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God's Old Testament Covenants
15 October 2013
I realize it's somewhat redundant to say "Old Testament covenants," because the word "testament" means "covenant." Therefore, the part of the Bible which corresponds to the Jewish Scriptures could just as easily be called the Old Covenant as it could the Old Testament.
Did you realize that God made more than one covenant in the period of human history before Yeshua (Jesus) was born? Of course, we all know of God's covenant with the Jewish people through Moses, from which the Old Testament derives its name. But the covenant of the Law of Moses is definitely not the only one, nor even the most enduring. Let's take a look....
- Noah and all life on earth: In Genesis 9 we encounter the first of God's covenants mentioned in the Bible:
God said to Noah and to his sons with him: "I establish My covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth. 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 and 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. This is the sign of the covenant I have established between Me and all life on the earth." (Genesis 9:8,11-17)
In this apparently everlasting covenant, God promises to never again destroy the earth with water. But He never promised that He would not destroy the earth in some other way! As recounted in the New Testament, next time it will be by fire instead of water — see 2 Peter 3:3-13, where the Apostle Peter states three times that the current heavens and earth will be destroyed by fire.
- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — the Jewish people: God's next covenants are described a number of chapters later, in Genesis 15 and 17. In chapter 15 we read:
Because at that time Abram was childless, in chapter 16 we read about how he decided to "help God out" by taking a second wife and having a child by her. The result of this was Ishmael, who became the forefather of the Arabs, the people group who even today want to completely destroy the Jewish people. Abraham's mistake is the root of that irresolvable conflict. In chapter 17, at least ten years after the first covenant, God makes another with Abraham:
made a covenant with Abram that day and said, "I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River...." (verse 18)
"I will make My covenant between Me and you and will greatly increase your numbers. As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram [exalted father]; your name will be Abraham [father of many], for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 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 now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.
There are a few important points to notice in this long and detailed covenant. First of all, it is a covenant for the Jews only, and not the Arabs nor any other of Abraham's descendants. God said He would establish this covenant with Isaac, and later on God establishes it with Isaac's son Jacob, who later is renamed Israel. God says He will bless Ishmael, but the covenant is with Isaac. Neither is the covenant extended to Isaac's son Esau, but only to Jacob — see 1 Chronicles 16:15-18 (among a number of other verses).
"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. 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. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.
"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." And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"
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." (verses 2,4-16,18-21, emphasis mine)
Secondly, as I highlighted in the passage above, this is an everlasting covenant which God is making. It is an everlasting covenant with the Jewish people, to everlastingly be their God, to give them everlasting possession of the land of Israel, and they are to perform the everlasting covenant ritual of circumcision. No wonder Satan has inspired the descendants of Ishmael to destroy the descendants of Isaac and Jacob, and to drive them from the Promised Land!
- Moses and the Jewish people: Now we arrive at the most well-known covenant, which gives the Old Testament its name. Most of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (which, together with Genesis make up the Torah) are a written record of the rules and regulations of this covenant between God and the Jewish people. At one point,
Moses took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything Yahweh has said; we will obey. Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words." (Exodus 24:7-8)
Extensive details of this covenant are given in Exodus 34:10-28 and Deuteronomy chapters 27 through 30. In the passage where God gives the Ten Commandments — see Exodus 20:1-17 — the covenant is not mentioned, but in a few other passages the Ten Commandments are integral to the covenant — see Exodus 34:27-29 and Deuteronomy 4:13 as well as Deuteronomy 5:2-22.
Even though this Mosaic Law covenant is not described as being "everlasting," there are a few related "sub-covenants" which are described in some such words:
- The firstborn of a cow, sheep or goat was declared holy and therefore were required to be sacrificed. The meat was to be eaten by the priests descendant from Aaron. "It is an everlasting covenant of salt before Yahweh for both you and your offspring." (Numbers 18:19b, emphasis mine) Of course, seeing that there have not been such sacrifices at the Holy Temple for almost 2,000 years, it is a bit hard to understand how this covenant is everlasting.
- Unlike the overall Mosaic covenant, resting on the Sabbath is a Jewish covenant which is called "lasting:"
Yahweh said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe My Sabbaths. This will be a sign between Me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am Yahweh, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to Yahweh. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between Me and the Israelites forever, for in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'" (Exodus 31:12-17, emphasis mine)
- The priests were commanded to bake twelve loaves of holy bread and place it on a special table in the Temple. "This bread is to be set out before Yahweh regularly, Sabbath after Sabbath, on behalf of the Israelites, as a lasting covenant." (Leviticus 24:8, emphasis mine) Again, because the Temple was destroyed so long ago, this covenant does not seem too lasting.
- The tribe of Levi as priests: This covenant, connected with the Mosaic covenant we just looked at, is not described as a covenant until the last book of the Old Testament.
