The Covenants Part I
The Bible can be separated in specific periods called dispensations. Within the the dispensations God has made eight covenants. The eight promises or covenants God made with mankind form a structure of God’s dealings with human beings. God has committed Himself to providing what we cannot. They are one of the foundations upon which all theological understanding is built. The term “covenant” in the Bible refers to an agreement made by God with human beings. This is a profound theological concept. It let’s us see that God maintains a relationship with human beings and is willing to be bound in some way to the terms expressed in the covenants. It is a solemn unbreakable agreement, such as the covenant between Abraham and God. God’s love and grace are shown in His readiness to make covenants with people. When God promised Noah that he would not again destroy the world with a flood, He made a covenant with him (Gen. 6:18; 9:9-17). A very important covenant existed between God and Israel (Ex. 24:1-8), which is pictured in the book of Hebrews as the “old covenant.” When the people repeatedly broke that covenant, God promised a new covenant based on forgiveness and the writing of his law on people’s hearts. Jesus inaugurated this new covenant with his blood (Mark 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25). It is difficult for some to understand God’s meaning of the word “covenant.” We are familiar with treaties, promises, deals and agreements. A covenant is absolutely unbreakable. What God promises He will carry out. Some covenants are conditional and some are unconditional. The unconditional covenant is unilateral from God, and requires no adherence to the agreement for God to carry out His promises. Conditional simply means God will do what He promises if the counterparty does their part.
The main biblical covenants are a unifying factor for all events described in the Bible involving God and human beings. Some of them provide the guarantee that future predicted events will occur. For example, the Abrahamic covenant is the basis for all of God’s subsequent dealings with Israel, and is expanded in the Land, Davidic, and New covenants, which, respectively, provide for Israel’s eternal possession of the land, an eternal kingship, and the conversion of a remnant. Most of the covenants have not yet been completely fulfilled. The Church is given some of the benefits of the New Covenant although it is addressed to the nation Israel.
The major biblical covenants are:
1. Edenic – Genesis 1:26-31; 2: 15-17
2. Adamic – Genesis 3:15-19
3. Noahic – Genesis 9:16
4. Abrahamic – Genesis 12:1-3; 13: 14-17 15:5, 18; 17
5. Mosaic – Exodus 19:5
6. Land – Deuteronomy 29-30
7. Davidic – 2 Samuel 7:10-17
8. New – Jeremiah 31: 33-34; Ezekiel 36: 24-28; Hebrews 8:8
The first three were made with all humans; the last five were directed at the nation Israel.
1. Edenic Covenant (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15-17) God provided everything necessary for human existence in the Garden of Eden when man was innocent of all sin. There was only one simple prohibition, “…but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” The covenant was, “I will provide everything you will need as long as you do not eat of the one tree.” Man’s life in Eden was idyllic. Living in a perfect environment he had congenial employment and perfect companionship. Even God came and communed with him. Adam was appointed as a gardener and a guardian. He was told to dress and keep the garden as well as be fruitful, multiply and subdue the earth. The prohibition was a test of his loyalty and love. The test itself tells us man was created a morally accountable creature responsible for his actions and answerable to God. This disproves the popular notion that given the perfect environment man will behave in a morally acceptable way. The Edenic covenant is one of two covenants that is conditional.
2. Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:15-19). This covenant is unconditional in which God declared to Adam what man’s life would be like now that sin is in the world. The conditions of this covenant will exist until the Kingdom Age (Romans 8:21). There is no appeal and there is no human responsibility involved. The outcome of the arrangement is entirely based on God and His sovereign control. Elements of the covenant are the cursing of the serpent used by Satan (Genesis 3:14; Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 11:3, 14; Revelation 12:9), and the promise of a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). We see in both of these prophecies advents of Christ. Prior to the fall, woman’s position in comparison to the man’s was subordinate due to Adam’s divinely ordained headship. After the fall firmer headship was invested in man due to woman’s responding to the serpent. The multiplied sorrow and pain of women in childbirth and motherhood is also mentioned. Man would henceforth earn his living by sweat (Genesis 2:15); man’s life would now be filled with sorrow and ultimate death (Genesis 3:19; Ephesians 2:5). Perhaps the most significant curse was the spiritual death, which Adam and Eve experienced “on the day they ate of the fruit.” A flaming cherub was placed as a testimonial to the restriction of the covenant.
3. Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:16). The covenant with Noah reduced personal liberty by instituting human government. Humans were given the duty of avenging blood for blood in the post-deluvian world. (Genesis 9:6) After the flood, God made it a duty of men, and sometimes of beasts, to repay murder with the punishment of God-ordained retribution in kind. God included the animals that landed with Noah. He announced that animals would be judged for killing men, even though men were given permission to kill the animals for food. The Noahic covenant reaffirms the order of nature. Replenishing the earth (Genesis 9:1) is mentioned again as it was in past times. Then the covenant further states that now animals would fear men and that men could eat the flesh of animals. God promised never again to destroy all flesh off of the earth with a flood. Even the ground itself was promised that the whole earth would not again be underwater. In Genesis 8:22 we see God giving the order of time and the repetitive nature of it. It is constantly changing, yet constantly the same until the earth itself no longer remains. These will remain: work, seen in sowing and reaping; the elements, seen in cold and heat; seasons, seen in summer and winter; and time, seen in day and night. Even darkness will stay with us to the end of the earth. Even with Christ on the throne of all the earth, there will be nightfall, darkness, sin.
4. Abrahamic (Genesis 12:1-3; 13: 14-17 15:5, 18; 17). The Abrahamic Covenant promised a seed, land, and blessings. The three major promises of this covenant were personal promises to Abraham (seed), national promises to Israel (land) and universal promises (blessings) to all the people of the earth. God promised Abraham that He would bless him and make him a blessing to others, to make his name great, to give him many descendants, to make him the father of a multitude of nations, to give him the land of Canaan for always and to bless them that blessed Abraham and to curse them that cursed him. (Gen 12; 13; 15 & 17) God also made national promises concerning Israel. They are to make a great nation of his descendants; to give land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates to his descendants forever; and to give the Abrahamic covenant to his descendants forever. Finally, God made universal covenants to Abraham that would affect everybody on the earth; it would affect all families of the earth who would be blessed. This promise is intended to be applicable to Israel regarding the blessing and cursing effects. Parts of the covenant have already been fulfilled. For example God did bless him with wealth. His name is great and Israel is a great nation. The blessings to all have been given to all through the oracles of God they received and they brought forth the Messiah. The promise of the land has not been fulfilled yet. His descendants are in the land but in unbelief and do not have possession of the boundaries set forth in Scripture yet. God has made some irrevocable, unilateral commitments – formal covenants or promises – and one of His most essential characteristics is that He delights in making and keeping His promises. Many modern churches fail to appreciate the seriousness of these covenants.
Abraham was a Gentile when this covenant was first made. It first occurs in Genesis 12:2-3, and includes seven “I Wills”:
1. And I will make of thee a great nation,
2. and I will bless thee,
3. and make thy name great;
4. and thou shalt be a blessing:
5. And I will bless them that bless thee,
6. and curse him that curseth thee:
7. and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
From these “Seven I Wills” flows God’s entire plan for all of mankind. All other covenants are built on this one. Items 5 & 6 are the basis for the “Sheep and Goat Judgment” of the nations in Matthew 25:31-46, which closes the “times of the Gentiles.” God foreknew Satan’s anti-Semitism. All history is patterned and destined after this reality (cf. Zechariah 2:8). This also indicates that the Church will not be in the Tribulation, as this judgment emphasizes the distinction between Jew and Gentile. The covenant was affirmed to Abraham’s progeny:
Gen17: 19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, [and] with his seed after him.
Gen 17:21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
Genesis 26:2 And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.3 “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham.4 “And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;
The covenant was given to Jacob (Israel) and his descendants not Esau:
Genesis 28:12-15 And he [Jacob] had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.14 “Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.15 “And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.