The First Covenant



When God finished creation He looked at it and declared that it was very good. It wasn’t just good – it was very good. Right here, Christians take a different perspective than many ‘Inner Spiritual’ perspectives such as for example Christian Gnosticism and some Christian mystical approaches. You see, many ‘Inner Spiritual’ perspectives see the material world, the physical universe, as being intrinsically or inherently ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. The material realm is seen as something to withdraw from, escape from or ultimately transcend in a transcendent, detached state. Within at least some approaches within Christian Gnosticism or ‘Inner Wisdom’, God is seen as a ‘demiurge’ – a ‘demi-god’ – and an incompetent and/or mischievous one at that. The material realm is seen as ‘inferior’; the result of mischievous acts on the part of half a God; it is seen as undesirable. But this is not how the bible describes God or creation. God is portrayed as Majestically Supreme and His creation – the universe – is seen as very good.

But of course we all know that it isn’t very good – not now anyway. The world is somewhat of a degraded shadow of what it was originally. We look around and we see suffering, illness, death, greed and corruption. We see environments that are inhospitable and life-threatening. What we see around us leads many people to say things like ‘Well, if God is a God of love then why is there so much pain and suffering? I don’t think that there is a God!’ Of course it may well be that the sort of God that they are talking about is a ‘god’ that we as Christians do not believe in either.

So, let’s go back to the beginning as best we can. Much is lost in the mists of time and sometimes the bible passages are enigmatic, but when everything was very good, Adam and Eve were placed in what seemed to be an environmental paradise – they were in a situation that seemed to be very harmonious and conducive to them. Adam and Eve constituted the pinnacle of God’s very good creation. They reflected God’s image both to creation and to God Himself. There was close harmony and fellowship – unity or union – between the spiritual and material realms such that God regularly walked about in the garden that He had created for Adam and Eve and His movement, His voice, or both could be heard (Genesis 3 v 8). This is the only reference that we have of God walking with humankind in such close communion and in such a free manner in the entire history of humanity.

The Adamic Covenant

God made a conditional Covenant with Adam and Eve and particularly with Adam as the representative head of humanity. This was a universal Covenant – it was not made with just a section of humanity or a specific group, nation or race within humanity. It was a Covenant made with the whole of humanity, represented in or contained within Adam. In this Covenant we see the purpose, place and meaning of humanity in God’s ‘very good’ creation. Why has God made human beings? To what end were they made? What is the role of humanity in creation, in the world in which they live? How do they obtain meaning and a sense of purpose? The answers to these questions are stated here in this first Covenant.

There are five aspects that are related to these themes. Human beings were created to:

  • 1) Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1 v 28a). The earth was to be filled with people.
  • 2) Subdue or govern the earth (Genesis 1 v 28b). Human beings were encouraged to effectively take charge and to use the natural resources and energies of the earth that God has provided. However, this does not mean that they are allowed to pollute, excessively exploit or destroy it.
  • 3) Have dominion or ruling authority over all living things (Genesis 1 v 28c). The entire animal kingdom on the earth, in the air and in the sea was placed under the authority of humanity. The first exercise of this authority was the naming of the animals (Genesis 2 v 19 – 20).
  • 4) Have a vegetarian diet (Genesis 1 v 29 – 30; 2 v 16). There is nothing in this Covenant that allows people to eat animals even though people were to exercise authority over animals. ‘God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’ No blood of any kind was to be shed in order to provide food.
  • 5) Look after and to keep the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2 v 15). Because creation was very good, such labour was easy and the land produced crops easily – it was not an arduous task. In other words, people were to be ‘stewards’ or ‘caretakers’ of the earth.

A conditional aspect in the Covenant

So far so good, but God’s Covenant with Adam also contains a conditional element or aspect. God’s instruction was:

       Avoid eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2 v 17a).

