you of a covenant. 

To make matters worse, there is no replacement word that can easily stand in for the word “covenant.”  One cannot substitute the word “promise” or “agreement” or “bond” for covenant, even though some have tried to do so.  These words express something of the meaning of a covenant but fail to embrace its fullness.  Moreover, the word “relationship” is  much too thin and flimsy to support the manifold dimensions of the marriage covenant.  In our culture the word “relationship” conjures up images of TV citcoms like Friends and Seinfeld.  A “relationship” is an informal, non-binding association or friendship.  A relationship might last for awhile, but maybe not.  People enter into relationships for personal fulfillment and happiness, they leave them when these conditions  are not being met.  Marriage is not best defined or described as a relationship.

 

Covenant is the Word

Marriage is a covenant.  That is the richest, most comprehensive term that the Bible uses to describe Marriage.  The marriage covenant.  Maybe the best I can do is this: The marriage covenant is a formal, binding companionship between a man and a woman instituted, defined, and regulated by God.  But even that is too weak.  It’s not enough.  As we shall see, it leaves out the dynamic process by which covenants are made, a process that reveals something of the very nature of a covenant. 

There is no simple definition of a covenant in the Bible.  Think about this.  Perhaps God didn’t provide us with a nice little definition of a covenant so that we would be driven to examine the rich contours  of the covenantal relations he enters into with us and describes for us in his Word.  In other words, by not giving us a cute little ten-word definition, God forces us to come to grips with the ineradicable richness of the his covenantal relations with us.  We are driven to contemplate the awe-inspiring contours of his covenantal initiatives as revealed in the Bible.  These concrete, historical events, therefore, become the paradigms (or models) of what the marriage covenant is and ought to be.

But before we go any farther, there should be no question in anybody’s mind that the Bible does indeed call marriage a “covenant.”  There are three passages in the Scriptures which explicitly describe the marital union as a covenant.  I want you to see these for yourselves. The first is Proverbs 2:17, where the father is instructing his son that following his wise words will be a safeguard against the seductions of the adulterous married woman.

 

For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways. It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God (Prov 2:10-17).

 

The second passage comes from our Old Testament reading this morning: Ezekiel 16:6-14.  Yahweh describes his relations with the people of Israel.  Even though He as her Husband has shown abundant love and grace to Israel, she has inexplicably become an adulteress, breaking the covenant with her promiscuous idolatry.  For our purposes this morning, notice how the marriage is described as a solemn oath and covenant in v. 17.  Yahweh is speaking to Israel:

 

You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare.  Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares Yahweh of Hosts, and you became mine.  I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, ear-rings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares Yahweh of Hosts (Ezekiel 16:6-14).

 

The third passage that expressly speaks of the marriage covenant may be found in the prophecy of Malachi, chapter 2, verses 13-16.

 

Another thing you do: You flood the Yahweh’s altar with tears.  You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.  You ask, “Why?”  It is because the Yahweh is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.  Has not the Yahweh made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his.  And why one?  Because he was seeking godly offspring.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.  “I hate divorce,” says Yahweh God of Israel, “and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the Yahweh Almighty.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith (Malachi 2:13-16).

 

Now, these passages tell us that marriage is a covenant.  They inform us of the fact that it is a covenant, but they do not tell us what a covenant is or how it functions.  Even if there are a few hints and clues even in these passages, they don’t provide us with the details or the makeup of a covenantal relationship.  They don’t tell us why marriage is a covenant or what is the exact form of this marital covenant.

What these passages do is force us back to the institution of marriage in the Garden with questions about how marriage is a covenant.  And the text of Genesis 2 does not disappoint us, especially when we have some knowledge of God’s covenants from the rest of the Scripture.  So before going back to Genesis 2:18-24, we should examine the general contours and dimensions of the covenants in the Bible.  Once we have this background we can see the covenant form embedded in the narrative of Adam and Eve’s wedding day, indeed, in the life of every married couple.

 

The Covenant of Creation

We should begin with the very first covenant, the covenant of creation, especially God’s covenantal relation with Adam in Genesis 2:4-17. Remember, we have already seen how God’s relationship with Adam is covenantal from the start.  Here in Genesis 2:4b-17 we have most of the basic outline of the covenantal relation between God and man. For pedagogical purposes I will analyze God’s covenant under five headings.

