Intermediate 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. God’s covenants with people are a key aspect of his word.

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

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.”   Genesis 17:3-8 NET

God made an everlasting covenant with the Israelite’s ancestor Abraham, aspects of which were included in God’s later covenant with 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 would be blessed through Abraham

[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.   Genesis 12:3 ESV

Abraham believed God, and was accredited with righteousness

[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.   Genesis 15:5b-6 ESV

God’s Covenant with Israel and the Law

See also:

God made a covenant with Israel, based on his law

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.   Exodus 34:27-28 NET

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

[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.   Jeremiah 11:4b NET

According to the terms of the covenant, Israel was to obey God. 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.

Laws for the people’s relationship with God

[God, to the Israelites:] “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.   Exodus 20:2-11 ISV

The commands in this and the following section are the Ten Commandments. These form the fundamentals of the whole law that God gave through Moses (referred to as the Mosaic Law).

Laws for relationships with other people

“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.”   Exodus 20:12-17 NET

By obeying all the law, the Israelites would have righteousness

[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.   Deuteronomy 6:25 ISV

God’s Dealings and Covenant with David

David was chosen by God, as ruler over Israel

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

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

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.   2 Samuel 5:10, 12 CEV

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

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

[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.   2 Samuel 7:11b-16 NET

In vv. 11b, 16 “house” refers to a royal dynasty that God would build for David, in response to David’s desire to build a “house” (v. 13) or temple for God. The “descendant” spoken of in vv. 12-15 refers initially 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.

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