What is New Covenant Theology (NCT)? It is a system of theology that addresses how the old relates to the new in Scripture. In particular, it addresses the issue of the cross and its place as the centerpiece of the entire Bible. Our point of view is that everything in the Old Testament prepares us for the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant era. It is the cross, the suffering and death of Jesus, which purchases the real people of God and is the climax of biblical history. New Covenant Theology is a cross centered system of theology through which we gain a biblical understanding of covenants, Israel and law.
New Covenant Theology can be understood as beginning with the covenant with Abraham. In this covenant God is revealing his plan, which is to have a people and to take them into his land. Abraham is told that God will provide him with a “seed” and then a land that will be given to the descendants of that seed. From the point of view of the Old Testament the fulfillment of this covenant is the Old Covenant that God made with Israel on Mount Sinai. Israel comes from the physical seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Jacob’s 12 sons. The Old or Mosaic Covenant is a works covenant that God established with Israel on Mount Sinai that can only produce unbelievers. The Old Covenant produced a temporary, unbelieving, picture of the people of God. They were given the land of Canaan, the Promised Land in which to live.
From the point of view of the New Testament the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham is the New Covenant. The New Covenant is the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross to purchase a people and to take them into a land that will not end. The New Covenant produced a “spiritual” Israel that replaced the “physical” Israel as the real people of God. The seed of Abraham is seen as Jesus, the Messiah, who by his death on the cross purchased a people who have their sins forgiven and a radical work of the Spirit of God within them. The promise of the land to Abraham’s seed was first fulfilled by the land of Canaan under the Old Covenant, but was ultimately fulfilled by the new heaven and earth, an eternal land.
The era of the Old Covenant (Mount Sinai until the cross) had a version of God’s law that is found in the Ten Commandments and Mosaic Law. The Ten Commandments are a summary of the requirements of a works covenant. The era of the New Covenant (Pentecost until the 2nd Coming) had a different version o God’s law called the Law of Christ. This version of God’s law was uniquely suited to accomplish God’s plan in the New Covenant era.
The Old Covenant functioned as a picture of what was accomplished by the New Covenant. Picture/Fulfillment is how the old relates to the New.
What is a Covenant?
There is no debate that the concept of the covenant is a significant idea in Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:25, Hebrews 8, Galatians 4:21-31). There is much debate concerning what is a covenant and how we are able to identify a covenant.
Let’s first tackle the question as to exactly what is a covenant? I would say that a covenant is some sort of an arrangement between two parties. In saying what I have said I am very aware that my definition is a bit vague, but it is vague by design. In Scripture there are a variety of types of covenants. We will examine each covenant in its biblical context and allow Scripture to interpret itself, or to say it another way, to allow God to interpret his own word. We must remember that the final determiner of meaning is the context of the passage or concept in question.
As to the identification of a covenant much needs to be said. To say that something is a covenant you need to have it described as a covenant in its original context or you need it described as a covenant in another passage of Scripture. The Davidic Covenant is a clear example. In its original context there is no mention of the word covenant (2 Samuel 7:1-16). In 2 Samuel 23:5 David himself describes the promise that God had made with him in 2 Samuel 7 as a covenant.
For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.
(2 Samuel 23:5 ESV)
What should you do when you think something is a covenant but there is no mention of it as a covenant in its original context and there is also no mention of it as a covenant in any other passage of Scripture. If this is the case then we must conclude that if the divine author of Scripture wanted us to understand something as a covenant then he would give us clear language to come to the conclusion that it was a covenant. Without God interpreting his own word we are left to the mercy of guessing, and guessing has no place in interpreting of the Word of God. So if it is not called a covenant then it is not a covenant.
Covenant in the Garden?
Now let us look at Adam in the Garden of Eden. Was there a covenant established between God and Adam? According to the system of Covenant Theology, as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) there was a covenant in the Garden of Eden.
The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon the condition of perfect and personal obedience.1
As we read the account of Genesis 2 we see no mention of a covenant. All that we see is that God is telling Adam that he is free to eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he should eat any fruit of that tree he will die.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “ You may surely to eat from every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in that day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
While there is no mention of a covenant in Genesis 2 there might be a covenant mentioned in some other portion of Scripture that describes a covenant as being established in the Garden of Eden with Adam. In Romans 5:12-21 we are told by the Apostle Paul of a relationship with Adam and all mankind.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden he represented everyone. This means that we are all blamed and held guilty for Adam’s one sin, his trespass, in the garden. We are blamed for something that we did not do. In this portion of Romans Paul is teaching that the method by which we get accepted by God is by representation. Adam represented all men, except Jesus, and Jesus represented all those for whom he died.2 While we agree that there is a relationship between Adam and everyone else it is never described in terms of a covenant. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is nothing in the language of Genesis 2 that would give anyone the clue that a covenant was being established between God and man.
In seeking to defend the view that there is a covenant in the garden writers read between the lines and then draw conclusions that defend their point of view. In this instance I see nothing in this context that says anything about a covenant. The only way that you could find a covenant in Genesis 2 is to believe that you are compelled to find it by other Scripture.
Let us now turn to the Old Testament where we do find one mention of covenant with the name Adam. It is found in the book of Hosea.
As at Adam, they have broken the covenant; there they unfaithful to me there. (Hosea 6:7 NIV)
But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. (Hosea 6:7 ESV)
The context of this passage is describing the on-going rebellion of Israel as they live under the Old or Mosaic Covenant. The problem with interpreting this text of Scripture is that it is capable of so many different meanings. Here are some of the options that are available to us.
Following the NIV Adam would refer to a location. Verses 8 and 9 refer to examples of Israel’s rebellion at both Gilead and Shechem. It should also be noted that “Adam” as a place location is mentioned in Joshua 3:16, but it should also be noted that no mention is made of any specific rebellion by Israel at that location. The covenant that is mentioned would then be the Old or Mosaic Covenant.
Following the ESV Adam could refer to mankind in general, since the Hebrew word could refer either to mankind or Adam as a proper name. If Adam refers to mankind in general then Hosea would be saying that Israel is rebellious like the rest of the world. That in spite of Israel’s covenant relationship with the Lord, which marked them out as a special people, they were still acting like the Gentiles and are covenant breakers. It is also possible to say that the reference to mankind would refer to their breaking the Covenant of Works in the garden.
Once again following the ESV, if you take “Adam” as referring to the historical Adam from the Garden of Eden then you could be saying that Israel broke the Old Covenant just like Adam broke the Covenant made with him in the garden.
You could also say that Israel broke the Old Covenant and they were faithless just like Adam was disobedient in the garden. In this case you would not be referring to covenant breaking by Adam but to disobedience to the one law given to him by God in the garden.
In light of the above it is hard to be absolutely certain of the meaning of this passage. We would need some other passage to tell us about a covenant with Adam in the garden. God has to interpret his own word. Unfortunately, there is no such passage of Scripture. Therefore, since there is no clear mention of a covenant with Adam in the garden it would be wrong to make an educated guess and then declare there to be a covenant in the garden as a foundational truth upon which we can build our understanding of God’s plan of salvation. Even John Calvin saw the problem of taking Hosea 6:7 as referring to a covenant with Adam.
Others explain the words thus, “They have transgressed as Adam the covenant.” But the word, Adam, we know, is taken indefinitely for men. This exposition (the view that he is disagreeing with) is frigid and diluted, “They have transgressed as Adam the covenant;” that is, they have followed or imitated the example of their father Adam, who had immediately at the beginning transgressed God’s commandment. I do not to refute this comment; for we see that it is in itself vapid.3
Another Covenant Theologian, John Murray, also states that there was no mention of a covenant with Adam in Hosea 6:7 or in the garden.
