Covenant Love, Lesson 2.3

Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical Worldview

Lesson Two: From Sabbath to Flood

Lesson Objectives

  1. To read Genesis 1-12 with understanding.
  2. To learn the meaning of the first two covenants of salvation history - the Sabbath, and the covenant made with Noah.
  3. To begin to understand the "patterns" of biblical history.

III. Creating a Covenant of Love

A. The Love Story of God and Humanity

The point of the first three chapters of Genesis is to show us that creation was a deliberate, purposeful act of love by God. The world didn't just happen. God wanted the world - not because He was lonely, not because there was anything He lacked or needed.

God created the world because God is love (see 1 John 4:16). And love is creative, self-giving and life-giving.

God made the world as a pure gift of His love. He created the world as His home, a sort of cosmic temple in which the heavens are the ceiling and the earth - with all its vast continents, rivers, oceans, mountain ranges and the like - is the floor. The world is made to be a temple where He will dwell with the descendants of the man and woman, the crown jewel, of His creation.

The world is made to be the site where God will live in communion with the people He created. That's what the seventh day, the Sabbath, means (Genesis 2:1-3).

The seventh day marks the completion of God's work on His dwelling, and this is the day He makes a covenant with the people He created. As we said in our last lesson, "covenant" is the way that God makes His people into a family. On the seventh day, God made Adam and Eve part of His family.

The covenant of creation, then, is the first sign of God's intentions for the world and for the human race. It's true that the word "covenant" isn't mentioned in the Genesis account. But it's everywhere between the lines.

Some scholars believe Genesis records a seven-day creation because the root of the Hebrew word for "covenant oath-swearing" - sheba - stems from the word "seven." To swear an oath means, literally, "to seven oneself" (see Genesis 21:27-32). We can say that God made the world in seven days as an act of cosmic oath-swearing, a "sevening of Himself" to His creation - He created in order to covenant.

Later, God reveals to Moses that the Sabbath is to be observed as "a perpetual covenant" (see Exodus 31:16-17). The Sabbath becomes the day of worship, when God and the people He created in His image rest together in love. (see Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17;Deuteronomy 5:15; 12:9; Ezekiel 20:12).

The Catechism calls the creation story the "first step" in "the forging of the covenant of the one God with His people...the first and universal witness to God's all-powerful love" (no. 288). That's why Jesus says: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (see Mark 2:27-28).

It's very important that we understand this covenant of creation.

Because it is the archetype - the source and model - for all the covenants that we will be studying in this course. Every one of the future covenants - with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the New Covenant of Jesus - is a remembrance and a renewal of this first covenant with creation.

In other words, in those future covenants, we will find that God is remembering, rededicating and recommiting Himself, so to speak, to this original covenant. This is how the ancient Jews looked at the covenants. We can see that in some of the so-called "intertestamental literature" - Jewish religious books and commentaries written between the close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New (see Jubilees 36:7; 1 Enoch 69:15-27).

As the covenants of old are described as renewing the covenant of creation, the New Covenant - the final and everlasting covenant - is described as bringing about a new creation.

Jesus, "the firstborn of all creation" becomes the "firstborn from the dead" and the "firstfruits" of a reborn humanity (see Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Corinthians 15:20). Those who enter into that New Covenant through Baptism become "new creations" (see 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). Finally, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: "A Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God" (see Hebrews 4:9).

What we're saying here has been beautifully summed up by Pope Benedict XVI:

" Creation moves toward the Sabbath...The Sabbath is the sign of the covenant between God and man; it sums up the inward essence of the covenant....Creation exists to be a place for the covenant that God wants to make with man. The goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man" (see The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp. 25-27)

Remember that line: The goal, the purpose - the reason that God made the world "in the beginning" - is the covenant, the communion of love that He desires with the human race.

B. The Wedding in the Garden

The "sign" of God's creation covenant of love is marriage.

So we have the chapter that begins with God instituting the Sabbath, blessing it and making it holy (Genesis 2:1-3) ending with God instituting marriage - in which man and woman become one flesh (Genesis 2:23-24).

Again, in order to understand what we're reading here, we need to read the Bible as a single book, with a unity of content. We also need to read this Old Testament passage in light of how it is read in the New Testament.

We don't find the literal text telling us here that God is "instituting marriage" and that He is making it a permanent, irrevocable covenant between husband and wife. And we don't find the literal text here telling us that this marriage covenant between Adam and Eve symbolizes God's permanent, irrevocable covenant with the human race and all creation.

But, when we read this passage in light of the New Testament and in light of the prophets, we understand that this is precisely what's happening here.

This is the way God works in the Bible. It's His "pedagogy" - His divine teaching style. He unfolds things slowly. Often He gives us the "sign" itself first and then reveals to us the full significance of the sign later (see Catechism, nos. 53; 122; 1145).

That's what He's doing here in Genesis. He's giving us the "sign" of marriage. Later in Scripture it will be revealed that marriage is about not only the relationship between husband and wife. It's intended by God also to be a sign of the relationship He desires with all humanity.

The word "marriage" isn't used here in Genesis. We know it's about marriage because Jesus said it was (see Mark 10:2-16). Jesus says this text reflects God's will "from the beginning of creation" and that "what God has joined together, no human being must separate."

