Thursday, May 06, 2004


When I was on my mission, the idea of “covenanting” became popular for a while. The idea was that a companionship would set some goals and say, essentially, “Okay, Lord, this is what we're going to do, and in return we expect such-and-such results (usually a certain number of baptisms).” A member of the Area Presidency did a mission tour and forcefully put a stop to the practice. I have often heard it taught that, in a covenant, God sets the terms and our options are to accept or to reject them. We do not have the right to set the terms of the covenant.

The story of Jacob seems to put a little twist on this idea, though. In Genesis 28:20-22, we read:

And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

This sure sounds like Jacob is setting the terms of a “deal” with God: “You do all these things for me and I'll worship you, build a house for you, and even pay tithing. How can you refuse?” There are other scriptural passages that run similarly, and we hear the same kind of language in war stories told by general authorities (“Lord, if I get out of this alive, I'll serve you for the rest of my life”).

Is this offensive to God? Does he get upset when his children try to make a deal with him? And if King Benjamin is right that “if [we] should serve him with all [our] whole souls yet [we] would be unprofitable servants,” then why would God honor such a request? Yet he appears to do so in the case of Jacob. Would he not do similarly today?


  1. In this particular instance, the Lord had just appeared to him and Jacob made a little altar, which makes me wonder if he is perhaps just articulating his part of a covenant that he had just made with God.

    Regardless, in general it does seem a little 'presumptuous' ('offensive' is harder for me to say) for us to make covenants that way, setting our own terms.

    I remember on my mission, our mission president decided that as a mission we would give up some of our P-day activities for more baptisms. We were in New York City, and before that we could go to Yankees games and Broadway shows and such. To say the least, it was an unpopular decision. It was during the last month of my mission, so I don't really know how it turned out, but it did feel really weird that to have a 'covenant' like that forced on us.

      [Comment originally posted by: Logan | Homepage | 05.07.04 - 9:39 am]

  2. Perhaps Jacob was deluding himself. God had already established the terms of the covenant and revealed them to Jacob. Jacob then accepted the terms, but, because of the unspectacularness of the revelation, believed that the terms had been initiated in his own mind.

      [Comment originally posted by: Last_lemming | 05.07.04 - 10:00 am]

  3. Great ideas. I believe that God is the giver of covenants; we don't bargain with Him. The exception seems to be in the Atonement; depending on how you view the action of the Atonement, it could be seen as God changing his mind away from punishment in response to Christ's intercession. Does this open the door to privately-negotiated covenants?

    King Benjamin is right, of course, that God has no reason to bless us above and beyond what we deserve. But he also goes on to speak of how God chooses frequently to richly bless us in ways unrelated to our past performance. Perhaps some of these covenant stories can be explained in terms of God's endless benevolence.

      [Comment originally posted by: Steve E. | Homepage | 05.07.04 - 4:47 pm]

  4. Perhaps it's related to God's statement to Nephi -- that Nephi was so righteous, he would not ask for something contrary to God's will.

      [Comment originally posted by: Kaimi | Homepage | 05.07.04 - 5:12 pm]

  5. Kaimi, that's probably right, but then we're not really talking about negotiations at all, are we? I mean, negotiating seems to imply two differing perspectives finding mutual understanding...

      [Comment originally posted by: Steve E. | Homepage | 05.07.04 - 6:52 pm]

  6. My mission president tried something like this as well. Instead of having a goal to baptize say 2 people in a week, we instead would "covenant" to baptize 2 people. I found this very odd. I can't covenant that someone else will keep the commandments. But he also used similar language of "binding" the Lord by obeying His commandments. The idea is basically this: keep the rules and work ceaselessly and the Lord will fulfill the promise that you can bring thousands to the church. It comes from a couple of books popular with missionaries ("Drawing upon the Powers of Heaven" by Grant Von Harrison and another book by Hartman Rector, Jr. that I don't remember the title of). These books were required reading in my mission; I laughed when I found out that certain Area Presidencies had banned both of them.

      [Comment originally posted by: Jared | 05.08.04 - 10:42 am]

  7. Can the Lord be bound? What does it mean when he tells us that he is bound when we do what he says?

      [Comment originally posted by: Grasshopper | Homepage | 05.08.04 - 10:49 am]

  8. I think of the Lord being "bound" as going along with "there is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven . . .". In other words, God has set up certain laws that he promises to observe when we do our part (that is, when we "obey" the law). But of course we don't set the terms of the laws. Perhaps there is some "law of covenanting" irrevocably decreed in heaven that we can in some way take advantage of, but it seems as though there has to be more to it than the way it has been gone about in some of the examples presented here.

