What are the Covenants, and are they really important to us?

Posted by Olivier Melnick on May 8, 2021

When you build a house, you would never think of placing it on any kind of ground without a foundation. Obviously, any edifice that has stood the test of time has been built on a solid and steady foundation. Why should it be any different with the Word of God? If the Bible is true, and it is, it is dangerous to study it without a proper foundation. We can easily let our fingers wander on the pages of God's counsel, not knowing where to rest or on what to safely stand. The result can be a shaky faith, a wrong faith, or no faith at all. So, how do we establish the firm foundation needed to support the building of our faith that will lead to our serving God and growing closer to Him? The answer starts with a proper understanding of the covenants of God.

A covenant is an agreement between several parties (usually two). It is a contract that obligates the parties signing it to adhere to its various stipulations. In a way, it creates boundaries and specific rules. If one of the parties breaks the covenant, the other party is no longer bound by it. Biblical covenants exist to do just that, they establish a specific relationship between God and those He chooses to ratify the covenants with. They also contain promises usually based on the adherence to the covenant, but not always by all parties. A proper understanding of the Covenants of God will help alleviate false theological positions such as Replacement Theology, Dual Covenant Theology, and Christian Palestinianism. The understanding of the covenants will also help us fight antisemitism.

There are eight covenants in the Bible: The Edenic, Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Land, Davidic and New covenants. Some are there as a contract between God and mankind in general and others are there as a contract between God and Israel and the Jewish People in particular. The distinction is important to note. Some of the covenants are also connected to one another throughout mankind's history.

Another critical aspect of these covenants is the fact that they can be conditional or unconditional. A conditional covenant is when God says to the other party, "if you will, then I will". There is an expectation from God on the other party. God's fulfilling His part–whatever it might be–depends on the other party fulfilling their part, which usually had something to do with obedience. An unconditional covenant is one where God simply says, "I will". The contract exists between God and the other party, but its fulfillment depends only on God doing His part. In other words, an unconditional covenant is tightly connected to God's character. Let's review them one at a time. They are the necessary building blocks upon which we build our understanding and proper application of God's Word in our lives. As we understand them, we will discover that they also are a guarantee from God to Israel and the whole world.

  1. The Edenic Covenant: Between God and Adam (Representative of mankind) - Conditional and Temporary
    The Edenic Covenant was ratified between God and Adam as a representative of mankind (Genesis 1:28-31). It was conditional, depending upon Adam and Eve's obedience regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17): "Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” As the story tells us in Genesis 3:1-8, Adam and Eve disobeyed as they followed the serpent's temptation, and the first sin of mankind was committed. The rest is history, or should I say HIS story? Hosea 6:7 tells us, "But like Adam, they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me.” The Edenic Covenant was short-lived and replaced by the Adamic Covenant.
  2. The Adamic Covenant: Between God and Adam (Representative of mankind) - Unconditional and Eternal
    The Adamic Covenant was made necessary as a result of the breaking of the Edenic Covenant. It shows how God dealt with the three guilty parties in the Edenic Covenant (Genesis 3:14-19). To the serpent (Satan), "The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, and dust you will eat All the days of your life." It is also in this passage that we read the very first messianic prophecy (Genesis 3:15) telling us of the animosity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Messiah).
    God also punished the woman, "To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” and the man as well:  Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.  The Adamic Covenant is still very much in effect today.
  3. The Noahic Covenant: Between God and Noah (Representative of mankind) - Unconditional and Eternal
    The Noahic Covenant was ratified between God and Noah/Mankind (Genesis 9:1-17), "As for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you, and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” From Noah forward, meat consumption (without blood) is introduced. The sign of that covenant with mankind is the rainbow. As a result of the flood (which was never to occur again per God's word to Noah), all humanity descended from Adam through Noah and his three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth. Capital punishment is also introduced at this time in history. The Noahic Covenant is also very much in effect today.

The next five covenants are all between God and the Jewish people and are all unconditional and eternal except for the Mosaic Covenant, which was conditional and temporary.

