1. The Terminology and the Exegesis of the word, ‘Covenant’:
The word ‘covenant’, ‘berit’ in Hebrew comes from the Assyrian ‘beritu’ meaning ‘bond’ or ‘fetter’. The word signifies the bond of communion with God. ‘Diatheke’ is the Greek term which implies the meaning of ‘pact and last will and testament’. In other words, Covenant is a contract between God and man in which God bestows favors and man assumes obligations. In essence, an Old Testament covenant was an oath or a sworn agreement by both the parties, cf. “his oath which the Lord thy God maketh with thee” Deut.29:12. It is God Himself who imposed covenant between God and man by His sovereign grace and action. Covenants were usually ratified by a sacrifice as in the case of Abraham to represent the ‘death’ of the parties to the covenant. Exodus24:3-8
“At the centre of the world view of the O.T. and at the centre of what God has revealed about Himself lies the doctrine of the covenant---
‘Covenant’ is thus the very heart of the O.T. theology, the central essence of what it teaches us about God.” Says Motyer #
2. The Abrahamic Covenant in the book of Genesis
The Abrahamic covenant is the very central and the very essence of the covenantal relationship between God and the whole Israel and also all men who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s call to Abraham from Ur therefore was very specific and special which was later renewed in Haran and confirmed at Shechem (Genesis 12:7), again at Bethel (13:14-17) and twice at Hebron (15:5, 18; 17:1-8)
God choose Abraham and with Abraham alone he made His covenant. The covenant made with Abraham in Gen.12:1-3 had seven parts—
(1) Abraham to be a Great Nation.
Gen 13:16 “as the dust of the earth.”
Gen. 15:5“…..look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them-------so shall thy seed be”
Gen 17:2 “And I will……multiply thee exceedingly”.
Gen. 17:4”…..thou shall be a father of many nations.”
Gen. 17:5”…….Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.”
Gen 17:6” And I will make thee exceedingly fruitful and I will make nations of thee……..”
Gen.18:18 “Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation….”
(a) The promise is a natural progency, i.e. the nation of Israel and the restored nation of the future kingdom in the Millennium.
(b) The promise is also a spiritual progency which comprises all men who believe, Jew or Gentile (Rom 4:16-17; 9:7-8; Gal 3:6-7)
(2) Abraham to be given a Land.
Gen. 13:15 “For all the Land which thou seest, thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.
Gen. 15:18,19,20 “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham saying, unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates……
(a) The promise is an earthly geographical land, the land of Canaan, historically fulfilled.
(b) The promise is also a promise of a spiritual kingdom.
(3) Abraham to be personally blessed.
Gen. 12:2…….I will bless thee….
(4) Abraham to be a personal blessing.
Gen. 12:2c………Thou shall be a blessing….
(5) Those who bless Abraham will be blessed.
Gen. 12:3a I will bless them that bless thee…….
(6)Those who curse Abraham will be cursed.
Gen 12:3b ……..curse him that curseth thee…….
(7)All earth’s families to be blessed in Abraham through his posterity.
Gen 12:3c….In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
cf, Gen 22:8…..in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed…..
In the case of Abraham, the covenant was confirmed and ratified by circumcision and sacrifice. Cf. Gen 17:10-14, “Every man child among you shall be circumcised” (V10). Circumcision was a sign stated as a part of the individual application of the covenant. On the other hand, it was an act of the individual faith, a step to obedience. And the result was full of promises of blessings. The Abrahamic covenant comprised both temporal and spiritual blessings, the former consisting of a great posterity, and by the later he should be the ancestor of the Redeemer, which had been promised to our first parents.
3. The Abrahamic Covenant and its Relationship to Israel’s
The Abrahamic Covenant is not an end in itself; it is a continuation of God’s covenant with the nation Israel, a continuation of His blessings and curses. Obviously, three persons were involved in the making of the covenant with Abraham. They were God, Abraham and His seed (the nation Israel). It is very distinctly declared in the following references……..
