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12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.Leviticus 26:12
God’s gracious covenant
The Bible in one sense is a library of 66 books, but in a deeper sense, it is one book, given to us by God. Some themes stand out particularly prominently in Scripture and serve to hold it all together. One of these is covenant, which occurs all the way through the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament. God tells us that he is a covenant God. This is a word used to describe the relationship between God and his people. It is actually not a difficult theological word – its basic meaning is clear in the verse we are looking at today – Leviticus 26:12 God’s gracious covenant.
1. The provision of grace
It is vital to understand that in the relationship between God and his people it is God who takes the initiative. Note the context of the promises of this chapter. We read in v13 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt’. The Lord is reminding them that he set them free and then gave them his law. The same pattern is evident in Exodus 20:1-2 at the beginning of the Ten Commandments. The Lord stresses that liberation from bondage preceded the giving of the law. It is the same in Leviticus 26. Liberation from bondage is the context for the call for obedience in v3, and that is followed by the promises of blessing for the obedient and of curses on the disobedient.
The whole covenant rests on what God has done. At a level deeper than the social and political liberation Israel had experienced, the covenant relates to the change of heart and life that is involved in the experience of salvation. There has to be such a change if the covenant is to be a living relationship. All sinners, both Jews and Gentiles, are ‘dead in…transgressions and sins’ as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:1. Salvation is impossible unless God takes the initiative. Only God’s grace, his undeserved favour, can bring such sinners into covenant with himself. That is why it is called ‘The Covenant of Grace’.
Notice what Jesus says in Luke 22:20, at the Last Supper: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’. By his sacrifice on the cross, foreshadowed by the Old Testament sacrifices, he has taken the burden of his people’s sins on himself and has redeemed them. The price of redemption has been paid by Christ and so Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:7 ‘In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins’.
2. The promise of fellowship
The covenant establishes a warm personal relationship between the Lord and his people. It is a measure of the greatness of his grace. He is not a distant God. He says, ‘I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you’ (v11-12). God’s walking among his people recalls Eden before the Fall. God walked with Adam and Eve, but fellowship was lost through man’s sin. Now God graciously restores the covenant that was broken.
It should never cease to amaze us that this infinitely great and holy God should seek fellowship with us and should make it possible at such a cost. ‘How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God’ (1 John 3:1). In the Covenant of Grace God gives himself to us. He promises, ‘I will be your God’. We can never exhaust the meaning of those words, but in the full light of the person and work of Christ, we can understand it so much more clearly. He will be to us everything that we need. Not only does he save us from sin, he indwells us by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to serve him, and he remakes us progressively in the image of Christ. All of our spiritual life and growth flow from our covenant relationship with the Lord.
God’s covenant people have real living fellowship with him. As we use the means of grace, especially Bible study and prayer, we grow in the knowledge of him. As Jesus tells us in John 17:3 ‘this is eternal life – that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’. We are addressed by him in Scripture and we address him in prayer. We are the objects of his infinite love and we respond with a growing love for him. ‘We love’, we are told in 1 John 4:19, ‘because he first loved us’.
3. The privilege of belonging
We are told in Genesis 1:27 that we are made in the image of God. What does that mean? The God who reveals himself in the Bible is a Trinity, one God in three Persons, a community. As those who are made in the image of this God, we are made for community. It is a denial of our basic nature to live an isolated, solitary life. Human beings find community in various ways, especially in families, but we find that the craving of the human heart for community satisfied above all in this covenant relationship with the Lord. That is what we were created to experience. He promises in this verse, ‘you will be my people’. He gathers his people into a community, a body. In the Old Testament, this took the form of the nation of Israel and in the New Testament, it takes the form of the international body of the church. Together they form one community – as Paul writes in Galatians 3:29 ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’.
As members of this community, we have a place of service. The nature of our service is stated in 1 Peter 2:9 ‘that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’. All our work, however seemingly unimportant, is to be done for his glory. That includes telling others about him and what he has done to save sinners. Such privileges, of course, entail responsibilities. Our responsibilities include in particular the pursuit of holiness. ‘Be holy because I am holy’ is the Lord’s command in 1 Peter 1:16. That holiness is expressed in the obedience described in v3 ‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands’. Because we have received his grace, we do not find the Lord’s commands a burden. In fact, we show our love for the Lord by obedience. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments, Jesus tells us in John 14:15.
In this warm, loving covenant fellowship with the Lord and with his people we find life as he made us to live it. This is the only path to the fulfilment that every person seeks. And it is not just for this world. This fellowship will be enjoyed in full in heaven and in the new creation, when Christ returns. In Revelation 21:3 we read, ‘he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God’.