Covenant – An unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and people that stipulates the condition of their relationship. There are six key covenants in the Scriptures.
On Sunday we introduced the idea of the covenants between God and people. Covenants are so important to understand the structure of the Bible and God’s redemptive plan. God could have chosen to leave us in our sin, alienated from God, and without hope. Instead, God has chosen to come to us, to break into our story, and to draw His people to Himself and enter a relationship with them. Every covenant begins with God’s redemptive acts on behalf of the people involved, and then He engages them in a relationship. Covenants in the Near East worked somewhat like treaties, but the big difference is that covenants could not be broken without the forfeit of life. As the True and Eternal King, God draws people into covenant relationship, making promises for care, provision, grace, forgiveness, and empowerment. God requires His people to trust Him, live in obedience, and to stay faithful to Him and reject all other gods and spiritualities.
The covenants God makes with His people are the underlying structure of the storyline of the Bible. Much like the steel girders that give a sky scraper its inner structure and strength, covenants are built one upon another and form the structure inside the story of the Bible. In each covenant God takes the initiative and the goal is relationship. But God is the King, and there is no negotiation. We must come to God on His terms.
The Bible tells of six major covenants God makes with His people and creation. Each of these covenants come with a myriad of promises that are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. But those living at the time of the covenant experience God’s blessings and grace in their lives as recipients of the covenant relationship. The key words of the covenant from God’s point of view are steadfast love and faithfulness. He loves His people with a never-ending, always pursuing, never giving up love that won’t let His people go. And He will be faithful to keep His promises.
• The covenant with Adam (Genesis 2-3)- The first covenant is with Adam in the context of creation and includes the promise of eternal life, the gift of a perfect place in the garden of Eden, blessedness, and the presence of God. God walks with them in the cool of the day, a picture of a perfect intimate relationship with the Creator. But they are to live as creations and honor God through trusting obedience demonstrated by not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But they reject God and choose to exalt themselves ushering in sin and the curse. So this covenant has a second aspect as God makes a promise of a redeemer to crush Satan and that God alone will be the One who will remedy the situation created by Adam and Eve’s sin.
• The covenant with Noah (Genesis 8:21-22) – God calls Noak to build the Ark and then saves he and his family in the Ark. After the flood recedes God makes a covenant with Noah with the promise that He will never again to destroy the world by a flood. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow, a picture of God putting the bow (and arrow) of His wrath in the clouds. From this point on in the Bible the focus will be on God’s plan of redemption.
• The covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 15, 17)- God called a man named Abraham and told him to leave his family and go to a place God would show him, which is eventually Palestine (the land that becomes Israel). God made a myriad of promises to Abraham, including the promise of a son to be born to he and his wife in their old age. From this son God promised to make him a great nation and bless all nations through his seed. The covenant also includes the promise of a land for his descendants. Circumcision was to be the sign of this covenant.
• The covenant with Moses and Israel (Exodus 19-24) – First, this covenant is made with the descendants of Abraham. Second, God has already acted to rescue them from slavery and redeem them, and He has brought them to the Mountain of God and into a relationship with Himself. As they live out the agreement in this covenant they would be a special people, set apart for the purpose of God, Yahweh would be their God, they would be His people. The law of God is a sort of treaty, their part of the deal.
• The covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:12-16) – God was to be their True King, but the people starting complaining that they wanted an earthly king. The first king the people choose is Saul, and his reign is an absolute failure, the picture of what happens when we choose our king. During Saul’s reign God chooses the second king, a teenage boy named David. While David is a flawed and broken person, he is a man after God’s own heart. David is a picture of what a king in Israel should be, as he always remembers who is the True King and points the people to God as this. God made a covenant with David around the idea of Royalty and the kingly line in Jerusalem. The promises included an everlasting throne and kingdom from the line of David. This covenant has two tiers of fulfillment. First, every king in Jerusalem for the next 4-500 years is a descendant of David. But the Old Testament also points us to True and Better King who would usher in the Kingdom of God.
• The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) – Jeremiah, along with several other prophets promise the dawn of a New Covenant at some point in the future. The promises in this covenant include a new heart and forgiveness, and that the Law of God would be written on the heart rather than on tablets of stone. This is a picture of God’s work through the Gospel transforming His people from the inside out. But the New Covenant is not new in that it replaces the Old. It is New in that its fulfillment comes as the Old Testament finds its purpose. In a clear way, Jesus is the fulfillment of everything laid out in the Old Testament. We find that all the promises made to Abraham were actually meant for Jesus. The people of Israel in the Old Testament are never faithful and obedient to the Law and are continually abandoning the covenant. But Jesus comes in the incarnation and is literally True Israel who fulfills the Law by keeping it perfectly. He is the True King who ushers in the Kingdom of God. As the Bible tells us the story through the covenants it is clearly leading us to Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant and the very reality that the covenant was ultimately pointing toward. In a very real way God has proven His faithfulness by sending Jesus and therefore keeping the God side of the covenant. But God has also kept our side by coming in the person of Jesus and living the life we should have lived, then dying to pay our debt which both fulfills our righteousness and also covers our guilt. God has kept the divine and human side of the Old Covenant which ushers in the New Covenant, which is all true in Christ and made available to the covenant people of God, the church. His love and faithfulness to us is settled, and we cannot fall from the covenant. Rather, the promise is that we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8) because the New Covenant has written the Law of God on our hearts.