A covenant is a binding agreement between two or more parties. The terms of human covenants may be set by both parties or set by one and agreed upon by the other. The covenant terms between man and God are always established by God alone.
God made a promise that through the seed of woman Satan and his seed wound be defeated (Gen. 3:15). This has been called the protoevangelium because it was the first (proto) prophecy of the good news/gospel (evangelion) Jesus would offer by His death, burial, and resurrection. God later made “an everlasting covenant” with Abraham through Isaac and his descendants to bless all the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:3; 17:19; 26:4b). This, too, was fulfilled in Christ (Gal. 3:8).
The “old covenant” in this article concerns the Law of God given through Moses to the children of Israel. It is critical to note that this Law was separate and apart from the “everlasting covenant” made with Abraham. It is likewise critical to note that it was never given to any Gentiles, as they were “a law to themselves” (cf. Rom. 2:14).
The Propriety of the Old Covenant
It came from God. After the children of Israel were delivered from Egyptian bondage, God instructed Moses to write down His Law (Ex. 17:14). The foundation was the Ten Commandments or “the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18). The more detailed aspects were written by Moses in “a book” (Ex. 24:4; Deut. 31:9). The remainder of the precepts were likewise written by Moses (Ex. 34:27).
Its scope. Typically, when we speak of the Law, we refer to the instructions in Exodus through Deuteronomy. However, Jesus considered the Psalms as “law” for the Jews (John 10:34; 15:25) and combined “the law and the prophets” for behavior and similar purposes (Matt. 7:12). Paul cited Isaiah 28:11ff as “the Law” in I Corinthians 14:21. So “the Law” was any instructions from God for the Jews.
The Purpose of the Old Covenant
Reminder. The children of Israel, by their obedience, were to remember God as their only God, deliverer, and to be His “own possession” (Ex. 19:4-5). Keeping the Law would prepare each generation to know God and put their confidence in Him (Ps. 78:1-7).
Governance. To maintain the old kingdom, priesthood and the people as a holy nation (Ex. 19:6).
Worship. To establish a system of worship and code of devotion to God, as well as a system of ethics and morality (Ex. 20:1-17; Heb. 9:1ff.) It was added because of transgressions (Gal. 3:19).
A Sentry. A tutor to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). Lenski translated “tutor” (παιδαγωγός) as “sentry” and noted: “The sentry has been for the Jews until Christ came. This term is literally, “boy’s leader” and refers to the attendant, generally a slave, whom a wealthy Greek or Roman father provided for his son during the years between seven and seventeen, whose duty it was to attend and to watch over the lad” (Lenski’s Commentary on the New Testament, Olive Tree edition).
The Imperfection of the Old Covenant
It could not free from sin or justify (Acts 13: 38. 39; Gal. 3:11), but only condemn the offender to spiritual death (Rom. 7:9; Gal. 3:13). No justification was available by obeying it (Rom. 3:20). There was no provision for forgiveness, as sins were remembered every year (Heb. 10:3). Animal sacrifices could not take away sins (Heb. 10:4). It had a limited duration (Gal. 3:19). It was a yoke of bondage or slavery (Gal. 5:1).
The Power, Purpose, and Preeminence of the New
Jeremiah provides several covenant distinctions (Jer. 31:31-34). It is not like the old. It is God’s new law in the heart for loving obedience (cf. John 14:15). It results in one God and one people. It provides greater knowledge of God by Christ’s appearance and teaching (cf. John 6:45). Sins are forgiven and forgotten (cf. “remembrance” in Hebrews 10:3, 17). It is the “better covenant” with “better promises” (cf. Heb. 7:22; 8:6), made possible by “the offering of the body of Jesus once for all” (Heb. 10:8-10). He was both the offering and the permanent high priest (Heb. 7:24, 26-27).
Looking further into the letter to the Hebrews, we see other preeminent things the New Covenant provides: “better hope” (7:19); “better sacrifices” (9:23); “a better possession and lasting one” (10:34); “a better country…a heavenly one” (11:16); “a better resurrection” (11:35); “something better” that makes God’s people “perfect” (11:40); “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant and…the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel” (12:24); and through it came “a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (12:28).
It is by the blood of the New Covenant poured out for many that we may receive the remission of sins (Matt. 26:28). Christians may certainly learn much from the Old Testament and its examples (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11), but it is ultimately the words of Jesus in the New Covenant through which we may have eternal life (John 6:63, 68).
Roger preaches for the church of Christ in Adel, GA. He also teaches and preaches in foreign countries once or twice a year.