A Look at Bible Covenants and Their Meanings
Written by: Charles L. Monk Posted on: 02/22/2003
Category: Bible Studies
Source: Sugar Land Bible Church
A look at the Biblical Covenants and their meaning to both the nation Israel--
to whom they were ALL given--and their significance to the Church--to whom
they were given for edification. This material was used to present an 11 week
adult Sunday School class to Sugar Land Bible Church in the final quarter of
1987. It was compiled by Charles L. Monk. Any questions or comments on this
material would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to call 725-1513 or leave a
bulletin board message with KSBJ bulletin board at 446-8878.
Definition: From the Hebrew berith it is translated "will", "covenant",
and "testament," and comes from the word translated "to cut". Also from
the Greek diatheke. It is mentioned 300 times in Scripture. It is
important to note that not all the covenants are mutual agreements i.e. it
is not IF you do this THEN I will do that. A covenant in the strict
biblical sense is not a joint obligation but rather a commitment one makes
to another. A covenant is a relationship wherein the party making the
covenant binds himself to fulfill certain conditions. This was often
sworn and invoked in the presence of God to make the promise more solemn
and binding (1 Samuel 20:8). When God's name was invoked and the covenant
was broken it was considered a heinous sin (Ezekiel 17:12-20). An example
of covenant is marriage (Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:14). Covenants were
sealed with a gift which was to be looked at and remembered (Genesis
21:30) or attested to by a monument such as planting a tree (Genesis
21:33) or a heap of stones (Genesis 31:52).
Examples of Covenants
Man to Man
Between Relative Equals
As in marriage Proverbs 2:17 and Malachi 2:14
As between Abraham and Abimelech governing water rights in
As between tribes or nations 1 Samuel 11:1.
Between Superior to Subordinate
As when Nebuchadnezzar imposed the covenant on Zedekiah in
God to Man
Since man is not in a position to covenant with God either as a relative
equal and since God has not imposed His covenants on man we can see that
covenants relating to God in Scripture are rather self-imposed. In this
regard God agrees to arrange His providences for the welfare of man.
Examples: God chose Israel to be His nation, adopting the Hebrews to be
His people (Amos 3:2).
God chose to redeem sinful man.
Steps in Covenant Cutting
. 1. Preparation--Since a covenant was meant to be a permanent
relationship it was entered into only after much prayer, counsel and deep
. 2. A Witness was sought as a trusted mediator of both sides. A covenant
was meant to be a public declaration of intent. Depending on its importance,
God was sometimes called upon to witness. Sometimes heaven and earth were the
. 3. Often garments and weapons were exchanged. A garment signified who
the individual was i.e. the tribes would wear clothing which would readily be
identifiable to others. This kept the parties ever mindful of their
. 4. The belt or girdle would be exchanged signifying, "My strength is
. 5. An animal would be split in two and the parties would stand in the
midst of the split animal, thus representing as the animal gave up its life,
so too, will I give up my life to maintain this covenant. In a mutual
covenant both parties would then cut their own wrists, raise their hands into
the air and clasp hands while pointing to heaven making God their witness to
this agreement. The intermingling of the blood signified the joining of a
blood relationship. They would then often coterize the wound with a hot
branding iron to inflict a noticeable scar which would act as a perpetual
. 6. Often times names would be exchanged and the parties would refer to
themselves as ___________ the friend of ____________.
. 7. Exchange a list of ALL assets and liabilities because as a united,
covenanted pair they would each share the other's belongings and burdens.
. 8. A formal exchange of the covenant's blessings and curses was then
made in public and an exchange of Mizpah not asking for God's blessing or
benediction but asking that Yahweh insure the faithfulness of the covenant.
. 9. Set up the covenant reminder, i.e. a plant, a tree, a heap of stones.
. 10. The covenant meal of bread and wine--This is my body which as you eat
it becomes a part of you--this is my blood which as you drink it becomes your
Covenants of the Bible
1. Edenic Covenant (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:16-17)
. God provided everything necessary for human existence in the Garden of
Eden when man was innocent of all sin.There was only one simple prohibition,
"...but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat."
