This booklet is written with the idea of providing a means to get started in this study. It is by no means an effort to answer every question or give you all the proof you need. To truly understand, you need to do some research on your own. Most of the Scriptures quoted are from The Interlinear Bible, by Jay P. Green, Sr., as general editor and translator.
There are discussions and disagreements that go on continually regarding covenants. We don't look on these in the same way the ancients did. Not with the same emphasis, but we seem to take them rather lightly. The phrase is heard, "Oh, you can get out of a contract. Don't worry about it." What are covenants? How important were they? How many were there? Are there any in effect today? If so, what? How can we know? Are there any that affect us?
To start with, exactly what is a covenant?
From Webster's Dictionary, page 171 -
"Covenant - a mutual consent or agreement of two or more persons to do or forbear some act or thing; a contract; a compact, a bargain, arrangement, or stipulation; a writing containing the terms of agreement or contract between parties."
From The New Strong's Complete Dictionary of Bible Words -
From page 333 in the Hebrew words -
"1285 berit - (in the sense of cutting); a compact (because made by passing between pieces of flesh) - confederacy, covenant, league."
From page 601 in the Greek words -
"1242 diatheke - a disposition, i.e. a contract (espec a devisory will) - covenant, testament."
Covenants have had a part to play throughout history. Not only in Scripture, but in many nations and lands.
From The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 2, pages 727-730 -
"In the Old Testament the word has an ordinary use, when both parties are men, and a distinctly religious use, between God and men.
"There are also two shades of meaning, somewhat distinct of the Hebrew word: one in which it is properly a covenant, i.e. a solemn mutual agreement, the other in which it is more a command, i.e. instead of an obligation voluntarily assumed, it is an obligation imposed by a superior upon an inferior.
"In essence a covenant is an agreement, but an agreement of a solemn and binding force.
"Principal elements of covenants between men -
- A statement of the terms agreed upon (Gen 26:29; 31:50-52)
- An oath by each party to observe the terms, God being witness of the oath (Gen 26:31; 31:48-53)
- A curse invoked by each one upon himself in case of disregard of the agreement
- The formal ratification of the covenant by some solemn external act
"In general, the covenant of God with men is a Divine ordinance, with signs and pledges on God's part, and with promises for human obedience and penalties for disobedience, which ordinance is accepted by men.
"Consideration should be given to the new covenant of the prophets. The general teaching is that the covenant was broken by the sins of the people which led to the exile. Hence during the exile the people had been cast off, the covenant was no longer in force. This is stated, using other terminology, in Hosea 3:3; 1:9; 2:2. The prophets speak, however, in anticipation, of the making of a covenant again after the return from the exile. For the most part, in the passages already cited, this covenant is spoken of as if it were the old one renewed. Special emphasis is put, however, upon its being an everlasting covenant, as the old one did not prove to be, implying that it will not be broken as was that one. Jeremiah's teaching, however, has a little different emphasis. He speaks of the old covenant as passed away (31:32). Accordingly he speaks of a new covenant (31:31-33). This new covenant in its provisions, however, is much like the old. But there is a new emphasis upon individuality in approach to God. In the old covenant, as already noted, it was the nation as a whole that entered into the relationship; here it is the individual, and the law is to be written upon the individual heart.
"Book of the Covenant - the name given in Ex 24:7 to a code or collection of laws found in the preceding chapters, 20-23, as the terms of the covenant made with Jehovah, and given for Israel's guidance until a more complete legislation should be provided. In this covenant between Jehovah and Israel, Moses served as mediator; animals were sacrificed, the blood thus shed being also called 'the blood of the covenant'."
From The Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer, Sr, ed, pages 259-260 -
"Covenant - an agreement between two people or two groups that involves promises on the part of each to the other. The concept of covenant between God and His people is one of the most important theological truths of the Bible.
"A covenant, in the biblical sense, implies much more than a contract of simple agreement. A contract always has an end date, while a covenant is a permanent arrangement. Another difference is that a contract generally involves one part of a person, such as a skill, while a covenant covers a person's total being.
"The word for covenant in the Old Testament also provides additional insight into the meaning of this important idea. It comes from a Hebrew root word which means 'to cut'. This explains the strange custom of two people passing through the cut bodies of slain animals after making an agreement with each other (Jer 34:18). A ritual or ceremony such as this always accompanied the making of a covenant in the Old Testament. Sometimes those entering into a covenant shared a holy meal (Gen 31:54).
"The striking thing about God's covenant with His people is that God is holy, all-knowing, and all-powerful; but He consents to enter into covenant with man, who is weak, sinful, and imperfect.
"New Covenant - the new agreement God has made with mankind, based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The concept of a new covenant originated with the promise of the prophet Jeremiah that God would accomplish for His people what the old covenant had failed to do (Jer 31:31). Under this new covenant, God would write His laws on human hearts. The promised action suggested a new level of obedience, a new knowledge of the Lord, and a new forgiveness of sin."
From The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Bruce M Metzger and Michael D Coogan, pages 138-139 -
"The Hebrew term for covenant (berit) seems to have the root meaning of 'bond, fetter,' indicating a binding relationship; the idea of 'binding, putting together' is also suggested in the Greek term syntheke. Another term used in the New Testament is diatheke ('will, testament'), pointing more to the obligatory or legal aspect of a covenant.
"In general, covenant signifies a relationship based on commitment, which includes both promises and obligations, and which has the quality of reliability and durability. The relationship is usually sealed by a rite - for example, an oath, sacred meal, blood sacrifice, invocation of blessings and curses - which make it binding.
