Covenants Involving God’s Eternal Purpose
“Jehovah . . . has remembered his covenant even to time indefinite, the word that he commanded, to a thousand generations.”—PSALM 105:7, 8.
1, 2. Why can we say that most of us have been affected by a covenant?
MOST likely a covenant has affected you—your past, your present, and your future. ‘What covenant?’ you may wonder. In this case, it is marriage, for most of us are the offspring of a marriage and many of us are married ourselves. Even those not yet married may think about the blessings of a happy marriage in the future.
2 Centuries ago the Hebrew prophet Malachi wrote about “the wife of your youth,” “your partner and the wife of your covenant.” (Malachi 2:14-16) He could call marriage a covenant, for that is a contract or formal agreement, an arrangement between parties to do something jointly. The marriage compact is a bilateral covenant in which two parties agree to become husband and wife, accepting obligations toward each other and looking forward to lasting benefits.
3. Why may other covenants affect us more than marriage?
3 Marriage might seem to be the covenant with the greatest personal impact on us, and yet the Bible discusses covenants of much wider import. In contrasting Biblical covenants with those of non-Biblical religions, one encyclopedia says that only in the Bible “does this ordering of the relation between God and his people become a comprehensive system with ultimately universal implications.” Yes, these covenants involve the eternal purpose of our loving Creator. As you will see, your receiving untold blessings is tied in with these covenants. ‘But how is that so?’ you have reason to ask.
4. What initial covenant points to God’s eternal purpose?
4 You are well aware of the tragic results when Adam and Eve rejected God’s authority. We inherited imperfection from them, which fact is behind the sicknesses that we have suffered, and which leads to death. (Genesis 3:1-6, 14-19) We can be grateful, however, that their sin could not thwart God’s purpose to fill the earth with true worshipers enjoying lasting health and happiness. In this connection, Jehovah made the covenant recorded at Genesis 3:15: “And I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you in the head and you will bruise him in the heel.” However, the brevity and symbolic language of this statement left many questions unanswered. How would Jehovah fulfill this covenant promise?
5, 6. (a) What means did God decide to use in working out his purpose? (b) Why should we be interested in God’s means of doing this?
5 God further chose to arrange for a particular series of divine covenants, which, with the Edenic covenant, make seven in all. Each of us hoping to enjoy eternal blessings should understand these covenants. This includes knowing when and how they were made, who were involved, what their objectives or terms were, and how the covenants relate to one another in God’s purpose to bless obedient mankind with everlasting life. This is an appropriate time to review these covenants, for on March 22, 1989, congregations of Christians will convene to commemorate the Lord’s Evening Meal, which directly involves these covenants.
6 Of course, to some people the idea of covenants might sound dry, legalistic, with little human interest. Consider, though, what the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament says: “The terms for ‘covenant’ in the ancient Near East as well as in the Greek and Roman world . . . are distributed according to two semantic fields: oath and commitment on the one hand, love and friendship on the other.” We can see both aspects—oath and friendship—as the keystone of Jehovah’s covenants.
Abrahamic Covenant—Basis for Eternal Blessings
7, 8. What sort of covenant did Jehovah make with Abraham? (1 Chronicles 16:15, 16)
7 The patriarch Abraham, “the father of all those having faith,” was “Jehovah’s friend.” (Romans 4:11; James 2:21-23) God swore to him with an oath, setting out a covenant that is basic to our receiving eternal blessings.—Hebrews 6:13-18.
8 While Abraham was in Ur, Jehovah told him to move to another land, which turned out to be Canaan. At that time Jehovah promised Abraham: “I shall make a great nation out of you and I shall bless you and I will make your name great; . . . and all the families of the ground will certainly bless themselves by means of you.”* (Genesis 12:1-3) Thereafter, God gradually added details to what we rightly speak of as the Abrahamic covenant: Abraham’s seed, or heir, would inherit the Promised Land; his seed would lead to unnumbered offspring; Abraham and Sarah would be the source of kings.—Genesis 13:14-17; 15:4-6; 17:1-8, 16; Psalm 105:8-10.
9. How do we know that we can be involved in the Abrahamic covenant?
9 God called it “my covenant between me and you [Abraham].” (Genesis 17:2) But we certainly should feel that our lives are involved, for God later amplified the covenant, stating: “I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore; and your seed will take possession of the gate of his enemies. And by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Genesis 22:17, 18) We are part of those nations; a potential blessing is in store for us.
