Covenant: The Wheel of The Bible’s Structure

On Sunday I mentioned how the theme of covenant is the framework, or structure, that undergirds the entire Bible. Jesus is the hub of the wheel, i.e. the center of the Bible. Jesus affirms his centeredness in Luke 24:44 “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”, and in John 5:40-41 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

From the hub of Jesus, the spokes are the individual covenants. These covenants, more or less, mark different time periods of redemptive history in the Bible. There are six of them, which I’ll refer to by the names of the people associated with them for ease of understanding: Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the New (not a person’s name, but we know this one best by it’s biblical name). Each covenant reveals more about God’s redemptive plan, building on, not nullifying the previous covenant (in Jesus’ words, “I have come to abolish the commands, but to fulfill them”).

And in that scheme of building on the previous covenants we see that covenant as an idea, a theme, is the framework of the Bible. But, when I write that the covenant is an idea, I don’t mean it’s an idea that has no bearing on our lives, or an idea without concrete reality behind it. The Bible itself is a covenant document, given by God to his people, binding us to God and God willingly binding himself to us. For instance, in the Old Testament there were 5 covenants each one built on the others. When the Mosaic covenant came, it didn’t nullify the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision, it added to it. In fact, keeping the Abrahamic covenant was a pre-requisite for being included into the Mosaic covenant as signified by his participation in the Passover (Exodus 12:48-49 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”)

The Mosaic covenant came with it’s most recognizable feature, the Ten Commandments, binding God to the people of Israel and binding them to him not only through obedience, but founded on grace and perpetuated through grace. Now, the New Covenant people are given all of what Israel had and more in the Bible, binding us to God in covenant, requiring obedience founded on and perpetuated through grace. The Covenant of the Bible teaches us what it means to be one of God’s people, how we have become one of God’s people, what we’re required to do as one of God’s people and the essence of our relationship with God.

Each covenant elaborates on one or more of these truths in some way, some of them adding a sign to the covenant reality that is there for our sake. In the next few weeks as we go through the covenants in the sermon series, I’ll be adding more to this idea, but for now I’ll leave you with a very brief summary of the realities of the Adamic covenant.

At creation, God made Adam and Eve in his image, marking mankind out as the pinnacle of the created order. This special status conferred a special relationship with responsibilities too. The relationship was one of God to his second in command, in a sense. As God rules all creation with care and concern, he commanded Adam and Eve to rule the earth with care and concern. The relationship rested on God’s grace (freely creating Adam and Eve, cultivating a garden for them to live in, making them in his likeness) and it would have continued as it was if Adam and Eve obeyed it (to continue cultivating the garden into all of the world, to help themselves to its bountiful produce including the Tree of Life, and not to eat from the one Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). This covenant was one of works, one of life, those two aspects depict the condition (working, obeying) and the reward (life, which implies wholeness of life, so spiritual life too in God’s presence). Of course, they failed and broke the covenant, but God endured in his faithfulness to his people promising redemption (Gen. 3:15) and offering a sacrifice to cover their shame (Gen. 3:21). At that point the covenant relationship was forever changed, because now we needed an answer to our failure, that answer is the gospel–Jesus.