Sample Essay on Covenants

Introduction

In the modern world, human beings engage in various daily activities whereby most of them result in contractual relationships. Contract agreements exist to prevail in the course of the contractual activities such that the parties involved can conform to the guidelines outlined in the contract agreement. But then, contractual agreements do not only happen in the modern world since they can be traced from the Bible, as covenants, from as early as the genesis of creation. Covenants have significantly featured in most scriptures in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible hence formed a fundamental ground for theological studies by various Bible scholars.

Common covenants that exist in the Old Testament are between God and Adam, and Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and David. The New Testament covenant relates to Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross and crucifixion marked him as the chief mediator. God used these covenants to make promises to His human creation, but to fulfill those promises He expected them to fulfill various actions and behaviors to Him in return. Theologists have always come forth to establish that understanding the role and use of covenants in the Bible is of utmost important to understanding the Bible.  This paper, therefore, explains the various covenants that exist in the Old and the New Testament, including the signs that sealed them to be valid agreements.

Definition of a Covenant

Biblically, a covenant is an agreement between God as the Creator and Supreme Being, and His people. God covenanted with his creation, the human race, through various promises and required them to fulfill certain characters or behaviors in return. This means that some of the covenants were conditional and others unconditional[1]. For instance, God covenanted with Noah with an assurance that He would never again destroy his creation by deadly floods[2]. The rainbow was and still is the sign of that assurance. The covenant with Noah was unconditional in a sense that God did not ask anything in return, and He has always fulfilled his promise regardless of man’s way of life or behavior. Then again there are other conditional covenants that exist in the Old Testament, for example, the covenant between God and Adam (Edenic covenant). Here, God commanded Adam not to feed on the fruits from the tree of knowledge and pronounced a curse in case they failed to heed to His command and blessing if they followed his command.

The biblical covenant is however, different from the ordinary modern-day contract. The latter refers to an official or formal agreement between a person and another or between more parties regarding a certain action. The parties involved in the agreement agree whether to execute or not execute a given activity. Often, there are conditions that accompany the contract such that the agreeing parties have to conform to them. The formal contract can be written or oral, but it is a binding agreement that can be enforceable by particular laws. A clear difference thus comes out that whereas God’s covenants were not enforceable by any laws, modern contracts are binding through various essential contract elements hence can be backed by the laws made by man. Also, modern day contracts can be entered into by any person who meets the contractual capacity and age, but the covenants in the Bible by God were only made to chosen few mediators such as Noah and Moses, to the Israelites or the entire human race.

Old Testament Covenants

Adamic Covenant

This covenant is often regarded as the Edenic covenant because it is the Garden of Eden that played host to the covenant between God and the first man, Adam. The word covenant is not explicitly used in the front chapters of the book of Genesis associated with the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden though there is a reference to it being a covenant in the book of Hosea[3]. As in the book of Genesis[4], God created Adam to look after His entire creation. The Lord placed Adam in the beautiful Garden of Eden whereby there was plenty of food and further gave him a helper, Eve. He then told them that they could eat fruits from all trees in the garden except from the one in the midst of the garden, the tree of knowledge of the good and evil. Man was assured of immortality if he obeyed the command but failure to that he would get a curse of death[5].

The Adamic covenant was a conditional agreement that God would give immortality and in return, his first man was not to eat from the middle tree. However, this covenant would mark the fall of the human race since Adam and Eve did not heed to God’s command. Under the trickery played by the cunning serpent in the Garden of Eden, Eve fell for a bit of advice to eat the forbidden fruit, and she ate it together with her husband. God would fail his promise of eternal life because of the disobedience of man hence poured curses on the serpent for tricking man, then to Adam and Eve for eating the fruit. The punishment for man was that he would toil and moil to grow crops for food while the serpent’s penalty was to crawl on her belly for life. God declared enmity between man and the serpent with an overall penalty that they would all die; man was from dust and dust he will return[6]. The Edenic covenant, therefore, portrays man’s character whereby he was unable to maintain a good relationship with God for long even after all the privileges that were available to him; plus the promise of immortality where man would lead an eternal and heavenly life[7].

Noahic Covenant

The Noahic covenant is the agreement God made with Noah, assuring the human generation that he will never destroy them again by floods[8]. The pact is considered by theologians as unconditional since God gave a promise without asking anything in return, from man. God made this assurance after deadly floodwaters had wiped every living creature on earth sparing the Noah’s family because apparently he was the one He considered righteous in that generation. As told in the Old Testament[9], during Noah’s generation, the human population had increased rapidly, and this would bring along increased wickedness. The Lord became ashamed and regretted so much of creating human beings because they had become so violent and corrupt[10], thus, he resolved to eliminate the entire generation that he had created.

