A contract or agreement between two parties. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word berith is always thus translated. Berith is derived from a root which means "to cut," and hence a covenant is a "cutting," with reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant (Genesis 15; Jeremiah 34:18, 19).
The corresponding word in the New Testament Greek is diatheke, which is, however, rendered "testament" generally in the Authorized Version. It ought to be rendered, just as the word berith of the Old Testament, "covenant."
This word is used (1) of a covenant or compact between man and man (Genesis 21:32), or between tribes or nations (1 Samuel 11:1; Joshua 9:6, 15). In entering into a convenant, Jehovah was solemnly called on to witness the transaction (Genesis 31:50), and hence it was called a "covenant of the Lord" (1 Samuel 20:8). The marriage compact is called "the covenant of God" (Proverbs 2:17), because the marriage was made in God's name. Wicked men are spoken of as acting as if they had made a "covenant with death" not to destroy them, or with hell not to devour them (Isaiah 28:15, 18).
(2.) The word is used with reference to God's revelation of himself in the way of promise or of favour to men. Thus God's promise to Noah after the Flood is called a covenant (Genesis 9; Jeremiah 33:20, "my covenant"). We have an account of God's covernant with Abraham (Genesis 17, Comp. Leviticus 26:42), of the covenant of the priesthood (Numbers 25:12, 13; Deuteronomy 33:9; Nehemiah 13:29), and of the covenant of Sinai (Exodus 34:27, 28; Leviticus 26:15), which was afterwards renewed at different times in the history of Israel (Deuteronomy 29; Joshua 1:24; 2 Chronicles 15; 23; 29; 34; Ezra 10; Nehemiah 9). In conformity with human custom, God's covenant is said to be confirmed with an oath (Deuteronomy 4:31; Psalm 89:3), and to be accompanied by a sign (Genesis 9; 17). Hence the covenant is called God's "counsel," "oath," "promise" (Psalm 89:3, 4; 105:8-11; Hebrews 6:13-20; Luke 1:68-75). God's covenant consists wholly in the bestowal of blessing (Isaiah 59:21; Jeremiah 31:33, 34).
The term covenant is also used to designate the regular succession of day and night (Jeremiah 33:20), the Sabbath (Exodus 31:16), circumcision (Genesis 17:9, 10), and in general any ordinance of God (Jeremiah 34:13, 14).
A "covenant of salt" signifies an everlasting covenant, in the sealing or ratifying of which salt, as an emblem of perpetuity, is used (Numbers 18:19; Leviticus 2:13; 2 Chronicles 13:5).
COVENANT OF WORKS, the constitution under which Adam was placed at his creation. In this covenant,
(1.) The contracting parties were (a) God the moral Governor, and (b) Adam, a free moral agent, and representative of all his natural posterity (Romans 5:12-19).
(2.) The promise was "life" (Matthew 19:16, 17; Galatians 3:12).
(3.) The condition was perfect obedience to the law, the test in this case being abstaining from eating the fruit of the "tree of knowledge," etc.
(4.) The penalty was death (Genesis 2:16, 17).
This covenant is also called a covenant of nature, as made with man in his natural or unfallen state; a covenant of life, because "life" was the promise attached to obedience; and a legal covenant, because it demanded perfect obedience to the law.
The "tree of life" was the outward sign and seal of that life which was promised in the covenant, and hence it is usually called the seal of that covenant.
This covenant is abrogated under the gospel, inasmuch as Christ has fulfilled all its conditions in behalf of his people, and now offers salvation on the condition of faith. It is still in force, however, as it rests on the immutable justice of God, and is binding on all who have not fled to Christ and accepted his righteousness.
CONVENANT OF GRACE, the eternal plan of redemption entered into by the three persons of the Godhead, and carried out by them in its several parts. In it the Father represented the Godhead in its indivisible sovereignty, and the Son his people as their surety (John 17:4, 6, 9; Isaiah 42:6; Psalm 89:3).
The conditions of this covenant were,
(1.) On the part of the Father (a) all needful preparation to the Son for the accomplishment of his work (Hebrews 10:5; Isaiah 42:1-7); (b) support in the work (Luke 22:43); and (c) a glorious reward in the exaltation of Christ when his work was done (Philippians 2:6-11), his investiture with universal dominion (John 5:22; Psalm 110:1), his having the administration of the covenant committed into his hands (Matthew 28:18; John 1:12; 17:2; Acts 2:33), and in the final salvation of all his people (Isaiah 35:10; 53:10, 11; Jeremiah 31:33; Titus 1:2).
(2.) On the part of the Son the conditions were (a) his becoming incarnate (Galatians 4:4, 5); and (b) as the second Adam his representing all his people, assuming their place and undertaking all their obligations under the violated covenant of works; (c) obeying the law (Psalm 40:8; Isaiah 42:21; John 9:4, 5), and (d) suffering its penalty (Isaiah 53; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13), in their stead.
Christ, the mediator of, fulfils all its conditions in behalf of his people, and dispenses to them all its blessings. In Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24, this title is given to Christ. (see DISPENSATION.)