God's Covenants

(Eight Major Bible Covenants)

A covenant is a formal agreement between two parties that spells out certain obligations and often contains certain promises as well. For example, the traditional marriage ceremony involves a covenant between the bride and groom in which they pledge their love and faithfulness to one another. The Bible contains a number of important covenants made by God with man.

In the case of the covenants of Scripture, God is the one sovereignly initiating the covenant. Man in general (or some particular group of human beings) is the other partner in it. It's possible to discern eight major covenants in the Bible. Though the word "covenant" isn't always used, we can see that each involves specific promises and responsibilities.

Some of these are limited to a set time (for example, Adam's responsibility to "tend and keep" the garden of Eden, Gen. 2:15). Other things carry over to a later time, as does the provision to eat meat in the Lord's covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:3; compare Lev. 7:15-16; Lk. 24:42-43).

The eight major covenants are:

1. The Edenic Covenant (Gen. 1:26-31; 2:15-17), an arrangement or household rule suited to man's period of innocency, and concerning the responsibilities of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

2. The Adamic Covenant (Gen. 3:14-24), the divine arrangement dealing with the human family after the fall, expressing God's curse on creation, and providing the first promise of a coming Redeemer (Gen. 3:15).

3. The Noahic Covenant (Gen. 6:18; 8:20--9:17), covering life after the flood of Noah's day, establishing the principle of human government–as epitomized in capital punishment (Gen. 9:6), and including God's promise never again to destroy the earth with a flood.

4. The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-4, 7; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; 26:2-5; 28:10-17). A major portion of Scripture is given to this covenant, indicating its importance. In addition to some personal promises to Abraham, there are three key pledges of God to be noted: 1) the promise of a great nation to come from Abraham's "seed" (or descendants); 2) the promise that they would have a land of their own; 3) the promise that all the families (or peoples) of the earth would be blessed through Abraham. This covenant lasts forever. (Gen. 17:19; I Chron. 16:16-17).

5. The Mosaic Covenant (Exod. 20:1–31:18, plus more detail given through to the end of Deuteronomy). This covenant was made with the nation of Israel (Exod. 19:3-6; Ps. 147:19-20). There were some 613 laws covering their moral conduct, religious observance, and community life. It was in force from Mount Sinai to Mount Calvary.

Though the study of "all Scripture" is profitable to us (II Tim. 3:16-17), the Law's rule ended at the cross (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 6:14; 10:4; II Cor. 3:6-14; Gal. 3:24-25). Not that God's moral standard has changed. It is eternal, because it reflects His changeless character. This is demonstrated by the fact that all of the Ten Commandments that introduce the Law are repeated in the New Testament, with the exception of Sabbath keeping (a ceremonial law). But now God's moral standard is fulfilled in us by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as we walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 22-23, 25), claiming the promises of the New Covenant (see below).

Four Covenants Linked. There is an important relationship between four of the covenants. God's covenant with Abraham laid the foundation of what was to happen to and through the nation of Israel, and each of the other three deals with specific aspects of that.

6. The Palestinian Covenant (Deut. 29:1--30:10). Because of the current implications of the word "Palestinian," this covenant is sometimes referred to as the Land Covenant. The land of Canaan is Israel's "forever" (Gen. 13:14-15), it is their "everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:8). But while the covenant with Abraham guarantees Israel's possession of the land forever, the Palestinian Covenant warns that they will only enjoy God's blessing in the land if they obey Him. This covenant warns of chastening for disobedience (Deut. 28:63-68; 29:22-28), but pledges the final revival and restoration of Israel in their land (Deut. 30:1-3; compare Isa. 35:1-10; Amos 9:13-15).

7. The Davidic Covenant (II Sam. 7:14-17; I Chron. 17:3-15; Ps. 89:3, 19-29). The covenant with David deals with one particular aspect of the "seed" (or descendants) of Abraham. God pledges that One of David's line (Christ) would ultimately sit on David's throne and rule forever (Isa. 9:6-7; Matt. 1:1; Lk. 1:31-33; Rev. 11:15).

8. The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-40). The New Covenant relates to that aspect of the Lord's covenant with Abraham that promises all nations will receive a blessing. Though the New Covenant was made with Israel (Jer. 31:31-33), and has some national blessings that will be fulfilled in the earthly reign of Christ (Jer. 31:38-40), it's spiritual blessings are available now.

The New Covenant replaces the Old–that is, the Law (Gal. 2:16; 3:10; Heb. 8:6-13; 10:12-18; 13:20-21). Christ established the New Covenant by His shed blood, and we remember this at the Lord's Supper (Lk. 22:20; I Cor. 11:25). As servants of Christ, we are "ministers of the new covenant" (II Cor. 3:16).

As indicated when it was presented to Israel, it provides for forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:34; Ezek. 36:25), the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27), and the teaching and enabling of the Spirit to fulfil the will of God (Jer. 31:33-34; 32:39). All of these spiritual blessings will be experienced by the nation of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom, but they are enjoyed by individuals today, all who put their faith in Christ for salvation.