"In the ancient world, covenants or treaties often governed the relationship between peoples. There were parity treaties between two equal sovereign states, and there were overlord treaties between a powerful monarch and a vassal state. These treaties included such elements as a summary of the benevolent deeds of the overlord, the stipulations binding on the vassal who receives favor and protection, and the sanctions of blessings and curses in case of obedience or disobedience.
"Covenant expresses a novel element of the religion of ancient Israel: the people are bound in relationship to the one God, Yahweh, who makes an exclusive ('jealous') claim upon their loyalty in worship and social life.
"The covenants between God and the people are all covenants of divine favor or grace (Heb hesed). They express God's gracious commitment and faithfulness and thus establish a continuing relationship. They differ from one another theologically at the point of whether the accent falls upon God's loyalty, which endows the relationship with constancy and durability, or upon the people's response, which is subject to human weakness and sin."
From The Lion Encyclopedia of the Bible, published by the Reader's Digest Association, Inc, page 45 -
"Dozens of ancient treaties have been translated, the majority of them treaties made in the period 2000-1000 B.C. Exodus and Deuteronomy are not themselves treaty texts, they are reports of treaties made. They contain a number of the same elements found in those ancient Near Eastern treaties. What took place at Sinai was a solemn event, to be impressed upon the people.
"The actual agreement of the sections of the treaty (title, historical introduction, requirements, instructions about keeping the treaty document and making its contents known, witnesses, curses and blessings) is closely parallel to the treaties regularly made between the Hittites and their subject nations during the period 1700-1200 B.C."
From Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, volume 7, pages 107-108 --
"Covenant - in law, promise, usually under seal, that a certain act shall be performed or shall not be performed, or a solemn declaration under seal that certain facts are true. Covenants are most often used in deeds. An express covenant is an express declaration of intention by the parties to the deed. An implied covenant is inferred by the law from certain words in a lease is a covenant that the lessee shall quietly enjoy possession of the demised premises as long as he complies with the terms of the lease.
"In Old Testament theology, compact between God and His worshipers. Exodus 24:7 relates that Moses took 'the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people and they said: All things that the Lord hath said we will do, and be obedient.' Scholars are of the opinion that 'the book of the covenant' includes the section in Exodus from 20:23 through 23:33.
"From this and other passages in the Pentateuch has arisen the conception of a covenant between Yahweh and the people of Israel, whereby the Israelites were to enjoy the blessing and protection of Yahweh in return for remaining obedient and faithful to Him. After the Jews were driven out of Palestine and were scattered over the face of the earth, the covenant between the Jews and Yahweh was interpreted by them to include an eventual restoration of their ancient homeland.
"In Christian theology Jesus Christ, by His death on the Cross, made a covenant between God and man for the redemption of mankind. Theologians differ about the precise meaning of this covenant, sometimes called the covenant of the New Testament. Some believe that Christ's voluntary sacrifice redeemed all men; others contend that only those who earn their redemption by faith alone, or by faith and good works, can or will be saved."
From The Word Bible Handbook, by Lawrence O Richards -
From page 51 -
"The idea of covenant played a vital role in OT times. In essence, a covenant was a solemn promise, made binding by an oath. The covenant concept was applied to a wide range of situations. It would govern alliances between families or nations (Gen 14:13; 21:27, 32; 31:44; Josh 9:6), and also serve as a constitution or definition of the relationship between an overlord and subjects. The form of this later type of covenant is well known from the archaeologists' discovery of Hittite suzerainty treaties, and matches in form the Mosaic (Law) covenant which we find in Exodus. The Abrahamic covenant is notable because it does not take this form.
"Suzerainty treaties defined relationships by specifying required behaviors and giving the consequences of performing or failing to perform those duties. In such covenants as the one God made with Abraham, and in later expansions of the basic Abrahamic covenant, God binds only himself! He does not lay conditions on Abraham.
"Forever now Abraham's descendants could look back at God's promise, confirmed by covenant-oath, and be encouraged. Israel often would fall short, and some generations would turn from God in angry rebellion. But God would never turn away from his people. God, who cannot lie, will perform what he has promised. In the framework of unconditional covenant, Israel's relationship with God would be forever secure."
From page 83 -
"The Law Covenant. Alone among OT covenants, this matches in form the Hittite suzerainty covenant. In such a covenant, a superior states the conditions of the relationship, and the inferior agrees. Common features of this type of covenant are:
- Preamble, which identifies the author and gives his titles. Ex 20:1
- Historical prologue, which recounts the deeds of the king on behalf of his vassals. Ex 19:4,5
- Stipulations, stating the principles on which relationship between the parties is to be based. Ex 20:2-17; 21:1 - 23:19
- Pronouncement of blessings and cursings associated with keeping, breaking the covenant conditions. Ex 23:20-33
- Oath of acceptance by the vassals. Ex 24:1-8"
What about us? When it comes to our future and our salvation, what is the most important thing? Being a part of the right organization? Understanding the meaning of every prophecy to the minutest point? Having every doctrine nailed down to the final detail? Or isn't it all about our relationship with our Father and with our Savior? What kind of relationship? Could it possibly include a covenant? If so, which one?
Let's explore five covenants that are mentioned in Scripture. These are covenants that Yahweh made with humans that affect millions.
Covenant With Noah
"And Yahweh saw that the evil of man was great on the earth, and every imagination of the thought of his heart was only evil all the day long."
"And Yahweh repented that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved to His heart."
"And Yahweh said, I will wipe off man whom I have created from the face of the earth, from man to beast, to the creeping thing and to the bird of the heavens; for I repent that I made them."
Yahweh made the decision to destroy nearly all mankind because of the evil in their hearts and their sins. He chose one man, Noah, who was just and upright. Noah, his wife, their sons and their wives would continue the human race.
