Genesis 12:1-3 ‘Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you, And in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 17:4-9, ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of [a]many nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called [b]Abram, but your name shall be [c]Abraham; for I have made you a father of [d]many nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. 8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in[a] which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” 9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations’.
Transition: Before I look into certain promises, it is important to understand what a Covenant is and why it is so important.
Question: So what is a covenant? And how does the covenantal story of the Bible begin?
A covenant in the ancient world was similar to what we in the modern world would call a contract, treaty, or will.
Each covenant established the basis of a relationship, conditions for that relationship, promises and conditions of the relationship, and consequences if those conditions were unmet.
Covenants are one of the most important themes in the Bible—they are the key to God’s redemptive plan to restore humanity to its divine calling. Starting in Genesis, God enters into one formal partnership (i.e., covenant) after another with various humans in order to rescue his world. These divine-human partnerships drive the narrative forward until it reaches its climax in Jesus. To tell the story of God redeeming humanity through Jesus is to tell the whole story of God’s covenantal relationship with humans.
Transition: The Beginning of the Covenantal / Promise Story
A Quick Guide to Five Key Covenants
There’s no consensus on the exact number of covenants between God and humanity. However, there are five foundational covenants that God made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, before establishing the new covenant through Jesus.
- Noahic Covenant
After Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden, the biblical narrative feels grim. In Genesis 4, Cain sides with the serpent, killing his brother in cold blood, and a man named Lamech brags about his murderous, chauvinistic ways. Genesis 5.
Genesis 5, repeats the refrain “and he died” eight times, revealing how death reigned over humanity. Then there’s this weird story in Genesis 6 that’s meant to show the rapid advancement of evil.
So by the time we come to the story of Noah, sin has enveloped the whole world, sending it back into pre-creation chaos. In response, God sends a flood, making way for a restored creation that will begin with Noah and his family.
God enters a formal relationship with Noah and all living creatures, promising that, despite humanity’s corruption, he will never again flood the earth (Gen. 8:20-9:17).
He will instead preserve the world as he works toward keeping his promise to rescue humanity and creation through the “offspring of the woman” (Gen. 3:15).
God then invites humans to partner with him in filling and ruling his world. God’s covenant with Noah is unconditional, and his promise is accompanied with a sign of his faithfulness, the rainbow, to remind future generations of this covenant (Gen. 9:12-17).
2. Abrahamic Covenant
After God makes a covenant with Noah, evil continues to ruin the world. Genesis 9-11 traces the downward spiral of humanity, and we’re left to wonder: How will God restore his good world? God’s rescue plan continues, and he calls Abraham into a covenantal relationship.
This redemptive partnership between God and Abraham is developed progressively in Genesis 12, 15, and 17
Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Genesis 17. He promises Abraham a huge family that will inherit a piece of land in Canaan and bring universal blessing to all humanity.
Similar to the Noahic covenant, this covenant is also accompanied by an outward sign, a reminder to Abraham and his ancestors. God commands the men to be circumcised (Gen. 17:9-14), a symbol that sets Abraham and his family apart and shows that their fertility and future lay in God’s hands.
God tells Abraham to leave his land and follow wherever he leads, train his family to do what is right and just, and practice circumcision in every generation. This covenant is both conditional and unconditional. God and Abraham each have a part to play, but ultimately, God will keep his promise to give Abraham a family who will inherit the land and bless the world.
3. Mosaic Covenant
Exodus opens with Abraham’s offspring multiplying rapidly in Egypt, which threatens the new Pharaoh’s ego. He enslaves God’s people, and they cry out to God to rescue them. God hears them, sending Moses to be his instrument of divine power to lead the people out of Egypt and toward the land God promised to Abraham.
After a harrowing escape, the people reach the foot of Mount Sinai, where God shows up to revisit the promises he made to Abraham. Acting as the representative for Israel, Moses ascends the mountain to hear the terms of God’s covenant with the people. God promises to make Israel into a holy kingdom of priests that will spread his blessing and glory to all the nations.
God instructed Israel to obey all the laws given at Mount Sinai, promising to bring blessings if they followed his commands and curses if they ignored them (see Deut. 28).
Israel’s allegiance to Yahweh will be outwardly reflected in the way that they live, keeping the commands and, most notably, observing weekly Sabbath rest (Exod. 31:12-18).
4. Davidic Covenant
God’s people enter Canaan (the promised land) and eventually demand a king, stoking their desire to be like other nations. (Already, we are seeing the people lose sight of their covenant at Mount Sinai.)
Saul is anointed as Israel’s king, but he fails to obey God and is rejected. God then chooses David as king over Israel. David becomes a successful leader, overcoming Israel’s enemies and restoring order, and he wants to build a temple for God to dwell with his people again.
God responds to this desire by making a covenant with David, promising to make his name great and raise up a descendant from David’s line, whose throne and kingdom will last forever (2 Sam. 7; Ps. 72, 89, 132; Psalms 72, Psalms 89, Psalms 132).
David and his descendants must remain faithful to God, following the covenantal laws. However, despite David and his sons’ failures, God keeps his promise to provide a faithful descendant of David to reign.
All of these covenants thematically build on one another. After God’s covenant with David, as readers, we are left waiting for the great deliverer, the Messiah from David’s line, who will make right the fractured relationship that began in the garden.
5. The New Covenant
For generations, Israel ignored the terms of their covenant with Yahweh, breaking commands and living by their own definitions of good and evil. Amidst rebellion and exile, the Hebrew prophets spoke of a new covenant, saying that God would one day fulfill all of his promises, repairing his relationship with his people and blessing the nations through them (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-32).
This new covenant is to be everlasting. God will write his law on the hearts of his people, bring complete forgiveness of sin, and raise up a faithful king from the line of David who will restore all that has been broken.
The anticipation of this covenant pushes the story forward into the pages of the New Testament, where we are introduced to Jesus (Matt. 26:26-29; Luke 22:19-22; Luke 22:19-22).
Question: Do you notice how the covenants progressively build upon one another, forming a complete redemptive storyline? God preserved the world through Noah, initiated redemption through Abraham, established the nation of Israel through Moses, promised an eternal shepherd-king through David, and then fulfilled all of his covenants through Jesus. With each covenant, God’s promises and plans to save the world through the seed of the woman become clearer and clearer until we finally see that redemption can only come through King Jesus
Conclusion: The Beginning of the Covenantal / Promise Story
The covenantal story began when God created humans in his image to partner with him in spreading goodness throughout the world. The word “covenant” (Heb. berit) isn’t explicitly used in Genesis 1, but the details of the relationship are similar to later covenants in the text.
God invites Adam and Eve to be priest-kings and represent his generous rule on Earth. They could enjoy and reproduce the blessings of eternal life as long as they continued to trust and partner with him. But as God lays out the terms of their relationship, he warns them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it would bring the curse of death on humanity.
And in their first test of covenant faithfulness, humans failed. They ate from the tree, fracturing the human-divine relationship and plunging humanity into corruption and death. We’d still be stuck in the wreckage if God never intervened. But the rest of the Bible is all about how God is repairing this broken partnership with humans.
Some of the Promises:
Jeremiah 31:35-37, “Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.’ Thus says the LORD: ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD.’”
2 Samuel 7:9-10, 16, “And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. …your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
Deuteronomy 30:3-5, ‘that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. 4 If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. 5 Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers’.Jeremiah 23:5, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely
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