It is generally recognized that, while often helpful, information in Wikipedia is not always accurate. For example, it indicates that maybe Priscilla was the anonymous writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews! When it comes to covenants, it does indicate the wide variety of opinion about the nature of a Bible covenant, telling us that scholars see anything between one and twelve different covenants. This series will in no way embrace the top number but will be confined to what would normally be viewed as valid Bible covenants.
Although the word “covenant” is employed extensively in Scripture, even being retained in most recent translations, it is rarely used in current conversation, so an indication of the meaning of the word seems necessary. Definitions in secular dictionaries convey the idea of “a solemn agreement,” or “a legally binding agreement,” and this aptly expresses the Bible’s meaning of a covenant.
The word is first used in connection with Noah: “with thee will I establish my covenant” (Gen 6:18), and the next article will deal with God’s agreement with Noah, one which holds good until this present day. Other covenants will be explored, including God’s pledges to notable characters such as Abraham and David.
Some of the covenants that God initiated were unconditional commitments, such as the promises to Abraham and David, but on other occasions, promised blessing was dependent on the compliance of the other parties to the contract, most notably the covenant of the Law; thus we speak of unilateral and bilateral covenants.
Although the first reference to a covenant is in the story of Noah, it seems that God had made a covenant with Adam in primeval days. We are indebted to the prophet Hosea for enlightening us about this. The people of his generation had transgressed a covenant “like Adam” (Hos 6:7, most translations). Thus the first agreement that God ever made with mankind was with the head of the race, Adam himself.
In his Bible notes, C.I. Scofield speaks of the Edenic Covenant based on Genesis 1:28, whereby in the dispensation of innocence Adam was under mandate to “replenish the earth and subdue it.” He then refers to the Adamic Covenant, based on God’s pronouncements subsequent to the Fall, when He consigned mankind and the earth to disagreeable conditions pending the coming Kingdom Age (Gen 3:14-19). Paul described this as “the creation [being] subjected to vanity, not of its own will,” until ultimately being “delivered from the bondage of corruption” (Rom 8:20-21 RV).
Scofield’s description of these instructions and pronouncements as covenants is possibly valid, but the way that Hosea’s language is couched and his use of the word “transgressed” leaves us with the distinct impression that God’s covenant with Adam relates to His instructions regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-17). There is no record of what was promised should Adam submissively observe His commandment regarding that tree, but from the tenor of God’s warning, it may be legitimate to conjecture that there was the assurance of perpetual life on the planet. The negative threat promised death for non-compliance: “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”(v17). Thus the covenant was a bilateral arrangement that necessitated Adam’s total obedience to ensure his continued survival.
We have no idea how long Adam’s state of innocence lasted, but Genesis 3 is the sad record of his infringement of God’s covenant; it is the account of the first human sin, described by Paul as “disobedience” (Rom 5:19). The rebellious act was preceded by the duplicity of the serpent, with the insinuation that God would never implement the punitive side of His covenant: “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen 3:4). This resulted in the deception of Eve (2Cor 11:3; 1Tim 2:14). This latter Scripture insists that “Adam was not deceived”; thus his act was one of deliberate defiance – the terms of the covenant had been breached.
For Adam personally, the consequences of audaciously ignoring the conditions of the covenant were immediate. New unpleasant emotions swirled around his mind: shame (Gen 3:7), guilt (v8), fear (v10) and suspicion (v11). There was now the prospect of relentless toil to sustain life (vv17-19), but in the end, despite all the effort, the battle would be lost. Death would be the inevitable winner: “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (v19). Adam was now a mortal creature, for regardless of the devil’s argument to the contrary, incorporated in God’s covenant with Adam was this: “thou shalt surely die” (2:17). God’s covenants are sure and His threats as well as His promises are fulfilled, and thus it is recorded, “and he died” (5:5).
For humanity, the results of Adam’s insubordination were immense. Because Adam breached the first covenant that God made with man, tragedy ensued, with disease and death affecting our persons, and disasters such as famines, floods and earthquakes affecting our planet.
Additionally, as head of the race, he brought everyone under his headship into a state of sinnership. In both Romans 3:23 and Romans 5:12 we are told that “all have sinned,” but the one is not a replica of the other. The first is a reference to our personal failure to attain God’s perfect standard, whereas in 5:12 the thought is that when Adam sinned, we sinned in association with him as the head of the race. It is the oriental concept of the solidarity of a race of people, illustrated in Hebrews 7, where Abraham’s actions are seen to involve his descendants (vv4-10).
Adam is the only person in Scripture who is stated to be a “type” of the Lord Jesus (Rom 5:14 NKJV). He is a type in one specific way. One act on his part, an act of disobedience, had massively adverse effects for all who came under his headship; one act on the part of the Lord Jesus, an act of obedience in going to the cross, had enormously beneficial effects for all who come under His headship (Rom 5:19). We are those who are no longer “in Adam” but “in Christ,” and as such, have the assurance that death will not be the ultimate victor, for “in Christ shall all be made alive,” and, “we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1Cor 15:22, 49).