Understanding Biblical Covenants
Don’t Confuse Sin With A Covenant:
Another pervasive doctrine permeating the Church today is the practice of calling divorce and remarriage just “a sin.” Divorce and remarriage is not just an act of sin. Paul said it is a state of being and titles the person as “an adulteress.” In Luke 16:18, Jesus explained such an act, not as a remarriage, but as a state of adultery, since divorce and remarriage does not destroy the covenant; but only violates it. That violation remains until the violating partner ceases this adulterous relationship, or one of the original partners dies. Today’s prevailing theology on this subject says; “If a person has admitted that sin to God, (divorce & remarriage) his/her ‘sin’ is under the blood and they are now one flesh in the Lord’s sight.”
This idea is founded upon a misunderstanding of the difference between sin and a covenant. This important difference can best be understood by defining the true structure of a biblical marriage covenant.
Understanding The Marriage Covenant
Marriage, as God established it, is a divine covenant. Once entered into, it is in effect until one partner dies. It is a lifetime covenant, with no exceptions, regardless of what the reformers said. Marriage is a Divine covenant that can be violated, but it cannot be broken by either or both parties and should not be confused with only being an act of sin.
A Flippant Covenant Is Still A Covenant:
When Esau traded his birthright for a “mess of pottage” by swearing to his brother Jacob he could have it in exchange for some food. This was two flippant young men, approximately 24 years of age, bantering with each other, seemingly unaware of the seriousness of making a vow before God or what constituted a vow (Genesis 25:29).
The end result of Esau’s flippant response to Jacob is declared in Hebrews: Esau is declared “a profane person …who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” Hebrews 12:16-17. God could forgive Esau for his flippancy and stupidity, but it didn’t change the birthright or the covenant! What was Esau’s birthright, became Jacob’s.
It was supposed to be Abraham, Isaac and Esau, except for a few careless words. Those few words completely changed Jewish history. A flippant vow superseded all other considerations. Esau’s words created a covenant. That covenant still stands today, as evidenced by the present genealogical order of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Today there could be many illustrations given of flippant situations where those involved treat their decision lightly.
One example would be of a couple who meet in Las Vegas. They decide to go to the chapel at 3 a.m. and get married. Later on, they sober up and think they only did a foolish thing that means nothing. They fail to realize they bound themselves flippantly before God and are therefore bound by the marriage law which God established.
It is essential for us today, to recognize the difference between sin and a covenant. Repenting of a violation of the marriage covenant will always result in turning away from that violation and either “remain unmarried or be reconciled to your husband or wife.” I Corinthians 7:11
A Deceptive Covenant Is Still A Covenant:
Joshua was commanded by God to invade and conquer the Promised Land and to kill all the inhabitants (Joshua 9). The people who lived in the city of Gibea were Amorites, (also called Gibeonites), and were among the tribes inhabiting the land which Joshua had been commanded to destroy.
When the Gibeonites learned Joshua was coming to destroy them, they decided to deceive him and save their lives. To accomplish their trickery, they put on old clothes, took moldy bread, old wineskins, worn out shoes and covered themselves with dust. Then, they rode their camels over the hill to meet Joshua and the people of Israel. When they came before Joshua, they announced they had come from far away to make a peace treaty with Israel. They were lying.
Joshua and his leaders looked at the appearance of the Gibeonites; the condition of their food, clothes, etc., and were convinced they were telling the truth The Bible says; “they asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.” Instead, Joshua 9:15 says: “And Joshua made peace with them; to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them.” Almost immediately after this agreement was finalized, someone discovered these emissaries were not from a far away country, but from just over the hill! Joshua and his leaders knew immediately they had been deceived.
Naturally, one would think that Joshua and his leaders would have immediately risen up and killed all of these men for their lies and for making Joshua and the leaders look so foolish. Today’s response would likely be, “We were deceived. We didn’t know what we were doing. Therefore, there is no covenant.” Verse 18 says, “And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel.” Joshua and his tribal leaders knew the seriousness of a verbal vow. They also knew they didn’t dare touch the Gibeonites. Instead, from then on Joshua not only let them live, but also protected them from their enemies as he and his men had promised God they would do in their covenant.
The next time we read anything about Israel’s covenant with the Gibeonites is 350 years later:
Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites. II Samuel 21:1
Evidently, Saul was upset because there were so many of the Gibeonites working around the tabernacle and he had some of them killed.
• God originally commanded Joshua to kill all the inhabitants of the land.
• Joshua made a covenant with a group ofdeceitful Gibeonites.
