There are two types of covenants in the Bible: those built on the law and those built on Jesus as the fulfillment of the law. The first type seems to be a curse because there is no way we can live up to its demands. Even though there are hundreds of laws in Leviticus, there was only one law in the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve still broke it, perhaps within a few days or weeks of being created. Because God is holy, the breaking of this type of covenant has but one punishment: eternity in Hell, whether you break one law or break them all repeatedly.
It’s frustrating sometimes to go on CNN and read any article on religion because the comments almost invariably include someone trying to say God is evil by bringing up verses like Leviticus 20:9 about stoning rebellious children. (See this link for a more thorough discussion of this verse.) Those who use this verse and others like it forget or ignore two things:
1. God is so far above us that our opinion of His law is irrelevant. It’s like a cockroach getting angry at you for trying to step on it. It has no authority to tell you your judgment is wrong and cannot escape your punishment by refusing to believe in you. Likewise, God is above being questioned by us. We are little clumps of dust on a small rock in an unfathomably large Universe that He created by speaking it into existence. What He wants to do with us is not only law, but righteousness, no matter what we think of it.
2. We’re not under the curse of the old covenant. We have the covenant of the promise Paul talks about in Galatians 4:21-26. Now we are under a new covenant, which is built on the fulfillment of the old one. And this covenant sets us free from the rules of the old, replacing the old covenant’s rules with just two. We are to love God more than anything else and love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s it. And we’re promised forgiveness if we forgive others.
It’s such a human thing for us to do to assume that love and acceptance from others must be earned through a fulfillment of certain terms and conditions. Even Leah and I catch ourselves doing that with each other. She thinks I have less reason to love her if dinner isn’t perfect and I think I’m failing her if we don’t have a nice house. We do much the same with God because accepting His unconditional love is an overwhelming and completely humbling venture. We don’t want to give up our pride and accept something we can’t earn.
Personally, I think the old covenant was created precisely to break people of their pride. Not a single adult (I don’t know at what age an action for a child becomes sin if they know no better) before Jesus managed to live according to God’s rules all of the time. Everyone sinned, even if only once. Those who chose to ignore their failings became proud, but those who remembered their failings and the punishment for them could not help but be humbled.
And for those people, there is a new covenant that raises them to a higher place than any amount of keeping the old covenant ever could have. They are now sons and daughters of God, heirs with Christ. Even if someone fulfilled every last law in the old covenant, that person may earn their way to Heaven, but would do so as a chief among servants, rather than as a son.
The twist is that it is the old covenant is actually a blessing in disguise, for it makes us require the new covenant, which is easier, more forgiving, and has a better blessing than the old ever could. Without the old, there would have been no need for the new. And God gave both, that in all things, He might receive the glory.