COVENANT (kiiv'6-nant), (Heb. ber-eeth', cutting,. Among other instances of anthropomor phic forms of speech employed in Scripture is the use of the term covenant to designate the divine dealings with mankind, or with individuals of the race.
(1) Mutual Contract. In all such cases, the proper idea of a covenant or mutual contract be tween parties, each of which is bound to render certain benefits to the other, is obviously excluded, and one of a merely analogical nature substituted in its place. Where God is one of the parties, and man the other, in a covenant, all the benefits con ferred must be on the part of the former, and all the obligations sustained on the part of the lat ter. Such a definition, therefore, of a divine cove nant as would imply that both parties are under conditions to each other is obviously incorrect, and incompatible with the relative position of the parties.
(2) God's Promise. We should prefer defining God's covenant with man as a gracious engage ment on the part of God to communicate certain unmerited favors to men, in connection with a particular constitution or system, through means of which these favors are to be enjoyed. Hence in Scripture the covenant of God is called his 'counsel,' his 'oath,' his 'promise' (Ps. lxxxix :3, 4 cv: 8-11 ; Heb. vi :13-20 ; Luke i :68-75 ; Gal. iii : 15-18, etc.) ; and it is described as consisting whol ly in the gracious bestowal of blessing on men (Is. lix :21 ; Jer. xxxi :33, 341• Hence also the application of the term covenant to designate such fixed arrangements, or laws of nature, as the regu lar succession of day and night ( Jer. xxxiii :20), and such religious institutions as the Sabbath (Exod. xxxi :t6) ; circumcision (Gen. xvii :9, to) ; the Levitical institute (Lev. xxvi :15) ; and in gen eral any precept or ordinance of God (Jer. xxxiv : 13, 14) ; all such appointments forming part of that system or arrangement in connection with which the blessings of God's grace were to be enjoyed.
(3) Ratification. The divine covenants were ratified with the sacrifice of a piacular victim, the design of which was to show that without an atonement there could be no communication of blessing from God to man. Thus when God made a covenant with Abraham certain victims were slain and divided into halves, between which a smoking furnace and a burning lamp, the sym bols of the divine presence, passed, to indicate the ratification of the promises conveyed in that cove nant to Abraham ; and here it is deserving of no tice, as illustrating the definition of a divine cove nant above given, that the divine glory alone passed between the pieces ; whereas had the cove nant been one of mutual stipulation, Abraham also would have performed the same ceremony (Gen.
xv :I-18). In like manner, the Levitical covenant was ratified by sacrifice (Exod. xxiv: 6-8) ; and the Apostle expressly affirms, on this ground, the necessity of the death of Christ, as the mediator of the new covenant ; declaring that where a cove nant is, there also of necessity must be the death of the appointed victim (Heb. ix :16).
(4) The Everlasting Covenant. Of the divine covenants mentioned in Scripture the first place is due to that which is emphatically styled by Jehovah, 'My covenant.' This is God's gracious engagement to confer salvation and eternal glory on all who come to him through Jesus Christ. It is called sometimes 'the everlasting covenant' (Is. lv :3 ; Heb. xiii :20), to distinguish it from those more temporary arrangements which were con fined to particular individuals or classes; and the second, or new, or better covenant, to distinguish it from the Levitical covenant. which was first in order of time, because first ratified by sacrifice, and became old, and was shown to be inferior, because on the appearance of the Christian dis pensation it was superseded, and passed away (Jer. xxxi :31 ; Gal. iv :24 ; Heb. vii :22 ; viii :6-13 ; ix :15-23 ; xii :24). Though this covenant was not, strictly speaking, ratified before the death of Christ, the great sacrificial victim ( Heb. xiii :20), yet it was revealed to the saints who lived before his ad vent, and who enjoyed salvation through the retro spective power of his death (Rom. iii :25 ; Heb. ix :15). To the more highly favored of these God gave specific assurances of his gracious purpose, and on such occasions he was said to establish or make his covenant with them. Thus he estab lished his covenant with Noah (Gen. ix :8, 9) ; with Abraham (Gen. xvii :4, 5) ; and with David (Ps. lxxxix :3, 4). These were not distinct cove nants so much as renewals of the promises of the everlasting covenant, coupled with certain tempo rary favors, as types and pledges of the fulfilment of these promises.