How should we understand the Bible? What is it really all about? Here’s a good way to look at it. The Bible is the story of redemption with a three chapter introduction. Genesis chapters one and two tells us about God’s very good creation and His purposes for humanity. In Genesis chapter three we read about man’s’ fall into sin and how sin has corrupted the entire creation. The rest of the Bible, from Genesis 3:15, which is the first promise of redemption to the last verse in Revelation is the story of redemption. The Old Testament presents the promise of redemption through a series of covenants and related prophecies.
The rest of the Bible, from Genesis 3:15, which is the first promise of redemption to the last verse in Revelation is the story of redemption. The Old Testament presents the promise of redemption through a series of covenants and related prophecies.
Psalm 25:14 – The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.
I Kings 8:23 – And he said, LORD God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart.
The New Testament records the fulfillment and consummation of the Old Testament promise of redemption through the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This fulfillment of redemption is already present and ongoing. The Bible is a particular kind of book with a specific purpose. It doesn’t speak about everything, although it does speak to everything.
The Bible has a focus, a special “calling” to fulfill. It is this: God’s book about the creation and the fall of man, and God’s gracious work of redeeming the creation from the effects of the fall! Salvaging a sin-wrecked creation is what the Bible is all about!
The Bible is more than just God’s story of redemption. It’s God’s gracious love story of redemption. Sinful humanity and the corrupted creation do not deserve salvation. Mankind sinned against God knowingly and deliberately. We knew what we were doing and wanted to do it. The original iniquity in the Garden of Eden was committed with a “high hand”, or in legal terms, with “malice aforethought.” Justice and only justice is our due for our wrong-doing. One way to look at the Bible is that it is a law book. God as the lawgiver established agreements or covenants with His creation. This paper explores those covenants.
Covenants: The backbone of the Bible
A Covenant is an agreement between two parties. It involves promises on the part of each party to the other. The concept of a covenant between God and His people is one of the central themes of the Bible. But in the Biblical sense, a covenant implies much more than a contract or agreement between two parties.
The word for “covenant” in the Old Testament also provides additional insight into the meaning of this important idea. Simply stated, God says, “If you will do this, then I will do that.” It comes from a Hebrew root word that means “to cut.” The idea would be “to cut the covenant.” This explains the strange custom of two people passing through the cut bodies of slain animals after making an agreement (Jeremiah 34:18). The two parties then walked between the animal halves, making contact with the blood, by stepping thru it and in it. Stepping thru the blood represented a kind of self-curse. The two parties were in effect saying, “If I break the covenant, then may what happened to this animal, happen to me.” A ceremony such as this always accompanied the making of a covenant in the Old Testament.
In Genesis chapter 31, sometimes those entering into a covenant shared a meal, such as when Laban and Jacob made their covenant. In Genesis chapter seventeen, God commands the circumcision of Abraham and his children as a “sign of the covenant”. At Mount Sinai, Moses sprinkled the blood of animals on the altar and upon the people who entered into a covenant with God. And what’s remarkable is that a Holy God consents to enter into covenant with man, who is feeble, sinful, and flawed.
The structure of the Biblical covenant is similar to the established form of peace treaties in the ancient Near East. After a war, a victorious king would make a covenant with his defeated foe. Promises were made guaranteeing protection on condition that the defeated king and all under his authority would obey their new lord. Both victorious king and defeated King would swear an oath and unite in a covenant.
Biblical covenants, like the treaties, were structured in this manner:
- Preamble – Identifying the lordship, greatness, and power and who the parties are.
- Historical Prolog – A reminder of how they came to this place.
- Ethical Stipulations – Stating man’s obligations in the Covenant – the laws.
- Sanctions – Outlining the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.
- Witnesses – A list of witnesses – “heaven and earth.”
- Documentation – Each party gets a copy of the agreement.
- Succession Arrangements – Dealing with the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations.
In this study, we want to examine seven great covenants of the Bible. Some Bible scholars see less than seven covenants while others see more.
God’s Covenant With Adam – The Adamic Covenant
In Genesis chapter one we see God blessing Adam and Eve. God told them that they would be masters of the whole earth and get their food from plants in the garden. In Genesis chapter two, God commands Adam to be obedient and not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Genesis chapter three, Adam and Eve broke that covenant. Therefore, they were punished and expelled from the garden. The curses included:
• Enmity between Eve and Satan and their descendants.
• Painful childbirth for women.
• Marital strife.
• The soil cursed. The Introduction of thorns and thistles. Survival to be a struggle.
• Death is introduced.
However, a wonderful promise of grace was also included in the Adamic Covenant. One born of a woman would be wounded in the process of destroying Satan. The “seed” of the woman who would crush the Serpent’s head is none other than Jesus Christ.
God’s Covenant With Noah – The Noahic Covenant
In Genesis chapter nine, God makes a covenant with Noah, assuring Noah that He would never again destroy the world by flood. Noah lived at a time when violence and corruption filled the whole earth. Noah did not allow the evil standards of his day to rob him of fellowship with God. He stood out as the only one who “walked with God”, as was also true of his great-grandfather Enoch. “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations” (Genesis 6:9). Noah was singled out by God as the man to accomplish a great work.
