Introduction to Covenants of the Bible

by | Nov 12, 2020 | 02 Library, Introductions

God made a series of special promises, which we call covenants. There are two kinds of covenants and 5 significant covenants in Scripture.

What is a covenant?

  • There are two kinds of covenants in Scripture: unilateral and bilateral.
  • Unilateral – a commitment on the part of a greater party toward a lesser. The majority of covenants in the Bible are this type.
  • Bilateral – A commitment on the part of two equals towards each other to fulfill certain promises unconditionally (e.g. marriage).
  • A covenant is not the same as a contract.
  • A covenant is personal — based on gratitude, trust and hope.
  • A contract is impersonal – legalistic; based on distrust.
  • In a covenant relationship, the greater party commits himself to fulfill certain promises made to a lesser party.
  • In the Bible, God is the greater party. He brings commitment to the covenant relationship.
  • The lesser party in all Biblical covenants is a human being.
  • As a recipient, the person needs only to accept the promise by faith and trust that the commitment will stand.
God’s unilateral
covenants with
SignScripture Reference
NoahrainbowGenesis 6:18; Genesis 9:-17
AbrahamcircumcisionGenesis 15; Genesis 17
Israel (the Old Covenant through Moses)keeping the SabbathExodus 19-31;
Deuteronomy 4-6
Davidan offspring2 Samuel 7
the body of Christ (New Covenant)the CupJeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:26-28; 2 Corinthians 3; Galatians 4:21-23; Hebrews 9:15-17

The Covenant stands

— despite threats

  • The seed is threatened in Egypt (Genesis 12).
  • The land is threatened by human whim (the story of Lot; Genesis 13).
  • The seed is threatened by tyrannical kings (Genesis 14).
  • Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will no prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”

— despite sin

As soon as God has made a covenant, mankind’s sin shows itself again as evidenced by:

Covenant made:Sin that followed:
God promises Noah He would never again destroy the earth (Genesis 8:20-9:17).Noah gets drunk (Genesis 9:18-17).
God promises Abraham that He will bring salvation to the world through him (Genesis 12:1-3).Abraham lies to Pharoah about Sarah (Genesis 12:10-20).
God promises Abraham that he would have many descendants (Genesis 15).Abraham takes Sarah’s advice and has a child by Hagar (Genesis 16).
God gives the 10 commandments to Moses (Exodus 20ff).Aaron leads Israel in idolatrous worship (Exodus 32)
God tells David that He will give David an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7).David commits adultery with Bathsheba and has Uriah killed (2 Samuel 11).
Jesus declares the New Covenant in the Upper Room (Luke 22:20).The disciples fall asleep in Gethsamene (Luke 22:45) and Peter denies Christ (Luke 22:54-62).

This repeating cycle shows that the grace of God, not the faithfulness of mankind, moves program of salvation to its conclusion.

The Covenant with Noah

God gave Noah a 3-fold promise and a 3-fold command. The central point of the promise is that God will never again destroy the earth. The thrust of the command centers on the inestimable value of life.

God’s promises to Noah (Genesis 8:21-9:3)

  1. I will never again destroy the earth (Genesis 8:21-22) — God promises that life on earth will continue until the end of history. By His grace, God has not set the stage for the end of history when God will bring forth the redemption of mankind.
  2. Mankind will be prolific (Genesis 9:1) – When God blesses a person, he/she is productive. God blesses Noah’s family with the ability to produce life in His image.
  3. Mankind will have dominion over the rest of creation (Genesis 9:2-3)

God’s commands to Noah (Genesis 9:4-7)

  1. Not to eat blood in order to learn to value life (Genesis 9:4).
  2. To be just because mankind is made in God’s image (Genesis 9:5-6).
  3. To populate the earth (Genesis 9:7).

The Covenant with Abraham

The flood taught us that judgment alone will not solve the problem of our rebellion to God. Following rebellion and judgment, God works a new act of salvation in the covenant with Abraham.

The Plan of Salvation: Genesis 12:1-3

  • One individual is called out to go to a land (12:1).
  • This one individual will become a nation (12:2).
  • This nation results in universal blessing to all nations (12:3).

God’s promises regarding the seed (Genesis 17)

  1. Abraham would be the father of many nations (17:4-6).
  2. God will be the God of Abraham’s descendants (17:7)
  3. Abraham’s see will be given the land of Canaan as their everlasting possession (17:8)

The promise to Abraham regarding the seed and the land were restated three times (Genesis 12; 15; 17), each providing an increased level of assurance. First, God made the promises. Next, God made a covenant for each. Finally, God swears to keep His covenant (Gen 22:15-18).

The promised seed is always narrowed to a spiritual seed, until only the spiritual seed is left in the New Testament. There is a continuing separation of faith from non-faith.

  • Cain versus Abel
  • Seth (not Cain)
  • Noah (not the rest of the world)
  • Shem (not Canaan)
  • Abraham (not his brothers)
  • Isaac (not Ishmael)
  • Jacob (not Esau)
  • 12 Tribes — believing remnant preserved through the exile
  • Christ – believing Israel and believing Gentiles

The Old Covenant

  • Exodus 19:3-4 – Basis of the Covenant; The Mosaic Covenant is the result of God’s deliberate acts in history. He kept is promise to deliver Israel from Egypt.
  • Exodus 19:5-6 – Purpose of the Covenant: 1) a treasured possession; 2) a kingdom of priests; 3) a holy nation
  • Exodus 19:7-9 – Nature of the Covenant: This covenant requires Israel’s efforts and is therefore doomed.
  • Exodus 19:10-25 – Spiritual preparation of the people: clear lines of holiness were drawn and anyone who crossed over would die
  • Exodus 20:1-17 – The 10 Commandments: the centerpiece of the relationship between God and Israel, based on God’s grace and redemption. Ethics follows redemption.

Davidic Covenant

Promise realized during David’s Lifetime (2 Samuel 7:8-11)

  • A great name (2 Samuel 8:13)
  • A Place for my people Israel
  • Rest from war (1 Kings 5:4)

Promises realized after David’s death (2 Samuel 7:11-16)

  • An eternal house
  • an eternal throne
  • An eternal kingdom

Old vs New Covenant


  • Basis is the same: God’s grace (Galatians 4:4-5).
  • Purpose is the same (1 Peter 2:9-10).
  • Same Character: Holy, righteous and good (Romans 3:21; Romans 7:16).
  • Both enacted with blood (Hebrews 9:16-21).
  • Same basic Commands: love the God and your fellow man (Matthew 22:24ff).


  • New is based on a better promise (Hebrew 8:6; 1 Peter 2:9-10). The Old Covenant required Israel to remain faithful. Christ fulfilled the covenant for us and God promises to keep both parts of the covenant.
  • New has a better sacrifice (once for all; Hebrews 9:16)
  • New has a better provision (law written on our hearts; Ezekiel 35:24-28; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 2:28).
  • New has a broader scope (Acts 1:8; Isaiah 42:4; Ephesians 3:6).
  • Old is earthly. New is heavenly in origin (Galatians 4:21ff).

More: Introduction to…

Background & History

Series: Bible Study 101

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