10. What insights do we get from the covenant with Abraham?
10 Let us pause to consider what we can learn from the Abrahamic covenant. Like the Edenic covenant before it, this points to a coming “seed,” thus suggesting that the seed would have a human lineage. (Genesis 3:15) That would be of the line of Shem, down to Abraham, and through his son Isaac. This line would involve kingship, and it would somehow allow for a blessing for not just one family but humans of all lands. How was that covenant fulfilled?
11. How did a literal fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant come about?
11 Abraham’s descendants through Jacob, or Israel, multiplied to become a great nation. As an unnumbered literal seed of Abraham, they were dedicated to the pure worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Genesis 28:13; Exodus 3:6, 15; 6:3; Acts 3:13) Often the Israelites turned from pure worship, yet “Jehovah showed them favor and had mercy upon them . . . for the sake of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and he did not want to bring them to ruin.” (2 Kings 13:23; Exodus 2:24; Leviticus 26:42-45) Even after God accepted the Christian congregation as his people, he continued for a time to show special favor to the Israelites as a people who were the literal seed of Abraham.—Daniel 9:27.
Spiritual Seed of Abraham
12, 13. How did Jesus prove to be the primary part of the seed in the spiritual fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant?
12 The Abrahamic covenant had another fulfillment, a spiritual one. This greater fulfillment would not have been obvious before Jesus’ time, but we can be happy that it is clear in our time. We have the explanation of its fulfillment in God’s Word. Paul writes: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It says, not: ‘And to seeds,’ as in the case of many such, but as in the case of one: ‘And to your seed,’ who is Christ.”—Galatians 3:16.
13 Yes, the seed would come through just one line, or family, which was true of Jesus, born a natural Jew, a literal descendant of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-34) Additionally, he was part of the family of the Greater Abraham in heaven. Recall that with deep faith the patriarch Abraham had been willing to sacrifice his son Isaac if God wanted that. (Genesis 22:1-18; Hebrews 11:17-19) Similarly, Jehovah sent his only-begotten Son to earth to become a ransom sacrifice for believing mankind. (Romans 5:8; 8:32) It is thus understandable why Paul identified Jesus Christ as the principal part of the seed of Abraham according to this covenant.
14. What is the secondary part of the seed of Abraham, and to what further discussion does this lead?
14 Paul went on to indicate that God would ‘multiply Abraham’s seed’ in the spiritual fulfillment. He wrote: “If you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” (Genesis 22:17; Galatians 3:29) Such ones are the 144,000 spirit-anointed Christians who form a secondary part of the seed of Abraham. They are not in opposition to the primary part of the seed but “belong to Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 15:23) We know that many of them cannot trace their ancestry to Abraham, for they are from non-Jewish nations. More crucial in the spiritual fulfillment, though, they are not naturally part of the family of the Greater Abraham, Jehovah; rather, they come from the imperfect family of sinner Adam. So we will need to see from later covenants how they can qualify to become part of “Abraham’s seed.”
Law Covenant Temporarily Added
15-17. (a) Why was the Law covenant added to the Abrahamic covenant? (b) How did the Law accomplish these objectives?
15 After God made the Abrahamic covenant as a fundamental step toward accomplishing his purpose, how would the line of the Seed be protected from contamination or extermination until the time for him to appear? When the Seed did arrive, how could true worshipers identify him? Paul answers such questions by pointing out God’s wisdom in temporarily adding the Law covenant. The apostle writes:
16 “Why, then, the Law? It was added to make transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive to whom the promise had been made; and it was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator. . . . The Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith.”—Galatians 3:19, 24.
17 At Mount Sinai, Jehovah made a unique national covenant between himself and Israel—the Law covenant, with Moses as its mediator.* (Galatians 4:24, 25) The people agreed to be in this covenant, and it was validated with the blood of bulls and goats. (Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:19, 20) It gave Israel theocratic laws and an outline for a righteous government. The covenant forbade intermarrying with pagans or sharing in immoral and false religious practices. It thus guarded the Israelites and was a force in preserving the line of the seed uncontaminated. (Exodus 20:4-6; 34:12-16) But since no imperfect Israelite could keep the Law completely, it made sins manifest. (Galatians 3:19) It also pointed to the need for a perfect, permanent priest and for a sacrifice that would not have to be repeated yearly. The Law was like a tutor that led a child to the needed instructor, who would be the Messiah, or Christ. (Hebrews 7:26-28; 9:9, 16-22; 10:1-4, 11) When it had accomplished its purpose, the Law covenant would end.—Galatians 3:24, 25; Romans 7:6; see “Questions From Readers,” page 31.