Now, further along in the New Testament, God shows us more fully what this text means. In Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, he quotes this text and explains that this marriage covenant in the garden is a reference to the covenant between "Christ and the Church" (seeEphesians 5:21-33).

Paul doesn't say that our Genesis text isn't about husbands and wives. In fact, he gives a beautiful teaching on the love that husbands and wives share. But he is telling us that marriage is also a symbol of a far greater love - the love that Christ has for His bride, the Church, the love that God has for His people.

Finally, we turn to the Bible's last book, the Book of Revelation. What do we find on the very last pages of the Bible? A wedding. Just as we find a wedding here in the first pages of the Bible. Coincidence? Hardly.

What Revelation "reveals" is the final consummation, the marriage of Christ to His bride (see Revelation 19:9; 21:9; 22:17). And what else? A new creation - a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1).

The prophets always taught Israel to hope for the renewal of the covenant, to reform their lives to live according to the covenant. And one their favorite descriptions is that of God or the Messiah coming as a bridegroom to take His people as his spouse or bride (see Hosea 2:16-24; Jeremiah 2:2; Isaiah 54:4-8). That why when Jesus comes, He calls Himself the "bridegroom" and those who are united to Him in Baptism are called "espoused" (see John 3:29; Mark 2:19; Matthew 22:1-14; 25:1-13; 1 Corinthians 6:15-17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; see also Catechism, no. 796).

We'll talk about this more in our last lesson in this course. But we need to see here - right at the beginning - that this marriage in the Garden of Eden, along w ith the Sabbath that God institutes, are signs that point us to things far greater.

Pope John Paul II says that the Sabbath story "discloses something of the nuptial shape of the relationship that God want to establish with the creature made in His own image, by calling that creature to enter into a pact of love" (see the Pope's apostolic letter "On Keeping the Lord's Day," nos. 11-12).

C. The Child-Like Image of Man

The "nuptial" image of the groom and spouse is only one of the images the Bible uses to describe the relationship of God to His people. The other image is that of Father to His children. We find this image, too, in the Genesis account.

It's often said that the Bible contradicts itself by having two seemingly different accounts of creation within the first two chapters of Genesis.

But they're not contradictions. There is a complete "complementarity" between the accounts.

In Genesis 1, we have God the Creator bringing the cosmos into existence - making a cosmic "home" for himself. At the end of this creation, we see Him creating the human person "in his the divine image...male and female."

In Genesis 2, we see God working personally, as a Father, lovingly fashioning the man from the dirt of the earth, creating a garden paradise for him, and finally creating a spouse for him from his very side.

There are not two "gods" at work here or two conflicting stories. Not only is God the Creator of all that is seen and unseen. He is also a Father, who loves His people tenderly, as a divine parent.

In the language of the Bible, to be born in someone's "image and likeness," means to be that person's child. The expression "image and likeness" expresses the Father-son relationship of God and His people (see Genesis 5:1-3; Luke 3:38). From the very beginning, then, we see that God intended people to be His children, His divine offspring.

But as we saw above, there is also what the Pope describes as a "nuptial" dimension to the relationship that God wants with His people.

We're learning, in the very first pages of the Bible, a very important lesson - the limits of our human language in describing God's love for us. Words can't possibly begin to describe the love that God has for us. So here, in the first pages of the Bible, we're given the two most powerful images of human love imaginable - that of parent and child and that of husband and wife (see Catechism, no. 219).

In a sense, we can say that the Bible we're about to read cover-to-cover, tells the story of God raising His family from infancy to adulthood. He prepares them little by little to be fit for the wedding supper of the Lamb in heaven, for a divine union with Him that can only be symbolized by marriage - the most ecstatic and intimate of human relationships.

Continue to Section 4

Other Lessons

  • Lesson One: The Master Key that Unlocks the Bible
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To learn the "big-picture" overview of the Bible - the story that the Bible tells.
    2. To understand the concept of "covenant" and its importance for reading and interpreting the Bible.
    3. To learn in general detail the six major covenants in the Bible.

    Begin Lesson One

  • Lesson Three: Our Father, Abraham
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 12-50 with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenant with Abraham and to see how that covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate key figures and elements in the Abraham story - Melchizedek, circumcision, the sacrifice of Isaac - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Three

  • Lesson Four: The First-Born Son of God
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai and to see how this covenant looks forward to and is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate the key figures and events - Moses, the Passover, and the vocation of Israel as “a kingdom of priests” - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Four

  • Lesson Five: A Throne For All Generations
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To finish reading the Old Testament (from Joshua to Malachi) and to read with understanding.
    2. To understand the broad outlines of the history of Israel in light of God’s covenant with Abraham.
    3. To appreciate the crucial importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David.

    Begin Lesson Five

  • Lesson Six: The New and Everlasting Covenant
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the New Testament with understanding.
    2. To understand how the New Testament depicts Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenants of the Old Testament.
    3. To appreciate, especially, the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David for understanding the mission of Jesus and the Church as it is presented in the New Testament.

    Begin Lesson Six