Genesis (Chapter 12 – 25) – Be Obedient
|Covenant is one of the most theologically important words in all of scripture, appearing more than 250 times in the Old Testament. God makes a covenant with Abraham which becomes the foundation of God’s interaction with Abraham, an entire nation, and the whole world.|
The meaning of Covenant or What does “covenant” mean?
A covenant is an agreement or a contract between two parties such as man to man, or God to man. The word ‘covenant’ in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word ‘berith’. The root word for berith means to bind or bond. One definition of a covenant is a solemn promise made binding by an oath. In the Old Testament, entering into a covenant was a serious commitment and was often sealed by an oath. At times, it was ratified by an external act, such as cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties would pass between the 2 parts of the sacrifice (Gen. 15; Jer. 34:18, Jer. 34:19. The cutting of animals in two & then walking between the pieces symbolised an oath that was sworn, in effect by the parties to the covenant. This ritual meant that the two who were entering into the covenant were bound by blood to fulfill that covenant or the one breaking the covenant would be required to pour out his blood in forfeit.
Types of Biblical Covenants
There are two types of covenants: Conditional and Unconditional:
Conditional – A conditional covenant is one in which God requires the people to fulfill certain obligations before He fulfills His promise(s). A key phrase/formula to look for would be one such as “IF you do this…THEN I’ll do this” (eg., Exodus 19:5). Conditional covenants are also temporary. They deal with a specific people and duration of time. The Mosaic Covenant exemplifies a conditional covenant. Throughout the covenant God made with Moses (Exodus to Deuteronomy) you will repeatedly come across conditional phrases like “IF/THEN” and “WHEN/THEN.”
Unconditional – An unconditional covenant is one in which God does not attach any “IFs” for it to be fulfilled. It is a promise God makes that is not dependent upon the merit of the receiver. A key phrase to watch for is “I WILL… .” In Hebrew, this phrase appears in the imperfect tense. This means that God is referring to a future action he will certainly complete. As such, an unconditional covenant is eternal, an agreement God promises to eventually fulfill regardless of the receiver’s actions.
Major Biblical Covenants
There are several OT covenants. Four major ones include the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, the Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16), and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Each of these represents an agreement that God initiated with His people.
The four covenants are literal, unconditional, and eternal. The elements of the Abrahamic Covenant (“land,” “seed,” and “blessing”) are amplified in the other three covenants.
The Palestinian Covenant amplifies the “land” aspect, the Davidic Covenant amplifies the “seed” aspect, and the New Covenant amplifies the “blessing” aspect.
Abrahamic Covenant – Gen. 12:1-3: Now the Lord had said to Abram, Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land (Land) that I will show you. I will make you a great nation (Seed), I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Blessing).
There are 3 key aspects of Abrahamic Covenant:
- First, God promised a national land to Israel (Genesis 12:1; 13:14-15, 17.
- Second, God promised numerous descendants (seed) from Abraham who would form a great nation to live and rule in the land (Genesis 12:2; 13:16; 17:2-6).
- Third, God promised Israel would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12:3b; 22:18). These are God’s promises to Abraham to provide him land, descendants (seeds) and the blessings to the whole world.
Significance of the Abrahamic Covenant:
- In Genesis 15:17 when God ALONE in the form of a blazing fire pot passing through the pieces, God is saying ‘May it be done to Me as has been done to these animals if I do not keep my part in the covenant.’ It signified that God alone was making an eternal covenant and He is binding Himself by the most solemn oath to fulfill to Abraham unconditionally, the promises concerning the land, seed and blessing.
- This covenant is the foundation of God’s plan for the nation Israel and all nations. It forms the groundwork and establishes the basis for the promises found in the other covenants. The covenant guarantees Israel a permanent national existence, perpetual title to the land of promise, and the certainty of material and spiritual blessing through Christ, and guarantees Gentile nations a share in these blessings.