First, in initiating this covenant, Yahweh (note the personal, covenantal name of God) takes hold of the ground and separates out of it material to form a new being.  There is a separation.  This is extremely important. Every covenant in the Bible will involve a separation of some portion of the old “material” such that it can be formed into something new.  Here in Genesis 2, after taking hold of the dust of the ground, God then makes a new being when the breath of life is united with the dust of the ground.  There is a union.  A separation and a union produce something new.  What was once merely dirt is now transfigured into a new creation—Adam.  Every covenant involves some kind of separation, a transfiguration of the old, and a union resulting in a new creation.  God himself, the covenant Lord, Yahweh, takes the initiative and graciously inaugurates this process.

Second, the new creation is given a new name.  It’s not entirely clear just where in the narrative of Genesis 2 that this first man gets the name “Adam.”  It’s probably right up front in Genesis 2:7: “Yahweh God formed Adam from the dust of the ground.”  Adam is, however, also defined as “a living being” (literally, a “living soul”; Heb: nephesh hayim).  This is the new creation.  Implicit in this covenantal arrangement thus far is a proper hierarchy: Yahweh is God and lord, man is creature and under Yahweh and answerable to him.  Yahweh is the one who took hold of the dust, united it with the breath of life, brought about this new being, and gave it a name.  He is Lord.  And Adam is in a living relationship with Yahweh, his Creator and covenant Lord.  Covenants always involve new lines of authority fitting for the new covenantal arrangement.

Then, thirdly, God speaks to Adam.  Instructions are given.  Words are essential for personal, covenantal relations.  God’s speech to Adam informs him of God’s gracious arrangement with him.  God’s speech to Adam also constitutes their personal relations.  Yahweh talks to him about what he is to do (“serve and guard the Garden”).  Furthermore, Adam is told that he is free to eat of any tree in the Garden (which includes, by the way, the Tree of Life, v. 9).  Words inaugurate and sustain all covenantal relations.

Fourth, covenantal arrangements involve tangible signs and seals (often accompanied by public oaths of loyalty) with promises for faithfulness and threatened curses for disobedience.  Here in Genesis 2:16 Yahweh commands Adam not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Two trees are singled out of the rest to serve as “sacramental” signs and seals of the covenant.  This should not surprise us since food functions this way in virtually every covenant in the Bible.  But the important point here is that essential to every biblical covenant are these public, very physical memorials of the covenant.  There is a sign of the covenant, something physical and tangible to remind God and Adam of the covenant: the two trees in the Garden.  Faithfully maintaining the covenant demands that Adam and Eve maintain a faithful relation to these two trees.

A fifth aspect of the covenant of creation is God’s arrangement for its succession.  In other words, God ordains for the perpetuation of the covenantal relation.  Here in Genesis 2 this aspect of the Adamic covenant is actually God’s gift of a woman to help man and insure the continuation of the human race through childbearing.  So, Genesis 2:18-24 embodies this fifth element of God’s covenantal arrangement.  The marriage covenant is directly related to this fifth dimension of the creation covenant.

And voila!  We have a covenant.  The first covenant.  What was once plain old dust is separated from the ground, brought into a new state of existence and given a new name.  There is an new order and a fitting line of authority: Creator over creature.  God inaugurates and maintains this new relationship with Adam by speaking to him, and Adam is encouraged to find blessing and life in obedience to his gracious covenant lord.  Finally, he graciously provides for the succession of the covenant by making a wife for Adam.  There you have it.  God and Adam are in covenant with one another.  We call this “the creation covenant” or “the covenant of life.”[1]

* * * * *

[I need to make a few qualifying comments here.  I do not mean to suggest that this five-fold way of enumerating the dimensions of covenantal arrangements is the only way to slice the pie of this rich relationship that the Bible calls a covenant.  There have been other Reformed theologians who have analyzed this covenantal sequence using a three-fold, a four-fold, a six-fold, a seven-fold, even an eight-fold model.  Models like these are helpful in that they quantify for us something of the amazing richness of God’s covenantal dealings with man.  They also like maps help us appreciate a rich landscape by giving us some identifiable features from which to orient ourselves.  Those who use different numerical models will almost always include everything that I have discussed, even if they sometimes lump some of them together or separate others out and made a separate “point” out of them.  There are always fuzzy boundries between these “points.”  This five-fold way of breaking it down has been given a convenient acronym by a friend of mine, Ralph Smith (a missionary in Japan).  He uses the Greek word for God (theos) to help us remember these five aspects:

 

T (transcendence)

H (hierarchy)

E (ethics)

O (oaths),

S (succession).

 

This is as good a way to remember this as any I know.  Transcendence: God sovereignly and graciously initiates the covenant by taking hold of the old order, separating out something (usually person or a people), and inaugurating a “new creation.”  Hierarchy: the new order is given a new name and new lines of authority.  Ethics: God speaks to the new person or people, instructing them in the way of life appropriate for covenant.  Oaths: covenant signs and seals are given which are tangible memorials, even “witnesses” of the covenant.  Usually blessings and curses are also enumerated at this point to encourage faithfulness to God’s gracious new arrangement.  Succession: everything needed to perpetuate the covenant is provided by God.]

 * * * * *

Now, let’s review what we have discovered here in this original creation covenant. The creation covenant contains in seed form everything that will go into the other covenants in the Scriptures.[2]  Here the covenant involves

 

1) a separation from one state to another, from the old to the new: a new creation.

2) a new union (dirt and life-giving breath of Yahweh) with a corresponding new name together with a new hierarchical relationship. There is a covenant head (Yahweh) and there are those who are dependant on that covenant head (human creatures).

3) a new verbal communication of stipulations comes the covenant Lord, a way of life fit for the new covenantal situation, a gracious enumeration of how to live fully and joyfully in this new covenant..

4), the gift of signs and seals of the covenant (two trees) together with a setting forth of blessings for grateful faithfulness and curses for ungrateful disobedience.

and 5) Yahweh’s arrangements for the future succession of the covenant, which in this covenant involves marriage and children.

 

Canvassing the Whole Bible

It is appropriate now to examine in summary form the other biblical covenants and see how they also fit this basic pattern.  We will see that these same dimensions (and, of course, more) are present in every covenantal initiative that God makes with his people, from Noah to Christ. I will not examine these covenants in great detail, but will attempt to establish the presence of this basic pattern.  My goal is to show, at the end, how the marriage covenant fits with this pattern and then, in the light of these dimensions of the covenant, to examine how healthy, biblical marriages need to be maintained and enjoyed by Christian men and women.

Two more preparatory points: After the fall of man every covenant God makes with man is a gracious covenant.  Even more so than the first creation covenant.  This is so because every covenant God establishes after the fall involves God’s merciful intervention in spite of man’s deserving condemnation and rejection.  Second, this means that the initial establishment of the covenant, God’s transcendent separation of the new from the old will always involved a death and resurrection.  The separations are now very traumatic.  Sin must be dealt with, which means that someone must die.  Each time God separates out for himself a people he must both atone for their sin, which is why every post-fall covenant is founded upon sacrifice, and he must tear them from their old life.  I cannot call attention to this in each and every covenant, but the reader should not fail to notice these new aspects of every post-fall covenant.

First, consider the Noahic covenant in Genesis chapters 6-9. 

 

1) God graciously takes hold of Noah and his family and separates them out from the old, dead world that is under judgment.  There is a death and resurrection.  The old word dies under the judgment of God while Noah and his family pass through the waters and enter a new creation.

2) Noah then emerges as a new Adam, with a slightly different hierarchical arrangement in this new society than before.  All commentators will note the emphasis now on human government in dealing with mankind’s proclivity for murderous violence.

3) God speaks to Noah and gives him a new word fit for his new situation.  Under the Noahic covenant, there is a slightly altered, new way of life.

4) There are new signs and seals of this new covenant: first, a sacrificial system that involves the use of every clean animal (Gen.8:20); and second, a rainbow to remind God of his covenant (Gen. 9:8-17).

5) God sets up an arrangement for the succession of this covenant when he makes a promise that he will never again flood the earth (Gen. 8:21-22) and establishes a priestly nation (the Shemites) to minister to the 70 nations of the world (Gen. 10).

 

Next, we have the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12, 15, 17, 22).

 

1) Abram is graciously separated from his old country and his old family (Gen. 12). There is a death to the old world and a “new creation.”

2) He is united with a new land (Canaan) and given a new name (Abraham). The people of God are now called “Hebrews” (from Abraham’s ancestor Eber, Gen. 11:16).  God himself reveals himself by a new name: El Shaddai or “God Almighty.”  As a result there are new lines of authority (revealed when Abraham must conquer the existing “lords” of the land in Gen. 14).

3) God speaks to Abraham, granting him new, more detailed promises (a seed that will bless all the nations and the possession of the land, for example).  One of the most important new ways in which Abraham is to be faithful has to do with his waiting patiently for God’s promise of a child.

4) There is a new sign and seal of the covenant: circumcision (Gen. 17).  Blessings and curses are associated with this covenantal sacrament.

5)  And, of course, the perpetuation of the covenant will be insured by God’s providing Abraham with a son.  To this end Abraham has been chosen by God “so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of Yahweh by doing what is right and just so that Yahweh will bring about for Abraham what he has promised” (Gen. 18:19).

