Covenants in Scripture

Understanding different covenants in Scripture are key to understand their promises and fulfilment. God never made a covenant with children of Israel to give them the promised land but with Abraham. If one jot or title will not pass away from the law until all are fulfilled, Israel must surely plucked off from the land and the land must surely have vomited them out according to the law, yet God didn’t but gives them a new covenant. Jews reject the new covenant by Christ when the law promises no such return from a second exile which happened in 1948. Based on what covenant did Jews return to their homeland? This post will explore each of the covenants in the Scriptures.

Covenant with Noah

Gen 9:9-10 And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth.

God made a covenant with Noah described in Genesis 9. It includes all flesh of the earth (Gen 9:9-10). The commandments or requirements given to Noah was not to murder and not to eat flesh with blood (Gen 9:2-6). These commandments were not generally viewed as part of the covenant but He will require at the hand of each person who transgress against Him. The sign of the covenant is the rainbow (Gen 9:13,17) and God promised that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen 9:11).

Covenant with Abraham

Gen 15:18 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates–

The covenant with Abraham is very interesting. This covenant was specifically to the descendants of Abraham that He will give them the land of Canaan.

Gen 17:10-11 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

Every male child must be circumcised from Abraham’s household. This is what Abraham need to keep for God to give his descendants the land of Canaan.

Gen 17:19 Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.  … (21) “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”

Gen 35:10-12 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.” So He called his name Israel. Also God said to him: “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land.”

Exod 2:24 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

God establishing His covenant with Isaac and Jacob is not a new covenant with them separately but rather, establishing the covenant which He made with Abraham. It was an assurance that the land which He promised Abraham is for them.

Covenant with Israel

Exod 19:5-6 ‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

Exod 34:10-11 And He said: “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.

God made a covenant with Israel before giving them the land. It is important to note that the “promised land” was not the promise of the covenant to Israel but rather, God intended to make the children of Israel as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out well since Israel broke that covenant by making their own god of golden calf when the covenant was being given at mount Sinai. Hence, God makes a second covenant, which is more of a renewal type but not with earlier promises of Israel being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Instead, God choose Levites for priesthood and the covenant with Israel was just to drive the Canaanites along with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience for living in the land of Israel. It is explained in detail in chapters 27-30 of Deuteronomy. The rules of the covenant are very exhaustive and Jews generally call them 613 Mitzvots. This is the covenant generally referred as the old covenant or the law which God gave Israel through Moses.

Deut 11:13-14 ‘And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. … (22-23) “For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do–to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him– then the LORD will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess greater and mightier nations than yourselves.

God’s promise to Israel according to the covenant was to drive out the inhabitants of the land and the good life in the promised land.

Judg 2:1-3 Then the Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’

God kept His covenant promise by not driving the inhabitants of the land as He spoke.

Deut 28:63 “And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.

It is very important to note that the covenant with Israel is very conditional. This means, if Israel disobeys, they too will be plucked off from the land which God is giving them.

Covenant with Levi

Deut 10:8 At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God promised him.)

Exod 29:9 “And you shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and put the hats on them. The priesthood shall be theirs for a perpetual statute. So you shall consecrate Aaron and his sons.

The covenant with Levi was how God chose one tribe and gave Himself as an inheritance to them. The priesthood was for descendants of Aaron.

Neh 13:29 Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

Mal 2:1 “And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. .. (4-5) Then you shall know that I have sent this commandment to you, That My covenant with Levi may continue,” Says the LORD of hosts. My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, And I gave them to him that he might fear Me; So he feared Me And was reverent before My name. … (8) But you have departed from the way; You have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” Says the LORD of hosts.

While Aaron and his descendants are included in the covenant with Levi. The covenant of priesthood is only for Aaron and his descendants and not for the rest of Levi. However, the covenant with Levi is synonymous used for priesthood as we can read above.Hence, it is important to differentiate the two covenants based on context.

Covenant with Phinehas

Num 25:11-13 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.’

Phinehas was already a priest. But God made a specific covenant to give him His covenant of peace and an everlasting priesthood.for being zealous to God. This means, priesthood will not be removed from Phinehas’ descendants.

Covenant with David

2 Sam 7:12-16 When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”

The covenant with David which God promised is for his son Solomon but filled with Messianic prophecies. However, God’s covenant with David comes with conditions.

2Chr 7:16-20 “For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. As for you,

  • if you walk before Me as your father David walked, and do according to all that I have commanded you, and
  • if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom,

as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel.’ But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, then

  1. I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and
  2. this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and
  3. will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

As we can see above, the covenant with David when God is speaking to Solomon describes the conditions. Hence, if Solomon and his descendants did not keep His covenant, God will uproot them from their land, and will cast the house of David out of His sight and will make it a proverb and a byword among all people.

