Image Attribution: Marcus O. Bst/flickr/license
I have read the Mayflower Compact (Covenant) numerous times. The Compact formed the first civil government by Europeans coming to America. It was written and signed in 1620 by the Pilgrims before they got off the ship. This was the start of American Christian governance. While short, the Compact does carry several references to it being a covenant. It was not called a constitution, a charter, a Bill of Rights, or any of the other titles we might associate with modern western style governments. It was a Compact which in the language of the time was a synonym for covenant, the word used in the body of the text.
Our Christian forefathers did not invent the word covenant. Rather, it is used in the Bible (Old and New Testaments) 293 times. It is a term that permeates Scripture and forms the back bone of Jewish and Christian culture. It is not a minor concept it is a central concept for the chosen people. Given that we are “a chosen people a royal priesthood” (see Peter) it is massively important for us to understand what God and our forefathers were talking about when they wrote covenant into the fabric of Godly government. If we can begin to wrap our brains around this concept we will re-acquire a grand Biblical concept for the restructuring of the crumbling American nation. It may literally save our lives.
What is Covenant?
Now, even though the concept of covenant is replete in Scripture it is difficult to find a concise definition that covers every case. Hence, I offer my own: A Biblical covenant is a firm promise to be lived out under the jurisdiction of God’s will and law. It is also useful to note that, in every case, covenants succeed to following generations (“to you and your children,” the text will sometimes read). A great deal could be said about this but definitions are boring so I will move on. Theologians can continue to write lofty-minded articles but we will do something different here (not to diminish good theologians—we appreciate their work).
The main reason we ought to care about covenants is that God cares about them. God covenanted with His people at numerous times and places as He advanced His story about Jesus and the redemption of man. The classic text that is used to discuss the idea of covenant as it relates to the Godly nation is Deuteronomy 27:9–29:15. This is the record of Moses charging the nation to obey God’s law for blessing or to disobey His law and be cursed. What always strikes me as I read this is the shortness of the promised blessings section and the extended length of the promised curses if God’s law is not obeyed. The structure of this national covenant is clear. Obey and be blessed or disobey and be cursed. If you are unfamiliar with this passage please take a few minutes and read it. Then, like me, take a life time and meditate on it. It causes us to desire the righteous way and to fear the unrighteous path. It is food for our souls.
Are We Cursed or Blessed?
The reasons I refer to covenant as a building block for the Christian nation are few but of supreme importance. Almost no one, at least no one in public media, ever discusses our national malaise in terms of God’s cursing or blessing. Yet, Biblical thought often follows that precept. The prophets are filled with dire warnings to the nation to repent or be destroyed. This is something which deserves our attention. Our nation was begun in covenant with this same God. Our early forefathers spoke often of this very fact and feared for our demise should we turn away. One of the things I noticed about the national covenant is that we do not personally have to be there to be bound by the covenant. In Deuteronomy 29:14 Moses instructed,
“Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.”
So, like Israel, we have no excuse in claiming that the covenant was for others but not for us. It does not work that way. Of course we all want the blessings part, but what we need to consider in light of our national immorality is the curses section. Nationally, we are fitting those later definitions.
Covenant Promises & Biblical Laws
Besides this keeping-of-covenant concept there are other ideals tied to this. Covenant is a uniquely Biblical teaching. Every thing we do, every promise we make is to be made under the jurisdiction of God’s law. God forbade His people (that is us now guys, the church) to enter into covenant with any of the pagan people. A Biblical covenant could only be rightly implemented under the jurisdiction of God’s law. Part of the reason for this is that covenants with pagans leads us into compromise with those foreign gods as well. Another reason is that without a common set of laws by which to live no covenant between men can be expected to work. If we all submit to the same law we can have national unity and progress. Christian civilization is possible.
When our forefathers covenanted together to form a civil government under the God of the Bible they did a profound deed. Many of them understood the American continent as the equivalent of Israel for them. They were bound to God to build a fresh nation, to evangelize their new neighbors, and live in peaceful Christian community. I read that the original Pilgrim community was able to live for eighty years at peace with the Indians. The Pilgrims are often faulted with being war-like or grasping for land not theirs. But, as of late, we are a nation that starts some kind of war several times a year. I believe we too easily berate our founding brethren.
Repent & Obey
Whether we understand it or like it we are the covenantal heirs of a great nation. The concept of covenant set our feet on this land. It helped propel us through time to our current state. God has not forgotten those early promises. He still wishes to bless us if we will only repent and obey Him in all things. It is to us and our children that the covenant applies. We are a pivotal generation. We may advance faithfully toward repentance and blessing or we may be crushed by the strength of unmitigated curses. I am praying today that we make that better choice.