The “everlasting covenant” spans both Testaments, manifesting itself in progressive ways in the subsidiary covenants of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David. Each of these major Old Testament covenants is identified as an “everlasting covenant” to affirm its role as a unique expression and adaptation, in its time and place, of the archetypal, parent “everlasting covenant.” The multidimensional meaning and scope of “the everlasting covenant” and its sin-era-adapted “covenant of grace” has been progressively revealed throughout the entire history of redemption. Each successive covenant, in its turn, incorporated the truths revealed in the previous covenant(s) and added new insights into the details of the progressively unfolding plan of salvation. Therefore, each covenant is a gospel-bearing and gospel-revealing covenant, adding its own unique contribution to a fuller understanding.
Genesis does not mention a preexisting covenant with Adam, but centuries after him, Hosea would say of wayward Israel that like Adam, “they . . . have transgressed the covenant” (Hos. 6:7). God created Adam with a God-focused, other-focused nature. But because of Adam’s transgression, his descendants would be born with a self-focused nature, inclined away from God and others (Rom. 3:10–19). Adam’s transgression plunged him and his descendants into “the pit” of suffering and hopelessness from which they could not escape (Isa. 24:17, 18).
To Adam’s covenant unfaithfulness, God responded with covenantal faithfulness, pledging to do for Adam and his descendants what He would want done for Himself were He in their place. He promised them a way out of the disastrous pit into which Adam’s sin had plunged them. Ultimate deliverance would be provided through a descendant of Eve (Gen. 3:15). Theologians refer to Genesis 3:15 as the “protoevangelion” (Greek proto, “first”; evangelion, “gospel”), the first gospel proclamation, though it came in cryptic terms that needed be progressively unpacked in succeeding covenants. The portrait of God’s covenantal love embracing sinful humanity reveals a covenant of grace that had been in God’s heart “from the beginning of time” (2 Tim. 1:9, NIV).
Next came God’s “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:16) assurance to Noah, which is God saying essentially: “I will not give up on humanity! Many will still hear My appeal, receive it, and be delivered. I will protect their ability to do so until the last decision is made. The rainbow must always remind you of My promise.”
To elderly, childless, nomadic Abraham, God made “an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 15, 17), a promise that from his own loins he would bear a son from whose descendants the Seed promised to Eve would come. Abraham believed God’s promise and was thereby counted righteous before God (Gen. 15:1–6, 18).
Abraham’s descendants included his son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob (name later changed to Israel). Jacob had twelve sons who multiplied into twelve tribes and eventually moved as an extended family to Egypt, where they grew into a great, though eventually enslaved, nation. After 400 years, God delivered them through the leadership of Moses and instituted a national covenant with them, variously referred to as the Sinaitic covenant (it was made at Mount Sinai), the Mosaic covenant (Moses officially received it), or the “old covenant” (compared to the yet-to-come “new covenant”). The most well-known feature of this covenant is the iconic Ten Commandments that God spoke to the people and wrote with His own finger. In fact, God even named this covenant “the Ten Commandments” (better, “the Ten Words,” to be discussed later) (Deut. 4:13), as they exemplified practical ways that people of the “everlasting covenant” love act toward God and one another. About this covenant, also referred to as “an everlasting covenant” (Ps. 105:10), we will have more to say in future lessons.