Following his anger on the wicked generation of people, the Lord decided to open heaven’s floodgates that would wipe every creation. However, Noah being the most righteous in his generation, he was pardoned. He was then asked by God to build an ark, a special vessel that he would use to save his family plus pairs of all other animals; male and female that would help refill the world after the death of the floods. Noah heeded to God’s command and built an ark in which he kept animals and birds in pairs and his family including his three sons; Ham, Shem, and Japheth[11]. The rains came and lasted for forty days, and the floods lasted for over 150 days[12]. The long-lasting floods then killed all other creatures leaving Noah’s family that God blessed to multiply and fill the earth again. The Lord then went ahead to establish the Noahic covenant after the floods were dried. The promise to keep Noah’s generation and his posterity were sealed by the sign of the rainbow. The rainbow would be the sign that God would see and remember the eternal promise He made to all creatures existing on earth and their future generations.

Abrahamic Covenant

This is a covenant that God made with Abram, later Abraham, promising that he will bless his descendants to make him the father of nations. The covenant is one-sided and unconditional because God gave many promises in it without asking anything in return from Abraham. However, we are left to assume that all God would expect from Abraham, and his generations are for them to remain faithful to him and continue receiving his blessing. As it is written in the Holy Scriptures, the Abrahamic covenant started with a calling of Abraham from God whereby the Lord directed him to leave his extended family and go to a new land, unknown to him. Abraham obeyed God’s calling without any doubt and left with his wife, Sarah, and nephew, Lot, to the land God promised him.

Abraham would, however, build anxiety regarding God’s promises to make him a father of great nation because at the time he was childless. Furthermore, he was aging with his wife hence the anxiety about the promises. After Abraham had settled in the new land given by God, he was blessed with a son, Isaac. To test Abraham’s faith, God tested Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and out of faith, he was ready to sacrifice him. In formalizing their covenant, Abraham prepared animal sacrifice whereby God showed his presence in a flaming torch and burning smoke[13]. Circumcision is the sign of the covenant between Abraham and God; plus theology studies point to circumcision as the condition that Abraham and his generations had to obey so that God would fulfill His promises.

In the Abrahamic covenant we, therefore, realize that Abraham never had any doubt and through faith was able to obey the Lord and through his obedience, his promises were fulfilled[14]. Regarded as one of the greatest covenants between God and man, the Abrahamic covenant had the following three features;

  • The covenant included a promise that Abraham will have a big number of descendants[15]. God told him that through him He will create a great nation. At the time, Abraham was as old as 75 without any child but still realizing his faith, God blessed him with a son and went ahead to fulfill the promise[16].
  • There was a promise to be given land[17]. Abraham lived at Ur with his family, but he accepted God’s call to give him a new place. The land he was given is referred in other scriptures as the Promised Land, Canaan[18], where his descendants, Israelites, would settle and increase to become a great nation of descendants.
  • God also covenanted with Abraham that he would bless his descendants[19]. This unconditional promise has always stood since it is amplified in other scriptures to Isaac, and then to his son Jacob[20].

Mosaic Covenant

The Mosaic covenant was based on the laws that were given to Moses, as the leader of the Israelites, on Mt. Sinai. Therefore, the pact was between God and the Israelites with Moses as the mediator that God used to save His Israel nation from slavery in Egypt. The Mosaic covenant seems bilateral in a sense that God expected the people of Israel to worship Him and follow his laws and in return will give them His blessings. The bilateral nature of the covenant makes it conditional because, for God to fulfill his word of promise, the Israelites needed to live up to his laws given to them through Moses.

The history of the Mosaic covenant started way back during the times when Joseph the son of Jacob was in Egypt. Many Israelites settled in the land of Egypt at the time without any pressure from the Egyptians. However, things would later change under Pharaoh, and the Israelites were made to be slaves whereby they underwent all sorts of hardships. Having covenanted with the forefathers of the Israelites, God chose to liberate them from hands of the Pharaoh, who was not willing to let go even after a series of deadly plagues. Finally, with His mighty powers, God managed to bring out the Israelites from Egypt, and after three months, they reached the base of Mt. Sinai where they camped[21]. It is at this point that God decided to covenant with the Israelites who readily accepted a pact with Him[22]. An important feature of the covenant was the set of the Ten Commandments though they did not form the covenant to entirety.

Moses was given the Ten Commandments of which he read to the people who consented that they will obey them. Moses would then formalize the covenant by offering sacrifices whereby he sprinkled blood on the people and the book containing the laws as a way of sealing the covenant[23]. Then again, the mosaic covenant outstands to be among the most significant because of the promise that God made to the Israelites that he will make out of them a holy nation[24]. The Israel nation was to distinguish themselves from the other nations around them so that they everyone would know that they worshiped the Lord God, who salvaged them out of slavery in Egypt. The Mosaic Law they readily accepted to obey would help expose their sins and so the need for a Messiah and Savior, Jesus Christ[25].

