Covenants — Is the Lord Bound?

This IndentureThis post began as a response to J. Stapley’s recent post about Ordinances but quickly veered off in a tangent that would have constituted a threadjack of his post, so I’ve posted it as an independent contemplation.

J. was exploring possible origins of Mormon use of the word “ordinance” (or early influence as to the use and meaning of the word) in legal usage in his post and especially in the ensuing discussion in the comments (J. notes that he is beginning to think that “JS . . . was explicitly using legal language” when using the term “ordinance”). I think “covenant” also falls into this category of a term coopted from legal usage to express a religious teaching.

In fact, a commenter named Steve in J.’s discussion brought up covenants, noting that “we cannot arbitrarily make covenants and expect God to be bound to them. Only when God’s delegated authority authorizes this covenant does God become bound to the terms of the covenant, and only then will the conditional blessings of the covenant flow as we faithfully abide by those conditions.”

I think that Steve’s comment probably more or less approximates the way that virtually all contemporary Mormons understand and use the word “covenant” in the context of our religious teachings and practice. But what did “covenant” mean to early Latter-day Saints when they spoke of making covenants or when Joseph Smith used the word “covenant” in revelations received from the Lord? Could it have meant something different, something closer to the way “covenant” was and continues to be understood and used in a legal context?

As with “ordinance” there is, of course, Old Testament usage to take into account but both terms’ usage there is also legal in nature. Legal and religious authority were united and coterminous in most societies during the relevant Old Testament periods.

From a legal perspective, in the 1830s as today, a “covenant” is something one party to a contract, for instance a borrower, binds him or herself to (or promises to do) in order to create conditions in which performance of the contract by the other side can occur. The covenanting party promises to act in a certain way at all future times during the period in which the indenture or contract is in force such that the other party’s interests in the benefit of the bargain (in the case of debt, this is usually the lender’s or bondholders’ expectation of receiving interest payments) are measurably protected. In this sense, the lending party is not technically “bound” by the covenant itself; rather, the covenant binds the borrower, and the borrower’s compliance with his or her own covenant is a pre-condition for performance of the contract by the other party. If after performance has begun the borrower violates one of the covenant obligations, this can trigger other provisions of the contract or indenture that entail consequences — sometimes quite drastic, including even default and acceleration of principal in the case of some debt indentures — for the covenanting party.

So I wonder whether we do ourselves a disservice when we talk about “binding the Lord” when discussing covenants. We bind ourselves with covenants. And it is true that our transgression of covenants triggers consequences (though is it ever default?). But does our action in covenanting bind the Lord? Or do our covenants constitute promises on our part to behave in a certain way at all times in the future so that conditions are created in which the Lord is willing to entertain the idea of commerce with us? That might be a very Old Testament and, accordingly, uncomfortable idea. But is the idea of “binding the Lord” any less uncomfortable if you think it through? In fact, come to think of it, my brother Jordan wrestled with this very discomfort in a blog post at ABEV nearly six years ago!

Of course, D&C 82:10 needs to be taken into account as a data point. Section 82, which documents a revelation received by Joseph Smith in 1832, contains an example of one covenant that we as Latter-day Saints are supposed to make with the Lord. In verse 10 the Lord is quoted as referring to himself as being “bound” when we do what he says but that when we don’t do what he says we have no promise. Does the language in this verse actually mean that we bind the Lord by our actions? Or is the Lord expressing a choice to be involved in our affairs if we set the right pre-conditions for that to be possible by fulfilling the particular covenant to which we bind ourselves as outlined in that Section?

(Note that in D&C 82:15 the use of “covenant” corresponds to the legal usage I’ve referred to above: “I give unto you this commandment, that ye bind yourselves by this covenant, and it shall be done according to the laws of the Lord.”)

