The Barnabas Ministry

Old Testament Covenants
Throughout the course of human history, the Bible tells us that God has been actively and deliberately directing people to him. God's method of dealing with men has been to establish covenants with them. In this study we will examine the various covenants covered in the Old Testament. The purpose of this study is to examine the terms and results of these past covenants. We will also take note of how Christianity- the final covenant- relates to the prior covenants. In chronological order, then, we will examine the covenants of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. We will also take a look at the future covenant discussed by the prophets.

The Covenant with Adam
The first covenant that God made with man was with Adam in the garden of Eden: "You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die (
Gen 2:17)." We see that Eve first sinned, but that it was Adam's sin that broke the covenant (Gen 3:6-7). Then the Scripture describes the death Adam suffered, the result of the covenant being broken:
  1. Realized nakedness and hid from God- Gen 3:7-8
  2. Ground cursed, difficulties in human life- Gen 3:17-18
  3. Became like God, knowing good and evil- Gen 3:22
  4. Banished from access to the tree of life- Gen 3:22
  5. Banished from the garden- Gen 3:23-24
The New Testament mentions that all who sin share Adam's fate (Rom 5:12-14, see Isa 24:5). Thus, the covenant of Adam is true for all men today. All men who sin, whether or not they disobey a command like Adam did, are under the same death he suffered. This death can only be overcome by a new birth in Christ (Rom 6:3-4).

The Covenant with Noah
The second covenant given in Scripture is the one made to Noah. In a time of great wickedness on the earth, Noah "was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time," and he found favor with God (
Gen 6:5-12). God destroyed the wicked of the earth by a flood (Gen 6:17), which served as testimony to the eternal destruction of the wicked (2 Pt 2:5, 2:9-10). Simultaneously, he saved Noah, which served as a testimony to Christian conversion (1 Pt 3:20-21). God then established his covenant with Noah:
  1. Be fruitful and increase in numbers- Gen 9:1, 9:7
  2. Eat meat or fruit of the ground, but not blood- Gen 9:2-5
  3. Murder punished by death- Gen 9:5-6
  4. Covenant with all creatures marked by the rainbow- Gen 9:13-16
  5. Never again will God destroy all life by water- Gen 9:8-17
This covenant is largely intact in the church age, though being childless is now recognized as a blessed option (Mt 19:12), and certain relaxing dietary restrictions were removed (Mk 7:19, but notice Acts 15:20). However, the world will never be destroyed again by water, but by fire when Jesus returns (2 Pt 3:10).

The Covenant with Abraham
The next covenant covered in Scripture is the covenant with Abraham. In terms of the number of people affected, this covenant is probably the most important covenant of the Old Testament. Abraham had shown faithfulness in obeying God's commands (
Gen 12:4, 7). The promises of the covenant were given before God actually made the covenant with him (Gen 12:2-3, 12:7, 13:15-17). But after Abraham encounter with Melchizedek, God formally made this covenant with Abraham (Gen 14:20).
  1. Given the land between the Wadi and Euphrates Rivers- Gen 15:18-21
  2. Descendants to inherit the land after Egyptian bondage- Gen 15:13-16
  3. Numerous descendants- Gen 15:4-5, 15:13-16, 17:2, Dt 8:18
  4. Father of many nations- Gen 17:3-6
  5. Believed God, credited as righteous- Gen 15:6
  6. Everlasting covenant to be your God- Gen 17:7-8, Dt 29:13, Eze 16:8
  7. Walk before me and be blameless- Gen 17:2, Ps 25:2-10
  8. Circumcise males- Gen 17:9-14
By this covenant, Abraham knew that he himself would not see the physical blessings of the covenant, but that his descendants would (Gen 15:13-16). This covenant was handed down to Isaac (Gen 17:19-21) and Jacob (Gen 28:13-15), and remembered by God while Israel was in Egypt (Ex 2:24, 6:2-5, Dt 7:9-13, 2Ki 13:23, 1Ch 6:15-18, Ps 74:20, 105:8-11, 111:5-9). It was designed to be an everlasting covenant (Gen 17:7-8, Dt 29:13, Eze 16:8). It could be (and was) broken by idolatry (Gen 17:7-8, Jos 23:16, Jd 2:19-20, 1Ki 11:10-11, Ps 78:32-37, Jer 11:10, 22:9, Eze 16:59-62, 30:5, Hos 6:4-7), but it could be renewed by a plan given to Moses (Dt 4:29-31, Le 26:40-41, Jer 14:20).

