The Noahic covenant takes place in Genesis chapter 9. The institution of this covenant comes six chapters after the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. Since man's forced exodus from Eden, we have only witnessed a downward spiral of sin in relation to humanity. Genesis 4 gives the story of the fratricide, where Cain killed Able. Not much history is given after this event outside of a genealogy which traces the descendants of Adam to Noah. Upon the introduction to Noah, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth." As the line of Adam grew, so did the effects of sin.
The Lord looked at his creation of image bearers and saw that it was no longer "good." In order to purge the earth and restore creation God will send a flood that will "blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth" (Gen 6:7). This flood will destroy everyone but Noah and his family who were righteous before the Lord. After the Lord withdrew the flood waters, Noah and his family built and alter to the Lord and sacrificed offerings to him. This is the scene when God speaks his covenant to Noah in Genesis chapter 9.
In Genesis 8:21, "the Lord said in his heart, 'I will never again curse the ground because of man.'" This is important to note because before the covenant was given to Noah, God had already covenanted in a way with himself. In Triune fellowship God had promised that "while earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease" (Gen 8:22).
So when God speaks to Noah in the ninth chapter, we are seeing the verbal commitment to an already implicit reality between the Godhead. As this covenant unfolds this unilateral dimension becomes clearer as we continue to see a Divine blessing his subjects with an unconditional promise.
The Lord gives his covenant word to Noah in Genesis 9:8-11. In this passage the Lord promises to "establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you," the Lord promises to include all created beats (birds, livestock...etc) in this blessing as well. In this covenant "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." God has promised to allow humanity to exist despite its tendency to sin.
The sign of the covenant echoes the unilateral nature of the promise as God himself places a rainbow in the sky. Every time the Lord looks at the rainbow that he created as a sign of his grace, he will remember his covenant to Noah and keep his covenant word. Noah and the descendants of earth merely observe God's sign and promise and receive it as beneficiaries.
There does not appear to be stipulations placed upon Noah which will either assure or void this contract. But we do see a reaffirmation of Adam's cultural mandate (Gen 1:26-30). Noah and his descendants are called to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and utilize the earth for survival (Gen 9:2-7).
Continuity and Discontinuity
Since Adam's cultural mandate does not qualify as a covenant there is little discontinuity or development within the two, although two distinctions can be made in terms of disunity. In the creation account we see that God has given Adam and Eve "every green plant" to eat from. In the garden there was no death, the consumption of plants was renewable in a way the death of an animal for meat was not. In Genesis 9:3, the Lord says to Noah "every moving thing that lives shall be food to you." The other difference is seen on a heart level. In creation God created a perfect reality where everything was good. Adam and Eve perfectly reflected the image of God as there was not sin to corrupt the image. The Noahic covenant is given by God with a knowledge of the reality of sin (Gen 8:21). The Lord knows that as long as sin exists, humanity will struggle to reflect the glory of God.
In terms of continuity we see despite the presence of sin God still desires for his glory to spread throughout the earth as his people grow in population. God wishes to be recognized through his people.
The Noahic covenant assures an eschatological people for the prophesied seed of Eve. We have the beautiful scenes of global worship in Revelation because God preserved a people for worship. This will come for many in the way judgment, but for others in the way of grace through Christ. Peter speaks of the flood in 1 Peter 3 saying that as Noah's family was brought safely through the waters of judgment. It was the water which destroyed creation, yet it was the water that carried Noah's ark to safety. In the same way baptism is a representation of Jesus's death (judgment) bringing us into God's good conscience.
Redemptive Historical Context
After the Noahic covenant we see a genealogy which tracts the birth of nations from the offspring of Noah's family. Again we see humanities tendency to sin in Genesis 11 at the tower of Babel. Here we see a people who had found unity in themselves. This is an error that will be corrected in the covenant to follow beginning in Genesis chapter 12.
The Abrahamic covenant unfolds and develops over three distinct interactions between God and Abram. The first interaction comes in Genesis 12 as God calls Abram to move to a land that God will later reveal. In the first institution of the covenant, we do not see the covenant language which is present in the other two chapters, but we can clearly see that God has promised land (12:1, 7), blessing (12:2), protection (12:3), and the realization of a great nation through Abram (12:2). To enter into these blessings Abram was only required to "go" to the land God would show him.
Abram followed the direction of God and received a blessing, with much messianic significance, from Melchizedek. Following this blessing God again speaks to Abram in Genesis 15. Here God revisits his previous promise and reassures Abram than he would produce an offspring which would outnumber the stars in the sky (Gen 15:5). This offspring would not be a servant or relative, but would be the very son of Abram (Gen 15:4). The Lord God also confirms the land of promise in Genesis 15:7. To seal this covenant God tells Abram to set up a ceremonial covenant ritual where sacrifices were split in half and then walked through by the two parties to signify the judgment that would come through a covenant breech. But while Abram was asleep the Lord walked through the ceremony himself (Gen 15:17-18). This put the requirement and burden of the promise solely on the shoulders of the Almighty.