Conditions are applied to this instruction and it is this – if Adam and Eve fail to follow this instruction or deliberately disobey it then:

       There would be separation from God and death (Genesis 2 v 17b)

Most of us will know that the Genesis narrative tells us that Adam and Eve did indeed disobey this Covenant instruction. As a result they fell out of God’s favour and following this, God’s walking with mankind became very qualified or restricted. Contact and communication between God and humanity did not cease entirely however. But as a result of this disobedience or failure an insensitivity to and separateness from God was initiated and mortality became part of humanity’s lot. Adam as the man/husband stood as the representative head of the entire human race and therefore God’s judgment on Adam was also God’s judgment on the whole human race. From now on humanity would find itself in a very different situation. Because of Adam and Eve’s failure to obey the conditional aspect of God’s Covenant, God:

  • 1) Placed a curse on the serpent – on Satan the Accuser – because he had lied to and deceived Adam and Eve.
  • 2) Declared that the woman/wife would:

                            Give birth in painful circumstances

                            Be in subjection to the man/husband

  • 3) Declared that the man’s efforts at self-sustenance would be characterized by hard work. Sweat would characterize his work that would from now on be hard, frustrating and toilsome.
  • 4) Placed a curse on the earth such that it would not respond so easily to human efforts at cultivation – it would produce thorns, thistles and weeds. Accordingly Adam and Eve were banished from the ideal environment of the garden and were prevented from being able to return.
  • 5) The human diet continued to be vegetarian. Animals were used for dairy products and their wool was used for clothing. Adam and Eve became aware and ashamed of their nakedness and God provided clothes to cover their nakedness. The exception to killing animals was in their use in connection with sacrificial offerings to God, but they were not to be killed in order to provide food.
  • 6) And of course, as God had warned, death did indeed come about. This death has a twofold aspect – first there is our physical death – everyone dies. Secondly there is a spiritual death – a separation pr distancing between humanity and God. The natural state of union and fellowship with God was severed. God no longer walked freely in the garden. Taken together these form the first death.

This becomes the new situation for Adam, Eve and their descendants. As a result of Adam and Eve breaking the Covenant, all of humanity finds itself in a creation, a world, that is not very good anymore and that no longer properly reflects God. There is pain, subjection, hard frustrating work, a less friendly and less responsive environment and ultimately death.

God and fallen creation

But another key Christian theme is that God did not give up on His creation, even though it was now corrupted and cursed. God did not withdraw to the edges of the universe to leave the world and humanity to take its own course whilst God remained uninvolved, disinterested and detached. Neither did God decide that the whole thing had been a mistake and that therefore the best thing to do was to destroy the world and start again. God has no intention of destroying his creation, the world – though there were and there will be times when it comes close. God’s intention, God’s plan and purpose is to restore creation and humanity to its proper, intended condition, to bring creation back to how it was intended to be.

God’s plan of deliverance and restoration announced

Thus, in the midst of declaring these penalties as a result of the Covenant being broken, God also gave a promise of a Deliverer. It is vague, enigmatic and obscure. God declared to serpent/Satan: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’(Genesis 3 v 15). This is generally taken as a reference to Jesus, the One set apart and anointed by God, the Messiah. In effect, it is stated that the eminent seed of the woman will bruise the head of Satan, that is, overcome him and all his principalities and powers, and the Serpent will bruise the heel of the Messiah; the heel of a man being what the serpent can most easily attack. The serpent wounds the heel that crushes him; and so Satan is permitted to afflict the Messiah.

The Adamic Covenant and us today

I do not think that the Adamic Covenant is rescinded or withdrawn in any passage in the Bible. It is a Covenant made by God with all of humanity through Adam and the purpose and meaning of humanity stated in this Covenant still remains. But of course it is also a broken Covenant – broken for all of humanity through Adam. The consequences and effects of Adam’s disobedience are passed down from generation to generation. Our essential human nature – the balance of our physiological makeup – has been affected, corrupted and distorted, such that everyone is born with an inherent inclination towards disobedience in relation to God. This Covenant is broken not only by Adam and Eve, but also by each of us in our day-to-day lives. We have all, in our own lives, broken this Covenant, yet its obligations and privileges remain in force.


About Robert Laynton

Robert Laynton likes photography, walking, jazz, reading American Crime Fiction from the 40's, 50's and 60's and vintage comics. He enjoys watching classic films, especially film noir. He lives in England.
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6 Responses to The First Covenant

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