What is a Covenant?
The meaning of a covenant is to make an agreement or promise between two parties involved, by which they swear allegiance to one another. More specifically, biblical covenants are agreements or promises made between two parties (normally God and His people, as with God and Noah for all living creatures to never again flood the earth) which establish a relationship between them. As covenants are enacted, at least one of the parties (usually both) swears an oath, under the threat of a divine curse, to uphold their obligation(s) to the other party. The main use of a covenant is to show us that God always had a plan and that He’s always true to His word and that through them we are obedient to God. The Hebrew word for Covenant is (berit), a covenant is a relationship of “oaths and bonds” and involves mutual, though not necessarily equal, commitments. Some biblical covenants are singly imposed commands and promises; others are entered into jointly. Some are conditional and others are unconditional. In other words, under the overarching concept of oaths and bonds we encounter a substantial variety of covenants in Scripture. (Gen 21:31–32; 22:16; 26:28; Josh 9:15; Ezek 16:59, 17:13–19) Ref 1
Ancient Near Eastern Civilisations and their Covenants and Oaths: Blessings and Curses
Ancient Near Eastern texts present varied ways for honouring covenants. They were not made between God and His people, they were made between each other, or to their fake gods (These were the silent gods that never actually spoke to them!). In most cases, the act of making a covenant involved oath-swearing by one or both of the parties. By invoking the divine name, the swearer calls upon God (or the gods) to enforce the covenant, with either a blessing for obedience or a curse for rebellion. A covenant oath is solemnly sworn and then ritually enacted. Ref 2
Noah was the first man God made a covenant with in Genesis
Sometimes referred to the ‘rainbow covenant’ – The Hebrew word used here, (qesheth). The first covenant was one God made to all man to last forever and never to be broken, He put the reminder of this covenant, a promise in the sky for people to know whenever it rained whilst the sun is shining, God will never again flood the earth. Ref 3. This covenant was not made with God and Noah for a future agreement between them, but for all and as a reminder to everyone. Again, in Bible Ref. Genesis 9:15 – I will remember. Not simple recognition but God’s commitment to keep the promise. Like many promises yet to come, God always keeps them!
What is a Rainbow? – The rainbow is caused by the reflection and refraction of the rays of the sun shining on falling rain. It was appointed as a witness of the divine faithfulness (Genesis 9:12-17). It existed indeed before, but it was then constituted as a sign of the covenant. Others, however (as Delitzsch, Commentary on Pentateuch), think that it “appeared then for the first time in the vault and clouds of heaven.” It is argued by those holding this opinion that the atmosphere was differently constituted before the Flood. It is referred to three other times in Scripture (Ezekiel 1:27 Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:1-3; 10:1). Ref 4. Genesis 9:13 – The rainbow (Bow) is the perpetual, symbolic reminder of this covenant promise, just as circumcision of all for the Abrahamic covenant later made. (Gen 17:10, 11). Ref 5
We can find many stories or recorded accounts for covenants of other civilisations that co-existed around the same time of Noah and the Hebrew people, post flood, their accounts of the flood and how the earth got created are quite similar. We also find their stories to be somewhat absurd as Christians, but still in agreement with what God was teaching them here. The other Ancient Near Easterners had their own Myths of how creation started, and how and why the flood happened.
Timeline for Ancient Far East Civilisations – Ref: Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary
Assyrians (Genesis 10:11-12) – Babylonians (Genesis 10:10; 11:9 – 2000bc) – Egyptians (Genesis 12:0-20 3100bc) – Philistines (Genesis 21:32) – Mesopotamians (3500bc) – Sumerians (5500bc)- Canaanites (3200bc). Written history was invented around 3000bc by the Canaanites.
Other Ancient Civilisations had similar stories
Their epic of Gilgamesh, another ancient flood account, does not include the same sign of the rainbow, in their accounts the rainbow and its beauty became the symbol of the majesty and beauty of God. As the Rainbow covenant was made by God to His people at the time for all, and those not of God’s family were unaware of the reasons for the rainbow. There were however many accounts of the story of the flood from all over the Ancient Near-East. Ref 6
Such imagery appears in at least one ancient Near Eastern creation story—the Babylonian Enuma Elish, where Marduk (a chief Babylonian god) hangs his war bow in the clouds after defeating the sea dragon, Tiamat. Yet the flood account in Genesis is not a creation text like the Enuma Elish. Marduk is an ancient story that many ancient people followed, who made many covenants with the people of that time. Ref 7
God’s Blessings on Abram Genesis 12.1-3 (NLT)
God made a covenant with Abram to bless him if he does what God asks of him. This was to both try his faith to God and his obedience. God offers to bless him and make him famous and a Father of many nations, Abram does this faithfully and trusts in God and abides by this covenant that is made between them for his future and the future of many, he leaves his own land and family to pursue what God has in store for him. Even so, it was a big ask to leave everything behind and move to land so unfamiliar, but he did it without question. These are God’s encouraging promises, and a bunch of complicated promises, Abram becomes one of the most faithful followers of God in the Bible, all families on earth will be blessed through you. Ref watch this video https://youtu.be/F4isSyennFo
I will make of thee a great nation. When God took him from his own people, he promised to make him the head of another; he cut him off from being the branch of a wild olive, to make him the root of a good olive. This promise was a great relief to Abram’s burden; for he had no child. When God was ready, He gave Abram and his barren wife a child in her old age. Ref 8
Abram was so loyal and obedient, but even he had doubts and had no idea about the miracles God was yet to perform, there is so much more to this story! In Genesis 15:18, God gives Abram the land that was promised as his inheritance for his obedience, God kept all His promises of reward through the covenants He made with Abram.
