The word covenant appears all throughout Scripture. It is a word that drives the biblical story from Creation, to Jesus, and still today. If this word appears so often, it should deem a closer look and study. Today we are going to explore this word and its roots.
The Hebrew word for covenant is “berit” and its most basic definition means agreement or pledge between people or groups of people. The very first time we see a covenant is in Genesis 9:11. After God flooded the earth to rid human evil, he made a covenant with the man and family he saved through an ark. God makes a covenant with Noah that the earth will never be destroyed by flood again. “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” This is a promise made by God, an agreement that this type of flood would never happen again. He also tells Noah and his family to multiply and rule, just as the first humans were to do in Genesis 1.
Each covenant is given a sign, a symbol of the covenant that was made. God establishes a rainbow as a sign, a remembrance of the covenant. “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:13). This covenant was between God and Noah but more so between God and His creation, as noted in the verse above.
The next time we see a covenant is the famous one between God and Abraham. Genesis 17:4 says, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.” This was God’s promise to Abraham, God’s covenant, that he would make his descendants so great he couldn’t count them. He would be the father of many nations. However, there are always two sides to the covenant. Abraham and his descendants also had to do something to keep the covenant. Genesis 17:10, “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.” Circumcision was what they had to undergo to keep God’s covenant. This was also the sign of the covenant (v.11). God would make this covenant with Abraham, give him so many descendants he couldn’t count them and he and his descendants would be circumcised.
God does give Abraham many descendants. So much so that they are enslaved in Egypt because of their number in Exodus. God makes a covenant with the people through the main character Moses. After giving the Ten Commandments and other commands, Exodus 24:8 says, “Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” The covenant was God’s instruction he had just given them. If Israel would obey God’s commands, he would surely bless them and give them victory over all their enemies (Exodus 23). Then they took their offerings and Moses sprinkled the blood from those sacrifices on the people. This was the sign of the covenant that was made between God and his people at Mt. Sinai.
Later on in the biblical story, we come to the Davidic covenant. After David was made king over Israel, the Lord made a covenant with him, promising royal descendants and a future king with an everlasting kingdom. 2 Samuel 7:12 says, “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.” God’s promise is an established kingdom that will last forever. He is certainly talking about Solomon who would build the Temple in his lifetime. But also he is talking about a future king as well who would also come from David’s line, a Messiah named Jesus. The sign of this covenant was royal offspring that would come from his line and blood.
In the prophets we see a prediction of a new covenant, something unlike the others that had been made. Jeremiah prophecies of this in Jeremiah 31:33,
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”
Jesus would be the fulfillment of this covenant. He keys us in on the sign of this new covenant in Matthew 26:27-28. It says, “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” At the Last Supper, Jesus institutes the sign of this new covenant. The blood that was shed when he would die on the cross. This was the blood that was shed just like at the covenant at Sinai, but this time it would mean the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus himself is also the sign of this new covenant. Hebrews 7:22 tells us, “Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” Jesus is our assurance, our guarantee that this new covenant is established and true because of his death and resurrection.