In any event, given that we completely ignore the rest of Section 82, I see no reason for any of us to think that the Lord is currently “bound” at all — we use D&C 82:10 as a proof-text for any “obedience” to any of the myriad rules that we have identified as necessary for living the Gospel, but does this verse’s function in Section 82 actually support that? Isn’t this verse talking about the Lord fulfilling his promise to transform us into a Zion society like Enoch’s in the event that we should bind ourselves to the covenant of consecration, common ownership, and need-based stewardship (see D&C 82:17-18)?

This “covenant” (to which we are commanded to bind ourselves, see D&C 82:15) explicitly entails the one thing that we contemporary American Mormons are least likely to achieve (given the way a majority of us — if a number of recent, reputable surveys are to be believed — have ceded Gospel territory to a particular, very culturally determined political ideology specific to this time and place): the rejection of the profit motive as our guiding principle in favor of “every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:19).

We are indeed very far from living this covenant as a people which, it seems, would require us to thumb our nose at Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” (as a relic of the telestial world) in favor of Joseph Smith’s “single eye” (D&C 82:19); we are not even close, either in theory or in practice, to being a people whose work is premised on seeking the interest of our neighbors with an eye single to the glory of God rather than working for the purpose of enriching ourselves to buy McMansions and the newest toys. (In fact, the current dominant political discourse among American Mormons, which seems to have in some senses hijacked our religious discourse, particularly at local levels, seems to militate against our compliance with this covenant, doesn’t it?) To being a people who work with the purpose and intention (in fulfillment of this covenant) that the product of their labor should “become the common property of the whole church” (D&C 82:18) so that all can “be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just” (D&C 82:17).

* * *

The internal usage of “covenant” in Section 82, especially verse 15, shows a usage of the term “covenant” — which we as Mormons now view as a primarily religious term unless we work in fields that regularly deal with indentures or other contractual covenants — that is consistent with the legal use of the term. Unfortunately, as Mormons in 2013 we fall far short in our fulfillment of this particular covenant, whether understood legally or exclusively religiously. Our wants are not just. And regardless of the legal understanding of how a covenant binds one party to a contract, should we think the Lord is currently bound? How could we think that based on the face of D&C 82, which requires us to bind ourselves by a covenant that we are very far from fulfilling?

Comments

  1. To me it’s hard to reconcile LDS ideas of a covenant-making God with the sort-of idealized modern parent we call Heavenly Father. The former evokes the image of a distant sovereign dispassionately handing out decrees for servants who do his will, but the latter strikes more of a chord with me, and while I don’t doubt that parents tend to reward obedient children more, they also do kind things for their children simply because they love them regardless of obedience. Granted I might be making more of the dichotomy than I need to, but I think being uncomfortable with the idea of “binding” the Lord reflects the tension between God as a king vs. God as a parent. So I guess even if we do proof-text DC 82 and we’re not “bound” currently at all, I just don’t like the whole concept as it relates to my preferred paradigm of God. I guess that’s a personal problem, though.

  2. We are bound. The question is whether the Lord really is.

    But I get your point about tension between the metaphors of God as King vs. God as father figure. If you really think about it, God actually is NOT an excellent role model as a father figure, is he? How would a father actually follow God’s example in virtually any of the mundane issues, activities, or responsibilities of being a father to little children? You have the fact that he loves all of his children. That is, of course, the primary way that we fathers should emulate God. But are there really others?

  3. I love this “take.” I am guilty of having ignored the rest of Section 82. Will go back and re-read it all. Thanks.

    john f: regarding your first point about the word “covenant.” I dislike all the proof-texting of the D&C 82:10 language, and am always happy to discover new ways to blow holes in our collective over-reliance on it. (One way is to note that D&C 82:10 certainly can’t be read in isolation; it has to be read in the context of Mosiah 2 where it says that God gives us everything in the first instance.) Anyhow, my question: in the legal sense, isn’t an covenant or contract formed once an offer is accepted? In that sense, God is the offerer and just patiently waits for us to accept the terms. Once we accept, God is bound. (OH, I hate that phrase.) Help me out here.

