TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

II. Key Old Testament Covenants

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Chapter 8  Part II

Key Old Testament Covenants

A covenant is a solemn agreement between two parties. As indicated earlier, God’s covenants are a key aspect of his word – along with his commands, prophecies and promises.

God’s covenants with people were all initiated by God. They generally confirmed his relationship with the persons concerned – who were or who became his people. The covenants included binding promises by God of blessings for his people, reflecting his purposes for them. In some cases God’s covenants also outlined what God required of his people and how they were to relate to him.

God’s covenants with Abraham, Israel and David are prime instances of the role of God’s word. They expound pivotal promises and (in the covenant with Israel) laws of God. They also form the background of God’s relationship with his people today. Learning about them enables us to better understand the significance of much of the NT’s teachings.

God’s Covenant with Abraham

God called Abraham to go to the land of Canaan – and Abraham went

Gen 12:1, 4-5  The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land I will show you.4So Abram left Haran as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. At this time Abram was 75 years old. 5He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and everything they owned, as well as all the servants they had gotten in Haran. They set out from Haran, planning to go to the land of Canaan, and in time they arrived there.  NCV™

Note that Abraham’s name was initially “Abram”. God later changed it to “Abraham” (cf. 17:5 ⇓).

Subsequently, God made a covenant with Abraham, promising him: countless descendants; the land of Canaan; . . .

Gen 17:3-8  Abram bowed down with his face to the ground, and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5No longer will your name be Abram. Instead, your name will be Abraham because I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you extremely fruitful. I will make nations of you, and kings will descend from you. 7I will confirm my covenant as a perpetual covenant between me and you. It will extend to your descendants after you throughout their generations. I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8I will give the whole land of Canaan – the land where you are now residing – to you and your descendants after you as a permanent possession. I will be their God.”  NET

God made an everlasting covenant with the Israelite’s ancestor Abraham, aspects of which were included in God’s later covenant with the nation of Israel. In the covenant God promised Abraham that if he obeyed, God would: give him numerous descendants (vv. 5-7); give his descendants the land of Canaan (v. 8); and bless all nations through him (as per the following subsection). In conjunction with this, God would be Abraham’s and his descendants’ God (v. 7).

. . . and that all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham

Gen 12:3  [God, to Abraham:] I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  ESV

Abraham believed God, and God credited this to him as righteousness

Gen 15:5b-6  [God, to Abraham:] “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.  ESV

God confirmed the covenant and promises with Abraham’s descendants

Ps 105:8-11  He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 9the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, 10which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, 11saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.”  ESV

 Questions for Section A

God’s Making of Israel as His People

God made the nation of Israel . . .

Isa 43:1  Now, this is what the Lord says, the one who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel: “Don’t be afraid, for I will protect you. I call you by name, you are mine.  NET

. . . The people of Israel were Abraham’s descendants

Isa 41:8  [God:] But you, Israel my servant, you are the people that I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham, my friend.  GNT

The people of Israel were Abraham’s descendants through Isaac, his second son, and then Jacob, Isaac’s second son. Israel gets its name from Jacob who was renamed “Israel”. (As such, Israel is also sometimes referred to as “Jacob”.) Making the nation of Israel from Abraham’s descendants was a key part of God’s fulfillment of his covenant promise to Abraham that he would give him countless descendants.

God redeemed the Israelites out of Egypt to take them as his own

2Sam 7:23-24  [David, to God:] And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? 24And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God.  ESV

By redeeming the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt, God in a sense bought them as his own, making them his people.

God chose Israel out of all the nations to be his holy people

Deut 7:6  [Moses, to the Israelites:] For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  ESV

Note: Foreigners were accepted into Israel and able to worship God

Num 15:14-15  [Moses, to the Israelites:] From now on if foreigners who live among you want to make offerings by fire so the smell will be pleasing to the Lord, they must offer them the same way you do. 15The law is the same for you and for foreigners, and it will be from now on; you and the foreigners are alike before the Lord.  NCV™

In making Israel his own people or nation, God did not exclude other people from living among them and worshiping him.

 Questions for Section B

God’s Covenant with Israel and the Law

See also:

God made his covenant with the people of Israel soon after delivering them from Egypt, early on in the desert journey to the promised land.

God made a covenant with Israel, based on his law . . .

Ex 34:27-28  The Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread, and he did not drink water. He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.  NET

. . . If the Israelites obeyed God, then they would be his people and he would be their God

Jer 11:4b  [God, to the Israelites:] Obey me and carry out the terms of the agreement exactly as I commanded you. If you do, you will be my people and I will be your God.  NET

If Israel kept the covenant by obeying God’s commands, then under the covenant they would be God’s people and he would be their God.

