We have been examining the architecture of the divine-human covenants in the Bible to see how these covenants carry forward the Bible’s storyline of God establishing His kingdom over the whole world through His chosen king. Much like all the components of a house work together to form one dwelling, the covenants work together to advance the plot-line of Scripture of God establishing His kingdom rule over the earth. Last time, we saw the foundation of this architecture in God’s purposes for humanity as the likeness of God to be image bearers. That is, Adam was commissioned as God’s steward king to tend all creation and multiply image-bearers for the glory of God. With the Fall in Genesis 3, creation fell under God’s curse, Adam and Eve were exiled from God’s immediate presence of blessing in the garden, but God indicated a return to Edenic conditions through the promise of the serpent-crushing seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). This promise drives the genealogies of the Bible. The chosen line of the seed goes through Noah, whose name means “rest” and who is prophesied to bring rest to the cursed ground (Genesis 5:29). A sort of rest from human corruption is achieved through the flood and the Noahic Covenant where stability in the created order and a check against human corruption through the institution of capital punishment is introduced. The Covenant with Adam is upheld with Noah and the walls of stability promised allow for the promised serpent-crushing seed to come, providing a return to Edenic rest.
The next two divine-human covenants are the Abrahamic Covenant and the Israelite Covenant.
At the Tower of Babel, Noah’s descendants rebel against the mandate to disperse image bearers over the face of the earth and instead seek a name for themselves (Genesis 11). God accomplishes the task of scattering humans over the earth through confusing the languages.
Directly connected to this event, God gives the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12:1–3, summarized by the words land, seed, and blessing. Throughout Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 22, different components of the covenant are elaborated on. The land and its basic boundaries are defined (Genesis 15:18–20). The seed promise relates to a multitude of offspring (Genesis 15:5; 22:17a), kingly offspring (Genesis 17:6), and an individual victorious offspring to be identified with the serpent-crushing seed of the woman from Genesis 3:15 (Genesis 22:17b). Reciprocal blessing/cursing will exist between Abraham’s descendants and everyone else, but also through Abraham and his seed, all the clans of the earth will be blessed, indicating a return to Edenic blessing (Genesis 12:3; 22:18).
In Genesis 15, God ratifies this covenant by walking through cut-in-half animals, indicating that if He failed to keep the Abrahamic Covenant, He would cease to exist as God—an obvious impossibility. God also swears by Himself that He will uphold this covenant (Genesis 22:16–18). The sign of the covenant is male circumcision as discussed in Genesis 17, and this sign is designed to show how Abraham’s offspring have a special covenantal relationship and role in relation to God. This covenant is incredibly important for the unfolding of the rest of the biblical storyline since God is tying the blessing of the nations—a return to Edenic blessing and rest—with Abraham’s descendants as a conduit of that blessing. When the Allies began the operation to liberate Europe in World War II, they needed to establish a beachhead at Normandie, France in order to eventually take back all of Europe. Through the particular land and particular people of the Abrahamic Covenant, Yahweh establishes a beachhead kingdom through which He will take back His kingdom over all the families of the earth.
When God initiated the covenant ceremony with Abraham in Genesis 15, He said that Abraham’s descendants would be oppressed in a land not their own for four hundred years and that He Himself would rescue them (Genesis 15:13–14). God remembers His covenant with Abraham after hearing his descendants’ groans, and Yahweh raises up Moses to rescue His people from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 2:23–25). The Exodus becomes the premier example of God’s sovereign grace and rescue for His people in the Old Testament.
The Lord brings the Israelites to Himself at Mount Sinai and initiates the Israelite Covenant. In Exodus 19:3–6, Yahweh describes the purpose of this covenant, namely, for Israel to be a kingdom of priests. Priests mediate between God and man, and Israel as a nation is to mediate the knowledge of the one true God to all of the peoples of the earth.
All of the instruction (usually called “law”) that Yahweh gives Moses to give to Israel is designed to teach Israel how to live in relationship with the redeeming God who saved them from slavery in Egypt. The Law was never, ever designed to earn one’s relationship with Yahweh but obedience was to be a loving response to Yahweh’s gracious rescue through the Exodus and His special relationship with Israel (Deuteronomy 6:4–9). All of the instruction/law in the Israelite Covenant is rooted in God’s eternal, moral character, and as Israel would obey these commandments, Yahweh would bless them with the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant—land, seed, and blessing (cf. Deuteronomy 28:1–14; Deuteronomy 30). Through such obedience and blessing, Israel would attract the nations of the world so that they could point these nations to the true God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:5–8; the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon). Conversely, if Israel disobeyed the stipulations of the instruction, Israel would receive curses which were the exact opposite of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant up to and including exile from the land promised to Abraham (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15–28).
Thus, the Israelite Covenant administers the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant so that Edenic blessing and rest might flow to all the nations of the world. This is why the sign of the Israelite Covenant is the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12–17) since it ties Israel with the Creator God and points to the fact that through Israel there will be a return to Edenic rest through their obedience as a people.
Next time, we will look at the final two divine-human covenants, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant.