PDF: Covenants 101
It is simply: A contract based on law.
Webster defines a “covenant” as a “usually formal, binding agreement between two or more persons, to do or not to do something; a document containing the terms of the agreement.”
A covenant is an agreement between parties based on law. When one party breaks the agreement, the other party is no longer bound by that agreement, either.
This language is still in use today and is very common to begin a written lease agreement as follows, “We hereby covenant and agree…”
Covenant is Not the Same as the Law
What we need to be clear about then is that once we understand that a covenant is merely a contract or an agreement, is that a covenant is not the same as the law.
In fact, the Bible speaks about more than just one or two covenants, it addresses many. When we realize that a covenant is a contract based on the law, it opens the possibility for there easily to be many more. How many times did God say, “If you do this, then I will do such and such”? This is an agreement based upon conditions. We do this all the time with varying levels of seriousness.
As we go through the Bible, we find that there are quite a few covenants or contracts that are talked about. So it is actually incorrect to say that the Bible only speaks about the “Old” and the “New” Covenants.
The important concepts to grasp here are:
- A covenant is not the same as the law
- A covenant is based on the law
So when a covenant is broken or done away with, it does not do away with the law upon which it is based.
Homeowner Association (HOA) Example
Most HOA’s use a Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCR) to govern the relationship between them and a homeowner. If we wanted to add a barn to our backyard and paint it fluorescent pink, we would not be allowed to do that – not because it is against the law of the state, but due to the fact that we agreed upon moving into the subdivision that we would abide by the CCR. Now, if the HOA was dissolved, it may mean that we can paint our barn whatever color that we want since the CCR in no longer in effect. What it does NOT mean is that we can dismiss the state law governing the building of the barn and all the codes that regulate it. Doing away with the HOA covenants or agreements does not do away with the law that was there before.
While this example may be clear, most believe that when the “Old Covenant” was broken and subsequently done away with, that it did away with the Ten Commandments and the rest of God’s laws – nothing could be further from the truth.
These laws were not brought into existence with any of the covenants, in fact it was just the opposite. They had to be in existence beforehand so that the covenants could be based on them.
Some confuse the fact that when God wrote down the Ten Commandments for the Israelites at Mount Sinai that He was giving it to them for the first time. The truth is that they had been in effect since the creation of man and God was just writing it down for them at that time.
Law of God is the Same Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Gods laws in His Word have been in effect since the creation of man, are currently in effect and will be throughout the Millennium. More often than not, any scriptures that are used to prove that the law is done away with, actually do the exact opposite.
Romans 13:10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
This is where most people will stop and say, “See, all you have to do is love.” But they are only half right. We do have to love, but that requires action – the part that they are leaving out or just plainly not seeing is in verses 8-9.
Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. [through love we can completely keep the law as Paul shows in the next verse]
Romans 13:9 For the commandments, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” “YOU SHALL NOT MURDER,” “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL,” “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS,” “YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
Paul is showing that we love by keeping the commandments of God, in this case the Ten Commandments. It is also encapsulated in “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” What we must understand is that it by no means reverses, erases, or annuls the rest of the commandments of God. By applying love to each and every situation we will be doing what God asks us to do.
God is love (1 John 4:8), the law is love (Romans 13:10) and the law defines the nature of God. We see that these two are inextricably linked. The Ten Commandments can be summed up in “love towards God” and “love towards man” (Matthew 22:37-40).
We can now clearly see that the law of God is a description of the nature of God. Since we know that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and He does not change (Hebrews 13:8; Malachi 3:6), we can see why His laws and ways are not going to change.
Covenants with the Nation of Israel
Now that we have established what a covenant is (simply an agreement or a contract), it should not surprise you to learn that there was more than one covenant with the physical nation of Israel. We find the first one with the nation of Israel in the second book of the Bible.
Exodus 19:1 In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.
Exodus 19:2 For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.
