THE BOOK OF EPHESIANS
THE BIBLICAL COVENANTS
C. I. Scofield
A covenant is a sovereign pronouncement of God by which He establishes a relationship of responsibility
(1) between Himself and an individual (e.g. Adam in the Edenic Covenant, Gen 2:16ff.),
(2) between Himself and mankind in general (e.g. in the promise of the Noahic Covenant never again to destroy all flesh with a flood, Gen 9:9ff.),
(3) between Himself and a nation (e.g. Israel in the Mosaic Covenant, Exo 19:3ff.), or
(4) between Himself and a specific human family (e.g. the house of David in the promise of a kingly line in perpetuity through the Davidic Covenant, 2 Sam 7:16ff.). A covenant of one category may overlap others; e.g. the Davidic Covenant, where a continuing kingly house is promised with ultimate blessing, not only to David but also to the whole world in the reign of Jesus Christ.
The covenants are normally unconditional in the sense that God obligates Himself in grace, by the unrestricted declaration, "I will," to accomplish certain announced purposes, despite any failure on the part of the person or people with whom He covenants. The human response to the divinely announced purpose is always important, leading as it does to blessing for obedience and discipline for disobedience. But human failure is never permitted to abrogate the covenant or block its ultimate fulfillment.
In the case of the Mosaic Covenant, the fulfillment of all the promises was made conditional upon Israel's obedience, as implied by the words, " . . . <if you obey> . . . then . . . you will be . . ." followed by "The people all responded . . . 'We will do everything the LORD has said' " (Exo 19:5,8).
The three universal and general covenants are: the Adamic, the Noahic, and also the Edenic in that the whole race is represented as present in Adam in his failure. All the other covenants are made with Israel or Israelites and apply primarily to them, although with ultimate blessing to the whole world.
There are eight major covenants of special significance in explaining the outworking of God's purposes with man.
The first or Edenic Covenant required the following responsibilities of Adam:
(1) to propagate the race;
(2) to subdue the earth for man;
(3) to have dominion over the animal creation;
(4) to care for the garden and eat its fruits and herbs; and
(5) to abstain from eating of one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, on penalty of death for disobedience.
2. Adamic; Genesis 3:15
The Adamic Covenant conditions the life of fallen man - conditions which must remain till, in the kingdom age, "the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Rom 8:21). The elements of the covenant are:
(1) The serpent, Satan's tool, is cursed (v. 14; Rom 16:20; 2 Cor 11:3,14; Rev 12:9) and becomes God's graphic warning in nature of the effects of sin - from the most beautiful and subtle of creatures to a loathsome reptile. The deepest mystery of the cross of Christ is strikingly pictured by the serpent of bronze, a type of Christ "made . . . to be sin for us" in bearing the judgment we deserved (Num 21:5 -9; John 3:14 - 15; 2 Cor 5:21)
(2) The first promise of a Redeemer (v. 15). Here begins the "highway of the Seed": Abel, Seth, Noah (Gen 6:8 - 10), Shem (Gen 9:26 - 27), Abraham (Gen 12:1 - 4), Isaac (Gen 17:19 - 21), Jacob (Gen 28:10 -14), Judah (Gen 49:10), David (2 Sam 7:5 - 17), Immanuel-Christ (Isa 7:10 - 14; Mat 1:1,20 - 23; John 12:31 -33; 1 John 3:8).
(3) The changed state of the woman (v. 16), in three particulars: (a) multiplied conception; (b) sorrow (pain) in motherhood; (c) the headship of the man (cp. Gen 1:26 - 27). Sin's disorder makes necessary a headship; it is vested in man (Eph 5:22 - 25; 1 Cor 11:7 - 9; 1 Tim 2:11 - 14).
(4) The light occupation of Eden (Gen 2:15) changed to burdensome labor (3:18 - 19), because of the earth's being cursed (3:17).
(5) The inevitable sorrow of life (v. 17).
(6) The brevity of life and the tragic certainty of physical death to Adam and all his descendants (v. 19; Rom 5:12 - 21). See also Death (spiritual, Gen 2:17; Eph 2:5; and notes. Nevertheless, the curse upon the ground is for man's sake. It is not good for man to live without toil.
