Sweet Sunday Sermon – COVENANTS
Submitted by GP
To properly understand the Old Testament (or the Bible as a whole) and discover its promises, it is necessary to understand and discuss the basic facts about the covenants of God, and a little about the dispensations. In addition one must have a firm grasp of the fundamental principles used to interpret prophecy, since at least 25% of the Old Testament is presented in the 16 prophetic books. Since this study involves a relatively minute portion of the prophetic Scriptures, (even though major prophesies are addressed) we will not spend much time on the principles of prophetic interpretation. We have included a note on types, however, because of the importance of these pictures in Genesis.
Consideration and tracing of the Old Testament promises throughout the Bible reveals that the major Old Testament promises that are as yet unfulfilled, and many of those that are fulfilled, are associated with the eight major covenants which explain the outworking of God’s purposes with man. The promises of the Covenants of God are thus a major focus that must be addressed in this study. It is therefore necessary to state some principles about covenants. The Covenants of God will be a major thrust of our study since it is in these grand promises given to Israel that we ascertain the outline of God’s dealing with Israel (and man in general) throughout the ages.
According to C.I Scofield, “A covenant is a sovereign pronouncement of God by which he establishes a relationship (1) between himself and an individual (e.g. Adam in the Edenic
Covenant, Genesis 2:16ff.) (2) between Himself and mankind in general (e.g. in the promise of the Noahic Covenant never again to destroy all flesh with a flood Genesis 9: 9 ff.) , (3) between
Himself and a nation (e.g. Israel in the Mosaic Covenant, Exodus 19:3ff.), or (4) between Himself and a specific human family (e.g. the house of David in the promise of a kingly line in perpetuity through the Davidic covenant, 2 Samuel 7: 16ff).
The following important principles about covenants must be firmly grasped. Biblical Covenants are either conditional or unconditional. The Mosaic Covenant or Sinaitic covenant or the Covenant of the Law, that God made in Exodus 19:5 is the only conditional Covenant in the Bible. It was a conditional one, because the fulfillment of all the promises God made to Israel at this time were on the condition that they obeyed his voice and keep his covenant commandments, as implied by the words, “if ye will obey, then ye will be” followed by “all the people answering “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do (Exodus 19:5, 8). The key wording in a conditional covenant is thus “If you will… Then I will”. The outcome of the promises contained in a conditional covenant is therefore based upon man’s faithfulness. “If you will do (such and such) then I will do (whatever I promised). This is clearly exemplified in Exodus19:5 ff., or Deuteronomy 28 especially verses 1 and 5 where this covenant is stated
All of the other covenants are unconditional, because in each of them, God Himself is responsible for keeping the terms of the covenant. They are “unconditional in the sense that God obligates
himself in grace by the unrestricted declaration, “I will,” to accomplish certain announced purposes despite any failure on the part of the person or people with whom he covenants. The human response to the divinely announced purpose is always important, leading as it does to blessings for obedience and discipline for disobedience.” (2)
It is noteworthy that the phrase “I will” occurs seven times in the wording of the Abrahamic Covenant, twelve times in the Palestinian Covenant, seven in the Davidic Covenant, and seven times in the Noahic Covenant. This clearly marks them as unconditional covenants. Consequently their fulfillment is not conditional on human faithfulness, but on God’s faithfulness.
“The three universal and general covenants are the Adamic, the Noahic and the Edenic in that the whole race is represented as present in Adam in his failure. All the other covenants are made with Israel or Israelites and apply primarily to them although with ultimate blessing to the whole world.” (3)
When studying the great Covenants of the Bible, one must keep firmly fixed in mind that they were generally made directly to Israel, or men like Adam and Noah who existed before the formation of this nation. With the exception of the aspect of the New Covenant that affects the Church, they were not made to the members of the Body of Christ during this present age. Ephesians 2:12-13 helps us to appreciate this. It reads thus “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh; who are called Uncircumcision (Gentiles) by what is called the Circumcision (Jews) made in the flesh by hands; that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Another very important point to ponder when studying the covenants is to recognize their foundational importance in our understanding the Scriptures, and our comprehension of God’s agenda for the future. Without a firm, intellectual grasp of the data supplied to us from studying the promises in the Covenants, we will drift aimlessly in our study of the Word and will get caught in the trap of “devotionalizing” the Old Testament to oblivion. Without the collective data of the covenants, any “theories” concerning Biblical Eschatology will be just that-theory. But when the covenants are thoroughly studied, it will become clear that they lay the foundation for the Pre-millennial teaching, although they do not give any definitive information on the Rapture. That is a truth never really alluded to in the Old Testament, the translation of Enoch and Elijah being the exception.