(i) “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed for
“……I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth….Gen. 13:16
(ii)”...unto thy seed have I given this land……..Gen.16:18
(iii)”And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed…
“And I will give unto thee and thy seed…”Gen. 17:8
“…thou and thy seed…….. “ Gen. 17:9
“…between me and you and thy seed….” Gen. 17:10
God had made the same covenant with Isaac the son of Abraham.
“And the Lord appeared unto him (Isaac) and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of : Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and bless thee; for unto thee and unto thy seed, I will give all those countries and I will perform the oath which I swore unto Abraham thy father, And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed……Gen. 26:2-5 ,24. The same covenant was repeated unto Jacob the son of Isaac.
“….I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the Land wherein thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed….Gen. 28:13-15.
Thus the Abrahamic covenant interlocks his seed, Isaac, Jacob and the whole nation Israel. The same covenant was repeated, ratified and verified later in Mosaic and Sinaitic covenant, in Palestinian covenant and then in the Davidic covenant. Abraham was promised a kingdom and a land and these were given in further detail in the Davidic covenant. God had promised to David an eternal dynasty.
“And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.” IISamuel 7:16
This covenant made with David was a unilateral covenant in which God promised David first with a physical kingdom to reign, for his son and successor Solomon within Israel and then a kingship which will continue forever with the Messiah, the Christ. Isaiah also speaks of the Messiah and the fulfillment of the covenant.
“I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people for a light of the gentiles.” Isaiah42:6
4. God’s purpose in making of a covenant with Abraham and his seed.
Our God is a God of purpose. He does nothing without a purpose. God created the heaven and the earth with a purpose. God had a purpose in creating the animals, the birds and all the living things in the world. God also created male and female with a divine purpose. The making of the covenant with Abraham and his seed also had a great purpose. The reasons why God made the covenant are evidently clear from what God had promised to Abraham and his seed.
(1) God wanted Abraham to be a great nation---the father of many nations. Gen.13:16; 15:5; 17:2,4,5,6; 18:8
(2) God wanted that all the earth’s families be blessed in Abraham through his posterity.
“In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Gen. 12:3
“…..in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed…..”Gen.22:8
God made the same promise with Isaac and Jacob. Ref. Gen. 26:15;
This is perhaps the greatest purpose of God in making of the covenant with Abraham and his seed. Because, He wanted that the world should see the “Shekinah Glory” of God through His chosen race, i.e., the Israel. This is also the reason why God made a great promise to whole Israel as a nation at Mount Sinai which became the basis of His covenantal relationship with them.
“Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my possession among all the people, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Exodus 19:5-6(NIV).
“A kingdom of priests”……”among all the people”….. thus God had consecrated Israel for the service and witness of Him among all nations. So, the nation Israel had a great God given responsibility toward the nations of the world to be a witness of the Salvation of the Lord.
5. The New Covenant or the Covenant of the Grace.
The New Covenant is the continuation or extensions of the Abrahamic covenant which had been repeated, ratified and verified in many times in the history of Israel and now at the grace age, it is with the redeemed people of God. There is no doubt that the New Covenant mentioned in Jeremiah 31:31 literally links with the nation Israel. It is also clear from the New Testament that the fulfillment of the New Covenant will be with the nation Israel at the second advent of Christ Himself (Rom 11:26-27). In fact, it was set in contrast with Israel’s older covenant, i.e., the Sinatic covenant which was conditional. The question is now, what about the New Testament believers? Are they not the partakers of the new covenant? The answer is definitely ‘YES’. It is also a vital truth that the believers in Christ have a better covenant (Hebrew 8:6). God made a covenant with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai by the sacrifice of the lamb. God made a New Covenant with the believers by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the Christ at the cross. The blood of Christ shed on the cross is the very foundation of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is therefore, established between God and the redeemed people, i.e., the Church with Christ, the Son of God which God had promised as the “seed”. The “seed” that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was definitely “the Christ”.
