5 Covenants of the Old Testament

Understanding these five covenants help tie the Old Testament together.

The Old Testament contains 39 books that are categorized as books of the Law, history, poetry, wisdom, and prophetical books.

Despite its diverse contents, it is much more than a simple anthology. It is tied together by a successive string of five major covenants that God made with His people.

A covenant is a binding agreement between two or more parties. When we speak of Biblical covenants, we are referring to instances where God has entered into an agreement with mankind that involves both promises and responsibilities for each party.

While there are many covenants and promises found in the Old Testament, a study of the following will provide you with a framework to better understand redemptive history. (Note that this is not meant to be a discussion on Covenant Theology, but instead a look at the Old Testament through the lens of these particular covenants.)

Five of the primary covenants in the Old Testament are the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the New Covenant. Each of these covenants is reflective of two of the main categories of covenants known in the Ancient Near East:

Suzerian-Vassal: This term harkens back to a time when a king would make a promise to his subjects, or a treaty between kings would be that depended on obedience to specific terms. You can think of this covenant as a conditional promise.

Royal Grant: Unlike the Suzerian-Vassal agreements, a Royal Grant requires no action on the part of the beneficiary. It is an unconditional promise given from one party to another.

1. The Noahic Covenant – Genesis 9

Noah's Ark
A Dove is Sent Forth From the Ark — Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

After having sent a global flood to destroy the wickedness that had become so prevalent on earth after the Fall, God promised Noah (and by extension all humanity) to never again destroy the world with a flood.

Genesis 9:11 | “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”

This is an example of a Royal Grant covenant; there is nothing that Noah or his descendants must do to ensure that this promise is fulfilled. Instead it finds its validity purely in God’s faithfulness.

2. The Abrahamic Covenant – Genesis 12

Abraham Goes to the Land of Canaan — Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

Genesis 12:1-3 | “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”

Years after the Flood, pride leads the people to rebel against God by constructing the tower of Babel. After having dispersed them by confusing their languages, God would eventually choose one man and one nation as the instrument of His blessing to the entire world. In this covenant God promised Abraham three specific things:

1. He will be made into a great nation (12:2).

2. This nation will be led into the Promised Land (12:1).

3. Through him (Abraham) all people of the earth will be blessed (12:3).

The Abrahamic Covenant is in part a Suzerain-Vassal covenant, as God required first that Abraham get up, leave his home and his family, and follow God to the land He would show him (Gen. 12:1). However, some aspects of the Abrahamic covenant are also in line with an unconditional Royal Grant. For example, God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation and bless all of the nations through his lineage is an unconditional promise from God (22:15-18).

3. The Mosaic Covenant – Exodus 19-24

Moses Comes Down From Mount Sinai — Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

Exodus 19-24 is key to understanding both redemptive history and the history of Israel as a nation. A conditional promise, the Mosaic Covenant is dependent on the peoples’ response to the law He gives through His servant Moses.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6

God tells Moses that if Israel obeys, they will be His chosen people, His treasured possession. Ultimately, these blessings will be extended to all people. This conditional promise is a Suzerain-Vassal covenant and brings Israel closer to realizing the promises made by God in the Abrahamic Covenant.

4. The Davidic Covenant – 2 Samuel 7

King David Playing the Harp — Gerard Von Honthorst (1592-1656)

After the people disobeyed the commands made in the previous covenant, God made the Davidic covenant as a means to bring them back into relationship with Himself. The key passage for this unconditional promise is 2 Samuel 7:12-17:

When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’” In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David.

Here God makes a Royal Grant covenant to David and his descendants that his house will rule over Israel forever.

The promise of an eternal kingdom is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, who is of David’s kingly lineage. In the New Testament, Luke 1:30-33 tells us:

Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’

Although this is an unconditional covenant, there is a part of it which has a contingency: if the ruler of Israel is obedient, he will be blessed. If not, he will be cursed. As the books of 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles show us, Israel had many examples of both disobedient and obedient kings, which eventually lead to the nation’s exile.

5. The New Covenant – Jeremiah 31

Jesus and Two Disciples Go to Emmaus — Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

Despite the failure of God’s people to live up to the covenants that were made, God graciously made a new one with his people:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34

In this passage God makes several distinct promises:

  1. He would give them the ability and the desire to follow Him. He would change their hearts and give them a zeal for obedience (vs 34).
  2. He will be their God, and they will be His people
  3. He will forgive the sins of His people (vs 34b).

This promise finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:7-13; 9; 10:11-24), as it is through Him we receive forgiveness of our sins and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who enables us to seek after the things of God.


You now have an overview of five of the Old Testament’s covenants. These are not the only covenants of the Old Testament, but studying these five promises from God allows for a fuller understanding of the unity of Scripture and of salvation history.