The Sinai Covenant - Exodus 19:1-25 (NLT)
The Sinai Covenant, made at Mount Sinai (Which is in the southern central part of a peninsula in the north-western end of Arabia referenced in The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary), is the covenant between Moses and God’s people, who were helped out of Egypt, they were freed by God, from slavery. As Moses led them to the promised land, God made a covenant with them regarding His laws, these were laws God made for His people to live and abide by (for them all to get along with each other and to behave and be civilised), this was an agreement to be kept between God and His people. A promise to be kept and to always live by under a covenant with God. Ref 3
When Moses received these laws, he was instructed to get God’s people ready to receive Him and His laws, with a special cleansing process, with very specific rules of abstaining to certain habits and sins, and He also warned them not come too close to the mountain or they will surely die. Once they were ready, God came down from the mountain and there was a roar of thunder, God spoke, all the people were so terrified, that they asked Moses to make another (agreement) covenant with God, that He would never speak to them directly again as they were absolutely terrified, they requested that He speaks only through Moses, (And other Profits). So, their covenants were made here on Mount Sinai. God wanted them to all fear Him so they would obey Him!
Other ancient civilisations cultures also had their own laws, which are quite like those God gave His own people i.e. the ways that we should live and treat each other and a covenant in which we should live our lives by. It’s suggested that as humans we are born with DNA that has a moral compass, that we (naturally deep down) know what is right and wrong! So, these other ancient civilisations also needed a code, a covenant of the similar laws given to the Hebrews of God, ones that stated to honour thy Mother and Father, to not murder, steal or be dishonest, and they too had laws in place for punishment of these crimes.
2 Samuel 7.11-16, 25-29 (NLT)
David is the next King, God is re-affirming His promise to him, that He will rise David up higher than Saul and He will always protect him. A happy establishment is promised to God’s Israel. This is also a promise of peace for the land and for the promise of rest from war.
There is also a promise here for a descendant of David’s to become a strong ruler for a great kingdom, strong enough to build a temple for God and that it will be secured forever (Jesus). So, David goes on to thank God for these promises, the covenants they made for the future kingdom and family, David promises God that he will honor Him forever, and is blessed by God and gives his blessings back for eternity. David’s devotion to God here is truly amazing and God rewarded him and his descendants just as He promised through His covenants. David was a prayer and worship warrior of the old testament because of the covenants made and kept by God between them. Those who taste God’s blessings begin to feel His heartbeat, and their hearts cry out for more, the heart cry becomes, “May the nations praise You, O God” Psalm 67:5.
Other ancient civilisations
Who made similar laws for themselves (with their rulers, kings or gods) based on the covenant Hebrew people had made with God! 1. In Genesis, Abraham lives among the Hittites as a stranger and eventually buys land from them for Sarah’s burial place (Gen 15:18–21; 23:3–9). 2. In 2 Samuel 11–12, Bathsheba’s former husband, Uriah, is identified as a Hittite. 3. The accounts of David’s rise to power in 1 Sam 26:6 refer to a man identified as Ahimelech the Hittite.
The Hittites and Canaanites – Comparisons of Covenant processes for other Ancient Civilizations
The Hittites are often grouped in Scripture under the general title “Canaanites”; although there seems to be a distinction between the Canaanites and the Hittites at certain times. These people in ancient times had their own treaties or versions of covenants, they were made in different ways and did not always contain all points of the following at any one time. Ref 10
|1. Historical prologue||2. Conditions of the treaty||3. Presentation of the parties to the treaty|
|4. Blessings and curses||5. Witnesses (list of various gods)||Ref 9|
Like those in Deuteronomy
|· a preamble (Deut 5:6)||· a divine witness (Deut 4:26)||· a historical prologue (Deut 1:1–4:14)|
|· blessings (Deut 28:1–14)||· curses (Deut 28:15–68)||· stipulations (Deut 4:44–27:8)|
|· the recital of the covenant (Deut 10:1–2; 31:10–13, 24–29)||Ref 10|
Overview of their documents referring to their own treaty systems and records
|· prayers and hymns||· mythological texts||·lexical lists (usually in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite)|
|· divination texts||· ritual and festival texts||· laws and legal literature (e.g., court records)|
|· diplomatic texts (e.g., treaties, letters, edicts)||· administrative texts (e.g., land donations; lists of officials, towns and inventories) Ref 11|
Some of the examples of Ancient Near Eastern sworn oath rituals or treaties
Hittite treaties can take one of two forms: 1. parity treaties, which were reciprocal treaties between equals; or 2. suzerain treaties, which were unilateral treaties between a king and a vassal (Vassal Treaties). Ref 11 & 14
The Suzerain-Vassal Treaty (Genesis 15) – Watch this Video https://youtu.be/P7OC6U5m7Qg
The Treaty of Kadesh is the world’s earliest peace treaty that is still extant. It was signed by Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses the Great and Hittite Great King Hattusili in approximately 1259 BC making it over three thousand years old. Ref 13
Treaty between Tudhaliya IV and Kurunta of Tarhuntassa in 1235BCE. With this treaty Tudhaliya promises the sovereignty of Tarhuntassa and another territory to Kurunta and his sons for the future although Kurunta is advised to not want to imitate Tudhaliya’s “Great Kingdom”. “Thousands of Gods” are listed as divine witnesses for the validity of this treaty. Ref 15
Later on Assyrian text (754 BC): “This head is not the head of a lamb, it is the head of Mati’ilu [the covenant-maker]. If Mati’ilu sins against this covenant, so may, just as the head of this spring lamb is torn off the head of Mati’ilu be torn off” (ANET, 532). Ref 2