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- Jacob Ninan
There are many differences between the old covenant which God made with Israel through Moses, and the new covenant which God established through Jesus. The letter to the Hebrews emphasises again and again the fact that the new covenant is better than the old covenant. One major difference we can look at today is the way both covenants operate.
The old covenant was a performance based system of blessings and curses. When we read about the different blessings that were offered to Israel if they obeyed the law and the curses if they disobeyed, we can see how the old covenant operated (De.28:1,2,15). The principle was that we got what we deserved.
In complete contrast to this, the new covenant is one where, instead of getting what we deserve, we get what we don't deserve, as a gift from God. Isn't this an amazing covenant from God? Isn't it amazing that the same God who came up with the old covenant has offered this new one, which is entirely contrary to the spirit of the old covenant? God didn't make a mistake in the beginning with the old covenant and then decide to do better with the new covenant! There was a method and a goal.
There were two things about Israel when God gave them the old covenant. The first thing was that after having lived in Egypt for 430 years, they had very little idea of what was right and wrong. They needed to be taught something about the standards of God. Secondly, they had just witnessed a great deliverance from Egypt with mighty signs and wonders which made a difference between them and the Egyptians. They may have thought that they were somewhat special in God's eyes, and needed to learn that they were essentially just the same as the others and that the thing that made the difference was only God's sovereign choice.
So God gave them the old covenant and the law that defined for them boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Through thousands of years Israel learned through their repeated backslidings that they were really no better than the others who did not have the covenant. They learned what God expected from them, and they also learned that they had no ability to keep His laws.
It was then that God came with the new covenant. Here is a covenant that recognises our human weakness, accepts us and makes us God's children without waiting for us to qualify for it by good behaviour, and provides for us God's laws in our hearts and the power to keep them (Je.31:31-34). You see, nothing in this covenant comes to us according to what we deserve. It is all a gift from God.
But have we learned the lessons that Israel had to learn through the old covenant? Or do we think, because we have received things freely, that we can live the way we like? Do we recognise our inherent inability to keep God's laws and so cling to God for His mercy and grace? Have we stopped looking down on those who are not God's children? Have we learned to be thankful to God?