  4. Last Lemming says:

    Regardless of the specific covenant that D&C 82 may be referring to, I think the principle can be more broadly generalized than you seem to want to do. Every covenant that we fulfill, individually or collectively, necessarily results in the Lord performing his part of the agreement; e.g. forgiving us of our sins, transforming us into a Zion society, etc. The “binding” language makes it sound as if he is doing so grudgingly, but in fact our obedience just permits the Lord to respond in the way that he most wants to.

    The trap we often fall into is to is reading stuff into D&C 82:10 that isn’t there. Such as “I, the Lord, am bound to provide you with people to baptize if you do what I say; in other words, follow the mission rules. I even met a former bishop who was absolutely convinced, based on a favorable outcome, that he had successfully negotiated a deal with the Lord that was contingent on his own behavior (he didn’t specify the nature of that behavior). But the covenants to which D&C 82:10 applies are not ones we negotiate ourselves–they are set forth in the scriptures. The terms are set entirely by the Lord, and when he responds in the way he is “bound” to, it is not at all grudgingly, but with great joy.

  5. Fair points, LL.

  6. J. Stapley says:

    Great stuff, John. Inspired by the legal duplication highlighted in the comments of my post, I just went to look and it appears that “oath and covenant” occurs all over religious and legal texts before 1830. Is “oath and covenant” an example of legal duplication?

  7. not sure, J. — to be honest it sounds like conflating two different legal concepts. I don’t recall seeing “oath” language in old Indentures that have “covenant” language and I don’t think a court setting or affidavit where an “oath” would be typical would lend themselves to “covenant” language. But there might be something to that idea.

  8. Well, “oath” comes from old English, while “covenant” comes from Latin by way of old French, so it certainly seems like a good candidate for legal duplication.

  9. On second thought, though, they seem to describe different legal doctrines. And based on a few completely non-exhaustive google searches, it seems like the phrase is a lot more common in the Old Testament context than in the Anglo-American law context.

  10. Yes, we absolutely do ourselves a disservice when we talk about “binding the Lord” when discussing covenants. It lends itself to the unfortunately widely believed albeit false notion and common Mormon criticism that we can ‘work our way to heaven’ through our good deeds and conformity to the Mormon ideal – whatever that may be at the time.

  11. But at the same time, my understanding is that the type of “oath” that would be seen most often in the historical context of pre-Norman and Norman England was an oath of fealty, or an oath of loyalty between a lord and his thane. That seems to express pretty closely the type of “covenant” described in D&C 84–not just a promise to act a certain way, but a promise that binds the maker of the covenant to the one who accepts it. In fact, even the adoption imagery in D&C 84 (becoming “sons” of Moses and Aaron) sort of parallels similar concepts in the old oath of fealty. This is not a commercial contract negotiated at arms length between two equal sophisticated parties, like many legal covenants are (at least in theory) supposed to be. This is a promise to give all of oneself and all of one’s service to a superior party, in order to be able to claim that superior party’s protection and grace–Grace which, in the context of D&C 84 generously extends to all that the father hath.

  12. That’s excellent, JKC — I agree that your framework seems to be a productive way to view this.

  13. Thanks, john. I can’t take full credit, though. I only thought of the similarities because I’ve been reading a lot of Tolkien lately, and considering whether “oath of covenant” was a legal duplication led to me to think about what “oath” would have meant in pre-Norman England, on the theory that such a meaning should correspond to at least one meaning of “covenant” as it would have been understood in the Old French and Latin context.

    And that, of course, made me think specifically of the oath taken by Merry, accepted by Theoden, and even followed up by the conferral of a new name (or at least a new title), reflecting adoption into the royal household, a blessing (by the laying on of hands, even!), which a specific provision that the oath-taker wield his sword unto good fortune. (Also, some interesting differences between this oath and Pippin’s oath to Denethor.) Some interesting stuff here that maybe Ronan could take up in a separate post sometime . . .

