Studies vis-à-vis God’s covenantal promises

Studies vis-à-vis God’s covenantal promises                        By Jack Kettler

This study will focus on the promises God gave in His covenants. In addition, this study will touch on how some of the covenants were conditional while others were unconditional. This study is an introductory overview.

What is a promise?

Definition of promise from the King James Dictionary:

“PROM’ISE n.

1. In a general sense, a declaration, written or verbal, made by one person to another, which binds the person who makes it, either in honor, conscience or law, to do or forbear a certain act specified; a declaration which gives to the person to whom it is made, a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of the act. The promise of a visit to my neighbor, gives him a right to expect it, and I am bound in honor and civility to perform the promise. Of such a promise, human laws have no cognizance; but the fulfillment of it is one of the minor moralities, which civility, kindness and strict integrity require to be observed.” (1)

We can say the promises of God in Scripture are explicit pledges that God Himself made. God is the guarantor that the promises will be fulfilled.

Conditional and Unconditional covenants defined in simple terms:

A conditional covenant is an agreement between two or more parties that involves obligations to be satisfied.

An unconditional covenant is an agreement between two or more parties that involves no obligations to be satisfied.

The Scriptural basis for the Adamic Covenant is in Genesis 2:16-17:

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “you may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Genesis 2:17 explains this covenant:

“17. thou shalt not eat of it … thou shalt surely die—no reason assigned for the prohibition, but death was to be the punishment of disobedience. A positive command like this was not only the simplest and easiest, but the only trial to which their fidelity could be exposed.” (2)

This covenant with Adam was conditional. Adam was required to obey the terms of the covenant, which involved a promise and a penalty. This covenant effected all of Adam’s posterity. See Romans 5:12-21.

God’s promise in the Adamic covenant is in Genesis 3:15:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)

In Genesis, 3:15, we have what is known as the Proto-Evangelium or the first gospel, in which God promises that the seed of the woman (Christ) would destroy Satan.

The Scriptural basis for the Noahic Covenant is in Genesis 9:8-17:

“8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-17 ESV)

The Pulpit Commentary explains Genesis 9 verse 11 regarding God’s covenant:

“Verse 11. – And I will establish my covenant with you. Not form it for the first time, as if no such covenant had existed in antediluvian times (Knobel); but cause it to stand or permanently establish it, so that it shall no more be-in danger of being overthrown, as it recently has been. The word “my” points to a covenant already in existence, though not formally mentioned until the time of Noah (Genesis 6:18). The promise of the woman’s seed, which formed the substance of the covenant during the interval from Adam to Noah, was from Noah’s time downwards to be enlarged by a specific pledge of the stability of the earth and the safety of man (cf. Genesis 8:22). Neither shall all flesh – including the human race and animal creation. Cf. כָּל־בָּשָׂר mankind (Genesis vi 12), the lower creatures (Genesis 7:21) – be cut off any more by the waters of a flood. Literally, the flood just passed, which would no more return. Neither shall there anymore be a flood (of any kind) to destroy the earth. Regions might be devastated and tribes of animals and men swept away, but never again, would there be a universal destruction of the earth or of man.” (3)

God’s Covenant with Noah is an unconditional covenant.

God’s promise of the Noahic covenant is in Genesis 9:11: 

“I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:11 ESV)

The promise to Noah was that never again would God judge the world by flood. Moreover, God would keep His promise made in Genesis 3:15 regarding the coming Messiah.

The Scriptural basis for the Abrahamic Covenant is in Genesis 15:7-21:

“And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:7-21 ESV)

The Pulpit Commentary explains how in verse 17, the burning lamp, coming from the smoking stove is an emblem of Divine presence: 

“Verse 17. – And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, – literally, and it was (i.e. this took place), the sun went down; less accurately, ἐπεὶ δὲ ὁ ἤλιιος ἐγένετο πρὸς δυσμὰς (LXX.), which was the state of matters in Ver. 12. Here the sun, which was then setting, is described as having set – and it was dark, – literally, and darkness was, i.e. a darkness that might be felt, as in Ver. 12; certainly not φλὸξ ἐγένετο (LXX.), as if there were another flame besides the one specified in the description – behold a smoking furnace, – the תַּנּוּר, or Oriental furnace, had the form of a cylindrical fire-pot (cf. Gesenius, p. 869; Keil in loco) – and a burning lamp – a lamp of fire, or fiery torch, emerging from the smoking stove: an emblem of the Divine presence (cf. Exodus 19:18) – that passed between those pieces – in ratification of the covenant.” (4)