• More than 350 years later, Saul kills just a few Gibeonites.
• God brings a severe drought upon the
land during David’s reign and says it was because Saul had violated Joshua’s covenant with the Gibeonites. Saul only violated Joshua’s covenant with the Gibeonites by killing them; he didn’t break it.
Think about it. God told Joshua to kill all of them, but after a few deceptive words were spoken, everything changed and the Gibeonites became a protected people. Then God punished all of Israel because Saul violated the covenant by killing some Gibeonites. God honors covenants!
David then asked the Lord how he could resolve the problem. The Lord instructed him to go to the leaders of the Gibeonites and ask them what he should do to honorably resolve this violation of the covenant with them and how to make atonement for those Saul had killed.
The law of Israel in that day was, “if a life be taken, a life must be taken.” The Gibeonites told David to give them seven of Saul’s sons that they might hang them. David turned over seven of Saul’s sons and the Gibeonites hanged them.
There is a shocking and enlightening statement found in II Samuel 21:14c: “And after that [after Saul’s seven sons were hanged] God was intreated for the land.” After the violated 350 year old covenant was vindicated, God again answered David’s prayer and ended the drought.
Imagine how David must have prayed and wept before the Lord during those three years with no results. Relief did not come until restitution to the Gibeonites had been made for Saul’s violation (not breaking) of the covenant. Although the covenant (verbal agreement) was crafted in deception, God confirmed it. The words were spoken without seeking God’s counsel, but once the covenant was stated in His presence, it was acknowledged, confirmed and enforced by God Himself.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I didn’t know what I was saying,” or “I didn’t understand the seriousness of what I was saying at the time?” God’s response is, a covenant is a covenant, between any two qualified individuals, (neither married before, or a widow or widower), and God honors covenants.
Today, individuals contact us asking their status before God, after they agreed to go through the marriage ceremony with someone who wanted to obtain a green card. “It won’t be a marriage but a means to an end.” If we can deceive the government agencies, we can then get a divorce and move on. These persons go through a legal marriage ceremony; sign all the documents and are pronounced husband and wife in the presence of witnesses, thinking it means nothing. They have fulfilled God’s requirements to be made one flesh for life. In the end, they are the ones who were deceived.
Furthermore, if Joshua and the leaders of Israel had met another tribe and made a covenant with them to help them destroy the Gibeonites, it would have been a forbidden covenant and unenforceable by God. This is because the initial covenant was without a time limit and could not be replaced by one that would violate the first covenant.
This is why God will not and cannot recognize a remarriage while either first partner is still living. If he did, He would be violating His own holiness, righteousness, and justice. The terms of the first marriage covenant are for life, regardless.
A Foolish Covenant Is Still A Covenant:
Another good example in Scripture of the seriousness of vows spoken is found in Judges 11. Here we see the story of Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a harlot.
Because of his mother’s reputation, Jephthah and his family were outcasts from Israel’s society. When the Ammonites threatened Israel, the people knew that Jephthah was a man of valor. Swallowing their pride, they went to him and asked if he would lead them into battle. After much heart searching, Jephthah agreed and started out to battle. Verse 29 declares, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah;” which was divine evidence of sure victory. In spite of this evidence Jephthah made a foolish, unnecessary vow before thinking through all of the possible ramifications: And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.” Judges 11:30-32
He didn’t have to make the vow he made, but he did. We need to put ourselves in Jephthah’s shoes and imagine what he was thinking on his way home from battle. We know what some would have been thinking at that time by what they do when they make other promises: “Well, Lord, I know what I said about tithing, but I didn’t know the interest rate would go up on my boat loan.” Or, “I know I said that I’d preach for You, Lord, but then I didn’t realize this scholarship would come along. You understand, Lord.” And then there is the excuse, “I know I told You in the jungles of Vietnam or the deserts of Saudi Arabia or Iraq, if You’d get me out alive, I’d serve You the rest of my life. But You understand I was scared then. And besides, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.” This might be called a situational covenant, made while under duress.
Right here is where many experience spiritual defeat. They have made a vow to God in the past and then forgotten it. God hasn’t forgotten. People who make vows and violate them will never know the full joy of an obedient walk until they go back and deal with their vow as Jephthah had to do. Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 warns us, God will “destroy the work of our hands” if we say the vow was a mistake and then fail to keep it or renounce the vow we made to Him.
