A couple weeks ago, I gave you a brief introduction and motivation for why you should care about the covenants. Recall that a covenant is a solemn commitment to a particular relationship, guaranteeing promises or obligations undertaken by one or both parties, sealed with an implicit or explicit oath. Marriage is the most concrete everyday example of a covenantal relationship with its oath of wedding vows and sign of the wedding ring. In the last article, I indicated that the divine-human covenants in the Scriptures work together to advance the storyline of Scripture, much like all the components of a house all work together to form a complete dwelling. We must care about the covenants because they help us put our Bibles together properly.
“The hope that drives the rest of the Bible is stated in Genesis 3:15: God will raise up a male seed (offspring) of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head.”
Hopefully my last article felt dissatisfying since I didn’t actually walk you through these covenants! I want to start to do that now, walking you through the architecture of God’s kingdom program. This will by no means be a comprehensive tour, but it will hopefully give you the basics and encourage you to deepen your knowledge with further study.
The Foundation—Covenant at Creation (Genesis 1–3)
God forms and fills the universe out of nothing in six days in Genesis 1. Mankind is specially created by God on day 6 as the pinnacle of creation. In Genesis 1:26–28, God creates men and woman in his own image and as His likeness, and they are created to have a stewardship rule over God’s kingdom. The terms “image” and “likeness” have parallels in the contemporary thinking of the ancient world when Moses penned Genesis. “Likeness” indicated an ancient king’s relationship with a god, a relationship described in terms of sonship (notice the connection between likeness and sonship in Genesis 5:1-3). “Image” indicated the responsibility of that king to represent and act on behalf of that god in the world.
Think of a US ambassador in a foreign country. In a sense that ambassador is in the “likeness” of the US Government: he is commissioned with a special relationship to the government. This ambassador is tasked to be the “image” of the US Government in dealings with the foreign nation. He is tasked to be the face of the US Government and to act on behalf of the Government and for its interests.
Adam and Eve are together God’s image to His creation. They are steward-kings (ambassadors) to execute God’s rule over His creation. They are to multiply image-bearers and tend the earth (Genesis 1:28) and they are not to seek to decide good and evil for themselves but to depend on God (Genesis 2:16-17). In executing this stewardship rule over God’s kingdom, Adam is held ultimately responsible for the task and to obey God’s stipulations and restrictions (Genesis 2:15–17). Eve is created as an equal image-bearer with Adam with a particular role of being Adam’s complementary helpmate in completing the task of stewardship rule (Genesis 2:18–25). Marriage, a covenant relationship, is tightly bound to God’s kingdom purposes for men and women to be His image to the rest of creation. I would argue that this relationship between God and mankind and mankind and creation is covenantal and that the marriage relationship itself is the sign of this covenant with Adam. In the rest of Scripture, God’s relationship to His people is often compared to a marriage. This is no accident but is built into the fabric of God’s dealings with mankind. In Genesis 1-2, the Edenic state is in perfect rest and peace (Genesis 2:1-3). Everything is in harmonious relationship with God and man has uninhibited fellowship with God.
The Fall in Genesis 3 was nothing less than a coup attempt on the part of man and Satan (Genesis 3:1–7). Man, rather than being content with his role as steward-king wanted to set himself up as ultimate king. Because of man’s breach of covenant with God, covenant curses are put into effect. Note that mankind is not cursed (the serpent and the ground that man is supposed to rule over are), but pain and difficulty leading to death are promised (Genesis 3:16–19). Man and woman are exiled from the garden (Genesis 3:22–24). In the curse against the serpent, the hope that drives the rest of the Bible is stated in Genesis 3:15: God will raise up a male seed (offspring) of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head. Why is that significant? Before the serpent stepped onto the scene in Genesis 3, everything is in a state of perfect Edenic rest and peace. To have another Adam succeed where the first failed and destroy the serpent signals a return to Edenic rest.
The Walls—Covenant with Noah (Genesis 6-9)
The rest of the book of Genesis is driven by the search for the serpent-crushing seed of the woman. True to God’s promise, death relentlessly destroys every human of the line of the promised seed in Genesis 5 (Enoch being the exception). However, Noah’s birth is marked as significant by Lamech’s prophecy that Noah (whose name means “rest”) will bring relief from the curse of the ground (Genesis 5:28-29).
Man’s wickedness stemming from his wicked heart is total, precipitating God’s judgment through the worldwide flood (Genesis 5:5–7). However, Noah finds favor in God’s eyes and God promises to uphold the creation covenant with Noah (Genesis 5:18). God preserves Noah and his family through the flood, providing a measure of rest from human wickedness, though it still resides in every individual’s heart (Genesis 9:21). After the flood, God specifies the covenant with Noah (Genesis 8:20-9:17) in terms that allude back to God’s commission to Adam and Eve. However, what is unique here is the promise of stability in the creation (9:21-22) and stability through the institution of capital punishment as a check against human corruption (9:5-6). The sign of this covenant is the rainbow, symbolizing God hanging up his war-bow to never again destroy the earth with a global flood. Every time there is a rainbow in the sky, God actively remembers His covenant promises with Noah’s offspring—us—to never again destroy the earth by a global flood.
How does the Noahic covenant fit in God’s covenant program to reestablish His kingdom over the world? The Noahic covenant provides rest. It provides a measure of rest in the created order and the promise of a return to Edenic rest. Without such stability in the created order, the promise of the new Adam, the serpent-crushing seed of the woman could not come. But the stability of the Noahic Covenant ensures that God’s promise of the seed will come and with the coming of the seed a return to Edenic rest.
Next time, we will continue our tour with the Abrahamic Covenant.