18. What further prospect was involved with the Law covenant, but why was this difficult to understand?
18 When making this temporary covenant, God also mentioned this thrilling objective: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property . . . And you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5, 6) What a prospect! A nation of king-priests. How could that be, though? As the Law later specified, the ruling tribe (Judah) and the priestly tribe (Levi) were allotted different responsibilities. (Genesis 49:10; Exodus 28:43; Numbers 3:5-13) No man could be both a civil ruler and a priest. Still, God’s words at Exodus 19:5, 6 gave reason to believe that in some undisclosed manner, those in the Law covenant would have opportunity to provide the members of “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Davidic Kingdom Covenant
19. How was kingship pointed to in the covenants?
19 In time Jehovah added another covenant that further clarified how he would accomplish his purpose, to our eternal blessing. We have seen that the Abrahamic covenant pointed forward to kingship among the literal seed of Abraham. (Genesis 17:6) The Law covenant also anticipated kings among God’s people, for Moses told Israel: “When you eventually come into the [Promised Land] and you have said, ‘Let me set a king over myself like all the nations who are round about me’; you should without fail set over yourself a king whom Jehovah your God will choose. . . . You will not be allowed to put over yourself a foreigner.” (Deuteronomy 17:14, 15) How would God arrange for such kingship, and how would it bear on the Abrahamic covenant?
20. How did David and his line come into the picture?
20 Though Israel’s first king was Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, he was followed by the courageous and loyal David of Judah. (1 Samuel 8:5; 9:1, 2; 10:1; 16:1, 13) Well into David’s reign, Jehovah chose to make a covenant with David. First He said: “I shall certainly raise up your seed after you, which will come out of your inward parts; and I shall indeed firmly establish his kingdom. He is the one that will build a house for my name, and I shall certainly establish the throne of his kingdom firmly to time indefinite.” (2 Samuel 7:12, 13) As there indicated, David’s son Solomon became the next king, and he was used to construct a house, or temple, for God in Jerusalem. Yet, there was more.
21. The Davidic Kingdom covenant made provision for what?
21 Jehovah went on to make this covenant with David: “Your house and your kingdom will certainly be steadfast to time indefinite before you; your very throne will become one firmly established to time indefinite.” (2 Samuel 7:16) Plainly, God was thus establishing a kingly dynasty for Israel in David’s family. It was not to be just a constant succession of Davidic kings. Eventually, someone in David’s line would come to rule “to time indefinite, and his throne [would be] as the sun in front of [God].”—Psalm 89:20, 29, 34-36; Isaiah 55:3, 4.
22. How did the covenant with David relate to the line of the Seed, and with what outcome?
22 It is evident, then, that the Davidic covenant further narrowed down the line of the Seed. Even the first-century Jews realized that the Messiah would have to be a descendant of David. (John 7:41, 42) Jesus Christ, the primary part of the seed of the Abrahamic covenant, qualified to become the permanent Heir of this Davidic Kingdom, as an angel testified. (Luke 1:31-33) Jesus thus gained the right to rule over the Promised Land, the earthly realm over which David had reigned. This should increase our confidence in Jesus; he rules, not by illegal usurpation, but through an established legal arrangement, a divine covenant.
23. What questions and matters remain to be settled?
23 We have considered but four of the divine covenants bearing on how God arranged to accomplish his purpose to bring eternal blessings to mankind. Likely, you can see that the picture is not complete. Questions remain: Since humans continued imperfect, what priest or sacrifice could ever permanently change that? How would humans qualify to become part of Abraham’s seed? Is there reason to believe that the right to rule would expand to include more than a mere earthly territory? How could Abraham’s seed, both primary and secondary parts, bring a blessing to “all nations of the earth,” including each of us? Let us see.
This is a unilateral covenant, since only one party (God) is committed to carrying out its terms.
“The covenantal idea was a special feature of the religion of Israel, the only one to demand exclusive loyalty and to preclude the possibility of dual or multiple loyalties such as were permitted in other religions.”—Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volume II, page 278.
What Is Your Answer?
□ How did the Abrahamic covenant lay the basis for our receiving eternal blessings?
□ What was the literal, fleshly seed of Abraham? The symbolic seed?
□ Why was the Law covenant added to the Abrahamic covenant?
□ How did the Davidic Kingdom covenant advance God’s purpose?
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Edenic covenant Genesis 3:15
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Edenic covenant Genesis 3:15
Davidic Kingdom covenant
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To work out his purpose in behalf of mankind, God made a covenant with faithful Abraham