Jer 22:5-10 “But if you will not hear these words, I swear by Myself,” says the LORD, “that this house shall become a desolation. For thus says the LORD to the house of the king of Judah: “You are Gilead to Me, The head of Lebanon; Yet I surely will make you a wilderness, Cities which are not inhabited. I will prepare destroyers against you, Everyone with his weapons; They shall cut down your choice cedars And cast them into the fire. And many nations will pass by this city; and everyone will say to his neighbor, ‘Why has the LORD done so to this great city?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God, and worshiped other gods and served them.’ ” Weep not for the dead, nor bemoan him; Weep bitterly for him who goes away, For he shall return no more, Nor see his native country. .. (30) Thus says the LORD: ‘Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.’

We can clearly see God executing His judgements according to the covenant He made with David. God says that house of Judah will become a desolation and none of Jehoiachin’s descendent shall sit on the throne of David.

Covenant dependencies

We have several covenants in Bible as we saw above. However, each covenant is a subset or a super set of another covenant. Hence, we need to understand these dependencies, their promises and the consequences of each getting broken.

As we can see clearly in the above dependencies, the throne of David ceases to exist and the priesthood of Levi will cease to exist if the covenant with Israel is broken. God’s covenant with Abraham was fulfilled when He gave Canaan to the children of Israel. However, we see the covenant God made with Israel was broken by Israel (Jer 11:10) which means, God has no obligations to fulfil any promises of that covenant.

We also see all the curses outlined in the law had been fulfilled. While the law does promise a return after the exile and punish them seven times, it does not promise a return from a second exile which happened in 1948. Hence, the return of Jews to their homeland is not a fulfilment of the law or the covenant with Israel. We can be confident on this because, there is no temple in Israel, no priesthood, no Urim and the Thummim to inquire, no king from line of David, no sacrifices, no peace in the land of Israel etc. The return of Jews to their homeland in 1948 was a fulfilment of God’s covenant with Abraham which was the assurance of giving the land of Canaan to His descendants i.e., children of Jacob. It is important to remember that the land of Israel was not a covenant promise of Israel but Abraham. It’s God’s mercy to the children of Israel, keeping His covenant promise to Abraham.

New Covenant

Matt 5:18 “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

Deut 28:63 “And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.

Many people mix covenant and the law. Since the one jot or one title will by no means pass away, how much of the jot and titles from Deut 28:63 will pass away according to the covenant? This means, if Israel breaks the covenant, God will surely fulfil His promise of plucking Israel from it’s land fulfilling the law. The only way Israel can escape this curse of being plucked off from the land is by God giving a new covenant and superseding the old covenant which they broke. Hence, the old covenant must pass away for Israel to escape the curse according to the law for it’s disobedience.

1Kgs 11:13 “However I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.”

2Kgs 8:19 Yet the LORD would not destroy Judah, for the sake of His servant David, as He promised him to give a lamp to him and his sons forever.

This is important because, if Israel is being plucked off,  covenant with David and the priesthood of Levi also ceases. However, God wants to keep His covenant promise to David in spite of disobedience from David’s descendants. This is why, God is creating a “new covenant” and fulfilling every promise in His Son, Jesus Christ who is taking the place of Israel, from baptism of repentance even to death.

Jer 31:31-32 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. … (35-37) Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the LORD, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever. Thus says the LORD: “If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the LORD.

God reassures that He will not cast off Israel. But God uses a strange phase ‘new covenant’ but reassures His covenant with David as we read further in the book of Jeremiah.

Jer 33:20-26 “Thus says the LORD: ‘If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’ ” Moreover the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the LORD has chosen, He has also cast them off’? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them. Thus says the LORD: ‘If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth,then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.’ ”

While God’s covenant with David is conditional, He also reassures that His covenant with David cannot be broken until this heaven and earth pass away. The above reassurance is simply not possible with David’s descendants breaking the covenant and Jehoiachin’s curse.

Isa 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Dan 2:44 “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.

Again, God’s promise to David is being fulfilled in His Son, Jesus Christ according to the new covenant which God will make with Israel. For Christ is not only a descendant of David, He is also king of the Jews and His kingdom has no end.

Ps 110:4 The LORD has sworn And will not relent, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”

God’s covenant of priesthood is also fulfilled in His Son, Jesus Christ for He is our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Since every covenant is being broken by faulty people, even though God is gracious and merciful, the only solution is to make one new covenant that supersedes and fulfils all promises of all the covenants, and the only person whom God can trust is Himself. Hence, the Word, who is God Himself became flesh, took the place of Israel, accepted the punishment for Israel’s rebellion and even submitted Himself to death. But by His death, He defeated death itself and by spilling His blood, He made a new covenant that supersedes all laws and prior covenants for all are fulfilled in Him.

Hence, if we obey Him and keep His commandments to be sinless and holy (Matt 18:8-9), we too will abide in His house (John 8:34-35) and be counted worthy of attaining the next age as He promised (Luke 20:35).