The Covenants (part 1)

A Mini-Series on Biblical Covenants

Disclaimer: This is the first part of a personal study on covenants as seen in Scripture. This is not intended as a devotional but perhaps the information gathered might serve to bless someone as it has been blessing me.

As the Bible student examines the Scripture, he is bound to come across multiple mentions of the word covenant. There were covenants made between people but also between God and people. It would do hindrance to our biblical understanding avoiding knowing more about the meaning and usage of covenants as seen in Scripture and if possible, as well as some cultural background. In fact, it is my contention that to understand the covenants is essential to understanding God’s program of the ages and ultimately a source of great hope to the believer in whatever age he finds himself but particularly the church age.

In this study, I intend to approach this topic looking first to find a fresh look from the Scripture and perhaps later support our findings in archaeology and even the commentaries.  You may disagree with my conclusions but please keep in mind the intention of this study is to develop an understanding of the covenants from the teachings of Scripture.

I. Establishing a preliminary understanding

A. In order to arrive at a proper understanding of the biblical covenants, we will need to take a step back as we want a fresh understanding of this topic.

1. Although we have many external sources (i.e. dictionaries, archaeological data, lexicons, historical records) that help us acquire a better understanding, we will not go to those first.
2. If the topic is to be considered important within the teaching of Scripture, the Bible will provide us sufficient usage and background to gain a sufficient understanding.  

B. Establishing the importance of the word

1. The word covenant shows up 281 times in the Old Testament (BERITH  – Hebrew) and 33 times in the New Testament (DIATHEKE – Greek). This word appears all the way from Genesis to Revelation.
a. In the Old Testament (BERITH): 27 times in Genesis, 13 times in Exodus, 10 times in Leviticus, 5 times in Numbers, 27 times in Deuteronomy, 22 Times in Joshua, 5 times in Judges, 14 times in 1 & 2 Samuel, 26 times in 1 & 2 Kings, 30 times in 1 & 2 Chronicles, 1 time in Ezra, 4 times in Nehemiah, 3 times in Job, 21 times in Psalms, 1 time in proverbs, 12 times in Isaiah, 24 times in Jeremiah, 18 times in Ezekiel, 7 times in Daniel, 5 times in Hosea, 1 time in Amos, 1 time in Obadiah, 2 times in Zechariah and 6 times in Malachi.
b. In the New Testament (DIATHEKE): 1 time in Matthew, 1 time in Mark, 2 times in Luke, 2 times in Acts, 1 time in Romans, 3 times in 1 & 2 Corinthians, 2 times in Galatians, 21 times in Hebrews and 1 time in Revelation.

1) Jesus is quoted using the term at least 5 times.

a) Though these quotes are referencing the same event, it is of interest that several different writers of the NT quote him speaking of a covenant, it gives us a clue it must be an important topic.

c. These and many observations more warrant a deeper study on the word covenant and its meaning.

Editor’s Note: Perhaps one of the greatest errors the church suffers from today is a poor hermeneutic leading to breaking vast amounts of rules of grammar and the spiritualizing of the Text. We have taken specific, literal, meaningful terms like ‘Day of the Lord’, ‘covenant’ and ‘kingdom’ to name a few, to be something spiritual in the heart of the believer as if that somehow was something deeper. The well-meaning Christian today is missing vast amounts of God’s program of the ages because he has not been taught to rightly divide the Word.
To encourage a return, I propose spending more time observing the actual Text and allowing it to teach what it wants to say and less time on the entertainment of possible meanings from well-intended authors of books. I do not intend to be critical of any scholarly works, only to encourage the Bible student back into the Scriptures and to the discovery of truth by personal, in-depth Bible study. Hopefully, this data will serve as a seed-form to get started into an in-depth study of the covenants.

C. Establishing the meaning of the word covenant

1. What is the first Scriptural mention of the word?

a. The first appearance of the word is in Genesis (Gen 6:18)

“But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.

Genesis 6:18

2. Usage of the word

a. We see the term used when men entered an agreement or alliance with each other

1) Abimelech and Isaac (Gen 26:26-31)
2) Joshua and the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:15)
a) God had said not to make pacts with the land (Deut 7:2, Judg 2:2)
3) Solomon and Hiram (1 Kings 5:12)
4) David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:3, 1 Samuel 20:16-17)
5) Marriage 

 “Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.

