God’s Covenants

GOD HAS REVEALED his loving plan of salvation through covenants made with his people. However, the word ‘covenant’ is not in such general use today as it was in the past; the words ‘agreement’ and ‘contract’ are more frequently employed instead. Also, the word ‘promise’ is closely related to the word ‘covenant.’ God promised to do certain things, and these promises constitute covenants, or agreements. The promises of God to reconcile the world to himself through Christ are unconditional, while the promises to those being selected as members of the church class are conditional.

A covenant pledges that agreement and harmony can be expected between those parties who enter into it. Before his transgression Adam was in covenant relationship with God. And concerning Israel’s disobedience, the Prophet Hosea wrote that “they like men (Marginal Translation: ‘Adam’) have transgressed the covenant.”—Hos. 6:7

The simple but exacting terms of Adam’s covenant with God are partially set forth in Genesis 2:15-17. They called for Adam’s obedience—obedience based upon the simple test of not partaking of the fruit “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Thus, Adam’s part in this covenant was to obey God. Clearly implied in the record is God’s promise to bless Adam with a happy and continuous life, had Adam remained obedient to God. The beautiful harmony which existed between Adam and his Creator would have continued had he remained faithful to his portion of the covenant.

As the Prophet Hosea wrote, Adam was not faithful to his part of that original covenant, but instead, he ‘transgressed the covenant.’ This meant that instead of continuing in a friendly relationship with God, Adam was alienated from his Creator. God’s disfavor was manifested in his pronouncement of the sentence of death upon him, including casting him out of the Garden of Eden into the unfinished earth to die. (Ps. 30:5) Adam’s transgression affected his entire progeny, since they all came under the same manifestation of disfavor. Paul explains this in I Corinthians 15:21,22: “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

While God was no longer in covenant relationship with his earthly creatures as a whole, from time to time he made covenants with certain individuals. Those chosen ones, through their faith and obedience, were pleasing to him. The first one of these mentioned in the Bible is Noah. He had demonstrated his faith in God by obedience in building the ark in preparation for the Flood. Noah’s family held the same trust in God, and therefore later shared in the covenant which God made with that man of faith.

God’s covenant with Noah, made after the Flood, promised that all flesh would never again be destroyed by the waters of a flood. The covenant reads: “God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you; of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.”—Gen. 9:8-11

This was a very important covenant in God’s plan for the recovery of the human race from sin and death. While the promise assured Noah and his family that the human race would not be destroyed by water, his plan for man was that he was to multiply and to fill the earth. The command to do this was first given to Adam (Gen. 1:26,28), and later repeated to Noah and his family. God created the earth to be man’s home, and we can rest assured that neither the earth, nor the human race living upon it, nor the beasts of the earth, will ever be destroyed.—Isa. 45:18

The fulfillment of God’s promises relative to the redemption and recovery of his earthly creatures from sin and death calls for a resurrection of the dead. This means that all the pure Adamic stock who died in Noah’s Flood did not perish forever. God’s covenant with Noah and his family is a wonderful reminder that God created man to live, not to be destroyed. And through his other covenants with mankind, God’s great love for his human creatures continues to be revealed.—John 3:16; 5:28,29


A few hundred years after the Flood, God made a covenant with Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham: “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. 12:2,3) Two points are mentioned in this promise. One is that the descendants of Abraham would become a great nation; and the other is that in him ‘all families of the earth’ would be blessed.

This promise was reiterated to Abraham several times—the last reference to it being in Genesis 22:1-18. God was testing Abraham’s faith. Isaac, his son—the promised seed—had been born to Abraham and Sarah when they were old. He was truly a ‘miracle child.’ When Isaac was grown, God commanded Abraham to offer this ‘miracle child’ in sacrifice. This was indeed a most severe test of Abraham’s faith, but he demonstrated his willingness to obey God’s command.

In the New Testament it is revealed that Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead although he was sacrificed as a burnt offering. (Heb. 11:17-19) Abraham demonstrated his complete faith in God by placing Isaac on an altar stacked with wood, prepared for offering him as a burnt offering. Abraham stretched forth his hand to slay his son Isaac with a knife; but his hand was stayed by an angel. The angel directed Abraham to lift up his eyes and see “a ram caught in a thicket” which he told him to offer “in the stead of his son.”—Gen. 22:2-13

God was pleased with Abraham because of this marvelous demonstration of faith. He 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 sea shore; 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


Turning to the New Testament, we read, “The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8) The 16th verse of the chapter reads, “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.” From this it is clear that when God promised Abraham that his ‘seed’ would bless all the families of the earth, the one he had chiefly in mind as the blesser of the people was Jesus, the Christ of the New Testament, and the Messiah of the Old.

The apostle gives us further information concerning the ‘seed’ of promise. Addressing Christians he adds, “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.”—Gal. 3:27-29

The faithful followers of Jesus during the Gospel Age are the children of the covenant which God made with Abraham. Paul states, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” (Gal. 4:28) In Hebrews 6:13-20, the Apostle Paul again associates the followers of Jesus with God’s oathbound covenant with Abraham. We quote:

“When God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” How very closely Paul associates the Gospel church with the Abrahamic Covenant!


Following the Exodus, God entered into a covenant with the natural descendants of Abraham. We speak of this as the Law Covenant because it was based upon an expression of God’s Law as epitomized by the Ten Commandments. Moses served as mediator between God and the Israelites in the making of this covenant. In the Early Church there were some differences of opinion as to whether or not the followers of Jesus were bound by the terms of the Law Covenant.

