Articles on Talmidaism Theology
(the article on the Universal Covenant is half-way down this page)
What is a covenant?
Israelite theology understands that the nature of our relationship with God is regulated by ‘The Covenant’. But what is a covenant?
A covenant is nothing more complicated than a treaty or pact between two parties. It can be between two equals for mutual benefit or to ensure peace, or between a superior and a subordinate to ensure loyalty. One type of common Middle Eastern treaty / covenant in ancient times was often contracted (or ‘cut’) when a powerful kingdom or empire took over a weaker country. The conqueror would say for example, that in return for your loyalty and annual tribute of gold, animals, grain etc, I will protect you and preserve you. It is this type of covenant – that of a superior to a subordinate – that typifies those that God entered into with the people of Israel.
Another important thing to realise about covenants, is that they cannot be revoked or nullified. Nor can a present covenant replace a former one: “Whatever God declares shall be forever” (Ecc 13:14); “The word of YHVH shall stand firm forever” (Isa 40:18); “And it shall be a law for all time” (Num 19:21); “I will not annul my covenant with them,” (Lev 26:44); “I will not violate my covenant, nor change what I have uttered,” (Ps 89:35). Covenants can be exanded and appended to, but not annulled or changed.
People in ancient times took covenants very, very seriously. They were usually sealed by a binding and irrevocable oath, accompanied by a shared meal, or the sacrifice of an animal and dividing the parts between the two parties concerned. Breaking the terms of a covenant was viewed as a heinous crime. If two equals made a covenant, and one of them broke it, then a feud would result, or the wronged party would sue for the heaviest possible compensation. If a client state broke a covenant with a ruling empire, then that empire would come in and destroy the smaller country, and carry off its citizens as slaves.
With this mindset that ancient people had surrounding covenants, you can understand how seriously God viewed the covenant he made with the people of Israel, and how the Israelites understood that relationship.
‘The Covenant’ is therefore a set of laws, principles and guidelines that govern our relationship with God, as human beings and as Israelites. Within this Covenant are a number of ‘addenda’ – parts of the covenant which update and clarify what has been given previously, but without replacing, nullifying or revoking what was previously given. Although they are often refered to as if they were separate covenants, in practice they are actually additions to the one, single Covenant.
The format of ancient Middle Eastern Covenants
Covenantal agreements or treaties throughout the ancient Middle East took a certain format:
- Preamble – names the author of the treaty
- Prologue – sets out the historical relationship between the two parties
- Stipulations – sets out the mutual responsibilities of the two parties
- Provisionary clause – provides that the document be read by the client state at regular intervals
- Witnesses to the treaty – with pagan religions, this would include the names of various gods
- Blessings – describes the benefits of keeping to the terms of the treaty
- Curses – describes the punishment that will befall the client state if they break the terms of the treaty.
Now, upon reading the typical biblical covenants, the last bit – the curses – sound really nasty. To the modern mind, they are totally unacceptable; we do not need to cower with the threat of a whip hanging over us. However, one has to understand that the world that these covenants were written for was a very different one, with different values and a different view of what was acceptable and not acceptable.
A typical biblical covenant goes something like this:
- Preamble: “I am YHVH your God,
- Prologue: “Who brought you out of the land of Egypt”
- Stipulations: “I will be your God, and you will be my people”
- Provisions: Read these laws each year before an assembly of the people
- Witnesses: And YHVH said these things to Moses before the children of Israel
- Blessings: If you do all these things, I will bless the land, and bring rain in its season
- Curses: If you do not do these things, then I will exact penalties for your wrongdoings
This is in fact bits and pieces from several covenants, but it gives you an idea of the form that a covenant took, so that next time you read the bible, you will be able to recognise a covenant when you see it. You will be able to understand why God speaks in the way God does in the bible.
The seven covenants described in the Bible
Remember how I said that one covenant cannot replace another? Well, the bible describes seven covenants, three made with the whole of humankind, and four with the people of Israel.
At various stages of our growth, first as human beings, and secondly as Israelites, God gave us ‘additions’ the Covenant. Each successive covenant adds to, enhances, extends and expands the ones before, but never replaces the previous ones. God seems to be gradually building up a relationship with us, gradually training us to see things God’s way, and to remember what we were created in heaven to be.
The very first cornerstone of the Covenant, which no subsequent addition can nullify or revoke, is the Universal Covenant (brit `olam – Isa 24:5), which is the covenant of moral conscience instilled within all of us at the creation of our souls in heaven. It enables us to naturally know right from wrong, and gives us the sense of moral outrage when there is injustice or wrongdoing in the world. Because this is the one, foundational part of the Covenant that can never be rescinded, it then means that no subsequent addition to the Covenant should be applied in such a way that is cruel or unjust; therefore, if we begin to apply Torah in such a way that it causes suffering, misery or injustice, then we must be interpreting Torah incorrectly.