It is not designated a covenant in Scripture. Hosea 6:7 may be interpreted otherwise and does not provide the basis for such a construction of the Adamic economy. Besides, Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to redemptive design.4
As I conclude this segment let me summarize what we have found in the opening chapters of Genesis. In Genesis 1 it is stated that God made Adam and Eve in the image of God. It then states that God gave them responsibility to rule over all the earth as well as all animal life. In Genesis 2 Adam is given the role of taking care of the Garden of Eden. Adam is given a partner in Eve who was made out of a rib of Adam. God does give Adam one command, not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and a consequence, which is death, for disobedience to his command.
Without reading into these first two chapters of Genesis, that is seeing something there that is not stated but is assumed from other Scripture passages, we are left with no other conclusion then that there is no covenant made with Adam in the garden. Clear Scripture in context must establish every truth of our system of understanding of how the Bible fits together.
Definition of the Noahic Covenant
The Noahic Covenant is a promise of God never to destroy the earth until his work of saving a people has been accomplished. This is a covenant of preservation.
The first mention of the word “covenant” is found in Genesis 6:18 where we find God giving Noah instructions regarding the upcoming flood.
For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you , your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. (Genesis 6:17-19)
The full statement of the covenant God made with Noah is found in Genesis 9:8-11.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 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. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the water of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.
The Noahic Covenant is a covenant of preservation. It is not a salvation covenant, but it does guarantee that our God will not destroy this world until his plan to save a people has been accomplished. This is a covenant made with all living creatures. It is like going to a football game where the game is being played on the field. The field is not the game, but you cannot have a game without the field. The Noahic Covenant could be described as the guarantee that there will be a field for the game of salvation to be played.
One question that is commonly asked is, “Is the Noahic Covenant a promise by God that the earth will not be destroyed, or is it only a promise that it will not be destroyed by a flood?” This question can be answered by reading carefully the account in the giving of the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 8,9. In Genesis 8 we read that the Lord will never again curse the ground because of man.
Then Noah built and altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:20-22 ESV)
It would seem that the flood was the example of destruction that the Lord would bring on the earth that would result in the death of all mankind and the animal that inhabit the earth. The promise of the Lord is that he will never destroy the earth again. The flood would seem to be God’s chosen method (Genesis 9) to destroy all mankind because of their sin. But the promise is that the earth will not be prematurely destroyed until the Lord’s plan to save a people is accomplished. 5
When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will see it and remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creatures of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 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. (Genesis 9:15-16)
One writer, Peter Gentry, who embraces New Covenant Theology, has described the Noahic Covenant as a restatement of the covenant made with Adam in the garden.
When God says that he is confirming or upholding his covenant with Noah, he is saying that his commitment to his creation, the care of the creator to preserve, provide for, and rule over all that he has made, including the blessings and ordinances that he initiated through and with Adam and Eve and their family, are now to be with Noah and his descendants.6
Peter Gentry seeks to make his case for a covenant in the garden by saying that the word for covenant in Genesis 6 and 9 assumes an understanding that the covenant with Noah is a renewal of a previously established covenant that God made with Adam. I will let you read his extensive argument in his book in order to understand his perspective.7 My disagreement with Peter Gentry is one of interpretation or hermeneutics. The value of the original languages is that they will tell us what are the possibilities of what something might mean. But it is the context that is the final determiner of the meaning of a word as the author is using it. If the Noahic Covenant is a reaffirmation of an earlier established covenant then we would expect to find some evidence that this is so. Instead, we find no mention of a covenant in the garden and a very specific detailed discussion of a covenant made with Noah and all creation. It should also be mentioned that the restatement of the call to populate the earth which was first mentioned in Genesis 1:28 and then restated in Genesis 9:1 does not necessarily mean that there were two covenants or the restating of a covenant in the garden. Since there is no mention of a covenant in the garden the simple explanation is that there was an obvious need to populate the earth after the flood.
In Genesis 6:18 the only thing that is mentioned is that God is establishing his covenant in order to preserve the life of Noah and his family and all the animals in the ark. In Genesis 9:8-11 the covenant only focuses on the promise to never destroy the earth again.8 In Genesis 9:14-15 the rainbow is designated as the sign of the covenant.
When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will see it and remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creatures of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
The covenant made with Noah referred to the preservation of all life on the earth. For there to be more to this covenant one would have to find other Scripture to speak to this issue. One such verse is found in Isaiah 24:5.
The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. (Isaiah 24:5)
The context of this passage does refer to the Lord’s destruction of the earth at the end of time. Therefore we cannot limit it to Israel under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was introduced at Mount Sinai and it came to an end at the cross (Hebrews 8:13). The covenant that is mentioned is said to be an everlasting covenant. The term everlasting covenant is exactly how the Noahic Covenant is described in Genesis 9:16.
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. (Genesis 9:16)
The Noahic Covenant is everlasting in the sense that it is in force until this present heaven and earth are destroyed (2 Peter 3:10-13). Once that happens the Noahic Covenant has fulfilled its purpose and it comes to an end. Isaiah 24:5 also states that mankind has broken the Noahic Covenant. This would mean that there are other things that are a part of the Noahic Covenant other than the preservation of the earth that can be broken. Here is a list of what is included in the Noahic Covenant:
The command to repopulate the earth (Genesis 9:1).
The animals will now fear mankind (Genesis 9:2).
God gives meat and fish (everything that is on the earth or in the water or in the air) as food for mankind (Genesis 9).
Mankind is not allowed to eat anything that still has its blood in it. (Genesis 9:4).9
Since man is made in the image of God he must give his life if he takes the life of another who is also made in the image of God (Genesis 9:5-6).10
These items that are a part of the Noahic Covenant are still in force today since the covenant of which they a part is in force until the end of this age and the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ who will usher in the New Heaven and earth of the eternal state. They are not like the laws of the Old Covenant which are time-bound to the Old Covenant era, which embraces the time span from Mount Sinai until the cross.
Like all other laws the attachments to the Noahic Covenant were also not followed by mankind and therefore contributed to their being cursed by a holy and righteous God. It should also be noted that there seems to be evidence that other laws were given to mankind that are not mentioned in the creation account.11 But these laws are never mentioned as tied to any particular covenant.
Peter Gentry also agrees that the Isaiah passage refers to the Noahic Covenant. Here are his comments on this passage.
Since the reference is to all humans breaking the “everlasting covenant,” the Mosaic covenant given to Israel at Sinai is hardly in view. The most probable referent is the covenant made with Noah, which in reality reestablished and upheld the covenant with creation in Genesis 1, reaffirming the commitment of the Creator to his creation and the responsibilities placed upon humans at that time. Isaiah’s oracle predicts complete desolation upon the earth because its people have violated the instructions and terms of the Noahic covenant.12
In order to comment on Peter’s argument we must first of all make some observations about Adam in the garden. As we have stated before Adam was only given one command beyond the instruction to populate the earth with Eve as his wife and to rule over all living creatures (Genesis 1:28). There are no other laws mentioned and there is no covenant mentioned. Therefore, it seems to me that there is no evidence before the fall of any covenant being established and there is no basis for saying that the Noahic Covenant is a restatement of the an earlier covenant made with Adam in the garden. I would certainly agree with Gentry that Isaiah 24:5 refers to the Noahic Covenant.
The sign of the covenant is the rainbow in the sky. This is the perpetual visual reminder that there will be no premature ending of this earth until all those for whom Jesus died are brought to saving faith. This is a covenant of preservation. This earth will come to an end when it is burned up and a new heaven and a new earth is created (2 Peter 3:10-13). Our Father’s plan will be fully accomplished and nothing can stop it (Hebrews 10:14).
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”13
Definition of the Abrahamic Covenant
The Abrahamic Covenant is the first unveiling of God’s plan to have a people and to take them into his land.14 This covenant embraces both the Old and the New Covenants. The Old Covenant, made with Israel on Mount Sinai, functions as a temporary picture of what the New Covenant, the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, is all about. From the point of view of the Old Testament the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant is found in the Old Covenant. From the point of view of the New Testament the fulfillment of this covenant is found in the New Covenant.
The first mention of the word covenant with regard to Abraham is found in Genesis 17.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and my multiply you greatly. (Genesis 17:1-2)
The first mention of the covenant with regard to its content is found in Genesis 12.