    In any event, thanks.

  14. To go back to the contemplation in the original post, we “covenant” but does the Lord, whether he can be described as being “bound” or not, “covenant”?

    The contemporary Mormon conception of “covenant” as we explain it to our children, is that it is a “two-way promise”. This makes it seem more like “consideration” if trying to conceptualize it based on legal terminology. I wonder if early Mormons and Joseph Smith, in particular, really thought a “covenant” was a “two-way promise” as we try to describe it today (which would imply that just as we bind ourselves by a covenant, the Lord himself covenants for our benefit as well). Or did they take “covenant” in its legal usage to mean something rather one sided, in terms of the binding behavior at issue in the covenant, as the term was understood in Indentures of the day or in the context of fealty as JKC has suggested?

    It seems like the latter would be the case. Indentured servitude was very common at the time. Look at what this young girl covenants to do in her Indenture in 1794: http://hsp.org/education/primary-sources/indenture-of-letitia-beard

    We are in the position of indentured servants vis-à-vis the Lord when we covenant with Him. We have to comply with the promised behaviors listed in the Indenture in order to remain in his good graces, presence, or employ. Our covenant is part of the broader relationship we have with him. He is active in the relationship to the extent we comply with our covenant. That is his part of the arrangement but is that really a covenant that he makes towards us?

  15. Paul’s terminology is that he is (and we are?) slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is speaking from the terminology of his day. In Joseph Smith’s day, slaves also existed but American chattel slavery was a depraved evil that, to my understanding, did not resemble “slavery” in the Greek context relevant to Paul’s New Testament era writings. Indentured servants were more comparable to those slaves, though certainly not a perfect comparison. Perhaps “covenant” as used by early Mormons and Joseph Smith is a legal loan word taken from the context of the Indentures prevalent in their society and more or less approximates the dependent relationship of service and fealty that Paul describes with his slave metaphor.

  16. J. Stapley says:

    Excellent summary John. Doing a quick search, I can’t find any references to covenants as a two-way promise that aren’t of very recent vintage, and the vast majority are Mormon.

  17. I really like this, John.

    I always am bothered when we take that verse in isolation and completely ignore the rest of the section in which it is embedded. It really does change the meaning in an important, fundamental way when we look at it contextually.

    I wrote the following very short post last November, I think after reading another excellent post about this verse:

    “God Is Bound, But I Don’t Bind Him” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2012/11/god-is-bound-but-i-dont-bind-him.html)

  18. One more from this March that I believe applies directly to binding, as well – dealing more with the common attitude you describe than with how I read the verse in the context of the entire section:

    “The Danger of Seeing Patterns as Formulas” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-danger-of-seeing-patterns-as.html)

  19. Mike R. says:

    I’ve always liked Hinckley’s approach. “I got on my knees and made a covenant with the Lord that I would try to forget myself and go to work” sounds like a unilateral promise, not something that would bind the Lord, or need to be authorized by God’s designated authority.

  20. Another wrinkle worth considering is in D&C 82:11-12, where the Lord adds a slightly different slant on the meaning of being bound. In these verses, it is said that several leaders of the church are “to be bound together by a bond and covenant” in order to “manage the affairs of the poor, and all things pertaining to the bishopric.” Being bound apparently means more than being obliged to keep the terms of a promise. It also entails entering into a special relationship, a kind of fellowship, with others who also accept the covenant. It seems to be that this is more evidence for the idea of covenant as fealty.

    It also opens a richer possibility for what the Lord means when he says he is bound. In a sense it is trivial if the Lord says he is bound to do what he says he will do; we already expect him to be perfectly reliable. It strikes me as something genuinely new (and not trivial) if the Lord is promising to enter into a special, binding fellowship with us. In this light, Section 82 can be read as analogous to the events of Mosiah 5,where the people of King Benjamin made a covenant that entitled them to “be called the children of Christ.” (Mosiah 5:7) In both of these passages, we have members of the church making covenants that apparently bring them into a new relationship with God – something that is more profound than merely promising to behave in a certain way in order to receive a thing in return.

