sundays at 9:00 AM, 10:30 AM, & 4:30 PM

Doctrine of Covenants: Old Testament Survey

July 25, 2021 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Scripture: Hebrews 6:9–20

Scripture: Hebrews 6:9-20


We concluded our introduction to the Doctrine of Covenants last week.

Some of the highlights of that introduction are:

  1. The impacts of a covenant understanding as they relate to the major doctrines of theology
    1. Prolegomena (the first things)
    2. The Doctrine of man
    3. The Doctrine of God
    4. Eschatology
    5. Soteriology
    6. Ecclesiology and many others...
  • The major characteristics of Biblical Covenants
    • Sovereign Administration – the covenant being given to man, sovereignly administered to the visible church
    • Commitment-bonds – those bonds whereby the church is expected to obey
    • Discriminating – this covenant is discriminating between those within the church, those members of the visible church, and those outside the church living in the world outside the mediatorial kingdom of Christ
    • Proximity element – Christ, as Head of the Church, is within the church and ministers to them through the Word and the Sacraments
    • Requirements/ Stipulations – Man is expected to publicly and openly confess Christ, swearing obedience and allegiance to Him. This is done through open covenant in local church membership.
    • Federal Headship – being members of the visible church, we can expect to have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.
      • We can expect to be forgiven of our sins in Christ
      • We can expect to be found in Christ

Without a proper understanding of Covenant Theology...

  • Man has been led to believe they don’t need the church
  • That they can ignore the covenants of Christ and sovereignly administer their own covenants and their own stipulations
  • Last week, we looked at the many ways a misunderstanding of biblical covenants can have a negative impact upon a constrict a full understanding of:
    • The gospel
    • The bible
    • And the nature of God as redeemer.

An incomplete or refusal to understand covenants can lead us into a misunderstanding (or limited understanding) of the meaning of being a “Christian” because we will miss the biblical meaning of entering into covenant with God through Christ, the visible church and membership, our relationship to other Christians, our relationship to the world, the standing of our children, and our understanding of our duties and obligations before our Creator.


But having understood

  • the importance of covenant theology
  • the major characteristics of Biblical covenant
  • and the dangers and risks of not taking biblical covenants seriously...

Today’s purpose is to examine the way the word “covenant” is used in the Bible.

  • In order to gather a good understanding of its use and import.


We’ve defined this word before but let’s do a quick review to make sure we have a solid footing.

The word is variously understood:

  • As a pact or simple contract between two persons or entities
  • As a testamentary disposition
  • As a formal arrangement administered either unilaterally or bilaterally
  • As a “bond in blood, sovereignly administered”

“A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered. When God enters into a covenantal relationship with men, he sovereignly institutes a life-and-death bond. A covenant is a bond in blood, or a bond of life and death, sovereignly administered.”- O. Palmer Robertson

The word covenant is used (284 times) in the Old Testament.

  • “Covenant” is the Hebrew word berith.

It is sometimes referred to as

  • Treaty (bilateral)
  • Alliance (bilateral)
  • Agreement (bilateral)
  • Promise (unilatera)
  • Testament (unilateral)

The definition you use can, if not careful, color your understanding.

You might be tempted to err and classify all uses of berith as one or the other.

Proper Biblical Terminology

We want to be careful in our understanding of Scripture and rely upon the analogy of Scriptue as well as the context in which words are found and used.

As good theologians, we do not want to take our New Testament understandings and force them into the Old Testament.

Therefore, we are going to begin by first looking at the Old Testament.

We start with the Old Testament because we believe that it lays the foundation for understanding the NT

  • the NT stands upon the shoulders of the OT
  • the NT quotes from the OT
  • the NT makes use of OT concepts and types
  • the NT shows the fulfillment and reality of that from the OT

Old Testament Survey - Unilateral Covenants

Let’s begin by first looking at unilateral covenants.

The first use of the word “covenant” (berith) is found in Genesis 6:17-22

  • We’ve seen this before.
  • The Lord unilaterally enters covenant with Noah.
  • The Lord commands Noah and brings him in
    • I will establish My covenant with thee
    • And thou shalt do

Old Testament Survey - Noah

  • The Lord calls it a “berith”, a covenant.
    • He calls it my covenant and not our covenant.
    • There is no negotiation
    • There is no quibbling
    • There is no substitute motion
    • There is no alternate suggestion
  • There are stipulations
    • Thou shalt come into the Ark (which he has to build)
    • Thou and thy wife, sons, their wives, and every living thing, and food
    • Noah obeyed.