Davidic Covenant

The Davidic covenant is centered on the promises that God made to King David that his family line will be the perpetual heirs of the throne of Israel as a nation[26]. Through Prophet Nathan, God covenanted with David unconditionally that the Savior or Messiah of the people of Israel would be from the house of David. This covenant was unconditional and unilateral in a sense that it was only God to act without requiring neither David nor the Israelites to do or fulfill anything in return[27].  In the agreement, God assured the people of Israel that he would give them their land to sustain their living, where other tribes could not disturb them. God also promised to make David’s Son, Solomon, the immediate heir to the throne of Israel. Solomon was to build a house in God’s name or a temple in that sense. The temple to be made by Solomon and the throne inherited in the house of David are the sign of the covenant the God made with David. The Davidic covenant is, therefore, very significant because it reveals the coming of Jesus who would become the savior.

New Testament Covenants

The new covenant in the New Testament is centered on Jesus Christ as the mediator of the pact between God and his people[28]. Prophets from the Old Testament Scriptures including Isaiah and Jeremiah had foreseen the coming of the Messiah and gave hope to the Israelites to wait for him, Christ[29].  As indicated in the book of Hebrews 8, the new covenant that God was to establish between Him and man was to be a better one compared to the ones made in the Old Testament with the forefathers of Israelites. The new covenant was a conditional agreement God would write His laws in their hearts and minds for them to follow and in return, they would achieve redemption and salvation. This new promise, therefore, seems to be a reminder and an amplification of the previous covenants and through it God would show more dedication to the Israelites. What failed in the other covenants was to be accomplished under the new covenant[30].

The new agreement is, however, based on the death of Jesus and his resurrection. Jesus revealed to his disciples during the Last Supper that his blood was for the new covenant whereby he shed the blood to pay for the sins of humankind[31]. According to Luke’s gospel, the cup of blood was a symbol of the covenant in Jesus’ blood that he shed for people so that their sins may be forgiven[32]. The new covenant, therefore, shows a clear distinction between other covenants that were based on the laws given to Moses and were only meant for the people of Israel. The sacrifice that Jesus made by dying on the cross in a crucifixion renders the rest of the promises obsolete since the new promise is way better to accomplish what had not been accomplished. With the new promise, God could remove sin and cleanse the conscience of his people regardless of their race. The new covenant is not only a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy but also reveals that the human race can be pardoned for their sins as long as they continue to believe and worship in God[33].

Bibliography

Busenitz, Irvin. “Introduction to The Biblical Covenants; The Noahic Covenant And The Priestly Covenant.” (1999):<http://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj10m.pdf>.

St. Charles Borromeo Church. “Covenant – Christianity’s Best Kept Secret?”<http://www.scborromeo.org/papers/covenant.pdf>.

Tenney, Merrill C. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967. <https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=8Tq7UcPMwacC&printsec=frontcover&dq=The+Zondervan+Pictorial+Bible+Dictionary&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=The%20Zondervan%20Pictorial%20Bible%20Dictionary&f=false>.

Valley Bible. “The Biblical Covenants.”<http://www.valleybible.net/AdultEducation/ClassNotes/TheologySurvey/Eschatology/BiblicalCovenants.pdf>.

[1]St. Charles Borromeo Church, “Covenant – Christianity’s Best Kept Secret?,” (n.d.)

[2] Genesis 9: 1-29

[3] Hosea 6:7

[4] Genesis 2 & 3

[5] Genesis 2:15-17

[6] Genesis 3:19

[7]Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary

[8] Genesis 9:9,11

[9] Genesis 6-9

[10] Genesis 6:11

[11] Genesis 5:32

[12] Genesis 7: 17, 24

[13] Genesis 15

[14]Terry L. Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words

[15] Genesis 12:2

[16]Valley Bible, “The Biblical Covenants,” (n.d.), 2,

[17] Genesis 12:1

[18] Genesis 12:6-7

[19]Valley Bible, “Abrahamic covenant,” 2

[20] Genesis 21:12, 26:3, 28:14-15

[21] Exodus 19:1

[22] Exodus 19:3-6, 8

[23] Exodus 24:8

[24] Exodus 19:6

[25] Galatians 3

[26] 2 Samuel 7:12-13

[27]Terry L. Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words

[28]G. Douglass Young, Young’s Compact Bible Dictionary

[29] Jeremiah 31:31-34

[30]Busenitz, Irvin. “Introduction to The Biblical Covenants; The Noahic Covenant And The Priestly Covenant.” (1999), 182.

[31] Mathew 26:28

[32] Luke 22:20

[33]Terry L. Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words