Saturday, December 5, 2015

Covenants Defined Part II - Levi

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Three Human Covenants

After Genesis 17 there are three instances of men making covenants with each other which significantly modifies our understanding of what it means to covenant.

First Abraham and Abimelech swear an oath to each other at Beersheba (Gen 21:31) which seems to indicate that covenant is synonymous with oath, or promise. He then gives sheep and oxen, either as a sacrifice, or as an offering.
Then in Gen 26:28 Abimelech asks for an oath from Isaac, and a covenant, which would indicate the two are not identical, although covenant must contain within itself a promise. Just as before the thing is made by the head of the houses. They conclude their meeting with a feast.
Lastly the covenant between Laban and Jacob in Genesis 31:44 strengthens the idea of a covenant as a form of assurance. They trade 7 lambs, which would indicate that either a meal or a sacrifice is normally associated with covenants.

Working definition of covenant: an agreement between God the Father and God the son two parties, by heads of families, whereby God they pledge to do good to each other rebellious humanity with specific promises and through instructing them more completely on the details of His saving plan. Ongoing faithfulness is essential to continue the agreement. To continue receiving revelations men must obey God’s instructions when given. Optionally a sacrifice signifying faith can be made is required beforehand on the part of man or a sign is given for remembrance.


At some point in his life God covenanted with Levi, the third son of Jacob. Although Genesis says nothing about any such event, we can however make an educated guess of when it happened based on the narrative. In chapter 34 Levi and Simeon slaughter the inhabitants of Schechem—an act which makes Jacobs so angry that many years later his last words to Simeon and Levi are curses (Gen 49).
Now what do you think would be the effect of such a pronouncement upon them? If I were Levi and my father were to curse me with his dying breath I know I would be devastated, particularly if I’d grown up only wanting his affection and not getting it because I was the son of his unloved wife. I mean, his name means “now my husband will love me” for goodness sake.
Speaking from personal observation, a similar thing happened to my maternal grandmother when she took care of my great-grandmother on her deathbed. Lying there, the old woman beckoned my Grandma to come close so she could give her final words: “I’ve always told you growing up that I hated you, and that I’ve never wanted you in my family. I want you to know that’s still true.” Having given her malediction, she died. From what I understand Grandma resolved after that to pass her love downward and teach her daughters to do the same.
I surmise therefore that Levi was so broken and sorrowful from his father’s curses and the kindness shown by Joseph that his stony heart cracks and he repents. He realizes that he’s justly earned a terrible rebuke for his past evils, and that his father was right to side against him. He also knows however that God has made Jacob merciful toward them, which meant He's a God who is good and right, and worthy to be obeyed. So from that moment Levi walks in His ways, and not only that, but begins telling his brothers and sons to turn to the Lord, to obey Him, to love Him, because otherwise they will face the wrath. And he succeeds! (Mal 2:5-6).
In response God comes near to him and makes a covenant with him, assuring him that He was forgiven because he looked to the savior. And He turns the curse that his tribe would be scattered into a blessing, allowing them to be in and among every other tribe to make their work of evangelization easier. They might not have an inheritance in Canaan, but better than that, God would now be their inheritance (Deut 10:9). Therefore He sets aside Levi for His work (Num 3:6, Deut 10:8, 21:5), and takes the priesthood for them. From now on they’ll be priests to Israel.

The Heads: God, and Levi (Mal 2:4, and Neh 13:29)
God’s side: I promise you life and peace (Mal 2:5). Your descendants shall teach others the law, and they shall turn hearts toward Me (Mal 2:6).
That they shall be priests seems implied here.
Man’s side: Omitted as irrelevant.
Sign: None.
What else we learn about covenant from this: The idea that God covenants with those who seek Him is strengthened in a big way, as is the idea that Covenants are the way God strengthens our faith in Him.

It’s also interesting that although the promise went to Levi’s descendants (since they became the tribe of priests whose job it was to teach others and offer sacrifice for sins) the terms or promises of Seed are not recorded. This is likely because the Bible is reserving that word for Jesus.
As a side note, Mal 4:6 seems to be a total fulfillment about this promise in the person of John the Baptist, a Levite who turned the people to Christ before His appearance.

Working definition of covenant: an agreement between two parties, by heads of families, freely made, whereby one or both sides pledge to do good with assurances of specific promises. When conditions are given, ongoing faithfulness is essential to continuing the relationship. If desired, the blessings of continuing in, or consequences for breaking these promises, may be spelled out explicitly. Optionally a sacrifice signifying faith can be made, or a sign can be given for remembrance.

Leaving the book of Genesis, the next use of the word covenant is in Ex 2:24 when God remembers His promise to give Canaan to the children of Israel (Ex 6:4), in no small part because of their misery (Ex 6:5). They flee Egypt, are baptized in the Red Sea, eat manna and quail, drink water from the rock that was Christ, defeat the Amalekites, and arrive at Mt. Sinai to covenant with God.

Quite honestly I’m feeling pretty good about our definition of covenant at this point; it looks fairly robust and makes sense of all the data thus far. I’m also pleased we didn’t need to delve into any Suzerain Vassal/Royal Grant, law/grace, conditional/unconditional distinctions to reach it. So let's see how well it does at Horeb.

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