Christians often speak of covenants, but what is this legal language doing in the Bible? Is it relevant?
We’ve put together a quick overview of the covenants especially as they’re mentioned and used in the first 5 books of the Bible. This is important as it serves as a foundation for themes and ideas unpacked in the rest of the OT and also continued in the NT.
(1) What exactly is a covenant?
A covenant is a binding agreement or promise between two parties that structures their relationship. In the ancient Near East, an example would be like a vassal-Lord covenant of loyalty and protection. A modern example is the marriage covenant where husband and wife promise exclusive love and commitment to one another. Covenants are binding, and often involve a symbol/sign of the promise between the two parties. God enters into covenants with people in order to reveal more about Himself to them and explain His actions to them. In the Torah these include the Noahic, Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. The Bible will also speak of the Davidic and New covenants to follow.
(2) Which parts of the Mosaic covenant apply and don’t apply to us (Christians) and why?
One helpful way of thinking about the law is as: the moral, civic and ceremonial law. They help us know God’s righteous requirements, His design for Godly society, and also, biblical worship. In Christ, we typically say that He has fulfilled the full law for us — all its civic and ceremonial laws, but the moral law of God still binds our conscience and applies to us.
(3) What would happen if we didn’t have the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants — so what?
At the simplest level, we would not understand what the covenants were meant to reveal — God and His works and ways which finally climax in Jesus. Without this covenantal understanding, we would not understand Jesus rightly as God intended Him to be. On another level, you wouldn’t know the character of God and His people, revealed in the law.