Remember the old nugget, “God don’t make no junk” ? I haven’t seen one of those posters for years, but its truth remains. No matter how we feel about house flies, fungus, garden slugs, slime, or even ourselves on our very worst days, everything God made has purpose and value—even when we can’t see it. And He doesn’t make mistakes. Ever.
Which might puzzle us when we read these words from Hebrews:
But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which He is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. (Heb.8:6-7)
So… there was something wrong with the first covenant? God messed up, and needed a do-over?
Not exactly. The covenant was fair and generous, an agreement between God and His people, with all benefits falling on the people. God simply said, “Follow My ways, be My people, separate yourselves from the world, and I will bless you.”
And the blessings He promised were staggering.
Back in 1980, I first heard the Covenant of Blessings and Curses read aloud during a tiny church meeting with Henry (my future husband, though I didn’t know it) and his gospel partner, Paul. It was my first Sunday with them, and I was the sole congregant. Paul, a ruddy-faced 20-year-old wearing denim overalls and a red bandana, expounded on Deuteronomy 28 and 29, pointing to a hand-drawn map of Mounts Ebal and Gerazim. (He was nothing if not thorough.) I was mesmerized…not by the map or the presentation, but by the words of Scripture. The blessings God promised were incredible: not an inch of their lives would be left untouched. God would bless EVERYTHING they did in obedience to Him. How could they not agree?
And the curses were just as staggering. Heaps of scourges, plagues, misfortunes, judgements, and unspeakable misery awaited if they reneged on the bargain. How could they dare turn back? Yet renege they did, time and time again.
Which brings us to the actual problem with the covenant: But God found fault with the people and said, “The time is coming, says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…” (Heb. 8:8)
The covenant was fine, but the people weren’t. They readily said yes to God’s initial call to love and be loved. But before Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the ‘fine print’—the laws of God they’d agreed to, inscribed on stone tablets—they’d already broken the first and second commandments by worshipping the golden calf. This, after hearing God’s voice boom from Mount Sinai, so terrifying they begged Moses to intercede. This, after all the plagues and miracles they’d witnessed in Egypt. And this wasn’t even their first mass transgression!
We picture Moses smashing the stone tablets, burning the golden calf, and forcing the people to drink the bitter gold-water. His anger against the people rivalled God’s, yet he begged they be given a second chance. And God relented, knowing how faithless and weak His people would turn out to be.
How agonizing for the LORD to watch His people spurn His Word and His blessings, and reap the consequences for their stubborn rebellion! I get this, at least in part, because one of my children is on a soul-destroying mission to do things her way, not God’s, and the consequences are heartbreaking. I ache for her to turn back to her Creator and seek His answers and blessings for her life. I picture the life she COULD be living, versus the life she has, and it makes me weep. But God, in His infinite mercy and grace, lets us choose whether to love Him or spurn Him, even as He entreats us to return. I know He’s working in her life, even if it’s simply to let willfulness run its course till she’s had enough and cries out.
Even knowing this—that the story isn’t over—I can testify that watching your child fight against God is the greatest pain a parent can experience, short of losing your child to death. And I know I’m not alone in this pain.
One of the greatest differences between the New Covenant and the Old is its personal nature: God extends His new covenant invitation to us as individuals, not community, though we become part of an incredible faith community when we’re added to the Body of Christ. This is why He says, It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers, when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt. (Heb.8:9)
He explains: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness, and will remember their sins no more. (Heb.8:10-12)
In the past, a Jew entered God’s first covenant through birth, and as he/she grew, they would learn the many laws of God through being taught. Whether an individual chose to observe God’s commandments, regardless of the community example, was still a matter of personal choice. But even if they chose obedience, they would still suffer along with God’s people for the community’s transgressions—witness Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Moses, Caleb, Joshua, and countless others throughout Old Testament history.
Under the New Covenant, we learn God’s ‘terms of agreement’ before we sign up through faith, repentance, and baptism. At baptism, God goes a gigantic step further, putting His own Spirit in our hearts to help us obey Him! Thus, He writes His laws on our minds and hearts, giving us a powerful inner compass to align us with His will. In this way, the New Covenant is infinitely greater than the Old could ever be—and, as the Hebrew writers notes, it is founded on better promises.
Full and lasting forgiveness. A clean heart, endlessly made spotless through the blood of Jesus. A powerful Counselor, Intercessor, Love-giver, and Guide, through His Spirit living within us. A superior covenant in every way.
God don’t make no junk, nor does He make mistakes. The Old leads us to the New. The fault lay with the people, never with God. The New comes with unlimited spiritual power. And without that power, we are weak and powerless to fully obey the life-giving commandments of God.
With Him, we can shine with confidence and overflow with love. Hallellujah!
Categories: Hiking in Hebrews
Marilyn, this was such an incredible lesson. So profound. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights. You help your readers magnify God’s worth. We learn to love Jesus more every post.
I never really put it together that whether the Israelites chose obedience or not, they still would suffer along with God’s people for the community’s transgressions. I see it now but never picked up on it as an additional blessing of being on this side of the covenants. Thank you. You have such a gift of sharing God’s message in very colorful and relatable ways.
Thanks, Kelly. I’m so encouraged to know you’re reading these! Thought of you a lot today, remembering our bizarre Thanksgiving in Virginia Beach on our ‘free weekend’….
I often think of you and pray for you all. I wouldn’t wish the pain I know you feel on anyone.
I remain confident of this, I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.
This got me through many fears and turmoil.
Thanks for the encouraging verse, Mary. God is filling my soul even as I ache.