The covenant was, "I will provide everything you will need as long as you do
not eat of the one tree."
. Man's life in Eden was idyllic. Living in a perfect environment he had
congenial employment and perfect companionship. Even God came and communed
with him. Adam was appointed as a gardner and a guardian. He was told to
dress and keep the garden as well as be fruitful and multiply and subdue the
earth.The prohibition was a test of his loyalty and love. The test itself
tells us man was created a morally accountable creature responsible for his
actions and answerable to God.This disproves the popular notion that given
the perfect environment man will behave in a morally acceptable way.
. The Edenic covenant is one of two covenants that is conditional
2. Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:16-19)
. This covenant is unconditional in which God declared to Adam what man's
lot in life will be now that sin is in the world. The conditions of this
covenant will exist until the Kingdom Age (Romans 8:21). There is no appeal
and there is no human responsibility involved.The outcome of the arrangement
is entirely based on God and His sovereign control.
. Elements of the covenant are the cursing of the serpent used by Satan
(Gen 3:14; Romans 16:20; 2 Cor 11:3, 14; Rev 12:9) the promise of a Redeemer
(Gen 3:15). We see in this prophecy both advents of Christ. The multiplied
sorrow and pain of women in childbirth and motherhood is also mentioned; prior
to the fall woman's position in comparison to the man's was subordinate due
to Adam's divinely ordained headship, after the fall firmer headship was
invested in man due to woman's responding to the serpent. Man would
henceforth earn his living by sweat (Gen 2:15); man's life would now be filled
with sorrow and ultimate death (Gen 3:19; Eph 2:5). Perhaps the most
significant curse was the spiritual death which Adam and Eve experienced "on
the day they ate of the fruit." A flaming cherub was placed as a testimonial
to the restriction of the covenant.
3. Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:1-18)
. This covenant repeats some of the features of the Adamic but also adds
the principle of human government as a means of curbing sin. Like the Adamic
it is unconditional and it reveals God's purpose for the human race subsequent
. Provisions included the establishment of captial punishment for taking
another man's life, thus the institution of government is ordained as society
was called upon to execute judgment; the normal order of nature is reaffirmed
(Man's dominance over the animals), and God restored nature's stability; man
is given permission to eat the flesh of animals (Genesis 9:3-4) which is
evidently a new allowance. The covenant with Noah also included prophecy
concerning the descendents of his three sons designating Shem as the godly
line through whom the Messiah would come; that world power would rest in the
hands of Japeth (although at first this was not the case i.e. Egypt, Assyria,
Babylon were Hamitic/Shemitic) and that the Canaanite races would come under
God's special curse.
. The seal of the covenant was the rainbow.
4. Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-4; 13:14-17; 15:1-18; 17:1-8) Reconfirmed
through Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5) Jacob (Genesis 28:1-4, 12-15)
Who was Abraham's second wife? Keturah an Egyptian
. This covenant is absolutely unconditional!!, is everlasting (Genesis
17:7) and is one of the most profound in Scripture. The sign of the covenant
is circumcision. In response to the question, "How may I know that I will
possess it?" God establishes a solemn covenant with Abraham. There are no
"ifs" in the formal declaration of Genesis 15:7-18. The purpose of the
covenant was to prove to Abraham that God would keep His commitment. If it
were dependent upon Abraham's actions it would not have been reconfirmed years
later after much sinning, and yet it was reconfirmed to Abraham's offspring in
the same manner it was given to Abraham. (See Genesis 50:24-26 and Exodus
2:24; 6:2-8; Psalm 105:8-11; Luke 1:67-75; Hebrews 6:13-18) It guarantees the
permanent existence of Israel as a nation and it guarantees Israel's permanent
ownership of the promised land.