  21. I like that, Ray. If the Lord is bound, it’s because his word is his bond and he has chosen to bind himself.

    I prefer to think of the Lord being “bound” not in the sense that he is bound by an irresistible duty to act but rather that he is “bound” to us and we to him in the sense that the covenant is a bond that binds us together in an unbreakable relationship. (After all, the same section has a verse that says that the leaders of the church should be “bound together by a bond and covenant that cannot be broken.” In this instance, being “bound” by the covenant is pretty clearly about creating an unbreakable relationship between parties, not negotiating a transaction). The binding is one of creating and cementing a relationship, an unbreakable bond, not creating a tit-for-tat transaction with mutual obligations. Transactions are fleeting, but oaths are unbreakable. The covenant is “binding” in the sense that a court order finalizing an adoption binds the parent to the child, not in the sense that a contractual agreement is “binding” on the parties to it. In other words, the Lord is “bound” to us (when we do what he says) as a father is bound to his children by virtue of the fact that they are his children (whether biological or adopted). He is not bound to reward us for our oath-keeping (though he will, because he is full of grace, as Mosiah explains), but he is bound to us by our relationship as oath-keepers, his sons and daughters in the covenant.

    I realize that this is not the way D&C 82 is usually read, but I think it’s more consistent with the way covenants actually work. We make covenants in the church, and those covenants bind us to each other and to the Lord (indeed, that is arguably not just a result of the covenants, but the very point of those covenants, and the very reason we make them at all).

  22. ASM, it seems like we were thinking along the same lines.

  23. JKC, maybe we’re on to something.

  24. It’s interesting to think about the “two way promise” of a covenant as a way to control God. We want God to provide us with certain blessings. If we believe there is a “covenant” there, it gives us the feeling of security that we can affect outcomes in our lives that we would otherwise not be in control of.

  25. Is a “covenant” really a “two way promise” anywhere except within Mormonism in the last 100 years?

  26. J. Stapley says:

    John, I did a quick check, and it looks like maybe the last 10-20 years actually. Can’t find anything earlier in a quick scan. Google suggests some other churches have picked up on it in recent years as well.

    As a side note, this idea of binding God, is really an impulse of what antagonists would call “magic.” Sam’s presentation at MHA was fun on this.

  27. thanks — interesting to see that the “two-way promise” is much more recent than just the last 100 years, though I would think closer to 20 years than 10.

  28. Dale Whiting says:

    For the vast majority of commandments, all of which are said to be tied to the bestowal of a blessing, we forget or fail to realize one simple principle. Keeping commandments educates us, trains us, helps us to become better children of God. So the blessing comes naturally from obedience. Nothing need be binding! Just as Christ did nothing He has not seen the Father do, doing what Christ would have us do, i.e. come follow Him, is what this life is all about. But for those who need more encouragement, something dangling at the end of a stick, we get this principle of blessings tied to performance, like a carrot on the end of a stick.

    Time to go reward my dog. He’s been really obedient today!

  29. Two-way promise was used in the 1960s missionary lessons.

  30. @Dale. To me one of the main purposes of God offering official covenants is that obedience to principles alone cannot save us, that we cannot work out our own salvation, or in other words the blessings that flow from righteous action are not sufficient to give us the spiritual knowledge necessary to abide by celestial law. To me, covenants made in salvific ordinances are the key in accessing the full grace of Christ or the enabling power of His atonement. We have greater access to spiritual blessings that ultimately tend to spiritual knowledge under official covenant than we would by living righteous principles alone.

