A covenant is an agreement that involves obligations. It is a conditional promise or a promise with responsibilities. An example of this is: if you do this then I’ll do this or if you listen to me and do what I tell you to, then I will help you.
Stop, look at me and listen! If you will just do what I say then I can help you!
I must have said those words fifteen times and she was just not listening. It was like wrestling a wild beast to get the burweed stickers out of the fur of my dog, Chloe’s ears. If you have longhaired animals that like to run around outside, you know what I mean. When the burweed is in season, the stickers get matted in the fur of animals and can be very painful and difficult to pull out. For both of us. I tried to put limits on where she walked, I leashed her on a long lead and warned her not to get in the area where the burweed was flourishing but she did not listen and obey my instructions. Apparently she thought she knew best.
After about the 14th time of telling her to stop, God finally whacked me on the head and said: “Cindy, I am trying to teach you a lesson here. Do you know how many times I have told you the same thing-to just stop, pay attention, listen, and obey my instructions and you will be okay?”
Uh-oh. Well, God…probably quite a few.
There are several major covenant agreements contained in the Bible – major promises from God to man. These covenants include the Noahic covenant, Mosaic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant and the New Covenant.
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A Smaller Covenant: Pay Attention and Listen
In addition to these major covenants, there is also a smaller covenant promise made between God and the Israelites that can be found in the book of Exodus chapter 23. Moses penned the book of Exodus in order to tell the story of the Israelites’ flight out of bondage and it was written as a reminder to the people of Israel about the number of times God provided for their needs. In this book, God outlined specific laws and instructions that the people were to follow– from laws governing the Sabbath, to laws of justice and mercy, guidance on social responsibility and even specifics on holding the annual feasts and festivals.
In Exodus 23:20-22, God continues to teach and give instruction to the Israelites by outlining a conditional promise to the people:
“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.”
In verse 22, God specifically told the people that if they listen carefully and did all that He said to do, then He would protect them by becoming an enemy to their enemies and opposing those who opposed them. Make the following notations about this Scripture: Pay attention, listen and do all.
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In chapter 19 of this same book, God also provided a similar covenant promise. Moses had gone up to spend time with God and the Lord spoke to him from the mountain. The Lord gave him a message to give to the Israelites. He told him in verses 4-6:
"‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 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.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
Note in this Scripture verse 5: the Lord said obey me fully. In both passages of Scripture, the Lord’s specific instructions included the words all and fully.
But, sadly, in Exodus 33:3, something had happened. Look at the Lord’s words to the same group of Israelites:
“Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
They were not only disobedient, going against the specific instructions that the Lord gave to them, now they were stiff-necked. They were an obstinate, stubborn, hard to deal with, prideful, think-they-know-best kind of people. God made a promise and it was a good one but God, He is held to His promise by who He is.
The Israelites did not hold up to their end of the promise. They did not stop, pay attention, listen and follow all of God’s instruction. They thought they knew best.
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A Command to Listen
In Luke 9:28-36, the writer gives us the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus went up a mountain to pray and took Peter, John and James. During that time of prayer, Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and spent time talking about his departure.
Peter? He had been sleeping but awoke and saw the three men glowing in splendor. Peter apparently enjoyed being in the presence of Jesus and the prophets of old and decided that it was in the group’s best interest that they build a shelter and just stay there. Read what happened:
“About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)”
Now where was God during this time? He was watching it all.
“While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.”
Look carefully at verse 35. The only words that God chose to speak were: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” That’s it. He was probably speaking mainly to Peter who had been stiff-necked and decided that he knew best what to do. Peter, in all of his vast wisdom and planning, gave Jesus, not only, specific instructions they should follow but the reason that they should do them: “It is good for us to be here – now we should build three shelters and you, Moses and Elijah can all stay in them.” His emotions and excitement of being there probably got the best of him but God stepped in: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
All God wanted was for Peter to listen. God not only vetted Jesus by letting them know that Jesus was His son and was chosen to be at this particular place at this particular time, but also that they should listen to him. Jesus had the plan and would provide the next steps … just listen.
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How Do We Know What to Do?
God wants us to listen. Just stop, pay attention, listen and obey fully. Much like my dog Chloe, we do not take the time to stop, pay attention and listen. Those are the first steps to obedience. But, you cannot obey what you do not know. So, how do you find out what to do, what to obey?
Look at Psalm 32:8:
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”
There is a difference between instruct and teach. Instruct is to give specific directions to a task. An example would be: This is what you do first, and this next, and this last. They are specific steps that pertain to a specific task. The word teach is different. You teach large topics, ideas or subjects, for example: patience, perseverance, humility.
Look at the last part of that verse: I will guide you (or counsel you) with my eye. That is the use of nonverbal eye contact. Think about reading someone’s eyes. They look to something you are to pick up, they look in a direction that you are to move, they glance at something that you are to take note of. You are to be close enough to see their eyes, to focus and attend. You are close enough to note the slightest glance and you have to pay attention. Not only is God watching over you with His eyes, He is guiding you.
That is how you gain instruction and guidance. That is how you gain knowledge of the instructions that you are to fully follow. That is how you keep the responsibility that you have in God’s promise. So, remember to:
- Stop what you are doing, even for a few minutes per day.
- Pay attention and focus by being close enough to watch the guidance from His eyes.
- Listen. Be quiet and listen for His voice and instruction
- Obey fully. When you find out what to do? Obey fully the instructions or steps and do all that He gives you to do.
This was his covenant promise to the Israelites. This is what is important to God. That we listen and obey everything that he asks us to do. Instead of thinking that we know best – rely fully on God and His instruction.
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Dr. Cindy Collier has retired from a 30-year career in the public school system, having worked with students with disabilities as a teacher, psychologist and administrator. She is currently serving as an adjunct faculty member for the University of West Florida and as an autism consultant. She has published two popular educational books and several online articles. Her doctorate may be in education but her passion is encouraging other believers through her writing. Cindy is a survivor of a marriage controlled by addiction, pornography, abuse, and mental illness. It was a life lived with someone that she grew to fear filled with secrets and deception, but is now a life restored by God and His promises. She is presently the author of transparentwalk.com where she allows her testimony to guide her writing by being transparent in her walk with the Lord.