Jeremiah’s so-called ‘new covenant’ (Jer 31:31) should be more properly read as ‘renewed Covenant’. It is not a new covenant for Christians that replaces the one with Israel, but rather is expression of how we can return to God at times when Israel has collectively broken the Covenant – of our collective return to God, and of the hope that at such times we will remember what God has written on our hearts. This principle of return and renewal was established on the plains of Moab.
So, as human beings, these are the three parts of the Covenant that are incumbent on the whole of humanity:
1. The Universal Covenant (this gives us our moral conscience, and our innate sense of right and wrong) (see below)
2. The Adamic Covenant (this tells us to increase and multiply, gives us green plants as food, and instructs us to look after the earth with wise stewardship)
3. The Covenant with Noah and all life on earth (this further consolidates human custodianship of nature, establishes the principle of a just society having a set of civil laws, gives us animals to eat in addition to the plants, but not to eat meat with blood still in it; and that people who take a life shall be held accountable).
These are the four parts of the Covenant that are incumbent on us as Israelites:
4. The Covenant with Abraham and the Patriarchs (this tells us that we shall worship only Yahveh, and that we shall follow only Yahveh’s principles, values and morals; that we shall be given Canaan as an eternal possession; and that as a sign of that inheritance, we shall circumcise our males at 8 days old).
5. The Covenant with Moses and the people of Israel at Sinai on Mt Horeb (this gives us the codification of God’s law into the written Torah; it instructs us to be a holy nation; to observe the Sabbath; not to make or worship idols; to redeem the firstborn; to observe the three pilgrim festivals; not to use the name of God to swear false oaths; to have reverence for God’s Sanctuary; and gives us the Ten Edicts as the foundation of all our other laws).
6. The covenant on the Plains of Moab with Israel (this gives us the clause of ‘renewing’ the Covenant; it establishes the principle that disobedience to the Covenant does not cancel it, because God will always keep His side of the deal – Yahveh has promised eternal love and faithfulness to Israel, and God will never break what God has promised; the covenant at Moab therefore establishes the principle of repentance for turning to other gods and other ways; it reminds Israel of the blessings of returning to Yahveh and following God’s ways, as well as the penalties and downsides of rejecting Yahveh and God’s ways; it also says that gross breaches of the Covenant will be met with Exile from the Land of Israel, but promises that faithfulness to Yahveh will be rewarded by Israel being honoured among the Nations of the earth, that Israel’s enemies will be defeated, and that the Land itself will prosper and be fertile).
7. The Covenant with David and his descendants (this promises that Israel’s anointed kings will be descendants of David; that if these messiahs are obedient to God, then Israel will prosper, will be safe and secure in the Land, and evil people will not oppress them; but if a messiah is disobedient to Yahveh, and turns to other gods and other ways, then Israel will fail, and fall to her enemies).
Please click on the links to explore each individual covenant – their wording, terms and conditions, benefits and blessings.
So how far back does one go for one’s first point of reference? Is Yeshua`’s teaching sufficient? The prophets of the First Temple period? Solomon? Moses? Adam? I would posit we need to go even further back in time – to the very first system of values that God gave us – Tsedeq (or ‘Righteousness’) – the religion of heaven that God first imprinted on our souls.
Imagine if you can, the highest good, the noblest values, the greatest goals, and purest spiritual outlook. If you can do that, you can imagine the religion of heaven – the first religion that we were all created with. This is the religion we all followed in heaven, before we ever came to earth; it is the religion we have most of us forgotten, the values of goodness we can only weakly defend in the face of religious fundamentalism.
If anyone thinks ‘doing Torah’ is nothing to do with ethics or human conscience, they should think long and hard about Dt 6:18. In this verse, we are commanded to ‘do whatever Yahveh regards as upright and good’ (literally, ‘You shall do the upright and the good in the eyes of YHVH’). The Hebrew word for ‘upright’, yāshār, refers to ethical righteousness and moral rectitude, not just to written commandments. In case we are tempted to do only what it says in Torah, and no more (in order to get out of the task of being a decent person of good conscience), then we are also commanded to do everything that God considers to be good and ethically right, regardless of whether it has been explicitly commanded or not. Only a cold and pitiless heart without any form of conscience, will then ask, ‘But how can we possibly know what’s right and ethically good, unless it be written down?’
There has been some criticism of Talmidaism online, in that we apparently project back onto Yeshua` the values of the Gentile West – for example reason, humaneness and tolerance. This mostly comes from a lack of understanding of what Talmidaism is – or what the Israelite faith hoped for. As Talmidis we realise that Yeshua` had a limited mission – to call people back to God’s ways, so that as many as possible could be saved from the tribulation about to hit the land of Israel.