Paul explained the truth on this matter, saying that the Law was “added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the [original] promise was made.” (Gal. 3:19) And again, “The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (vs. 24) It is obvious from these statements, that Christians are not under the Law Covenant, although they certainly are in harmony with all its righteous requirements.

For the natural descendants of Abraham, however, the Law Covenant served a good purpose. First, as Paul explains, ‘it was added because of transgressions till the [promised] seed should come.’ God knew that it would be many centuries before his due time for bringing forth the true, ‘faith seed’ of Abraham. It was in his plan that the Head of this ‘faith seed’ should come from the nation of Israel. But because of the sins of this people it was most likely that before the due time came for the Messiah to appear, the nation would wander completely away from God. The Law Covenant served as a deterrent to this trend. While the Israelites were not faithful in keeping the Law, it did hold them in check sufficiently, so that there remained a small nation of Israelites into which Jesus was born, and to whom he presented himself as Messiah.

Paul further explains that the Law Covenant was a ‘schoolmaster’ to bring us to Christ; that is, it demonstrated the need for a Redeemer. Paul wrote, “Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” (Rom. 5:14) Adam’s transgression was willful. Had he elected to do so, he could have refrained from partaking of the forbidden fruit which brought the sentence of death upon himself.

Adam’s progeny came under condemnation to death through him, and not because of individual willful sins of their own. Or, as Paul states, these died although they ‘had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.’ This situation continued, Paul explains, until Moses—referring to the time of the giving of the Law. It was then, in the case of the one small nation of Israel, that a change took place.

This change was brought about through the Law Covenant. This was a covenant in which God promised the Israelites that if they would keep his Law they would live. “The man which doeth those things shall live by them.” (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12; Lev. 18:5) This meant that any Jew who lived up to the terms of the Law Covenant perfectly would no longer need to die because of Adam’s transgression. When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life, Jesus referred him to the Law, as summed up in the Ten Commandments.—Matt. 19:16-20; Luke 18:18-27

This young man realized that he was not gaining life by keeping the Law, although doubtless he had been making a sincere effort to do so. The reason for his failure is the fact that no imperfect, fallen human being can measure up to the perfect standard of the Divine Law. He realized that, like all others, he was on the way to death. This failure to gain life by keeping the Law had caused this young man to seek life through other channels, and therefore he went to Jesus.

The rich young ruler was not ready to meet the terms of discipleship, so he did not learn the manner in which he could receive life through Jesus. But he had learned that he could not gain life by keeping the Law. So it is, as explained by Paul, that the Law served as a schoolmaster, a teacher and leader, to emphasize the need for Christ, and the provision which God has made through him to give life to all who lost life through Adam. Not many of the Jewish nation have as yet learned this lesson. Indeed, very few Gentiles have learned it. But before the plan of God shall have accomplished its full purpose, all will be fully enlightened, and only those who willfully turn against this light will fail to gain everlasting life.


In Galatians 4:22-26, Paul presents the further aspects of both the Abrahamic Covenant and the Law Covenant of Israel. We quote: “It is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” The ‘Jerusalem’ which is ‘the mother of us all’ (all true Christians), was represented by Sarah, the ‘freewoman.’ Thus Paul refuted the argument of Christians in his day who desired to be in bondage to the Law Covenant.

Since Hagar as a bondwoman represented the Law Covenant, her son, Ishmael, represented the nation of Israel in bondage to the Law. The Apostle Paul quotes from the 54th chapter of Isaiah, a prophecy concerning that phase of the Abrahamic Covenant for developing the Isaac class, or the church. This prophecy is particularly noteworthy because it refers to the development of children under the seemingly impossible conditions of the Grace Covenant. It is properly called the ‘Grace Covenant’ because it is made by grace with the footstep followers of Christ. In the matter of time, it follows the Law Covenant. So also, Sarah did not give birth to Isaac until after Hagar had given birth to Ishmael.

The children of this covenant are most unusual. They are developed miraculously and are taught directly by their Father, the God of heaven and earth. Jesus referred to this prophecy in John 6:44,45, where he said, “No man can come to me, except the Father … draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God.” (Isa. 54:13) The prophecy stresses the endurance of the Grace Covenant.


In Jeremiah 31:31-34, another of God’s covenants is brought to our attention. It is referred to as a ‘new’ covenant, and the promise is that it will be made ‘with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.’ We quote: “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.”

In what sense was this a ‘new’ covenant? The implication is strong that, as a ‘new’ covenant it should replace one of the ‘old’ covenants. Should it replace the covenant with Adam? In one sense it could be said to do so. Should it replace the covenant with Noah? Assuredly not. God does not intend to destroy all life upon earth again, despite the opinion of some Christians to the contrary. Should it replace the Abrahamic Covenant? Not at all. All families of earth will be blessed by the promised seed, developed under the ‘Sarah feature’ of the Abrahamic Covenant. Should it replace the Law Covenant of Israel? Yes. That is why the New Covenant should be called the ‘New Law Covenant,’ which, when in effect, will write God’s law upon people’s hearts, instead of “in tables of stone.”—II Cor. 3:3

God’s promises are sure. His covenants are true. His ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts our thoughts.—Isa. 55:8

How great is our God!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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