    I love the historical/legal context for ‘covenant’ offered in the OP and in many of the comments. I do like thinking of the covenant as one sided (I think it is), that we become ‘bound’ in a new special relationship, and that God is bound to fulfill His promises because He chooses to be as the author and one offering the covenant contract and relationship. He wants us to become greater, even as He,is and the only way this can be accomplished is if we accept and abide by the covenants God offers us, so we might more fully access all that the atonement has to offer.

  31. I love this post, John.

  32. *salvific rituals under Priesthood authority (to be more specific)

  33. It seems to be a pet topic to take commonly understood scriptures and not only turn them on their head (which is good for finding deeper meaning) but attempting to divorce yourselves ideologically from those who presently or in the past have used that scripture in a certain way. The contrarian nature really shows forth here.

    Is the Lord bound? *slaps forehead*
    He says as much. All the hand wringing is strange. If he says “I am bound” and you say, “Now, is he really bound?” it would seem there is a ready comprehension problem.

    That doesn’t take away from the interesting discussion in the post and here. But yes, he said as much. Now it’s important to understand what he means by bound. But I’m disturbed by this the increasing trend to obfuscate away all meaning by defining something by its contradiction — without considering that what your defining could just as easily be fluttered away.

    Yes, he is bound, in as much as he said so. No, that doesn’t mean we can take the term bound to all extremes and rhetorically abuse the meaning to whatever end we prefer.

    We might as well just take D&C 19:7 and say that the Lord used the word bound to work upon our hearts and he really didn’t mean it that way. Of course, in that light, we might as well reinterpret D&C 19:7 to apply to anything the Lord says and now suddenly everything means nothing and vice versa and we’re back to some weird kind of creed where we pretend to know that we don’t know an all knowing nothingness.
    /end rant

  34. “In verse 10 the Lord is quoted as referring to himself as being “bound” when we do what he says but that when we don’t do what he says we have no promise. Does the language in this verse actually mean that we bind the Lord by our actions? Or is the Lord expressing a choice to be involved in our affairs if we set the right pre-conditions for that to be possible by fulfilling the particular covenant to which we bind ourselves as outlined in that Section?”

    I don’t think either of your suppositions here are correct. We don’t bind the Lord by our actions, the Lord binds himself by giving us his word as an honest man that he will not break his promises to us. And secondly, we don’t set the conditions of covenants, that is the Lord’s prerogative. He sets the terms, and we either accept or reject his terms.

  35. Kelly, by “set the preconditions” what I meant was that by fulfilling the covenant to which we’ve bound ourselves (note that we have not done this — take a look at what the covenant actually is in D&C 82), we put ourselves into a position (through compliance with the conditions the Lord has set but that we have to choose to fulfill) in which the Lord is willing to become involved in our affairs and work a particular miracle.

    It is true that we have not chosen the terms of this covenant except to the extent that we “choose” it by complying with it, which we should do since we are bound by it.

  36. Dale Whiting says:

    SteveF,

    I do not overlook nor not appreciate your points. Our goal here in this earth life is to put off the Natural Man and become saints. We do that by spurning our natural tendencies to put ourselves first, just as Christ put others first. Once we have mastered this pursuit [in the hereafter for sure, and no sooner] we become Saints. How to we put off the Natural Man? We learn to follow the Master. And in doing so, we learn to serve others as even He and His Father did. This is the point I see us failing to realize. Keeping His commandments is a training exercise. Want to learn how to fly? Study, learn, practice and get equipped. Want to become perfected? Study and pray for understanding, learn to put others first, practice putting others first and thereby get the equipment Christ got from doing what He saw His Father do.

  37. @Dale. Yeah, I agree. I think our thoughts fit together quite nicely. To me grace is not an afterthought to the process of life, lifting us to a higher ground than we have become; rather I see grace as integrated into the process of becoming–an enabling strength beyond our current natural capacities helping us to then do, practice (train), achieve, and then become.

