God’s Covenants

IN THE opening chapter of Genesis we are told how God created Adam in his own image. This, we believe, meant that Adam was endowed with mental and moral faculties that were similar to those possessed by God. These qualities of character were limited by man’s nature, which is much lower on the scale of creation than God’s nature. Nevertheless, we are told that God saw everything that he had created and that it was very good, and because of this we conclude that Adam was perfect.

According to David (Psalm 8), man was the highest form of creation on his plane of existence. God made a covenant with Adam that was well within his sphere of understanding and ability to keep. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die [margin, dying thou shalt die].” (Gen. 2:16,17) In other words, the terms of the covenant that God made with Adam were: If you obey you shall live; if you disobey you will die.

We, of course, know the outcome of Adam’s test. He was disobedient, and the sentence of death was passed upon him. Since Adam was the father of the race, condemnation and death were passed on to all his progeny.—Rom. 5:18,19

The Prophet Hosea speaks of God’s covenant with Adam, “But they like men [margin, Adam] have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.” (Hosea 6:7) The Prophet Isaiah also spoke of the covenant: “Thy first father hath sinned, and thy teachers have transgressed against me.”—Isa. 43:27

It was not God’s arrangement to abandon man in his dilemma, for God foreknew the outcome of Adam’s test before the creation of the earth, and he provided for his redemption. “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.”—I Pet. 1:18-20

He also gave us the wonderful assurance of the divine purpose in the scripture so familiar to all, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”—John 3:16,17

The Apostle Paul confirms this grand purpose of God: “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.”—II Cor. 5:19

Jehovah took the first step to make his plan known to some when he began to deal with Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham. The Scriptures tell us that Abram lived in the land of Ur when God made his conditional covenant with him, saying, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”—Gen. 12:1-3

Abram was obedient to God’s invitation, and he and his family and servants, with all of their belongings, left Ur and were eventually led to the land of Canaan.

Abraham had many experiences which tested him and developed his faith and trust in the overruling providences of God. Among these difficult trials was the one of waiting for the Lord to fulfill his assurance that he would provide Abraham a seed. This was crucial to Abraham, because he realized that all of the wonderful promises which had been made to him centered in that seed.

When Sarah, by the overruling providences of the Lord, gave birth to Isaac, Abraham’s dreams and hopes had their fulfillment. Some years later, when Isaac was a young lad, God gave Abraham the ultimate test of faith. God instructed Abraham to take his much-loved son to Mount Moriah and there to offer him as a burnt offering. Abraham did not understand why God had so instructed him, but he had such faith that the Lord would keep his promise to bless all the families of the earth through his seed that he believed God would resurrect Isaac from the dead in order to keep that promise. (Heb. 11:17-19) As Abraham raised the knife to slay Isaac an angel of the Lord stayed his hand and said, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”—Gen. 22:12

Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham the second time and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”—Gen. 22:16-18

This oathbound covenant became the basis for Israel’s hopes and set in motion a vigilant watch to identify the seed of blessing. The promise was repeated in succession to Isaac and finally to Jacob, whose twelve sons became the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. (Gen. 26:3-5; 28:13-15) Some of the nation at the time of the first advent of Jesus, believed, as today, that the seed of blessing would be the nation of Israel.

The Apostle Paul, however, in Galatians 3:16, identifies this promised seed of blessing as Christ. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” This was in part the fulfillment of the prophetic blessings that Jacob bestowed upon his twelve sons. In blessing Judah he said, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Gen. 49:10) Jesus was a natural descendant of Abraham. His line of descent came through Judah, the son of Jacob. The Hebrew word “Shiloh” means “tranquility,” a characteristic of the Messiah.

The Apostle Paul, in Galatians 3:27-29, enlarges on the thought that the “one” seed was to be Christ and explains that the seed includes Christ the Head, and the church his body. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

In the 4th chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul points out that Abraham’s favor with God was based on his faith and not on his works and further, that the manifestation of favor was made before the Law Covenant was initiated. In verse 13 we read, “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” And then in verse 16, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.”

Jesus was the first to qualify as this faith seed, and because of his faithfulness and obedience “he became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”—Heb. 5:9

In the 4th chapter of Galatians, verses 22-31, the Apostle Paul tells us that the life of Abraham was an allegory and that his two wives pictured two of God’s great covenants. Hagar, who was a bond slave, pictured the Law Covenant, and her offspring illustrated those who were in bondage under the Law Covenant.

Sarah, on the other hand, was a free woman. She depicted the Abrahamic Covenant, or the heavenly Jerusalem “which is the mother of us all.” (vs. 26) (It is proper to identify this phase of the Abrahamic Covenant as the “Sarah feature” of the Abrahamic Covenant.)

In Galatians 4:27 the Apostle Paul quotes a part of the prophecy in Isaiah 54, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.” (vs. 1) This prophecy is explained by the Apostle Paul (Gal. 4:27,28) as applying to the Abrahamic Covenant and the true seed, Jesus and his body members, the church.