The Noahic Covenant reaffirms the conditions of life of fallen man as announced by the Adamic Covenant, and institutes the principle of human government to curb the outbreak of sin, since the threat of divine judgment in the form of another flood has been removed. The elements of the covenant are:
(1) Man is made responsible to protect the sanctity of human life by orderly rule over the individual man, even to capital punishment (Gen 9:5 - 6; cp. Rom 13:1 - 7).
(2) No additional curse is placed upon the ground, nor is man to fear another universal flood (Gen 8:21; 9:11 - 16).
(3) The order of nature is confirmed (Gen 8:22; 9:2).
(4) The flesh of animals is added to man's diet (Gen 9:3 - 4). Presumably man had been a vegetarian prior to the flood.
(5) A prophetic declaration is made that descendants of Canaan, one of Ham's sons, will be servants to their brethren (Gen 9:25 - 26).
(6) A prophetic declaration is made that Shem will have a peculiar relation to the LORD (Gen 9:26 -27). All divine revelation is through Semitic men, and Christ, after the flesh, descends from Shem.
(7) A prophetic declaration is made that from Japheth will descend the enlarged races (Gen 9:27). Government, science, and art, speaking broadly, are and have been Japhetic, so that history is the indisputable record of the exact fulfillment of these declarations.
4. Abrahamic; Genesis 12:2
The Abrahamic Covenant as formed (Gen 12:1 - 4) and confirmed (Gen 13:14 - 17; 15:1 - 7,18 -21; 17:1 - 8) is in three aspects:
(1) The promise of a great nation: "I will make you into a great nation" (Gen 12:2). This had primary reference to Israel, the descendants of Jacob, to whom the everlasting possession of the land is promised (Gen 17:8), to whom the everlasting covenant is given (Gen 17:7), and to whom God said, "I will be their God" (Gen 17:8). Abraham was also promised that he would father other nations (cp. Gen 17:6,20), principally fulfilled through Ishmael and Esau.
(2) Four personal promises are given to Abraham: (a) To be the father of numerous descendants (Gen 17:16). (b) To receive personal blessing, "I will bless you," fulfilled in two ways: temporally (Gen 13:14 -15,17; 15:18; 24:34 - 35); and spiritually (Gen 15:6; John 8:56). (c) To receive personal honor, "and make your name great" (Gen 12:2), fulfilled in recognition by all who honor the Bible. And (d) to be the channel of blessing, "And you will be a blessing" (Gen 12:2), fulfilled: in blessings to others through his seed, Israel, who became the instruments of divine revelation; through Abraham as an example of pious faith (Rom 4:1 - 22); and pre-eminently through Christ, Abraham's Seed (Gal 3:16).
(3) Promises to the Gentiles. (a) "I will bless those who bless you" (Gen 12:3). Those who honor Abraham will be blessed. (b) "And whoever curses you I will curse" (Gen 12:3). This was a warning literally fulfilled in the history of Israel's persecutions. It has invariably fared ill with the people who have persecuted the Jew - well with those who have protected him. For a nation to commit the sin of anti-Semitism brings inevitable judgment. The future will still more remarkably prove this principle (Deu 30:7; Isa 14:1 - 2; Joel 3:1 - 8; Mic 5:7 - 9; Hag 2:22; Zech 14:1 - 3; Mat 25:40,45). (c) "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen 12:3). This is the great evangelic promise fulfilled in Abraham's Seed, Christ, and in all the spiritual seed of Abraham who, like Abraham, are justified by faith (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6 - 9,16,29; cp. John 8:56 - 58). It gives added revelation and confirmation of the promise of the Adamic Covenant concerning the Seed of the woman (Gen 3:15).
The Abrahamic Covenant reveals the sovereign purpose of God to fulfill through Abraham His program for Israel, and to provide in Christ the Savior for all who believe. The ultimate fulfillment is made to rest upon the divine promise and the power of God rather than upon human faithfulness.