The covenant develops once more, and for the final time, in Genesis 17. Due to Abram's lack of faith in the conception of Ishmael, God again visits Abraham to remind and affirm him of the covenant. In Genesis 17:5 God changes Abram's name to Abraham as he will be the father of a multitude of nations. Going further than any of the prior two interactions, God not only promises nations, but kings (17:6). His offspring will also be an eternal offspring (17:7). Here we see the correction of Babel as Abraham's offspring will be a people set apart, led and unified by God himself (17:8). This promise takes the form of a suzerain-vassal treaty. Stipulations are placed on Abraham, he is to walk blamelessly (17:1-2) and keep the covenant sign of circumcision (17:10). Yet because God is the greater sovereign, it these bilateral stipulations are not negotiable in terms of covenant fidelity. God will keep his covenant and Abraham, as a lesser vassal, must keep these covenant stipulations.
Continuity and Discontinuity
In the Noahic covenant God blessed the existence of humanity in allowing them to avoid immediate judgment. In the Abrahamic covenant, God blesses a much narrow scope of people (Abraham's offspring). While God differs judgment in the Noahic, he promises judgment in the Abrahamic (15:14).
Yet certain aspects of discontinuity help further the continuity between the covenants. God has promised to set up a specific people as his own people. It is this people group God will lead out of sin and into his grace. While Noah's offspring were commanded to spread the image of God through expansion, the Abrahamic covenant gives a new means for a specialized people to bear God's image in a fuller sense as they are led by God himself.
We see a narrowing and restructuring of the Noahic covenant as God promises a special people group that he will set himself up over. Jesus is tied to Abraham's story when the writer of Hebrews sets him up as greater than Melchizedek. Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, but Jesus is greater than Melchizedek, and he is the guarantor of a better covenant. Jesus reveals himself as Abraham's hope in John 8:56. Up until Jesus' time salvation was for the Jews, but through Jesus' death salvation now included the gentiles as well. This is the eschatological fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 and 17:5: a theme which is traced through the prophets (Is 45:23), the gospels (John 3:16), epistles (Col 3:11) and the final consummation (Rev 5:9).
The Mosaic (or Sinaitic) covenant is initiated after the Jews are brought out of slavery in the land of Egypt. The Egyptian captivity marked the first time where the promised people of Abraham were under the rule of another. For many this could have shaken their faith in the promise keeping Yahweh. But under the leadership of Moses, God brought them out with a mighty hand and is now revisiting his promises to his people at the foot of Mount Sinai.
In Exodus 19 the Lord God calls Moses up to the top of Mount Sinai. This conversation included the Mosaic covenant and the giving of the law (which is describe in detail in Exodus 20-23). Much like Abrahamic covenant, this too follows a Suzerain-Vassal treaty as we see a distinct structure mirrored throughout Exodus 19-24 where God: 1.) Establishes himself (Ex 20:1), 2.) Provides Historical Context (Ex 19:4, 20:2), 3.) Provided stipulations (19:5, 20:3-23:19), 4.) Given provisions for continued readings (19:6, 24:7), and provided a list of witnesses (19:8, 24:3, 7).
The promises given to the people of Israel at Sinai do not conflict or change the Abrahamic covenant, rather they seem to build upon it. Not only will God set aside a people for himself, but he will make them a treasured possession (19:5), a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (19:6).
Also in this narrative we see God commanding Israel to take much care when around the mountain for if any person touches it they will surely die. This picture of God's consuming holiness gives grounds for the law which is to follow. In order for Israel to be God's people, holy and set apart, they must reflect God. Because God is sinless, he gives a law which will lead Israel in a perfect manner. While the covenant of land and nationhood is not conditional upon the following of the law, the people ought to follow the law as this is what a holy people look like. Failure to follow the law ushers in circumstantial consequences which to not alter God's long term plan for a holy people. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 describes the beauty that comes when God's people follows his laws, while 28:15-68 describes the "curses" of breaking the covenant. These would fall into covenant stipulations, the ramifications of which we seen in Israel's Babylonian exile. Deuteronomy 30 shows how Israel can be readmitted into the covenant. Chapter 30:11-20 shows that Israel must choose to follow these laws if they wish to be blessed. Because they are a covenant people, they will follow the laws of their sovereign God.