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. 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. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
When we view Genesis 12 in light of Genesis 17 we have God interpreting his own word. We would not know that Genesis 12:1-3 is speaking of a covenantal relationship between Abraham and God unless we were told that it was so in Genesis 17.
God is promising to make Abram (for his name had not yet been changed to Abraham15) into a great nation. It is Israel under the Old Covenant that is called the children of Abraham.16 The promise of the land of Canaan, which will be the home of the children of Abraham, will not be discussed in detail until Genesis 15, but it is discussed in brief form in Genesis 12:7 where God told Abram that his offspring would be given the land of Canaan.
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:4-7)
God next says that he will bless Abram. This blessing is described as making Abram’s name great. This can be ultimately seen in the description of Abraham as the “father of all who believe.”17 Abraham becomes the example of what true faith is all about. For us who live on this side of Pentecost the blessing of Abraham is all about the gospel message going out to the entire world.18
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:8-9)
It is also true that God blessed Abraham physically with many descendants. This is fulfilled primarily through Isaac and Jacob and the nation of Israel,19 but also through his other son Ishmael20 and Jacob’s brother Esau.21 The ultimate fulfillment is found in the true people of God, the church. They are the true children of Abraham.
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
The promise that God would curse all those who curse Abraham can be understood first in its most basic sense as referring to God’s treatment of anyone who is against Abraham. Ultimately, to reject Abraham is to reject the God of Abraham, and this results in eternal punishment, which is the ultimate curse of God.22
It is only when we get to chapters 15 and 17 of Genesis that we get a clear understanding that Abraham was brought into a covenantal relationship with the God of heaven and earth. Without passages like Genesis 17:1-2 and Galatians 3:15-16 we would not be able to say that Genesis 12:1-9 is telling us about the content of a covenant that God made with Abraham.
It is with Genesis 15 that we find the covenant between God and Abraham being formally established. The chapter begins with the promise of God to provide an heir for Abraham. At this point in the story Abraham’s name was Abram23 and Sarah’s name was Sarai24 and they were not able to have children. God not only promises to give Abraham an heir, but through that heir he would give him many descendants. This is fulfilled through Abraham’s son Isaac and the nation of Israel, which was descended through the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)
From the perspective of the book of Galatians Jesus the Messiah fulfilled God’s promise of an heir or seed for Abraham.
To give a human example, brothers; even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. (Galatians 3:15-16)
If we only had the Old Testament we would have no hesitation in saying that Isaac was the seed that God promised to Abraham. But, since we do have the teaching passages of the New Covenant era we must revise our understanding of the ultimate fulfillment of the seed promise to Abraham. In Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia we are confronted with God interpreting his own word. In other words, we conclude that we must interpret the old through the lens of the new. Paul’s interpretation of the seed promise to Abraham is the final word from our God as to what that promise was all about. Isaac and his descendants, the Israelites, functioned as a temporary picture of what was the true fulfillment, Jesus the Messiah.
In addition to the promise of an heir and many descendants Abraham is also promised the land of Canaan.
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites,the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
Here again we find the God of Scripture explaining the ultimate fulfillment of the land promise to Abraham. In the book of Hebrews the promise of the land is described as being fulfilled by a land that does not end.
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
The physical land of Canaan, the promised land, is only a temporary picture of a land that does not end. The ultimate fulfillment of the land promise to Abraham is found in heaven and the new heavens and earth, which all believers, spiritual Israel25, will inherit for eternity.
It is at this point in the story that Abraham asks a question regarding the promise of the land, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” that God takes an oath where he promises to curse himself if he does not keep his promise to Abraham. This promise is called a self-maledictory oath. God is calling a curse on himself if he does not do what he promised. This oath is visibly portrayed to us in a ceremony.
So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then the birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Raphaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”26
When God calls on himself a curse if he does not keep his promise he is saying that the death of the animals functions as a picture of what will happen to him if he does not keep his word. We do know that God cannot die.27 But this covenant making ceremony illustrates the fact that it is not remotely possible for God not to keep his word.
What can we say regarding the significance of the animals that were used to establish this covenant? It is true that the kinds of animals that were used were the same types that were used to perform the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.28 Beyond this observation not much can be said. I would only be guessing for there is no explanation in Scripture as to the significance of these particular animals that were used. What I just said would also apply to the description of Abram driving away the birds of prey from the animals prepared for the covenant ceremony.
Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.29
Gordon Wenham, in his commentary on Genesis interprets the birds of prey as the Gentile nations who are seeking to attack Israel. Abram’s actions of driving away the birds of prey are a picture of God’s care for Israel.30 While this may be a plausible explanation I am not aware of any Scripture that could be used to prove that this is what God intended by this account. It does seem as though Wenham is making an educated guess, which is still just a guess, and nothing ought to be established on the basis of a guess.
What is the significance of the age of the animals, 3 years old, that Abram was required to provide? Peter Gentry quotes Wenham’s commentary that the age of the animals corresponds to the generations of Israelites that were in Egypt before the exodus under Moses.31 It is possible that this would be its meaning. We find that the age of the sacrificial animal can refer to the historical situation of the one doing the sacrifice. This appears to be so in the account of Gideon’s sacrifice of a bull in Judges 6:1,25, though the translation for the meaning of the phrase, “the one seven years old”32 could also be translated to mean “mature bull.” The problem is that the account in Genesis 15 would have to be saying that each generation is to be understood to be 100 years in length. I am not aware of any other passage in Scripture that would allow us to understand a generation in this sense. At the end of the day you still only have something that could be probably true. If our Lord wanted us to know what the age of the sacrifice meant he would have told us. I can only assume that the meaning of the age of the sacrificial animals is not really that important.
Finally, we must discuss the smoking firepot and the blazing torch that are used to signify God in the covenant making ceremony. Here we do have more biblical information to help us understand the significance of these items. I am indebted to Peter Gentry for his work on this issue.
In the vision given to Abram, a “smoking firepot and a blazing torch” pass between the dead pieces. What would these represent? When we remember that Genesis was a book given to the Israelite people at the time of entering the land of Canaan, we can see from that perspective, i.e., after the exodus event, that smoke and fire are symbols of God’s presence. The angel of the Lord first appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush (Ex. 13:21). At Mount Sinai, his presence is manifested by smoke and fire (Ex. 19:18; 20:18).33
As we come to Genesis 17 we come to what is called a “confirmation” of the covenant between Abraham and the Lord.
I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.34
In this further explanation of the Abrahamic Covenant the Lord repeats what he had said earlier to Abram but now adds the rite of circumcision as the sign of the covenant.
This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.35
In what sense is circumcision a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant? For Abraham his circumcision was an outward sign that he was a true believer.
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.36
But then Abraham was told to circumcise all the males of his household.
This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised.37
Belief had nothing to do with the males of Abraham’s household receiving circumcision, the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. For Abraham his circumcision was a sign of his belief, but for the males of his household belief had nothing to do with their receiving the sign of circumcision. This distinction is not explained until we get to the teaching passages of the New Covenant era. Here we are told that physical circumcision (which was given to unbelieving Israel) functions as a picture of spiritual circumcision (the new heart) that all true believers experience. Abraham is called the father of all who believe.
It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.38
In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature39, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.40
In the New Covenant era we give water baptism to all those who give evidence that they have been circumcised by Christ (spiritual circumcision). This is why we only give water baptism to those who profess to believe the gospel message. Saving faith is the evidence that one has been circumcised by Jesus Christ.41 It is those who embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord who are the true promised children to Abraham.
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.42
It is also in this chapter of Genesis that God changes the name of Abram to Abraham. His plan is for Abraham to be the father of many nations. This account took place when Abraham was 99 years old.43 This would seem to be a clarification of the promise made to Abram in Genesis 15 that he would have many descendants. God also tells Abraham that the covenant that has been established between he and God also applies to Abraham’s descendants. It will be in later chapters in Genesis that the specific details as to which of his descendants he is referring to is made known.44
In what sense is Abraham the father of many nations? To answer this question we must go to the teaching passages of the New Covenant era. For it is in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome that he refers to the promise to Abraham and describes how it is fulfilled by those who truly believe.