God instructs Moses to make the people an offer of a covenant or an agreement:
Exodus 19:3 And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:
Exodus 19:4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.
Exodus 19:5 ‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant (My agreement or My contract), then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.
Exodus 19:6 ‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
Let’s continue: and note the people’s response to God’s offer:
Exodus 19:7 So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him.
Exodus 19:8 Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.
God and the people agreed on the terms or conditions of the covenant.
God then goes on in chapters 20-23 of Exodus to explain the foundation of this covenant―what the covenant would be based on by speaking the Ten Commandments directly to the people and then by giving Moses additional statutes and judgments to be communicated to the people.
And, as is the case with many contracts today, something else was necessary to make the covenant binding and “enforceable.” Today, we may need a certification of a written agreement in which a notary places their seal on the document. At the time of Moses, the covenant had to be sealed with blood of animals.
Exodus 24:3 So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has said we will do.” [This is the second time they agreed to it.]
Exodus 24:4 And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel.
Exodus 24:5 Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD.
Exodus 24:6 And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar.
Exodus 24:7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” [This is the third time they agreed to it.]
Exodus 24:8 And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.”[In other words based upon the preceding chapters 20-23, which includes the Ten Commandments as well as the other judgments]
At this point the covenant was confirmed or legally binding, and cannot be changed as Paul notes in:
Galatians 3:15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.
If there is a violation of any of the agreed-upon terms and conditions of a binding contract, then there is a: breach of contract; a breaking of the contract. A failure to honor a contract normally invokes a penalty. This was the case in the covenant that Israel made with God.
Leviticus 26:14 ‘But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments,
Leviticus 26:15 and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant,
Leviticus 26:16 I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.
Leviticus 26:17 I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you.
Leviticus 26:18’And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
Leviticus 26:25 And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.
God was saying here that He would hold them to their word. They had agreed to the conditions of the covenant and said that they would do their part. But they did not – they broke this initial covenant pretty quickly when they made a golden calf and began worshipping it in Exodus 32.
God then made yet another “Old Covenant” with them in (Exodus 34:10) and then a third “Old Covenant” with those that survived the trek through the wilderness just prior to their entering the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 29). This last one included the sacrifices, a system that was introduced later because of their sins.
It is important to keep all the pieces of the puzzle straight so that when go to add more pieces the picture will develop properly and we will not have to force other pieces in where they do not fit.
Let’s examine a little more closely the type of covenant or contract the God of the Old Testament had with the physical nation of Israel. Once we understand what exactly they were so much more will become evident!
Old Covenant a Type of Marriage Contract
Jeremiah 31:32 “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, [the part that I want to bring to your attention] My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.
The Old Covenant was a type of Marriage contract between the God of the Old Testament and the physical nation of Israel!
So when we view the covenant this way, the result of the breach of this contract, the consequence of it was DIVORCE.
Jeremiah 3:8 Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery [against God], I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.
Jeremiah 3:9 So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. [they did this through the making of idols and putting other gods before Him]
Because the Israelites did this time after time – committed spiritual adultery – the Old Covenant which was a marriage covenant, became null and void and was no longer binding.
Now it should become apparent why the Old Covenant relationship is obsolete and no longer binding or in effect today.
Hebrews 8:13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
Some say that the “Old Covenant” has not yet vanished away.
Hebrews 8:13 states: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He HAS MADE the first OBSOLETE.”
Among other components of the covenants, the sacrifices that were a part of the third covenant with Israel in Deuteronomy 29 were made obsolete by the sacrifice of Christ. The sacrificial system did vanish with the destruction of the temple soon after this was written.
So he is not saying here that the law of God was growing old, ready to vanish away―in fact, look at the preceding verse:
Hebrews 8:12 “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
To have unrighteousness and lawlessness there needs to be a law to define what is righteous and lawful (1 John 3:4; Romans 3:31; 4:15). The difference at this point in the plan of God is that the sins can be forgiven because of the sacrifice of Christ’s life.