The core of the law: The Ten Commandments

Ex 20:1-11  Then God spoke all these words: 2“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3“You shall have no other gods besides me. 4“You shall not make for yourselves an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above, or on earth below, or in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them in worship or serve them; because I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the iniquity of the parents, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, 6but showing gracious love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments. 7“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave the one who misuses his name unpunished. 8“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. And you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male or female servants, nor your livestock, nor the alien who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  ISV

Ex 20:12-17  “Honor your father and your mother, that you may live a long time in the land the Lord your God is giving to you. 13“You shall not murder. 14“You shall not commit adultery. 15“You shall not steal. 16“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  NET

The Ten Commandments form the fundamentals of the law that God gave through Moses (sometimes referred to as the Mosaic Law). The first four commandments (vv. 1-11 ) concern one’s relationship with God. The remaining six (above) concern one’s relationships with other people.

By obeying all the law, the Israelites would have righteousness and life

Deut 6:25  [Moses, to the Israelites:] It will be righteousness for us, if we’re careful to obey all the law before the Lord our God, as he commanded.  ISV

Lev 18:5  [God, to the Israelites:] So you must keep my statutes and my regulations; anyone who does so will live by keeping them. I am the Lord.  NET

By obeying, the Israelites would have life and prosperity in the promised land

Deut 5:33  [Moses, to the Israelites:] Walk just as he has commanded you so that you may live, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land you are going to possess.  NET

If they broke the covenant, there would be dreadful consequences – culminating in exile from the land

Lev 26:25, 32-33  [God, to the Israelites:] I will bring war on you to punish you for breaking our covenant, and if you gather in your cities for safety, I will send incurable diseases among you, and you will be forced to surrender to your enemies.32I will destroy your land so completely that the enemies who occupy it will be shocked at the destruction. 33I will bring war on you and scatter you in foreign lands. Your land will be deserted, and your cities left in ruins.  GNT

 Questions for Section C

The Ark of the Covenant and God’s Presence

The construction of the ark of the covenant

Ex 37:1, 6-7  Bezalel [a skilled craftsman] made the ark of acacia wood; its length was three feet nine inches, its width two feet three inches, and its height two feet three inches.6He made an atonement lid of pure gold; its length was three feet nine inches, and its width was two feet three inches. 7He made two cherubim of gold; he made them of hammered metal on the two ends of the atonement lid, …  NET

The ark was made in accordance with the instructions God had given to Moses (cf. Ex 25:10-20). Note that cherubim (v. 7) are understood to be one of the highest orders of angels.

The ark contained the stone tablets of the covenant

Ex 40:20  He [Moses] took the testimony and put it in the ark, attached the poles to the ark, and then put the atonement lid on the ark.  NET

The “testimony” refers to the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them, which were essentially the terms of the covenant. As such the stone tablets bore “testimony” to God’s covenant with Israel.

The ark signified God’s presence amongst the people, where God would meet with Moses

Ex 25:22  [God, to Moses:] I will meet with you there, and from above the atonement lid, from between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will command you for the Israelites.  NET

The ark brought great power and dreadful effects

Josh 4:6-7  [Joshua, to the Israelites:] The stones will be a reminder to you. When your children ask someday, ‘Why are these stones important to you?’ 7tell them how the water of the Jordan stopped flowing before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the water of the Jordan stopped flowing. These stones will be a lasting memorial for the Israelites.  NET

1Sam 5:11  So they [the people of the Philistine city of Ekron] assembled all the leaders of the Philistines and said, “Get the ark of the God of Israel out of here! Let it go back to its own place so that it won’t kill us and our people!” The terror of death was throughout the entire city; God was attacking them very severely there.  NET

The Philistines had captured the ark and suffered severely as a result.

The ark was kept in the Most Holy Place, shielded by a curtain . . .

Ex 26:31-34  [God, to Moses:] You are to make a special curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine twisted linen; it is to be made with cherubim, the work of an artistic designer. 32You are to hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold, set in four silver bases. 33You are to hang this curtain under the clasps and bring the ark of the testimony in there behind the curtain. The curtain will make a division for you between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. 34You are to put the atonement lid on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place.  NET

The Most Holy Place was the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle and later the temple.

. . . Access into the Most Holy Place was greatly restricted

Heb 9:6-8  When everything in the Tent was made ready in this way, the priests went into the first room every day to worship. 7But only the high priest could go into the second room, and he did that only once a year. He could never enter the inner room without taking blood with him, which he offered to God for himself and for sins the people did without knowing they did them. 8The Holy Spirit uses this to show that the way into the Most Holy Place was not open while the system of the old Holy Tent was still being used.  NCV™

Note that the mention of “the system of the old Holy Tent” (v. 8) refers to the covenant that God made with Israel, of which a marked feature was the tent (or tabernacle) structure and its special configuration.