Old Testament Survey - Abraham

Genesis 17:1-21

  • It is easy to see the same kind of arrangement here.
  • The Lord has already been very kind to Abraham, gracious to him and has blessed him with protection and supply.
    • The Lord specifically speaks to him concerning the covenant He will make.
  • Note the unilateral aspects of the word: as it is used here.
    • There is no option, no negotiation

Old Testament Survey – Moses and the People

Exodus 6:1-9

  • Note several things about this passage:
    • Moses was minding his own business on the far side of the desert when the Lord called upon him.
    • There is no pressing urgency on the part of Moses.
    • He is tending Jethro’s sheep, turns aside to see the bush that burns but is not consumed, and is commanded by the Lord to be the deliverer of Israel.
    • Through chapters 3-6, the Lord states that He is acting in accord with the Covenant that He made with their fathers.

Old Testament Survey – David

Psalm 89:1-4

2 Samuel 7:10-16

  • The Psalmist brings into focus the arrangement the Lord made with David in 2 Sam-07
    • Although the word covenant is not used in Samuel, it is in the Psalm.
  • The Psalmist identifies what the Lord did as a covenant, and an oath.
  • Again, nothing is required of David (in the strict sense) to enter covenant
    • just like before with Noah, Abraham, and Moses.
  • David is drawn into covenant unilaterally
    • and commanded certain things from his sovereign

Old Testament Survey – Others

Numbers 25: 13 – God established an everlasting covenant with Phineas as an everlasting priesthood

Isaiah 42:6, Jer. 31:31 -> covenants and promises made through the prophets

1 Samuel 20:8, 1 Samuel 18:1-4 -> between David and Jonathan

          Where Jonathan draws David into covenant with him

Old Testament Survey - Bilateral Covenants

Now lets take a look at some bilateral covenants in the Scripture.

  • Treaty, alliance, confederacy, etc...

A bilateral covenant is established between one party to another

  • two parties come together as equals, so to speak
  • there is a request, not a command to enter into covenant
  • each make commitments contributory to the relationship between them.

Old Testament Survey – Abram and Mamre -> Amorite

Genesis 14:13

  • After Lot is taken captive, someone comes to tell Abram.
  • Apparently, there is an agreement of mutual benefit between Abarm and Mamre
  • Here the word “confederate” is the Hebrew word “berith”

Genesis 21:22-32

  • Notice there is no command to enter into covenant
    • There is agreement
    • This is a mutual act

Old Testament Survey – Jacob and Laban

Genesis 31:36-55

  • Notice again there is no command to enter into covenant
    • There is agreement
    • This is a mutual act

Other examples of bi-lateral covenants in the OT:

  • Joshua and Israel – they made an agreement to serve Yahweh only
  • Jehoiada and the people – to be the people of Yahweh
  • Hezekiah and the people – to reform worship
  • Josiah and the people – to obey the book of the covenant
  • Ezra and the people – to put away foreign wives

Old Testament Survey – Solemnity of Covenants

In these covenants, you can find elements and practices reinforcing the solemnity of the occasion

Oftentimes, they are accompanied with:

  • A sacrifice or gifts offered/ exchanged
    • Abram was called upon to slay animals, divide them, to spread apart the pieces to create a pathway.
    • The custom was familiar to the ancient near-eastern peoples in making a covenant
    • Whoever passed between those pieces dedicated themselves, upon the pain of death and being strewn upon the ground, to the performance of the promise and engagements enacted in the ceremony. (Jeremiah 34:17-20)

Conclusion – Uses

  • Oaths and Vows
    • The Lord often reiterates His promises
    • To which the people of God can take great comfort and assurance

This, then, leads us to some “uses” or “applications” from this morning:

  • We have strong consolation and assurance in God
    • There will be times where our confidence might flicker/ waver
      • When circumstances in our lives seemingly do not line up the way we think they should (Abraham -> no heir/ Issac/ Abimelech)
      • We might be tempted to doubt the covenant promises of God
    • In those times, we remember the covenant and the sacraments
  • We have strong reliance that God, who cannot lie, and whose will shall be done, will hold and keep his chosen
    • Coming into covenant is not a mistake
    • God pressed Himself to because He so desired
    • It was not by free that
      • If it was our will to get into covenant
      • If can be our will to get us out (our we not fickle people)
    • A right understanding of Covenant Theology.
      • the Lord presses unilaterally to us in a way that is not resistible,
      • commanding and granting those terms of the Covenant
      • placing all of the performance upon Himself
      • then placing conditions before us that we will fulfill
      • having been regenerated by Him
  • We have strong comfort in the continuity of the plan of God
    • With non-covenant theology, some believe the history of the OT was a series of tests with each ending in failure, with no hope in salvation from Christ, with different plans of salvation
    • With covenant theology, we have rest and comfort
      • That God created one, consistent plan from the beginning that does not change to provide His people with assurance and reliability until they are restored into eternal fellowship with Him


More in Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

September 17, 2023

Doctrine of the Last Judgment - The Finality of Judgment

September 10, 2023

Doctrine of the Last Judgement - The Great White Throne

September 3, 2023

Doctrine of the Last Judgment