Additional Scriptures regarding the Abrahamic covenant:

“Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever.” (Genesis 13:14-15 ESV)

“And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” (Genesis 13:16 ESV)

“I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” (Genesis 17:7 ESV)

From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Genesis 17:7:

“Next, the spiritual part of the covenant comes into view.” “To be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” Here we find God, in the progress of human development, for the third time laying the foundations of a covenant of grace with man. He dealt with Adam and with Noah and now be deals with Abraham. “A perpetual covenant.” This covenant will not fail, since God has originated it, notwithstanding the moral instability of man. Though we cannot as yet see the possibility of fulfilling the condition on man’s side, yet we may be assured that what God purposes will somehow be accomplished. The seed of Abraham will eventually embrace the whole human family in fellowship with God.” (5)

The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional covenant. God’s promise to make Abraham’s seed into a nation and bless all of the nations of the earth through his ancestry is an unconditional promise from God. See Genesis 22:15-18. The requirement of circumcision came after the promises were made to Abraham and were not dependent upon this obligation.

God’s guarantee that His promises to Abraham would come true was based upon His own honor.

The writer of Hebrews explains:  

“For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” (Hebrews 6:13-14 ESV)

God’s promise found in the Abrahamic covenant is in Genesis 22:18:

“In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 22:18 ESV)

The Scriptural basis for the Mosaic Covenant is in Leviticus and Deuteronomy:

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” (Leviticus 26:3-4 ESV)

From Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Leviticus 26:3:

“Le 26:3-13. A Blessing to the Obedient.

3. If ye walk in my statutes—In that covenant into which God graciously entered with the people of Israel, He promised to bestow upon them a variety of blessings, so long as they continued obedient to Him as their Almighty Ruler; and in their subsequent history that people found every promise amply fulfilled, in the enjoyment of plenty, peace, a populous country, and victory over all enemies.” (6)

In addition, God says:

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The Lord will command the blessing on you in your barns and zin all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. And call the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.” (Deuteronomy 28:1-14 ESV)

God gives these covenant promises with conditions attached, namely, obedience. The Mosaic covenant was a conditional covenant.

For example:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV)

God’s promise of the Mosaic covenant is in Leviticus 26:5:

“Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” (Leviticus 26:4 KJV)

The conditional aspect of this covenant does not mean that the Mosaic covenant was not gracious on God’s part. Without the law, it would be impossible to identify sin. “…Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7 ESV)

The Scriptural basis for the Davidic Covenant is in 2Samuel:

“Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall 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 to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (2Samuel 7:8-16 ESV)

The comments from Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on 2Samuel 7:16 are helpful:

“(16) Established. — Two different Hebrew words are so translated in this verse. The first is the same word as that used in 2Samuel 7:12-13, while the second is translated sure in 1Samuel 2:35; Isaiah 55:3, and would be better rendered here also made sure.

Before thee.—The LXX has unnecessarily changed this to before me. The thought is, that David is now made the head of the line in which shall be fulfilled the primeval promise “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” This was originally given simply to the human race (Genesis 3:15); then restricted to the nation descended from Abraham (Genesis 22:18, &c); then limited to the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10, comp. Ezekiel 21:27), and now its fulfilment is promised in the family of David.” (7)

This covenant with David is unconditional.

God’s promise of the Davidic covenant is in 2Samuel 7:16:

Your throne shall be established forever.” (2Samuel 7:16 ESV)

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary correctly points out that verse 16 points to a greater son of David:

“13. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever—this declaration referred, in its primary application, to Solomon, and to the temporal kingdom of David’s family. But in a larger and sublimer sense, it was meant of David’s Son of another nature (Heb. 1:8). [See on [270]1Ch 17:14.]” (8)

All of the previous covenants find their fulfillment in the New Covenant.

The Scriptural basis for the New Covenant:

Old Testament predictions:

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV)

New Testament fulfillment:

“And this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:27 ESV)

“But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6 ESV)

“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15 ESV)

The promises of the New Covenant are based on Christ’s perfect obedience. Therefore, these promises are secure, not for anything accomplished by the believer, but because of what Christ has accomplished. Therefore, the New Covenant is unconditional.

The covenants in the Old Testament find their fulfillment in the New Covenant. For that reason, a comprehensive overview of the New Covenant is in order.

