I was just reading 1 Kings 8 in preparation for the Lord’s Day coming up, and I noticed a use of the term “covenant” which is extremely problematic for those who define “covenant” as “relationship.” This passage is 1 Kings 8:21. In the context, which is Solomon’s dedication of the temple, we note some interesting things.
First of all, what Solomon says indicates very clearly that the temple is the fulfillment of God’s promise made to his father David. However, verse 21 also implies that the fulfillment of the promise made to David is in turn connected to the covenant God made with the fathers when He brought them out of Egypt. This is indicated by the pronoun “our” connected to the noun “fathers.”
One is reminded of the preface to the second giving of the law in Deuteronomy 5, where Moses makes the point that it was not with their fathers (it was, but not absolutely and exclusively) that God had made the covenant, but with those present right there, all of them who were alive at the time of Deuteronomy being given to the people. In other words, 1 Kings 8:21 is a very important verse for deciding what the word “covenant” means, since Solomon is connecting the word not only with the Davidic promise-covenant, but also with the Mosaic covenant.
And here is what he says: the covenant actually resides in the ark of the covenant. What was in the ark of the covenant? The law of God (see verse 9). If covenant equals relationship, then it could not reside in the ark of the covenant. A relationship does not reside in a physical place. But it is actually said that the covenant was IN the ark of the covenant in the obvious form of the tablets of stone, on which were written the Ten Commandments. This points fairly conclusively to a definition of covenant as “agreement.” Of course, the relationship is based on the agreement, and the agreement and the relationship built upon it are closely tied together. And no, contrary to all the rhetoric of the FV folks, saying a covenant is an agreement is not a cold, legal, paperish sort of thing, any more than a marriage certificate is. Looking at my marriage certificate brings many happy memories back to me of the wedding, and of my wife, just as looking at the covenantal agreement in Scripture brings us back to God’s love for us, and the love we are required to give back to God in the form of obedience to the Ten Commandments.