Covenants of Promise: What and For Whom?

Ephesians 2:12, Covenants. The Apostle Paul makes a very interesting and often overlooked statement in Ephesians 2:12. For ­context we will quote the surrounding verses:

Wherefore remember, that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth [citizenship] of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without Elohim in the world: but now in Messiah Yeshua ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Messiah. (emphasis added)

Paul, talking to the redeemed believers in Ephesus, states that they had been (past tense) Gentiles (comprised of various ethnic or people groups) without Elohim and without hope, but now, through the work of Yeshua at the cross, provision had been made for these alienated people-groups to become citizens of the nation of Israel. Elsewhere Paul refers to these (former) Gentiles as now being Israelites and defines them as heirs to the promises YHVH made to Abraham and calls them “seed” or descendants of Abraham (Rom 4:15; 9:8, 11; Gal 3:7, 14, 29).

Paul further says that these same people had been aliens from YHVH’s “covenants of promise” and relates this to the “Gentile” believers at Ephesus. We know that the principles laid out in this teaching apply to all the redeemed believers down through the ages. So what covenants of promise were these redeemed believers strangers to in times past prior to their conversion? Most in the church have been taught that the New Covenant is the only covenant that pertains to them, yet Paul spoke of covenants (plural) of promise. To what was he referring? The two main covenants of the Tanakh (the Old Testament) affecting the nation of Israel were the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic or Sinaitic Covenant. Additionally, Jeremiah prophetically speaks of a New (Renewed) Covenant that YHVH would make with the two houses of Israel (Jer 31:31–33); that is, a refreshed version of a former (marital) covenantal agreement which Israel broke with YHVH (verse 32). These are the three principal covenants that the Scriptures reveals affect YHVH’s people. Clearly, Paul is referencing these three covenants in Ephesians 2:12 (see the Jewish New Testament Commentary, by David Stern, p. 583).

Which of the three covenants forms the bedrock upon which the others are based, and upon which Elohim predicated his glorious plan of redemption for mankind? In Romans four, Paul references the Abrahamic Covenant in discussing the means by which one is saved. In his discussion of the Abrahamic Covenant, Paul gives us no indications that the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant are passé or invalid as pertaining to believers in Yeshua as relating to the New Covenant. He clearly shows us that this covenant forms the basis for man’s redemption (salvation) and subsequent relationship with his Creator.


What Is the Torah Covenant?

The Torah Covenant Is the First or Former Covenant;
The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants Are Subsections of the Torah Covenant

The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is the chronicle of YHVH giving man instructions to follow, and of his entering into covenantal relationships with men and men either keeping those agreements or breaking them.

The word Torah means “instructions, teaching or precepts; specifically in biblical context: the teachings or instructions of YHVH to lead men into a righteous relationship with him through covenantal agreement.” The Torah is a giant b’rit or covenant. The Torah in a number of places even refers to itself by the Hebrew word b’rit or covenant. We see this in the following passages:

Exodus 34:27, And YHVH said unto Moses, Write you these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.

Deuteronomy 29:1, These are the words of the covenant, which YHVH commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.

The Torah is not unlike an instruction manual one might receive from the manufacturer of an automobile, computer or some such device to help the buyer to operate his new purchase in a manner that allows him to receive years of trouble-free service. The Torah is YHVH’s instruction manual to help man to live in a way that brings life and blessing; it helps man to enter into a loving relationship with his Creator and to have a trouble-free relationship with his fellow man.

Within the first five books of the Torah-covenant are several smaller covenantal subdivisions such as the Abrahamic and the Sinaitic or Mosaic Covenants. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) describes this as follows, “Deuteronomy 29:13-14 shows the Sinaitic Covenant was an extension of the Abrahamic ­Covenant…. The Sinai renewal merely stressed man’s responsibility where the Abrahamic Covenant emphasized Elohim’s promise… The Priestly Covenant of Num 25:12-13, the Davidic Covenant of 2 Sam 7 and the New Covenant of Jer 31:31 are all administrative aspects of the same covenant, Elohim’s Covenant of grace. This covenant reaches its climax at the Incarnation where [Messiah] representing his people fulfilled all the stipulations of the covenant and bore the curse they deserved for breaking it” (p. 129).

The Torah is a covenant with various “administrative aspects” or subdivisions. Each succeeding covenant builds upon the previous covenant without canceling out the requirements or provisions of the previous covenant. Such is consistent with the character and nature of YHVH Elohim. He is not a man that he should lie (Num. 23:19). When he gives his word he keeps it, even up to 1000 generations (that is 40-50,000 years!) (Ps 105:6-11). He declares that he does not change (Mal 3:6) and that he is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). He is not a respecter of persons who makes a covenant with one people-group (e.g. the Jews) and another covenant with another people-group (e.g. the Gentiles) each with its own contradictory set of salvation requirements and standards of righteousness (Acts 10:34). In YHVH’s spiritual economy, there is one law, one set of standards, one covenant for both the Israelite and the Gentile (Exod 12:49; Num 15:16; Eph 2:11-16). Again, his laws and covenants are a reflection of his divine nature and character. He cannot oppose himself. He is not double-minded, like man. He is not the sort of (spiritual) well that spouts forth both salty and fresh water to which the Apostle James makes reference in his epistle. YHVH is perfect, righteous and immutable.

Next, we will briefly discuss the uniqueness of the New Covenant as it relates to the Torah Covenant(s).


Back to the Future with Moses at Mount Sinai

Moses’s bringing the children of Israel into a covenantal (marriage) agreement with YHVH at the foot of Mount Sinai contains powerful prophetic symbolism that applies to us now. Point-by-point, it foretold the steps that Yeshua would take through his death on the cross as he brought the spiritually lost (you and me) into a covenantal (marital) relationship with him.

Exodus 24:6, Moses sprinkled half the blood of a sacrificed animal on the altar, which prophetically pointed to Yeshua shedding his blood on the cross, so that we might enter into a covenantal relationship with YHVH. The wine Yeshua drank at the last supper that ratified the Renewed Covenant signified the blood he was about to shed at the cross (Matt 26:26–28). When we as redeemed believers drink the third cup (i.e., communion) of the Passover Seder and eat the bread, we are signifying our marital commitment to YHVH-Yeshua. We are accepting the terms (our marriage agreement or ketubah) of the covenant—the Renewed Covenant, which includes the Torah being written on our hearts by the Spirit of Elohim (Jer 33:31–33; Heb 8:8–10).

Exodus 24:7, Israel agreed to the terms of the ketubah the third time (see also Exod 19:8 and 24:3). As Israel pledged loyalty and obedience to YHVH, even so, we also must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Yeshua was raised from the dead, and then walk in righteousness, which is obedience to the Torah (Rom 10:9–13; Ps 119:172).

Exodus 24:8, Moses sprinkled the blood of an innocent animal over the people, which is a prophetic picture of Yeshua shedding his blood at the cross for the redemption of sinners from the penalty of sin, so that they might enter in a sinless state into a covenantal relationship with YHVH (Heb 9:18–22).

Exodus 24:9–12, Only after the blood of the sacrificed animal was shed and sprinkled over the people were the elders permitted access into the Presence of Elohim. Only through the shed blood of Yeshua and through the veil of his flesh are we able to come boldly to Elohim’s throne of grace (Heb 10:19–20; 4:16).