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Three Covenants

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both those who are older than you and those who are younger. I will give them to you as daughters, but not on the basis of my covenant with you. So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD. Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign LORD. Ezekiel 16.60-63.

When I read it carefully, I find that God speaks to Israel of no less than three covenants in the first verse of this morning’s passage. First there is “the covenant”, then there is “the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth”, and finally there is “an everlasting covenant” which, at the time God is speaking these words through Ezekiel, is still in the future and yet to be established.

“The covenant” is the covenant that God entered into with Israel under Moses when he said: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19.5). That covenant contained the law set out in Exodus 20-23 and became binding on Israel when Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people” and they responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey” (Exodus 24.8). Then a sacrifice was made and the covenant was sealed: “Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.'” (Exodus 24.8). But that covenant — the Mosaic coenant — would bring both blessings and curses — blessings when the words of the covenant were obeyed and cursing when they were not (Deuteronomy 28) — and the point of God’s words spoken to Israel through Ezekiel is that by her blatant idolatory and persistent disobedience, Israel has now brought the curses of that covenant on her head. Jerusalem will be besieged, Israel will go into captivity to Babylon, exile has become inevitable.

Yet … and it is a wonderful “yet” … “Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth.” This is an earlier covenant. This is the covenant that God made with Abraham some seven centuries before Moses appeared on the scene. And the glory of that covenant was that it was all of God and all of blessing. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12.2-3). Later, it too was sealed by blood, but by God alone: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham” (Genesis 15.18). That is the covenant of grace not of law that, through Ezekiel, God tells Israel he will remember even though the terms of the later covenant must now have their terrible outworking in exile. But what will that remembering bring about?

A new covenant, an “everlasting covenant”, when God “will make atonement” for all that Israel is and all that Israel has done. And so I am brought to the last supper when Jesus “took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'” (Luke 22.20) and then, the next day, went to the cross of Calvary and shed his blood there and died to make atonement for the sins, not only of Israel but of the whole wide world. There, on a Roman gibbet, God fulfilled his covenant with Abraham that “all peoples on earth” would be blessed through him, as God incarnate as Jesus, the true son of Abraham, gave his life that it might flow into me and into whosoever believes and puts their trust in him (John 3.16).

Thank you for saving me; what can I say?
You are my everything, I will sing your praise.
You shed your blood for me; what can I say?
Yoy took my sin and shame, a sinner called by name.

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