Old Testament: Covenants
The purpose of this page is to identify and explain, for the purpose of providing context, the covenants that governed Israel's relationship with God during Old Testament times. Doctrinal exploration of a covenant is better located elsewhere, such as on a page that addresses a relevant passage, with a link to that discussion placed on this page. This page should remain short enough to read in thirty minutes.
- 1 Covenant with Noah
- 2 Abrahamic Covenant
- 3 Sinai Covenant
- 4 Priesthood covenant with Aaron
- 5 Covenant of possession of promised land in Deuteronomy
- 6 Davidic Covenant
- 7 Christ, the New Covenant
- 8 Resources
- 9 Notes
The Old Testament is deeply concerned with covenants. Most of these, however, are group covenants affecting the entire House of Israel rather than the individual covenants that modern Christians typically think of.
In Mormon theology, individual covenants are an important part of God's dealings with Adam and Eve in relation to both their marriage and the Fall. But that doctrinal understanding comes places other than Genesis. Adam and Eve are married and given commandments in the Garden, but the term "covenant" does not appear until the end of the Flood story, and even there it could be characterized as God making a one-sided oath rather than a covenant.
The covenant at the center of Genesis and of the entire Old Testament is the Abrahamic Covenant, and in particular the terms of that covenant relating to Israel's possession of the promised land of Canaan. This reflects the Old Testament's emphasis on the prosperity of House of Israel as a group rather than on individuals, and its emphasis on the prosperity of that group in Canaan rather than on eternal salvation.
Nephi stated that many of the covenants had been removed from the scriptures. He restores much of the understanding about scattering and gathering - also Zenos - while Moroni rstores the baptismal covenant through the sacramental prayers. The Pearl of Great Price restores the Genesis covenants.
Covenant with Noah
Genesis 6:18; 9:8-17; Isa 24:5
Earth never again destroyed, a probationary time to prepare - rainbow - Gen 6:18; 9:9-17. In 6:18 quwm can mean restore, continue or maintain, so this is a covenant renewal.
For a discussion of the Abrahamic Covenant, see the discussion of Abr. 2:8-11.
Exodus 19-24, 34:10, 27-28; Deut 5:2-3 (Exo 20 - Num 6) - ark of the covenant and ten commandments
Focus is on obedience and forgiveness. Establishes liturgy and covenant sacraments
Exo 19:5; 24:7-8; 31:16; 34:10, 27-28; Lev 24:8-9; 26:9, 15, 25, 42-45; Deut 4:13, 23, 31; 5:2-3; 7:9, 12; 8:18; 9:9, 11, 15; 17:2; 29:1, 9, 12, 14, 21, 25; 31:16, 20; 33:9; Josh 7:11, 15; 23:16; Judges 2:1, 20; 1 Kgs 8:9, 21, 23; 19:10-11; 2 Chron 6:11, 14; 34:30-32; Psalm 105:10; 106:45; Isa 42:6; 54:10
There was both little delay and little merit in the Israelites.
Also Jehoiada's covenant renewal "between him, and between all the people, and between the king, that they should be the Lord's people" (2 Chronicles 23:16).
Priesthood covenant with Aaron
perpetual Levitical priesthood - salt - Exo 40:15; Lev 2:13; 18:19; Num 18:19, Jer 33:21; Neh 13:25; Mal 2:4-9
Renewal with Phinehas
perpetual priesthood in covenant of peace - seamless robe and miter - Num 25:11-15; Psalm 106:30-31
Covenant of possession of promised land in Deuteronomy
Exodus 23:20-33, 34; Deuteronomy 7
Relation to Abrahamic Covenant
This is the implementation of a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Partial revocation in Judges
Joshua 5, 9, 24
Judges 1-3 says twice that the covenant of complete conquest is revoked in favor of a covenant of only partial conquest because: (1) intermarried; (2) foreign alliances; (3) not throw down pagan altars. Under this lesser covenant Israel is still given a place in the land, but gentiles are also left in the land to stir Israel up unto remembrance of its God.
Reinstatement under King David
2 Samuel 7:8-19; 23:5; 2 Chron 7:18; 13:5; Psalm 89:3, 28, 34; Jer 33:21; 2 Cor 6:18-7:1 where Paul quotes from 2 Sam 7:8, 14 - throne and temple
Under the Davidic covenant the king stands as a mediator between God and his people. See 2 Sam 21:14; 24:25.
Broken. (Jer 33:19-21).
Relation to Abrahamic Covenant
Renewal with Zerubabel
Haggai's fifth and last revelation. This can be see as a renewal of the Davidic Covenant, again to the ruler in connection with construction of the temple, and again near the inception of a new political reality - previously monarchy, now subjugation.
Christ, the New Covenant
Isa 55:3; Jer 31:31-34; Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; Heb 12:24; 1 Cor 11:25 - cross, or again the tree of life - the fulfillment of all covenant promises
Isa 59:20-21 (Rom 11:26-27); 2 Cor 3:6-14; Gal 4:24; Heb 7:22; 8:6-13; 9:15-20; 10:14-29 (Jer 31:31-34); 12:24; 13:20
Christ is often referred to in the New Testament as the New Covenant. See esp Jer 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-32; Hebrews 8-9.
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Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves, such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word. In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources are preferable to footnotes.
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