Malachi 2:14
6) Threshold covenant
a) Covenants were made at the threshold of the doorpost: Ex 29:4, 11, Ex 21:2-6. It is rather difficult to arrive at a conclusion within the scope of this study as to what was meant exactly but it was a type of covenant none-the-less.
b) Unfortunately, the word SAPH has been translated into different words in the English language causing a western reader unclear of ancient eastern customs to miss the usage of the term threshold in the following verses: Zech 12:2-3 – A cup (SAPH – basin, boul, door, threshold) of trembling – Jerusalem is the anointed place where Messiah will reign. To “cross over” Jerusalem despises Messiah. Heb 10:26-29. More verses that deal with SAPH: judges 19:27, 1 Kings 14:17,   Psa 84:10. The threshold of the temple was guarded: 2 Kings 12:9; 22:4; 23:4; 25:18. Zach 12:2, Zeph 1:9, 1 Sam 5:4-5, Eze 10:18, Ex 12:22,  1 Kings 14:17, 2 kings 12:9, 2 kings 22:9, 23:4, 25:18, 1 Chr 9:19, 2 Chr. 23:4, Eze 40:6-7, 43:8, 46:2,  Amos 9:1.

“Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup [threshold] that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.

Zechariah 12:2-3
7) Antichrist’s Covenant with many (Dan 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:3-4, Matt 24:15)
a) Begins with a ‘deal with the many for 7 years’ and ends in complete destruction
b) 7 years long
c) Firm (with many). This covenant is made by him and broken when he wishes. He has no regard for keeping his word.
d) Half-way through, temple service is stopped (abomination of desolation) by him

b. Types of Covenants 

1) Blood covenants   
a) Blood covenants were made by two parties. Both cut up animals and walked between them saying “If I do not hold to the agreements of this covenant, you can do to me what we did to this animal.” – Jer 34:18-20. (Gen 15:17-18)
b) Although we often see blood associated with covenants, we should not presume all covenants in the Bible are sealed in blood.
2) Bilateral or Conditional covenants 
a) covenants are usually made between two parties. In a bilateral covenant, each party agrees to uphold their agreed part. God’s Covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:8) is a good example. It was conditioned upon Israel’s obedience (Lev. 26:14-20)
3) Unilateral or Unconditional covenants
a) A unilateral covenant is one party guaranteeing both responsibilities and privileges to the other party. Gen 15:9-10, 17-18 – Yahweh cut a covenant with Abram. Abram did not pass through. This was an unconditional covenant dependent on God
4) Marriage covenant
a) Marriage (as instituted by God) is a unique covenant. Two unilateral parties (one man, one woman) enter a covenant before God in unconditional agreement with each other until death. The only possible conditions for the covenant to be broken could be by adultery or in extreme abandonment (unbeliever).

c. Covenant translated into different words

The Hebrew term beriyth for “covenant” is from a root with the sense of “cutting”, because pacts or covenants were made by passing between cut pieces of flesh of the victim of an animal sacrifice. 

1) Transliterated

When all the leaders of the tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the inner chamber of the temple of El-berith.

Judges 9:46
2) Allies

“All the men allied with you Will send you forth to the border, And the men at peace with you Will deceive you and overpower you. They who eat your bread Will set an ambush for you. (There is no understanding in him.)

Obadiah 1:7
3) Treaty

Let there be a treaty between you and me, as between my father and your father. Behold, I have sent you silver and gold; go, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so that he will withdraw from me.”

2 Chronicles 16:3
4) Covenant by cutting of animals

 ‘I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts—

Jeremiah 34:18
a) The term “cut a covenant” (KARAT BERIYT) appears some 80 times in the OT. 

At this point, I will refrain from offering any conclusions. Obviously the term covenant is full of meaning and much more research needs to be gathered in order to better understand this term. Hopefully, as the study goes forward it will become clear.

In the following parts I will be dealing with different theological positions regarding the covenants and God’s covenants with people. Finally, I hope to summarize it into a more “cookies on the bottom shelf” sort of teaching in a PowerPoint for you to see and use if you so desire. Stay tuned for part two in next week’s newsletter.

I’d love to hear your comments. Have I missed something that needs attention early on? What else should I cover in the upcoming parts? Please let me know below.

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