Major Covenants of the Old Testament, part 1


Three covenants from the Old Testament from the entire bas of New Testament theology.  Even though there are other covenants mentioned in the Old Testament, these three are referred to over and over by Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament Scriptures and almost exclusively provide the foundation of our Faith.  It is only too sad that so many Christians fail to grasp them fully. These three covenants are the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants.  In this section, we will look carefully at the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and save the Law of Moses for next week.

The Abrahamic Covenant

The Jews began real history with Abraham. While other things may have happened before him, none of that was very important: Abraham was their beginning point. When an Israelite brought an offering to God, he was required to cite the shema or Abraham, see Deut. 26:5.

This fact is event all through the Old Testament. We see it in such passages as Deut. 1:8; Ex. 32:11 ff.; Lev. 26:42; Ex. 33:1; and the following, which may be the most explicit demonstration of God’s motivation in giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites:

 After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you.  It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob    

    Deut. 9:4-5

As you can see clearly here, God would act in concert with Israel, but not for Israel’s sake per se, rather he would act to fulfill His covenant with “Father” Abraham… and He would do so in spite of the Israelites themselves. Thus we can establish the core connection of Jewish history’s beginning with Abraham, and God’s covenant hesed... New Testament accounts also begin with Abraham. For example, Stephen began his account of redemption history with the call of Abraham, explaining the exodus as Moses did in the context of covenant; Acts 7:17. In short, God called Abraham for reasons not revealed, tested his obedience, and made a covenant with him. Thus began the history of the relationship between God and men.  See Genesis 12:1-3.

Here is a composite summary of the Abrahamic Covenant:

Parties: God and Abraham, his posterity through Isaac and all slaves who were attached to that family Gen. 17:1 ff. 
Terms: Dwell in Canaan (12:4)Continue to trust God and Him only (14:22; 15:4-7)

Circumcise all males (17:9)

Establish Isaac as covenant heir (17:19)

“Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.” (15:13)


Promises: Canaan was to belong to the heirs of Abraham (15:18 ff.)They would become a great Nation (15:4)

God was to rescue them from Egyptian captivity (17:16)

Sarah was to have a “son of promise” (17:15)

Isaac was to become the father of 12 nations (17:20)

The covenant with Abraham would be renewed with Isaac (17:21)

“…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (12:3)


As a man like any other, Abraham was not perfect. He made his share of mistakes, and it can certainly be argued that he made some very serious errors.  He needed reassurance from God, and God tested him several times. Even after all of this, the New Testament writers used him as an example of how we should relate to God.  He is the example of the person who satisfies God because he believed God. To the Hebrew, to believe is to receive, understand and act upon a message. See Hebrews 11:16; James 2:21 ff.

Sons of Covenant

The covenant passed from Abraham to his son Isaac (Gen, 26:1-5) and onto Isaac’s sons after that. Like Abraham, none of these men were perfect by any means, nor was the rest of the family.  But God kept His part of the deal. Isaac was basically a moral man, but his son Jacob was quite another matter. Yet Jacob is considered great because he took the covenant seriously, in spite of his cheating, lies and other peccadilloes Believing in, supporting, and enhancing the success of the covenant was morality. This was true then; it is true today.

The Davidic Covenant

Once again, God chooses a man to enter covenant with. David, like Abraham was a good man, but not perfect; he had all of the human weaknesses.  His story is well known, but his covenant is less well known. It follows a slightly different format than Abraham’s or Moses’ but the formulary is the same.  This is a “vassal-grant” covenant, common in ancient times, which follows or ensues from a prior treaty: two in this case, the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. It can be summarized as follows:

Parties God and David (2Sam. 7:12-17) 
Terms: Keep the Law of Moses satisfactorily (1Kings 2:2)Stay away from idols (1Kings 11:9)

Protect and promote the covenant (1Kings11:33)


Promises: A descendant of David to be king (2Sam. 7:13)To punish but not forsake the royal house (2Sam. 7:15)

Be ruler over one state only (1Kings 11:36)

“…and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (1Kings 11:39; Luke 1:33)

It is important to note the conditionality of this covenant. See 1Kings 2:12 ff. Note that David in giving his charge to his son, Solomon makes it clear that they must obey and promote the covenant if they are to expect to receive its promises.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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2 Responses to Major Covenants of the Old Testament, part 1

  1. Pingback: You Know | He Dwells -- The B'log in My Eye

  2. Pingback: Day 261: Hosea 5-9; You Reap What You Sow? | Overisel Reformed Church

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