Given along three lines the Abrahamic covenant includes:
A. Promises to Abraham of numerous posterity (Genesis 17:16); that he would
have personal blessing (Genesis 13:14-17; 15:6,18; 24:34-35; John 8:56) that
his name would be great (Genesis 12:2) i.e. what are the three great
monotheistic world religions and what part does Abraham play in these
religions? and that he would personally be a blessing (Genesis 12:2)
B. Promises of a great nation (Genesis 12:2) which was realized later
through Jacob and the twelve tribes. Included in this was the promise of a
land (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18-21; 17:7-8)
C. Promises to the entire world through Abraham (Genesis 12:3). Abraham's
seed was both physically evident in the Jewish nation but it was also
spiritually included in all mankind among those who exercise an Abrahamic
kind of faith (Genesis 15:6).This was to be fulfilled by Israel's being the
channel of divine revelation, the source of prophets and ultimately the
epitome of blessing the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
. The covenant also included a prophecy of protection in a curse to all who
cursed and blessings to all who blessed Israel. The covenant is unconditional
in that any generation could avail themselves of the promises only if they
were obedient to God, but the ultimate purpose and fulfillment is entirely
dependent upon God. He has revealed Himself through Israel, He has blessed
Israel, He has provided redemption through Israel, He brought Israel into the
promised land.All is dependent upon God.
. The Abrahamic covenant's fulfillments through the ages gives us good
reasons to expect the fulfillment of God's promises--whether to Abraham's
physical see, the Jews, or to his spiritual seed, we Christians.
I feel the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional for the following reasons:
a. There are no "if's" recorded in the formal establishment of the
covenant (Gen 15:7-21) and Galatians 3:15 says nothing can be added to an
b. Only God passed between the halves of the animals showing the total
dependency is on God not on Abraham or his descendents.
c. God formally declares the covenant in response to Abraham's question
asking for assurance that he would possess the land. The covenant was God's
confirming proof that Abraham would possess the land he was promised. So in
effect, the Covenant was established to remove the doubt in Abraham's mind
that God would fulfill His promise.
d. The Abrahamic Covenant was still in effect after Abraham (and his
descendents) had sinned several times.Had it been dependent on their keeping
their portion it would have already ceased. Even David believed that it was
still in effect (see 1 Chron 16:15-18).
e. Moses told the people that despite their sinfulness God would not
forget the covenant He had made with Abraham (Dt 4:25-31).
f. Even though the Jews rejected Jesus Christ Peter mentions in Acts
3:12-26 that the Covenant was still in effect (even to those who had
personally rejected Jesus!!)
g. The author of Hebrews specifically states the covenant is part of
God's "unchangeableness of His purpose" (6:13-18).
h. Finally, the Abrahamic Covenant included a universal blessing through
Abraham's seed. This could not be the case if it depended on man's ability to
meet God's standards.
5. Mosaic Covenant Exodus 19:4-6 (YHWH's) 19:8 (Israel's) 20:1-31:18
. Composed of 613 (365 prohibitions and 248 demands) specific commands
probing every area of national life--from personal matters like marriage, sex,
hygiene and diet; to public matters like finance, welfare, government and
political alliances. The Mosaic Covenant was given by God to Moses to govern
His relationship to the people of Israel. This covenant is a temporary
modification of the Abrahamic Covenant but does not in any way negate the
unconditional Abrahamic Covenant. Its commands were simple, comprehensive and
just and can be classified into three areas: 1) The commandments containing
the express will of God (Exodus 20:1-26). 2) Judgments relating to the social
and civic life of Israel (Ex 21:1-24:11). 3) The ordinances (Ex 24:12-31:18).
Another division of these laws is: The Moral Laws i.e. the 10 commandments;
The Civil Laws i.e. the administration of justice and distribution of wealth;
and the Ceremonial Laws i.e. regarding sacrifices, worship offerings and
. There is no doubt that the Mosaic Covenant is conditional and,
fortunately, temporary since it was fulfilled to God's satisfaction by Jesus
Christ. The effects of this covenant terminated at the foot of Christ's cross.
The sign of the covenant was the Sabbath. Of all the commandments which are
carried over into the New Testament to the Believer only one is not
binding--the command to keep the Sabbath.
. The Mosaic Covenant is the most remarkable legal code ever held by ANY
ancient people. In school we learn of the Code of Hammurabi but it pales in
comparison to Exodus and Deuteronomy. It was given specifically to Israel and
through the ages many have insisted that it ought to be upheld by all
believers. The book of Galatians is written specifically to combat the belief
that there is benefit in keeping the Law (see what it says is the purpose Gal
3:24--to lead us to Christ). Given at Mt. Sinai under the most solemn of
conditions the purpose was to teach Israel of God's holiness, His righteous
demands and the seriousness of sin and to show the people there was never any
way that man could possibly be in a position to save himself.