"And Noah found grace in the eyes of Yahweh."
Yahweh instructed Noah to build a ship, take his family on board with the animals Yahweh specified. That is not something that happened overnight. That project would require gathering the materials, cutting the trees and preparing the planks and assembling the ark. Then they would have to load all necessary provisions, the animals and themselves. All the while, the people living around them were laughing at Noah and his family and mocking them. But Noah had the same amount of time to try to convince them to turn to Yahweh. He told them what was coming and called on them to change. Once the ark was built and loaded, Yahweh shut them in the ark.
"In this same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them, went into the ark."
"They, and every animal after its kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind; and every fowl after its kind, every bird of every wing."
"And they went in to Noah and to the ark, two and two of all flesh, in which is the breath of life."
"And those going in went in male and female of all flesh, as Elohim had commanded him, and Yahweh shut behind him."
Yahweh flooded the land and destroyed all other life. When the waters subsided off the earth, Noah's family and the animals exited the ark. Noah built an altar and offered burnt offerings to Yahweh. At that time, Yahweh made a promise to Noah and all future generations.
"And Elohim spoke to Noah, and to his sons with him, saying."
"Behold, I, even I, am establishing my covenant with you, and with your seed after you."
"And with every living creature which is with you, among fowl, among cattle, and among every animal of the earth with you, from all that go out from the ark, to every animal of the earth."
"And I have made stand my covenant with you, and all flesh shall not be cut off again by the waters of a flood; nor shall there ever again be a flood to destroy the earth."
"And Elohim said, This is the sign of the covenant which I am about to make between Me and you, and every living soul which is with you, for everlasting generations."
"I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth."
"And when I gather the clouds on the earth, then the bow shall be seen in the clouds."
"And I will remember my covenant which is between Me and you, and every living soul in all flesh, and the waters shall not again become a flood to destroy all flesh."
"And the bow shall be in the clouds, and I shall see it, to remember the everlasting covenant between Elohim and every living soul, in all flesh which is on the earth."
"And Elohim said to Noah, This is the sign of the covenant which I have made stand between Me and all flesh that is on the earth."
Now think about it. Does this covenant still stand? It must. From time to time, there are floods and they do take lives. But they are generalized, not worldwide. All life has not been threatened in that way ever again -- and never will be.
For this covenant, Yahweh required nothing of mankind. He simply made a promise, and He has kept it.. He has continued, throughout generations, to maintain this covenant. Remember this and think about covenants the next time you see a rainbow in the sky.
Covenant With Abraham
"And Yahweh said to Abram, go out from your land, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you."
"And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great; and you will be a blessing."
"I will bless those who bless you, and curse the one despising you, and in you all families of the earth shall be blessed."
Why? Did Abraham deserve this? Had he done something special? Was he being rewarded for something? No. Yahweh simply chose him and said so. There were no qualifications on Abraham's part. It was unmerited favor. Abraham simply showed trust and faith in Yahweh.
Genesis 15:4-5, 9-18
"And behold, the word of Yahweh came to him saying, this one shall not be your heir. but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir."
"And he brought him outside and said, look now at the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them; and he said to him, so shall your seed be."
"And He (Yahweh) said to him (Abram), take for me a heifer three years old, and a she-goat three years old, and a ram three years old, and a turtledove, even a nestling."
"And he took all these for Him and he divided them in the middle; and he laid each piece against one another, but he did not divide the bird."
"And the birds of prey came down on the carcasses, and Abram drove them away."
"And it happened as the sun was setting, and a deep sleep fell on Abram; and behold, a terror of great darkness falling on him."
"And he said to Abram, you must surely know that your seed shall be an alien in a land not theirs; and they shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years."
"And I also will judge that nation whom they shall serve; and afterward they shall come out with great substance."
"And you shall come to your fathers in peace, you shall be buried in a good old age."
"And in the fourth generation they shall come here again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full."
"And it was, the sun had gone down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace, and a torch of fire that passed between those pieces."
"In that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram, saying, I have given this land to your seed."
What was the sign of that covenant? Blood. That's why the animals were slaughtered.
Years went by. Abraham probably wondered why Yahweh had made such a promise when he and his wife were already elderly. How could they have a child? But he continued to believe.
Genesis 17:1-16, 19
"And when Abram was ninety and nine years old, Yahweh appeared to Abram and said to him, I am El Shaddai; walk before me and be perfect."
"And I will make my covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."
"And Abram fell on his face, and Yahweh spoke with him, saying."
"As for me, behold, my covenant is with you and you shall be a father of many nations."
"And your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations."
"And I will make you very fruitful, greatly so, and I will give you nations, and kings shall come out of you."
"And I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be an Elohim to you and to your seed after you."
"And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be their Elohim."
"And Elohim said to Abraham, you shall keep My covenant and your seed after you in their generations."
"This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you; every man-child among you shall be circumcised."
"And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a token of the covenant between Me and you."
"And a son of eight days shall be circumcised among you, every male in your generation, he that is born in the house, or bought with silver from any son of a foreigner who is not of your seed."
"Surely the child of your house and the purchase of your money must be circumcised. My covenant shall be in your flesh for a perpetual covenant and an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, his soul shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."
"And Elohim said to Abraham, you shall not call your wife Sarai by her name Sarai, for Sarah shall be her name."
"And I have blessed her and she shall become nations; kings of people shall be from her."
"And Elohim said, your wife Sarah truly shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I have established my covenant with him for a perpetual covenant."
Back in verse 1, Yahweh mentioned that Abraham was to be perfect. But Yahweh did not say how. He did not give rules or laws to Abraham. He just expanded the covenant and added more detail. The promises were made unconditional.
