GOD’S COVENANTS WITH ISRAEL
God’s covenants with the nation of Israel influence the entire story of the Old Testament and impact all of human history. There are a total of eight covenants that are discussed in the Old Testament. However, the first three, the Edenic Covenant, the Adamic Covenant (though there is debate among theologians as to whether these first two are actually covenants or rather laws or commands), and the Noahic Covenant, though they affect Israel, are not made with Israel and therefore will not be discussed in this paper.
There are four Biblical covenants that Lightner references in regard to national Israel; the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3), and classified under the Abrahamic Covenant, are the Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16) and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). To this list, I would add the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 20:1-31:18) as a covenant with national Israel, as does Chafer in his work Major Bible Themes. These five covenants were made with various persons or else the nation of Israel as a whole, yet have had an influence on the entire world. The first four covenants mentioned above are the unconditional covenants. This means that God would honor these covenants regardless of human obedience or interference. The last covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, is a conditional covenant, meaning that should the people involved not hold up their end of the bargain, God is under no obligation to fulfill his promises. It is the five covenants with Israel that will remain the focus of the rest of this paper.
The Abrahamic Covenant is the foundation of the other four covenants made with the nation of Israel. Genesis 12:1-3 lays out the primary details of this covenant. It says,
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (NASB)
Within this covenant, there are three major divisions that can be observed. They are the land, the great nation, and the blessings. Various details of this covenant are repeated and expounded upon throughout the book of Genesis (12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:1-7, 18-21; 17:1-8; 24:34-35).
The promise of land is the first part of the covenant. This area of the covenant is later clarified in the Palestinian Covenant or the Land Covenant, as it is sometimes called (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). The second part of the covenant, that Abraham would become a great nation can be broken into three sub-points, for every nation requires three things: land, laws, and people. The land part is detailed out in the Palestinian Covenant referenced above. The laws are detailed out in the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 20:1-31:18). Finally, the people would be the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 17:16). The promises to national Israel are continued through the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:4-16) where an everlasting kingdom, throne, and heir are promised to Israel through David. Finally, the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33 continues the promises of blessings to the nation of Israel and the whole world.
The Palestinian Covenant affirms that the land of promise (see map below) will ultimately be in the possession of Israel and the nation will receive blessing and safety there. God in his sovereignty and foresight includes provisions for Israel’s penchant for unbelief and disobedience, times of repentance and restoration and the regathering of the nation to the land. It also includes provision for Israel’s spiritual conversion, their ultimate prosperity and divine judgment upon their oppressors. In modern times, it is significant that Israel has been restored as a sovereign nation, because this is necessary for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s prophetic revelation when Christ returns and sets up his kingdom (Ezekiel 39:25-29).
The Mosaic Covenant was given to the children of Israel through Moses and emerges as part of God’s promise to make Israel into a great nation. Every nation needs laws. In this conditional covenant that God made with Israel, he detailed out 613 specific commands that would govern the nation. These laws can be divided into three major divisions: the commandments, the judgments, and the ordinances. The conditions of the covenant were fairly simple. If Israel obeyed, they would be blessed. However, if they were disobedient, God would curse and discipline them. The Mosaic Covenant was broken time and again by the nation of Israel. This may be part of the reason why God intended for the Mosaic Covenant to be a temporary covenant and terminated with the death of Christ and the institution of the New Covenant.
The Davidic Covenant is the unconditional covenant God made with David, the man after God’s own heart. God’s covenant with David promises David an everlasting royal dynasty, an eternal throne on which his heir would sit, and an unending kingdom over which his heir would rule. The Abrahamic Covenant is also perpetuated through the Davidic Covenant because it promises a kingdom to rule over (land and people) and through Christ, as the eternal Son of God and Son of David, an eternal blessing is guaranteed.
The New Covenant is the most important of all to not only the nation of Israel but to the world. Jeremiah 31:31-34 details out the New Covenant for Israel:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (NASB)
This is the covenant prophesied in the Old Testament and will have its ultimate fulfillment in the millennial kingdom. The passage anticipates the ideal circumstances that will exist in the millennial kingdom where Christ will reign on the planet and all will know him.
The New Covenant is also a subset of the Abrahamic Covenant. God promised Abraham that all the families of the Earth would be blessed because of him. The New covenant is the universal blessing that God promised presented in the form of his son, Jesus Christ.
Chafer says, “Actually the New Covenant, whether for Israel or for the church, stems from the death of Christ and His shed blood.” Upon the grounds of his son’s sacrifice, God guarantees to work out his purposes and this can be seen in two aspects. First, that he will save, preserve, and present in heaven conformed to the image of his son, all who have believed in Christ. Second, the future salvation of Israel is promised under this unconditional New Covenant. This salvation of Israel is also based on the shed blood of Christ.
The New Covenant is also the reason the Mosaic Covenant is a temporary covenant. The law was fulfilled with Christ and therefore the covenant is no longer in force. Galatians 3 explains that the law was in place to demonstrate to mankind that they cannot fit the bill alone. It also proves that, since it came after the covenant was made, it really has nothing to do with the former covenant. The redeeming work of Christ at the cross was necessary to save man.
Robert Lightner says this of the New Covenant, “Most important of all, the New Covenant assures those to whom it was given of a new heart. God’s law will be written in the hearts of the people. Their iniquity will be removed, and their sin will be remembered no more. The Holy Spirit of God will teach the people and will find their hearts obedient and responsive.”
Lightner goes on to point out that there is some debate in theological circles just who the New Covenant was made with. Some hold the view that this covenant was made with Israel and is still to be fulfilled in the millennium. Those that hold this view are typically premillennial, dispensationalists. Those who hold to a literal, grammatical, historical interpretation of the Scriptures agree that the covenants of the Old Testament, including the New Covenant, are made with Israel, not the church. On the other side of the coin, are the amillennialists and postmillennialists. They typically believe that this covenant, unlike all the others, is made with “spiritual Israel”, that is the church. They also believe in a replacement theology, where the church has adopted all of Israel’s blessings from the Old Testament. Yet, oddly enough, the church doesn’t adopt any of the curses that go along with those blessings.
The covenants of the Old Testament are a key to understanding the entire story of not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament. God made a covenant with Abraham that has affected all of human history. He promised Abraham land, a nation, and blessings. That land is the area of the Middle East we refer to as Israel and Palestine and at least parts of several neighboring nations today (see map below). That nation is the nation of Israel. And those blessings can be realized by all of us as the person of Jesus Christ.
Benware, Paul N. Survey of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1993.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry Major Bible Themes. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House,
Lightner, Robert P. Handbook of Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
 Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications. 1995), 258-264.
 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974), 144.