The inheritance of the land of Canaan was a testimony to the eternal reward God said he would give to Abraham (
He 11:11-16). Likewise, the circumcision in the flesh was accompanied by a "circumcision of the heart" (Dt 10:16): "Walk before me and be blameless (Gen 17:2)."

Perhaps the most important aspect of the covenant of Abraham was that those who obeyed it would be shown a new covenant (
Isa 56:4-6). Likewise, the destruction of Israel was a direct result of disobedience to the terms of the covenant (Jud 2:19-20, 1 Ki 11:10-11, Jos 23:16, Jer 11:10-17, 22:8-9, Eze 30:5). These points are later addressed by Jesus (Jn 8:37-41, 8:56, Lk 19:41-44).

The fact that God made his covenant with Abraham by grace through faith is a major topic in the New Testament (
Rom 4:1-18, Gal 3:6-18). This is done as a testimony to the new covenant of Jesus (Eph 2:8-9). All physical descendants of Abraham would have the opportunity to renew the covenant after they broke it:
  1. Wholehearted seeking of God- Dt 4:29-31
  2. Confess sin- Lev 26:40-41, Jer 14:20
  3. Humility- Lev 26:40-41
  4. Pay for sin- Lev 26:40-41
Interestingly, these concepts are closely related to Christian conversion, the first three being characteristics of those coming to Christ and the last being reflected in the death of Christ (1 Co 15:3).

The Covenants through Moses
The next four covenants seen in Scripture were given through Moses. The first one is the covenant of the Ten Commandments:
  1. Given at Horeb- Dt 29:1, 1Ki 8:9
  2. Written on tablets, stored in the ark- Dt 9:9-15, 1Ki 8:21, 2Ch 5:10, 6:11
  3. Consists of the Ten Commandments- Ex 34:27-28, Dt 4:13, 5:2-22
    1. No other gods
    2. No idols
    3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
    4. Observe the Sabbath
    5. Honor your father and mother
    6. Do not murder
    7. Do not commit adultery
    8. Do not steal
    9. Do not give false testimony
    10. Do not covet
  4. Idolatry constitutes a violation- Dt 4:23, 5:2-3, 17:2, 2Ki 15:17, 15:35-38
  5. If broken, Israel would be destroyed- Dt 31:16-20
  6. Later broken by Israel- 1Ki 19:10-14, Jer 31:32
The next covenant is the covenant of the Sabbath, which is as follows:
  1. A sign between the Israelites and God- Ex 31:17
  2. No work on the Sabbath- Ex 31:12-17
  3. Whoever violates it must be put to death- Ex 31:15
What is interesting about these first two covenants under Moses is that they were independent of the temple and the Levitical priesthood. Thus, they could be obeyed even when Israel went into exile, when some Jews relocated to other places (as in the Diaspora) or even after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

However, there was no provision for renewal if these covenants were to be broken. The penalty of death for violating these terms (
Num 15:30-31) shows this, and possibly indicates that all men deserve to die for their sin. The substitutionary death of Jesus comes into view at this point, though interestingly there is also a "death" associated with Christian conversion  (Ro 6:3-4, 2Ti 2:11).

The third covenant made through Moses is the Law, and its terms are as follows:

  1. Different from the Ten Commandments- Dt 29:1
  2. Fullfills the covenant to Abraham, Issac and Jacob- Dt 29:13
  3. Made known through fear- Ps 25:14, Ex 19:16
  4. Sealed by:
    1. Blood- Ex 24:7-8, Zech 9:11
    2. Oath- Dt 29:12
  5. Required obedience- Ex 19:5, Dt 29:9, Ps 103:17-18, Da 9:4
  6. Results of obedience:
    1. Live in the land- Neh 1:5-8, 9:32, 10:29, Dan 9:4-15
    2. Be God's possession- Ex 19:5, Dt 29:13
    3. Be a kingdom of priests- Ex 19:5
    4. Be loved by God- Ps 103:17-18, Da 9:4
    5. God will work wonders through- Ex 34:10
    6. Prosperity- Lev 26:1-13, Dt 29:9
  7. Bread in temple as a testimony- Lev 24:8
  8. Breaking the covenant- Lev 26:14-15, Dt 29:16-28, 2Ki 18:12, Jer 31:32
    1. Broken by disobedience
    2. Israel to be destroyed-See Jer 11:10, 14:21, 34:8-18, Eze 20:37, 44:7, Hos 8:1
    3. Rebellion forseen- Dt 31:14-21
    4. Individuals can rebel- Dt 29:19-21, Jos 7:10-15
  9. Restoration possible- Dt 30:1-5, Ne 1:5-8, 9:32-10:29, Da 9:4, 2Ki 23:2-3, 23:21, 2Ch 34:30-32, Jer 11:2-10
The Law contained civic, dietary, health and ceremonial requirements. It was designed to help Israel live in the land given to them (Dt 4:1) that had been promised to Abraham (Dt 29:13).