What is the sign mentioned here? Circumcision of the males. It still involved blood. But the circumcision isn't the point - the covenant is.
Is this covenant still in effect? It said "forever". Has time ended? Then the covenant must still exist - the descendants of Abraham - both of Isaac and of Ishmael - are living in those same areas today.
What did this covenant cover? Physical blessings only. It included no promise of eternity.
The covenant promises were inherited by Isaac, passed down to Jacob and then to his twelve sons. Due to famine in the land, they moved to Egypt where food was available. They remained there, became slaves of the Egyptians, and endured much hardship. Their cries reached Yahweh and He remembered His promise to Abraham. Yahweh chose Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. In the process, He performed miracles to show the people His greatness. He freed them, destroyed their enemies, led them, protected them, and fed them.
Covenant With Israel
When it came to Israel, Yahweh did not just make a covenant out of the blue. He layered it on top of the covenant already made with Abraham. It didn't eliminate Abraham's covenant, because the land Abraham was promised is exactly where his descendants went. It was the same territory that was included in their covenant.
A treaty implied the existence of community. Yahweh had wanted Israel to be a light to the nations. Why? So the other nations could get to know Yahweh and make their own covenant with Him? No. So others would see, come to the light, become grafted in, and be a part of the same covenant as Israel.
When Israel arrived at Mount Sinai, Yahweh proposed His covenant to the people.
"And Moses went up to Elohim, and Yahweh called to him from the mountain, saying, you shall say this to the house of Jacob, and tell it to the sons of Israel."
"You have seen what I did to Egypt; and I bore you on wings of eagles and brought you to Me."
"And now if you will surely listen to my voice, and will keep My covenant, you shall become a special treasure to Me above all the nations, for all the earth is Mine."
"And you shall become a kingdom of priests for Me, a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
"And Moses came and called the elders of the people and he put all these words before them which Yahweh had commanded him."
"And all the people answered together and said, all which Yahweh has spoken we will do, and Moses brought back the words of the people to Yahweh."
The covenant was laid out in Exodus 20-23. It was ratified and agreed to and sealed with blood.
"And Moses came and told all the words of Yahweh to the people and all the judgments, and all the people answered with one voice and said, we will do all the words which Yahweh has spoken."
"And Moses wrote all the words of Yahweh, and he rose early in the morning and built an altar below the mountain, and twelve memorial pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel."
"And he sent young men of the sons of Israel and they offered up burnt offerings, and offered sacrifices of bullocks, peace offerings to Yahweh."
"And Moses took half of the blood, and he put it in basins, and he sprinkled half the blood on the altar."
"And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the ears of the people, and they said, we will do all that Yahweh has spoken, and we will hear."
"And Moses took the blood and sprinkled on the people, and said, behold, the blood of the covenant which Yahweh has cut with you concerning these words."
Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer, Sr., editor, page 872 –
"PRIESTS – Official ministers or worship leaders in the nation of Israel who represented the people before God and conducted various rituals to atone for their sins. This function was carried out by the father of a family (Job 1:5) or the head of a tribe in the days before Moses and his brother Aaron. But with the appointment of Aaron by God as the first High Priest, the priesthood was formally established. Aaron’s descendants were established as the priestly line in Israel."
"But true priesthood began many years before their time in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve sinned against God, He made them tunics of skin and clothed them. Thus, the death of animals became a symbol of the removal of man’s guilt (Gen 3:21)."
"After this event, Abel offered a sacrifice that pleased God (Gen 4:4). Still later Noah (8:20), Abraham (12:7-8), Isaac (26:25), Jacob (35:1-7), and Job (Job 1:5) all acted as priests, offering sacrifices to God. In fact, each family in Israel killed the Passover lamb, offering it as a sacrifice to God (Ex 12:6; 34:25). But when God established Israel as His Chosen People at Mount Sinai after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Ex 6:7; 19:5-6), He established a formal priesthood through Aaron and his descendants."
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 4, page 2444 –
"Priesthood in some form appears to have existed from the earliest times, even from the beginning of history of our race. In patriarchal times the office was held and its duties were discharged by those who occupied some sort of headship, and particularly by the father or the chief of the family and of the tribe. Thus Noah in his capacity of priest and in behalf of his household ‘builded an altar unto Jehovah, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar’ (Gen 8 20). Abraham offered the ram ‘for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son’ (Gen 22 13). In like manner Job offered burnt offerings for his children, and likewise by Divine direction for the three ‘comforters’ when the great trial had passed (Job 1 5; 42 8). In these and the like instances there was priestly action no less certainly than in that of Aaron or of any regular appointed priest in Israel. Melchizedek was ‘priest of God Most High’ (Gen 14 18). Isaac ‘builded an altar there and called upon the name of Jehovah’ (Gen 26 25), as did Jacob (Gen 33 20). In these cases priestly acts were performed by the patriarchs in their capacity as the fathers of the family or heads of clans. From the beginning, priesthood with its acts of expiation and of worship was thus recognized as Divinely instituted office. But in pre-Mosaic times there was no special class of priests recognized."
"Regular priestly succession in a single family was established by Moses (Ex 28 1-3). From that point of time onward the priesthood in Israel was confined to the family of Aaron."
And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. And the Levites shall be Mine: I am Yahweh.
Numbers 8:14, 16, 18
And you shall separate the Levites from the midst of the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall become Mine.
For they are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel, instead of the one who opens any womb, the firstborn of all, from the sons of Israel. I have taken them to Myself.
And I take the Levites instead of every firstborn among the sons of Israel.
After the people sinned by demanding a golden calf and bowing down to it, things changed. Additional laws, sacrifices and a priesthood were added. The covenant was written once again.