Most beginning students of Prophecy and Eschatology mistakenly commence their study in Revelation, failing to realize that all prophecy must be understood in the light of the Covenants and major Old Testament promises such as that of Genesis 3:15. Otherwise our efforts will lead to all types of fanciful, fanatical and subjective interpretations. It is imperative to see that there are major long ranging prophesies in the book of Genesis, and that these are mirrored in the Psalms.
Once confirmed a Biblical covenant cannot be annulled or added to, because a Biblical covenant is fixed. One may well ask the question “Why is a covenant fixed?” Perhaps the best way to answer this question would be to refer to Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:15, where Paul takes an illustration from everyday human transactions. Paul states that even man made contracts or covenants, which are of much less importance than a covenant of God, when once confirmed or ratified cannot be set aside or annulled even by the author himself, much less any second party. Similarly when the righteous God makes contracts or covenants with man they are similarly binding or fixed. Just as one can not add new conditions or delete portions from a ratified contract, no one can make any alteration in the fundamental relations between God and man, which are already established by His promises. Covenants are thus in this way fixed.
“Human failure is never permitted to abrogate any of God’s covenants or block their fulfillment.” David’s sin or those of his predecessors will not block the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. Despite the wickedness of Israel’s leaders and their rejection of Jesus as their king at his first coming, Jesus will still rule on David’s throne, both literally and personally when He returns the second time at the end of the great tribulation. Despite Israel failing to keep the term of the Palestinian covenant and despite two cycles of dispersal from the land, God will still give a repentant and re-gathered people the land in the millennial kingdom. Despite the failure of Abraham’s seed, many of the blessings promised to Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant are yet being fulfilled today (those to his spiritual seed.) The Abrahamic covenant will yet see its complete fulfillment in the millennium. Thus it is clear that human failure is never permitted to abrogate any of God’s covenants or block their fulfillment.
All the covenants direct us toward what God willed for mankind all along from the beginning. For Isaiah 42:6 reads, “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the nations.” This is obvious in all the covenants cited in this discussion.
“A covenant of one category may overlap with others.”(5)This is exemplified in the “Davidic covenant, where a continuing kingly house is promised with ultimate blessing, not only to David but also to the whole world in the reign of Jesus Christ. (6) This principle is also demonstrated by the fact that there is in the Abrahamic Covenant a threefold provision to the descendants of Abraham. God promised to Abraham (and to his physical posterity); Land, Seed (i.e. A great Nation of the world), and that through his seed, there will be a blessing to all the nations of the world. Each of these three aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant are later amplified in the other three unconditional covenants. The Land promised in the context of the Abrahamic Covenant is amplified in the Palestinian Covenant. The “Seed” (i.e. great Nation) aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is amplified in the Davidic Covenant, and lastly the “Blessing” aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is amplified in the New Covenant.
As part of the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 12:1‑3, God had promised inter alia to make of Abraham a great nation. This was partially fulfilled under the terms of the Davidic covenant. History confirms that the nation was indeed a great nation as it reached its zenith under the rule of David and Solomon.
In the Palestinian covenant of Deuteronomy 30:1‑9 the promise concerning the possession of the land of Israel given in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17:8) is stressed; here the conditions under which Israel entered the land of promise is at this point in time the most important thing God wants to get through to His people.
In the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7:12‑17, upon which the future kingdom of Christ was to be founded (Romans 1:3), the everlasting covenant term or condition of the Abrahamic covenant is stressed because the promise to David was to establish the kingdom (the great nation of the Abrahamic covenant—Israel was its zenith in the period of the monarchy) and to establish his house and kingdom for evermore.
Verification of the principles of the covenants are inevitable, since all the aspects of the principles depend on God’s immutability and ability to keep his promises. This is confirmed by Scripture passages such as Joshua 21:45 which reads “There failed nothing of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.” Similarly in Joshua 23:14b we read “and ye know in your hearts, and in your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.” Again in 1 Kings 8:56 “Blessed be the Lord, who hath given rest unto his people, Israel, according to all that he promised; there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses, his servant.”
In the New Testament, Hebrews 13-19 suggests a verification of the principles of the Covenant in
my view. The above discussion makes it very clear that a basic understanding of the principles concerning the promises contained in the Covenants of God is fundamental to an appreciation of the promises of God. It is important to realize that the covenants referred to in the first six chapters of this study are the Edenic, the Adamic, the Noahic and the Abrahamic Covenant.
