God’s Covenants

IN THE OLD Testament, the Hebrew word which is translated “covenant,” or “covenants,” means ‘a solemn compact’, or ‘agreement’. Its Greek equivalent in the New Testament is sometimes translated “covenant,” and sometimes “testament.” These words are not in themselves Biblical doctrines, nor are they used exclusively in the Bible to describe God’s attitude toward, or relationship with, his people. When they are used with respect to God and his creatures they convey the idea of being in harmony with him, in contrast to being alienated from him.

Addressing Ephraim and Judah through the Prophet Hosea, the Lord said, “They like Adam [Margin] have transgressed the covenant.” (Nos. 6:7) From this reference it is evident that God considered himself in covenant relationship, or agreement, with Adam. The reasons are obvious. Adam had been created in the image of God. His whole being would naturally be in harmony with God. Knowing and doing God’s will would be the joy of his life.

There were certain details of the divine will which needed to be ‘spelled out’ for Adam. As a test of his obedience, for example, the Lord placed a slight restriction on his freedom. He was forbidden to partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This restriction was part of the covenant or agreement between the Creator and Adam. As Creator, God had the right to dictate all the terms of the agreement; and Adam, being created in the image of God, would naturally accept these terms as being just and good, and in his own best interest.

But Adam transgressed the covenant, not because he was out of harmony with it, but because he yielded to temptation. However, he had the ability to resist temptation, so his transgression was not due to weakness. In this way he forfeited the blessings provided by the covenant, the chief of which was life. He was expelled from his garden home into the unfinished earth to die. God and Adam were no longer in agreement, in covenant relationship. Adam had alienated himself from his Creator.


Although Adam’s transgression of the covenant brought upon him and his progeny condemnation to death, God did not cease to love his human creation. He had a plan for their reconciliation, a plan that would lead even to the restoration of life. A very general statement of this plan is given in John 3:16, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The Apostle Paul presents a similar thought. He wrote, “God was in [through] Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” (II Cor. 5:19) Yes, through Christ, Adam and all his progeny are to have an opportunity to return to harmony with God, and to receive the blessings originally provided in God’s covenant with Adam, including everlasting life.

In his dealings with Abraham, God began to reveal the details of his plan for reconciling the world to himself. He promised Abraham that through his “seed” all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Gen. 22:18) This promise was repeated on various occasions, and finally God bound, or secured it, by his oath. This was after Abraham had proven his implicit trust in God by his willingness to offer his son, Isaac, in sacrifice.—Gen. 22:16-18

Abraham did not realize the tremendous scope of God’s plan of blessing as it was encompassed in the promise that through his ‘seed’ all the families of the earth would be blessed. Indeed, none of the ancient servants of God fully understood all the implications of the promise God made to Abraham. It was only with the coming of Christ, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon his apostles, that the meaning of the Abrahamic Covenant became clear.

For example, Paul wrote, “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.” (Gal. 3:16) How could Abraham know that the promise God made to him did not apply to Isaac, nor to Jacob, but to one why would be born into the world thousands of years later? Jesus was, of course, through his mother, a natural descendant of Abraham; but this fact alone did not qualify him to be the seed which was to be developed in fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham, the covenant which God bound by his oath.

Paul elucidates this point in Romans 9:4-8. Expressing his regret over Israel’s failure to accept Christ, and their consequent loss, Paul wrote concerning them, “To whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 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.”

Paul then refers to God’s dealings with Abraham as an illustration of the point he is making. We quote again: “This is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.” (vs. 9) In Romans 4:18-22, Paul enlarges upon this, showing that it was through Abraham’s faith that Isaac, the promised seed, was born. We might say that Isaac was a child of faith, for God honored Abraham’s faith, and by a miracle enabled Sarah to conceive and bear a son.

We understand, then, from Paul’s reasoning, that the true seed of Abraham must, like him, exercise obedient faith in the promises and covenants of God. That this was true of Jesus, there can be no doubt, and it was his faith and obedience that qualified him to be the seed of promise. The right to become sons of God belonged to all the natural descendants of Abraham, but it was incumbent upon them, through faith and obedience, to prove themselves worthy of this birthright, and Jesus did thus qualify. Jesus, then, was the first genuine spiritual seed, of God’s agreement or covenant with Abraham.