  1. The Abrahamic Covenant: Between God and the Jewish People - Unconditional and Eternal
    The Abrahamic Covenant might be the most important Biblical covenant with the New Covenant. Failure to understand the Abrahamic Covenant, its parties and its provisions have led people to adopt faulty views such as Replacement Theology and Dual Covenant Theology. God started with a promise to Abram found in Genesis 12:1-3, "Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This is where the well-known promise of blessings for blessing Israel and the Jewish people and curses for cursing them appears. Additionally, in Genesis 15:17-21, where the actual covenant is ratified, we learn that only the Shechinah Glory of God passed through the split animals. It was only God who needed to ratify the covenant. While Abraham symbolically represents the Jewish People in this covenant, only God needed to walk through to ratify it; thus, making it impossible for Abraham or the Jewish people to break the covenant.  This also makes the covenant both unconditional AND eternal.  Furthermore, in that passage, God gives us the exact boundaries of Israel, "When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring, I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.
    Based on that passage, Biblical Israel should be about twice the size of Texas while it is currently about the size of New Jersey. Never in human history have these exact boundaries been fulfilled, but they will be during the millennial reign of Yeshua on earth from Jerusalem after the seven-year Tribulation. Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us that the land is not for the Jewish people, nowhere does it tell us it is Palestine, and nowhere does it tell us that it has been transferred to another people group. While it would seem this is simply rewriting biblical history, it's actually rewriting scripture and Israel and the Jewish People's past, present and future.  This kind of "editing" makes God into a liar and covenant breaker. It is nothing short of Biblical history revisionism and it makes God into a liar and a covenant breaker. Notice that it is only the covenant between God and the Jewish people that some want to alter? The other covenants that God has with mankind, in general, are usually not an issue. The Abrahamic Covenant is also the foundation for the development of three other important covenants. The Land (Land), Davidic (Seed) and New (Blessing) Covenants. Additionally, the Abrahamic Covenant is reconfirmed through Isaac in Genesis 26:24, and through Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15; and again, through all of Jacob's twelve sons in Genesis 49. The Abrahamic Covenant is still in effect today even though some of its provisions will not go into effect until the Millennial Kingdom.
  2. The Mosaic Covenant: Between God and the Jewish People - Conditional and Temporary
    The Mosaic Covenant is the only covenant that God made with the Jewish people that is conditional. Blessings hinge around the keeping of the Mosaic Law given to Moses at Sinai, not the 10 commandments written on tablets of stone, but the 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah given to the children of Israel that span from Exodus 20:1 to Deuteronomy 28:68. A clear understanding of the blessings and curses attached to the Mosaic Covenant can be read in Deuteronomy 28, which is probably one of the clearest passages of the Torah where God tells Israel that He means business. One of the key elements of the Mosaic Law is the blood sacrifice as found in Leviticus 17:11, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life." Additionally, dietary restrictions (Biblical kosher laws) were introduced for Jewish people that didn't exist for all making under the Noahic Covenant. The Sabbath was also formally introduced under this covenant. We must not forget that the Mosaic Law's purpose was to show Israel that God's idea of holiness cannot be attained by man, and thus the need for a redeemer to forgive our sins. It came to an end with the death of the Messiah (Romans 10:4; Ephesians 2:11-18).
  3. The Land Covenant: Between God and the Jewish People - Unconditional and Eternal
    The Land Covenant used to be called the Palestinian Covenant, but since the word "Palestine" has been hijacked for political gain in the Middle East at the expense of Israel, it is better to call it the Land Covenant. We read about it in Deuteronomy 29:1, "These are the words of the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb." This describes a Covenant different from the Mosaic Covenant. Some of its provisions are listed in Deuteronomy 30:1-10. The Land Covenant is especially important because it reaffirms that the title deed was given by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It also confirms that that deed was given to Israel unconditionally and was promised based on God's character and never on Israel's performance. In a sense, it further develops the land aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Bible promises a future restoration of Israel and the Jewish people into the Land. Ezekiel spoke of the return of the Jewish people to Israel in the last days and we can certainly say that we are living through that time right now. The Land Covenant is still in effect today.
  4. The Davidic Covenant: Between God and the Jewish People - Unconditional and Eternal
    The Davidic Covenant is another development from the Abrahamic Covenant as it pertains to the seed aspect. From that perspective, the Davidic king that the Covenant introduces is really a descendant of King David, namely King Messiah Himself, Yeshua of Nazareth. We read about it in I Chronicles 17:10-14, "Moreover, I declare to you that the LORD will build you a house. When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.’” The Covenant was made between God and King David who was promised an eternal dynasty (II Samuel 7:11, 16) and his kingdom would be established forever (II Samuel 7:13) and the Messiah would come from the seed of David (I Chronicles 17:11); and that finally, Messiah's throne, house and kingdom will be established forever (I Chronicles 17:12-15). It is also an unconditional covenant and is still in effect today.
  5. The New Covenant: Between God and the Jewish People - Unconditional and Eternal
    The New Covenant is primarily found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” It was made between God and both the House of Israel and the House of Judah or all Israel (Jeremiah 31:31). And is clearly distinct from the Mosaic Covenant (Jeremiah 31:32) and it promises that Israel will be regenerated (Jeremiah 31:33) and their sins remembered no more (Jeremiah 31:34). The New Covenant contains the Law of Messiah (Romans 8:2; Galatians 6:2.) with many of the same commandments repeated, some annulled and some amplified by Messiah. The New Covenant develops the blessing aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant, particularly as it pertains to salvation. Many have tried to view the New Covenant allegorically and thus transfer it to the Church, but it was never so, if you take God's Word literally. This would make the Christians the new recipients of the blessings as the new owners, but Scripture goes as far as describing Gentile Christians as partakers of the blessings, but never new owners. It is made clear in Romans 11:17-18, "But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you." The Church is reaping the spiritual blessings of these covenants while Israel alone gets to benefit from the physical blessings such as the land.

Much more could be said about the eight covenants of the Bible. Their proper study and application will help believers find their place in God's program for the ages. Just like nobody would dare build a house with no foundation or put the third floor up before the second floor, we ought to understand the place of the covenants in God's program, the proper recipients of the covenants, if they are eternal or temporary, and if they are conditional or unconditional. Anything less cripples our ability to properly understand God's counsel. In essence, the eight covenants of the Bible form the blueprints for God's program for mankind.

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