"And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that My covenant with Levi may continue," says Yahweh Almighty. "My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin." (Malachi 2:4-6)
This word from God was referencing events involving the tribe of Levi which are recounted in Exodus 32. Because the people of that tribe were zealous for Yahweh's honor, He set them apart for His purposes. Numbers 8:5-19 goes into more detail about what that involved.
- Phinehas the priest: Even though this covenant is connected to the Mosaic covenant we have already looked at, it seemed worthy of being listed separately. Numbers chapter 25 recounts how the foreign Moabite people seduced the Israelites to worship other gods. Yahweh was very angry and sent a plague in which 24,000 Israelites died. Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, was instrumental in stopping the plague.
Yahweh said to Moses, "Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned My anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for My honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in My zeal. Therefore tell him I am making My covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites. (Numbers 25:10-13, emphasis mine)
- King David and his descendants: In 2 Samuel 7 God made an everlasting covenant with King David: "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established forever." (verse 16, emphasis mine) David replied, "Sovereign Yahweh, You are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and You have promised these good things to Your servant." (verse 28, emphasis mine)
A number of reference are made to this Davidic covenant throughout the rest of the Old Testament:
Psalm 89 is especially interesting, as it appears to be a prophetic Messianic Psalm which points to the future "Son of David," Yeshua, who would be, and is, the fulfillment of this promise:
Yahweh said, "I have made a covenant with My chosen one, I have sworn to David My servant, 'I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.' He will call out to Me, 'You are My Father, My God, the Rock My Savior.' And I will appoint him to be My firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. I will maintain My love to him forever, and My covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure." (verses 3,4,26-29)
This is most definitely an everlasting covenant!
- The day and the night: Finally, we come to our last covenant, which isn't mentioned until the writings of the prophet Jeremiah, but which was actually the first covenant God made!
This is what Yahweh says: "David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before Me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices." The word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah: This is what Yahweh says: "If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then My covenant with David My servant — and My covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before Me — can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. I will make the descendants of David My servant, and the Levites who minister before Me, as countless as the stars in the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore." (Jeremiah 33:17-22)
Besides being an obscure covenant which God made at the time of Creation, it is very interesting for a couple of additional reasons. First, it references — and strengthens — two of the covenants we reviewed above: numbers 4 and 6. Secondly, the Bible describes the time when this covenant with the day and the night WILL come to an end! It is written that after God makes a new heaven and a new earth,
I did not see a temple in the the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb [Yeshua] are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.... On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.... There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. (Revelation 21:22,23,25; 22:5)
At that time there will be no more need for any of these covenants we have looked at — nor a need for the day or the night, the sun nor the moon. "God's dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God." (Revelation 21:3)
As I wrote in God's Master Plan regarding that time: "No more temple, no more religion, no more sin — simply being with God and enjoying Him forever and ever! Now THAT is Paradise!"
Our survey of God's Old Testament covenants would not be complete without examining God's reoccurring promises of a NEW covenant. These promises were made after all of the above covenants had been established.
"The days are coming," declares Yahweh, "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 broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares Yahweh. "This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time," declares Yahweh. "I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.... For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 33:31-33,34b)
"I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear Me, so that they will never turn away from Me." (Jeremiah 32:40)
"In those days, at that time," declares Yahweh, "the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek Yahweh their God.... They will come and bind themselves to Yahweh in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten." (Jeremiah 50:4,5b)
"In My faithfulness I will reward My people and make an everlasting covenant with them." (Isaiah 61:8b)
This is what the Sovereign Yahweh says: "I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised My oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. So I will establish My covenant with you, and you will know that I am Yahweh. Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed." (Ezekiel 16:59,60,62,63b)
Notice that all of these covenant promises are in the future tense. From an Old Testament perspective, this New Covenant was yet to come. But that's a whole nother story!
Out of these seven Old Testament covenants which is the most important? The covenants with Noah (#1) and with the day and the night (#7) are not overly important, because, as we saw, at the end of the Millennium those covenants will be canceled. Neither is the Mosaic covenant (#3) nor any of the related covenants (#4 & 5) of the highest importance, because they were all replaced with God's New Covenant.
It's not hard to determine that the most important covenant is the one God made with David, because it wasn't just the promise of a human dynasty, but the promise of the long-awaited Messiah who would set right all that had gone wrong since the Garden of Eden.
Second in importance is God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, because it is an everlasting covenant which established the Jewish people as God's special, chosen people, and the land of Israel as their everlasting possession. It is these promises which will play an ever-increasing, vital role in God's plan for the end of the age, culminating in the Great Tribulation, Yeshua's Second Coming,
and His Millennial reign over the earth.
Give praise to Yahweh, proclaim His name; make known among the nations what He has done. Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts. Glory in His holy Name; let the hearts of those who seek Yahweh rejoice.... He remembers His covenant forever, the promise He made, for a thousand generations...." (Psalm 105:1-3,8)
This article is 5th a series of articles on this Web site related to Exploring New Testament Realities which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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