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.45
Once again the promise of the land of Canaan is repeated to Abraham. The land promise is a necessary part of the Abrahamic Covenant since the Abrahamic Covenant is the unveiling of God’s plan to have a people and to take them into his land.
I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give
as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.46
Every aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is said to be everlasting, including the land promise. This understanding of the “everlasting”
It is in this chapter that Sarai receives a name change from the Lord.
God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”49
Once again the promise of a numerous offspring is mentioned and this time Sarah is the focus of attention. Sarah already had a son through Hagar and his name was Ishmael, but this was not the son that the Lord was referring to. He was speaking of Isaac whom the Lord was going to give to Sarah through her own body, even though she was around 99 years old.
Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.50
Genesis records that from Ishmael’s line come 12 tribal rulers. His descendants were indeed numerous, but they were not part of the promised offspring to Abraham.51
In Genesis 22 we have the account of Abraham attempting to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah.52 Abraham was kept from offering his son by an angel and was then told by that same angel that as a result of his obedience the promises that were made to him in the Abrahamic Covenant would be fulfilled.
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.53
More details are revealed concerning this covenant with Abraham. The first bit of information addresses the physical descendants of Abraham and the defeat of their enemies and the possession of their cities. The second bit of information restates what was previously stated in the preliminary revealing of God’s covenant with Abraham that all nations would be blessed through Abraham.54 As was said earlier this aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is fulfilled in the gospel going to the world in the New Covenant era.55
Genesis 26 and 28
In Genesis 26 Isaac is named as a recipient of the covenant that was made with Abraham. Here we see a narrowing of the promise from Abraham to Isaac. Abraham’s other son Ishmael is not included in this promise. The occasion of this exchange between God and Isaac is the famine in the land of Canaan.
The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”56
This narrowing of the covenant continues with Isaac’s descendants. Isaac has two children, Jacob and Esau. Jacob is chosen to be the person through whom the covenantal promises are applied and not Esau. This can be seen when God speaks to Jacob in a dream at Bethel in Genesis 28.
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.57
Is the Abrahamic Covenant Conditional or Unconditional?
When you think of the Abrahamic Covenant we seem to naturally think of it as an unconditional covenant. God simply tells Abraham what he is going to do for him. But in the midst of this we find recurring statements of God requiring obedience of Abraham in response to the Abrahamic Covenant.
Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”58
For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.59
And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.60
What are we to make of this? The obedience that God requires is going to be provided by his Sovereign will and yet at the same time Abraham and his descendants are required to obey their Lord. This is exactly what we find when we look at the New Covenant. It is quite clear that the salvation that Jesus accomplished by his death on the cross was salvation by grace.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.61
Yet, believers in Jesus are required to obey God’s law. Being saved by grace does not eliminate the obligation to live for your Lord.
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.62ˆ
Even the faith by which we trust in Jesus alone to save us by his payment for our sins on the cross is described as a work that we must do to be saved.
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.63
By using the word “work” Jesus is emphasizing that this is something that we are responsible to do, yet at the same time it is quite clear that we are not allowed to take credit for our saving faith. This also applies to our pursuit of a life of obedience that is required of a believer, and yet this obedience is not the basis or cause of our acceptance with the Father. It is only work of Jesus on the cross that saves us.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.64
The Abrahamic Covenant is the unveiling of God’s plan that was fixed in eternity past and is certain to come to pass. Yet, all those who are in the Abrahamic Covenant are required to live for their Lord. In saying this it must also be said that the Abrahamic Covenant embraces both the Old and New covenants. The New Covenant is all about the work of Jesus on the cross while the Old covenant is a temporary works covenant. It is from this point of view that Paul in Galatians describes the New Covenant, which is the true fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant as a covenant of promise, while he describes the Old covenant as a Covenant of law. As a Covenant of law the Old Covenant is a works covenant.
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.65
So when we think of unconditional versus conditional covenants we are not to think of unconditional covenants as having nothing required of those who are in them, for that is certainly not true.
Definition of Old Covenant
The Old Covenant is a works covenant that God made with the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. Physical blessing was promised if the Israelite perfectly obeyed the Mosaic Law. Physical cursing or judgment was promised if an Israelite did not obey the Mosaic Law perfectly. This covenant was never given as way to gain eternal life. 66
God was Gracious to Israel
When I call the Old Covenant a works or legal covenant I do not want to ignore the grace that God showed to Israel when he brought her out of Egypt in the exodus. Israel did not deserve to be saved from its slavery in Egypt, but God graciously brought them out under Moses and took them through the Red Sea to Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. Every part of the exodus was an exercise in grace towards the Israelites. But in saying all of the above it should be clearly stated that God’s gracious dealings with Israel in the exodus are not the covenant that was made with Israel on Mount Sinai.
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.67
Old Covenant is a Works Covenant
The covenant that God made with Israel on Mount Sinai was conditioned on their perfect obedience to the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.68
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.69
Just as Israel was about to enter the promised land under Joshua God gave instructions to Israel through Moses. This instruction stated that the Israelites, after they had crossed the Jordon River, were to divide up on two mountains, Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. They were to recite to each other the blessings and curses of the Old Covenant.
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:70
However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:71
The requirement for blessing was complete obedience. On the other hand, anything short of complete obedience resulted in the curses of the covenant. We should not make the mistake of reading into the account the idea that the evidence of a believer is a changed life that results in good works.72 God through Moses is not talking about a changed life but a perfect life. That is why the Old Covenant must be viewed as a works covenant.
The Old Covenant can only produce Unbelievers
If the Old Covenant were a works or legal covenant then it would only be natural to conclude that that type of covenant could only produce unbelievers. That is exactly what we find when examining how the teaching passages of the New Covenant era describe the Old Covenant.
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.73
These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.74
Both of these passages describe a works covenant that can only produce unbelievers. In the Hebrews 8 passage a New Covenant is being made since the Old Covenant could only produce individuals that God found fault with. God finds fault with the people produced by the Old Covenant because they are unbelievers. They did not have their sins forgiven and they did not have a new heart. In the Galatians allegory passage Paul is comparing and contrasting the Old and New Covenants. The believers in the church at Galatia were the result of the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant. Since the Old Covenant was a works covenant it could only produce individuals who were still in slavery to their sin. This is just another way of saying that they are unbelievers.
The Old Covenant cannot pay for our Sins
In the book of Hebrews the author repeatedly makes the claim that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant could never take away the sins of the Israelites. The sacrifices were only a temporary picture of a sacrifice to come through the death of Jesus on the cross.
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sin, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.75
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.76
The sacrifices were only “ceremonial washings” that functioned as a picture of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to come.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.77
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify then so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!78
If the sacrifices of the Old Covenant did not really forgive sins then how come the language of the book of Leviticus repeatedly says that if you commit a particular sin and you do the sacrifice that is prescribed for that sin then you are forgiven. Let us examine one of these statements that address a sin of a leader in Israel and the particular sacrifice that the priest must offer in order for the leader to gain forgiveness of his sin.
Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. He shall burn all the fat on the altar as he burned the fat of the fellowship offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for the leader’s sin, and he will be forgiven.79
In what sense is the Israelite leader forgiven for his sin? He is forgiven ceremonially. By the sacrifice of the priest the leader is restored to Israel in good standing, but the God of Israel has not forgiven his sin. We must remember that Israel, under the Old Covenant, is a temporary, unbelieving picture of the people of God.
Once again the author of Hebrews helps us out by comparing the sacrifices of the Old Covenant with the death of Jesus on the cross, which is the sacrifice of the New Covenant.
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them –though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.80
If anyone is relying on the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law to get their sins forgiven and achieve unconditional acceptance with the Father then God is not pleased with them because those Old Covenant sacrifices were never intended to actually forgive sins. They only functioned as a picture of the work of Jesus to come. They were required of the Israelites under the Mosaic Law but their purpose was not to save but rather to illustrate.