The Mosaic Covenant, given to Israel in three divisions, each essential to the others and together forming the Mosaic Covenant, i.e. the commandments, expressing the righteous will of God (Exo 20:1 - 26); the judgments, governing the social life of Israel (Exo 21:1 - 24:11); and the ordinances, governing the religious life of Israel (Exo 24:12 - 31:18). These three elements form "the law," as that expression is generically used in the N.T. (e.g. Mat 5:17,18). The commandments and the ordinances formed one religious system. The commandments were a "ministry that condemns" and "brought death" (2 Cor 3:7 - 9); the ordinances gave, in the high priest, a representative of the people with the LORD; and, in the sacrifices a cover (see Atonement, Lev 16:6, note) for their sins in anticipation of the cross (Heb 5:1 - 3; 9:6 - 9; cp. Rom 3:25 - 26). The Christian is not under the conditional Mosaic Covenant of works, the law, but under the unconditional New Covenant of grace (Rom 3:21 - 27; 6:14 - 15; Gal 2:16; 3:10 - 14,16 - 18,24 - 26; 4:21 - 31; Heb 10:11 - 17). The law did not change the provision of the Abrahamic Covenant but was an added thing for a limited time only - till the Seed should come (Gal 3:17 - 19).
Compare 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6; 5:10. What under law was conditional is, under grace, freely given to every believer. The "if " of v. 5 is the essence of law as a method of divine dealing, and the fundamental reason why "the law made nothing perfect" (Heb 7:18 - 19; cp. Rom 8:3). To Abraham the promise preceded the requirement; at Sinai the requirement preceded the promise. In the New Covenant the Abrahamic order is followed.
6. Palestinian; Deuteronomy 30:3
The Palestinian Covenant gives the conditions under which Israel entered the land of promise. It is important to see that the nation has never as yet taken the land under the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant (see Gen 12:2, note), nor has it ever possessed the whole land (cp. Gen 15:18 with Num 34:1 -12). The Palestinian Covenant is in seven parts:
(1) dispersion for disobedience, v. 1 (Deu 28:63 - 68; see Gen 15:18, note);
(2) the future repentance of Israel while in the dispersion, v. 2;
(3) the return of the LORD, v. 3 (Amos 9:9 - 15; Acts 15:14 - 17);
(4) restoration to the land, v. 5 (Isa 11:11 - 12; Jer 23:3 - 8; Ezek 37:21 - 25);
(5) national conversion, v. 6 (Hos 2:14 - 16; Rom 11:26 - 27);
(6) the judgment of Israel's oppressors, v. 7 (Isa 14:1 - 2; Joel 3:1 - 8; Mat 25:31 - 46); and
(7) national prosperity, v. 9 (Amos 9:11 - 15).
7. Davidic; 2 Samuel 7:16
The Davidic Covenant (vv. 8 - 17) upon which the future kingdom of Christ, "as to his human nature . . . a descendant of David" (Rom 1:3), was to be founded, provided for David:
(1) the promise of posterity in the Davidic house;
(2) a throne symbolic of royal authority;
(3) a kingdom, or rule on earth; and
(4) certainty of fulfillment, for the promises to David "will be established forever."
Solomon, whose birth God predicted (v. 12), was not promised a perpetual seed, but only assured that
(1) he would build "a house for my Name" (v. 13);
(2) his kingdom would be established (v. 12);
(3) his throne, i.e. royal authority, would endure forever; and (4) if Solomon sinned, he would be chastised but not deposed.
The continuance of Solomon's throne, but not Solomon's seed, shows the accuracy of the prediction. Israel had nine dynasties; Judah had one. Christ was born of Mary, who was not of Solomon's line (Jer 22:28 - 30); He was a descendant of Nathan, another son of David (cp. see Luke 3:23 - 31; and note at Luke 3:23). Joseph, the husband of Mary, was descended from Solomon and through him the throne legally passed to Christ (cp. Mat 1:6,16). Thus the throne, but not the seed, came through Solomon, which is in precise fulfillment of the LORD's promise to David.
In contrast with the irrevocable promise of perpetual fulfillment made to David, Solomon illustrates the conditional character of the Davidic Covenant as applied to the kings who followed him. Disobedience on the part of David's descendants would result in chastisement, but not in annulment of the covenant (2 Sam 7:15; Ps 89:20 - 37; Isa 54:3,8,10). So chastisement fell, first in the division of the kingdom under Rehoboam, and finally in the captivities (2 Ki 25:1 - 21). Since that time but one king of the Davidic family has been crowned at Jerusalem, and He was crowned with thorns. But the Davidic Covenant, given to David by the oath of the LORD and confirmed to Mary by the Angel Gabriel, is immutable (Ps 89:20 - 37); and the LORD will yet give to that thorn-crowned One "the throne of his father David" (Luke 1:31 - 33; Acts 2:29 - 32; 15:14 - 17). Both David and Solomon understood the promise to refer to a literal earthly kingdom (2 Sam 7:18 - 29; 2 Chr 6:14 - 16).