Fellow Members

In Galatians 3:16, the Apostle Paul, referring to the promise made to Abraham, explains that it implied ‘one’ seed, and that one seed was Christ. In verses 27 and 29 he explains further that as many as have been baptized into Christ, and thus have ‘put on’ Christ, are also Abraham’s seed “and heirs according to the promise.” This is because, as he explains in verse 28, “Ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The one seed, therefore, is composed of Jesus and the members of his true church—the church which is his body. “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Paul wrote: “As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”—I Cor. 12:27,12

It is clear, then, that the truly consecrated followers of Jesus, those who are baptized into his death, are a part of the one seed of Abraham, that seed through which all the families of the earth are to be blessed. These also are the faith product of the agreement, or covenant, which God made with Abraham.

Hagar and Sarah

In Galatians 4:22-31 Paul presented an allegory in which he uses Hagar (or Agar), Abraham’s bondmaid, and Sarah, his wife, to help us understand our relationship to the covenant which God made with Abraham. In Paul’s day many in the church were Jewish converts, and it was difficult for some of these to free themselves entirely from the Law which was given to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. Some of these were even endeavoring to persuade Gentile converts that they should subscribe to, and practice, certain features of the Law. It was to help these to a better understanding of the matter that Paul presented this allegory.

He reminds us of Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Their two mothers, he explains, would be like the two covenants, “the one from the Mount Sinai which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.” On the other hand, We, brethren, as Isaac was,” wrote Paul, “are the children of the promise.”

In this lesson on the covenants, Paul refers to a prophecy of Isaiah (54:1) which speaks of a barren woman who finally was blessed with many children. Sarah, we know, was barren, and even became too old to bear children. Yet God rewarded the great faith of Abraham and Sarah; and by a miracle, Isaac was born. But Isaac was merely typical of the promised seed of blessing. God’s agreement, or covenant, with Abraham, like Sarah, remained barren for a long time—for thousands of years, in fact—until it finally began to ‘give birth’ to the promised seed. Jesus was the first—the Head—of this faith seed, the spiritual seed of Abraham.


Meanwhile, God made another covenant. It was made with the natural descendants of Abraham, the nation of Israel. This is the covenant referred to by Paul as being the one established at Mount Sinai. This covenant in no way interfered with the functioning of the covenant God had made with Abraham. Paul asserts that it could not “disannul, that it should make the promise [to Abraham] of none effect.”—Gal. 3:17

“Wherefore then serveth the Law?” Paul asked. He answered, “It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” (Gal. 3:19) “To whom the promise was made.” This is a significant statement. It reveals that at the time God made the promise to Abraham, he knew the ‘covenant’ would ‘remain barren’ for a long time. Therefore, when the natural descendants of Abraham became a nation, the Law Covenant was made with them to hold them together as a people until the time came in his plan for the true seed, the faith seed, of Abraham to be developed.

Those composing the true seed of Abraham were to be God’s channel of blessing to mankind. Abraham’s natural descendants were given the first opportunity to qualify for this high position in the plan of God. Their obedience to the terms of the Law Covenant would have prepared the nation to accept Christ when he came, and, through faith, together with him, become the seed of promise. To the nation God said, “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

In God’s covenant with Israel, they agreed to keep his Law, the intent of which is summed up in the Ten Commandments. On God’s part, he promised to bless them “in basket and in store,” in proportion to their faithfulness to him and his commandments. (Deut. 28:5) If they could, and did, fully obey, he promised to give them life. (Gal. 3:12) Besides, as we have seen, they were to be made a “kingdom of priests and an holy nation.”

Israel was not faithful to the Law Covenant, so they lost all three of these promised rewards of faithfulness. The final test was the coming of Jesus to be their Messiah. Rejecting him, Jesus said that the kingdom would be taken from them. (Matt. 21:43) They were driven from their land and scattered throughout the earth, and through the centuries they have been a persecuted people. Certainly none of them has gained life through the Law. Like all the remainder of the world of mankind, they have continued to die.

A New Covenant

God foreknew the failure of Israel as a people, and through the Prophet Jeremiah promised to make a “New Covenant” with them. (Jer. 31:31-34) Here then, is another of God’s covenants, the promise being that it would be made “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” At the time this promise was made, the nation of Israel was divided, and the Lord includes both segments in the promise of the New Covenant. Introducing his promise of the New Covenant, the Lord says:

“It shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the Lord. In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.”—Jer. 31:28-30

In principle this ‘sour grape’ illustration may be properly applied to the entire human race. Adam ate the “sour grape” of sin, and all his progeny have suffered the consequences; for all in Adam die. But it also has a national application to Israel. Those who rejected Jesus and were responsible for his death said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” (Matt. 27:25) Their scattering and suffering since, has been the ‘edge’ on their ‘teeth’ which has resulted.

But, as the Lord’s promise assures us, this was not to continue forever. “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.”—Jer. 31:31,32

It is important to notice that this New Covenant is made with those who broke the Old, or Law Covenant. Also, it is made following, first the scattering and punishment of Israel, and then their regathering. Also, another point important to note is that the New Covenant is “not according to the covenant” which the Lord originally made with Israel at Mount Sinai.