The prophecy harks back to the allegorical life of Abraham and the barrenness of Sarah for so many years. The expression, “married wife,” is an acknowledgment of an oriental custom, whereby if the husband had a wife and one or more concubines, the “wife” who brought forth the first child was given the preferred place in the household. She was called the “married wife.” Because of the barrenness of Sarah, (and at her suggestion) Abraham took her bond slave, Hagar, as a concubine. Hagar bore Abraham a son, Ishmael, and this, according to custom, entitled Hagar to the preferred place in the household. She became the “married wife.” (Gen. 16:3,4) But Ishmael was not the seed of promise.—Gen. 17:19-21

In the fulfillment of this typical picture we realize that the Abrahamic Covenant was barren for many centuries until the birth of Christ. In Galatians 3:19 we are told that the Law Covenant, which was pictured by Hagar, was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.”

This covenant, we are told, promised life to any who would obey its terms. (Lev. 18:4,5) In addition, the Lord said to the nation of Israel, Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exod. 19:5,6) We understand from this text that if Israel as a nation had been faithful, all of the spiritual seed of blessing would have been taken from her and the nation would have been an instrument of blessing; but we know that she failed, and because of this she was cast off with respect to this promise.—Gen. 21:10; Gal. 4:30; Matt. 23:38,39

In the context of Acts 13:46,47, we have the account of Paul and Barnabas preaching the Gospel to the Jews and meeting with ever-increasing opposition. Finally those oppressed ministers of the Lord spoke out: “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put if from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.”

And so the Apostle Paul summarizes the matter in Romans 9:7-9, “Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.”—Gen. 17:21

The seed of promise, then, is developed under the Sarah feature of the Abrahamic Covenant, which began to be operative with the birth of Jesus and will last down through the Gospel Age until the last member of this promised faith seed of blessing has been selected.

There is a second element of the Abrahamic Covenant that becomes operative when the seed of blessing is completed under the Sarah feature. This phase of the covenant concerns those who are destined to be blessed by the promised seed.

Because the nation of Israel failed in their quest for life under the terms of the Law Covenant, God promised to make a new covenant with them. The terms of this covenant are set forth in Jeremiah 31:31-33, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that 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 bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

The Apostle Paul tells us in Hebrews, the 9th chapter, that the inauguration of the Law Covenant at Mount Sinai was typical, or a type, of the inauguration of the new Law Covenant. If we examine the account in Exodus 24:3-8, we find that Moses was the mediator of that covenant, and that for forty days and forty nights he was in the mount receiving instructions and being prepared to function as a mediator. When he came down from the mount he spoke to the people and they said, “All the words which the Lord hath said will we do.”

The terms of the law were written in stone, picturing the inflexibility and exactness of its requirements. Then, according to the Lord’s direction, sacrifices were offered and the blood of the sacrificed animals was sprinkled upon the altar and then upon the people.

Jesus, on the night of the Memorial Supper, said, “For this is my blood of the new testament [covenant], which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matt. 26:28) The Apostle Paul, in Hebrews 9:15-24, explains that Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant, and instead of animals being slain in order to seal the covenant, he offered himself as the sacrifice, providing his “blood of the covenant.” Then the apostle continues (vss. 16-18, Diaglott), “For where a covenant exists, the death of that which has ratified it is necessary to be produced: because a covenant is firm over dead victims, since it is never valid when that which ratifies it is alive. Hence not even the first has been instituted without blood.”

And so it was necessary for Jesus to die in order to provide the means for the ratification of the New Covenant. In speaking of the typical and antitypical significance of the event at Mount Sinai the Apostle Paul states, “It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these [that is, animal sacrifices]; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” (vs. 23) And so the Apostle Paul, recognizing that it is the Christ, Head and body, that are offered as the “better sacrifices,” admonishes the brethren in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

The Word of God calls it a great mystery that Christ is not one, but many members. (I Cor. 12:12-14) It is the entire Christ, Head and body, that become the better sacrifices of the Gospel Age and provide the means of sealing the New Covenant. Not that the sacrifice of the church adds to the efficacious merit of our Lord’s sacrifice, but that they are simply counted in as part of his body under the merit of the Head.

The sprinkling of the blood by Moses on the people, in the type, pictured their cleansing of sanctification that the Israelites could be in covenant relationship with God. And so, in the reality, the antitypical sprinkling of the blood by the Mediator of the New Covenant—Christ and his church—pictures the benefits of the better sacrifices which will cleanse from sin and provide the help in writing God’s law in the hearts of the people instead of on tables of stone.—Jer. 31:33

The Apostle Paul brings together in one grand crescendo the fruition of all of these covenant arrangements made by God for the ultimate blessing of the willing and obedient of his human creation. We find this wonderful text in Hebrews 12:18-28.

In verses 18-21 the apostle describes in vivid language the very dramatic and traumatic experience of the children of Israel at Mount Sinai at the time of the inauguration of the Law Covenant. In verse 22 he says, “But ye are come unto [approaching to, Diaglott] mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect [the Ancient Worthies], and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”

The blood of Abel spoke of death and disobedience, while the blood of sprinkling speaks of life and blessings and harmony with God that will be the lot of all the willing and obedient under the operation of the New Covenant.

Then, by great majestic strides, God will have accomplished the reconciling to himself of fallen man and will have reestablished him as king in his earthly domain.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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