The writer of Hebrews goes on to show that the sacrifices were no longer required, but that the ones that were still performed by the Jews at that time would soon fade away. He was explaining that the whole sacrificial system had already become obsolete and was no longer necessary as a means of atoning for sins and making their covenant relationship right.
This means, the Old Testament covenants with the nations of Israel and Judah are no longer valid since they have been broken – not only the first one, but all the subsequent ones with the nation of Israel.
Why was a new covenant necessary? I think we are beginning to see the answer to that.
What was the problem with the Old Covenant?
Hebrews 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.
Hebrews 8:8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;
It was the people who broke the covenants―the fault was with the people―not with the Old Testament covenants in any way. God is perfect and so are His ways. The agreement that they had come to was fine. It was their continual breaking of it that was the problem.
The Israelites were unable to keep the terms of this Marriage Contract
As we previously saw in Jeremiah 3:8-9:
Israel was idolatrous and kept putting other gods or husbands before the true God.
The Israelites broke the covenants so the God of the Old Testament who later became Jesus Christ divorced them.
So now we come to the NEW COVENANT
Now it should come as no surprise – the New Covenant is also a Marriage Agreement
Let’s read the passage in Hosea 2:16, 18–20, and notice some interesting additional information.
Hosea 2:16 “And it shall be, in that day,”[at the time of His return] Says the LORD, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ And no longer call Me ‘My Master,’
Hosea 2:18 In that day I will make a covenant for them With the beasts of the field, With the birds of the air, And with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, To make them lie down safely.
Hosea 2:19 “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy;
Hosea 2:20 I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD.
Here we have the concept that we WILL call Christ the Husband in that day in other words a marriage and we are introduced to the concept of betrothal [which we will address later].
Christ came to confirm this (that is He came to establish and give it credence)
Jesus Christ is the administrator or minister of the New Covenant.
Hebrews 8:6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
It is one of the reasons that He came – it was to bring the terms of the New Covenant
He was to CONFIRM the covenant for one “week”
Daniel 9:26 “And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined.
Daniel 9:27 Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate.”
A ‘day’ for a year (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:3-6).
Christ ministered three-and-a-half years He CONFIRMED — spelled out the TERMS of — THE NEW COVENANT to His disciples who in turn recorded them for us today.
His ministry was to be cut in HALF (verse 27) after 3 1/2 years Christ was crucified, but He will COMPLETE His work of confirming the New Covenant in the future.
Hebrews 8:10 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days [after the Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord], says the LORD:
After confirming the New Covenant, it was Sealed with His blood
He died for us and look at what Jesus Christ said right before he presented himself as a sacrifice:
Luke 22:19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Luke 22:20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.
As noted before in Exodus 24, the written agreement had to be ratified or sealed with blood.
Matthew 26:27-28 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.
Matthew 26:28 “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
By dying for our sins Jesus Christ made it possible for ALL PEOPLE to enter into the New Covenant and made it binding with His blood thereby sealing and ratifying the covenant.
The only way possible for all people to enter the New Covenant would be through a change of heart from stony to fleshly.
The people broke the covenants―the fault was with them. But why did they break the covenants? Because God’s law was not in their hearts.
Hebrews 8:10 FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: [the part that we didn’t read before] I WILL PUT MY LAWS IN THEIR MIND AND WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.
Notice this additional prophecy regarding the New Covenant in:
Jeremiah 32:38 ‘They shall be My people, and I will be their God;
Jeremiah 32:39 ‘then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them.
Again, the problem was with the people and their inability to incorporate the law of God into their hearts and not with the Law itself.
Founded on Better Promises
Returning to Hebrews 8:6, recall that the New Covenant is “established” [is BASED or ENACTED or FOUNDED on God’s given law] on better promises.
The New Covenant is based on God’s law, just as all the other covenants were based on God’s law, and the New Covenant is not identical with God’s law, just as none of the other covenants were identical with God’s law.
