The Old and New Covenants – The Two Covenants
The Old Testament refers to the Ten Commandments as a covenant but was the Ten Commandments the Old Covenant which was abolished? God once wrote his laws to His children on cold stone tablets but now He writes His laws in their hearts. God gives us understanding to know and to believe His laws; He gives us memories to retain them; He gives us hearts to love them, courage to profess them and power to put them into practice. This is the foundation of the New Covenant and when this is laid, our duty will be done wisely, sincerely, readily, easily, resolutely, constantly and with comfort for those who truly love Him.
So what is a covenant anyway?
Basically a covenant is an agreement between two parties based upon mutual promises. It is a type of contract in which the covenantor makes a promise to a covenantee to engage in or refrain from a specified action. The covenant which has caused the misunderstanding is called the “Old Covenant” by the author of Hebrews. Millions have been taught that this Old Covenant was the Ten Commandment law. Many boast of being delivered from the law and claim to walk in freedom from this so called Old Testament covenant of works. Did the great moral law of Ten Commandments vanish away? Anyone who has read the New Testament must answer, absolutely not. Paul asked, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Romans 3:31. Does the Bible contradict itself? Can something vanish away and be established at the same time? Just to be certain that Paul was not saying that the Old Covenant was the law, let's insert the words “Old Covenant” instead of the word “law” into Romans 3:31. “Do we than make void the Old Covenant through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the Old Covenant.” That certainly does not make sense now does it? We know that the Old Covenant that vanished away could never be spoken of in this way. Thus we can see that the covenant which came to an end could not have been the Ten Commandments.
Many people have also failed to see that there was more than one covenant involved at Mount Sinai. God called Moses up into the mountain before He gave the law and proposed a covenant between Him and His people, “And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; ... if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me ... an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” Exodus 19:3-6.
God asked Moses to present His offer to the people. Here are all the elements of a true covenant. Conditions and promises are laid down for both sides. If the children of Israel accept God's proposal, a covenant will be established. So how did they respond? “And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.” Exodus 19:7-8. As soon as that answer went back to God, the basis for the Old Covenant in question was set up.
The Ten Commandment Covenant on the other hand was made three days later and was called a covenant on its own. “And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even Ten Commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.” Deuteronomy 4:13. “And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” Exodus 34:28
The Ten Commandments are the basis for God's everlasting Covenant. You often here people say in their attempt to avoid loving obedience to their Creator, that the Old Testament Ten Commandments also had other laws that totalled 613 by traditional count. But this is definitely not so. “These words the LORD spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.” Deuteronomy 5:22
Deuteronomy 5:22 is the first verse after the second reading of the Ten Commandments. God specifically stated that, “He added no more.” There was nothing else added to this Ten Commandment Covenant. Exodus 34:28 also says that “the words of the covenant” were just “the Ten Commandments” that “He wrote upon tables” of stone. The Mosaic Law was added separately and was added 430 years after the everlasting Covenant that was made with Abraham. It was added because of transgressions, which was breaking God's Ten Commandment law. The Mosaic Law was to stay in place until the seed shall come being Jesus Christ who replaced this law. Galatians 3:17-19 “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.”
We find in the Old Testament that covenants made with God were traditionally ratified with the blood of an animal sacrifice. (Genesis 15:8-18; Exodus 24:1-8) We also find in the New Testament that the New Covenant was also ratified with sacrificial blood. Hebrews 10:29 calls the blood of Jesus the “blood of the [new] covenant,” which sanctified us and so has made us holy. Jesus mentioned the New Covenant during his last meal with his disciples. The cup of wine represented “the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20). The blood of Jesus, which is the blood of the New Covenant, was poured out for us at His crucifixion and ratified the New Covenant. Read also you are placing us under the Old Covenant.
Countless sincere Christians have accepted the idea that the Old Testament encompasses the dispensation of works and that the New Testament provides for a dispensation of grace. Under this garbled plan, people were saved by works in the Old Testament and by grace in the New Testament. Does this make sense? The Bible presents only one perfect plan for anybody to be saved and that is by grace through faith. Will Heaven be divided between those who got there by works and those who got there by faith? Every single soul will be a sinner saved by grace. Those who entered into salvation in the Old Testament were those who trusted the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ, and they demonstrated their faith by bringing a lamb and slaying it. This looked forward in faith to the atoning, sacrificial death of Jesus. We look back in faith to the very same sacrificial death and are saved in exactly the same way. Those redeemed in heaven will be singing the same song of deliverance and exalting the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world.
There were many covenants made in the Old Testament such as the Noahic Covenant, Abrahamic Covenant, Covenant with Isaac, Covenant with Jacob, Covenant with Joseph, Mosaic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant just to name a few. So when we say Old Covenant, we will only be referring to what is relevant to us today in regards to the law of God and the Old Covenant as referenced in Hebrews chapter 8. This topic is grossly misunderstood and typical finds scripture quoted out of context and followed by ones personal thoughts. So here you will find the Old and New Covenants explained plainly and simply and predominantly with scripture.
What was included in the Old Covenant?
So keeping this plain and simple and in regards to the law and salvation, the Old Covenant had the Law of Moses, which was written in a book by his own hand and the Ten Commandments, which were written in stone by the very finger of God Himself.
The Law of Moses is also called the “Book of the Covenant” or “Book of the Law,” “Mosaic Law,” “Ordinances” and the “Ceremonial Law” etc. The Ten Commandments are also called the “Two tablets of the Testimony,” “Moral Law” and the “Decalogue” etc. This law is love and a reflection of God's character.
