Summary: The Covenant
An overriding theme throughout the scriptures is that of covenant. The term covenant, as it is used in the Bible, describes how God relates to man. The theme of covenant runs from the Genesis to Revelation. In fact, one could say that at the heart of God’s plan of redemption is the notion of covenant. At the heart of biblical history is the idea of covenant.
The idea of covenant is not exclusive to the biblical record. Studies of other ancient texts have revealed that the idea of covenant permeated the ancient Near East. Covenants were common between governments and those being governed. Kings would enter into a covenant with the people, a covenant that would regulate the behavior of the government and the governed. The government promised to protect if the governed promised allegiance, support, and tribute to the government.
A covenant in its simplest definition is a promise between two parties that is binding by either a verbal or symbolic oath. God would use the idea of covenant as a means of relating to man, but God would expand upon its simplest form.
There are several characteristics of God’s covenants with man. One such aspect is that God’s covenants with man are unchanging. They may be superseded or replaced, but they cannot be changed. God’s covenants with man throughout the scriptures have had many additional details added along the way, one common theme that runs through all of God’s covenants is the unchanging truth that God declares, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” That God will be their God and they shall be his people is the heart of the covenant between God and man.
Another characteristic of God’s covenant with man is that they are divinely imposed and initiated. God takes the initiative in entering a covenant with man. It is God’s desire to have a relationship with man, and therefore he initiates this desire of relationship through the concept of covenant.
The implication of God’s covenantal relationship with man is stated early on in the biblical record. The first evidence of a covenant between God and man is found in the Garden of Eden before the fall. God enters into a covenant with Adam. God promises to take care of Adam, to provide for Adam, and all Adam has to do is abstain from eating of the one tree within the garden. Adam would not keep his part of the covenant because in Genesis chapter three we find Adam disobeying the Lord’s command.
This disobedience on the part of Adam brought death, both physical and spiritual death. Sinful man is now separated from holy God, and thus the relationship between the two is severed. From this point on the covenant would be, not a covenant of works, as in Genesis chapter two, but know it would be a covenant of grace, a covenant means that it was an undeserving covenant, yet God extends it to sinful man anyway because of his goodness.
The first implication of this covenant of grace is declared in Genesis chapter three verse fifteen where the Lord says that the seed of the woman is going to crush the seed of the serpent. We see the covenant of grace explicitly declared in Genesis chapters six between God and Noah.
In Genesis chapter six the Lord grow weary of the sinfulness of man and no longer wants to strive with man, therefore he pronounces judgment upon humanity, but this judgment would not effect Noah because Noah would find favor in the eyes of the Lord. Some say that he found favor because he was a righteous man, but I contend that he found favor with God, and because he found favor with God he was a righteous man. God’s covenant of grace is not based upon man’s goodness, but God’s goodness.
God’s covenant of grace continues to be explicitly declared as well as expanded upon with the life of Abraham. God would call Abram from his hometown of Ur and lead him to a land of promise. The covenant declaration is declared in chapter twelve, it is reiterated in chapter thirteen, and in chapter fifteen of Genesis it is sealed with an oath. Yet, the Lord would not stop expanding and adding details to his covenant.
In the seventeenth chapter of the book of Genesis we find the Lord not only reiterating his covenant of grace with Abram, but also expanding upon it as well. Nevertheless, God does not stop expanding and adding to his covenant of grace in chapter seventeen of Genesis. Throughout the biblical record we find God expanding and adding details to his covenant of grace through the Mosaic Covenant, the David Covenant, and his covenant of grace comes to its fulfillment with the New Covenant, through the person of Jesus Christ.