In Genesis chapter six, God saw the wickedness that prevailed in the world. He told Noah of His intention to destroy the ancient world with a universal flood. In Genesis chapter Six, God instructs Noah to build an ark in which he and his family would survive the flood. Noah believed God and “according to all that God commanded him, so he did.”
Hebrews 11:7 – “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved w/ godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”
With steadfast confidence in God, Noah started building the ark. Noah continued to preach God’s judgment and mercy, warning the ungodly of approaching doom. Peter reminds us in II Peter 2:5 of how God did not spare the ancient world. But saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing a flood upon the world of the ungodly. Noah preached for 120 years, apparently without any converts. At the end of that time, “when … the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah … eight souls were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:20). People continued in their evil ways, ignored his warnings until the flood overtook them.
When the ark was ready, Noah entered in with all kinds of animals “and the Lord shut him in” (Genesis 7:16), cut off completely from the rest of mankind. Noah was grateful to the Lord, who had delivered him from the flood. In Genesis Chapter eight, after the flood, Noah built an altar to God and made a sacrifice, which was accepted graciously, for in it “the Lord smelled a soothing aroma.”
In Genesis chapter nine, the Lord promised Noah and his descendants that He would never destroy the world with a flood. The Lord made an everlasting covenant with Noah and his descendants, establishing the rainbow as the sign of His promise. The rainbow is a reminder of that agreement. This covenant is still in effect today. Another part of the covenant involved the sanctity of human life. In Genesis 9:6 we read: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.”
God’s Covenant With Abraham – The Abrahamic Covenant
In making a covenant with Abraham, God promised to bless his descendants and make them His special people. In return, Abraham was to remain faithful to God and to serve as a channel through which God’s blessings could flow to the rest of the world, to all Nations. Abraham’s’ story begins with his passage, with the rest of his family from Ur of the Chaldeans. He and his family moved north along the trade routes of the ancient world and settled in the prosperous trade center of Haran. While living in Haran, at the age of 75, Abraham received a call from God to go to a strange, unknown land that God would show him.
In Genesis chapter twelve, the Lord promised Abraham He would make him and his descendants a great nation. This promise must have seemed unbelievable to Abraham because his wife Sarah was childless and very old. Abraham obeyed God with no hint of doubt or disbelief. Abraham took his wife and his nephew, Lot and traveled to the land that God would show him. Abraham moved south from Haran to the land of Canaan. Canaan was a populated area at that time, inhabited by the war-like Canaanites. However, Abraham believed that God would keep His part of the covenant promise, giving the land to him and his descendants. The circumstances seemed quite difficult, but Abraham’s faith in God’s promises allowed him to trust in the Lord. In Genesis chapter fifteen, the Lord reaffirmed His promise to Abraham.
Genesis 12:1-3 – “Get out of your country, from your family & from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you & make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, & I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
In Genesis chapter fifteen, Abraham became anxious about the promise of a nation being found in his descendants because of his advanced age. But the Lord then reaffirmed the earlier covenant.
Genesis 15:5 – “Look now toward heaven & count the stars if you are able to number them. And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.”
Abraham’s response is the model of believing faith:
Genesis 15:6 – “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” In Genesis chapter seventeen God repeated this covenant to Abraham’ son, Isaac.
The Palestinian Covenant
This covenant found in Deuteronomy 30:1-10, noted God’s promise to scatter Israel if they disobeyed God, then to restore them at a later time to their land. This covenant was fulfilled with the Babylonian Captivity and the subsequent rebuilding of Jerusalem under the Persian King, Cyrus the Great. Some Christians believe that the regathering of “Jews” to form the modern State of Israel is part of the final fulfillment of the Palestinian Covenant. They believe that the blessings of the “Palestinian Covenant” are only now coming into existence. Passages in Deuteronomy chapter thirty are used as the “Scriptural basis” for Israel’s regathering. Is there any basis for such claims?
According to Deuteronomy 30:1-8, a necessary condition for the regathering of Israel to Palestine was their returning to the Lord:
Deuteronomy 30:2-3 – “And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.”
Based on this clear passage of Scripture, it can be concluded that the modern State of Israel, was not formed as a result of the blessings of the Palestinian covenant. The “Jews” of 1948 (except for maybe a few isolated individuals) did not turn to the Lord. To base the formation of Israel upon their alleged “faithfulness” to Judaism is to betray a fundamental misunderstanding of what Judaism is and what the New Testament teaches.
Some think the “Jews” of today have a special advantage, perhaps even salvation without Christ because they believe in the God of the Old Testament, and some follow the Old Testament religion. However, this position overlooks the fact that the religion of the Old Testament is based on making sacrifices for sins (Leviticus 17:11). This position also ignores the statements of the New Testament that there is NO salvation outside of Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12). And that the religion of the Old Testament was no longer effective (Hebrews 7-10).