What are these better promises?
John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, IN will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.
With it we have access to the mind and power of God. We are able to understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2 goes into it) something that was not offered in previous covenants.
This is how we are able to receive God’s Word and Way into our heart – it is by the power of the Holy Spirit.
New Covenant is Life and not Death
2 Corinthians 3:4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God.
2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,
2 Corinthians 3:6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Not physical life but an everlasting and eternal life
We can have this because Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for sin if we avail ourselves of His sacrifice.
The New Covenant makes it possible, then, to have sins forgiven―something, as we will recall, that was not possible under the previous covenants that God had made with ancient Israel.
Notice, too, in:
Hebrews 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,”
Hebrews 10:17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
Hebrews 10:18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
We obtain forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice. His atonement makes it possible to receive God’s Holy Spirit―God’s power enabling us to overcome sin and to keep God’s law which has been written in our hearts. And since Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins, animal sacrifices are no longer necessary.
We can see a part of these better promises:
Hebrews 9:15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the New Covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance [the Old Covenant promises were physical in nature, but the New Covenant promises were spiritual].
In 2 Corinthians 3:18 we find out about part of that inheritance. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Through the Spirit of God, we are to be born into the Family of God. We are to become a glorified God being. THAT was never a promise given to ancient Israel at the time of Mount Sinai.
Kingship and Priestly Functions
In addition, we will enter into a relationship with Christ for one thousand years here on earth.
Revelation 5:10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.”
Revelation 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
After that, for all eternity:
Revelations 22:5 There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.
Who is the New Covenant for?
Some think that the Old Covenant was for the Israelites and that the new covenant is for the Gentiles. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we read before in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;
Jeremiah 31:32 “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers [which was physical] in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.
Jeremiah 31:33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days [the end time as we read before], says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. [a time in the near future when God’s Holy Spirit will be made available to all mankind].
Jeremiah 31:34 “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” [The sins that caused Him to divorce them in the first place]
This is a critical passage that explains to us the nature of the New Covenant, and why there even had to be such a New Covenant. Sounds a bit exclusive.
We can see plainly it is not to be made with Gentiles…how do we then reconcile the fact that all will have a chance at salvation?
Romans 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;
Romans 2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
Everyone must be become a Spiritual Israelite or Spiritual Jew.
Has the New Covenant Been Made Yet?
Simple question to answer is are we married to Christ yet?
We saw that God made covenants with ancient Israel, and that God will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah “after those days”
Hebrews 8:10 and Jeremiah 31:33 that is, after Christ’s return.
But what about us today―converted Christians―spiritual Israelites and Jews?
● We understand that the New Covenant is compared to a marriage agreement.
● We have been taught the conditions of the New Covenant which we accepted at the time of our baptism.
Does this mean, then, that the New Covenant has already been made with us at the time of our baptism? Well, yes and no.
The New Covenant is a marriage agreement.
The consummation of our marriage with Jesus Christ―the bridegroom and the Lamb―is still in the future.
This is where understanding the biblical concept of betrothal becomes important.
In biblical times, the parties went through a period of “betrothal” before they actually consummated the marriage, similar to engagement, but much more binding.
Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
We see here that they were betrothed at this point and then reading in the next verses:
Matthew 1:19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. [why would he put her away if they weren’t together in some way already] Matthew 1:20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife,
Betrothal was a binding agreement or contract of marriage, and it could only be severed through a divorce. With this contract, the husband had promised his wife to consummate the marriage with her, after a certain period of time.
In the same way, we, when we became baptized, entered into a covenant with God, and into a contract of betrothal with Jesus Christ.
Though the New Covenant has not been consummated we are to be acting like the wife that is betrothed to be married and thus living under the terms of the New Covenant until the time of Revelation 19:
Revelation 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
Revelation 19:8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Revelation 19:9 Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, [and I think this can be said for all scripture, including the ones that we went over today:] “These are the true sayings of God.”