Covenants In The Bible (Part 3): God’s Covenants With Man
We live in a world of diluted commitments. Yet we worship a God with high ideals of commitment.
We live in a world of diluted commitments. Yet we worship a God with high ideals of commitment. Through God’s covenants we discover what is the ideal manner that God desires to relate with His people and us with Him. Also between us with one another in His Church. Further, understanding God’s Covenant is the key to understanding the entire meta-narrative of God’s purposes and ultimate will for His people.
To help us on that journey, we will unpack some key aspects of 8 key covenants God made with man in the Bible. This 2-part article is parts 3 and 4 of a 6-part series of articles on Covenants In The Bible. Part 1 addresses Its Purposes while Part 2 examines Why God Covenants With Us.
It is crucial for us to understand that God requires 3 elements/components for a covenant to be fully established:
Words of the Covenant – These are promises of blessings and/or curses (what God does), and the terms of agreement (what man needs to do to remain in covenant)
Blood/sacrifice of the Covenant – this rectifies the covenant as valid. It is like the payment we make to buy a house. The payment to make God’s covenant valid has to involve the shedding of blood, a sacrifice. This is because of the sacredness of the covenant vows. For example, Jesus had to sacrifice Himself to make the New Covenant valid.
Seal of the Covenant – this is the ongoing tangible sign to the authenticity of the covenant. It serves as a constant reminder that the covenant is in operation. In modern day terms it is like the wedding ring that married couple’s wear. It is also described as the sign or token of the covenant.
Without all the 3 requirements, a covenant is not seen to be established or maintained. This is particularly relevant in covenants where man had to fulfil God’s terms or had to have the sign of the covenant upon the person (such as circumcision as required by the Mosaic Covenant). These requirements are quite common even today. For example, if you were to sign up for a 24-month plan to a new smartphone and service, a contract is required (Words), payments including downpayment and on-going payments are required (Blood/Sacrifice) as your signature to the contract (Seal).
1. EDENIC COVENANT
The first covenant God made with man is the Edenic Covenant. Genesis 1 and 2 not only record the creation of the heavens and earth but also some of the reasons why God made them. Genesis 1 described God, the wise master-builder, creating over 5 days the sky, sea, land; the sun, moon, stars; the vegetation and animals. On Day 6, God created man who is the focal point of His 6 days of creation. All of God’s purposes were to centre on him. God then initiated the first covenant with man in the Garden of Eden. This shows God’s desire and purpose for man to be in covenantal relationship with Himself. For there could be no relationship with God apart from covenant.
Genesis 1:27-29 (ESV) So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (28) And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (29) And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
PROMISES OF BLESSINGS: God promised that man would have fruitfulness, authority over all living creatures and provision for food.
TERMS: Obedience. God put 2 trees in the Garden of Eden. The “tree of life” and “tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9). God put one condition for man, to not eat from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:16-17). If he does, there will be the curse of death. From the very beginning God created man with free will, he has the choice to obey.
God cut open Adam’s side and took his rib (a part of his body) from which God built Adam’s bride, Eve (Gen 2:21-22). Thus, Eve was to be Adam’s co-worker, sharing in the covenant.
The seal is the Tree of Life. So, when Adam and Eve broke the terms of the covenant, God’s judgment was to withhold this tree from man (Gen 3:22-24). The final witness to man’s full redemption and being restored back to full covenantal relationship was access back to the Tree of Life as revealed in the Book of Revelations (Rev 22:2)!
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE EDENIC COVENANT
God’s original plan and purpose for mankind was to bear God’s image, to be fruitful and multiply across the earth and to rule/govern the earth wisely on God’s behalf.
It reveals God’s original plan and purpose for mankind was to bear God’s image, to be fruitful and multiply across the earth and to rule/govern the earth wisely on God’s behalf. Aren’t this essentially what God desires His Church to do today? To bear God’s image, to shine His glory, for the world to see God’s love, kindness, goodness etc character through us? To be fruitful and extend God’s good Kingdom across the world? To influence every sphere of society in God’s ways?
This covenant is the only covenant made with man before the entrance of sin. It declared God’s purpose for man (i.e. us) which includes covenantal relationship, character, fruitfulness, dominion and eternal life upon continued obedience and faith.
But man’s commitment to the terms of this covenant was tested. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to break the covenantal relationship. They ate from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”, resulting in sin entering the world. Man’s character was corrupted, his dominion lost, and he and his offspring came under the dominion of sin and death.
This sets the stage for the next covenant, the Adamic Covenant, where God came in grace to fallen man, seeking to restore him back to covenantal relationship.
2. ADAMIC COVENANT
This Adamic covenant is the beginning of the covenants for the redemption of man.