Continuity and Discontinuity
As mentioned earlier, there is much continuity between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. While the Abrahamic covenant secures a people, the Mosaic covenant defines God's people. They will look like their God, and follow the precepts of their God. The God of Abraham will keep his promise to redeem his people and set up a kingdom. No Egyptian or future enslavement will foil the ultimate plan of God. While it is not mentioned, this law does not do away with the sign of circumcision.
The Abrahamic covenant hints at the Mosaic covenant. In Genesis 17:1 God tells Abraham to walk blamelessly before him so that he may keep his covenant. Aside from this, and the outward sign of circumcision, the Abrahamic covenant gives little moral stipulations. The Mosaic covenant leans heavy on the moral (and ceremonial) stipulations of God's people. While the Abrahamic covenant was a royal grant of land based off of God's desire for a chosen people, the Mosaic covenant includes requirements of the people: Ex 19:5, Deut 5:32-33, 28:1,15. In Genesis 15 God walked where Abram should have, in Exodus 20 the people of Israel are required to walk as God walks (Lev 20:26).
Because the people of Israel had not learned to walk blamelessly on their own, God will graciously give his people a code to follow. The Abrahamic covenant included a sign that altered the flesh, the Mosaic covenant attempted to give a covenant sign which altered the heart: a holy and set aside people.
To see the redemptive fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant one does not need to look too hard at the New Testament. The aspect of following the law in order to keep the covenant is directly fulfilled by Jesus in Matthew 5:17. This fulfillment does not do away with the law (Matt 5:18), rather the law given in the Mosaic covenant (and hinted at in the Genesis 17:1) pointed to, and is now defined in the person and work of Jesus. At the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear and the Lord speaks so as to establish Jesus as the fulfillment of Moses's law and the cry of the prophets. Hebrews very readily sets up Jesus' covenant as a covenant greater than Moses' (Heb 8:5-6), not only did Jesus supersede the covenant of Moses, Jesus was greater than this OT prophet (Heb 3:1-6). Peter uses Sinaitic language to describe Christ's church as a "royal priesthood, and a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9) in light of what was accomplished on the cross. Yet there is still a greater priesthood to come when we gather around the throne and are fully "made like him for we shall see him as he is."
In 1 Samuel 8 the people of God demand a king so that they may look like the other nations (a direct rebellion against God's goals in Mosaic covenant). Since then Israel has been led by King Saul, a Benjamite, who started well and finished poorly. In 1 Samuel 16 David, son of Jesse, from the tribe of Judah, is anointed King over Israel. David experiences much success on the throne and after David restores God's presence to Israel by reclaiming the ark of the covenant, the Lord speaks to David in a covenantal tone in 2 Samuel 7.
In 2 Samuel 7, God gives David a royal kingdom. God gives this gift as his is the giver of all Kingdoms. The Lord sovereignly choose, in a unilateral manner, to bless the line of David. We see the unilateral promises given to David: "I will make for you a great name" (2 Sam 7:9), a gift of land for a kingdom (7:10), "I will give you rest" (7:11), "I will make you a house" (7:11), "I will raise up your offspring...and I will establish his kingdom...he shall be a house for my name...the throne of his kingdom forever" (7:12-13), "I will be to him a father" (7:14), "steadfast love will not depart from him" (7:15), "Your throne shall be established forever" (7:16).
Even though God has unconditionally chosen the line of David (to fulfill Gen 49:10), David and his line have a covenant responsibility to lead the people in a Holy manner (7:14). If the line of David fails to lead Israel in a manner fitting to the Lord, both the ruler, and the subjects will be punished. The good of Israel lies in its representative King. We see the Kingdom taken from David's son for this exact reason, he failed to lead Israel in a righteous manner. Yet despite this setback in Solomon, the promise of Kingdom is not reliant on the hearts of man, but on the God who promised to bring a future Kingdom.
Continuity and Discontinuity
Much like the nozzle of a fire hose goes from wide to narrow in order to increase the strength of the water flow, the OT covenants continue to narrow each other to build into a powerful, yet defined stream. Humanity was guaranteed with Noah, a nation assured with Abraham, the nation defined in Moses, the nation refined by the Davidic Kings. The good of Israel lies in the King-subject relationship. The subjects must follow the King, but the King must also lead in a manner fitting to the Lord. This Kingship is the future and hope of Israel's establishment in accordance to God's promises.
This is the first covenant which does not address a holistic people. It impacts a whole people, but the covenant between God and David is for the King of Israel, not all of Israel. The Abrahamic covenant started with Abraham, but many lines could be traced from him (i.e. all twelve tribes of Israel are a result of Abraham), but now the Davidic covenant refines Genesis 49:10 to an even more specific blessing, Israel's hope is not merely in its nationality, nor is it simply through the line of Judah. Israel's hope and future will be through Judah, a King from the line of David. Israel must follow circumcision and the law, but the King also has a responsibility in regards to a covenant.