The Relationship between the Old Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant
In the covenant that God made with Abraham he promised to give him many descendants and to take them into the land of Canaan.81 It does seem quite clear that the fulfillment of this covenant, from the perspective of the Old Testament, is found in the Old Covenant with Israel. 82 Yet, when one goes into the New Testament, and especially the teaching passages of the New Covenant83 era one finds that the true fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant is found in the New Covenant, the death of Jesus on the cross.84 Here we see the problem with saying that the original mention of a promise in Scripture establishes the ultimate meaning of the promise. The fulfillment of the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant in its original context is not what it seems to be. The nation of Israel and the land of Canaan of the Old Covenant are only a temporary picture of what the work of Jesus on the cross, the New Covenant, was going to accomplish. Jesus, by his death on the cross, purchased a people from every tribe, language, people and nation.85 He also promised to take all those for whom he died into a land that will never end. This is eternal life with God, first in heaven and then in the new heavens and earth.86 Here we see that with regard to the Abrahamic Covenant we are to interpret the old through the lens of the new.
The Old Covenant is a Covenant of Death
In 2 Corinthians 3 the Old Covenant is described as a “the ministry that brought death”87 and “the ministry that condemns men.”88 The apostle Paul is making a defense of his apostleship. His argument is that the changed life of the Corinthian believers is not result of the Old Covenant but the New Covenant, which is the work of Jesus on the cross.
You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.89
The tablets of stone are the Ten Commandments.90 The Ten Commandments are “words of the covenant.” This is a way of saying that the Ten Commandments are the summary of the requirements of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant demands for the Israelites perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law. Less than perfect obedience earns the curse of God.91 The Old Covenant is a works or legal covenant that was never intended to save any Israelite.92 As a works covenant it was only able to produce unbelievers.
These things may be taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.93
This is why the Old Covenant is a ministry of death and condemnation. It was never intended as a means of salvation. It produced a temporary, unbelieving picture of the people of God, the nation of Israel.
The Old Covenant is Weak and Useless
In the midst of a discussion in the book of Hebrews on the comparison between the priesthood of the Old Covenant with that of the New Covenant the author of Hebrews states that the priesthood of the Old Covenant, the Levitical or Aaronic Priesthood, is “weak and useless.”
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.94
The creation of the Old Covenant priesthood by the Mosaic Law was only for the purpose of providing a picture of what the priesthood of Jesus, the Melchizedek priesthood, was going to accomplish. Jesus purchased a people for eternal life by his suffering and death on the cross. The sacrifices of the priests of the Old Covenant did not pay for the sins of the Israelites.
But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.95
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.96
The argument of the writer of Hebrews is that the sacrifices of the priests of Israel were not sufficient to satisfy God’s just demands. So, if they were depending on the sacrifices to gain God’s forgiveness they would be offering sacrifices that God was not pleased with.
First he said, “Sacrifice and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will. He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.97
Only a perfect human being, a lamb with blemish, could qualify to take the place and suffer the punishment for all those whom the Father chose to save. Jesus, the God-man, by his suffering and death on the cross satisfied the demands of a perfect holy and just God.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.98
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.99
Even though it is said that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant priests were “weak and useless” why does the Old Testament continually tell us that the designated sacrifice for a particular sin will achieve forgiveness for the one who had sinned?
In this way the priest will make atonement for the man’s sin and he will be forgiven.100
The forgiveness that the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law under the Old Covenant secured for the one for whom the sacrifice was given was a ceremonial forgiveness. The offending Israelite was restored to good standing in the nation of Israel by the designated sacrifice demanded by the law. But, the Israelite was not forgiven by the God of Israel and so remained under his wrath.
This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.101
The Old Covenant sacrifices only served as a temporary picture of the saving work of Jesus, our high priest, who by his death secured complete forgiveness for all those who will believe on him.
The Old Covenant was Faulty
In the book of Hebrews the writer, whomever he may be, tells us that the Old Covenant is the first covenant and that as a covenant it was faulty and it produced a people that God was not pleased with.
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:102
This statement goes a long way toward informing us of the purpose and content of the Old Covenant. This passage also is helpful to us in revealing the role of the Old Covenant in God’s unfolding plan of salvation.
Why would the author of Hebrews call the Old Covenant the first covenant? When you examine the order in which covenants are revealed in the Old Testament we find that the first covenant is the Noahic and the second is the Abrahamic. The Old Covenant occupies third place in the unfolding of covenants in the Old Testament.
How do we know that the author of Hebrews is referring to the Old Covenant when he refers to the first covenant? In verse 9 in the midst of the quotation of Jeremiah 31:31-34 the Lord states that the New Covenant will not be like the covenant that was made with the nation of Israel that was brought out of Egypt.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declared the Lord.103
In this context the covenant that is mentioned is the one that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. It is the Old Covenant.104
So, in what sense is the Old Covenant the first covenant? It would seem that the only sense in which the Old Covenant could be seen as the first covenant would be from a picture/fulfillment perspective. The Old Covenant produced a temporary, unbelieving picture of the people of God but not a real people of God. This will be discussed in the section of the book that addresses “Israel.” It is the New Covenant that produces the real people of God, the spiritual Israel, by means of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross. This will be discussed in great detail in the next section of the book that will address the “New Covenant.” The Old Covenant functions as the “picture” of what the Messiah is going to accomplish through the New Covenant, which is the fulfillment of God’s plan to save a people and take them to be with him in a land that does not end. To use an analogy of a football game it could be said that the Old Covenant era (from Mount Sinai to the cross) functioned as the picture and the first half of God’s historical plan of salvation. The New Covenant era (from Pentecost to the 2nd Coming) functioned as the Fulfillment of his plan and the second half of the game. So, God’s plan can be viewed as a 2-part plan and the Old Covenant era is the first part. This would seem to be why the author of Hebrews calls the Old Covenant the first covenant.
Now let us examine why the Old Covenant would be called “faulty.” In the context of the book of Hebrews you have Jewish professed believers who after much persecution for their faith are now considering going back under the Mosaic Law and the Old Covenant in order to avoid further persecution. They are seeking to gain forgiveness of sins from a covenant that was never intended to give them forgiveness.105 In this sense the Old Covenant is faulty. It functioned as a picture of what Jesus was going to accomplish through the New Covenant. The Old Covenant could be understood in terms of a Thanksgiving dinner analogy. When you enter the house for the Thanksgiving dinner you are confronted with a glossy, full color, poster size picture of the amazing dinner that is sitting on the dining room table. The poster does a wonderful job of showing you what is on the table but it is unable to satisfy your hunger since it is only a picture. That is how we are to view the Old Covenant and its relationship to the New Covenant.
Because the Old Covenant was “faulty” and could not provide true forgiveness of sins it only could produce unbelievers. This is why God found fault with those produced by the Old Covenant, the nation of Israel. This is described in the allegory of Hagar and Sarah in chapter four of Galatians.
These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.106
Since the Old Covenant was a works or legal covenant it could only produce unbelievers. If an Israelite were to be a true believer then it would have to be on the basis of the New Covenant. The description of physical Israel, under the Old Covenant, is of a people who “are to be slaves.” The comparison in the allegory is with the Sarah who represents the New Covenant, the “Jerusalem that is above” which produces children who are to be free. This comparison of two peoples corresponds to the state of the heart of unbelievers and believers. The unbeliever is a slave to his sin while the believer has been freed from the control of sin and is a slave to righteousness.107 Israel under the Old Covenant was a temporary, unbelieving picture of the people of God. This will be discussed in great detail in the section on “Israel.”
Why is the Old Covenant called a “Covenant of Love”?
Up to this point we have been discussing the Old Covenant as a legal or works covenant. But, there is a repeated phrase throughout the Old Testament that views the Old Covenant as a covenant of love. I have included both the NIV and ESV versions of this phrase.