“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to his seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Gal 3:16
“…..the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ…..”Gal 3:17
God has made the same declaration to the Church today which God had promised to Israel on the mount of Sinai.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood , an holy nation , a peculiar people that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called out of darkness into his marvelous light which in time past were not a people , but are now the people of God : Which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” ! Peter 2:9-10 cf. Exodus 19:5-6
Thus the New Covenant is the extensions of the Abrahamic covenant. In fact, the Abrahamic Covenant was also a prototype of the New Covenant.
In contrast, the New Covenant is far superior to the old covenant and the Sinaitic Covenant because it is based on better promises and better sacrifice. The Old Testament covenant was conditional and based on circumcision and sacrifice of animals. Gen 17:10-11; Exodus 24:3-8. The New Covenant is purely unconditional and based on Christ’s death on the cross (Hebrew 9:15-17). Christ has sealed the New Covenant with his death (Mathew 26:28).
Abraham was promised a natural progency, i.e., the nation of Israel and the restored nation of the future kingdom in the Millennium. The promise was also of a spiritual progency which comprises all men who believe, Jew or gentile fulfilled only in the New Covenant.
“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promised 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.” Rom 4:16
“Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” Gal 3:7
“That is, they which are of the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Rom 9:8, 24, 25
Abraham was promised a kingdom and a land. The promise was of an earthly geographical land, the land of Canaan, historically fulfilled.
The promise was also a promise of a spiritual kingdom which is fulfilled in the New Covenant.
“Now God…..hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Col 1:13
The ‘Church’ is the New Israel (Gal 6:16), the chosen people of God in Christ whom God wants to make a channel of blessing to the entire world. The world should see the “Sekinah Glory” of God through His redeemed people. The message of love and forgiveness of God, reconciliation and salvation should reach the whole world through his chosen race. This why God has given us the Great Commission through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the greatest responsibility and commandment as ell given to the Church today. It is through the Church that –
(i) The Manifold Wisdom of God be declared unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places. Eph 3:10
(ii) The unreachable riches of Christ be preached……Eph 3:8; Col 1:27
That is why God commissioned His disciples,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Mathew 28:19
Today it is also the Christ’s commission to His Church. God’s concern covers the whole globe, the whole nations not only the Israelite. The Bible says,
“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.” John 3:16
John 3:16 is the center of God’s mission, the center of the Bible and the center of the Christian theology. The verse has 5 remarkable truths in it.
1. God loves the whole world—the people of the entire world both Jew and gentile.
2. God gave His only Son to save the whole world.
3. God wants that non should perish.
4. God wants that everybody should have eternal life.
5. Everybody can have everlasting life by believing His Son, Jesus Christ.
This is the center of God’s purpose in making of the covenant with His people.
6.The Blessings and Promises of the New Covenant.
1. Forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ. Mark 2:5; Luke 7:48, 50
2. Made sons of God. John 1:12
3.Eternal life I John 5:13; Eph 2:8
4. Righteousness of God. Rom 3:28
5. Sanctification by the blood of Jesus. Heb 10:10
6. Sealing of the Holy Spirit. Eph 1:3
7. Indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I Cor 3:16; 6:19
8. Healing, Physical and Spiritual. James 5:15
9.Regeneration in the impartation of a renewed mind and heart. Ezk.36:26,
Compare with Rom 12:2; II Cor 5:17
10.. The inheritance of heaven. James 4:16; 8:17
11. Bounty of God’s blessings, both physical and spiritual. II Cor 9:10.11
It is only by faith in Jesus that we can become the partakers of the blessings of the covenant. Rom 11:17-24
It is important that the children of God must understand the covenantal relationship between God and themselves. We have become the children of Abraham by the Covenant of Grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Children of Abraham means, we have become the children of God Himself. Under the New Covenant, we are now already in the Kingdom of God delivered from the power of darkness waiting for the glorious day when Christ will return to take us to heaven and we will live with Him eternally. We have become a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people so that we show forth the praises of Him who had called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Now our prime priority is to reach the entire world with the message of love and forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation to all mankind.
(Note: Bible verses used in King James Version)
# J.A. Motyer, “Old Testament Theology”,
In Bible Commentary,
Inter Varsity Press, Leicester, England.
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