Covenant in the Bible: Meaning and Purpose
What is a covenant, exactly? Covenant is a dominant theme in the Scriptures and serves as a foundation to the story of God’s people. In a literal sense, a covenant means a binding agreement, a legal contract. It is a seal between two or more parties.
In a biblical sense, the word covenant derives from the same root word meaning “to cut.” This means that in the culture of the Bible, covenant carried weight and was often cut, or sealed, in blood.
Major Biblical Covenants
One of the significant covenants in the Scriptures is one that God made with Abraham in Genesis 15-17. This seemingly mysterious ceremony involving cutting animals in half was not mysterious to a man like Abraham living in the ancient Near East. In fact, two families would often conduct this same ceremony in the cutting of a marriage covenant.
In this, God gave a promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. It happened at a time when he and his wife Sarah were barren. The sign of this was in the cutting of the flesh in circumcision.
Another significant covenant in the Bible, often called Mosaic, is one that God made with Israel. The Lord told Moses in Exodus 19 that if Israel would uphold the condition to faithfully listen and obey, God would uphold His end of the covenant. In other words, the Israelites were to become guardians of God’s covenant. That meant living out the commandments as a light to the nations.
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine. Exodus 19:5
This was the basis for the calling of Israel: to be a priest for the nations of the earth. God called Israel in the midst of people groups that walked in darkness. They people who did not live according to any laws. But God chose the nation of Israel to set forth His example in the earth.
God destined the Jewish people to bring forth His Messiah. He would bring redemption for all the nations of the earth. Living out the commandments meant that Israel was to recognize this sense of calling. It made them God’s people, His own special possession.
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. Deuteronomy 7:9
The covenant God made with King David was to establish his throne forever. Despite his shortcomings, David’s heart continued to run after the Lord. It was in response to David’s desire to build God a house, a dwelling place to host His presence, that God replied:
“He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” 2 Samuel 7:13
God promised to establish David’s dynasty. But it was not anything that David did which qualified him. Instead, it was his revelation of God’s hesed, His covenant love. The Davidic covenant finds its fulfillment in the new covenant through the Messiah Jesus, the Son of David.
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New Covenant in the Bible
Jeremiah 31 speaks of a new covenant with the house of Israel where God’s law would be written on the hearts of His people: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jeremiah 31:33
The Mosaic covenant was impossible to keep perfectly. This one would not rely on men upholding their end of the agreement. The perfect sacrifice of Jesus made a way for God’s people to go before His presence in the Holy of Holies.
Therefore, he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:15
The Everlasting Promise
The Bible continuously mentions that covenants are everlasting. These covenants meanings are not for the light of heart! God cut covenants with Abraham, Moses or David and more. Each time the Word of God reminds us that His promises are forever.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. Psalm 103:17-18
Any new covenant did not disregard the previous ones. They supplement each other in the perfectly designed plan of God. In fact, the biblical covenants come together in the Cross. Through His death, Jesus sealed God’s covenants with mankind, making them valid and unbreakable.
God’s desire has always been to dwell with His people. The story began in a garden where Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day. Later, the Tabernacle hosted God’s presence, followed by the Temple. Finally, the story ends in the New Jerusalem where this same covenant-keeping God is united in a marriage covenant with His Bride.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:3
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