Tying up loose ends – Covenant
One of the major concerns of the Hebrew prophets, as they prophesied to Israel, was keeping the Covenant, notably the one God made with them through Moses, giving them the Law on Mount Sinai, during their wilderness journey, and reminding them of the blessings and curses that follow from keeping or not keeping the Law, something that invariably came to pass despite God’s mercy. The fact that God makes covenants and expects these to be kept is a vital ingredient when it comes to trying to understand his dealing with humankind and in our understanding of the Bible.
The Christian Bible comprises Old and New Testaments (Testament is another word for Covenant), even though there are a number of covenants discussed in the Old Testament. The subject of “covenant” can be a contentious one but it is also very important. YHWH has always sought make a covenant with His creation, the nation of Israel, the Church or individuals. A covenant is more than a contract between two parties, since a contract suggests two equal parties. It is an agreement whereby God who is not obligated to or dependent on anyone, who can be 100% guaranteed to keep His part of the agreement even if that is not reciprocated (unlike when a contract is broken), makes promises and often expecting certain responses. As Israel found out and as the prophets often reminded them, their failure to keep God’s covenant has consequences. An example of a covenant that can be found in everyday life is that of marriage, the keeping of which makes an obligation for both parties.
While the New Covenant, such as symbolized when Jesus celebrated the Passover feast with His disciples (likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you – Luke 22:20), is the one that particularly interests Christian Gentile believers because of its application, and it supersedes that of the Mosaic covenant in terms of personal obligations, most of the other covenants, which we discuss below (seven have been identified by this author) still apply.
The Edenic Covenant (Genesis 1:28-30, 2:15-17)
The Bible begins with an account of God’s creation, the pinnacle of which was man, with who He wanted a relationship. He put Adam in a garden and told him to look after it and the rest of His creation. Adam effectively had free sway but the one thing he was forbidden from doing was to eat of a certain tree. Adam disobeyed and he was expelled from that garden and a curse followed. The mandate to look after planet Earth and its resources and inhabitants remains.
The Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:14-19)
Following Adam’s Fall, while there is a curse, there is also a promise that in Adams descendants (Jesus) there will come a victory over the serpent (Satan) and with it redemption and restoration.
The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 8:20-9:17)
Much of the story of humankind following Adam was one of rebellion toward God and as a result He sent a Great flood that destroyed all living creatures on the planet, except for Noah’s family and the animals to continue God’s creation. After the flood, He makes a covenant with Noah, representing humanity that was to follow, and gave a rainbow as a sign: “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”.
The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3)
Following the Flood, humanity continued its downward trajectory and this was seen in God’s destruction of the Tower of Babel. Then He calls Abraham, a faithful man, and promised him the land known as Israel and promised that his descendants would be a great nation, who God will bless and they would bless other nations. The sign of that covenant was the act of male circumcision.
The Mosaic Covenant
So the nation that followed, which was also called Israel, grew in numbers but found itself eventually enslaved in Egypt. God appointed Moses to lead them out of Egypt to take possession of the land He promised Abraham. During their Wilderness journeyings, God established His covenant with Israel and promised He would bless them, providing they obeyed the Law that God gave to them.
The Davidic Covenant (2Samuel 7:4-17)
David, a man after God’s own heart, was Israel’s most important king. God promised that come what may (and what did come eventually was a divided kingdom and exile for both the Northern and Southern kingdoms) there would always be one of His descendants to sit on the throne of Israel.
The New Covenant (Hebrews 8:7-13)
As the specially chosen people of God were to go into exile, God promises they will return to the land He gave them and give them a new heart and make with them a new covenant. While this was promised specifically to the Jews, Gentiles would also benefit and that was because the Messiah, Jesus, came from heaven to earth to die and atone for our sins and thus bring in the New Covenant.