 

After the Abrahamic covenant comes the Mosaic covenant (Exodus).

 

1) The people of God are graciously torn from Egypt, separated from the death of slavery to Pharaoh, and cross the Red Sea as a new creation.

2) They are bound together into a new entity—a nation with a new name: Israelites.  God reveals himself with a new name: Yahweh (Exod. 3:15).  And just so, there is now a new authority structure for the new nation: Moses, Aaron, priests, levites, and elders.

3) God speaks to the people, graciously providing them a new word from him fit for their new estate—the Ten Commandments and what is called “the law of the covenant” (Exodus 21-23). 

4) Not only does God utter the Ten Words from Mt. Sinai, but he also provides them with new signs and seals of his covenant: the tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrificial system. Not surprisingly, associated with these sacramental tokens of his presence are all sorts of blessings when they are faithfully performed and curses when they are faithlessly violated.

5) Finally, the entire book of Deuteronomy renews the covenant with the second generation of Israelites in the wilderness just before they cross the Jordan into the promised land.  The whole book is concerned with the maintenance of the Mosaic covenant under the leadership of Joshua (see especially Deut. 32-34).

 

I could make similar observations about the form of the Davidic Covenant and what has been called the Restoration Covenant (after the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon) but I resist the temptation.  I think you can see the pattern.  Finally, we move to the New Testament and consider the New Covenant in Christ.

 

1) In Christ we have the fulfillment of all the typological death and resurrection events in the Old Testament.  Jesus and his people united to him die to the old Adamic world and rise again as a new creation.  God’s people are mercifully separated out from the old world in union with Christ.  This is also a marriage: the Husband leaves his family to secure for himself a bride, and the church is separated out from the old world to be united to her new covenant Lord.

2) The people of God are now united to Christ and become a new creation in him. We become the church, the body of Christ, a new reality.  Furthermore, we are baptized into the newly revealed name of God: Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The people of God now are given new names: Christians.   All of this means that there is a new hierarchy, new lines of authority: Jesus is Lord and as Head over his church has instituted a government which represents him on earth: pastors, elders, and deacons (Eph. 4).

3) God speaks anew to his people, now through his Son (Heb. 1:1ff.).  There’s a “new”  way of life for those in covenant with God through Christ—the way of love and sacrificial living.  This is all laid out for us in the new covenantal documents which we call the “New Testament [Covenant].”

4) The public face of the covenant has changed too.  Gone are circumcision and the animal sacrifices.  New, non-bloody signs and seals of the covenant are instituted—the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.  These are now the memorials of God’s new covenant.

5) Finally, provision is made for the succession of the covenant with the ordination of ministers, elders, and deacons and Christ’s charge to them to make disciples by baptizing and teaching the nations.[3] [4]

 

The Covenant of Marriage Outlined

You should now have in your mind a basic outline of God’s way of covenanting with his people.  Of course, there’s a great deal that I have not covered about God’s covenants.  One thing that comes to mind is how each covenant develops and transforms previous covenants.  God takes his people from glory to glory, the new covenant being the most glorious of all.  But we need to get back to marriage.  What we have to do now is go back to Genesis 2 (and even Genesis 1) to see how God ordains the marital union as a covenant.  We should already expect to see the covenantal sequence in the inauguration of the marriage covenant.  After all, the various administrations of the covenant of grace, from Moses to Christ, have explicitly described God’s relationship with his people as that of a Husband with his bride (see especially the entire book of Hosea, Ezekiel 16 & Eph. 5:22ff.).  After all of this, we return to Genesis 2:22-24.  The original ordeal of Genesis 2:21-24 clearly manifests a covenantal form and order.

 

1) Yahweh God causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep.  A sleep like unto death.  Adam dies to his old existence, his aloneness.  While he is sleeping Yahweh separates out of part of Adam’s side (his flesh and bones).  Thus there is a separation, a movement from the old to the new.  Then, that which has been separated is built up, transfigured into something new and glorious, and brought to Adam by Yahweh to be united with him.

2) Adam then speaks to his new bride.  He gives her a new name (woman; Heb. 'ishah).  In fact, he himself now becomes something of a new man in some profound sense because of this new relationship with her.  They are “one flesh.”  There is a new authority structure.  The man has the role of being the “head” or “leader” of the new family.

3) God then tells us (Gen. 2:24) what all this means.  There is a new mandate, a new torah (way of life) established by God.  Men will leave their old life and be united to form a new family unit.  They will cleave to a wife and become one flesh with her.  Here we have the ethical requirements of marriage in a nutshell.