Exodus 34:10, 27-28
"And He said, behold, I am cutting a covenant; I will do wonderful things before all your people, which have not been done in all the earth and among all nations and all the people, in whose midst you are, shall see the work of Yahweh, for that which I am about to do is awesome."
"And Yahweh said to Moses, write these words for yourself, for on the mouth of these words I will cut a covenant with you and with Israel."
"And he was there with Yahweh forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread and he did not drink water, and he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments."
Each covenant had a sign. So what was the one Yahweh gave Moses to pass on to the people?
"And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying."
"And you speak to the sons of Israel, saying, you shall surely keep My Sabbaths; for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations; to know that I am Yahweh your sanctifier."
"And you shall keep the Sabbath, for it is holy for you; the profaners of it surely shall be put to death; for everyone doing work in it, that soul shall be cut off from the midst of his people."
"Work may be done six days, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to Yahweh; everyone doing work on the Sabbath day surely shall be put to death."
"And the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to do the Sabbath for their generations; it is a never-ending covenant."
"It is a sign forever between Me and the sons of Israel; for in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed."
The covenant Yahweh made with Israel followed the king/vassal pattern:
- Deut 1:1 - 4:49 - prologue - all He had done for them
- Deut 5:1 - 26:19 - stipulations
- Deut 27:1 - 30:17 - expectations and consequences
- Deut 30:19-20 - witnesses
- Deut 31:1-8 - provisions for succession
- Deut 31:9 - deposit and reading
Once again, the covenant refers only to physical things – nothing about eternal life.
Covenant With David
For a time, Israel did grow and prosper. The people asked Yahweh for a king, and He gave them Saul. But Saul did not prove to be faithful. He did not follow through with Yahweh's instructions, so Yahweh replaced him with David. In David, He found a man after his own heart (Acts 13:22), one with whom He could build a relationship. Yahweh made a covenant with him.
2 Samuel 7:10-16
"And I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place and not be made to tremble any more, nor shall the sons of evil afflict them again, as at the first."
"Even from the day I commanded judges to be over my people Israel and I will cause you to rest from all your enemies; and Yahweh declares to you that Yahweh will make you a house."
"When your days are fulfilled, and you lie with your fathers, then I shall raise up your seed after you, which shall come out from your bowels, and I shall establish his kingdom."
"He shall build a house for My name, and I shall establish the throne of his kingdom forever."
"I shall be a father to him, and he shall be a son to Me; when he sins, then I will chasten him with a rod of men, and with strokes of the sons of men."
"But my mercy shall not be taken from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you."
"And your house shall be established, and your kingdom before you forever; your throne shall be established forever."
This covenant also layers on top of the previous two. David was a descendant of Israel (Jacob) and Abraham. The land he was ruling over was the same land promised to Abraham. David had inherited a part in the covenants of both Abraham and Israel.
And what was the sign? A continuing line of kings and the house of David's lineage. Believe it or not, the lineage and throne continues to exist today and will one day be claimed by the returning Messiah.
"And the angel said to her, do not fear, Mary, for you have found favor from Yahweh."
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son; and you will call His name Yahshua."
"This One will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and Yahweh Elohim will give Him the throne of His father David."
"And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
Do these old covenants still exist? They are found in the Torah and have Yahweh's laws as their core. But Christianity tells us that all law was nailed to the cross and done away. Was it really?
"Do not think that I came to annul the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to annul, but to fulfill."
"Truly I say to you, until the heavens and the earth pass away, in no way shall one iota or one tittle pass away from the law until all comes to pass."
"Whoever then shall break one of these commandments, the least, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whoever does and teaches them, this one shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens."
Did the old covenant cease to exist with Israel's captivity? Did Israel cease to exist? What about us? Are we under any covenants today?
The Scriptures (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:10-13; 10:16-18) do not mention the church as being the recipient of the covenant. It says "the house of Israel and the house of Judah." Those are His people.
So where does that leave anyone outside that family? Are they left out? Or does Yahweh make His plan available to all?
I say, then, Did not they (Israel) stumble that they fall? Let it not be! But by their slipping away came salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy.
And all flesh shall see the salvation of Yahweh.
Non-Israelites will be grafted into Israel. They will become Yahweh’s people as well.
But if some of the branches (Israel) were broken off, and you (the nations) being a wild olive tree were grafted in among them, and became a sharer of the root and the fatness of the olive tree.
In the Old Testament, you do find a reference to a new covenant - in Jeremiah 31. But let's look closely.
Several times in that chapter, we find such references as "at that time", "the days come", "in those days", etc. When those words are found in Scripture, especially in prophecy, it is referring to the end times; to Yahshua's return and the setting up of the Messianic kingdom. Not to the time past when He lived as a human being, and gave His life for the world.
Some try to explain Jeremiah 31 as referring to spiritual Israel, not physical - a replacement theology. But did Yahweh make such a change? Where? In what Scripture?
"Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah."
"Not according to the covenant that I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which covenant of Mine they broke, although I was a husband to them, says Yahweh."
"But this shall be the covenant that I will cut with the house of Israel: after those days, declares Yahweh, I will put My law in their inward parts, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their Elohim, and they shall be my people."
"And they shall no longer each man teach his neighbor, and each man his brother, saying, know Yahweh, for they shall all know Me, from the least of them even to the greatest of them, declares Yahweh. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more."
"So says Yahweh, who gives the sun for a light by day, the laws of the moon, and the stars for a light by night; who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar, Yahweh of hosts is His name."
"If these ordinances depart from before Me, says Yahweh, the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever."
"So says Yahweh, if the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be searched out, I will also reject all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, declares Yahweh."