You see, Talmidaism is much more than Yeshua`, Jacob the Pious and his early community in Jerusalem; Talmidaism is the sum of the best of Yahwist Israelite values, and that set of values presents a God who is against superstition, who instils within us a discernment for wisdom, justice and understanding, and who teaches us to be fair and just towards our neighbours. Much of this is to bring out from within us what God has already placed there – a reasoning, humane and understanding heart, that places importance on individual responsibility, and enables us to draw on our inner courage and strength to get through the difficulties of life. Anyone who thinks Torah has nothing to do with reason or social justice, doesn’t understand Torah!
In Hebrew, there is a term, ברית עולם brit `olam. It literally means, ‘eternal covenant’. Every time this phrase is used, it refers to the Covenant with Israel – except for one time. That one occasion occurs in Isaiah 24:5. There, the prophet describes how the earth will be ravaged and laid waste. This will not be for breaking the laws of Torah, but because “. . . the earth is defiled by her inhabitants, because they have transgressed [humane] laws, they have violated [moral] principles, and broken the universal covenant (brit `olam).” This covenant is referring to a covenant that covers the whole of humanity.
Now, there are some who say that this covenant is the one with Noah or even the one with Adam. However, this cannot be the case, because there are some things for which the Hebrew prophets criticise other nations, that would not be covered by either one of these two covenants. For example, Amos criticises the people of Moab for burning the bones of the King of Edom, and for this, God would mete out His divine justice against them. But this act is not covered under either the Adamic or Noachide laws or covenants.
The Universal Covenant is in fact the natural moral law that exists between Yahveh and the whole of humanity. It is not written on any scroll or parchment, nor are its terms recorded in any book. The only place it is written is on the human heart – the human conscience. The Universal Covenant is what gives all human beings the sense of moral outrage when any human being does something wrong. Even though an act might not be outlawed by any biblical mitsvah or proclamation, we inherently know that a word or deed is wrong. For the ancient Israelites, the unwritten laws of hospitality, which appear nowhere in Torah, were part of this Universal Covenant too. All decent people would also consider the psychological and physical abuse of children to be wrong, but this is not covered by the written Torah either.
Take also the question of, ‘What law or covenant were the people of the earth judged under before the Great Flood, before the Noachide laws?’ Gen 6:11-13 reads like an indictment in a court of law. However, without the universal covenant – without that set of unwritten laws – no righteous judgment could be made by a just God against humanity. Without the Universal Covenant, in God’s court of law, humanity could otherwise legitimately have said, ‘But you gave us no law or code to live by, so how could we be accused of breaking any laws?’
The prophet Yeshua` taught us that ‘the Kingdom of God is within you.” The prophet Jeremiah also speaks about God writing God’s laws on our hearts, and Deuteronomy tells us that God’s Word is written on our hearts. If we ignore the natural religion of heaven that God has placed within us, we ignore an important part of what God requires of us as religious people. Neglecting the holiness of the way of the heart and mind, leaving human souls to descend into hatefulness, injustice and selfishness, profanes the Sanctity of Yahveh just as much as neglecting the spiritual reverence due to God, within the context of ritual observance and tradition.
In the Israelite religion, the natural religion of the human soul is Tsedeq – Righteousness (or Justice / Uprightness). The laws that govern natural human religion have been written on the human heart – the human conscience, not on any parchment or scrolls; these are the laws that Noah followed and taught to his sons, the laws by which God judged him blameless – after all, he didn’t have a bible or Torah to refer to (and neither did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob etc).
So, even though other nations do not have Torah, they do have God’s heavenly law of Tsedeq – the Way of Righteousness, which from the day we gained sentience, was written on the human heart, giving us the knowledge to be able to tell the difference between good and evil. Knowing as we do, that no additions to God’s covenant can override what is previously given, it is important to be stated here that even the written Torah cannot override Tsedeq – the written Torah cannot override what God has written on the human heart. If it does appear to do so, then we must be interpreting Torah incorrectly (and if anyone says that Torah can overrule Tsedeq, what they are effectively saying is that Torah is not righteous or just)!
Righteousness and Wisdom – both of which are from God – are the two guide-stones by which we apply and interpret Torah; just as priests entered the Temple of Solomon between 2 pillars, so also humankind should practice their religion, approaching God between the twin pillars of Righteousness and Wisdom. If we apply written religious law without wisdom or righteousness, we turn our faces against God, and set ourselves up for judgment.
The terms of the Universal Covenant are simple: the positive instructions are, ‘Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.’ The punishment for violating this is also simple: ‘As you have done, so will God do to you.’
