What Christians should know is that a covenant is an agreement that is imposed by God between Himself and human beings based upon a core ethos: “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Within the covenant are certain stipulations that specify covenantal obligations. If one remains faithful and keeps the commandments, there are many blessings. If one does not obey the commandments, there will be adverse consequences.
The reason why God initiates covenants is for the purpose of relationship—He wants to have a connection with us, and a covenant is intended to strengthen the bond between two parties. A covenant is an undeserved, free gift from a loving Father for His children. In essence, God is showing us how we should act by Him first making promises about how He will act toward us—and those promises are trustworthy because God is unchangeable and cannot lie. Therefore, all covenants are unalterable and we cannot negotiate with God in order to change the terms of the agreement. We are free to either accept the terms or to reject them.
Covenants are built upon mutual trust whereas contracts are built upon mutual distrust. In a covenant, God wants to give, wants to provide, and so He gives of Himself for our sake. You sign a contract in order to protect your interests, now that you are forced and have to do something. A contract also typically involves taking away: you give something up in order to get something. In a covenant, God gives us everything.
Let us all not forget that God needs nothing and therefore never had to make any covenant, but He did. They are purely voluntary and initiated by Him out of the love He has for creation. God essentially is “putting Himself out there” and invites us into relationship with Him, and that relationship bears the gift of many promises if we choose to obey and follow the conditions of the covenants. We can go back on our word and violate the terms of the covenant. In essence, we have everything to gain and God has everything to lose. Just think about the last time you came to an agreement with someone and they did not keep up their end of the deal. How did you feel? Did you want to take revenge? Did you want to give them a piece of your mind? Now imagine if that same person fails on their end over, and over, and over again. That’s how God feels but in spite of this, He keeps on keeping on and remains faithful to what He said He would do.
In Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem refers to covenants by writing, “The Greek translators of the Old Testament [and] the New Testament authors did not use the ordinary Greek word for contracts or agreements in which both parties were equal (syntheke), but rather chose a less common word, diatheke, which emphasized that the provisions of the covenant were laid down by one of the parties only.”
In this lesson, we will discuss the covenants between God and human beings, but covenants also do exist between human beings as well. For example, marriage is considered a covenant when a man and a woman become one. The Biblical ideal of a marriage is two people loving and serving one another with a unified gaze on God. It is meant to be a selfless, other-serving, unbreakable bond. Parenting is another example when the mother and father continuously give to their children out of love. And, the covenant of parenting is an ideal example of how God relates to us because no matter how bad your children are, no matter what they do, they will always be your children, and you will always be their parent. Nothing can ever change that, and you will always pursue and care for them just as God will always pursue us, always love us, and is unable to turn His back on us.
The following covenants are presented in order as they appear in the Bible. They are not separate from one another but build atop one another. What makes a covenant is that is has four specific criteria: (1) Parties who are involved in the covenant other than God. Typically, a person serves as a representative in the covenant for everyone else. (2) Provisions and Conditions that stipulate the terms of the relationship and consequences for violating the covenant. (3) Promise(s) and blessings for obedience and how one can obtain those blessings. Some covenants also have a (4) Picture: a sign that represents the covenant. This sign can external, internal, or both.
I. The Adamic Covenant
The Adamic Covenant reveals that since our beginning, God’s relationship to us has been defined by specific stipulations. The Adamic covenant is outlined in Genesis 1:27-30 and 2:16-17. Of note, the text in Genesis never refers to a “covenant” but Hosea does refer to the sins of Israel and writes in 6:7, “But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant.”
In Genesis 1:27-30, the Bible says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.”
Genesis 2:16-17 then says, “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Parties: Adam as a representative of all humankind.
Provisions and Conditions: The text in Genesis tells us that God blessed Adam and provided him with the Earth, the Garden of Eden, his wife, Eve, and dominion over the creatures of the Earth. He also gave Adam free food, and a place to live. This provision came with the condition that no one was to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The consequence for this violation was death.
Promise: By implication before the Fall, Adam and Eve would have had eternal life eating from the tree of life. After the fall, God ultimately promises that Jesus would crush the serpent. Because of sin, Adam and Eve could not have remained in the Garden, because they would have then been able to eat from the tree of life and dwell eternally in their fallen state. The promise of Jesus is of so much importance because before Adam and Eve take one step outside of Eden, God has already laid the plans for Jesus to save everyone which means everything in the Bible that is going to happen before the birth of Jesus points directly to Christ.
Picture: The “sign” for the Adamic covenant isn’t a clear cut as the other components. Essentially, in this covenant, God voluntarily enters into a relationship with Adam and gives him many gifts. Adam and God are now inseparably bound together, signified by the union of Adam and Eve (i.e. marriage) and two now becoming one. A more tangible sign would be the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, representing God’s promise of eternal life.
Note also that God chose humans as the only part of creation with whom to have a covenant with. For example, there is no covenant between God and plants or between God and animals.
II. The Noahic Covenant
The setup: Many generations pass between Adam and Noah, and things aren’t looking so good for humanity. Everyone on the face on the earth is doing evil and the Bible says in Genesis 6:5-9 that humankind’s wickedness grieved The Lord. God had already made a promise to Adam to have dominion over creation, so God can’t wipe all of creation out. Instead, He chooses Noah (who found favor in God’s eyes) who built an ark to survive the flood that will blot out the corruption of humankind. God then makes this covenant with Noah after he, his family, and many kinds of animals leave the ark and are back on dry land.
In Genesis 9:8-17, it says, “Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Parties: Noah and all his descendants along with every living thing on Earth. God initiated this covenant with Noah as a function of God’s grace.
Provisions and Conditions: God blesses Noah, his sons, and commands them all to be fruitful and multiply in Genesis 9:1. God also says in 9:3 that, “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.” These provisions come with the condition that the value of life, especially human life, be honored. Anyone who does not value human life is held accountable to God.
Promise: An unconditional divine guarantee to never again …
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal
For Further Study
Brueggemann, Walter and Linafelt, Tod. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 2003.
 Jeremiah 31:33
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 515.
 Genesis 2:24; Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 19:3-6; Ephesians 5:33
 Romans 5:12-21
 Genesis 3:22
 Genesis 3:15
 Genesis 2:24
 Genesis 6:8
 Genesis 9:4-7
 Genesis 15:6
 Genesis 17:4
 Genesis 17:1
 Genesis 17:14
 Luke 1:33
 Brueggemann, Walter, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. First and Second Samuel (Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 2012), 254.
 Ibid, 255.
 Leviticus 26:27-39; Deuteronomy 28:36-37, 45-68
 John 3:15, 5:24
 Matthew 26:17-19
 Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24
 Romans 1:17, 5:1
 Romans 8:2
 James 2:17
 I John 2:4-6
 Jeremiah 32:38-40; Ezekiel 34:30-31, 36:28; II Corinthians 6:16; I Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 21:3
 Acts 1:8; I Corinthians 12:13; II Corinthians 3:4-18
 John 1:14; Hebrews 1:1-3
 Luke 22:20; I Corinthians 11:25; II Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8, 13, 9:15, 12:24
 Luke 1:72-73; Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:6-18, 29; Hebrews 2:16, 6:13-20
 II Corinthians 3:14; Hebrews 8:6,13
 Galatians 3:19
 Galatians 3:21
 Matthew 1:1-17