God knew that Israel would break this covenant (
Dt 31:16), and this seems to demonstrate that man cannot maintain performance-based favor from God even once he is given it (Rom 11:32). This shows the need for grace not just initially but continually (Eph 2:8, 1Co 15:10, Rom 12:3-8, Ep 3:2-5, 1Pt 4:10, Jn 3:21, Is 26:12). The fact that Israel would later break the covenant of the Law suggests that a physical nation could not inherit a physical reward by merit, and pointed to a spiritual nation receiving a spiritual reward by grace.

The fourth and final covenant given through Moses is the covenant of the Levitical priesthood, which is as follows:
  1. Eternal ministry of Levites before God- Dt 18:1-5, Jer 33:21
  2. Receive a portion of all offerings from the altar- Num 18:19
  3. Offerings include salt as a testimony to the covenant- Lev 2:13
  4. Broken by individuals- Neh 13:28-29
  5. One could be a Levite and not a priest, but all priests were Levites and descended from Aaron.
God had already said that all the Israelites were priests (Ex 19:5) but a special Aaronic priesthood was also included as part of the Law. This priesthood handled all of the official duties having to do with the sacrifices at the Temple. This serves as a testimony that while all Christians are priests (1Pt 2:9), a special mediator is required to do what the ordinary Christian cannot do. This, of course, is Jesus (1Ti 2:5, Ro 8:34, He 8:1-6, Jer 30:21-22).

A very obscure covenant was made in the time of Moses to Phineas, and its terms are as follows:
  1. Phineas was zealous for God's honor- Num 25:11
  2. Given peace with God- Num 25:12
  3. Made atonement for sin- Num 25:13
  4. Given a lasting priesthood for him and his descendants- Num 25:13
Though this covenant isn't mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, it may have a connection to Jesus. Though his methods were considerably different than those of Phineas, Jesus was zealous for God's house (Jn 2:17), made atonement for sin (Rom 3:15) and has an everlasting priesthood (Heb 7:24).

The Covenant to David
The last covenant made in the Old Testament age was made to David, and its terms are as follows:
  1. Anointed- Ps 89:20
  2. Firstborn of God- Ps 89:27
  3. Will respect God- Ps 89:26
  4. Strengthened by God- Ps 89:21
  5. Power over enemies- Ps 89:22-23
  6. Faithful love of God with him- Ps 89:24, 28
  7. Exalted- Ps 89:24-25, 89:27
  8. His line established forever- Ps 89:3-4, 89:29, 89:36
  9. Numerous descendants- Jer 33:20-22
  10. David to rule over the heirs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob- Jer 33:25-26
The obedience of the sons of David (the kings of Judah) was a key to the physical nation of Israel continuing (Ps 89:30-32, 1Ki 8:23, 2Ch 6:14, Ps 132:11-12). However, a spiritual kingdom of David (Hos 3:5) would later come with the Messiah in the role of King (Ps 132:11, 89:35-36, Jer 33:25-26).

The other covenants we have seen in the Old Testament generally require someone to come and "bail out" the people, to pay the price of sin or to serve as a special priest. However, the covenant to David provides a King for God's people, an authority figure and not just a scapegoat. Jesus is the heir of the promises to David (
Acts 2:25-34, 13:23-36, Ro 1:3). Of all the promises to Israel, the promise of a king on David's throne was the ultimate blessing, and this is reflected in the behavior of the first-century Jews in the New Testament (Acts 2:29-30, Jn 6:15, Lk 23:24, Jn 12:13).