Abrahamic Covenant – Fulfillment
- God said that He would bless Abraham, make his name great, and make him a blessing to others. Within Abraham’s lifetime and throughout the OT and NT, we can see how these promises were literally fulfilled: God made him a rich, powerful man with a great reputation. He is known as an outstanding example of faith, and he is mentioned close to 300 times in the Bible.
- Further, God gave national promises to Israel, ” I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses.” Again, this has been literally fulfilled through history. Every nation which has mistreated Israel (beginning with Egypt, then Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, Russia, Germany, and Spain) have suffered diminished power and world prestige.
The final fulfillment of the Covenant will be complete when the Palestinian, Davidic and the New covenant are fulfilled in the millennial kingdom.
Palestinian Covenant (Land) – In Deuteronomy 30:1-10, God re-affirms and expands the land promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, in which God promised to give Abraham a land forever.
Key Passages: Deuteronomy 30:1-10
¨The blessing and the curse which I have set before you
¨and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you …
¨And you return to the Lord your God and obey his voice..
¨The Lord your God will bring you back from captivity…
¨ and gather you again from all the nations…
¨ and circumcise your hearts….”
Key aspects of the Palestinian Covenant:
(1) The nation is removed from the land because of disobedience and is sent into captivity (Deuteronomy 30:1-3);
(2) The returned Messiah will restore the nation to the land (30:3-5);
(3) Israel will be converted as a nation (30:6 and 8; cf. Romans 11:26-27);
(4) Israel’s enemies will be judged (30:7); and
(5) God will bless the nation (30:9-10).
- It affirms to Israel their title deed to the land of promise. And the land is to be possessed forever. In spite of unfaithfulness and unbelief of Israel, God will honor His unconditional promise to the nation and fully restore her to the land in the future. The land promised also includes specific territory defined by boundaries.
- Parts of this covenant have already been literally fulfilled. For example, Israel has experienced dispersion (Deuteronomy 30:1-3) under Assyria (722 B.C.), Babylon (586 B.C.), and Rome (A.D. 70) as judgment for disobedience. And Israel has experienced a restoration to the land of Palestine (Deuteronomy 30:3-5) in 1948.
- This covenant will be fulfilled entirely in the future. Even though the nation has returned to the land, it still is not occupying the entire territory promised to them in Genesis 15:18-21 and Deuteronomy 11:24-25. This is the land from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates River.
- Secondly, Israel will inherit all the land God promised only when the entire nation repents and converts back to the Lord (Deut 30:2, 6,8,10 and Jeremiah 17:24-27; 18:7-10). This will not occur until the Second coming of Christ (Rom 11:26-27).
Davidic Covenant (Seed) – This covenant enlarged and confirmed the “seed/descendant” promises from the Abrahamic Covenant, and is further confirmed by God to David and to the the nation Israel in the following verses: Psalm 89: 3-4, 27-29, 33-37, Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:8-9; 33:14-17, 20-21; Ezekiel 37:24-25; Daniel 7:13-14; Hosea 3:4-5; Amos 9:11; and Zechariah 14:4, 9.
Key Passage: 2 Samuel 7:12-16
“I will set up your seed after you…….He shall build a house for My name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…….Your throne shall be established forever.”
The key aspects of the Davidic Covenant are:
(1) David will have a son who will succeed him and establish his kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12)
(2) This son (Solomon) will build the LORD’s temple instead of David (7:13a)
(3) The throne of his kingdom will be established forever (7:13b)
(4) Though the LORD disciplines this son (Solomon) for sins, his throne will not be taken away from him (7:14-15) and
(5) David’s house, kingdom, and throne will be established forever (7:16).
Significance of the Davidic Covenant:
- There are three major features of this covenant that are significant: “house”, “kingdom”, and “throne” (2 Samuel 7:16).
The term “house” clearly refers to David’s physical descendants. The assurance is that David’s line will never be eliminated, nor displaced by another family entirely. The line of David will always be the royal line. The term “kingdom” refers to the political kingdom over Israel that David and his descendants would rule and reign over, and the term “throne” refers to the dignity and power which was sovereign and supreme in David as king. The term ‘forever’ signified that the Davidic authority and kingdom or rule over Israel shall never be taken from David’s line.