This ‘not according’ aspect of the New Covenant is explained in verses 33 and 34, which read, “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. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Type and Antitype

The Law, Paul informs us, was a “shadow of good things to come.” (Heb. 10:1) We may properly think of the Law Covenant as being a type of the New Covenant. The necessary preparation for and making of the typical covenant did not require a great deal of time, but its final consummation was a spectacular occasion. The antitype of this is far grander, even as an antitype is always greater than a type. God’s Law was the basis of the typical covenant, and the will of God, his Law, will also be the basis of the New Covenant.

In the making of the typical covenant there was (1) Moses, the mediator; (2) the writing of the Law, and its acceptance by the people; and (3) the shedding and sprinkling of blood. (Exodus 24:3) All these have their counterpart in preparing for the New Covenant; but on a much grander scale, even as the glories of heaven are far superior to the Most Holy of the Tabernacle, which typifies them.

(1) In the New Testament, Christ is identified as being the “mediator of the New Covenant.” (Heb. 12:24) Just as Jesus alone is not the entire promised “seed” of Abraham, but has his body members associated with him, so these same body members are referred to by Paul as “able ministers of the New Testament, [or Covenant, as it is in the Greek text.]—II Cor. 3:6

(2) In the antitype there is also a writing of the Law, but as should be expected, in a far different and better way. In the antitype, the Law is not written on stone, but, as Paul explains, on “fleshy tables” of the heart.” (II Cor. 3:3) Jesus, by virtue of his perfection, already had the Law written within his heart, but the writing of the Law on the ‘fleshy tables’ of the hearts of his body members, who together with him will serve as ‘able ministers’ of the New Covenant, is the work of the entire Gospel Age. Not until this aspect of ‘making’ the New Covenant is complete will the promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34 begin to be fulfilled.

In the type, Moses was hidden in the clouds surrounding Sinai while the Law was being written on the tables of stone by the “finger” of God. (Exod. 31:18; Deut. 9:10) When he appeared with the Law, his face shone so brightly that the people could not “steadfastly behold the face of Moses.” Paul shows that the antitype of this is when Christ appears in glory. (II Cor. 3:6-11) The promise is that then his body members will appear with him.—Col. 3:3,4

Paul places great emphasis on this ‘glory phase’ of the antitype. He concludes this lesson with the expression, “Seeing then that we have such hope.” (II Cor. 3:12) Yes, the antitype of the glory feature of the making of the Law Covenant is not yet a reality, only a hope, and, as Paul wrote, we do not hope for that which is already possessed.—Rom. 8:24,25

But it is a glorious hope, a hope of the “glory that excelleth,” a hope of the “eternal weight of glory,” which will become a reality if we endure patiently our “light affliction” which is “but for a moment.” (II Cor. 3:10; 4:17) It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”—Col. 1:27

Christ, as the “Lamb that was slain,” and together with him the hundred and forty-four thousand who will share the glory of his kingdom, are shown as standing on Mount Zion. (Rev. 5:12; 14:1) Thus ‘Zion’ is symbolic of the spiritual phase of the kingdom, and the promise is that the “law shall go forth of Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem [the resurrected Ancient Worthies, the visible phase of the kingdom].” (Micah 4:2) For the law to go forth from Zion, Zion must have the law; and it is this law that the Zion class has been receiving, having it written in their hearts throughout the Gospel Age.

In the type, after the Law was written on the tables of stone and presented to the people, they simply agreed to obey its various precepts. But in this, the antitype will also be much grander than the type. How widely different indeed are the two procedures, and the results. In the antitype, the law is not presented to the people on tables of stone by an imperfect human mediator, but by the divine Christ, with the law of God contained in the very being of every one of this glorified company.

In the type, upon hearing the Law read to them, the people said, “All the words which the Lord hath said will we do.” (Exod. 24:3) In the antitype, and through the ministry of the divine Christ, there will first be a willingness to receive and obey the law. But simply to say that they will keep the law will not be enough. Before the people then can enter into full covenant relationship with God, his law must become a very part of their beings. This implies a restoration to perfection, a returning to that covenant relationship with God enjoyed by father Adam, prior to his transgression.