The New Covenant from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

“Covenant, the New

(berith chadhashah, Jer. 31:31; he diatheke kaine, Heb. 8:8,13, etc., or nea, Heb. 12:24: the former Greek adjective has the sense of the “new” primarily Heb. 1:1-14y in reference to quality, the latter the sense of “young,” the “new,” primarily in reference to time):

1. Contrast of “New” and “Old”–the Term “Covenant”:

The term “New” Covenant necessarily implies an “Old” Covenant, and we are reminded that God’s dealings with His people in the various dispensations of the world’s history have been in terms of covenant. The Holy Scriptures by their most familiar title keep this thought before us, the Old Testament and the New Testament or Covenant; the writings produced within the Jewish “church” being the writings or Scriptures of the Old Covenant, those within the Christian church, the Scriptures of the New Covenant. The alternative name “Testament”– adopted into our English description through the Latin, as the equivalent of the Hebrew berith, and the Greek diatheke, which both mean a solemn disposition, compact or contract–suggests the disposition of property in a last will or testament, but although the word diatheke may bear that meaning, the Hebrew berith does not, and as the Greek usage in the New Testament seems especially governed by the Old Testament usage and the thought moves in a similar plane, it is better to keep to the term “covenant.” The one passage which seems to favor the “testament” idea is Heb. 9:16-17 (the Revisers who have changed the King James Version “testament” into “covenant” in every other place have left it in these two verses), but it is questionable whether even here the better rendering would not be “covenant” (see below). Certainly, in the immediate context “covenant” is the correct translation and, confessedly, “testament,” if allowed to stand, is an application by transition from the original thought of a solemn compact to the secondary one of testamentary disposition. The theological terms “Covenant of Works” and “Covenant of Grace” do not occur in Scripture, though the ideas covered by the terms, especially the latter, may easily be found there. The “New Covenant” here spoken of is practically equivalent to the Covenant of Grace established between God and His redeemed people, that again resting upon the eternal Covenant of Redemption made between the Father and the Son, which, though not so expressly designated, is not obscurely indicated by many passages of Scripture.

2. Christ’s Use at Last Supper:

Looking at the matter more particularly, we have to note the words of Christ at the institution of the Supper. In all the three Synoptists, as also in Paul’s account (Mt 26:28; Mark14:24; Lu 22:20; 1Co 11:25) “covenant” occurs. Matthew and Mark, “my blood of the (new) covenant”; Lk and Paul, “the new covenant in my blood.” The Revisers following the critical text have omitted “new” in Matthew and Mark, but even if it does not belong to the original MS, it is implied, and there need be little doubt that Jesus used it. The old covenant was so well known to these Jewish disciples, that to speak of the covenant in this emphatic way, referring manifestly to something other than the old Mosaic covenant was in effect to call it a “new” covenant. The expression, in any case, looks back to the old and points the contrast; but in the contrast, there are points of resemblance.

3. Relation to Exodus 24:

It is most significant that Christ here connects the “new” covenant with His “blood.” We at once think, as doubtless the disciples would think, of the transaction described in Ex 24:7, when Moses “took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people” those “words,” indicating God’s undertaking on behalf of His people and what He required of them; “and they said, All that Yahweh hath spoken will we do, and be obedient,” thus taking up their part of the contract. Then comes the ratification. “Moses took the blood (half of which had already been sprinkled on the altar), and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which Yahweh hath made with you concerning all these words” (verse 8). The blood was sacrificial blood, the blood of the animals sacrificed as burnt offerings and peace offerings (Ex 24:5-6). The one half of the blood sprinkled on the altar tells of the sacrifice offered to God, the other half sprinkled on the people, of the virtue of the same sacrifice applied to the people, and so the covenant relation is fully brought about. Christ, by speaking of His blood in this connection, plainly indicates that His death was a sacrifice and that through that sacrifice His people would be brought into a new covenant relationship with God. His sacrifice is acceptable to God and the virtue of it is to be applied to believers–so all the blessings of the new covenant are secured to them; the blood “is poured out for you” (Lu 22:20). He specifically mentions one great blessing of the new covenant, the forgiveness of sins—“which is poured out for many unto remission of sins” (Mt 26:28).

