What is a divine covenant?

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What is a divine covenant?

Our God is a covenant God, and the Bible tells His covenant story. From Adam to Noah, Abraham to Moses, and David to Christ, the divine covenants provide the unifying framework of God’s redemptive history. As a central theme of all Scripture, covenant reveals and orders the progressive purposes of God with His creatures: creation and curse, cross and new creation, and all points in between.

These divine covenants always come by divine initiative. They are not of us but of God’s grace. That is why the Lord always calls them “My covenant” (Genesis 9:9; Exodus 19:5; Psalm 89:28; Isaiah 54:10; Romans 11:27; Hebrews 8:9). The emphasis is never on what we have done but on what God has done. In the divine covenant-making act, “I will” is the reminder of His faithful, sovereign will to act for us (Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 6:5-8; Jeremiah 31:31-33). 

To say that our God is a “covenant God” is to say He’s a God of relationship. By the very act of creation, Adam and Eve were bound in relationship to God, imbued with a blessed identity and vocation for His purposes and glory. While the word covenant (berit) is not found in Genesis 1-3, the divine relationship it signifies certainly is. As God’s creation, we are made for covenant relationship.

It is only after Adam and Eve fell from grace that the word berit appears explicitly in the Bible. First with Noah, after the whole earth had fallen into violence and corruption, “But I will establish My covenant with you” (Genesis 6:11, 18). We learn here that covenant is intimately linked with creation because this God-established relationship is the means by which God rescues creation from sin and curse and restores life and blessing, God’s original purposes. So it is in the context of redemption, after sin wrecked the world, that we associate God’s covenant first and most.

The etymology of berit is uncertain. A variety of suggested origins include “to cut, to eat, to bind.” We find these and other acts involved in covenant-making in the biblical narrative. While ancient Near East background studies are helpful, ultimately the concept of covenant is defined by its biblical context. In his admired book, The Christ of the Covenants, O. Palmer Robertson gives one of the best definitions: “a covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.” Thinner definitions like “agreement,” “arrangement,” “promise,” “pact” fail to capture the passionate intimacy and purpose of the divine covenants. 

This sacred, sacrificial bond speaks to the depth of the everlasting relationship, much like marriage, promise, and oath bind the divine and human parties in mutual faith and love (Genesis 15:5, 6; Psalm 89:33, 34; Jeremiah 31:3). We understand that we are in a relationship with our transcendent Creator, but in covenant, He comes near. That God is a covenant God means He is immanent and intimate with His people. This is seen in the covenant formula scattered throughout the Bible: “I will be their God, and they will be My people” (Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 21:3). This is the goal of the divine covenants: reunion of Creator and creation. In the new covenant blood of Jesus Christ, this divine goal is fully and finally reached: “God with us” (Matthew 1:23; cf. 26:28; 28:20; Hebrews 13:20, 21).

Adapted from the forthcoming NAMC study Our Covenant God by Calvin Burrell, Jonathan Hicks, and Jason Overman.

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    Jason Overman
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    Jason Overman is Editor of Publications of the Bible Advocate Press. After 24 years in the publishing industry (in sales and management) with the Harrison Daily Times, Jason left his general manager’s position to join the BAP family in 2015. He has served in ministry for 30 years and currently pastors the Church of God (Seventh Day) in Jasper, Arkansas, with his wife, Stephanie, and two children, Tabitha and Isaac. Jason enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, reading theology, playing his guitar, and taking in the beautiful Ozark Mountains he calls home.