The right to rule will never be transferred to another family, and will continue for perpetuity. Even though there might be temporary interruptions because of sin and discipline by God, the line of Israel will always have the right and the authority to rule over Israel.
- Portions of the covenant have already been fulfilled. The promises in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 which state that David would have a son succeed him, who would establish David’s kingdom and throne, who would build the temple, and who would be punished for disobedience were fulfilled with King Solomon, David’s son.
- The implication of this covenant is that Israel must be preserved as a nation. We see how God has wonderfully preserved Israel through history down to the present from his enemies, when even the strongest and most powerful empires have perished.
David & the OT prophets expected a fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant through the Messiah. In the New Testament, Luke 1:31-33, Jesus Christ, the seed of David, is announced to be the Messiah, the One to whom God will give the Davidic throne. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom would have no end. In this passage the three elements of “house,” “kingdom,” and “throne” from the Davidic Covenant are all fulfilled in Christ. The future fulfillment of the covenant will happen when Christ returns back to earth to reign over his kingdom forever.
New Covenant (Blessing) – The New Covenant is an amplification and guarantee of the “blessing” that in Abraham “all nations of the earth shall be blessed”, is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, and is affirmed in Ezekiel 36:24-30.
Key Passage: Jeremiah 31: 31-34
“I will make a new covenant…..I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts…I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more”
The key aspects of this covenant are:
(1) Israel will be re-gathered
(2) Israel will be regenerated and forgiven
(3) The Holy Spirit will indwell them
(4) The relationship between God and the nation is restored
(5) Israel is then fully restored to the Promised Land and
(6) Israel comes into the place of God’s blessings.
These are blessings in full, and include prosperity in the land as promised in the Palestinian Covenant and the blessings of the Davidic Covenant (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24-25)
Significance of the New Covenant:
- God made this covenant with the nation Israel as a guarantee that her repentance would be the foundation of all future blessings. It replaced the Old or Mosaic Covenant that Israel continually failed to keep. Instead of the Law being written on tablets of stone (as was the Mosaic Law), the Law will be written on the hearts of the people.
- God said this covenant would bring forgiveness of sin and a regenerated heart (Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). In Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24, Jesus says “This is My blood of the new covenant.” Further, in Luke 22:20 and I Corinthians 11:25 Jesus says “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.” The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ provides the basis for the remission of sins and is the foundation of all the blessings of the New Covenant.
- The New Covenant is specifically made with the “house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31. It was viewed as future throughout the OT (Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 31:31; Ezekiel 16:60, 62; 20:37; 34:25-26; Hosea 2:18-20) since the sequence of events listed in the New Covenant have still not occurred with Israel, i.e. her repentance and entrance into the fullness of the land and of God’s place of blessing. And these blessings will not be realized until the return of Christ (Romans 11:26-27).
- Through God’s grace, Gentiles can receive the spiritual blessings though Christ (Romans 11:5-25; Galatians 3:14; Ephesians 2:12-13; Hebrews 10:19; 12:24) so that the universal aspects to the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants can be met.
The Abrahamic covenant forms the basis of the entire covenant program God made with the nation Israel. The Palestinian Covenant develops the promise of possession and the inheritance of the land given to Israel forever. The Davidic Covenant introduces the descending line from David to Christ who fulfills the seed promise, with no end to His reign over David’s kingdom. And in the New Covenant, Christ, who shed His blood will come back to earth to effect the salvation, restoration, and blessing of the nation Israel.
In summary, we see that God in His infinite grace & kindness has initiated the great plan of redemption & in the most extra-ordinary way made these covenants with men. When we deserve nothing but hell & destruction, God gave us the promise of this wonderful redemption- promised in the garden of Eden & specifically stated to Abraham. This covenant was finally consummated in His own eternal Son – our Lord Jesus Christ.