In the Old Testament the word covenant comes from the Hebrew berit. It means “ ‘covenant; league; confederacy.’ This word is most probably derived from an Akkadian root meaning ‘to fetter’; it has parallels in Hittite, Egyptian, Assyrian, and Aramaic. Berit is used over 280 times and in all parts of the Old Testament” (W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, “Covenant”).
God’s covenants contain two especially important components: terms and duration. Although humans may reach covenants or other agreements through their own devices, God’s covenants with people are usually unilateral. He alone determines the terms and conditions; humans choose whether to accept them.
For example, after God clearly defined the aspects of the covenant He was making with the nation of Israel, including the blessings for honoring it and the consequences for ignoring it (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28-30), both parties—God and the people of Israel—accepted it.
Through this process God and Israel entered into a covenant relationship, a binding commitment to honor and fulfill their respective roles.
A second important concept for us to understand about God’s covenant with Israel is its continuing relevance to our day. In reaffirming the covenant with the generation of Israelites who were poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses explained that they were doing this “that [God] may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the LORD our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today” (Deuteronomy 29:13-15 Deuteronomy 29:13-15 13 That he may establish you to day for a people to himself, and that he may be to you a God, as he has said to you, and as he has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
14 Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath;
15 But with him that stands here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day:
American King James Version×). The covenant clearly applied to Israel’s descendants as well.
Understanding the continuing nature of the covenant, King David, on the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem, wrote: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! … He is the LORD our God; His judgments are in all the earth. Remember His covenant always, the word which He commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant” (1 Chronicles 16:8-17 1 Chronicles 16:8-17 8 Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the people.
9 Sing to him, sing psalms to him, talk you of all his wondrous works.
10 Glory you in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD.
11 Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually.
12 Remember his marvelous works that he has done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth;
13 O you seed of Israel his servant, you children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
14 He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth.
15 Be you mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations;
16 Even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath to Isaac;
17 And has confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,
American King James Version×).
Covenants are simply binding agreements between two or more parties. God Himself designed the covenant He made with Abraham and his descendants. When God makes a covenant, He will always perform what He has bound Himself to do.