The Law of Moses was stored in the side of the Ark of the Covenant and was a temporary law that was nailed to the cross as it was practised because of sin until Christ came and took the place of this Law. Deuteronomy 31:24-26 “And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, 25 That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, 26 Take this book of the law, and put it in the SIDE of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.”
The Ten Commandments on the other hand were stored on the inside of the Ark of the Covenant under the mercy seat and is eternal in nature and was NOT nailed to the cross as breaking this Law is sin. Exodus 34:28 “And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables [stone] the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” Deuteronomy 10:5 “And I turned myself and came down from the mount, and put the tables IN the ark which I had made; and there they be, as the LORD commanded me.”
What was included in the New Covenant?
Again keeping this very simple, as observed above, the ordinances (Law of Moses) and the Ten Commandments are two separate laws. The following verse (Luke 1:6) is before the cross and the second verse (Hebrews 9:1) is after the cross.
Luke 1:6 “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the Commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”
Hebrews 9:1 “Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.”
Now that Jesus has become our sacrificial Lamb and ended the worldly sacrificial sanctuary system, the New Covenant does not have or need the ordinances and now has only the Ten Commandment Covenant as observed in the above verse, which God now writes in our hearts and minds.
What does the Old Testament say about the New Covenant?
The Old Testament always informs us through the prophets what changes are coming in the future as stated by the following scripture.
Amos 3:7 “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”
Here is what we are told about the New Covenant through Jeremiah the prophet.
Jeremiah 31:33 “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Many are quick to point out that the Old Covenant was made with ISRAEL in an attempt to abolish the Ten Commandments. This heresy is easily put to rest. Who was the New Covenant made with?
What does the New Testament say about the New Covenant?
Here is the fulfilment of Jeremiah 31:33 in regards to the New Covenant. It is astonishing how many people miss who the New Covenant was made with.
Hebrews 8:6-10 “But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of ISRAEL and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of ISRAEL after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:”
So what about the Gentiles? Today there is the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) and the Israel after the flesh (1 Corinthians 10:18). The Israel of the flesh are those that are Jews by birth. The Israel of God is anyone who belongs to Christ and is under the New Covenant. There are many Christians who do not understand that if we are Christ's then we are spiritual Jews and the Israel of God. The New Covenant was also ONLY made with ISRAEL. If one chooses to reject this truth then they cannot be under the New Covenant. Note carefully the following scriptures.
Romans 9:6-8 “Not as though the word of God has taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall your seed be called. 8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”
In the above passage, Paul states that the children of the flesh (Jews by birth) are not the children of God but the children of the promise are. But who are the children of the promise now? The following passage explains this in a way that cannot possibly be misunderstood.
Galatians 3:28-29 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you be Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
When the Jews rejected God's message from Stephen (Acts 6:8-7:60, see Daniel 70 weeks) and stoned him, the following statement became fact. He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly and so if we are God's children then we are Abraham's seed and therefore children of Israel and heirs according to the promise. See also the 70 weeks of Daniel and Romans 2:28-29.
The Bible tells us that Christ came as the Mediator of a New Covenant (See Hebrews 8:6 above). The teaching that the New Covenant abolishes the Ten Commandments reflects a gross misunderstanding of both Covenants. God tells us that He altered the original Covenant and made “a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (See Hebrews 8:6 above). But you will note that nothing is said about it being established on different laws. The law stayed the same. There was however a weakness or fault in the original covenant. That fault was with the people, NOT with the law. “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:” (See Hebrews 8:8 above). It was “because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.” (See Hebrews 8:9 above).
With the Old Covenant, God wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone. It was external and not part of the thinking and motives of the people. It was in their literature but not in their hearts. With the New Covenant, God writes His law “into their minds, and writes them in their hearts” so it will be our hearts desire to obey His law. (See Hebrews 8:10 above).
To enable people to internalize His law, to love it and obey it eagerly and willingly, God makes this promise, Ezekiel 36:26-27 “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
Besides that fact that the New Covenant no longer has or needs the Law of Moses, where does the New Covenant say it is based on New Laws? As you can see, it does not. What was the problem with the Old Covenant? God says it was the people because they did not obey it. The problem was not with the Old Covenant Law but with the people themselves. The Ten Commandments are to last as long as heaven and earth just as Jesus stated in Matthew chapter five. See Matthew 5:17-19. Do we keep the Ten Commandments in the same way as Israel? Not quite. The Bible explains clearly that this is now not enough. We now keep the Ten Commandments the way Jesus explained in Matthew 5:17-48. We now find that Jesus has magnified the law just as prophesied in Isaiah 42:21 and informs us that we are not only to obey the Ten Commandments but we are now to teach them also. The law did not change but it was magnified. Example: From You shall not commit adultery to whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. No change to the law but it is magnified.
How does the New Covenant relate to Law and Grace
Under the Old Covenant, when an Israelite sinned, they had to obey the sacrificial Law of Moses to make reconciliation for their sin. Under the New Covenant, we no longer need obey this old law as Jesus became our one and final perfect sacrifice. So what do we do now when we sin? It is now far more simple. No longer do we need bring a sacrificial lamb to the temple priest and shed its blood. Under the New Covenant today, we repent of our sin and believe by faith in Jesus Christ's redeeming sacrifice that we are forgiven and by God's grace we are. God's grace is His unmerited, undeserved favour that we receive when we repent of our sin, which is breaking the Ten Commandments. 1 John 3:4. God's grace is a privilege we have as a result of our Lord and Saviour's sacrifice on the cross and is not a license to continue in sin. If there were no Ten Commandment law we would have no need for God's grace. God's grace is preceded by the act of genuine repentance of our sin.