Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sunday School - the law and sacrifices (9) covenant

"What on earth is a covenant? I should know, but I'm not sure!"

That's what I was thinking as I came to the last of our Sunday School lessons on the law and sacrifices. It was clear I was going to have to talk about the place of the law in the old and new covenants, but I didn't know how!

A lot of Bible reading and a little bit of commentary reading (the most useful book was Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology) and the idea of covenant became clear:

a covenant is an agreement between two people and groups where they make promises to each other.
Simple! Even kids are familiar with a modern form of covenant: marriage, where 2 people promise to be faithful for life.

Things are a bit more complicated when it comes to God and people. After all, we're not equal partners! God initiates the covenant. God decides the terms of the covenant. We can accept or reject his covenant, but that's it.

God's covenant begins with grace. God chose one man, Abraham, promised him land, people and blessing, and Abraham gained these blessings through faith (Gen 12:1-8, 15:1-21). God set his love on Abraham's descendants not because they were great or good, but simply because he loved them (Deut 7:7-11, 9:4-6, 10:14-16). He rescued them from slavery in Egypt and led them through the desert to Mount Sinai:

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. Exod 19:4-5
At Mount Sinai, God and his people made covenant promises to each other:

God - You will be my people and I will be your God if you obey my commands. (Exod 6:7, Lev 26:12, Deut 28:9, 26:16-19)
Israel - We will worship God only and obey his commands. (Exod 19:7, 24:3, 6, Deut 26:16-19)
I told the children how God made a covenant with his people at Mount Sinai, renewed it on the plains of Moab just before they entered the Promised Land, and renewed it once again in the Promised Land. (Exod 19-24, Deut 26:15-32:47, Josh 8:30-35)

It was a lot of fun, because I used duplo (you could use lego or wooden blocks) and a cardboard model of the ark of the covenant (an extra from our tabernacle model). Here's how it went:

At Mount Sinai, God made a covenant with his people. He promised that they would be his special people and he would be their God. They promised to obey him. Moses sacrificed some animals and sprinkled blood on the people and the altar. (That's Mount Sinai in the picture, not a pyramid; and that's Moses with an altar and sacrificial bull. We don't have any duplo in ancient Israelite costumes!)

God wrote the 10 commandments on 2 tablets of stone, and Moses put them in the ark of the covenant (although at this stage it was only a wooden box!) as a record of the commands they had to obey.

After 40 years more wandering through the desert, the people were on the plains of Moab (to the east of the Jordan). Moses was about to die, and the people were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses preached the longest sermon of all time: the book of Deuteronomy. The people once again renewed the covenant with God. Moses wrote the laws of God on a scroll and it was placed near the ark of the covenant.

Moses told the people what to do after Joshua led them into the Promised Land: how to renew the covenant again. He told them to go to 2 mountains: Mount Ebal and Mount Gerezim (probably near Shechem, near the Jordan River). Joshua was to write out the laws of God on 2 stones covered in plaster and set them up on Mount Ebal. He was to build an altar and offer sacrifices to God.

The 12 tribes of Israel were divided into 2 groups of 6 tribes. Half stood on the slopes of Mount Ebal and half on the slopes of Mount Gerezim, facing the ark of the covenant between them.

Joshua turned to the group in front of Mount Ebal. He told them all the curses which God said would come on the people if they disobeyed God's law. Their crops would die from disease and lack of rain. Their bodies would become sick and diseased. Their enemies would defeat them in battle, and take them away to be slaves in foreign lands.

Joshua turned to the group in front of Mount Gerezim. He told them all the blessings which God said would come on the people if they obeyed God's law. Their crops and animals would flourish. They would enjoy long, healthy lives. They would defeat their enemies in battle.

I asked the children, "Can laws written on stone or in a book change our hearts?" They answered "No".

The terrible reality, as Moses made perfectly clear, was that God's people would rebel against God. They would be taken away to foreign lands to be slaves. But God promised that even there, if they cried out to God, he would forgive them, bring them back to the Promised Land, and bless them (Deut 30:1-10, 31:14-18). Which is exactly what happened!

How much better is the new covenant! When Jesus died, God took away all the curses of the law and put them on Jesus:
Christ set us free from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Gal 3:13
When we put our trust in Jesus, we receive all the blessings of God:

God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Eph 1:3
We no longer need a law written on stone, for God has written his law on our hearts: "I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezek 36:26)

The time is coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant ...
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
(Jer 31:31, 33 cf Heb 8:6-13)
Curses removed. Blessings given. No more laws written on stone, but a heart of flesh which loves to serve God. How glad we should be that we live on this side of the cross!

Here's the last page of our books: pink for our hearts with God's law written on them.

That concludes my Sunday School series on the law and sacrifices, although I'll show you a picture of our completed books soon. I hope you've enjoyed it! If you'd like to see or use my Sunday School material on the law and sacrifices, Romans, or the fruit of the Spirit, please contact me.


kook said...

I don't even remember how I found your blog, but I enjoyed reading about your Sunday School lessons on the law and the sacrifices very much. You have done a great job, gave so much information and made such a nice book. I totally understand the children enjoyed all the lessons and got to know God better. Blessings on your work. If I want to use your lessons in the future, I will let you know.
Obs: English is not my mother tongue, sorry for the mistakes...

Deb said...

I just found these lessons! I will NEVER look at my Duplo collection in the same way again. I think our Old Testament Bible readings at dinner time will now HAVE to be accompanied by dynamic Duplo modeling. And I thought I'd never get any use out of that Duplo cow....