In verse 31, we find the word "new". This is Strong's #2319, hadash. In Hebrew, this word can mean new or renewed. The sense it imparts in this verse is renewed. How can that be?
Exodus 6:4, 7-8
"And I also establish My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their travels, in which they traveled."
"And I will take you for Myself for a people, and I will be an El for you, and you shall know that I am Yahweh your Elohim, the One bringing you out from under the burdens of Egypt."
"And I will bring you into the land which I raised My hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am Yahweh."
The promises are basically the same in Jeremiah 31, aren't they? These same promises are repeated in Hebrews 8:8-12, in what most people call the "new covenant". What is the difference? Any?
Remember in history the king/vassal covenant? What happened if the king or the vassal representative died? The covenant needed to be signed again, by the new king or another vassal representative. It had to be renewed! As a rule, it was not a new covenant, but the same covenant, just renewed because the parties had changed.
"But wait," some will say. "This has to be a different one. The Old Covenant didn't include forgiveness. That only came in the New Testament with the death of the Messiah."
"And Yahweh passed by before his face and called out; Yahweh, Yahweh, Elohim, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and great in goodness and truth."
"Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression for sin, and not leaving entirely unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on sons, and on sons of sons, to the third and to the fourth generation."
The Old Covenant with Israel also included forgiveness.
Back in Jeremiah 31, think about verses 36 and 37. Why did Yahweh never totally destroy the nation of Israel for their rebellion? For their total rejection of Him? He has punished them, but never erased them from the face of the earth. Why not? Because He had a covenant with them! He would never break His word.
"For I am Yahweh, I change not; because of this you sons of Jacob are not destroyed."
"El is not a man that He should lie; nor a son of man that He should repent; has He said, and shall not do it? And has He spoken, and shall He not make it good?"
The references in the New Testament to the covenant are in Hebrews. To get the whole context, read chapters 7 through 11 of the book of Hebrews.
Our calling, like Abraham's, is also one of grace and belief. But our calling is not because anything we did. We did nothing to earn it.
No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up in the last day.
Yahshua said to him, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
But when the kindness and love of Yahweh our Savior toward man appeared,
not by works in righteousness which we had done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the set-apart Spirit.
For as many as were baptized into Messiah, you put on Messiah.
There cannot be Jew or Greek; there is no slave nor freeman; there is no male and female; for you are all one in Messiah Yahshua.
And if you are of Messiah, then you are a seed of Abraham, even heirs according to the promise.
For the law perfected nothing, but a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to Yahweh.
The law - or the keeping of it - will make no one perfect. It will not earn us salvation. What the law (the Torah) does is describe perfection. Yahweh wants us to become beings after His likeness. To become like Him, we need to see what He is like. We find that by looking at His Torah and His covenants. That is where we learn His characteristics that we need to put into our lives.
And who made the Old Testament covenants? It was the member of the Elohim family who later became a human. (For more explanation, see our booklet on the Trinity on our website. It explains the pre-existence of Yahshua.)
"For finding fault, He said to them, behold, days are coming, says the Master, and I will make an end on the house of Israel, and on the house of Judah; a new covenant shall be."
"Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day of My taking hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I did not regard them, says the Master."
"Because this is the covenant which I will covenant with the house of Israel after those days, says the Master, giving My laws into their mind, and I will write them on their hearts, and I will be their El, and they shall be My people."
"And they shall no more teach one his neighbor, and each one his brother, saying, know the Master; because all shall know Me, from the least of them to their great ones."
"For I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses and I will not at all remember their sins and their lawless deeds."
"In the saying, new, He has made the first old, and the thing having been made old and growing aged is near disappearing."
For those who believe that the law has been done away, that it was nailed to the cross, look again at verse 10. What is He going to put into their minds to live by? His law! The same law! The basic rules have never been changed It still exists and it will continue to do so!
So when was – or will be – the new covenant? Who were – or will be – the parties involved? What caused – or will cause – the change?
For the priestly office having been changed, of necessity a change of the law also occurs.
"Having been changed" is in the past tense. So just what changed? By what event? Can the priestly office impact this subject of the covenants? If so, how? In the time of ancient Israel, the Levitical priesthood and the duties they performed in and around the holy of holies were of great importance.
And you shall put the mercy-seat on the ark from above. And you shall put the testimony into the ark, which I shall give to you.
And I (Yahweh) will meet you there, and will speak with you, above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubs which are on the ark of testimony, all which I shall command you concerning the sons of Israel.
The average Israelite could not enter that space to meet with and talk to Yahweh. Only the high priest was to enter there, only once a year, to do service. He was to enter there on the Day of Atonement to offer blood to atone for the sins of Israel. So how does the following event affect that?
And letting out a great cry, Yahshua expired.
And the veil of the temple was torn into two, from top to bottom.
If man caused this, it would of necessity, have been torn from the bottom upward. To be torn from the top down, it had to be an act of Yahweh: a supernatural event. And it meant what?
It meant that the people were no longer dependent upon the holy of holies or the high priest to reach Yahweh. The blood of animals was no longer necessary to cover sins. It actually put the high priest out of a job! He was replaced!
Since, then, the children have partaken of flesh and blood, in like manner He Himself also shared the same things, that through death He might cause to cease the one having the power of death, that is, the Devil;
and might set these free, as many as by fear of death were subject to slavery through all the time to live.
For indeed He does not take hold of angels, but He takes hold of the seed of Abraham.
Therefore, He ought by all means to become like His brothers, that He (Yahshua) might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the things respecting Elohim, in order to make propitiation for the sins of His people.
For in what He has suffered, being tried, He is able to help those having been tried.