(3) Before the Law Covenant could actually become operative with Israel, blood must be provided. (Exod. 24:38) This blood was used to sprinkle “both the book, and all the people.” (Heb. 9:19,20) Moses referred to this blood as the ‘blood of the testament’, or ‘Covenant’. Blood is also provided for the making of the New Covenant. On the night before Jesus was crucified, he referred to his own sacrificed life as the “blood of the New Covenant.”—Matt. 26:28

In the type, the blood of the covenant was first used to sprinkle the ‘book’ of the Law; so also in the antitype. This symbolized the fact that the demands of the Law had to be satisfied with respect to every aspect of the New Covenant. Later will come the antitypical sprinkling of “all the people,” which will seal the promises of God to give life through the New Covenant to Israel and eventually the world. Concerning the New Covenant, God promised, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:34) Paul wrote, “Without shedding of blood is no remission.”—Heb. 9:22

“Out of Zion”

From Exodus 24:12 we learn that the tables of the Law were provided for Moses in order that he might teach the people; so Jesus and his joint-heirs, the Zion class, will be the source of the law to Israel and all nations throughout the Millennial Age. One of the results of this is mentioned by Paul, when he wrote, “There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (Rom. 11:26) This is to take place, Paul indicates, after “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.”—Rom. 11:25

In this chapter Paul explains that many of the descendants of Abraham, as ‘natural branches’, were broken off from the tree of promise, and that the Gentile branches are grafted in to take their places. Thus the opportunity to qualify as the faith seed of Abraham, which is to be the channel of blessing to all mankind, has belonged to Gentiles as well as to Jews.

But with the full number of this faith seed selected and proven faithful, there will begin the work of the new age—the Millennial Age—the work of making a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, and eventually with all mankind. This is the work described by the statement, “There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” We know this, for Paul wrote concerning God, “This is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” (Jer. 31:34; Rom. 11:26,27) What more definite time identification could we have for the beginning of the blessings promised under the New Covenant?

After presenting God’s glorious program for blessing Israel under the New Covenant, Paul adds, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Rom. 11:29) It is to be remembered, that God’s ‘gifts and calling’ are not unconditional. For example, God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, but in the final reckoning the only ones among them who will dwell in it forever are those who will qualify under the New Covenant terms.

God promised the Israelites that if they would obey his Law they would become a nation of priests. Every Israelite, beginning with the coming of Christ who has met this condition, has received the promised reward.

Because the nation as a whole broke the Law Covenant, God promised to make a New Covenant with them. This promise also stands sure. If, when the time comes, there are any who do not yield to the molding influences of the Holy Spirit as it will then be poured upon all flesh, they will not receive its blessings.

Cleansing through the Blood

As we noted in the beginning, the great objective of every aspect of God’s plan is the reconciliation of the fallen and dying race to harmony with the Creator. The blood of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is essential to the carrying out of every aspect of this plan. Those of the faith seed of Abraham, called from the world and prepared to be the future channel of blessing to all mankind, need the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ will also be needed to ‘sprinkle all the people’ as they are brought into heart harmony with God’s law under the New Covenant.

Paul brings these two uses of the blood together for us in Hebrews 9:14,15. We quote, “How much more [than the typical blood] shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God [in preparation as able ministers of the New Covenant]? And [or, Also] for this cause [that is, the cause of purging consciences through the blood] he is the Mediator of the New Covenant, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the First Testament [the Law Covenant], they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”

Certainly Gentile believers were not transgressors of the Law Covenant, so Paul is simply telling us that in addition to what the blood of Christ accomplishes for the faith seed of the present age, it will also be used by Christ, as Mediator of the New Covenant which was promised to those who transgressed the Law Covenant.

In a reference to God’s promises to Israel, Paul said, as we have noted, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Israel was a called people. Wonderful ‘gifts’, or promises were made to this people. And they will receive the inheritance promised, that great inheritance of life—perfect, unending life—with God’s law written in the hearts of all. What a glorious prospect for Israel and the whole world of mankind who will be blessed with Israel by also coming into the New Covenant!

We have Paul’s word for it that, allegorically, Sarah represents the covenant arrangements under which the faith seed of Abraham are brought forth; and that Hagar foreshadowed the Law Covenant arrangements under which the nation of Israel lived for so many centuries. After the death of Sarah, Abraham took Keturah—who was formerly a concubine—to be his wife. While the Scriptures do not so state, we could think of the many children she had to Abraham, and mothered by her, as representing all who will receive the blessings promised in the Abrahamic Covenant, the blessings which were to come through his seed typified by Isaac.

And, as we have seen, these promised blessings of the covenant God made with Abraham imply the restoration of all mankind to perfection of human life here on the earth, and the restoration of that covenant relationship with God forfeited by Adam. No wonder the Apostle Paul, contemplating these wonderful arrangements of the divine plan of reconciliation through Christ, wrote, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”—Rom. 11:33

Dawn Bible Students Association
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