      [Comment originally posted by: Logan | Homepage | 05.08.04 - 10:55 pm]

  9. Another important distinction might be who is entering the covenant. I figure if a prophet manages to have that sort of conversation with God, the two of them are free to let things develop as they will. Since I don't have that sort of conversation with God, I only take seriously those covenants which the prophets have revealed as coming from the Lord. Someone who's not one of the prophets doesn't, I think, have the authority to offer on behalf of the Lord a new covenant for me to enter.

      [Comment originally posted by: BDemosthenes | Homepage | 05.08.04 - 11:37 pm]

  10. This sort of thing came up institutionally in my mission, though I don't recall anyone in mission leadership portraying whatever current program we were using as a covenant per se. I *did* have a companion who believed in the personal covenant philosophy, and it rubbed off on me.

    I have to say that I think it can be powerful and effective, even while I see the problems mentioned here. I've wondered one resolution of the reasons why this approach works is that usually, your covenant that you're making up really involves a new personal commitment to do things that you'd covenanted to do already. And as you live those covenants better, you're blessed in this way or that.

    Conversely, the God we're familiar with is already a God who grants answers to prayers. If our Father in Heaven is much more likely to answer pleas than an unjust judge, why would this be any more unlikely for the pleader who is making a stronger effort to live gosepl principles and keep covenants?

      [Comment originally posted by: Weston C | Homepage | 05.09.04 - 7:31 pm]

  11. This topic is very old but I have had several experiances with making covenants. We to used it in our missions and usually had baptisms weekly. Faith in it and a clear understanding of the covenant makeing process is important though.
    Can we bind God? absolutely with our obediance to his commandments and for the blessings associated with them. In other words when we do what he says he has to do what he said he would do. The key is finding out what the lord will do for us.
    I have never made a covenant on my own to do so would be mockery to the lord as said above. If we are to find out what powers and blessings are instore for us during a trial or desire we must get all the facts from the lord first. How do we do this? thru the spirit. So for simple terms the spirit gives us the will of the lord and covenants he is willing to make with us. He allows us to throw in what we deem worthy efforts and then as we progress in the covenant we tend to see that more is needed or less. In my experiances I alwasy end up changeing my efforts according to the spirit and it's promptings. It is not maeking a deal with God it is taking what he has waiting for you and figuring out what you must do to recieve it. The side effects of this are the desires you have and want are usually achieved due to your faith in him not so much the deal you made for it.
    So god has things he wants to teach us and help us learn, we have things we want to achieve. He uses our desires for what we want to achieve the things he wants to give us and in the process he blesses us if a worthy desire that which we seek as a consolation if you will to the ultimate purpose greater faith, obediance and spiritual growth thru our and his expected efforts.
    I have used covenants with the lord thruought my life and testify when understood they can be very powerful, but most the time are set to gods terms not ours. the more we do them the closer our perpsective will be to the lords and we will ask what he wills us to and desire those things he wants to give us so in reality the more we practice it the more we realize God is making covenants with us not us with him. However until we gain the spiritual insights and growth we often have to use our own desires to get us started in the process of finding out what God desires for us.
    The book drawing on the powers of heaven as mentioned above is a great book for getting one started but no book is a constitute for the purest form of learning this concept. The book of mormon and prayer will if pondered and studied with the spirit will truly open the windows to heaven and allow us al to see what covenants and desires are in line with what God has in store for us.

    Can we make covenants with God based on our terms for him to meet? He is our father in Heaven and can do what he wills. If you beleive this then the answer is yes, but know he will prompt change where it is needed and that it is not by your power or mine that he agrees to these terms but by our willingness to seek for his help he allows us to excercise our faith in these covenants. I know we can make covenants with God done so several times and have NEVER been closer to him than during those times of sacrifice and bending to his will. However every covenant I have made I have done so with the spirit confirming what I asked was in accordance with his will. which in normal terms means already planned by him for me to do, which makes it in a sense his covenant with me that I am thru the spirit am resaying it back to him.

    We Bind God by righteousness and we do it daily when we obey his commandments he is bound to fullfill his promises in accordance with them. 

    Posted by Chad Merrell