For which reason, holy brothers, called to be partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Messiah Yahshua,
being faithful to Him who appointed Him, as also Moses in all his house.
For He was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by so much as the one having built the house has more honor than the house.
For every house is built by someone; but He who built all things is Elohim.
And Moses truly was faithful in all his house as a ministering servant, for a testimony of the things having been spoken;
but Messiah as Son over His house, whose house we are, if truly we hold fast the boldness and rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.
In which way, desiring to more fully declare to the heirs of the promise of the unchangeableness of His counsel, Elohim interposed by an oath,
that through two unchangeable things, in which it was not possible for Elohim to lie, we might have a strong consolation, those having fled to lay hold on the hope set before us,
which we have as an anchor of the soul, both certain and sure, and entering into the inner side of the veil;
where Yahshua entered as forerunner for us, having become a High Priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.
Now a summary of the things being said is: We have such a High Priest, who sat down on the right of the throne of the Majesty in Heaven,
Minister of the holies, and of the true tabernacle which the Master pitched, and not man.
Truly, then, the first tabernacle also had ordinances of service, and the worldly holy place.
For the first tabernacle was prepared, in which was both the lampstand and the table, and the setting out of the loaves, which is called holy;
but behind the second veil is a tabernacle, that is called Holy of Holies,
having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant covered around on all sides with gold, in which was the golden pot having the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant;
and above it the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat – about which now is not time to speak piece by piece.
And these having been prepared thus, the priests go into the first tabernacle through all, completing the services.
But into the second the high priest goes alone once in the year, not without blood, which he offers for himself and the ignorances of the people;
the Set-Apart Spirit signifying by this that the way of the Holies has not yet been made manifest, the first tabernacle still having standing;
which has a parable for the present time, according to which both gifts and sacrifices are offered, but as regards conscience, not being able to perfect the one serving,
but only on foods and drinks, and various washings, and fleshly ordinances, until the time of setting things right has been imposed.
But Messiah having appeared as a High Priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation,
nor through the blood of goats and of calves, but through His own blood. He entered once for all into the Holies, having procured everlasting redemption.
For if the blood of bulls and goats, and ashes of a heifer sprinkling those having been defiled, sanctifies to the purity of the flesh,
by how much more the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to Elohim, will purify your conscience from dead works for the serving of the living Elohim!
And because of this He is Mediator of a new covenant, so that, death having occurred for redemption of transgressions under the first covenant, those having been called out might receive the promise of the everlasting inheritance.
Effects On The Law
When the veil was rent and the new priesthood was put into place, the rulings, rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices, etc that the Levitical high priest carried out ended. The priests must have repaired the veil because they carried on with their duties just as they always had done – at least until the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Everything had shifted to Yahshua, the new high priest, but they were not following Him. They simply continued their traditions.
And no, it does not mean that the law is done away. Look at what Yahshua said:
Do not think that I came to annul the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to annul, but to fulfill.
Truly I say to you, Until the heavens and the earth pass away, in no way shall one iota or one tittle pass away from the law until all comes to pass.
Look around. The heavens are still here, aren’t they? And the earth? Then so is the law!
Yahshua replaced the priests and what went along with that office – not the entire law. The Sabbath, the set-apart days, clean and unclean foods, etc still stood – they were not totally dependent upon the high priest. Those days can still be observed – minus the sacrifices and rituals conducted by the priests – as believers have been doing for years.
How can it be said that the sacrifices were ended but the law continued? Because the sacrifices were added later – they were not a part of the original agreement – of the original giving of the law to Moses, as found in Exodus 20-23.
Why, then, the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the Seed should come, to whom it had been promised, being ordained through angels in a mediator’s hand.
Could the "added" part refer to the laws regarding Levitical duties? They were added after the covenant had already been sealed.
For I did not speak to your fathers, nor command them in the day that I brought them out from the land of Egypt, concerning matters of burnt offerings and sacrifices.
But I commanded them this thing, saying, Obey My voice, and I will be your Elohim, and you shall be my people. Also, Walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, so that it may be well with you.
But He, offering but one sacrifice for sins, sat down in perpetuity at the right hand of Elohim,
from then on expecting until His enemies are placed as a footstool of His feet.
For by one offering He has perfected in perpetuity the ones being sanctified.
And the Holy Spirit witnesses to us also. For after having said before,
"This is the covenant which I will covenant to them after those days, says the Master: Giving my laws on their hearts, and I will write them on their minds;
And I will not at all still remember their sins and their lawless deeds."
But where forgiveness of these is, there is no longer offering concerning sins.
Then, brothers, having confidence for the entering of the Holies by the blood of Yahshua,
which He consecrated for us, a new and living way through the veil; that is, His flesh;
and having a great priest over the house of Elohim,
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts having been sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body having been washed in pure water;
let us hold fast the confession of the hope without yielding, for He who has promised is faithful.
But now He has gotten a more excellent ministry, also by so much as He is a Mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
For if that first was faultless, place would not have been sought for a second.
For finding fault, He said to them, "Behold, days are coming, says the Master, and I will make an end (to complete, to execute) on the house of Israel, and on the house of Judah; a new covenant shall be,
not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day of My taking hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, because they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not regard them, says the Master.
Because this is the covenant which I will covenant with the house of Israel after those days, says the Master, giving my laws into their mind, and I will write them on their hearts, and I will be their Elohim and they shall be My people.
And they shall no more teach each one his neighbor, and each one his brother, saying, Know the Master, because all shall know Me, from the least of them to their greatest ones.
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses, and I will not at all remember their sins and their lawless deeds."
In the saying, "New," He has made the first old. And the thing having been made old and growing aged is near disappearing.
