There's something we ought to notice about the covenants that God makes with His people in the Bible - they are never made in good times or comfortable places. Think about when God comes to Abraham. Abraham is an old man without an heir and no hope of ever getting one. Or when God comes to Jacob. God makes His covenant with Jacob after He wrestles him in the dark on the banks of a river. Or what about Job? Job doesn't get a promise before his trials begin; God comes to him while he's sitting in dust and ashes, covered in boils.
One of the greatest covenants God ever made, the covenant He made with His people as a people, He made with them while they were in Egypt (Ezekiel 20). While they were slaves. While they were abused. While they were captive. While they were struggling. While they were lost. While they were hurting. While they were a people living inside another nation, God covenanted with them to make them their own nation.
We are a people who want the kind of covenant with God that promises us that hard times are never going to come. That promises that we'll always be safe. That promises that we'll always be happy. That promises that we'll always have enough, that we'll live our own kind of life, that we'll be blessed with smooth roads and sunshine. That's the kind of covenant we often seek.
Yet, that's not the example of any of God's promises in the Bible. Not one. You never see God's people's good lives becoming better; you see their hard lives becoming good. You never see them without struggle. One of the complaints about God is that the Old Testament is so full of war and bloodshed. That's because His people's lives were full of war and bloodshed! That was part of living where they were living, just as in the New Testament, we see lives full of occupation and politics. That's the real world, folks; welcome to it.
But the real world is where God's made every single one of His promises. Every covenant. Every blessing. Right in the middle of it all. Surrounded by mud and muck and mire and bloodshed and politics and sickness and sin, that's where God comes to His people and covenants with them. Because anyone can have faith in anything on easy street; it's in the dark alleys where you discover what faith really means.
And what faith really means is that there's hope. And is there any better place for hope than exactly where you need it?
Imagine if God offered you life when you were already living. A home when you already had a roof over your head. A parcel of land when you were already sowing your own fields. Sorry, but if you've already got it, then what do you need God for?
No, He comes to you when you're lost. When you're away from home. When you're stuck somewhere you don't want to be. When you're tilling someone else's soil. When the stars are your roof at night. When your blanket is in tatters and your body is cold. That's when God comes to you and says, "I am good, and I can't wait to bless you with it."
Yeah, right, we say. If God's so good, then how come I'm in this mess to begin with? Why didn't I get the perfect covenant, the one of good times and easy living? If God's so good, why is life so hard?
Because God's goodness doesn't matter if you don't need it.
Read that again: God's goodness doesn't matter - to you, to your heart - if you don't need it. His living water doesn't draw you unless you're thirsty. You can't hope for what you already have. You have to be in a desolate place to hold onto a promise; it's how so many of us lose our way so quickly. We start to think we have things good and forget how bad they really are, so we let go. We don't need that promise here. Here is good.
That's why God covenants with us in Egypt, not Canaan. So we know just how desperately we need it. So we know just how priceless it is. So that we know just how much He loves us.