In an effort to enhance our understanding of Genesis, the Old Testament in general and the entire Bible, we must examine the concept of ‘covenant’ very fully. This is necessary, because careful study and analysis of the lives of major Bible characters like the Patriarchs, Joseph, Moses Joshua, Samuel, David, Daniel Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and even our Lord in His Incarnation reveal that the common strand which marks the success of their earthly sojourn revolved around their faith which emanated from their understanding of the promises of God set forth in the covenants. All these men prayed and depended on God and their walk of faith with Him because as Psalm 25:14 teaches, “The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” We must realize that this is also true for us today. We too can know and employ their “secret” and live victoriously as they did.
Psalm 103:7 teaches that God “made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel.” God took Moses into His confidence and told Moses ‘why’ He was doing certain things. In contrast, the people only saw what God did, but did not know why He did it. They did not know where it was all leading. The people received God’s blessings, but Moses knew why they were there and Moses knew why he could approach God and make requests. Contemporary Christians are in a much better position than any of the heroes of faith cited above or the wandering Israelites in the wilderness, simply because we today have God’s complete revelation, the Bible. We have the Bible, God’s book of promises, a covenant book that declares God’s covenant purposes. No other religion has the idea that a god, of his own free will and initiative, would enter into covenant with a people. The Covenants of God are therefore not just another subject in Scripture, but they are the very foundation upon which everything in Scripture is sustained, and that which couples and relates the Old Testament with the New Testament.
Generally, when two nations (or two persons) desired to enter into covenant, each would select a representative, and the representatives would meet, and exchange weapons to indicate that their strengths would be swapped. Cloaks would also be exchanged, since the cloak was the ‘selfhood’ of each man and thus each nation. Finally covenant sacrifices were brought. Two animals would be split down the middle, and the representatives would walk through the pool of blood thus formed. The representatives would walk through the blood and around the drawn carcasses in a figure of eight-the symbol for infinity, and would finish their promenade standing in the blood, facing each other. The statement made by this ritual was that such a covenant was for life, and that if broken, the representative who defaulted was willing to die even as the animal had died.
Just as the Old Testament teaches that the life of the animal is in its blood, blood represented life in this ceremony to indicate that loyalty to the point of death was expected, and that only death could discharge the obligation of the covenant. The treaty would then be written such that the representatives would declare the terms of the covenant, before signing and sealing it before all the witnesses. The representatives would then be cut. In some instances the palm would be cut and the two representatives would clasp hands, intermingling their blood. This is the picture presented in Isaiah 49:16, where we read “See, I (God) have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” In other cases, the wrists of the representatives would be cut, and the arms (the symbol of strength) raised to God as the blood ran down the arm, and the oath of efficacy would be taken, before the wrists would be brought together. This method is seen in Isaiah 62:8, where we read “The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm.” Here, then, is God taking oath by his Omnipotence.
The scars of the two representatives were the living seals of the covenant, and a living reminder of a covenant to death. The representatives would then exchange names, i.e., each would add to their reputation the other’s reputation. This exchange of names meant “blood brothers” and that the two were now closer than blood brothers, closer than family. The covenant implied that all actions would be based upon loving kindness and that the covenant would always be in the forefront of each other’s mind. The covenant meal would next be celebrated. The eating was a statement of covenant. The two representatives would sit down to a meal with their hands upon the table. Each would eat bread, signifying ‘all that I am is yours,’ and each would drink from the same cup, signifying ‘I will shed my blood for you.’ The great significance of this process is that God Himself has entered into covenant with mankind from the beginning.
The concept of “covenants” is not very common in modern societies, but in ancient times, a Covenant was essentially a blood pact for life or death between two participants, which always involved the shedding of blood and the swearing of an oath, in a life and death relationship that could never be disregarded or abrogated. In the Bible, God has taken the initiative and made covenants with mankind that are pacts for life or for death between two parties, attended by a sacred oath, inaugurated and administered by our Sovereign God. They must not therefore, be taken lightly, disregarded or abrogated.
Since ancient covenants had no ‘escape clause,’ they were never entered into haphazardly, for they superceded even family ties. It was said that “Blood is thicker than milk,” meaning that even though the participants were ‘milk brothers,’ and had the same mother, the blood covenant was more important than the familial bond. Although the concept of covenant is not typical to rational human beings, and foreign to Western philosophy, undying loyalty and absolute faithfulness is typical of God. We see from our study of Amos 1:9 that when covenant is abrogated, even between human parties, it was as if God was slapped in the face. Tyre was thus punished by God, because she sold whole communities of captives to Edom, and thus disregarded and abrogated the covenant of brotherhood made between David and Solomon and their kingas recorded in Amos 1:9.
The concept of covenant was so important in Israel that even when the Gibeonites, who had deceived Joshua and entered into covenant with him requested his aid when attacked by other Canaanite tribes, Joshua honored his covenant (Joshua 9). That God agreed with Joshua, is attested by the miracle He performed in making the sun to stand still as this counterfeit covenant was honored. This is because from God’s viewpoint, a covenant is immutable, and should not be invalidated regardless of the circumstances.
