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Bible Covenants of the Old and New Testaments

What is a covenant? What is a promise? Are they the same thing?

A covenant is a formal agreement between two or more parties to do or not to do something. On the other hand, a promise is an assurance that one will do something. Or that something will happen that has value.

The main difference between a covenant and a promise is that both parties have clear obligations and responsibilities in a covenant. You do this –I do that, while in a promise, we don’t find both parties bound. Instead, in a promise, we see that an active role is undertaken by one party while the other remains passive. 

in other words. A covenant means that two parties have entered into a formal agreement – detailing that you will do this. And I will do that, each having defined obligations and responsibilities.

But by adding a promise to a covenant, it means that one of the parties assures the result of us both keeping our respective ends of the deal, in which the outcome will be something positive that has value! 

And for all you want to be lawyers, in legalese promise means valuable consideration, which makes the formal agreement enforceable.

So just to be clear, when a promise is added to a covenant, it is God, not us, who assures the value and positive outcome of being in the relationship. 

You know, we, as mere mortals, cannot assure anything. But God can -  and does - give us unfailing assurance of a positive outcome of being in a relationship. 

In the Bible - a covenant consists of the various obligations between the two parties involved. 

It also explains the rewards and the punishments that the individual expects if he breaks or keeps the covenant. In the Old Testament, we see many examples of covenants. I'll list five in the order they appear in the Old Testament:

  •  No-ah-ic covenant

    • After the flood, God promised that he would never again send a worldwide flood to destroy the earth as an act of his divine judgment for sin. 
    • he said:‘i will never again, curse the ground on account of man; for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done’ 
    • Then he signed the covenant with a rainbow!
  • Abraham-ic covenant

Abraham made covenants with God when he: 

  • received the gospel,
  • was ordained a high priest, and
  • entered into celestial marriage. 

In these covenants, God promised great blessings to Abraham and his family, which extend to all of Abraham’s seed. 

  • Mosaic covenant, 

    • This is the covenant God established with the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai after he led them out of Egyptian slavery. With it, God supplied the law that is meant to govern and shape the people of Israel in the promised land. 
    • God said: “I will be your God and you will be my people”
  • Priestly covenant
    • The priestly covenant is God’s biblical covenant to Aaron and his descendants, the Aaronic priesthood.
    • The heavenly Father gives us his oath that we can have the power and blessing of the priesthood if. 
      • We covenant with him to magnify our callings, 
      • be faithful in keeping the commandments, and 
      • live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
  • Davidic covenant
    • The Davidic covenant establishes David and his descendants as the kings of the united monarchy of Israel (which included Judah).

But really, all of these five covenants can be summed up into one phrase: the old covenant

And so yes, that implies that there must be a new covenant. but, let’s go back and make it very plain:

question - what is the Old Testament covenant?

Answer – “I will be your God … you will be my people” if you follow the Ten Commandments! Otherwise, the wages of sin will be death. They needed to believe the gospel, which is the good news that God has provided Himself a Lamb - the Messiah - which would pay the price for their sin (Isaiah 53). This gospel was preached to them every time someone sacrificed a lamb (Hebrews 4:2; 10:4).

But the people did not continue in the covenant. They left the God of the covenant and refused to be His people (Deuteronomy 31:20; Hebrews 8:9).

So how did God respond to the people’s decision to break the covenant?

Well, in his graciousness, he created a “new covenant” with his people.

Question - what is the New Testament covenant?

Answer–“I will be your God … you will be my people” if you follow the Ten Commandments! Otherwise, the wages of sin will be death.

Hey. I can hear some intelligent person out there shouting “wait a minute! that’s the same thing you said was the Old Testament covenant – man must follow the commandments or the consequence is death”. 

Ok, look, here’s the deal: they are the same but with one significant difference!

Under the new covenant, The promised Substitute has come. Now we look back at the sacrifice made rather than looking forward as Old Testament people did. The sacrifices that they made as an expression of their faith in the coming Substitute is no longer necessary, because Christ, the “real deal” has come!

Another important difference is that rather than the people promising to keep the Ten Commandments, as happened in the old covenant, God Himself writes those same laws on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10).

Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but Jesus’ death on the cross has paid the price for all sins, including those made under the old covenant (Hebrews 9:15).

So don’t get it twisted, Y'all! 

  • Are the Ten Commandments still binding today – yes
  • All Ten—yes,
  • Is the wage of sin still death—yes!!

but Jesus has died for our sins so that we may have a chance at eternal life. 

Yes, there is hope because we have a covenant of promise!!!


21 Days of Prayer

The storms of this life often threatens to overflow and overwhelm us; but in God's Word we find reasons to keep swimming; keep striving; keep pressing and holding on. In this series we explore 21 reasons why we can have hope, even in a world, or personal experience, that feels hopeless. 

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