And 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.
And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth. (Genesis 9:8-17)
The Noahic Covenant was God’s unconditional guarantee to mankind that there would never again be a flood judgement over the earth. Although this is a minor Covenant in the Bible, Peter preferred to it in II Peter 3, when he described the final judgement upon the earth. He pointed out that there will not be a judgement like the flood, but there will be a judgement of fire. God promises never to bring the flood over the earth again, but He does not promise that He will not bring another judgement. This is described throughout the rest of the Bible as a judgement of fire.
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3)
Abraham was promised land, as seen in Genesis 12:7: “And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him”. Abraham was also promised a seed and a royal line to succeed him, as seen in Genesis 17:6: “And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee”.
These Abrahamic promises were unconditional promises because they were not given to Abraham on the condition that he would be obedient. Paul also emphasised this quality of God’s promises in his letter to the Galatians. They are not two-way promises like the Mosaic Law—if you obey me, then I will do this or that. The Old Testament men who were spiritual knew that God’s promises were unconditional, and even in their disobedience they looked forward to the time when these promises would be fulfilled. These promises given to Abraham are the broadest and the most basic promises of God in the Bible. Everything else in God’s plan goes back to Genesis 12: “…in these shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”. After the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given, we had the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham. Even those who were spiritual in Jesus’ day recognised that the time had come.
He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever. (Luke 1:54-55)
Mary saw the fulfilment of the promise God made to her fathers, which is the coming of Christ. If we do not understand the Abrahamic covenant and that God’s promise to Israel will be fulfilled, then we do not understand the plan of God regarding the future. However, someone does not need to know the deep things of the scriptures to be a Christian; all they need to do is to respond to the Lord’s call.
The Mosaic Covenant
The Covenant which God made with the children of Israel through Moses, including the Ten Commandments, was a conditional covenant. God said that they would be a special people unto Him if they obeyed His voice; they would be a holy nation and a kingdom of priests (Genesis 19:5-6). They slaughtered animals and Moses collected the blood from the sacrifice in a basin when the covenant was inaugurated. He sprinkled blood onto the altar, signifying that God had done His part, and then he sprinkled the people to show that they had a part in the Covenant as well.
Hence, this was a conditional Covenant in contrast with the Abrahamic Covenant. It was a Covenant where Israel was required to do her part to receive the blessings, and then God would do His part. God gave the Mosaic Covenant to demonstrate the sinful nature of man and to show them the Saviour through the ceremonies. Nothing was said about man’s sin in the Abrahamic Covenant. So, the Mosaic Covenant was a conditional Covenant in preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah.
The Palestinian Covenant
These are the words of the covenant, which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb. (Deuteronomy 29:1)
As the Israelites were about to enter the Land of Promise—Canaan—God made a new Covenant with the people. They already had the Mosaic Law and the Mosaic Covenant but God gave them last-minute instructions before Moses died and Joshua lead them into Canaan. The Palestinian Covenant showed them the conditions under which they would enjoy possession of the land.
And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. And the LORD thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee. And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day. And the LORD thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the LORD will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers: If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. (Deuteronomy 30:1-10)
God said to the people of Israel, “I am making a Covenant with you, and if you do not obey me I will scatter you to the ends of the earth. If you obey, then I will gather you from all of the places where I have scattered you”. One can see that God laid down the conditions before they could enjoy the blessings of the land. The Abrahamic Covenant guaranteed their rights to the land, but the Palestinian Covenant laid out the terms of the possession of their land.
This Covenant gives details regarding the King. In the Abrahamic Covenant, we have promises that pertain to the land and the enjoyment of it. The Davidic Covenant was designed to show us who would rule, once Israel possessed the land. The ruler is Jesus Christ, for He is of Israel; He is the great King David of Israel.
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men. (2 Samuel 7:12-14)
This promise was to David’s whole family. His son, Solomon, built a magnificent house but the New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ is the real fulfilment of the prophecy. Jesus is also a descendant of the House of David and is truly the Son of God—unlike Solomon. It is remarkable that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only person who has the right to sit on the throne of David. The Abrahamic Covenant prophesised that kings would descend from Abraham, but the Davidic Covenant provided the details. The King was described—the Lord Jesus Christ. So, the Abrahamic Covenant is the root of all the Covenants, and the others serve to elaborate.
The New Covenant
This is the climatic Covenant and this is the one to which the New Testament refers.
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 a husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel;
After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, 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.
Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD. Jeremiah 31:31-40)
In the previous Covenants, one can see there are promises pertaining to the land, the King, and Abraham’s seed. However, one thing is still missing. That one thing is bound up in sin. It is not enough to make promises to Abraham’s seed if we are not morally prepared to enjoy these possessions. We need to have our sins forgiven in order for us to enter into these blessings, which God has provided.
Ever since the Garden of Eden, men have been in sin. Therefore, the New Covenant is designed to prepare the seed for the possession of the promises. It is the Covenant that relates to the forgiveness of sin. When the Lord Jesus Christ came, He inaugurated the New Covenant. At the Last Supper, Jesus took the bread and wine and said, “This is my body which is given for you, and this cup is the New Covenant in my blood, which is shed for you”. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of His death.
From the time of the Apostles, the Christian Church has celebrated the Lord’s Supper because it is symbolic of the blessings of the New Covenant and the ultimate promises the Lord made. He gave His body and His blood for the sins of the world. After the Resurrection, the New Covenant was inaugurated on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-39). Our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross laid the foundation for the promises of Abraham and David, which are ultimately fulfilled in us by the Holy Spirit.