Covenants in the Bible

Covenant is a pact, treaty, alliance, or agreement between two parties of equal or of unequal authority. The covenant or testament is a central, unifying theme in Scripture, God’s covenants with individuals and the nation Israel finding final fulfillment in the new covenant in Christ Jesus. God’s covenants can be understood by humans because they are modeled on human covenants or treaties.

The Bible speaks of seven different covenants, five of which God made with the nation of Israel. Five are unconditional in nature, which means regardless of Israel’s obedience or disobedience, God will fulfill these covenants with the nation of Israel. One of the covenants is conditional, meaning this covenant will bring either blessing or cursing depending on Israel’s obedience or disobedience.

The Adamic Covenant comes in two parts: the Edenic Covenant (innocence – Genesis 1:26-30; 2:16-17) and the Adamic Covenant (grace – Genesis 3:16-19). The Edenic Covenant outlined man’s responsibility toward creation and God’s one rule regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Adamic Covenant included the curses pronounced against mankind for the sin of Adam and Eve, and includes God’s provision for that sin (Genesis 3:15).

  1. God’s Promise – Satan and mankind will be enemies.
  2. God’s Sign – Pain of childbirth, toil in work (Genesis 3:16, 17).

The Noahic Covenant was an unconditional covenant between God and Noah and mankind. After the Flood, God promised that He would never again destroy all life on earth with water. He gave the rainbow as the sign of that covenant and a reminder that God can and will judge sin (2 Peter 2:5).

  1. God’s Promise – God would never again destroy the earth with a flood.
  2. God’s Sign – Rainbow (Genesis 9:12-13).

Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, 6-7; 13:14-17; 15:12-21; 17:1-14; 22:15-18). In this covenant, God promised that He would make Abraham’s name great (Genesis 12:2), that Abraham would have numerous descendants (Genesis 13:16), and that he would be the father of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4-5). God also made promises regarding the nation of Israel. Geographical boundaries of the Abrahamic Covenant are laid out in Genesis 12:7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21. In the Abrahamic Covenant, all the families of the world will be blessed through the line of Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 22:18). This means the Messiah, who would come from the line of Abraham.

  1. God’s Promise – Abraham’s descendants would become a great nation if they obeyed God, and He would be their God forever.
  2. God’s Sign – Smoking fire pot and blazing torch (Genesis 15:17-18).

Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). The Palestinian Covenant amplifies the land aspect which was detailed in the Abrahamic Covenant. In this covenant, God, because of the people’s disobedience, would cause them to be scattered around the world (Deuteronomy 30:3-4), and He would eventually restore the nation together (Deuteronomy 30:5). When the nation is restored, then they will obey Him perfectly (Deuteronomy 30:8), and God will cause them to prosper (Deuteronomy 30:9). See also Deuteronomy 28, 29. Because of this covenant, the right of the Jews to live in the land is conditional upon their behavior. This partly conditional covenant has several parts:

  1. Dispersion of the Jews was to be a consequence of disobedience.
  2. Future repentance will be accomplished by God.
  3. God will regather his scattered people and restore them to the land.
  4. The people of Israel will be brought to the Lord as a nation.
  5. The enemies and oppressors of Israel will be punished.
  6. Future national prosperity and preeminence is guaranteed.

Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 11). The Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant that either brought God’s blessing for obedience or God’s cursing for disobedience. The ten commandments (found in Exodus 20) is part of the covenant. The history books of the Old Testament (Joshua-Esther) show how Israel succeeded at obeying the law or how Israel failed at keeping the law. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 details the blessing/cursing theme.

  1. God’s Promise – Israel would be God’s special people, a holy nation. But they would have to keep their part of the covenant – obedience.
  2. God’s Sign – The Exodus, and gathering for worship at Sinai (Exodus 3:12).

Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:8-16). The Davidic Covenant expands the seed detail which was part of the Abrahamic Covenant. The promises to David in this passage are significant because God promised that David’s physical line of descent would last forever and that his kingdom would never pass away permanently (2 Samuel 7:16). This kingdom would have a ruling individual exercising authority over it (2 Samuel 7:16). The Davidic throne has not been in place at all times, but there will be a time when someone from the line of David will again sit on the throne and rule as king. This future king is Jesus (Luke 1:32-33).

  1. God’s Promise – Salvation would come through David’s line through the birth of the Messiah.
  2. God’s Sign – David’s line continued and the Messiah was born a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:12).

New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The New Covenant is one made with the nation of Israel and speaks about the blessings which are detailed in the Abrahamic Covenant. In the New Covenant, God promises to forgive sin and there will be a universal knowledge of the Lord (Jeremiah 31:34). It even appears that the nation of Israel will have a special relationship with God (Jeremiah 31:33).

  1. God’s Promise – Forgiveness and salvation are available through faith in Christ.
  2. God’s Sign – Christ’s resurrection.

How does the church of Jesus Christ relate to the covenants? Some people believe that the church fulfills the covenants and God will never deal with Israel again. This is called replacement theology and has little scriptural evidence. Others believe that the church initially or partially will fulfill these covenants. Many believe that the church shares in the covenants in some way, while others believe that the covenants are for Israel and for Israel alone.

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