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.108
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.109
It is very true that if the requirements of the Old Covenant are met then the God of Israel will give to the Israelite all that is promised. Unfortunately, the requirement of the Old Covenant is perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law and no Israelite is able to perfectly keep this law.110 It is also true that Israel experienced great love from God even though they did not obey his law. This is described in great detail in the book of Hosea.111 This love of God that is guaranteed to those who in Israel perfectly keep the law of the Old Covenant will perfectly care for them but it is not a love that is based on grace. This is a works based love that is secured through perfect obedience.
If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you as he swore to your ancestors.112
And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers.113
No one naturally is able to be a God-lover apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion.114 True believers have new hearts and are God-lovers that desire to obey the commandments of the Lord, but our acceptance is not based on our performance but on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.115 The work of Jesus on the cross is the New Covenant and this is a grace-based covenant from beginning to end.116
The Old Covenant has come to an End
The Old Covenant functioned as a temporary picture of what Jesus was going to accomplish by his death on the cross. It was never meant to be covenant that could save people.117
Definition of the New Covenant
The New Covenant is the saving work of Jesus Christ through his suffering and death on the cross. By his death on the cross Jesus purchase the complete forgiveness of sins and a transformed life for all those for whom he came to save.
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And118 the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.139
His death on the cross purchased two things for all those who were to believe, that is all those whom the Father chose to save.119 The first is the full payment for all of their sins while the second is a radical work of the Holy Spirit that is guaranteed to transform their lives and make them incurable God-lovers.120
Understanding the Forgiveness of Sins
When someone believes the gospel message their sins, past present and future, are all forgiven by the death of Jesus on the cross. His suffering and death on the cross paid the penalty for all the sins of all those who have believed on him.
Even though Jesus died for our sins around 2,000 years ago the application of that forgiveness does not take place until one exercises saving faith.121 Until the time of saving faith one is an enemy of God and under his wrath.122 There is no such thing as being “eternally saved or justified.” Though it is true that someone who is a believer could be said to have been “eternally determined to be saved.”123
Understanding the Concept of Imputation
When we speak of getting our sins forgiven we are talking about the concept of imputation. By this I mean that the result of Jesus’ death on the cross, his forgiveness of sins, is given to us who believe as a free gift. His payment for sins is granted to us when we believe on him. The apostle Paul speaks of the faith of the believer as being “counted as righteousness.”
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one whom God counts righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and who sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.124
When we trust in the saving work of Jesus on the cross we are by faith trusting him to do the work of salvation for us. As a result of our faith, which is a gift of God,125 we receive the full forgiveness of sins that gives us a standing with God of righteousness and therefore unconditional acceptance. This is why it says that our faith is counted as righteousness. The theological term “imputation” is the term used to describe this process. Therefore, we can speak of the believer as one who has had the forgiveness of sin imputed to him. Abraham was saved by faith and it is described in terms of imputation.
That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.126
Understanding the Righteousness of God
The concept of righteousness is sometimes a bit confusing, so let us get a clear understanding of it.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.127
The righteousness of God refers to his perfection. Our God cannot accept anyone unless we are able to share in his perfection, which is to become righteous. Another way of saying this is that there is a way to be accepted by God, but it has nothing to do with our earning it by being perfect. This perfection cannot be obtained through our efforts of obeying God’s law, for no one is able to perfectly keep it.
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”128
The apostle Paul is reminding us that this way of acceptance with the Father has always been the same. The Old Covenant was never given to be a means of salvation by works, for that is an impossible way to gain righteousness.129 Righteousness must be gained by someone else, that is Jesus the Messiah, who by his death on the cross perfectly paid for all of our sins and has therefore purchased a righteousness for us that enables us to be accepted by the Father.
When we talk about the forgiveness of sins we are talking about the subject of justification. When someone trusts in Jesus alone for their salvation and desires to follow him as their Lord the complete forgiveness of sins is applied to their account,130 and as a result they are viewed by the Father as being perfect, or as having perfectly obeyed the law of God, even though they have only had their sins forgiven. It should be pointed out that as a result of the forgiveness of sins one gains a standing with the Father as though one had obeyed the law perfectly, when in reality only the sins of the sinner had been forgiven. This concept is also expressed in the eighth chapter of the book of Romans.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.131
The forgiveness of sins fulfills the righteous requirements of the law. The righteous requirements of the law refers to the demand for perfect obedience to the law, whether one lives under the Mosaic Law of the Old Covenant era or the Law of Christ in the New Covenant era.132 The forgiveness of sins gives the believer a clean record. This record is the identical record that one would have if one obeyed the law of God perfectly.133 To have a perfect record is to be counted as righteous in the eyes of God. To be righteous means that one is accepted by the Father. One cannot be accepted unless one is perfect. Therefore, forgiveness of sins gives a believer all that he needs to be justified in the eyes of a holy and just God, for forgiveness of sins gives the believer a clean record, the righteousness of Christ.134
Justification is the unconditional acceptance we receive from the Father as a result of trusting in Jesus Christ to pay for our sins by his death on the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ satisfied everything that a holy God has against us.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.135
When he died on the cross Jesus was satisfying the wrath of God for all those for whom he died. The concept of satisfying the wrath of God is called propitiation. Propitiation describes what results when a sacrifice is accepted. This is what happened when the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was accepted for all those for whom he died.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.136
Understanding the work of Spirit in the life of the Believer
The New Covenant brings with it a transformed life for all those for whom it was intended. This is understood by the two ways in which the change life or new heart is described. The first description is “I will put my laws in their minds.” The second refers to the fact that they will all “Know the Lord.”
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me.137
Initially, there seems to be a problem with the concept of God putting his laws into the minds of believers. Are we to take this literally, or is this a way of describing something else? This quote is taken directly from the prophesy of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
How does Jeremiah 31:31-34 relate to Hebrews 8:8-12?
The context of Jeremiah 31:31-34 describes what Israel will experience after they have been restored to the promised land after God finishes judging them for their on-going rebellion against the God of Israel. In 722 bc the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. In 586 bc the Babylonians destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah. It is in the historical context of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem that Jeremiah is told by the Lord to buy a portion of land within the southern kingdom of Judah.138 Ordinarily this would not be a sound investment for God had already prophesied through Jeremiah that the Babylonians would succeed in conquering Judah, and Zedekiah, the king of Judah would be taken captive to Babylon.139 Jeremiah goes on to say that after the Babylonian destruction the Lord will bring the Israelites back into the land.
Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they many not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.140
The problems with this passage are the promises themselves. God promises to bring Israel permanently back into the Promised Land and to cause them to believe. Both of these promises have never been fulfilled. There was a small return of Israelites under Ezra and Nehemiah following the Babylonian captivity.141 But in ad 70 the Romans under Titus conquered the land and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. Israelites have not controlled the Promised Land ever since. The current state of Israel only occupies a small portion of the Promised Land.142
The other problem that must be overcome is the promise that when God brought Israel back into the land they would become believers. This has never happened. Israel is viewed as always being unbelieving, from Mount Sinai to the New Covenant era. The Old Covenant with Israel is a works or legal covenant that can only produce unbelievers.143 On top of this you have the prophecy to Isaiah where God promises that physical Israel will never believe and he will cause them to remain in their unbelief. In saying this it should always be remembered that there was always a remnant of believers within Israel, but the evaluation of Israel is that there are no believers.
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew… So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.144 (Romans 11:1-2a, 5)
And he said, “God, and say to this people: Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)
The author of Hebrews understands that the New Covenant, the saving work of Jesus on the cross, is being fulfilled during the New Covenant era, which is from Pentecost until the 2nd Coming.
And every priest stands day at his sacrifice, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being made perfect. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declared the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “ I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:11-18)
The content of the New Covenant with regard to the changed life of the believer is described in terms of the Old Covenant. When the portion of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Hebrews 8:10-11) is quoted it refers to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.145 This is described in terms of “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.” This is revealing how under the New Covenant the motivation for believers will be an internal motivation by the Holy Spirit and not an external motivation by the law that unbelieving Israel experienced under the Old Covenant that only resulted in an increase of their sin.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. (Romans 5:20 ESV)
In general, when God’s law (the version that applies to us at a particular point in time146) confronts an unbelieving heart the result is an increase in sin.