The New Covenant, the last of the eight great covenants of Scripture, is
(1) better (cp. "superior" 8:6) than the Mosaic Covenant (Exo 19:5, note), not morally but efficaciously (Heb 7:19; cp. Rom 8:3 -4).
(2) It is established upon "better" (i.e. unconditional) promises. In the Mosaic Covenant God said, "If you obey" (Exo 19:5); in the New Covenant He says, "I will" (Heb 8:10,12).
(3) Under the Mosaic Covenant obedience sprang from fear (2:2; 12:25 - 27); under the New it issues from a willing heart and mind (8:10).
(4) The New Covenant secures the personal revelation of the Lord to every believer (v. 11).
(5) It assures the complete oblivion of sins (v. 12; 10:17; cp. 10:3).
(6) It rests upon an accomplished redemption (Mat 26:27 - 28; 1 Cor 11:25; Heb 9:11 - 12,18 - 23). And
(7) it secures the perpetuity, future conversion, and blessing of a repentant Israel, with whom the New Covenant will yet be ratified (10:9; cp. Jer 31:31 - 40; see also Kingdom (O.T.), Zech 12:8, note; and 2 Sam 7:8 - 17 with notes).
The Eight Covenants, Summary:
(1) The Edenic Covenant (Gen 2:16, note) conditions the life of man in innocence.
(2) The Adamic Covenant (Gen 3:15, note) conditions the life of fallen men and gives promise of a Redeemer.
(3) The Noahic Covenant (Gen 9:16, note) establishes the principle of human government.
(4) The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12:2, note) founds the nation of Israel and confirms, with specific additions, the Adamic promise of redemption.
(5) The Mosaic Covenant (Exo 19:5, note) condemns all men, "for all have sinned" (Rom 3:23; 5:12).
(6) The Palestinian Covenant (Deu 30:3, note) secures the final restoration and conversion of Israel.
(7) The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:16, note) establishes the perpetuity of the Davidic family (fulfilled in Christ, Mat 1:1; Luke 1:31 - 33; Rom 1:3), and of the Davidic kingdom over Israel and over the whole earth, to be fulfilled in and by Christ (2 Sam 7:8 - 17; Zech 12:8; Luke 1:31 - 33; Acts 15:14 - 17; 1 Cor 15:24). And
(8) the New Covenant (Heb 8:8, note) rests upon the sacrifice of Christ and secures the eternal blessedness, under the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal 3:13 - 29), of all who believe. It is absolutely unconditional and, since no responsibility is by it committed to man, it is final and irreversible.
The relation of Christ to the eight covenants is as follows:
(1) To the Edenic Covenant, Christ, as the "second man" and the "last Adam" (1 Cor 15:45 - 47), takes the place over all things which the first Adam lost (Col 2:10; Heb 2:7 - 9).
(2) He is the Seed of the woman of the Adamic Covenant (Gen 3:15; John 12:31; Gal 4:4; 1 John 3:8; Rev 20:10), and fulfilled its conditions of toil (Mark 6:3) and obedience (Phil 2:8; Heb 5:8).
(3) As the greatest Son of Shem, in Him was fulfilled supremely the promise to Shem in the Noahic Covenant (Gen 9:16, note; Col 2:9).
(4) He is the Seed to whom the promises were made in the Abrahamic Covenant, the Son of Abraham obedient unto death (Gen 22:18; Gal 3:16; Phil 2:8).
(5) He lived sinlessly under the Mosaic Covenant and bore for us its curse (Gal 3:10 - 13).
(6) He lived obediently as a Jew in the land under the Palestinian Covenant, and will yet perform its gracious promises (Deu 28:1 - 30:9).
(7) He is the Seed, Heir, and King under the Davidic Covenant (Mat 1:1; Luke 1:31 -33). And
(8) His sacrifice is the foundation of the New Covenant (Mat 26:28; 1 Cor 11:25).
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