    To me this is why there is a binding that is necessary, to open the gates and access heaven’s helping hand so that with this help we might do and then become. But why not make this added aid universally accessible previous to a covenantal relationship? I’m going to speculate and say the answer is at least two-fold; 1) We must be educated as to the terms of receiving this additional aid, and 2) By entering this agreement we also then have a heightened responsibility to abide by those conditions, with greater negative consequences for failure to do so. I would imagine God seeks not to condemn those who are unprepared, for with the access to additional aid comes additional responsibility and higher stakes for our actions, but which are ultimately necessary to become a being that can abide a celestial law to inherit eternal life. That’s how I currently view it anyway.

  38. Just Me says:

    I’m sort of with Mahalo on this one. Handbook 2 provides a simple, straightforward description of the church’s idea of “covenants.” “God gives the conditions for the covenant, and His children agree to comply with those conditions. God promises blessings that are conditional on the person faithfully fulfilling the covenant.” Maybe it’s an interesting exercise to do a word history and study of the word, how it was used in legal circles, the scriptures, etc. But, in terms of how we use it in church, the Handbook seems to be the final say on the matter. We can complicate and dissect it to death, but it seems to be overkill.

  39. Just Me, the biggest issue – and the most important reason to “dissect” this – is that too many members (and, to be fair, lots of non-members) view God like a plug-and-play vending machine. They think, “If I do this, God has to do this” – and they put conditions on what God must do.

    For example, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone in church say, “If you pay your tithing, God will bless you financially – you will prosper financially.” I also have heard too many members attribute an inactive member’s relative poverty to the fact that the person stopped paying tithing. I call hogwash on that mentality, and it’s a direct result of what I see as a bad reading of the verse in question – in isolation – divorced from the actual content of the rest of the revelation of which it is a part.

    That is the danger of one particular interpretation of “bound” – and it’s common enough that it needs to be addressed.

  40. Just Me said, quoting the handbook: “God gives the conditions for the covenant, and His children agree to comply with those conditions. God promises blessings that are conditional on the person faithfully fulfilling the covenant.”

    Isn’t that kind of the point of this post (and the discussion that followed)–that God gives the conditions of the covenant, not us? In other words, our obedience does not bind the Lord at all; rather, the Lord promises blessings on his own terms, not on our terms. He clearly says he is “bound” but the exact nature of the binding and the cause of the binding is not explicitly laid out, and a dangerous misreading of it (i.e. that we “bind the Lord” to give us a particular blessing when we obey, for example, paying thing binds the Lord to bless us financially) leads to the perverse conclusion that an apparent lack of a particular blessing is evidence of disobedience as Ray notes in his comment.

    I guess I don’t read the handbook definition as shutting down the questions raised by the OP. In fact, the language in the handbook is rather one-sided: God sets the terms, we merely accept them; God promises the blessings, we don’t get to choose what they are. And in addition, the blessings are conditioned on “faithfully fulfilling the covenant”–well, once again, the sole judge of whether our obedience counts as faithfully fulfilling the covenant is God. If this were a legal contract, I’m sure the phrase “in his sole discretion” would immediately follow. Also, note that the handbook says that God’s promises are conditioned on obedience, but not that obedience is conditioned on his promises. In other words, once we accept the covenant we are required to fulfill regardless of whether the Lord chooses to bless us for it. (Of course he will, but it is because he is full of grace, not because we have somehow overpowered him with our obedience and forced him to bless us). Read closely, the handbook definition is not at all the “two way promise” that is sometimes described with commercial contract analogies, where both parties obligations are conditioned on the other’s fulfilling of his or her obligations.

    In short, even if the handbook is “the final say on the matter” (an assumption I’m setting aside for purposes of this comment), “I do not think it means what [Just Me seems to] think it means.”

  41. Space Chick says:

    Just reading this morning in Psalm 89, v 34 that the Lord tells David “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” So I would suggest the concept of a covenant where the Lord is one of the parties predates our current view.

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