Covenant Limitations

Let me share a few notes on Biblical Law. The fundamental frame of reference is both Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) feudalism and covenants. In most biblical references, “law” is simply a bad translation for words that indicate “covenant.” The meaning of “law” in the Western world is far, far different from the implications of how that concept stood in the Bible. In the West, we use the word “covenant” mostly as a synonym for “contract” — something impersonal. This meaning is a perversion. In the Bible, everything was personal.

Every biblical covenant included a provision for dealing with those outside the covenant. It also had provisions for those outside the covenant who wanted to hang around and enjoy some of the blessings of the covenant. The hope was always that they would eventually embrace the covenant, but until they did, they were excluded from certain benefits of it.

The fundamental covenant for all the world today is that of Noah (see Genesis 9 and Acts 15). One of the first lines of God’s announcement of this covenant notes that all other life on the planet is potentially under our human dominion.

And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. (Genesis 9:2 KJV)

Unlike in the Garden of Eden, where we were one with the rest of Creation, we now are somewhat at enmity with the natural world by our lack of communion with it. While redemptions means moving back toward the way things were in Eden, the Law of Noah stands on the assumption of where we are before we start down that path. Embracing Noah is the first step on that path.

So as a part of that Covenant of Noah, we are supposed to exercise some level of control over the animals in this world in accordance with our plans and purposes. It’s those plans and purposes that need fixing first, but we are permitted to get it wrong to some degree under the assumption we will eventually start moving down the path of revelation and redemption. Animals themselves operate according to this Covenant of Noah in the first place, and need no conscious consent to it. But the natural world is not fallen; we are. We are the ones who need the covenant to inform us how things are supposed to work.

Based on the Covenant of Noah, we are supposed to begin forming covenant communities. We are supposed to organize as tribes, extended family households. We don’t own the land on which we subsist, but we can occupy and control it. Others who aren’t part of the family can join us, but they must first embrace the family covenant. This all assumes any tribal covenant must conform to revelation, whatever revelation is available at the time.

On one level, it’s like animals. We can bring them into the household, not as family, but as a natural resource used by the family for the family welfare. If we can domesticate those animals, fine. We feed them and enter into a covenant obligation to seek their welfare while they serve our welfare. Cruelty is inherently forbidden, but directing them against their wishes is not necessarily a sin. For the most part they have no clue what we are doing in the first place.

So if you feed a stray dog or cat, they will tend to stay around. If you reach out to them with care, they will generally accept your yoke of mastery. But they cannot consent to a family covenant; they simply respond as Noah’s Covenant indicates.

With humans, a different burden falls on them. If stray humans pass through, you are obliged to offer them a modicum of life support. Unless they are a threat, they are treated as an ally. They don’t get as much support as family gets, but as much as you can afford to give freely. Yes, there is a lot of discussion over the details of how that works out, but broad assumptions are sufficient for now. You aren’t required to feed them and house them comfortably as long as they aren’t under your household covenant. What they or anyone else may suggest they need isn’t the issue; it’s a matter of what you have to offer someone who has no real claim on your hospitality.

Without that covenant relationship, you do not have the power to invest in their lives. Remember what I wrote above: this is feudalism. That ANE feudalism is written into the fabric of Creation, so it’s an unspoken assumption of all Biblical Law. You have no significant obligation outside the feudal family covenant, because without that covenant, you have no power to redeem their lives from whatever they suffer. Whatever you share with them will not be a blessing unless you observe the boundaries of Biblical Law. You must not dilute the blessings — the shalom — from the hand of God without a covenant, and that covenant must be feudal.

World history is loaded with examples of improperly embracing people as part of your tribe without first putting them under the same covenant that rules the rest of the tribe. There is no moral obligation whatsoever demanding you care and share with those who reject the covenant under which you live. And if you have no established conscious covenant in the first place, you cannot call on God for any blessings He doesn’t give anyone else in this world who doesn’t know Him. All the blessings revealed in Scripture are always under one covenant or another.

This is the nature of reality; this is the character of God Himself according to His own revelation. And being “born again” does not relieve you from the obligations. You are not under Biblical Law; you become Biblical Law. It is grafted into your character. It is your divine heritage that you must discover, that you can discover by turning inward to your own heart where the Holy Spirit stands ready to enlighten your feeble fallen mind.

Biblical Law is merely a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Biblical Law requires a feudal family covenant.

About Ed Hurst

Avid cyclist, Disabled Veteran, Bible History teacher, and wannabe writer; retired.
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