Discussions rage in various groups regarding covenants – the old or the new. Which is in effect today? Old or new? Both? Neither? It is clear that all Israel or all Judah or the world as a whole has not received the new covenant at this time. How can that be known? Based on verse 11 above, not everyone today knows Him. Just look at the state of affairs in the world today – how many different religions or gods are there?
But it is possible for believers to understand and accept that new covenant now. The high priest is already in place. His blood has been offered and accepted. Remember, blood was the item used to seal covenants. So how would we, on our part, seal that covenant or agree to that arrangement with blood? How could we demonstrate our acceptance of it?
The last night Yahshua was alive, He shared Passover with His disciples. That same evening He instituted new symbols with them.
And as they ate, taking the bread and blessing it, Yahshua broke and gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body.
And taking the cup, and giving thanks, He gave to them, saying, Drink all of it.
For this is My blood of the New Covenant which concerning many is being poured out for forgiveness of sins.
I Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Master what also I delivered to you, that the Master Yahshua in the night in which He was betrayed took bread,
and giving thanks He broke and said, Take, eat; this is My body which is broken on behalf of you; this do in remembrance of Me.
In the same way the cup also, after supping, saying, This cup is the New Covenant in My blood; as often as you drink; do this is remembrance of Me.
For as often as you may eat this bread, and drink this cup, you solemnly proclaim the death of the Master until He shall come.
The one partaking of My flesh and drinking My blood has everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For My flesh is truly food, and My blood is truly drink.
The one partaking of My flesh and drinking of My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
Did you notice that? "My blood" and "New Covenant". Does that mean, then, that every year when a follower of Yahshua partakes of this ceremony, he is reaffirming his agreement to the covenant with his High Priest – the arrangement that has been worked out for the salvation or redemption of mankind? Can believers come into that new covenant now today?
Hebrews 9:15, 24-26
And because of this He is Mediator of a new covenant, so that, death having occurred for redemption of transgressions under the first covenant, those having been called out might receive the promise of the everlasting inheritance.
For Messiah did not enter into the Holies made by hands, types of the true things, but into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of Elohim on our behalf,
not that He often should offer Himself, even as the high priest enters into the Holies year by year with blood of others;
since He must often have suffered from the foundation of the world. But now once, at the completion of the ages, He has been manifested for putting away of sin through the sacrifices of Himself.
This covenant is more than physical. It involves eternal inheritance – eternal life.
And I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish to the age; and not anyone shall pluck them out of My hand.
And being perfected, He became the Author of eternal salvation to all those obeying Him.
I John 2:25
And this is the promise which He promised us: everlasting life.
According to Barne’s Notes, studies have been done on many of these Greek words in detail. The word translated as covenant in Hebrews 9:15-17 is the Greek word diatheke. But the actual meaning is something different. It actually means an "arrangement, disposition," or "disposal" of a thing. The words refer to the arrangement of things by which people might be saved; not that He was making a compact or a will. Whereas, interestingly enough, the Greek word suntheke, which actually does mean "compact, agreement," or "covenant", does not appear in the New Testament.
Therefore, having a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Yahshua the Son of Elohim, let us hold fast the confession,
For we do not have a high priest not being able to sympathize with our infirmities, but One having been tried in all respects according to our likeness, apart from sin.
Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and we may find grace for help in time of need.
"But wait a minute," you say. "You're talking about everyone, and Jeremiah didn't say that. Jeremiah 31:31 states that the new covenant will be with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. So how can these be the same thing?"
Simple. With whom did Yahshua make this new covenant at His last Passover? With his twelve disciples. Exactly who were they? They were Israelites - from the tribes of Israel and Judah. They were of Israel and they were to go to Israel. Earlier they had been instructed regarding those they were to teach.
But rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Yahshua also made a promise as to the future of these twelve men.
And I appoint a kingdom to you, as my Father appointed to me,
that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom. And you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Later that commission to the twelve regarding teaching was expanded by Yahshua.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached on His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
So - if they were teaching all that Yahshua taught, then wouldn't it include the symbols of this new covenant? Wouldn’t they explain how others could become a part of that covenant? As Paul later instructed:
I Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Master what also I delivered to you, that the Master Yahshua in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
and giving thanks He broke and said, Take, eat; this is my body which is broken on behalf of you; this do for remembrance of Me.
In the same way the cup also, after supping, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood; as often as you drink, do this for remembrance of Me.
For as often as you may eat this bread, and drink this cup, you solemnly proclaim the death of the Master, until He shall come.
The disciples began by teaching Israel and Judah and then Paul went also to the Gentiles. But whenever he went into a town, he went to the synagogue - to Israel and Judah - first.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Messiah, for it is the power of Elohim to salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew first, and to Greek.
Paul continued this theme in the chapter of Romans 11. Read that chapter and see how salvation – and the new covenant – are made available to everyone. He explains how those lost from Israel and Judah could be grafted in once again. And those who were of the other nations could be grafted into Israel. They will be grafted in to become part of Yahshua's new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
For as many as were immersed unto Messiah, you put on Messiah.
There cannot be Jew nor Greek; there is no slave nor freeman; there is no male and female; for you are all one in Messiah Yahshua.
And if you are of Messiah, then you are a seed of Abraham, even heirs according to the promise.
That new covenant is already in place with those who believe. You don’t think so? Then why did Yahshua say, "This is"? Shouldn’t He have said, "This will be" if the covenant were to be yet future? The new covenant was instituted at Yahshua's last Passover when He said in Luke 22:20, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is being poured out for you." We renew that covenant yearly when we partake of the symbols of unleavened bread and wine, on the night of Passover, just as He instituted them. We commemorate His death and the blood that was shed to mark that covenant.