. In the formal declaration of the covenant (19:5,6) God assures the
Israelites that He would do three things IF they would obey Him:
1) He would make them a cherished possession of His own.
2) He would make them a kingdom of priests to mediate God's blessings to
the Gentile nations.
3) He would make them a "holy nation" if they would obey Him.
The death penalty was levied for: murder, adultery, breaking the Sabbath,
rebellion against parents, witchcraft, sorcery, spiritism, kidnapping, and
sexual perversion (including homosexuality and bestiality). Israel was
supposed to learn that the wages of sin is death!!
. The ten commandments is a summation of the Law. (Also referred to as the
6. Palestinian/Deuteronomic Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-10)
. Established by God with Israel AFTER the 40 years of wandering, this
covenant was given to insure that the people still understood that He would
continue to be faithful to them and live up to His part of the
Abrahamic/Mosaic covenant despite their unfaithfulness; but it was more than
just a re-statement of the Abrahamic or Mosaic covenants (See Dt 29:1). A new
generation of Israelites needed to be reminded in a solemn way of their
special, covenant relationship with YHWH. The covenant was given to the
people just prior to their invasion of Palestine. Their location was on the
plains of Moab, east of the Dead Sea and across from the land of Canaan. The
Palestinian Covenant deals specifically with a specific plot of
land--Palestine. The boundaries of this land was from the Euphrates River in
the North to the "river of Egypt" in the South (some say this is the Nile
others think it is the small stream at the border of present day Egypt and
Israel. The western boundary is the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern
boundary is probably the desert region beyond the Jordan river. This
extensive geographic area has NEVER been fully occupied by the descendants of
Abraham, consequently this prophecy/promise has never been fulfilled.
Interestingly, Moses indicated that the promises would be fulfilled when all
the blessings AND the curses promised in Dt 28 had been fulfilled and then
only when Israel genuinely turned to God in repentance and willingness to
. Provisions included a miraculous regathering of Israel from all over the
world (some see the fulfillment of this in Israel's current regathering after
the establishment of the nation on May 14, 1948). There was also to be a
restoration of the land to Israel and a regeneration of the Jews causing them
to love Him totally. Also included was God's judgment of their enemies and
that the people would again obey Him leading to their renewed prosperity.
. Even though God chastened His people by driving them out of this promised
land He would eventually bring repentance. This covenant spelled out the
conditions under which Israel would be allowed to occupy the Promised Land.
As a nation the Jews will some day be fully, miraculously and permanently
restored to the land which was given to them as an everlasting possession.
. God had the people divide in half--half on Mt. Ebal and half on Mt.
Gerazim. Those on Gerazim were to shout out the blessings of the Law.Those
on Ebal were to shout out the curses of the Law. This way no one would have
an excuse for not knowing the contents of the Law and the terms of God's
agreement with them.
. In the first 5 verses of Dt 30, 4 stages of Israel's history are outlined
1) their dispersion v.1; 2)their repentance v.2; 3) their regathering v.3,4;
4) their reward v5. Due to their disobedience the Jews have suffered
terribly. They were ruled by Rome in Christ's day but rebelled in A.D. 70 and
250,000 were killed. They rebelled again in A.D. 135 and again Rome smashed
them killing even more and scattering them throughout the empire.
Since then they have been bitterly persecuted.Forcibly expelled from England
in 1290 and from France 1306. In 1298 more than 100,000 were killed in
Europe. From 1648 to 1658 some 400,000 were massacred. From 1939-45 Hitler's
Nazis killed more than 4 million. Still the promises given to Abraham are
just as valid as they were thousands of years ago. In its history Egyptian
Pharoahs, Assyrian Kings, Babylonian rulers, Persian satraps, Greek
Hellenists, Roman Caesars, Holy Roman Emperors, Roman Catholic Pontiffs,
Medieval monarchs, Christian Crusaders, Spanish Inquisitors, Nazi dictators,
Communist commisars, Arab shieks and United Nation delegates have all turned
against the Jew yet they still survive. Someone has once said the existence
of the Jew is proof alone of God's existence!