Jesus is introduced in Matthew as an heir of King David (Matt 1). Jesus is often referred to, in anxious hope, as the "Son of David" (Matt 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:31, 21:15, Mark 10:47...etc). Herod kills all Jewish male babies because he fears the "King of the Jews." Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem as the crowds proclaim him as King in accordance to Zechariah's prophecy. In the same manner a disobedient King of David would be punished as a son with many stripes (2 Sam 7:14), Isaiah prophesied that by the "stripes" of the suffering servant we would be healed. It was by the blameless Son of God receiving the stripes for our sins that Israel finally had their perfect and eternal King, who would establish his throne forever and live as the house of God. Jesus is the prophesied righteous branch from Israel in Jeremiah 33:15.
5. New Covenant
The line of the great Kings has failed Israel. They are without a leader, they have forsaken the law of God, and now God is about to bring his just and due punishment to those who fail to keep the law. All of the circumstantial punishment promised to law breakers will come as Israel is taken out of their own land and placed under Babylonian captivity. Israel was unable to follow the law, and the throne of Israel was unable to find a throne capable of leading a holy people in a perfect manner.
Again we see a unilateral promise given by God for his people. Of all the covenants this one involves the least amount of human effort in man centered stipulations. The new covenant given in Jeremiah and Ezekiel is given out of an overflow of who God is and that is the sole basis of this covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31-40 we see the new covenant given, and in Ezekiel 36:22-37 appears to revisit the covenant of Jeremiah 31.
We see that God promises to "make a new covenant," "not like" the old one, not like the covenant "they broke, though I was their husband." In this new covenant, "I will put my law within them, I will write on their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be my people" (Jer 31:33), "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer 31:34). The Lord also promises to rebuild a land which will not be "uprooted or overthrown anymore forever" (Jer 31:40). In Jeremiah 32 God promises, "I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them." God promises in Ezekiel 36 that he will take away their heart of stone and give them a new heart of flesh "so that" they may keep his commandments.
In this new covenant, one must still be a member of God's people to reap its benefits. These promises are for the people of God, but God does promise to bring his people from many countries (Ezk 36:24). In addition to being part of God's covenant people, we see a command at the end of Ezekiel 36:32, "Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel." A portion of this new covenant, and a result of this "law being put in your hearts," is a spirit of repentance which is even greater than that of Deuteronomy 30.
Continuity and Discontinuity
This covenant is similar to earlier ones in the manner that it still rotates around a Kingdom people under the rule of God. God's goal is still to bring about a people who reflect his glory throughout all creation. Despite the presence of sin, the tendency and track record to break covenant, and rebellious hearts, God himself will redeem the tendency and hearts of his people. He will reclaim his creation. The Old Covenants will stand, but in the days to come they will take a new shape under the new covenant.
Unlike the other covenants this covenant is one of pure grace. There is no stipulation or effort that man can do to realize this covenant or to void it. Man simply has to respond to the change of heart which comes with the covenant. This would be the beginning of the covenant of grace in contrast to the previous covenants of work. Where previous covenants (Abrahamic, Mosaic) dealt with the heart from the outside in, this new covenant is fully founded from the inside out. Certainly the inability for Israel to follow the previous covenants was due to the fact that no external influences can change the heart. Only God changes hearts, and the in the new covenant, God promises to do just that. This is also the first covenant which is given in an entirely eschatological sense. The covenant of Noah began when Noah took his next breath. The same is true with Abraham, Moses and David. This covenant though is in the days which "are coming." While Israel is made aware of the new covenant there is no access (or at least information on how to access it) to it in their current state. Even the language of "new covenant" implies that this covenant is distinct in that it is able to do what other covenants could not. It is not a rebirth of an old covenant, it is the basis of a new one.
Jesus establishes himself as the guarantor of the new covenant in Matthew 26:28. Where the Mosaic Law required the people to offer sacrifices, Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice for the new covenant. Jesus blood is the means by which we are given the heart transplant describes by Ezekiel. Time and time again in the teachings of Jesus in Matthew, Jesus connects sin with the heart. Jesus himself says that "Whoever believes in me, 'out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" Jesus became the mediator of the new covenant (Heb 9:15). Jesus has the power to forgive sins (Luke 5:20). The apostles recognized that it was Jesus who came to forgive the sins of Israel (Acts 5:31) in accordance with Jeremiah 31. The blood of Jesus is poured out "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28). Jesus gives us the "Spirit" to help us change our hearts (John 16:13). Paul says that, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me," this is the good news of the new covenant. Jesus' death on the cross allowed our hearts to follow his commands and live in the righteousness of the true of Israel in the line of David.