Helpful Resources:
Covenant in the Old Testament
Redemptive History” by Richard Phillips
5 Reasons to Study the Old Testament

  1. In Jeremiah 31:33″ But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel;” the New covenant is made with the house of Israel, not with any Gentile. How can anyone that is not part of the house of Israel expect to
    be included in this new covenant?

    1. Thanks for your question – it is a good one! You are correct that Jeremiah 31 explicitly mentions the New Covenant as being made with God’s people Israel. However, this does not exclude non-Jews from the covenant.

      Recall that in Luke 22:20, Jesus took the cup saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” This is the implementation of the New Covenant as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. While Christians are not ethnically Jewish, we have been “grafted in” as it says in Romans 11:19, and all who believe in Christ are the “sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7).

      This is an important aspect of New Testament teaching, and is also summed up in Galatians 3:28-29: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

      I’d also encourage those who have this question to spend some time in Hebrews, chapters 9 and 10.

  2. I thank you for your explanation and the verses to support it –I studied the bible and was blessed to hear the studied teachings of Pastor Frank Collins – growing in Christianity –However Life and such things have brought me to a state where I have some Alzheimer’s symptoms -I appreciate you answer to this question –for I was unable to remember some things –you helped ease my mind Christian love joyce

  3. I have been riveted to this study today, which helped immensely in my understanding of the covenants in the Bible and the types of covenant. Really appreciate this information. May the Lord God continue to bless you richly!!!

  4. Covenantal relationship between God and his people, is of great important and adamic covenant should be taken into consideration for the agreement which entered with the first fathers.

  5. It is indisputable that the word ברית (covenant) is absent in God’s relationship with Adam. However, Royal Grant covenant is implied in the cultural mandate because God gave Adam an unmerited privilege by subjecting all other creations to him even though other creatures were bigger and stronger than man (Gen. 1:28-30). Besides, Scriptures interpret Scriptures. Hence, Prophet Hosea acknowledged Adamic covenant while making reference to Israelites’ apostasy saying: “But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me (Hos. 6:7 NAS).

  6. Regarding Bill’s comment of an Adamic Covenant, there is no Adamic Covenant. There are certainly promises of blessings (specificall that of a future Seed) given by God to Adam/mankind (as well as curses on mankind for disobedience), but no where in the language is the word covenant used, nor are all elements of a covenant present. God doesn’t call it a covenant in His Word, and we shouldn’t either, but that doesn’t make His promise of the Seed (or any other promise for that matter) any less sure.

    1. Thank you for sharing your studies on the Convenants.

      God Richly Bless and be with you. always.

      Daniel Hiralall

  7. greetings!
    I appreciate the info on God’s covenants–very interesting subject. I’m amazed that the first mention of the new covenant is in the “Old Testament” . Many would like to think that God’s laws are done away, however the Scripture clearly teaches He will write them on our hearts and put them in our minds. Obedience is an honor to God through a circumcised heart made possible by yielding to the drawing of His Holy Spirit. What a gracious God we serve!

    1. Good question. I think it is a Royal Grant. Like the event in Genesis 15, God promises and Abram contributes nothing. He only believes. God walks through the carcass, not Abram. The New Covenant has the same qualities. His covenant to us through Christ is not conditional.

      Yet, I can see that we have a vassal relationship to the Lord of Lords so there must be more to this.

      Hope someone more informed will comment.

  8. My understanding of Exodus 19 is that God offered them a grant covenant by inviting them to be a nation of priests they turned Him down and entered into a kinship covenant, this is clear when we look at the ritual then later God downsized them to a suzerain vassal covenant in Deuteronomy. My information comes from Scott Hahns book, Kinship by Covenant and Meredith G. Kline’s book Treaty of a Great King. Would appreciate your thoughts this is a new understanding for me. Thanks for your article.

    1. Thanks Ivan. I’m not familiar with the books by Hahns or Kline that you mention. I will have to look into the concept of a kinship covenant more. Exodus 19 is a bit tricky in terms of identifying the type of covenant it is, only in that we know the nation of Israel failed to uphold their end of the covenant multiple times. Although they were chastised with occupation and dispersion, they remained and do remain God’s chosen people.

      This article on God’s Covenant Through Moses by John Piper gives some additional perspective on how God graciously renewed a covenant with His people even though they broke the one mentioned in Exodus 19 almost immediately. He references chapter 34 as an example of this and it is a good read.

    2. The Isrealites did enter into a covenant with God at Sinai. It wasn’t until MUCH later that they decided they wanted a king like the pagan countries around them

    1. Hi Bill – Thanks for reading and leaving your comment. Many people do consider there to be an Adamic covenant (Genesis 3:15-19 is a main passage), though others disagree that all of the elements of a formal covenant are present.
      As we mention in the article, there are many covenants and promises found in the Old Testament, and this article is not intended to cover each of them. Instead, we lay out 5 important covenants that allow readers to gain a framework to better understand redemptive history.

      Those interested in learning more can visit this helpful overview of the Adamic covenant.

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