For most of us, the word “covenant” isn’t one we hear on a regular basis. It’s not something we think about. It doesn’t play a role in the ins-and-outs of our day-to-day lives. So, even though we might have an idea of what a covenant is, we might understand its textbook definition, or have even heard it talked about in church, it can be hard to wrap our minds around it, to understand what it means when the Bible says God is “the faithful God who keeps covenant”(Deuteronomy 7:9).
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring God’s work of redemption through a study of five covenants we find in Scripture: the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New Covenant.
Covenants are often framed as contracts. Two parties enter into an agreement under some kind of mutual understanding. The covenant serves as the formal commitment that each party will keep his end of the bargain as well as outline any stipulations or consequences.
This is the way covenants generally functioned in the ancient Near East, and this is the way the biblical covenants we’ll be studying functioned. But there’s an added dimension unique to the biblical covenant. Each of the covenants mentioned above are highly relational in nature. We can think of them as divine DTRs—specific moments in time when God distinctively moved to define the nature of his relationship with specific people, under specific circumstances, for specific purposes.
The covenants we’ll be studying function in one of two ways, as unilateral covenants or bilateral covenants. Unilateral covenants function as covenants of promise. One party commits himself wholly to some action with no obligation on the part of the other party. The Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and new covenants fit under this category. In bilateral covenants, on the other hand, each participant binds himself to specific obligations and both parties are responsible for meeting the stipulations of their agreement. We’ll see how bilateral covenants work as we study the Mosaic covenant.
We’ll begin our study in Genesis 9 with the Noahic covenant. Here, we’ll see a renewal of God’s commitment to all of creation. We’ll then turn to the Abrahamic covenant just a few chapters later in Genesis 12, where we’ll be reminded of God’s great love for all people of the world. Our study of the Mosaic covenant will bring us to Exodus 24. As the only bilateral covenant in our study, this covenant will give us insight not only into God’s nature but into our human nature as well. Next, we’ll turn to the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7 to learn how God’s promises to David would impact the entire cosmos. Finally, we’ll finish our study with the New Covenant. It is here that each covenant finds its ultimate fulfillment.
While each of these covenants are unique in their own way, they all point to the same good news: God is faithful to keep his promises. And it is through the covenants that we are given an unobstructed view of God’s redemptive work in the world and in the lives of his people.