For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. (Romans 7:5 ESV)
This is not because the law of God is bad, but because the heart of the unbeliever is so rebellious.147 The unbeliever is described as someone who is controlled by sin. This concept of the unbeliever being controlled by sin is also described to us under the phrases “under the law”148 and “slaves to sin”149.
To summarize what I have been saying, Israel under the Old Covenant was an unbelieving, picture of the people of God and they were given the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law to follow. This only resulted in their committing more sin.150 Under the New Covenant true believers are created with a new heart, which is the motivating work of the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant provided the external motivation of the law for unbelieving Israel while the New Covenant provided internal motivation of the Spirit for believers. In Hebrews 8:10 the author of Hebrews was using Old Covenant language to describe New Covenant fulfillment. The New Covenant motivation of the Holy Spirit drives the believer to be a God-lover and to persevere in the faith and to bear fruit. The concept of laws in minds and on hearts does not refer to actual laws but to the source of motivation. In this passage of Hebrews we are to understand that a comparison is being made between the motivations of the Old Covenant people of God (unbelieving Israel) with that of the New Covenant people of God (believing spiritual Israel, which is comprised of mostly Gentiles and a remnant of Jews).
The final phrase that is used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is “know the Lord.” This means that all those who are the result of the New Covenant will “know the Lord.” This is another way of saying that all believers will have a personal relationship with the living God. They will all be God-lovers. When it says, “they will all know me,” it means that every last person for whom Jesus died will have this intimate relationship with God. The implication of this statement is that Jesus died for all those whom the Father chose to save, or all those who are going to believe. He did not die for everyone in the world.151
The phrase eternal covenant is used to describe the New Covenant. The death of Jesus on the cross has purchased eternal life for all those for whom it was intended.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Old Covenant is also said to be eternal, but I will discuss this in the section of this book that discusses the role of Israel in the plan of God.
The final covenant that will be discussed is the Davidic Covenant. This is a covenant that God made with David that promises that David would always have a descendant on the throne of Israel.
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, by my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:12-18)
The first thing that must be commented on is that this passage does not speak of this promise to David as a covenant. But, if we go to other passages that refer to this promise they do indeed call it a covenant.
Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.
(2 Chronicles 21:7)
You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant.” (Psalm 89:3)
With these two passages we observe that God is interpreting his own word when calls the promise to David a covenant. It would not be accurate to call this promise to David a covenant if Scripture had not said that it was a covenant. Throughout the rest of Scripture whenever a covenant is established it is always described in Scripture as a covenant.
Another potential problem with this covenant is that it seems to say that David will always have a descendant on the throne of Israel. This cannot be what it means since Scripture cannot lie.152 It is also quite clear from biblical history that by the time of Jesus Christ there was no Israelite king, and there has not been one up to the present day. So, what must Scripture be saying with regard to this covenant is that there will be someone who will occupy the throne of David forever. This is fulfilled by the Messiah who by his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven sits on David’s throne forever as the King and Lord of the people of God, the spiritual Israel. 153
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” Therefore he says also in another psalm, “You will not let your Holy One see corruption.” For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised from did not see corruption.
In the immediate historical context the Davidic covenant is a promise that David’s son Solomon would reign on the throne of Israel, David’s throne, and that his reign would not be cut short due to his disobedience. Solomon did fall into very serious sin when he engaged in offering sacrifices to false gods, the gods of his foreign wives.154 God did indeed discipline Solomon, but not in his lifetime. It was during the reign of his son, Rehoboam, that the Lord took away 10 of the tribes from his kingdom and established a new kingdom under Jeroboam.
In its ultimate fulfillment the Davidic Covenant was the promise that the Messiah would reign over the kingdom of God forever after he had fulfilled the New Covenant by his suffering and death on the cross. David as king served as a temporary, physical picture of the true king, Jesus Christ, who would reign over God’s kingdom forever.
The Davidic covenant is a picture/fulfillment covenant. The picture begins during the Old Covenant era with the reign of David as king over Israel and continues with the fulfillment of a kingdom that lasts forever with Jesus as its king.
Covenant of Salt
This is not really a covenant but a description of the kind of covenant that is being talked about. The first mention of the covenant of salt is found in Leviticus 2:13.
You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. (Leviticus 2:13)
There is no clear explanation as to the meaning of the salt that is required of all sacrifices in the Mosaic Law under the Old
Covenant. We know that salt is a preservative, but there is no clear mention of the concept of salt as a preservative with reference to covenants. The only hint that we find is that the salt has something to do with the guarantee that the covenant will be everlasting. This can be seen in Numbers 18:19.
All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and your offspring with you. (Numbers 18:19)
This concept of salt and an everlasting covenant is also seen with reference to the Davidic Covenant in 2 Chronicles 13:5.
Ought you not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt? (2 Chronicles 13:5)
The emphasis here does seem to be the perpetual nature of the Davidic Covenant in its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ as the king in his kingdom.
There is also a mention in Ezra 4:14 of the concept of salt and fellowship.
Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king. (Ezra 4:14)
In this passage eating together and fellowship seem to be associated with the eating of a meal, which would commonly include salt. Therefore a covenant between God and man would include salt since it spoke of a special relationship between man and God. A summary of our discussion is found in an old multi volume bible dictionary.
As salt was regarded as a necessary ingredient of the daily food, and so of all sacrifices offered to Jehovah (Lev 2 13), it became an easy step to the very close connection between salt and covenant-making. When men ate together they became friends. Cf the Arab. expression, “There is salt between us”; “He has eaten my salt,” which means partaking of hospitality which cemented friendship; cf “eat the salt of the palace” (Ezr 4 14). Covenants were generally confirmed by sacrificial meals and salt was always present. Since, too, salt is a preservative, it would easily become symbolic of an enduring covenant.155
1 Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 7, paragraph 2
2 The argument of Romans 5:12-21 will not tell us exactly who Jesus represented, but it will tell us what he accomplished by his death on the cross. To determine who Romans 5:18 is referring to we will have to go to 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 where it is stated that the “all men” refers to “those who belong to him.” Therefore by letting God interpret his own word we understand that Jesus only died for those who will believe the gospel message. These are those that the Father chose to save. Ephesians 1:3-5
3 John Calvin, HOSEA, The Minor Prophets: Volume 1, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986, page 235. The dictionary would define “vapid” as something that is not interesting. Calvin did not give this interpretation a high rating.
4 John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 2: Systematic Theology, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, page 49.
5 God’s plan to save a people is a plan that was determined in eternity past and it will come to pass. That is why I said that the Noahic Covenant will be in effect until God’s plan is accomplished. Romans 8:30
6 Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant, published by Crossway, 2012, clothbound, page 156. This volume is written from a New Covenant Theology perspective but it does not share the same point of view on whether there is a covenant in the garden as the author of Promise – Fulfillment.
7 Read pages 155-165 for a full treatment of Gentry’s argument regarding his understanding of the meaning of “covenant” in the account of the Noahic Covenant.
8 This would not be referring to the final destruction of the heavens and the earth. The final destruction of the earth will only take place when God’s plan to save a people has been accomplished. 2 Peter 3:10-13
9 This particular command is also included in the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 17:10-14). In the account in Leviticus it is mentioned that blood represents the life of the animal.
10 This is the biblical basis for capital punishment. Please take notice that the reason for the taking of a life has nothing to do with deterrence but has only to do with the value of the human life, since all mankind is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
11 Instruction regarding sacrifice (Genesis 4:1-5) and the introduction of the concept of clean and unclean animals (Genesis 7:2) is found in Scripture but we have no passage that talks of God giving additional laws to mankind.
12 Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, page 172.
