Covenant – The Sorely Neglected Model for Love?

Back in my schooling, I was taught that Covenant was basically an adaptation of something like a suzerainty treaty during Biblical times.  Often I hear Covenant being defined as a contract type relationship.  The more I have learned about Covenant, the more I am utterly dissatisfied with those characterizations of this relationship.  The more I have read in Trumbull’s The Blood Covenant, as he details the world-wide nature of Blood Covenant and of how it is to be found even in the most “primitive” of cultures and the more I look at such forms of Covenant as the Blood-Brother bond of the Native American tribes, then what I was taught just does not work.

Again I think of the woman in my one parish with Native American background, when her grandfather cut the Blood-Brother bond with three other fellows, the suzerainty treaty idea is ludicrous in that setting.  And if the reason for cutting the bond was on a contract level, it seems fairly over-the-top too much to think of it in terms of gain.  After all, of what I have learned of pre-European-influenced tribal life, it was far closer to a communal life-style than to the profit motive of western culture; as an example, if a hunter returned from a good hunt, a piece of meat would be left in each cooking pot as he went through the village, rather than seeing the “profit” of the hunt as all for himself.

That perhaps is the difficulty of any definition of Covenant – once its world-wide application is realized, then it is hard to fit it into most of the descriptions which are frequented in regard to this relationship.  And what also is bothersome is that Covenant should be Covenant, whether Old Testament or New Testament.  Yet one hears people talk about how the Old Testament Covenant is more Law-based, while the New Testament is more grace-oriented, as if the Covenants were two different unrelated animals.  However, if Covenant is not a localized Biblical phenomenon but is indeed world-wide, then the concept is not “age” dependent, and must be the same for both Testaments.

I find myself looking closely at the Covenant between Jonathan and David.  It wasn’t as if David came to Jonathan to initiate the bond, as if he were looking for sponsorship or for a protector.  The Biblical record clearly indicates that Jonathan initiated the bond “because he loved him as his own Soul/Life[/Blood]” [I Samuel 18:1,3].

That perhaps is what seems to be missing most often when Covenant is described.  So often the jump is to the obligations and such, but very rarely, if at all, is the relationship defined as the expression of a deep, abiding and powerful Love that motivates the participants.  Yes, one can describe even marriage in terms of obligations, legalities and contract agreements, but once when I mentioned that definition to another person, he exclaimed, “but that’s not marriage!” – taking words out of my mouth.
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Indeed, for the Christian, that is not marriage – and neither do these things define the essence of Covenant.  When we realize that Jehovah’s yearning is for the oneness of Life/Soul/Blood, to Love us “as His own Soul/Life” – and that He would indeed give His Soul/Life for us –, then the motivation and essence of the relationship is not focused on the obligations, legalities and contract agreements.  These items are merely the servants and the by-products of the driving force of Covenant.

This interpretation of Covenant is crucial in our present culture.  More and more it seems that if a male is to have a strong bond with another male, as is described in regard to Jonathan and David, then the suspicion is that they must be homosexual.  Even Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street cannot be good close friends, the push is on that they really should become a homosexual married couple (See The Battle for Bert and Ernie).  The effect is that males are being increasingly isolated in our culture.  Women can have close bonds, even to, as the humorists put it, when a woman gets up to go the washroom at a restaurant, all the other women at the table get up to go with her.  To this people just shrug their shoulders and say that that’s normal.  But for a man to have a really close relationship to another man – immediately the gossiped question is that they may be homosexual.  Because of such messages from the community, young men who may have strong feelings for another man can become conflicted because modern society has no alternate relationship model available – no other way within our culture as to how he can express his feelings of deep love toward the other.

This is just another reason why we really need to look again more closely at Covenant and its driving force of “love as his own Soul/Life” – not only to recognize this compelling force between Jehovah’s relationship with mankind, but also to provide a Biblical alternative to the way human relationships are being defined within our culture.


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