Maybe his thoughts on the way home were something like the following:
“Maybe my wife will be sweeping when I get home and will sweep a chicken out the door. I’ll bet old Rover, my hunting dog, will hear me coming and burst out through the door to greet me. Then I can offer the chicken or Rover to the Lordas a burnt offering to fulfill this vow I made.”
Please understand…Jephthah never even suggested ignoring his vow. The Word of God says that it didn’t happen like that. Instead:
“And Jephthah came to Mizpah unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child.” Judges 11:34
Jephthah knew immediately what he had done: “…I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.” (vv. 35)
What did Jephthah vow?
“Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” Judges 11:31
Finally, we read Jephthah’s daughter
“…returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he vowed.” vv. 39
We are not here to justify or condemn Jephthah because God has already placed him in His Hebrews hall of fame and eulogized him: in vs. 38;
“Of whom the world was not worthy:” Hebrews 11:32 Our goal is to show you that a vow to God is a very serious thing. Remember: “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” Ecclesiastes 5:5
There is no other place in Scripture where there may have been a human burnt sacrifice, but there may have been one here simply and profoundly because a man understood the seriousness of his vow to God.
Jephthah cried out; “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.” Judges 11:35
Some say it could not possibly mean that Jephthah was required to make an actual human burnt offering. They think it means that his daughter would be dedicated for life to temple service. Since it was his only daughter, the punishment would be that she could never marry. Thus, he would have no grandchildren.
The true substance or meaning of his words is not the key issue here. The fact is it was foolish of him to make this unnecessary vow. Jephthah experienced exactly what Solomon said in Proverbs:
Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. Proverbs 6:2
When Jephthah finally realized the tremendous price involved, he was overwhelmed. Despite his agony and grief, he fulfilled the vow. Jephthah knew a vow made to God, whatever the vow might be, must not be broken or rescinded.
A young lady, attending an evangelical Bible college, came to the school with a small child and rented her own apartment. During a week of revival services, this girl stood sobbing before the student body and said:
“I want all of you to know that years ago, I committed my life to serve Christ on the mission field. I ate and slept that dream, until my senior year in high school. Then I met a young man. He wasn’t a Christian, but I believed all of Satan’s lies and continued on into that relationship. I was warned over and over again. My devotional life slipped away. My prayer life was an array of desperate cries for God to have patience with me while I did my own thing. I sowed to the flesh and reaped corruption. The rest is evident,” she said as she motioned toward the small child next to her. “I only hope that somehow, God can still use me on the mission field. Oh, please don’t break your promises to God!”
A hush came over the audience. Here was one who had made a vow to God, had violated it, had repented, and was trying to pick up the pieces. We can’t help but think that Jephthah wished he hadn’t said what he had, but he did.
A modern day example of foolish vows would be applied to where a young lady is found to be pregnant, or a young couple living together out of wedlock.
Well meaning pastors and family members pressure these young people to get married right away. This counsel is based on the belief it will right a wrong. This is not always true, as illustrated by the high percentage of divorces from such situations. Two wrongs do not always make a right. The pregnant girl should first of all ask the Lord for forgiveness and do nothing more until she is totally convinced the man truly loves, respects and desires to honor and care for her. Up to now, she is not in a covenant and she can recover with her child and go on with her life. She must realize that sex does not create a covenant. If sex created a covenant, then there would be no such thing as a fornicating life-style described in I Corinthians 6:10 and Galatians 5:19. If she marries only because she is pregnant, her life could be negatively affected with no desirable alternative.
The young couple who are pushed to get married, should in reality be urged to repent of their fornication, separate or take the time to see if they are truly compatible in other than physical matters and analyze the level of commitment each are willing to make to the other. This time of analysis would help them consider the seriousness of a permanent and loving relationship, based on love and respect.
To be thrown into a covenant relationship before this would be foolish.
Among the most important lessons we must learn from these illustrations is we can only obey or violate the terms of a covenant made to God; we can never break it. We can say marriage vows before judges, pastors, and Justices of the Peace multiple times, but only the first marriage covenant vow stands before God.
