Best of Daily Reflections: Living in God’s Covenant Promise
I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm.
I once received a fellowship to study and travel in Europe for as long as we could make the money last. We made no prior arrangements except to pick up a car in Amsterdam and to register at the University of Edinburgh. When our 747 landed, all we had was our luggage and a crumpled scrap of paper with a telephone number on it. There was supposed to be a car waiting for us at the other end of the call. Crossing the Atlantic, every few hours I’d search my pockets to remind myself that I still had the number. That telephone number represented the promise of a car. But would the car really be there? I dialed the number.
The Bible is called a book of promises; the most important of them come from God in the form of covenants. God’s covenants promise great and immutable things from God, but they require surprisingly little from us in return.
Psalm 89 is a restatement of God’s covenant made through David (2 Samuel 7) which was to be used in public worship. Whenever Psalm 89 was sung, the Psalmist was reassuring the people that God’s covenant still applied. The people would review God’s promise the way I reviewed the telephone number part way across the Atlantic to make sure I still had it.
David had been “a man after God’s own heart,” but many aspects of his life made that difficult to believe. There were adultery, murder, episodes of bloodshed, lies, revenge, treachery, and polygamy right down to his last breath when David charged his son Solomon to kill Joab and Shimei. Psalm 89 was written after David’s empire had been bitterly fractured. Ten of the twelve tribes had broken away from Judah to form their own nation of Israel. So what about that covenant? Had God nullified it? Over millennia of time and through cycles of misbehavior, it’s hard not to wonder about God’s promises.
When Hell Was in Session is the memoir of Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton’s seven years as a POW during the Vietnam War. His daily presence and especially his example when conditions were at their worst had a huge effect on his fellow prisoners. When life became especially brutal, Denton would stand in the center of the prison yard and invite others to join in as he shouted at the top his lungs,
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
At low moments, Rear Admiral Denton shouted God’s covenant that came through Jesus, that came through David, that came through Moses and Abraham and Noah. And through thick and thin, it comes all the way to you.
I have found my servant David;
with my holy oil I have anointed him;
my hand shall always remain with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not outwit him,
the wicked shall not humble him.
I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him;
and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
He shall cry to me, “You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation!”
I will make him the firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him,
and my covenant with him will stand firm.
I will establish his line forever,
and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my ordinances,
if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with scourges;
but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
or be false to my faithfulness.
I will not violate my covenant,
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
His line shall continue forever,
and his throne endure before me like the sun.
It shall be established forever like the moon,
an enduring witness in the skies.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How would it change life and history if God frequently changed his mind? Which of God’s promises seem most important to you? Which kinds of promises are most important for you to make and keep?
PRAYER: Merciful God, in the three thousand years since you made your covenant with David, we have given you ten thousand reasons to break it. Yet you remain steadfast, faithful, and true. Strengthen me to be faithful to you and to those who depend on me and my word. Amen.