What is the Old Covenant: Part 1

Excerpts taken from a paper entitled, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology” by Micah and Samuel Renihan

The Old Covenant is theocratic Israel, defined by the Abrahamic, conditioned by the Mosaic, and focused by the Davidic covenants. The Old Covenant, and thus each of these three covenants, differs from the New Covenant not merely in administration, but also in substance.


The Abrahamic covenant, called the Covenant of Circumcision by Stephen in Acts 7:8,
promised Abraham three things primarily. It promised him a land, a people, and a
kingship. In other words, Abraham’s physical descendants would inherit the land and
grow into an innumerable people ruled by their own kings. This was called the Covenant
of Circumcision because circumcision was the sign of these blessings and separated
Abraham’s offspring from the rest of the world as the heirs of these promises.
The Abrahamic covenant, called the Covenant of Circumcision by Stephen in Acts 7:8,
promised Abraham three things primarily. It promised him a land, a people, and a
kingship. In other words, Abraham’s physical descendants would inherit the land and
grow into an innumerable people ruled by their own kings. This was called the Covenant
of Circumcision because circumcision was the sign of these blessings and separated
Abraham’s offspring from the rest of the world as the heirs of these promises.

Abraham was the federal head of this covenant because the promises were made to
him and to his physical seed. All those who were of Abraham, or in Abraham we might
say, were heirs of the national promises. This defined the membership of the covenant.

One of the most distinctive features of this covenant was that God immutably
promised to bring about these blessings apart from any merit on Abraham’s part, and for that reason the Covenant of Circumcision can rightly be called a covenant of grace. But can it rightly be called an administration of the Covenant of Grace? If the Covenant of Grace is the accomplishing of the Covenant of Redemption in history, the retro-active
application of the New Covenant, then what do national promises have to do with
Christ’s redeeming and gathering of the elect? It must be noted that although all the
Abrahamic promises typologically reveal the New Covenant, in their substance and
essence they are distinct from it. Abraham knew that Canaan was not heaven.

The Mosaic Covenant was added and attached to the Abrahamic Covenant in such a
way that it conditioned the enjoyment of the Abrahamic blessings. God immutably
promised Abraham that the covenant blessings would be realized. The extent to which those blessings would be enjoyed, however, depended upon the obedience of the people of Israel. To put it simply, in the Abrahamic, God promised Abraham a land, nation, and kingship, and in the Mosaic God conditioned the enjoyment of those promises. The Mosaic covenant controlled tenure in the land, the boundaries of the nation, and the regulation of the kingship. These conditions were strong enough that although God would inevitably realize the promises, they could be lost through disobedience. That the Mosaic Covenant conditions the Abrahamic is evident not only by virtue of the fact that its obedience is directly tied to the enjoyment of the Abrahamic promises, but also by virtue of the fact that it was made specifically with the Abrahamic people.

That the Mosaic Covenant is not one in essence and substance with the Covenant of Grace is further recognized by the fact that, as Hebrews tells us, the sacrifices had no power to remove sin. “The law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (Heb. 10:1). Hebrews 8:5 calls the Mosaic system a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” Paul, speaking in Colossians of Mosaic rites such as new moons, festivals, and Sabbaths, says that “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Using the same question that was applied to the Abrahamic, is the conditioning of national promises by law the accomplishing of the redemption of the elect in history? No, the Mosaic Covenant is separate from the Covenant of Grace in its essence. However, every single element of the Mosaic economy typologically revealed and set before the eyes of the Jews the Covenant of Grace wherein true righteousness, true forgiveness of sins, and true holiness could be found. Since tenure in the land was what was in view in the Mosaic law, offenses against that covenant could be addressed within that covenant and sacrificial system. But concerning true spiritual realities, concerning offenses committed against a Holy God, the sacrifices could do nothing but point ahead to that one true sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

Even until today, many have wrestled with how it could be that the Covenant of
Grace was being administered by a strict works principle. This difficulty is simply and
rightly avoided when one recognizes that the Mosaic Covenant is not an administration of the Covenant of Grace, but rather typologically reveals it in its law and worship. The
Mosaic Covenant is then free to be affirmed as a graciously administered works principle, controlling the extent to which the Abrahamic blessings are enjoyed. “The one who does them shall live by them” (Gal. 3:12).

The Mosaic Covenant lacked a federal head until the kingship was established. The
Abrahamic people as a whole were judged on different levels, sometimes the individual,
sometimes the family, sometimes the tribe, sometimes the nation. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes, and there was no king in Israel.

The Davidic Covenant brings all of the Abrahamic promises to consummation and
focuses the Mosaic Covenant into one person. It was under the line of David, specifically
Solomon, that at last the nation of Israel reached the fulfillment of being the Abrahamic
people ruling all of the Abrahamic land, under Abrahamic, specifically Judean, kings.
The biblical authors are careful to record when these promises are fulfilled (Josh. 21:43-
45 and I Kings 4:20). Under David and his line, the national people of Abraham enjoyed
the blessings and benefits of the promised-land to the extent to which the Davidic king
obeyed the Mosaic law. This is the concern of the records of the kings. They did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, or they did what was evil. Israel was blessed or cursed
accordingly

Because the Mosaic Covenant controls both the Abrahamic and the Davidic
Covenants, it is the primary referent of the New Testament when speaking about the Old
Covenant. However, the Mosaic Covenant cannot be divided or disconnected from the
Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, and thus all three combine to form the Old Covenant, in every aspect typological of the Covenant of Grace, yet in every aspect different in substance from the Covenant of Grace

For a full reading of the paper, which is of great advantage to a student of the word, the link is here: https://thelogcollege.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/rb-cov-theo-renihans.pdf

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