The Covenants of Scripture
Eternal covenant, Heb 13:20—The redemptive covenant before time began, between the Father and the Son. By this covenant we have eternal redemption, an eternal peace from the ‘God of peace’, through the death and resurrection of the Son.
Edenic covenant, Gen 1:26-28—The creative covenant between the Triune God, as the first party (Gen 1:26), and newly created man, as the second party, governing man’s creation and life in Edenic innocence. It regulated man’s dominion and subjugation of the earth, and presented a simple test of obedience. The penalty was death.
Adamic covenant, Gen 3:14-19—The covenant conditioning fallen man’s life on the earth. Satan’s tool (the serpent) was cursed (Gen 3:14); the first promise of the Redeemer was given (3:15); women’s status was altered (3:16); the earth was cursed (3:17-19); physical and spiritual death resulted (3:19).
Noahic covenant, Gen 8:20-9:6—The covenant of human government. Man is to govern his fellowmen for God, indicated by the institution of capital punishment as the supreme judicial power of the state (Gen 9:5-6). Other features included the promise of redemption through the line of Shem (9:26).
Abrahamic covenant, Gen 12:1-3; confirmed, 13:14-17; 15:1-7; 17:1-8—The covenant of promise. Abraham’s posterity was to be made a great nation. In him (through Christ) all the families of the earth were to be blessed (Gal 3:16; Jn 8:56-58).
Mosaic covenant, Ex 20:1-31:18—The legal covenant, given solely to Israel. It consisted of the commandments (Ex 20:1-26); the judgments (social) – (Ex 21:1; 24:11) and the ordinances (religious); (Ex 24:12-31:18); also called the law. It was a conditional covenant of works, a ministry of ‘condemnation’ and ‘death’ (2 Cor 3:7-9), designed to lead the transgressor (convicted thereby as a sinner) to Christ.
Palestinian covenant, Deut 30:1-10—The covenant regulating Israel’s tenure of the land of Canaan. Its prophetic features include dispersion of disobedience (Deut 30:1), future repentance while in dispersion (30:2), the Lord’s return (30:3), the restoration (30:4-5), national conversion (3:6), judgment of Israel’s foes (30:7), national prosperity (30:9). Its blessings are conditioned upon obedience (30:8, 10), but fulfillment is guaranteed by the new covenant.
Davidic covenant, 2 Sam 7:4-17, 1 Chr 17:4-15—The kingdom covenant regulating the temporal and eternal rule of David’s posterity. It secures in perpetuity a Davidic ‘house’ or line, a throne, and a kingdom. It was confirmed by divine oath in Ps 89:30-37 and renewed to Mary in Lk 1:31-33. It is fulfilled in Christ as the World’s Saviour and Israel’s coming King (Acts 1:6; Rev 19:16; 20:4-6).
New covenant, Jer 31:31-33; Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20; Heb 8:8-12—The covenant of unconditional blessing based upon the finished redemption of Christ. It secures blessing for the church, flowing from the Abrahamic covenant (Gal 3:13-20), and secures all covenant blessings to converted Israel, including those of the Abrahamic, Palestinian, and Davidic covenants. This covenant is unconditional, final and irreversible.
The Difference between a Contract and a Covenant
A contract is a transaction. A covenant is a relationship. Or to put it slightly differently: a contract is about interests. A covenant is about identity. It is about you and me coming together to form an ‘us.’ That is why contracts benefit, but covenants transform.
Jonathan Sacks, Address by the Chief Rabbi to The Lambeth Conference, July 28, 2008.
A Distinctive Kind of Contract
Contracts. We all have them, by the dozens. In business, government, and in our personal lives, contracts provide structure and order for relationships that are essential to all of life. Contracts tell us what is expected of us and what we can expect from others. Without contracts, both explicit and implicit, our lives and our work would quickly unravel.
God structures his relationship with us with a distinctive kind of contract. Usually we refer to God’s contracts as covenants, which is a way of affirming their particular character. They aren’t the sort of contract that you and I can rewrite or back out of at will. Rather, God’s covenants are binding on us and, interestingly enough, on God, not because we have any power over God, but because God chooses to enter into binding contracts with us.
The first explicit contract in Scripture is the one God makes with Noah. Though we can see an implicit contract with Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-2, in Genesis 6:18 the Lord says to Noah, “I will establish my covenant with you.” Then, in Genesis 9, God lays out the specifics of this covenant: “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen 9:11). In order to ratify and signify this binding contract, God sets his “bow in the clouds” (9:13). The rainbow reminds God and, implicitly, us, of God’s commitment not to wipe us out again.
Like all biblical covenants (Mosaic, Davidic, New Covenant), the one with Noah is initiated by God. We human beings don’t determine the structure of our relationship with God. That’s God’s business. He establishes the covenant. We enter into it in response. Yet there are elements of the Noahic covenant that are distinctive. For one thing, God establishes his covenant, not only with Noah and his heirs, but also “with every living creature” (9:10). Additionally, though the Noahic covenant reaffirms God’s basic charge to humanity (“Be fruitful and multiply”) while adding some new elements (animals can be eaten, sacredness of human life requires capital punishment), the main point of this covenant is God’s binding commitment not to destroy the creatures of the earth again.
The covenants in the Old Testament, including the Noahic covenant, consistently underscore God’s sovereignty over our lives. They also point to the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31 and established through Jesus, whose shed blood creates “the new covenant” (Luke 22:20). The sign of the New Covenant is not the rainbow, but the cross. Through Christ, God not only spares life on earth, but also offers the abundant life of the age to come.
John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer
John Wesley’s covenant prayer demonstrates a level of sacrifice and devotion to Jesus that has been rarely matched. How many of us have asked for suffering, in order to experience the humility and the poverty of spirit that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount? This prayer forces us to ask how committed we are to God’s will in our lives. Are we willing to suffer for Christ? Are we willing to submit other desires, goals, achievements to the larger purpose of Christ transforming us?
I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Covenant. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!