. This covenant was also unconditional as far as its fulfillment is
concerned but is conditional in that the generation that applies the covenant
must be obedient to God. The promise of Genesis 12:7 is valid but has been
postponed numerous times due to disbelief and disobedience and ultimately will
be fulfilled in the Millenium.Therefore the present return of Israel to the
Land is important because it sets the stage for the miraculous return of ALL
Israel to the Land.
. Centuries after giving these promises to Israel God reiterated them
through the prophets Jeremiah (32:36-44) and Ezekiel (36:22-38).
. Several things need to be pointed out:
A. God made this covenant with the same national group which He later
banished into dispersion. He made these promises to a literal national
body--Israel thus the promises must be fulfilled to a literal national
B. God always leaves the way open for the unfaithful to return to Him.
C. The ultimate fulfillment of these promises is still future.
D. The fact that the promises can only come to fruition when all the curses
are complete shows that God is obviously not finished with the Jew. Literal
Israel will survive and figure prominently in future world events.
E. The promise of the Godly restoration of the land to Israel does not
necessarily indicate Israel's presence in the land now is indicative of the
End Times but it does prove Israel's claim to the land as a God-given
F. This covenant guarantees that literal Israel will repent and be saved (but
after God finishes their chastening). This is made clear by later prophets:
Hosea 3:4-5; Zec 12:10; 13:1; Romans 11:25-27
G. Though not specifically mentioned here, the Tribulation in all its
terrible agony, will be the last and most horrendous segment of the curses of
Dt 28.It will be God's instrument to break Israel's rebellion and to bring
that nation back to Him.
7. Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:4-16; 1 Chronicles 17:3-15)
. Though not specifically here stated to be a covenant, this was understood
from other writings (2 Sam 23:5; 2 Chron 7:18; 21:7; Ps 89:3-4; Jer 33:19-26).
In this covenant God promised David 3 things: 1) David's "house" (his
physical line of descent) would endure forever. 2) David's kingdom would
never permanently pass away (though it would cease to function, it would
always have the potential of being restored to full function.) This is why the
Jews clung so tenaciously to Christ when He triumphantly entered Jerusalem
(See Mk 11:10 and Acts 1:6). 3) David's throne or his ruling authority would
never permanently pass away. Again, it would cease to function but it would
always be available for restoration (See Lk 1:32-33).
. Like so many of the other covenants, this one is unconditional. David
had to do nothing to make its provisions come to pass, they are entirely
dependent upon God for their fulfillment.
. Jesus is of Davidic origin--both Matthew and Luke attest to this in their
genealogies. Gabriel announced the Davidic throne would be given to Christ
forever (Lk 1:31-33). Peter attests to Christ's rightful heirship of the
David throne (Acts 2:30). Isaiah prophesied concerning the Messiah's
government (Is 9:7). Based on these scriptures it is obvious that Christ is
the ultimate fulfillment of these scriptures and this will be fulfilled during
the Millenium when Christ will rule over the literal, earthly, political
kingdom on this present earth (Mt 24:30).
. Anti-Amillennialist Theology (who say Christ will not reign over a
literal, earthly, political kingdom on the present earth)
1. Dan 7:13-14 portrays God giving the kingdom forever to the Son of
Man when He comes with the clouds of heaven (obviously not first
2. The kingdom is given after the Roman Empire (the little
horn/Antichrist) have caused the terrible tribulation.
3. Mt 24:29-31 Jesus clearly teaches He will fulfill this when He
comes the second time and that it would happen immediately after
4. All this proves He is not exercising this authority during the
present age, as the Amillennialist would have us to believe.
5. Mt 25:31-46 clearly teach Christ's throne and kingdom are in
conjunction with His second coming.
6. Zechariah 14:4,9 teaches Messiah will be king after His feet touch
down on the Mount of Olives.
7. Psalm 110:1-2 indicate the Messiah is to sit at the right hand of
God until it is time for Him to rule.
