Covenants in the Bible
Dear Church Family,
On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.
Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.
Overview of Lesson #3a – Covenants in the Bible
Because the third lesson is a bit lengthy, we are dividing it into two parts. In the first part of lesson 3, we learned that there are basically two kinds of covenants that God enters into as recorded for us in Scripture: covenants with all humanity and covenants with His special people. In the class, I referred to these covenants as “common” (with all humanity) and “redemptive” (with God’s special people).
Common Covenants with All Humanity
Universal covenants with all humanity include those which God entered into with Adam and with Noah.
Adam. In our sermon series in the book of Genesis, we’ve talked about the first universal covenant with Adam which is also sometimes called “the covenant of works.” In the pre-fall garden, God commanded Adam to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil upon the punishment of death (Genesis 2:17). Of course, as we know from Genesis 3, Adam sinned and failed to keep this covenant, thus incurring the penalty of death for himself and all his posterity.
Noah. After the flood, God enters into a covenant with Noah and all creation (Genesis 8:20-9:17). In this covenant, God reiterates His command to be fruitful and fill the earth with His image. And, He promises to never again destroy the earth by way of a flood. In both of these instances, Adam and Noah stand as representatives of the whole human race. Thus, these covenants apply not only to believers, but to all mankind.
Redemptive Covenants with God’s Special People
Adam. Interesting, after the fall, God enters into another covenant with Adam – this time, it is a “covenant of grace” wherein God reveals the beginnings of His plan to redeem a people for Himself. God promises to provide the “seed of the woman” who will crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). In contrast to the covenant of works, in this covenant of grace, God promises to provide a Redeemer who will fulfill the requirements of the covenant of works on our behalf. Instead of perfect obedience, all that is required to receive the promise of life in the covenant of works is faith in Christ, the promised Redeemer.
Noah. Likewise, in addition to making promises for the whole human race through Noah, God also makes promises to Noah that reflect and develop this covenant of grace. Before the flood, God enters into a special covenant with Noah and his family, promising to deliver them from the coming judgment in the flood through the ark (Genesis 6:17-18). The New Testament teaches us that God’s saving Noah and his family from the flood is a foreshadow of the salvation that we have through faith in Christ, which is also pictures in the sacrament of baptism (1 Peter 3:18-22).
Abraham. When God specially called Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), He promised to make Abraham into a great nation and to give him land (Genesis 15). Then, God sealed this covenant with Abraham with the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17). In the New Testament, we learn that just as Abraham believed in the Lord and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, believers in Christ are justified by faith, as well (Romans 4:1-13).
Moses. After God delivered His people Israel from slaver in Egypt, He entered into covenant with them through Moses on Mount Sinai. The distinctive element of this covenant is the giving of God’s Law (Exodus 19-20). It’s important to note, however, that while the emphasis of the Mosaic covenant had to do with obedience, the commanded obedience is based in God’s redeeming work. Thus, the Mosaic covenant, like the other redemptive covenants of the Old Testament, is a part of the covenant of grace (Matthew 5:17; Hebrews 3:5-6).
David. The final redemptive covenant of the Old Testament is that which God made with David, the king of Israel. In this covenant, the Lord promised that one of David’s descendants would rule upon the throne of God’s kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:1-17). In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us that He is the son of David and promised ruler of God’s kingdom who conquers all of His and our enemies (Mark 12:35-37).
The New Covenant in Christ. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised to make a “new covenant” with His people, one in which He will be our God and we will be our people, He will write the Law of God upon our hearts, and forgive our sins (Jeremiah 31:31-34). As the writer of Hebrews explains (Hebrews 8-10), this promised new covenant is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the mediator of this new covenant (Hebrews 9:15), in whom all the promises of God are “yes” and “amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Our purpose in studying these covenants in Scripture is to see how the prophets of the Old Testament relied upon, and made reference, to these various ways in which God bound Himself to His people. At the same time, understanding the covenants of Scripture gives us a fuller and deeper understanding of the God’s promises to us in the new covenant through Jesus Christ, our Savior and King!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch