Sometimes In discussing my faith to Christian friends, I try to explain why I keep the Sabbath, or why I don’t eat pork. Often I receive comments such as this: “Christians are under the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant, so the Old Testament law does not apply to us.” I have a hard time quickly and succinctly responding to this statement, but it is an important issue, and one worth analyzing, so let’s examine this question: As a believer in the Messiah, what covenant am I under? I must first examine the question, to determine what it means. What is a covenant, and what does it mean to be under one? A covenant, in Biblical terms, is an agreement, a contract, or a promise between two people, or between God and a person or group. Covenants between men usually involve witnesses and often a sacrifice being offered, or gifts being exchanged to seal the covenant. Gen. 21:27 So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant. 28 Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart. 29 And Abimelech said to Abraham, "What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?" 30 He said, "These seven ewe lambs you will take from my hand, that this may be a witness for me that I dug this well."
Often Covenants carry with them a visible sign, as a reminder to the people involved. In our modern culture, the most common type of covenant we see it the marital covenant between a man and a woman. There are witnesses, vows made, gifts exchanged, and a sign is worn in the form of the wedding ring to show that this man and woman are involved in a covenant with each other. Unlike most casual contracts or agreements, there are unconditional expectations that the parties in a covenant are bound to carry out. We see this in the wedding ceremony in the phrase, "for better or worse". The husband doesn’t say he will love honor and cherish his wife as long as she continues to interest him. He swears "until death do us part." There are also conditional covenants where one party promises something in return for some action taken on the others part. Let’s examine all of the covenants God has made with his people. (Yes there are more than just Old and New, although you wouldn’t know it from looking at our Bible divisions) The first covenant God made was with Adam, on the sixth day. in Genesis 1:28 and added to in Gen. 3 after the Fall:
Gen 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
The main attributes were that man would have dominion over the earth, would multiply and fill it, and that he would work to subdue, or repair it. These were unconditional statements. Some of the negative effects after the fall corrupted creation were pain in child bearing and the necessity of hard work to bring forth food. We do however see hope in the veiled promise of a Messiah, the seed of woman (sons are always elsewhere referred to as the seed of their father, not their mother) who will crush the head of the serpent.
The second covenant God makes with Noah and his children after the Flood. It is mentioned in Gen. 9:8-17.
Gen 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17 God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."
This was another unconditional covenant wherein God promises to never again destroy the world with a flood. A sign (or reminder) is given in the form of a rainbow that will show up after storms to remind men that no matter how hard it rains, God is not going to flood the world again. This is an eternal sign that is still seen today.
The third covenant God made with Abraham. The promise of God to Abram is first seen in Gen. 12:2 but the Covenant was sealed in Gen. 15 with the sacrifice of animals.
Gen 12:2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
The promises of this unconditional covenant were that Abraham’s seed would number more than the stars in the sky, and that whosoever blessed them would be blessed and whoever cursed them would be cursed. Also all the families of the earth would be blessed, first by Abraham’s descendants in general, and also by his unique seed that would be the Messiah, who would bring salvation to the world. This covenant was renewed with Isaac and Jacob. The sign given of this covenant was that Abraham and his male children would be circumcised as a reminder of who they were.
Gen 17:10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
The fourth Covenant was the Mosaic Covenant or the Sinai Covenant. This was the covenant that God made with the descendants of Abraham, the nation of Israel. I believe this is what most Christians are thinking of when they refer to the “Old Covenant,” although the only place you will find that term in your bible is on the divider page that says “Old Covenant”, or “Old Testament.” (This title is a relatively new invention. Yeshua and the apostles simply referred to this body of writing as “the Scriptures”) This was a conditional covenant in which God gave commandments to his people by which they were to live and thus set themselves apart from the Nations around them. These Commandments are spread around throughout the first five books of the Bible, most notably in Exodus chapter 20, which describes the giving of the Torah. The word Torah means teaching, guidance, or instruction. It is derived from a word meaning to shoot an arrow straight, and indicates a straight path. It does not translate well into the word Law, although most Christians refer to the Torah as simply the Law. In Hebrew, the word Torah does not carry any of the oppressive connotations that the word Law does in English. Additionally the word Torah is used to describe the five books of Moses, or the Pentateuch as some call them. With this covenant, my earlier parallel of the marriage covenant really begins to shine. With this covenant, God separated out a chosen people, and delivered unto them a list of expectation. This directly parallels the ancient Hebrew wedding tradition where, after choosing a bride, a man would deliver a ketubah, or wedding contract outlining his expectations, to his bride. The bride would read this, and agree to it and the ketubah would become the guidelines of how the couple would live in their marriage together. Therefore, in the Hebrew tradition, a bride would have had to agree to the husbands expectation before the wedding would occur. Israel agreed to God’s Ketubah in Exodus 19:8, when they essentially said, “We do”.
Exo 19:7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do." And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.
It is crucial in any marriage, whether one is a husband or wife of a human spouse, or whether one wants to be “The Bride of Christ,” that a person understand and accept what the other partner in the marriage desires and expects. This is what the Torah did for Israel, and since the groom hasn’t changed, neither have his desires and expectations. Num 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
The conditions of the Covenant were simple. If a person or a nation kept the commandments of God and walked in his ways, then they would be blessed. If they violated the commandments, and walked in the ways of the pagan nations around them, they would be cursed. The details of the blessings and the curses can be found in Deut. 28. There were also signs given of this covenant. The first was the same as that given to Abraham; the circumcision of all males. This was renewed as a sign of obedience to the covenant. It was not the covenant itself. The second sign is the Sabbath, to be observed on the seventh day of the week. In Exodus 31:17 it is given as a sign of recognition of the day in which God rested after creating the world.
Exo 31:16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'" Note however that although this isn’t explained until the book of Exodus, God set up the principle when he hallowed the seventh day in Gen. 2:3. The third sign is the annual observance of Passover and the feast of unleavened bread, which was to be a sign of the deliverance God wrought in bringing his people out of Egypt (see Exodus 13:3-l eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you.
Ex 13:3-10 3 Then Moses said to the people, "Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. 4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving. 5 When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites — the land he swore to your forefathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey — you are to observe this ceremony in this month: 6 For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the LORD. 7 Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. 8 On that day tell your son, 'I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.' 9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year. NIV
Note that all three signs are accompanied by language that makes it plain that these are eternal signs to identify the people of God, not merely transitory celebrations that would be superceded shortly. Also note that two of the signs were pre-existent prior to the giving of the commandments on Sinai. Notably absent from this covenant is any mention of eternal life or of salvation as we think of it. Most of Christianity assumes that Israelites living in this covenant were saved by their works, or by keeping the law. This however is simply not true. Nowhere in the Torah does God promise eternal life to those who keep the commandments. While it is true that in later generations certain Jewish Rabbis began teaching that one could earn his way into heaven by living righteously and performing mitzvot (good deeds), this is not a biblical teaching. Israelites who lived in this period were saved the same way all sinners must be saved, by Grace, unearned and freely granted by God through faith and repentance. Salvation through good works was never possible, nor is it today.
The fifth covenant was made with David and his descendants. This was a conditional promise that as long as the sons of David walked according to God’s Torah, there would never cease to be an heir of David on the throne of Israel.
1Ki 2:4 that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, 'If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'
This covenant was violated by many of David’s heirs, and finally during the reign of Zedekiah, the line was broken and the throne destroyed. (See 2nd Kings chapter 25.) However God promised that the throne would one day be restored and that a Son of David would one day rule forever. This will be fulfilled when Messiah returns to establish his Kingdom on earth. And finally, we get to the Covenant most talked about, the New Covenant. Unlike the misnomer of “Old Covenant,” when Jeremiah introduces this Covenant, he calls it “New.” We are first given the promise of this new Covenant in Jeremiah chapter 31 verse 31.
Jer 31:31 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Jeremiah first qualifies that this covenant will be made with the house of Israel and the House of Judah (not with the Gentiles, as some believe) We are told that this covenant is different from the covenants that Israel broke in that this time God himself will put the Torah into the hearts of his people and be their God and they will be his people. This is an unconditional Covenant of promise from God to forgive their sins and remember their iniquities no more. However, there is also the promise that all men will know the Lord and there will be no more need of teaching about Him.
Our Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) initiated or founded this Covenant with his own shed blood on his final Passover, and he also initiated a sign of the covenant. The Passover meal of matzah (unleavened bread) and wine was given new meaning when Yeshua explained that the wine represented the blood of the New Covenant, and that the matzah represented his body, broken for us.
1Co 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
So now we must figure out which covenant we are “under.” First of all, I must say that I think this is bad terminology. We are not under a covenant, we are in covenant with another person, or with God. As a husband (or wife) how would you feel if your spouse referred to themselves as being under a marriage contract to you (as if it were a heavy burden to bear.)? Now say that they are in covenant with you and it sounds a lot better, more like the blessing that marriage should be. So rather than which covenant I am “under,” I will discuss the issue of which covenant (or covenants) apply to me.
Christian theologians have long taught about these covenants as if they were a multiple-choice test, a person can only pick one. In this school of thought the sons of Adam were “under” the Adamic covenant, the sons of Noah were “under” the Noahide covenant, the children of Abraham were under the Abrahamic covenant, the Israelites were “under” the Mosaic covenant, the sons of David were “under” the Davidic covenant, and now Christians are “under” the new covenant”. This treats the various covenants as if they are mutually exclusive, and each only applicable to a limited group of people in a certain age. If a person is “under” one, then the others don’t apply. This has led many to be fearful of exploring the other, older covenants for fear of losing their place in the New Covenant, or “falling from grace” as it were. This ignores the fact that there is much overlap between the covenants because they address different areas of life. Some involve work, some involve children, some involve righteous living, and others involve eternal life. Many involve visible signs. All involve God’s grace and mercy. The Word of God is always consistent, and a new covenant or promise cannot do away with a previous promise or covenant. Paul makes this evident in Galatians where he is explaining that the Law, or the Sinai Covenant does not do away with Gods earlier covenant with Abraham.
Gal 3:17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.
Therefore we must look beyond the period of time we live in and examine the purpose and conditions of the covenants to determine if they might apply to us. I will start from the beginning.
The Adamic Covenant is still in effect, as far as I can tell. Man is still working toward dominion of the earth, men still sweat and toil for food, and women still have pain in childbirth. Therefore I can safely assume that the seed of woman (Messiah) will still crush the head of Satan in the final battle. The first covenant is still relevant.
There are still rainbows after the rain. Therefore we can safely trust God’s promise that he will not destroy the earth by flood. Thus the Noahide Covenant seems to apply to us.
The third Covenant is still being fulfilled today in that the seed of Abraham is even today growing and spreading throughout the world, both the literal descendants of Abraham and the spiritual seed of Abraham that are represented by faithful believers from all nations. This will only come to complete fruition in the Kingdom to come, when all of the world accepts the Messiah, the unique Seed of Abraham. Therefore the Abrahamic Covenant is still in effect and applies to me as a faithful believer.
The Mosaic covenant is the one where many stumble. This however is an effect of misunderstanding the purpose of the covenant. The Torah was given to show the people of God how to live a holy life, as set apart from the people around us. It was given to show us what a life that is pleasing and glorifying to God looks like. It also gives the definitions for righteousness, and of Sin. It was accompanied by various blessings and curses for obedience and disobedience, respectively. Now today as followers of Messiah Yeshua, we are still called upon to live a holy life.
Eph 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
We are still called to be set apart from the world.
1Jo 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
If we love our God, we should desire to please him and glorify him by the way we live our lives.
1Jo 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
We are to strive for righteousness and avoid sin, and the Torah is still the standard of what is righteous and what is sin.
1Jo 3:4 Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
While Yeshua has saved us from the ultimate penalty for sinners (death) we can still be blessed fo living a righteous life according to God’s Commandments. It seems to me that all aspects of this covenant are still relevant to my life today. So am I “under the law?” No. Does the Mosaic covenant apply to me? In many ways, yes.
As I am not to my knowledge a descendant of David, and as the throne of Israel was abolished millennia ago, there is little personal application of the Davidic covenant. I do, however look forward to the coming of the Son of David to his Throne and the establishment of His eternal Kingdom. Therefore, the Davidic covenant is still relevant to us today.
Now the New Covenant. As a faithful believer, I have put my trust in Messiah Yeshua to forgive my sins and remember my iniquities no more. The Holy Spirit is continually working on me to write the Commandments of God on my heart and convict me of sin. He works in me also to empower me to live a life pleasing to God. Therefore I would say that the New Covenant most definitely applies to me. However, there are still conditions of the New Covenant the have not been manifested yet. There are still people who don’t know the Living God. There is still a need for teaching and witnessing (i.e. the Great Commission). While I am progressing toward the goal, I cannot honestly say that my heart is completely conformed to God’ Commandments. Therefore it would be incorrect to say that the New Covenant is fully in effect. It is as Rabbi Altom is fond of saying, “We have it now, but not yet.” We have the promise, and the covenant has been initiated, but just as the Kingdom of God is at hand, but is not completely fulfilled, the fullness of the New Covenant will not be realized until Yeshua’s Kingdom is established on Earth in its fullness.
It seems, in conclusion, that contrary to the traditional understanding, a person cannot simply be “under’ the Old Covenant, or “under” the New Covenant, but that all of God’s Covenants are eternal and stand forever, because He is eternal and does not change. In some way all of His covenants are still active and applicable to my life. I cannot simply pick and choose what parts of His Word I will apply to my life; I must study and believe all of it. I must seek understanding of each of God’s covenants with mankind, so that I can better understand the God who made those covenants. Far from being a burden to be crushed “under,” the covenants are a blessing, like a ripe field to be picked from. As an unworthy sinner, saved only by the Grace of my lord Yeshua, I am happy just to be in any covenant with the God of the universe, and I am willing to let a being infinitely wiser than myself lay out the terms as he has done in his word. Blessed be the Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has blessed unworthy men with his covenants, has shown us the way to walk with his commandments, and who has extended his grace and sent his Son to die in our place, so that our sins may be forgiven.
Thank you Yeshua