The Church must come to a new awareness of the seriousness of a vow made to God. Furthermore, the Church must teach the warnings to those who violate them. I encourage you to study, meditate upon and pray very carefully over the following verses.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. Proverbs 18:21
And if a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. Numbers 30:2
When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the LORD thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth. Deuteronomy 23:21-23
When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God. Ecclesiastes 5:4-7
Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. Proverbs 6:2
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all, neither by heaven for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But, let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Matthew 5:33-37
If you study the Old Testament carefully, you will notice how God allowed the Jews to make vows in the name of the Lord. Allowed, because making vows was not a commandment. (Deuteronomy 23:22) If someone chose to make a vow and swear, it was to be done in the name of the Lord Jehovah. (Deut 6:13; 10:20)
By making vows and swearing in the name of the Lord, they were calling upon God to be a witness of the commitment being made. By swearing in the name of the Lord, it increased the sense of solemnity and gravity of the promise. It was thought that if a person swore in the name of the Lord, they would be more likely to take their vows more seriously as the Lord would call them into account. (Leviticus 19:12)
As the legalistic Jewish elders continued to teach their legalistic system it evolved to where the seriousness of making a vow was cheapened. They still taught to swear in the name of the Lord absolutely bound the individual to fulfill their promise or commitment, but reasoned and rationalized that obligation to be less binding if the vow was made, swearing by such things as heaven, earth, Jerusalem or one’s head. Consequently, they devised formulas allowing persons making vows or oaths, to avoid using the name of the Lord. Over time these became more common than swearing in the name of the Lord. In Jesus’ day, a cavalier attitude prevailed when making oaths and vows. The seriousness of making vows had been almost entirely eroded and this is why Jesus sought to restore the original intent of this law.
In Matthew 5:34-36; Jesus condemned the use of non-biblical formulas to evade having to fulfill a vow or oath. In verse 37, He admonishes the listeners to forsake their non-biblical formulas and to be honestly transparent with a simple “yes or no.”
We need to understand, Jesus was not calling for the complete cessation of making oaths and vows or swearing. If he were Paul the Apostle would have been disregarding Christ’s own teaching when he provided testimony with an oath: (Acts 18:18) and when calling the Lord as witness in oaths; (Romans 1:9; II Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20). Jesus taught this same foundational principle in Matthew 5:37 and was repeated by James:
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. James 5:12
The whole intent of the law, with regard to swearing and vowing was to emphasize the importance of keeping one’s word through the fulfillment of one’s commitments (Deuteronomy 23:21-23; Psalms 15:4). The Lord’s intent in this teaching was not to contradict Moses, but to restore God’s original intent and spirit of the law of Moses.
Remember, Erasmus’ false doctrine was based on his rationalistic and humanistic training, with no true biblical basis for pure truth. It was a radical teaching, even in his day, which was in the 1500s. The Reformers had just emerged into some light after hundreds of years of spiritual darkness. Remember, of the five positions, the Erasmian View is the only one that declares God allows people to ignore their vows and oaths and divorce and remarry. His teachings were not, and are not founded on a solid exegetical, grammatical or biblical foundation, but on situational ethics and sociological pampering. Like many theologians today, the reformers seemingly ignored and denigrated the four earliest church positions, while enthusiastically embracing the Erasmian view. In so doing, they caused to be fulfilled, the conditions Jesus described in Matthew concerning the last days:
But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Matthew 24:37-39
Many Evangelical Christian leaders who earnestly believe marriage is a life long covenant, find the problem of divorce in their churches overwhelming as they see the social disintegration of church families. These same leaders are desperately trying to find a way to bandage the moral hemorrhage happening in their flocks.
During the past few years, an avalanche of new rationalizations have bombarded the Church to the point where divorce and remarriage are now accepted or excused, not only as the norm for church members, but broadcast as proper for church leadership under the guise of “another chance.” These teachings have not evolved through scriptural soundness nor historic precedence, but out of sociological expediency, compassionate compromise, and a distorted definition of “grace.”
Be assured, there is a clear, concise, non-contradictive position in God’s Word that is consistent with the earliest historic Christian New Testament teachings, written by holy, God-fearing men of the earliest centuries.
We must recognize this Trojan Horse for what it is, a heresy deceptively being infused into the Body of Christ.
Our Lord Jesus said to His followers: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32 Jesus prayed to the Father concerning His followers: “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” John 17:17
God’s people must declare what God’s Word really says on this subject and expose the humanistic, rationalistic Erasmian View for what it is. If we fail to do this, the New Testament Church will be weakened and completely destroyed from within by this theological “Trojan Horse.”
The New Testament Church must get back to a true New Testament doctrine of repentance, faith and holiness as revealed in God’s Holy Word. We must demand the same of our Christian leaders as well as our schools of higher learning. Since the coming of our Lord Jesus is so near, it is crucial that this generation hear this message if the family structure, as we have historically known it, is to survive. If we fail here, it will affect us spiritually and nationally, for no nation or church body is any stronger than the individual families within it.
Historically, any nation or people who failed to maintain a biblical worldview concerning marriage has ceased to prosper spiritually.