Containing the ark, the tabernacle and later the temple signified God’s presence

Ex 25:8-9  [God, to Moses:] Let them make for me a sanctuary, so that I may live among them. 9According to all that I am showing you – the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings – you must make it exactly so.  NET

1Ki 8:6, 10-13  The priests brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its assigned place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, in the most holy place, under the wings of the cherubs. … 10Once the priests left the holy place, a cloud filled the Lord’s temple. 11The priests could not carry out their duties because of the cloud; the Lord’s glory filled his temple. 12Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he lives in thick darkness. 13O Lord, truly I have built a lofty temple for you, a place where you can live permanently.”  NET

Note that the term “thick darkness” (v. 12) refers to the dark cloud of God’s presence (vv. 10-11).

 Questions for Section D

God’s Faithfulness to His Covenant with Israel

The following subsections show that God was faithful to his covenant with Israel, keeping the promises he made with it.

God faithfully led Israel through the desert and provided for them

Neh 9:19-21  [Levites, to God:] Due to your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. The pillar of cloud did not stop guiding them in the path by day, nor did the pillar of fire stop illuminating for them by night the path on which they should travel. 20You imparted your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths; you provided water for their thirst. 21For forty years you sustained them. Even in the desert they never lacked anything. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.  NET

God promised that none of Israel’s enemies would withstand it – which he fulfilled

Deut 11:25  [Moses, to the Israelites:] Nobody will be able to resist you; the Lord your God will spread the fear and terror of you over the whole land on which you walk, just as he promised you.  NET

Josh 21:44  The Lord made them secure, in fulfillment of all he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could resist them.  NET

Conquering its inhabitants, God gave the promised land of Canaan to Israel – as an inheritance

Ps 78:55a  He forced nations out of their way and gave them the land of the nations as their inheritance.  GW

Josh 21:43  So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had solemnly promised to their ancestors, and they conquered it and lived in it.  NET

God duly cared for Israel in the promised land

2Chr 32:22  The Lord delivered Hezekiah and the residents of Jerusalem from the power of King Sennacherib of Assyria and from all the other nations. He made them secure on every side.  NET

So, God was faithful to his covenants and promises with Abraham and Israel

Ps 105:8-11, 42  He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 9the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, 10which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, 11saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.”42For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant.  ESV

Josh 21:45  Not one of the Lord’s faithful promises to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; every one was realized.  NET

 Questions for Section E

God’s Dealings and Covenant with David

David was chosen and anointed by God, as ruler over Israel

1Ki 8:16b  [God:] I’ve chosen David to rule my people Israel.  GW

2Sam 23:1  This was David’s last composition:  The oracle of David, son of Jesse, an oracle by the valiant one who was exalted— anointed by the God of Jacob, the contented psalm writer of Israel.  ISV

David reigned over Israel, as a powerful and righteous king – undergirded by God

2Sam 5:10, 12  David became a great and strong ruler, because the Lord All-Powerful was on his side.12David knew that the Lord had made him king of Israel and that he had made him a powerful ruler for the good of his people.  CEV

2Sam 8:15  David was king over all Israel, and he did what was fair and right for all his people.  NCV™

God’s covenant with David, promising that David’s royal dynasty would last forever

2Sam 7:11b-16  [The prophet Nathan, to David:] The Lord declares to you that he himself will build a dynastic house for you. 12When the time comes for you to die, I [God] will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent. 14I will become his father and he will become my son. When he sins, I will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings. 15But my loyal love will not be removed from him as I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently; your dynasty will be permanent.  NET

In vv. 11b, 16 “house” refers to a royal dynasty that God would build for David, in response to his desire to build a “house” (v. 13) or temple for God. The “descendant” spoken of in vv. 12-15 initially refers to David’s son Solomon, but is generally understood to ultimately speak of the Messiah. As such this covenant provided the people of Israel with the hope of a permanently secure kingdom (cf. vv. 10-11a) under a godly and powerful king.

Note: God chose Jerusalem, David’s city, as his dwelling place

Ps 132:13-14  Certainly the Lord has chosen Zion [Jerusalem]; he decided to make it his home. 14He said, “This will be my resting place forever; I will live here, for I have chosen it.  NET

God chose the city of Jerusalem, from which David ruled, to be the place which signified his presence among his people – as consummately indicated by the building of God’s temple there. As such it was the center of worship of God. Note that “Zion” was originally the name of one of the hills on which Jerusalem was built, but came to be used to signify all of Jerusalem.

 Questions for Section F

Pray for persecuted Christians