The Lord of the New Testament is Jesus Christ. This revelation casts light on who the Lord of the Old Testament is. For example, Peter quotes Joel 2:32 in Acts 2:21, as being fulfilled in Jesus: “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Some Christians believe that the “Jews” of the modern nation of Israel are entitled to the inheritance based on their race/ethnic heritage. However, the apostle Paul counters this idea in Galatians 3:7, 29: “Know for sure that only those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham. If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” In case he hasn’t made it clear enough, Paul reiterates for those who expect some special privilege for physical descendants of Abraham:
Galatians 3:16 – “Now to Abraham’s and his seed the promises were made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your seed,’ who is Christ”.
Being “in Christ” is the only way to inherit anything is in Christ!
Jewish leaders who came to John the Baptist thought the Kingdom was theirs automatically by virtue of their heritage. In Matthew 3:9 we read: “Do not think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones!” Paul states the nature of true Jewishness in Romans 2:28-29:
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter…”
Covenant with Moses – The Mosaic Covenant
The Israelites moved to Egypt during the time of Joseph. But after the death of Joseph, a new Pharaoh came upon the scene and turned the Israelites into common slaves. The people cried out to the God of their forefathers.
Exodus 2:24 – “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”
After a series of ten plagues upon the land of Egypt, God brought the Israelites out “of Egypt and great power and with a mighty hand” (Exodus 32:11). Three months after leaving the land of Egypt, the children of Israel camped at the base of Mount Sinai. God promised to make a covenant with the Israelites.
Exodus 19:5: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people.”
Did you notice the “if” in the covenants agreement? The Children of Israel responded by saying they were willing to do all that God commanded them. The agreement was ratified by the blood of Oxen. This covenant was between God and the children of Israel.
The Ten Commandments were the foundation of the covenant, but they are not the entirety of it. In Exodus Chapter twenty, after giving the first of the ten commandants, the people, being afraid, asked the Lord to speak no more. Moses drew near to the presence of God to hear the rest of the covenant. After receiving the Law, Moses spoke the words of the covenant to all of the people and they agreed to obey. In Exodus 24:8 Moses then wrote the conditions of the covenant down, offered sacrifices to God, and then sprinkled both the book and the people with blood to seal the covenant.
This covenant between God & the children of Israel was temporary. God promised a day when He would make a new covenant, not only with Israel but also with all mankind.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 – “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant w/ the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make w/ the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
God’s Covenant With David – The Davidic Covenant
In II Samuel Chapter seven we see another covenant between God and King David. This covenant established David and his descendants as royal heirs to the throne of the nation of Israel. This covenant reached its fulfillment with the birth of Jesus (descendant of David) in Bethlehem. Matthew Chapter one starts off by showing Christ was “the Son of David“, and thus He had the right to rule over God’s people. In the second chapter of Acts, Peter preached that Jesus Christ was a fulfillment of God’s promise to David.
The Covenant Of Christ – the New Covenant
The New Testament makes a clear distinction between the covenants of the Mosaic Law and the New Covenant, the covenant of promise. In Galatians chapter four the Apostle Paul spoke of these “two covenants,” one originating “from Mount Sinai,” the other from “the Jerusalem above”. In II Corinthians chapter three, Paul argued that the Covenant established at Mount Sinai was a “ministry of death” and “condemnation.” The death of Christ ushered in the new covenant under which we are justified by God’s grace and mercy. Under this covenant, it is now possible to have the true forgiveness of sins. Jesus Himself is the Mediator of this better covenant between God and man (Hebrews 9:15).
Jesus’ sacrificial death served as the oath that God made to us to seal this new covenant. This “New Covenant” is the new agreement God has made with mankind, based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The concept of a new covenant originated with the promise to Jeremiah that God would accomplish for His people what the old covenant had failed to do. Under this new covenant, God would write His Law on human hearts instead of tables of stone. When Jesus ate the Passover meal at the Last Supper with His disciples, He spoke of the cup and said: “this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
Luke’s account refers to this cup as symbolizing “the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). When Paul recited the account he had received concerning the Last Supper, he quoted these words of Jesus about the cup as “the new covenant in My blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25).
Hebrews gives the new covenant more attention than any other book in the New Testament. It quotes the entire passage from Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8:8-12:
Hebrews 8:8-12 – “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made w/their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
Jesus is referred to by the writer of Hebrews as “the Mediator of the new covenant.” The New covenant, a “better covenant … established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6), rests directly on the sacrificial work of Christ. The New Covenant accomplished what the old could not, i.e., the removal of sin and cleansing of the conscience (Hebrews 10:2, 22). The work of Jesus Christ on the cross thus makes the old covenant “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13) and fulfills the promise of the prophet Jeremiah.
Unlike the Mosaic covenant, the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is intended for all mankind. Jesus sent His apostles into the entire world so they could tell the story of the cross. The gospel call extends to every man and woman today!
Acts 2:28-39 – “Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead & buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord & Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
God wants to make a deal with you. Covenants are God’s way of dealing with man! IF you will repent and be baptized in His name, He will fill you with His Spirit.
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