4. Use in Epistle to the Hebrews:

This great thought is taken up in Hebrews and fully expounded. The writer draws out fully the contrast between the new covenant and the old by laying stress upon the perfection of Christ’s atonement in contrast to the material and typical sacrifices (Heb. 9:11-23). He was “a high priest of the good things to come,” connected with “the greater and more perfect tabernacle.” He entered the heavenly holy place “through his own blood,” not that of “goats and calves,” and by that perfect offering He has secured “eternal redemption” in contrast to the temporal deliverance of the old dispensation. The blood of those typical offerings procured ceremonial cleansing; much more, therefore, shall the blood of Christ avail to cleanse the conscience “from dead works to serve the living God”– that blood which is so superior in value to the blood of the temporal sacrifices, yet resembles it in being sacrificial blood. It is the blood of Him “who, through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God.” It is the fashion in certain quarters nowadays to say that it is not the blood of Christ, but His spirit of self-sacrifice for others, that invests the cross with its saving power, and this verse is sometimes cited to show that the virtue lies in the surrender of the perfect will, the shedding of the blood being a mere accident. But this is not the view of the New Testament writers. The blood-shedding is to them a necessity. Of course, it is not the natural, material blood, or the mere act of shedding it, that saves. The blood is the life. The blood is the symbol of life; the blood shed is the symbol of life outpoured–of the penalty borne; and while great emphasis must be laid, as in this verse it is laid, upon Christ’s perfect surrender of His holy will to God, yet the essence of the matter is found in the fact that He willingly endured the dread consequences of sin, and as a veritable expiatory sacrifice shed His precious blood for the remission of sins.

5. The Mediator of the New Covenant:

On the ground of that shed blood, as the writer goes on to assert, “He is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). Thus, Christ fulfils the type in a twofold way: He is the sacrifice upon which the covenant is based, whose blood ratifies it, and He is also, like Moses, the Mediator of the covenant. The death of Christ not only secures the forgiveness of those who are brought under the new covenant, but it was also for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, implying that all the sacrifices gained their value by being types of Christ, and the forgiveness enjoyed by the people of God in former days was bestowed in virtue of the great Sacrifice to be offered in the fullness of time.

6. “Inheritance” and “Testament”:

Not only does the blessing of perfect forgiveness come through the new covenant, but also the promise of the “eternal inheritance” in contrast to the earthly inheritance, which, under the old covenant, Israel obtained. The mention of the inheritance is held to justify the taking of the word in the next verse as “testament,” the writer passing to the thought of a testamentary disposition, which is only of force after the death of the testator. Undoubtedly, there is good ground for the analogy, and all the blessings of salvation, which come to the believer, may be considered as bequeathed by the Saviour in His death, and accruing to us because He has died. It has, in that sense, tacitly to be assumed that the testator lives again to be His own executor and to put us in possession of the blessings. Still, we think there is much to be said in favor of keeping to the sense of “covenant” even here, and taking the clause, which, rendered literally, is: “a covenant is of force (or firm) over the dead,” as meaning that the covenant is established on the ground of sacrifice, that sacrifice representing the death of the maker of the covenant. The allusion may be further explained by a reference to Ge 15:9-10,17, which has generally been considered as illustrating the ancient Semitic method of making a covenant: the sacrificial animals being divided, and the parties passing between the pieces, implying that they deserved death if they broke the engagement. The technical Hebrew phrase for making a covenant is “to cut a covenant.”

There is an interesting passage in Herodotus iii. 8, concerning an Arabian custom which seems akin to the old Hebrew practice. “The Arabians observe pledges as religiously as any people; and they make them in the following manner; when any wish to pledge their faith, a third person standing between the two parties makes an incision with a sharp stone in the palm of the hand, nearest the longest fingers of both the contractors; then taking some of the nap from the garments of each, he smears seven stones placed between him and the blood; and as he does this he invokes Bacchus and Urania. When this ceremony is completed, the person who pledges his faith binds his friends as sureties to the stranger, or the citizen, if the contract is made with a citizen; and the friends also hold themselves obliged to observe the engagement”– Cary’s translation.

Whatever the particular application of the word in Ge 15:17, the central idea in the passage is that death, blood-shedding, is necessary to the establishment of the covenant, and so he affirms that the first covenant was not dedicated without blood, and in proof quotes the passage already cited from Ex 24:1-18, and concludes that “apart from shedding of blood there is no remission” (Ex 24:18).