13 Genesis 9:12-17 NIV
14 The Abrahamic Covenant is revealed in four stages: Genesis 12:1-7, 15:1-19, 17:1-27, 22:15-18
15 The name change from Abram to Abraham does not take place until Genesis 17:5.
16 Psalm 105:6, Matthew 3:9, Acts 13:26
17 Romans 4:11 NIV
18 The discussion as to why there is no “Great Commission” in the Old Testament will be discussed when we take up the subject of the New Covenant.
19 Genesis 17:6-8
20 Genesis 21:14-21 NIV
21 Genesis 36 NIV
22 John 3:36, Matthew 25:46, Jude 7-8, Revelation 20:15 NIV
23 Genesis 17:3-5
24 Genesis 17:15-16
25 The true people of God are not to be identified as the physical nation of Israel. The true or spiritual Israelites are believers in Jesus (spiritual Israel is made up of both believing Jews and Gentiles). Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 4:29, Galatians 6:16
26 Genesis 15:9-21 NIV
27 1 Timothy 1:17 NIV
28 In Leviticus 9:1-4 we find a list of various animals that were to be used in the various offerings in the setting apart Aaron and his sons as priests. You can also examine the types of animals used in the various offerings in the first seven chapters of Leviticus.
29 Genesis 15:10-11 NIV
30 Gordon J. Wenham, Word Bible Commentary: Genesis 1-15, Thomas Nelson, 1987, page 332.
31 Gentry and Wellum, page 252.
32 Judges 6:25 NIV
33 Gentry and Wellum, page 251.
34 Genesis 17:2 NIV
35 Genesis 17:10-11 NIV
36 Romans 4:11 NIV
37 Genesis 17:10-12 NIV
38 Romans 9:6-8 NIV
39 In the NIV the phrase “sinful nature” is used instead of the word “flesh.” In this context it refers to someone becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. When you become a believer you are changed from being someone who is controlled by sin (the flesh or the sinful nature) to someone who has a new heart and is a God-lover. Romans 6:17-18
40 Colossians 2:11-12 NIV
41 1 Peter 3:21 NIV
42 Galatians 3:29 NIV
43 Genesis 17:1 NIV
44 The descendants of Abraham who are included in the Abrahamic Covenant include Isaac and Jacob as well as the nation of Israel, which is the result of Jacob’s 12 sons. Genesis 17:19-22, Genesis 22:15-18, Genesis 24:6-9, Genesis 28:10-15, Exodus 2:4.
45 Romans 4:16-17 NIV
46 Genesis 17:7-8 NIV
47 The Abrahamic Covenant is everlasting in the sense that it is ultimately referring to the New Covenant, which is everlasting. We would not understand this if we only read the book of Genesis. We must interpret the old through the lens of the new. The promise of the land is also tied to the New Covenant, for it is only in the New Covenant that we find the promise of the land being eternally fulfilled. Galatians 3:15-18,
48 Galatians 3:15-16, Galatians 3:29, Romans 9:6-9
49 Genesis 17:15-16 NIV
50 Genesis 17:19-22 NIV
51 Genesis 25:12-18 NIV
52 Mount Moriah is the same location as the present day Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1). This is the same location for the temple that was built by Solomon.
53 Genesis 22:15-19 NIV
54 Genesis 12:2-3
55 Galatians 3:6-9
56 Genesis 26:2-5 NIV
57 Genesis 28:12-14 NIV
58 Genesis 17:9-10 NIV
59 Genesis 18:19 NIV
60 Genesis 22:18 NIV
61 Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV
62 I John 3:23-24 NIV
63 John 6:28-29 NIV
64 Ephesians 2:10 NIV
65 Galatians 3:21 NIV
66 Galatians 3:21-31, Galatians 3:17-18, Exodus 19:3-8, Deuteronomy 28
67 Exodus 19:4 NIV
68 Exodus 19:5-6 NIV
69 Exodus 34:27-28
70 Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NIV
71 Deuteronomy 28:15 NIV
72 1 John 3:9-10 NIV
73 Hebrews 8:7-9 NIV
74 Galatians 4:24-26 NIV
75 Hebrews 10:1-4 NIV
76 Hebrews 10:11-14 NIV
77 Hebrews 9:6-10 NIV
78 Hebrews 9:13-14 NIV
79 Leviticus 4:25-26 NIV
80 Hebrews 10:8-10 NIV
81 Genesis 15
82 Joshua 21:43, Deuteronomy 1:8
83 The phrase “teaching passages of the New Covenant era” refers to the final word from God as to what all that has come before in Scripture ultimately means. This is interpreting the old through the lens of the new. This will be discussed in greater detail in the discussion of the New Covenant.
84 Galatians 3:15-18
85 Revelation 5:9-10
86 Hebrews 4:1-11
87 2 Corinthians 3:7
88 2 Corinthians 3:9
89 2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV
90 Exodus 34:27-28
91 Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 28
92 Galatians 3:17-18
93 Galatians 4:23-25 NIV
94 Hebrews 7:18-19 NIV
95 Hebrews 10:3-4 NIV
96 Hebrews 10:11 NIV
97 Hebrews 10:8-10 NIV
98 Hebrews 4:14-15 NIV
99 1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV
100 Leviticus 4:26b
101 Hebrews 9:9-10 NIV
102 Hebrews 8:7-8a NIV
103 Hebrews 8:9 NIV
104 Exodus 34:27-28
105 Hebrews 10:8-10
106 Galatians 4:24-26 NIV
107 Romans 6:17-18
108 Deuteronomy 7:9-11 NIV
109 Deuteronomy 7:9-11 ESV
110 Deuteronomy 28:15-19
111 Hosea 11:1-11
112 Deuteronomy 7:12 NIV
113 Deuteronomy 7:12 ESV
114 Romans 3:9-12 and Romans 8:1-9
115 Romans 5:1, Hebrews 10:14-18
116 Ephesians 2:8-10
118 Hebrews 10:14-18 ESV
119 Ephesians 1:3-6
120 Hebrews 8:7-13
121 Romans 3:21-26, Romans 4:4-8, 23-25
122 Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:1-9
123 Ephesians 1:4-6
124 Romans 4:4-8 ESV
125 Ephesians 2:8-9
126 Romans 4:22-25 ESV
127 Romans 3:21-25a NIV
128 Romans 3:10-12 NIV
129 Galatians 3:21
130 When the forgiveness of sins is applied to the account of the one who believes this is theologically described as the concept of imputation. Forgiveness is granted or imputed to the one who believes the gospel message.
131 Romans 8:3-4 ESV
132 Deuteronomy 28:45 and Romans 6:23
133 Hebrews 10:14
134 A full discussion of the concept that believers need Jesus to obey the law in their place in order to be justified will be discussed in great detail later in this book where the concepts of active and passive obedience will be examined.
135 Romans 5:1 ESV
136 Romans 5:6-9 ESV
137 Hebrews 8:10 ESV
138 Jeremiah 32:1-15
139 Jeremiah 32:1-5
140 Jeremiah 32:37-41 ESV
141 Ezra 2, Nehemiah 7
142 Genesis 15:18-19
143 Galatians 4:21-31
144 The concept of the remnant in physical Israel is understood when God declares that he will not destroy all of Israel but will keep a remnant of them alive (Isaiah 10:22).
145 Romans 8:1-27 (This portion of the book of Romans refers to what the Holy Spirit is doing in the life of every believer.
146 During the Old Covenant era the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law were the law for Israel. In the New Covenant era the law of Christ is the version of law that applies to us today.
147 Romans 7:7-12
148 Romans 6:14
149 Romans 6:20 The concepts of “under the law” and “slaves to sin” will be discussed in more detail in the section of this book devoted to the discussion of law.
150 Romans 5:20
151 John 10:15-16, Hebrews 10:14
152 John 10:35
153 The discussion regarding the physical Israel and spiritual Israel will take place in the section of this book that deals with Israel.
154 1 Kings 11:4-13
155 The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, the article “Covenant of Salt” by Edward Bagby Pollard, published by Eerdmans, 1939, page 729.