Here’s a word you don’t hear all that often outside of church or neighborhood associations: “Covenant.” The Bible speaks of many covenants between God and humankind. I used to think of “covenant” as a formal word for “contract.” You know, one of those academic high society words like portfolio or spectacles that replace bank account or glasses, respectively. Words haughty people use in order to distinguish themselves from the commoners. This is not exactly true. While contract and covenant are similar concepts, there are differences between the covenants in the Bible and contracts we are familiar with today.
The term “contract” brings to mind a legal agreement between two equal parties. If one party does not live up to their terms as stated, then the contract is broken and is therefore null and void. In other words, both parties of a contract agree to hold up their end of the deal, as long as the other is in compliance. This is often not the case with a covenant. Some of the Biblical covenants are “conditional” like contracts, but often with covenants you are bound to your end of the agreement regardless of the actions of the other party/parties (kind of like a promise).
Examples of God’s covenants
I know what you’re saying; “How about promise; promise is a better synonym for covenant, right?” Good point, well…. yes, no, and sometimes. Promise, like contract, is closely related to the covenants between God and man. But a promise is typically one-sided. One party gives their word to do or not do something, and the other’s role is rather passive. Many of the Bible covenants are conditional–in other words, God tells humankind “If you fill in the blank; I will in turn fill in the blank (kind of like a contract). Perhaps I could sum it up as follows: Covenants between God and man sometimes resemble contracts, other times resemble promises, but always serve to define the relationship between God and man. Below are a list of covenants between God and man from the Bible:
Adamic Covenant – Pronounced a curse for sin and spoke of future provision for man’s redemption.
Noahic Covenant – God declaring that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood.
Abrahamic Covenant – A blessing upon Abraham (Father of the Jews), a blessing for those who bless him and a curse for those who curse him, and that the world would be blessed through him (ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ).
Palestinian Covenant – God would scatter Israel if they disobeyed God, then restore them at a later time to their land. By the way, destruction/scattering occurred in 70 AD and reinstatement occurred in 1948 after World War I). The world has never before or since seen a nation disappear and be reborn like this.
Mosaic Covenant – A blessing for obedience and a curse for disobedience (for the Jews).
Davidic Covenant – A blessing for David’s family line and an assured everlasting kingdom. Again, Jesus is the fulfillment of this covenant, being of King David’s family line and His kingdom (a spiritual kingdom) remaining today and forever more.
New Covenant – States that God will forgive sin and have a close, unbroken relationship with His people. This was originally made to Israel and then extended to everyone who comes to Jesus in faith.
Two major covenants
Most often, when you hear “covenant” in the church today, it is referring to the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant”. Both of these covenants are “stages” in the process of God restoring humankind back to the relationship once enjoyed with God, before sin damaged things. First came the Old Covenant – described in the Old Testament of the Bible (the word testament is derived from the word “covenant”). During this time, God related to His people through the Law, written rules dictating how people were to conduct themselves. Do’s and don’t’s, which were summarized in “The Ten Commandments.” These Laws all pointed to something better that was to come, the New Covenant.
The New Covenant is described above as it was stated in the Old Testament (looking forward). This is the age we are in right now! The New Covenant is looked forward to in the Old Testament and is, naturally, described in the New Testament. I will go into more detail about the Old Covenant and New Covenant in other posts.
Redemption – The action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt. We are “redeemed” (bought back by God) because Jesus paid our debt on the cross.
Covenant list drawn from http://www.compellingtruth.org/covenants-in-the-Bible.html. 3/8/2016.