This Adamic covenant is the beginning of the covenants for the redemption of man. Genesis 3:15 (ESV) The LORD God said to the serpent, “… (15) I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The woman’s offspring refers to Jesus. It means that Satan will inflict minor damage on Jesus, but Jesus will crush Satan’s head.
PROMISE OF VICTORY: God promised victory over Satan, symbolised by man’s offspring “crushing” (NIV) the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15).
After Adam & Eve fell from covenantal relationship, they used man-made fig-leaf coverings to cover their sin and shame (Gen 3:7). However, in Genesis 3:21 God then made garments from animal skin and clothed them. This would have necessitated killing/sacrificing an innocent animal to provide the skin garment. Can you see the parallel here of how God was intending to redeem mankind back to the covenantal relationship with Him? By covering (which symbolises righteousness) that was God-made rather than Man-made. The sacrifice involved an innocent for the guilty. This foreshadowed what Christ would later do.
These were the garments of skin as Adam & Eve would have to accept and wear the clothing as an act of faith in God.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ADAMIC COVENANT
The first promise in the redemption of man is that we will have ultimate victory over Satan, the enemy who seeks to break our covenantal relationship with God. Just as Jesus defeated Satan, we too have victory over Satan when we are in covenantal relationship with God. Satan may try to strike our heels, but remember, God will crush him under our feet! It states in Romans 16:20 (ESV) The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
So don’t be fearful. Have courage! Stand firm in Christ! God has given us the power to be victorious and to overcome.
Unfortunately, even though God made such a wonderful promise, man did not walk in faith with God. In fact, Adam and his descendants continued walking in sin, further and further away from God, until Genesis 6:5 (ESV) The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
God was grieved by the extent of wickedness and sends a destroying flood upon the earth as judgment. But by the grace of God, God rescued a remnant. A righteous man Noah, his family and the animals and birds. For God told Noah to build an Ark of safety to preserve them. After the Flood, when Noah exited the Ark, God made a covenant with him, known as the Noahic Covenant.
3. NOAHIC COVENANT
Genesis 9:8–17 (ESV) 8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
PROMISES OF BLESSINGS: The promises of the Noahic covenant reiterated God’s purpose for mankind to be fruitful, multiply and rule over the earth as declared in the Edenic covenant.
God also promised preservation, whereby the earth will never again be destroyed by Flood, not matter how wicked the human race becomes.
God also promised preservation, whereby the earth will never again be destroyed by Flood, not matter how wicked the human race becomes. Though the Book of Revelations reveal there will be a judgement by Fire.
Burnt offerings were made by Noah (Gen 8:20-21).
Rainbow as a sign forever (Gen 9:12-17).
But it’s not much longer that man would soon turn back to sin. This downward spiral of rebellion peaked at the building of Tower of Babel to reach unto heaven. There humans tried to overthrow God’s authority and establish a new world order to exalt themselves above God. So God confused their languages and scattered them over the earth into various nations. We are left to wonder: how in the world will humanity be saved?
Then, in a stunning act of grace, God chose one man, and called him and his descendants into a covenantal relationship, through whom to begin a new chosen nation for God. This man was Abraham.
4. ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV) Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. (2) And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God’s covenant with Abraham was made over a period of time. It is further expanded upon and more details given in Genesis 15 and 17.
PROMISES OF BLESSINGS: God promised 3 things: Firstly, possession of land (v1). Secondly, multitudes of descendants (v2). There will “as many as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore”. Thirdly, blessings to Abraham and to others through him (v2-3). And in it, the most significant promise is the Messianic Blessing that through Abraham, “all peoples on earth will be blessed”.
TERMS: There are a number of terms involved. Firstly obedience, such as to leave his native country. Secondly, exercise of faith to trust God. Thirdly, circumcision of all males. Genesis 17:10 (ESV) This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
There were 5 animal sacrificial offerings prepared by Abraham (Gen 15:9) as part of the process of enacting the covenant. Again, in Gen 22 when God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. By faith, Abraham obeyed, but God intervened by providing a ram as a substitute sacrifice (Gen 22). Does this remind you of Someone?
Circumcision of all male. In other words, circumcision was both a covenantal term and sign. Genesis 17:11 (ESV) You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional and everlasting covenant.
The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional and everlasting covenant. It is the most comprehensive covenant in the sense that it includes within itself all the previous and subsequent covenants. Its ultimate fulfilment is in the New Covenant through Christ and His Church.
Its ultimate fulfilment is in the New Covenant through Christ and His Church.
It contains the joint blessing of the Messiah and being blessed to be a blessing. As Christ-followers, we are called children of Abraham by faith. Thus, in the same way, we are blessed to be a blessing to others, to our world.
The rest of the covenants will be discussed in Part 4.
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