Covenant in the Old Testament

This topic is challenging because the term “covenant” occurs more than 300 times in the Pentateuch and Hebrew Scripture. It is usually translated from the Hebrew term b’rit and the Greek term diatheke. Even to say that the first covenant was made with Abraham is inaccurate, since God made an agreement both with Adam and Eve, and later with Noah.

God’s first commandment is given to Adam, who is told not to eat of the tree of knowledge in Genesis 2: 15-17. Adam and Eve’s disobedience result in their expulsion from Eden. In Genesis 9, God establishes an explicit covenant with Noah after the flood, promising never to destroy man again by such a disaster. He tells Noah, “be fertile and multiply,” and the sign of his covenant is the rainbow.

In Genesis chapters 12, 13, 15 and 17, we see repeated accounts of God’s covenant with Abraham. The covenant in chapter 17 is most elaborate, almost legalistic (see post below). But even the covenant with Abraham is only the establishment of a relationship with the chosen people, as God gives Moses the law as a covenant in Genesis chapter 24 and Deuteronomy chapter 5. After the Israelites enter Canaan, the covenant is re-affirmed by Joshua (Joshua 24: 16-28) , the successor to Moses as leader of the 12 tribes.

The covenant agreements between God and Noah, Abraham, Moses and Joshua effectively establish and define the relationship between God and the chosen people of Israel. Later, the covenant will be reaffirmed with the Kings of the United Monarchy, David and Solomon. And after that, we will see that the covenant is invoked by the prophets, who warn Israel that she has strayed.

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