A covenant is a two-way promise we make with God, in which we promise to do something, such as be obedient, and He promises to bless us in return. God has made covenants with His people throughout the history of the world. We learn about the covenants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob early in the old testament, as well as those of the Israelites in the days when Moses initially led the people out of Egypt. When Moses was preparing the Israelites for entering the promised land, they were also expected to make a covenant with the Lord.
1 These are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.
In addition to the expectations along with the covenants of their fathers, this was their covenant with God.
2 And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land;
3 The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and those great miracles:
4 Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.
5 And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot.
6 Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the Lord your God.
7 And when ye came unto this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, came out against us unto battle, and we smote them:
8 And we took their land, and gave it for an inheritance unto the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half tribe of Manasseh.
9 Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.
The Israelites were reminded of the blessings of deliverance and care which the Lord had already blessed them with since living in and leaving Egypt. This reminder was to help them, so that they might desire continued blessings of prosperity. This promise of prosperity, is given to all people today who turn to the Lord, just as it has been given to the Lord’s people throughout time. When we make our own covenants of baptism and additionally when we make temple covenants afterwards, we have the same promise of prosperity in our lives. The Lord wants to bless those who want to follow Him and be obedient.
10 Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel,
11 Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water:
12 That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day:
13 That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
All of the people of Israel, including men of all positions, women, children and strangers among them, were gathered to make covenants with the Lord. In making covenants with the Lord, the Israelites would be established as the people of god, just as their fathers were.
14 Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath;
15 But with him that standeth here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day:
16 (For ye know how we have dwelt in the land of Egypt; and how we came through the nations which ye passed by;
17 And ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them:)
18 Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood;
19 And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst:
20 The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.
The covenants made on that day, were not only with those present, but with all those who would ever join with the children of Israel. It would have been easy for someone new there, to excuse away their sins by claiming they had never made the covenants with the Lord. The Lord would hold them to the same covenant and promise as those there that day, because otherwise the people would quickly fall away. Any man among them, who did not honor their covenants, would receive the same curses and consequences promised for disobedience.
21 And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law:
22 So that the generation to come of your children that shall rise up after you, and the stranger that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the Lord hath laid upon it;
23 And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath:
24 Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger?
25 Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt:
26 For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them:
27 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book:
28 And the Lord rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.
29 The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
If the Israelites were disobedient, their land would be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed before. A land of brimstone is a land of burning, or destroyed by fire. A land of salt, is one where the land cannot bring forth plants to sustain the life. Their land would become a place of desolation. Then, the land and people of Israel, would stand as an example to others, who would question why the destruction had come. Others would know that the people had worshiped other Gods, and the Lord had been angry with them for forsaking the covenants they had made.
As a side note, I was thinking of the phrase “from the hewer of they wood unto the drawer of thy water”, found in verse 11, which I think is to say that men of every profession and lifestyle, were to be there and make this covenant with the Lord. The choice of words is interesting though, because it reminds me of the Savior himself.
A hewer of wood, is one who cuts wood, and I can’t help but think of the carpenter that the Lord was raised as in a physical sense. Then the drawer of water, was one who draws water, and again I can’t help but think of the many references to Christ and the spiritual living water he was raised to be. It causes me to think of how the covenants we make, require that we bring our whole soul to Christ, both the physical and the spiritual. We cannot make covenants wholly, without recognizing that they require very physical actions along with very spiritual thoughts. We cannot keep our covenants in a strictly physical sense, without doing anything spiritually. Likewise, we cannot keep our covenants by just being focused on the spiritual nature of them either. This is part of what it means to love the Lord with all our might, mind, and strength. In order to keep our covenants, we must live the letter of the law physically, as well as have a spiritual change of heart within us.
A covenant is not to be taken lightly. Part of their covenant was to teach the younger generations all of these things that Moses had taught them. The covenant was meant to continue through the generations, just as the covenants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israelites would not continue to keep the covenants throughout their generations, and it would eventually bring about the destruction that the Lord promised to them. When we make our own covenants with the Lord, we would do well to remember the consequences and promises that accompany them. The Lord has said that we can hold on to the promises when we keep our covenants, but when we do not keep them, the promises are no longer ours. We read this in Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, which says, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” I have faith in the promised blessings of the Lord and find that it is becoming necessary to hold fast to the word of the Lord and strive continually to keep His commandments. I know that if we keep the commandments and remember the importance of our covenants, we will be blessed to prosper, just as the Israelites were blessed in their day.