Q12: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?

A: When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience (Ga. 3:12); forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death (Gen. 2:17).

I. “Covenant”: etymology of the word.

A. Hebrew, (285x; click here for the original word), came to mean that which bound two parties together.

B. Greek, (30x; click here for the original word), means “last will” or “testament”.

1. Occasioned by recognition that the covenant God makes with men is not fully mutual as syntheke would imply, and which was commonly used for a covenant extrabiblically.

Relevant quote from David Foster Estes:
Διαθήκη, Diathḗkē, the word chosen by the LXX translators to render the Heb berῑth, and it appears thus nearly 300 times in the Gr OT in the sense of covenant, while sunthḗkē and entolaí are each used once only. The choice of this word seems to have been occasioned by a recognition that the covenant which God makes with men is not fully mutual as would be implied in sunthēkē, the Gr word commonly used for covenant (although not a NT word), while at the same time the rarity of wills among the Jews made the common sense of diathēkē relatively unfamiliar. The Apocryphal writers also frequently use the same word in the same sense and no other.

David Foster Estes, “Covenant in the NT,” ed. James Orr et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 729.


II. Covenant definitions.

A. An old Presbyterian catechism: “[A] covenant is an agreement between two or more persons.”  source

B. Charles Hodge: “[A covenant is] a promise suspended upon a condition, and attached to disobedience a certain penalty.”  source

C. O. Palmer Robertson: “[A covenant is] a bond in blood sovereignly administered.” source

D. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: “[Covenant] denotes a gracious undertaking entered into by God for the benefit and blessing of man, and specifically of those men who by faith receive the promises and commit themselves to the obligations which this undertaking involves.”  (cf. here)


III. Covenant uses.

A. Ancient world documents “agreements” between individuals—most had religious sanctions of some kind (oath before gods)—tribes, states, and nations.

B. Biblical uses between man and man.

1. Two friends: Jonathan and David (1 Sam. 18:3); David and Abner (2 Sam. 3:12ff). A verbal agreement with a pledge.

2. Two rulers: Abraham and Abimilech (Gen. 21:22-32). A verbal agreement with an oath to ratify.

3. Two states: Gibeonites (weaker) asked covenant with the stronger Israel (Josh. 9:6, 11, 15ff). A treaty.

4. Two nations: Israel makes treaty with the stronger Assyria (Hos. 12:1).

C. Biblical uses between God and man.

1. With Noah (Gen. 9:9-17): records first use of berith, used in the sense of a simple promise.

2. With Abraham (Gen. 15:8-19; 17:1-14).

a. This covenant was ratified with Abraham and his seed by the cut-in-half sacrifices.

(1). Persons entering into covenant pass between to testify of their union in the sacrifice.

(2). Persons testify also to the punishment due for breach of covenant.

(a). God can swear by no one higher than Himself (Heb. 6:13).

3. With Israel (Ex. 19-20; ratified 24:4-8).

a. An extension of the Abrahamic covenant since Exodus is fulfillment of patriarchal promise (Ex. 6:4).

4. With David (2 Sam. 7:12-17).

a. “Covenant” is not in the text, but concept is there and it is referred to as such (Ps. 89:19-37).

5. Covenant renewals.

a. On plains of Moab (Deut. 29); at Shechem in day of Joshua (Josh. 24); in days when Jehoida was able to restore Davidic line of kings under Joash (2 Ki. 11:17); under Josiah (2 Ki. 23:3); under Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29:10).

6. Later covenants are not a new way of God’s dealing with people, but only an elaboration of previously revealed principles.


IV. Covenant elements: Parties, stipulation, promises, sanctions.

A. Proof for covenant in Genesis 2:15-17: the covenant of works.

1. Elements are present.

a. Parties: God and man (Gen. 2:16).

b. Stipulation: do not eat from tree (Gen. 2:17).

(1). The condition is perfect obedience (Ga. 3:10, 12; cf. Mk. 12:30).

c. Curse: death threatened for disobedience (Gen. 2:17).

d. Promise: of life implied in the threat of death (Gen. 2:17).

2. Scripture interprets Scripture (cf. Hos. 6:7).

a. “Man” interprets word for Adam, and how else could one transgress than “like men.” Such an interpretation (i.e., “man”) introduces inanity into text.

B. Called a covenant of “life” because of the promise of life.

C. Called a covenant of “works” because God required Adam to obey before He gave him the gift (“a promise suspended on a condition”).

D. Nothing in covenant unfair to Adam.

1. Adam had ability to obey (Ecc. 7:29).

2. God gave Adam many inducements to keep him from disobedience.

a. Every tree he could freely eat from (Gen. 2:16).

b. All these were “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

c. Death penalty was powerful reason to obey.

E. Representative principle (Rom. 5:12-21): Adam represented all humanity as the federal head, and his sin nature and guilt all men have inherited, as is evident in that all die.

1. Analogy: American citizenship enjoys both benefits and curses. [Representative principle fully treated in Q16]


V. Covenant attributes: unilateral, eternal, and established by grace.

A. Unilateral: God does not bargain or comprise. He simply and sovereignly announces the terms and imposes the covenant upon Himself and man (Isa. 40:13-17).

B. Eternal: God does not change (Gen. 8:22; 9:12-16).

C. Established by grace: The stress is on God’s initiative, an act of mercy and condescension. There is nothing in man to merit the covenant. Even if man perfectly obeyed he would still be an unprofitable servant (Lk. 17:10). Benefit is for man not the Creator (Acts 17:25).

1. Some covenants were conditioned (Gen. 3; Ex. 20) upon obedience (Deut. 27-29), which revealed the necessity of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).


VI. Covenant language.

A. Relationship within covenant is expressed by hesed (Deut. 7:9; 1 Sam. 20:8; 1 Ki. 8:23; Dan. 9:4).

1. hesed can mean “loving-kindness, steadfast love, grace, mercy, faithfulness, goodness, devotion.”

a. Three basic meanings: strength, steadfastness, love, and denotes one’s rights within the relationship, yet more than legality.

2. hesed‘s other contextual uses: a covenant offer is free to all (Isa. 55:3); faithful living (Hos. 6:6); biblical ethics (Mic. 6:8).

Relevant quote from D. A. Baer and R. P. Gordon:
1. The concept of faithfulness, steadfast love, or more generally kindness, represented by חֶסֶד, has a strongly relational aspect that is essential to any proper definition of the term. חֶסֶד occurs 246× in the OT, just over half of them in Ps. It is commonly used of the attitudes and behavior of humans toward one another, but more frequently (ratio 3:1) describes the disposition and beneficent actions of God toward the faithful, Israel his people, and humanity in general. The phrase “the kindness of the LORD/God,” as it occurs in 1 Sam 20:14; 2 Sam 9:3, represents, at least formally, an intersection between these two planes of human and divine חֶסֶד.  Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 211.


VII. Application.

A. Use, of knowledge.

1. See here the great and astonishing condescension of God, who was pleased to stoop and enter into a covenant with His creature.

B. Use, of testing.

1. Do we take the covenant of grace for granted, not realizing if it were not for mercy we all would still be under the covenant of works?

2. How do we express our gratitude?

C. Use, of exhortation: sinners and saints.

1. Sinners. See your misery all you who are outside of Christ. You labor under a covenant which requires a perfect obedience that you cannot render.

2. Saints. See the unsearchable riches of

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