A very good example of a covenant is seen in the covenant of David and Jonathan recorded in I Samuel 18 and 19. These men who were both the representatives for all their descendants, their houses, and their tribes vowed never to leave, or forsake the other even though Jonathan was the son of King Saul, who hated and despised David, and although Jonathan knew that God had decreed that David, and not he, would succeed Saul as King of Israel. Jonathan later had a son, Mephibosheth, who was raised in the royal palace of Saul, where passionate hatred of David existed. Following the deaths of Saul and Jonathan in battle against the Philistines the family of Saul fled, taking Mephibosheth with them, supposing that as soon as David became king he would murder them all. In their haste, Mephibosheth was dropped by his nurse and became a paralytic for the rest of his life. However, David searched relentlessly for some relative of Jonathan to whom he might fulfill the covenant until he eventually located Mephibosheth, and sent troops to secure him. When Mephibosheth crawled in before David, the King of Israel, he expected to be murdered, but David appointed him as a prince, and accepted him as if he were Jonathan, because of the covenant he had made with Jonathan prior to Mephibosheth’s birth.
Mephibosheth had now to make a decision to change his mind about David in the knowledge that he was accepted before he was born. And he did. It is very important to see that he changed his mind because he was accepted, and that he was not accepted because he changed his mind, and that he was accepted before he was born. Like Mephibosheth, mankind is very suspicious and wary of God. We generally regard Him as one who is out to punish and destroy us because of our sins. However, just as David was faithful to his covenant to Jonathan in his dealings with Mephibosheth, when we change our minds about God, He is faithful to His Son, because of the promises and covenants He has made. Mephibosheth is a good example of the believer today. When we realized that while we were yet enemies of God that God reconciled us to Himself by sending his Son to die for us, we changed our minds about God. When we fully comprehended that the representative of God, God Himself as Man, Jesus the God-Man came as our covenant representative, because mankind was accepted before being born, we changed our minds about God. As is aptly portrayed in the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 15, Christ walked through His shed blood and rose from the dead in Resurrection as the sign that the covenant was sealed. When He presented Himself to the disciples in His resurrection body, He showed them the scars on His wrists that he bears where the nails went in.
The Bible reveals that loving kindness and remembrance are the foundation of God’s present actions toward mankind. Contemporary believers must therefore boast, brag and rejoice because God has entered into covenant with mankind, like the Psalmist who said “Because your [steadfast] love is better than life (Psalm 63:3).” And like Moses who exclaimed in Exodus 15:11, “Who among all the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”
The Bible teaches that God’s relationship with mankind is based on His love, and that God has chosen to love us simply because He is love (See John 3:16;Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:7,8,10,16), and that whereas mankind discards the objects of his love capriciously, God is faithful in the love with which he loves us. In fact Hebrews 6:17 asserts that “God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath.” Because of His promises, grace, mercy and loving kindness God’s love continues to reach out and down to us, in contrast to what the devil and his agents would have us to believe. This, then, is the God who enters into covenant with mankind.
It is noteworthy that when mankind enters into a covenant, that he negotiates and engages in elaborate rituals: blood, vows, the death of animals. Mankind begins with the covenant and the ritual, and hopes that the covenant can be fulfilled, and that loving kindness will be a result. However, when God initiates a covenant, He does not negotiate but enters into covenant on the basis of grace, and because of his loving kindness. He does it because He wants to, not because we have asked him to. Our role is simply to enter or not, to obey or not. However, because God knows that mankind is suspicious of His word alone, he instituted the ritual of a sacred oath so that mankind might understand what is taking place (see Genesis 15; Hebrews 6:17).
God’s loving kindness is a tenacious love-a love that will not let go. It is the love of a mother for her child. It is a love that “pursues”, as set forth in Psalm 23:6. God’s loving kindness is an action word that denotes his loyalty to us even when we have been failures. This is seen for example in Exodus 34:6,7, where God revealed himself to Moses. We read thus “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Here God states unreservedly that He is “loving kindness,” and that He punishes only those who abrogate His covenant, i.e., those who commit the sin of their fathers, by acting in self-sufficiency, or cutting themselves off from the life and love of God. In other words, mankind must fight his way through the love of God to receive punishment! Thus it is that in Psalm 63:3, the Psalmist states that he will “boast” of the “loving kindness” of his God. Hebrews 13: 5-6 reminds us that the Lord has promised that he will not leave us or desert us, and that since He helps us, we ought not to be afraid of what people can do to us. Because God sought to bestow His loving kindness toward us, He entered into covenant with mankind.