4) The “sacrament,” if you will, or physical memorial of this marriage covenant is the sexual union between a man and his wife (“they were both naked and not ashamed,” v. 25).  This becomes the physical sign and seal of the marital covenant.

5) Finally, God has made provision for the perpetuation of the covenant.   This is implicit in the narrator’s comments in v. 24.  There will be other men and women who will come together in marriage.  Where will they come from?  Genesis 1:26-28 tells us.  The man and the woman will have children. In this way the covenant of marriage perpetuates not only the marital covenant but also the covenant between God and mankind, insuring that other humans will also come into existence and experience Yahweh’s covenantal grace.

 

As we bring this sermon to a close, think briefly with me about how every marriage relationship is covenantal.  When the man and woman walk down the isle, they are not in a covenantal relationship.  They are friends, lovers, etc.  As yet their relations are informal and non-binding.  Once they go through the marriage ceremony (which is itself structured according to the basic contours of the covenant!) they are in covenant with one another.  What does that mean?

 

1) Every man and woman who come together for marriage must first be separated from their old life.  They are to unite together as a sort of new creation.  At the marriage ceremony, for example, the father of the bride ‘gives her away” and she must agree to leave that old family and be joined to her new husband.  The man must make the same separation.  They both must “forsake all others” and come together as a new family.

2) They come together as equals in a new union: with a new name.  That new name is the husband’s last name.  The husband is the head and leader in the new family.  By coming together in the marital covenant, the man and woman now have new roles, a new hierarchical order to structure their lives. 

3) In the new marriage covenant there are new ethical demands placed upon them both.  As husband and wife, they must be faithful to one another in everything.  The couple listens to their first sermon together during the wedding ceremony.  Many more will  follow, for they must learn what it now means to be united in holy covenant of marriage.  They must learn to faithfully fulfill their distinct roles as husband and wife, and (all things considered) eventually father and mother.

4) The marriage ceremony is inaugurated with powerful words.  Solemn oaths are taken.  If faithful to these vows, the man and woman will experience God’s blessing, but if they break covenant, they will be cursed.  Then, too, though the marriage itself must be maintained primarily with words, there must also be physical contact, the most intimate of which being sexual in nature.

5) The covenantal love shared between husband and wife will then naturally (all things considered) produce children.  They will then grow up, leave their father and mother, and so on.

 

There then we have the basic contours of the marriage covenant.  Now this is one of those times when I wish we were living in the 17th century where Reformed congregations expected their pastors to deliver at least an hour-and-a-half sermon.  Then I could fully develop the implications and applications of what I have said this morning for each of our marriages. But since we are not living in the 17th century, I will have to preach sermons like this occasionally that will serve as building blocks for the next.  I will save the application details for next week.  I will only say this in closing: when there are problems in our marriages they will always be related to a failure in one or more of these dimensions of the covenant of marriage.

 

ENDNOTES



[1] It is also sometimes called the “covenant of works,” but this can be misleading if one thinks that Adam’s fundamental relationship with God is not founded on God’s gracious gift of life but rather on his “meriting” God’s favor.  Adam is not required to work for God’s love and favor, but to continue in the life he has been given by faithfully and joyfully doing his duty as God’s servant, a “light” yoke that he tragically throws off (Gen. 3:1ff.).

[2] In truth, to be honest, we can only see this arrangement here after we look carefully at the other covenants in the Bible, which we will survey in just a moment.

[3] Think also about baptism, the sign and seal of the covenant: 1) the child (or adult) is separated from his old way of life (natural parents), 2) united with the visible church, given a new name (disciple/Christian), and placed under the authority of the pastors and elders of the church, 3) as a disciple the child now learns to listen to God’s word; 4) he is admitted to the covenant memorial meal where he must learn to live faithfully and experience the blessings of the covenant; and 5) as he grows he learns the importance of perpetuating the covenant by means of evangelism, marriage, and the faithful nurture of covenant children.

[4] Or consider the Lord’s Supper as a covenant memorial meal.  At the Lord’s Supper every week we renew the covenant and that action is compressed and symbolized in the Lord’s own words and actions: 1) He took hold of bread and broke it; 2) he gave it a new name (“my body”) and as Lord and Master distributed it is to his followers; 3) he taught them while they ate and spoke of the new covenant that would result from his death and resurrection (John 14-17); 4) he told them to “do” what he did and so memorialize his life, death, and resurrection to the Father; and 5) he gave them the bread and wine to eat and enjoy, enlivening and strengthening them for the mission to which they were being called.