This is the covenant that the people of Nineveh broke, and necessitated Jonah being sent to call them to repent (otherwise, tell me by what religious law were they being judged under – they certainly weren’t condemned for breaking the Torah of Moses)! They were judged under the Universal Covenant – the covenant under which the Philistines were condemned by Amos, because of the cruelty they had shown to other nations (i.e. not just Israel); this is the covenant under which all the prophets condemn other nations for their unjust actions, regardless of which people their cruelty is directed against.
The Universal Covenant applies to all humanity, even the Jewish people. It preceded the Torah given at Sinai, and the covenant cut there. Since no covenant can be revoked or cancelled, this covenant of natural moral law applies even to the Jewish people – something that fundamentalist Jews who ignore the good that is unwritten tend to forget. As I previously mentioned, the implication of this is that no Torah law should be applied in such a way that it causes a deep sense of moral outrage in the human soul. I personally believe that the Universal Covenant was meant to be the ultimate moderating influence against all subsequent covenants and laws. In other words, I believe that God never expected any human being to apply their religion in such a way that it violates their God-given conscience.
Sometimes fundamentalist, extremist Jews will do something wrong that provokes our natural sense of moral outrage – the covenant that Yahveh has written on the human heart. These fundamentalists will say to us, ‘We have done nothing wrong – show me where it says I cannot do this!’ And there will be occasions where their actions are not explicitly forbidden by Torah, and they have not broken the Sinai Covenant. But they have broken God’s natural principles of Tsedeq, as well as the Universal Covenant, and God will demand an accounting for what they have done; as they have done, so God will do to them.
The first, humane and natural laws of the Universal Covenant have not been written down or codified by sages, nor have they been subject to the rulings of rabbis – no religious teacher can ever rule against Tsedeq. Any human being can appeal directly to God for justice under it, Jew and Gentile alike, and any man or woman who has been wronged, can raise their voice to God and call for justice against their adversaries, saying, ‘May Yahveh judge between you and me!’
To conclude this section on Tsedeq and the Universal Covenant, it needs to be said that Tsedeq is not a way of avoiding following the written Torah. Allegiance to Tsedeq ensures that we, as Followers of the Way of Yahveh, apply all the written Torah with wisdom, justice, compassion, mercy, and above all, with God’s Love. Acknowledging the rôle of the Universal Covenant in our lives, means that we hold ourselves to the highest spiritual standard that our Heavenly Father has ever set us – the very first, humane laws that Yahveh our God created us to follow.
Religious fundamentalists will hate the Universal Covenant, because it is the only religious writ that they cannot corrupt and deliberately misrepresent for their own ends. When a religious person does something that fires the human sense of outrage, and they answer you and say, ‘Point out to me where it is written in scripture that what I have done is wrong,’ you can legitimately say to them, ‘Read my heart – the eternal words that God has written there – and they say that what you have done is wrong!’
 The Essene Book of Jubilees seems to have been aware of this concept. At 7:20–28, Noah teaches his sons the way of Righteousness, and then goes on to list several laws that are not part of the Rabbinic list of Noachide laws.
 I would guess that such people have never read the Book of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes, or understood the universality in the latter parts of the Book of Isaiah.
 which are the 7 so-called Noachide laws, which Rabbinic teaching says are the only laws incumbent on the entire human race: 1. Not to worship idols, 2. Not to curse God, 3. to establish courts of justice, 4. Not to commit murder, 5. Not to engage in sexual immorality, 6. Not to steal, 7. Not to eat the flesh torn from a living animal.
 this covers the fact that God gave every green thing to us as food, in return for acting as stewards over creation – Gen 1:28-30, 2:16-17.
 Amos 2:1
 presumably this king was a much-loved or respected monarch, and the action caused a deep sense of outrage amongst those who heard of it.
 a biblical commandment
 Humanity is charged with having brought creation to ruin (hišḥit), for having become corrupt (nišḥat), and for violence (ḥamas). Only ‘bringing creation to ruin’ would have been against the Adamic Covenant in place at the time; the other two would not. They would be against Tsedeq, however.
 S.Yesh 20:3, 21:3 (Lk 17:20-21)
 Jer 31:33
 Dt 30:14, “But the Word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”
 Prov 8:20, 12:28, 16:31; cf Isa 40:14. cf also Book of Jubilees 7:20-28
 Gen 6:9
 Prov 8:20, 12:28, 16:31.
 Micah 6:8; This instruction, although addressed to Israelites, applies to all humanity, to follow religion with humility’.
 Obadiah 1:15
 Sarah’s words calling for divine justice in Gen 16:5 – otherwise, what other covenant or law was Sarah asking for justice under?