How Do You Understand the Covenants of the Bible? (Part 6)
After all of this breaking of the covenant between the people and God, God foretold of another covenant.
We read of it in Jeremiah 31:31-34: “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—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, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, 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. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all 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 first covenant mentioned here (with the nation of Israel “in the day” when God led them out of the land of Egypt) did not involve God putting His laws in the minds of the people. It was a covenant that would guarantee many physical blessings and long life if kept but did not have a promise of eternal life. But this new covenant would be the answer to the question raised in Deuteronomy 5:29 (compare also Deuteronomy 29:4 and Joshua 24:19, as discussed in the previous Q&A). God would give them a heart to fear Him and keep His commandments.
This passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is quoted almost identically in Hebrews 8:8-12. Hebrews 8:6-8 gives us information of this new covenant: “But now He (Christ) has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant [note, in passing, that the word “covenant” has been added here by the translator] had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them….” Hebrews 8:13 informs us, “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.”
We read previously in 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.’” Likewise, the new covenant was also certified with blood, this time not with the blood of animals but with the blood of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 9:12 informs us, “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Hebrews 9:14-15 states, “… how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 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.”
While the first or old covenant between God and the nation of Israel had many physical blessings, it did not have the promise of eternal life. However, this new covenant has a promise of eternal inheritance which certainly necessitates eternal life. So especially in this promise, the new covenant is greatly superior to the old covenant.
So from this we know there was nothing wrong with the first covenant, in fact it was very beneficial at the times it was kept, but God found fault with the people because mostly they did not keep it. As we read in Deuteronomy 5:29, the people did not have such a heart in them to keep all of God’s commandments on which the covenant was based.
There are other covenants mentioned in the Old Testament between individuals. One is mentioned in 1 Samuel 18:1: “Now when he (David) had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” 1 Samuel 18:3-4 adds: “Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armour, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.” Again, these were signs for this covenant. As we read the story, David and Jonathan kept this covenant until after the death of Jonathan. David’s lamenting is described in 2 Samuel 1:19-27, particularly in 2 Samuel 1:26. “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me; Your love to me was wonderful, Surpassing the love of women.” Their covenant was an extremely strong relationship (but it has nothing to do with the absolutely false allegation that David and Jonathan were gay lovers.)
God did make another covenant, this time with king David. The fact that it was made is stated, as a part of David’s last words, in 2 Samuel 23:5, although it is not stated here what it involved: “Although my house is not so with God, Yet He had made with me an everlasting covenant, Ordered in all things and secure. For this is all my salvation and all my desire; Will He not make it increase?” 2 Chronicles 13:5 relates a time when David, Solomon and Rehoboam had died and Abijah was king over Judah and fighting against Jeroboam and the tribes of Israel: “Should you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the dominion over Israel to David forever, to him and his sons, by a covenant of salt?” Here we find that this covenant was for David and his sons to reign over Israel forever. And it was a covenant of salt, showing its permanence.
This covenant is also stated clearly in Psalm 89:3-4: “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David: Your seed I will establish forever, And build up your throne to all generations…” And finally, about this covenant, God states that unless the covenant with day and night can be broken, then His covenant with David, and that with the Levites, cannot be broken. Jeremiah 33:20-22 states: “Thus says the LORD: ‘If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’”
This covenant involves David’s descendants to be rulers over at least one tribe of Israel (compare our free booklet, “The Fall and Rise of Britain and America.”). However, David himself knew he would be resurrected to eternal life long before this covenant was made with him. He states in Psalm 17:15. “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” He knew he would be resurrected to eternal life as a Spirit Being.
In conclusion, we see that covenants are the method God used in His dealings with men, and also occurred between individuals. Putting aside for the moment the covenants between God and some individuals like Phinehas or the tribe of Levi, there were several periods of time when God made covenants, and some of these are very beneficial to us today. Apart from the indication of God’s covenant of marriage (see our discussion in part 2 of this series), the first period refers to the time of Noah when God promised He would never again destroy all life by means of a flood. This we can rely on that we will be safe from a total worldwide flood. The second period relates to the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The covenants included blessings of a land, descendant nations and kings.
In Genesis 18:17-18, God reveals that all nations of the earth shall be blessed in Abraham: “And the LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?’” This is repeated in Genesis 26:4: “And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” And why would this be? Verse 5 continues: “… because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”
But, of course, since we are a part of all nations to be blessed because of Abraham’s obedience, this covenant is beneficial to us today. In addition, the descendants of Abraham and, through him, the house of Israel would be greatly blessed physically as well, but those blessings would be removed when they would refuse to obey, as we are seeing today. And even more to the point, as Galatians 3:16 informs us, “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.” So, we greatly benefit through Christ. As true Christians, we are spiritual Israelites, and we are thereby promised eternal life through the Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
The third time period when God made covenants with men was at Sinai (and subsequently at Moab). In addition to the covenant which God made with Levi at that time, it was not just a man or he and his family that God made a covenant with, but with a whole nation of millions of people. This was the first covenant dedicated with blood. As we read in Hebrews 9:18-20, “Therefore not even the first covenant [note, in passing, that the word “covenant” was added here by the translator] was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.’” As we pointed out previously in Part 4, God made also a separate covenant with the people of Israel regarding the weekly and annual Sabbath days. We read in Isaiah 56:6-7 that even those who may not be Israelite by birth, if they refuse to defile the Sabbath and hold fast to this covenant, God will make them joyful in His house of prayer. This potentially includes all people of the world.
The fourth time period when God made a covenant was with David. This was for David to always have descendants to sit on the throne of Israel, not for his own eternal life.
The fifth time period when God promised a covenant was when it was stated in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that God was going to make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This time, God would put His laws in their hearts so they could keep them as they were intended to be kept. We read in Galatians 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” This new covenant included the promise of eternal life and rulership over all of God’s creation.
Hosea 2:16 informs us when this new covenant is in force, we will no longer call God our Master: “‘And it shall be, in that day,’ Says the LORD, ‘That you will call Me “My Husband,” And no longer call Me “My Master.”’” This obviously refers to 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.”
There are many covenants in the Bible, too many to mention in this short discussion, but they are the main way God uses in dealing with His people throughout the ages and into the future.
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Paul Niehoff