Chapter 20 - The Two Covenants

In Galatians 4:21-31 two covenants are brought to view. The first proceeds from Sinai and “gendereth to bondage”; the second is associated with “Jerusalem which is above … the mother of us all.” They therefore represent the two great systems by which God has governed his people on earth: first, by the Law system, which originated at Sinai; second, by the gospel, which came through Christ.
These two covenants are represented by the Apostle as the mothers of God’s people, prefigured by the two wives of Abraham. Hagar, the bondmaid, represents the Law system, and her son, Ishmael, signifies the Jewish nation, the “children” of that covenant; Sarah, the free wife, represents the gospel system, and Isaac, her son, signifies all true believers in Christ, who are “children,” not “of the bondwoman, but of the free.” These systems are not to continue side by side, but the one is the successor of the other in the Father’s favor—the Law system, with all its “children” (Hagar and Ishmael), being rejected for the true gospel system (Sarah and Isaac). “Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” We of the gospel dispensation “as Isaac was, are the children of promise.”

The Meaning of the Covenant

A study of the Bible use of the term “covenant,” meaning a contract between God and man, shows that it signifies God’s promise of unmerited favors and blessings to man, generally through some particular system by which they are to be enjoyed. For this reason his “covenant” is used interchangeably with his “counsel,” “oath,” or “promise.”
The covenant which “he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac,” promised to give the land of Canaan to the Jews. The entire Abrahamic covenant is thus regarded simply as a divine promise, and not in any sense a mutual agreement. (For proof see Heb. 6:13-15; Gal. 3:14-18; Luke 1:68-75.)
The promise of a coming Redeemer is termed “God’s covenant”; yet who would think of suggesting that such was the result of a mutual contract, or obligation, made between God and man? It is a covenant indeed, yet it is all one-sided and consists of God’s gratuitous blessing. (See Isa. 59:20-21.)
We have already shown that God has made two special covenants, each of which embraces an entire system of divine law and government in a distinct dispensation of time. These we desire especially to set forth, showing their establishment, nature, duration, and special relations to each other.

The Sinaitic Covenant

The first covenant, the one afterwards “cast out,” came, we are told, “from the mount Sinai”; therefore, we shall consult the Bible in order to see what constitutes that covenant from Sinai.
The Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. “And he was there in Mount Sinai … forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments” (Exod. 34:28). “And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone” (Deut. 4:13).
These two passages declare positively that the Ten Commandments, written on tables of stone, constituted the Sinaitic covenant. This fact is even more clearly stated, if possible, in Deuteronomy 5:2-22.
Other precepts also. But while the Decalogue, as the foregoing Scripture texts show, constituted the covenant proper, other precepts given on Sinai were included in that covenant. “I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen, saying, At the end of seven years let ye go every man his brother an Hebrew, which hath been sold unto thee” (Jer. 34:13-14). This last-named precept is from Exodus 21:2, and was therefore contained in the book of the covenant that Moses wrote just after God first spoke on Sinai. At that time God gave the Ten Commandments, together with certain other laws, statutes, judgments, and ordinances; whereupon “Moses wrote all the words of the Lord” (which included the Decalogue) in a little book containing what is now Exodus 20-23. Here “covenant” is expanded to include the little book, for the simple reason that the book contained the covenant proper—the Ten Commandments. Had they not been included in this writing of Moses, we might know little concerning them, because the stone tables upon which they were written have disappeared.
The entire Pentateuch. At a later time Moses wrote a large book, the Pentateuch, comprising what is now the first five books of the Bible, and in this he included the little book just mentioned. Now, since “the book of the covenant,” which had been dedicated by blood, was incorporated in the complete writings of Moses, the entire work became known as “the book of the covenant,” embracing the whole Mosaic, or Law, system—moral, civil, and ceremonial. Paul regards the old covenant as identical with the writings of Moses—the Pentateuch (II Cor. 3:14-15, RSV). Now, this is the broadest use of the term “covenant” that we have in the Bible. This book of the Law is termed “the covenant” because it contains, is built upon, and centers in the covenant proper—the Ten Commandments. (See Exod. 34:28 and Deut. 4:13; 5:2-22).
The foregoing Scripture texts show positively that the covenant from Sinai was one, and that it included the Decalogue and all other precepts and commandments, whether civil, moral, or ceremonial.

A New Covenant Predicted

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they break, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:31-34).
This new covenant was established by Jesus Christ: “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament” (Heb. 7:22). “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry; by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (8:6). In every respect this new covenant through Christ is better than the old one.
1. It “was established upon better promises.” The Mosaic covenant was based upon those promises in the original Abrahamic covenant which pertain to the literal Israel, hence was limited—national; whereas, the “better covenant” is based upon those promises in the Abrahamic covenant which have universal import, meeting their fulfillment in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. It has a better mediator. “The law was given by Moses” (John 1:17), whereas Jesus is “the mediator of the new covenant” (Heb. 12:24; 8:6).
3. It has a better priesthood. The priests of the Law were fallible men, who “were not suffered to continue by reason of death” (Heb. 7:23), whereas Jesus is our high priest, and he is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens,” and “because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood” (7:26, 24).
4. It has a better sanctuary. “The first covenant had … a worldly sanctuary” (Heb. 9:1). The new covenant sanctuary, temple, or house of God is his spiritual church (I Pet. 2:5; Heb. 3:6; I Tim. 3:15; Eph. 2:19-22).
5. It has a better sacrifice. Instead of the “blood of bulls and of goats,” “which can never take away sins” (Heb. 9:13; 10:11), the new covenant was sealed with “the blood of Christ,” which is able to “purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14).

The First Covenant Abolished

Throughout the Book of Hebrews these two covenants are placed in sharp contrast, and the first covenant is declared to have been abolished.
The weakness of the old covenant was one of the causes of its abolition. “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.… By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament” (Heb. 7:18-19, 22). In the new covenant there is perfect salvation from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ.
The abolition of the first covenant and the establishment of the second covenant is set forth in Hebrews 8:6-13 in the plainest manner.
These two covenants are also contrasted by Paul in II Corinthians 3:3-14. Here the first covenant is described as the “old testament,” “tables of stone,” “the ministration of death,” which “was glorious” at that time, the “letter” which “killeth,” “the ministration of condemnation,” and that which was “written and engraven in stones,” which was “done away” and “abolished.” The second covenant is the “new testament,” of which Paul was an able minister; “the Spirit,” which “giveth life”; “the ministration of the Spirit”; “the glory that excelleth”; that which “remaineth” and is “written in the fleshly tables of the heart.”

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