What is a covenant? According to Dictionary.com, it is:
An agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.
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There are actually two distinct types of covenants that God made with humans; one is called a Conditional Covenant and the other is called an Unconditional Covenant. As the name implies, conditional covenants come with requirements by both parties, whereas the unconditional covenant is made by one party to another, with no requirement upon the second party to ensure the actions of the first party. In legalese, these are either a Unilateral or Bilateral Contractual agreement.
The covenant God made with Noah is an unconditional covenant. God promised that he was never going to destroy life with a flood ever again (notice how that still leaves many other options available) and there is no requirement at all on Noah or anyone else in order for God to be expected to keep his agreement. Often a covenant, at least the biblical kind, did require some sign, or in legal terms, consideration, in order to be finalized. The shedding of blood was a usual sign, such as when Abraham cut the animals in pieces or the bloodshed during a b’rit milah (circumcision), or the bloodshed by the Messiah when he was crucified.
In the case of the Noahide Covenant, God’s sign was the rainbow, which had never been seen before. In fact, rain had never been seen before, either: we are told at the beginning of Genesis that the earth was watered by the morning dew.
When we read what is in the Bible, God tells Noah and his children to be fruitful and multiply, that whereas before they ate only vegetables, now every moving thing is food for them (although there was already an understanding of clean and unclean, since in the prior chapters God had Noah take 7 pairs of clean animals and only 1 pair of unclean), and that they are not to eat the blood. God also says that every human who takes another human’s life is to be held accountable and that for every human who sheds another human’s blood, his own blood shall be shed. God also said that he wouldn’t curse the ground anymore, which he did with the expulsion of Adam and Eve.
God finished by stating this covenant is with Noah and every living thing that is on the earth.
But in Judaism, there are 7 Noahide Laws that are considered to be part of the Noahide Covenant. The Babylonian Talmud tells us these are the 7 laws that are in the Noahide Covenant:
- Not to worship idols.
- Not to curse God.
- Not to commit murder.
- Not to commit adultery, bestiality, or sexual immorality.
- Not to steal.
- Not to eat flesh torn from a living animal.
- To establish courts of justice.
So where did the Rabbis get all this other stuff? From what I have read, and from my very small experience studying the Talmud, they pretty much extrapolated from what else is written in the Bible to come up with these unstated, but (supposedly) implied mitzvot.
There is only one other covenant that is unconditional, which is the Davidic Covenant and is found in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. Here God promises David that one of his descendants will sit on an eternal throne, which everyone concludes is the Messiah. In this covenant, God tells David that he is pleased David wants to build a house for the Lord, but God will take it up a notch. There is no requirement for David to do anything because God is doing this as his reward to David for all David has done and what he wants to do in his heart.
You may be thinking that the New Covenant, Jeremiah 31:31 is also an unconditional covenant, but it isn’t. You need to read the entire chapter to realize that in the midst of the promises God is making to Jeremiah about the regathering of Israel and the restoring of their wealth and joy, in Jeremiah 31:17-20, Jeremiah is told that Ephraim (meaning Israel) has repented and confessed its sin and acknowledged its wrongdoing.
So, we could say that the New Covenant is predicated upon Israel, now dispersed throughout the world, coming to recognize its sinfulness and repenting. After which, God will regather them, restore their joy and wealth, and finally write the Torah on their hearts so that everyone will know Adonai. This is the real “new” covenant and is accomplished through the Messiah.
The Babylonian Talmud’s extrapolated Noahide Laws are man-made, but even so, they are also valid because when we go through the Torah, everything listed as a Noahide Law will eventually be specified in the Torah God gives to Moses.
This is the one absolutely most important fact about the covenants God made with us: they are inclusive, not exclusive! That means each succeeding covenant includes and builds upon the preceding one. The covenant God made with Abraham is included with the one he made with Noah, but he then added on to it. The Mosaic Covenant includes everything in the Abrahamic and Noahide Covenants, then builds upon it. The covenant God makes with David is in addition to the previous covenants and establishes their permanence through the coming Messiah. And the New Covenant God makes through Jeremiah will first and foremost be with Israel, eventually allowing Gentiles to be included as they will be grafted into the chosen people of God through their acceptance of Yeshua, the Messiah.
And, being grafted into the chosen people of God, they also come under all the covenants God made with his people; in other words, you can’t be grafted onto a tree but get your nourishment from a vine. If you are one of God’s chosen, whether native-born or grafted in Gentile, you are required to obey his commandments.
No covenant ever does away with another, despite what you may have been told as a result of Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians 5:17 or what he said in Hebrews 8:13; Paul was talking about what will happen in the Acharit haYamim (Days to Come) and the Olam Haba (World to Come). He isn’t talking about now, and this is confirmed by the Messiah, himself, in Matthew 5:18 when he says nothing shall change until all things come to pass. That means ALL things have come to pass, so unless you can show me the new earth, the temple lowered from heaven, the Enemy and his followers in the Lake of Fire, and Yeshua sitting on the throne ruling over all the earth, then all things have not come to pass and the covenants that were made are all still 100% valid,
This means, like it or not, whether you are a Jew or a Gentile grafted into the body of Messiah, no matter what someone may have told you, we are all still being held accountable by God to obey the Torah as best as we can.
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Until then, l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!