8. Mt 19:28 and Rms 8:18-22 set forth that Christ's reign would be
after the earth is restored to its pre-Fall condition. In Acts
3:19-21 Peter teaches this will not happen while Christ is in
heaven but at His return.
. The current state of Israel is not being guided by a Davidic king but
that does not nullify the covenant it only is a fulfillment of Hosea's
prophecy (3:4-5). Just as the Abrahamic covenant provided them with an
everlasting entity as a nation (Jer 31:36); an everlasting possession of the
land (Gen 13:15; 1 Chron 16:15-18; Ps 105:9-11) so the Davidic Covenant
guarantees them an everlasting throne (2 Sam 7:16; Ps 89:36); an everlasting
King (Jer 32:21); and an everlasting kingdom (Dan 7:14).
8. The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31)
. First attested to by the prophet Jeremiah, this covenant was written
about 1,000 years after the Mosaic. The Israelites had lived under the
blessings of God given for obedience, but more often they had lived under the
judgments due to their disobedience. Now at a dismal time in their history, a
time when they were in danger of being obliterated as a national entity, God
makes this covenant known to them.
. That this covenant was a covenant specifically established between God
and Israel cannot be negated. Jeremiah 31:31 states, "I (YHWH) will make a
new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah." Isaiah
59:20-21; Jeremiah 50:4-5; Ezekiel 34:25-30 and 37:21-28 all further attest
that the parties involved were God and the nation of Israel. God specifically
gave the Mosaic Law to the people of Israel (Lev 26:46; Dt 4:8) and not to the
Gentiles (Rms 2:14) and since He promised to establish the new covenant with
the descendents of those to whom He gave the Old Mosaic Law covenant, then the
New Covenant must be established with Israel. Also, this covenant was an
eternal, everlasting covenant, the same one spoken of at Isaiah 53 and 61:8.
The author of Hebrews indicates it is eternal (13:20) and "better" (8:6) In
all the other covenants there were shadows--here there is substance. In all
the others there were types--here, fulfillment. This covenant is eternal in
both directions, it was established before the foundations of the world.
. Provisions of the New Covenant were:
1) Regeneration and the giving of a new heart;
2) Forgiveness of sin (Jer 31:34; Ez 36:26);
3) Indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ez 36:27);
4) Universal knowledge of YHWH among the people of Israel (Jer 31:34)
5) That Israel would obey God and have a right attitude toward Him
forever (Jer 32:39-40; Ez 36:27; 37:23-24);
6) National blessings to the people of Israel
a. His Spirit would not depart from them (Is 59:21)
b. They would have a great reputation because of special blessings
c. They would have a unique relationship with YHWH (Jer 31:33; Ez
d. That God would do them good (Jer 32:40-42)
e. That wild beasts would be eliminated from their land (Ez 34:25,
f. That Israel would enjoy complete security in their land (Ez
g. They would not be threatened or insulted by other nations (Ez
h. That great abundance of food would eliminate famine (Ex 34:27,
i. Their land would be compared to the Garden of Eden (Ez 34:29)
j. That rainfall would be perfectly controlled (Ez 34:29; 36:34-35)
k. Israel's cities would be rebuilt and inhabited (Ez 36:33)
l. The nation would enjoy a population explosion (Ez 36:37-38;37:26
m. That there would be complete unity in the land (Ez 37:21-22)
n. That they would live in their own land forever (Ez 37:25)
o. That once again, as in the past, God Himself would have His
sanctuary in their midst and dwell with them in the midst of
their nation forever (Ez 37:26-28)
p. That God would never again turn away from His people (Jer 32:40)
. This covenant was meant to be unconditional, in fact God specifically
states that He would fulfill it despite Israel's disobedience (Ez 36:21-22).
The idea that God would cause the people to have a new and right attitude
about Him points out the unconditional nature of this covenant. Another proof
of this is Ez 36:36 where God uncategorically states, "I, YHWH, have spoken
it, and I will do it."
How does the Church fit into the New Covenant?
. First, the Old Testament says nothing about the church's relationship
under the New Covenant. Paul indicates this should
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