7. Relation to Jeremiah 31:31-34:

This new covenant established by Christ was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, who uses the very word “new covenant” in describing it, and very likely Christ had that description in mind when He used the term, and meant His disciples to understand that the prophetic interpretation would in Him be realized. There is no doubt that the author of He had the passage in mind, for he has led up to the previous statement by definitely quoting the whole statement of Jer. 31:31-34. He had in Jer. 7:1-34 spoken of the contrast between Christ s priesthood “after the order of Melchizedek” (verse 11) and the imperfect Aaronic priesthood, and he designates Jesus as “the surety of a better covenant” (verse 22). Then in Jer. 8:1-22, emphasizing the thought of the superiority of Christ’s heavenly high-priesthood, he declares that Christ is the “mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises” (verse 6). The first covenant, he says, was not faultless, otherwise there would have been no need for a second; but the fault was not in the covenant but in the people who failed to keep it, though perhaps there is also the suggestion that the external imposition of laws could not suffice to secure true obedience. “For finding fault with them he saith, 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.” The whole passage (Jer. 8:1-22 through Jer. 12:1-17) would repay careful study, but we need only note that not only is there prominence given to the great blessings of the covenant, perfect forgiveness and fullness of knowledge, but, as the very essence of the covenant — that which serves to distinguish it from the old covenant and at once to show its superiority and guarantee its permanence–there is this wonderful provision: “I will put my laws into their mind, and on their heart also will I write them: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” This at once shows the spirituality of the new covenant. Its requirements are not simply given in the form of external rules, but the living Spirit possesses the heart; the law becomes an internal dominating principle, and so true obedience is secured.

8. To Ezekiel:

Ezekiel had spoken to the same effect, though the word “new covenant” is not used in the passage, chapter 36:27: “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them.” In chapter 37 Ezekiel again speaks of the great blessings to be enjoyed by the people of God, including cleansing, walking in God’s statutes, recognition as God’s people, etc., and he distinctly says of this era of blessing: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them” (verse 26). Other important foreshadowings of the new covenant are found in Isa 54:10; 55:3; 59:21; 61:8; Ho 2:18-23; Mal 3:1-4. We may well marvel at the spiritual insight of these prophets, and it is impossible to attribute their forecasts to natural genius; they can only be accounted for by Divine inspiration.

The writer to the Hebrews recurs again and again to this theme of the “New Covenant”; in 10:16, 17 he cites the words of Jeremiah already quoted about writing the law on their minds, and remembering their sins no more. In Heb. 12:24, he speaks of “Jesus the mediator of a new covenant,” and “the blood of sprinkling,” again connecting the “blood” with the “covenant,” and finally, in Heb. 13:20, he prays for the perfection of the saints through the “blood of an eternal covenant.”

9. Contrast of Old and New in 2Corinthians 3:

In 2Cor. 3 Paul has an interesting and instructive contrast between the old covenant and the new. He begins it by saying that “our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life” (3:5, 6). The “letter” is the letter of the law, of the old covenant, which could only bring condemnation, but the spirit, which characterizes the new covenant, gives life, writes the law upon the heart. He goes on to speak of the old as that “ministration of death” which nevertheless “came with glory” (3:7), and he refers especially to the law, but the new covenant is “the ministration of the spirit,” the “ministration of righteousness” (3:8, 9), and has a far greater glory than the old. The message of this “new covenant” is “the gospel of Christ.” The glory of the new covenant is focused in Christ; rays forth from Him. The glory of the old dispensation was reflected upon the face of Moses, but that glory was transitory and so was the physical manifestation (3:13). The sight of the shining face of Moses awed the people of Israel and they revered him as leader specially favored of God (3:7-13). When he had delivered his message he veiled his face and thus the people could not see that the glow did not last; every time that he went into the Divine presence he took off the veil and afresh his face was lit up with the glory, and coming out with the traces of that glory lingering on his countenance he delivered his message to the people and again veiled his face (compare Ex 34:29-35), and thus the transitoriness and obscurity of the old dispensation were symbolized. In glorious contrast to that symbolical obscurity, the ministers of the gospel, of the new covenant, use great boldness of speech; the veil is done away in Christ (Ex 3:12 ff). The glory which comes through Him is perpetual, and fears no vanishing away.” Archibald McCaig (9)

Conclusions:

In the Adamic Covenant Genesis 3:15, Noahic Covenant Genesis 9:11, Abrahamic Covenant Genesis 15:17, Davidic Covenant 2Samuel 7:16, and the New Covenant Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 11:27; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15, God makes promises, and takes the responsibility to fulfill the requirements and provisions for these covenantal promises. God fulfills the conditions of the covenant on behalf of His people through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Notes:

1.      The King James Dictionary, (Published by followers of Jesus Christ for the promotion of the knowledge of God), p.144.

2.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 19.

3.      H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Genesis, Vol.1., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 143.

4.      H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Genesis, Vol.1., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 221-222.

5.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Genesis, Vol. 1, p. 304.

6.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 107.

7.      Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, 2Samuel, Vol. 2, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 463.

8.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 233.

9.      Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘COVENANT, ‘” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 731-733.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM

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