The Future Covenant
The final covenant discussed in the Old Testament is the one that was to be a future covenant. Included in the references are New Testament passages showing Christianity in fullfillment of the new covenant. Its terms are as follows:
  1. Nature
    1. Eternal- Isa 61:8, Jer 32:40, 50:5, Eze 16:59-62, 37:26, Jude 1:3
    2. Spiritual- Isa 55:3, 1Pt 2:5, Mt 6:21
    3. Transcends worldly divisions- Isa 61:7-9, Col 3:11
    4. After destruction of Babylon- Jer 32:37-40, 50:2-5, Lk 3:1
    5. Nation of Israel destroyed- Hos 2:1- 3:5, Col 2:13-17, 1Pt 2:9
    6. Gentiles included- Isa 42:1-7, 49:1-8, Eph 2:11-13
    7. Embodied in the Servant, the Son of David- Isa 42:1-7, 49:1-8, 55:3, Mt 26:28, Mk 14:24, Lk 22:20, Col 1:22
  2. A result of God's faithfulness- Isa 61:8, Rom 1:2
    1. Fullfills covenant to Adam- Hos 6:7, Gen 3:15, Lk 11:22, Rom 5:12-19
    2. Fullfills covenant to Abraham- Hos 2:1-23, Lk 1:73
    3. Fullfills covenant of the Law- Hos 2:1-23, Col 2:13-17, Mt 27:51
    4. Fullfills Levitical covenant- Isa 61:6-8, Heb 8:6
    5. Fullfills covenant to David- Is 55:3, Eze 34:23-26, 36:24-28, Hos 3:5, Lk 1:69-71
  3. Entering into the covenant
    1. Acknowledge the need- Isa 55:1-3, Jer 50:4-5, Lk 15:18
    2. Come to God- Dt 4:29-31, Isa 55:1-3, Jer 50:4-5, Lk 15:18
    3. Repentance- Isa 55:1-7, 59:20-21, Lk 5:32
    4. Humility- Lev 26:40-41, Mt 5:3, Jas 4:6
    5. Confess sin- Lev 26:40-41, Jer 14:20, Lk 15:18
    6. Pay for sin- Lev 26:40-41, Mt 16:26, 26:28, Rom 6:3-4
    7. Sins forgiven- Jer 31:34, Eze 16:59-62, Col 1:14, 2:13
    8. Redemption- Isa 49:1-8, Col 1:14
  4. A distinctive people- Is 61:8-9, Ac 5:13
    1. Possess Spirit- Isa 59:20-21, Jer 31:33, 1Co 6:19
    2. Possess God's words- Isa 59:20-21, Jer 31:33, Jn 15:7, Col 3:16
    3. Ashamed of sin- Eze 16:59-63, Rom 6:21
    4. Obedience- Eze 37:24, Heb 5:9, 1Jn 2:3
    5. Will know God- Jer 31:33, 2Th 1:8, 1Jn 5:20, Jn 1:18
    6. Will fear God- Jer 32:40, Ps 25:14, 2Co 5:11
    7. Will not turn away- Jer 32:40, Jn 10:27-29
    8. Will be a new priesthood- Isa 61:6-8, 1Pt 2:9
    9. Peace- Isa 54:10, Eze 34:20-30, 37:26, Hos 2:18, Col 1:20, Rom 5:1
    10. Joy- Isa 61:7-8, Rom 5:2, 1Pt 1:8    
    11. Receive God's blessings- Is 61:8-9, Eze 32:40, Rom 8:28
    12. Unity- Jer 32:38, Eph 4:13
    13. Growth- Isa 61:8-9, Eze 37:26, Mt 28:19
  5. Eternal results
    1. Life- Is 55:3, Jn 17:3
    2. With God- Eze 37:26-28, 1Th 4:17
    3. In heaven- Jer 32:40-41, Eze 37:25, Jn 14:2, Mk 13:31
    4. Benefit from God's goodness- Jer 32:40-41, Hos 2:1-23, Re 22:5
It is exciting to see how specific the Old Testament is in forseeing certain aspects of the new covenant of Jesus and the church. The early church did not yet have the New Testament and had only the Old Testament to understand their faith. Yet the future covenant described so many aspects of life in the church age.

Copyright © 1986, 2007 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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