Covenant Law and God’s Promises


When God gave His Covenant Law at Sinai to the ‘children of Israel’ through Moses, did God’s Covenant of Law nullify or render useless God’s earlier Covenant and promises that God had made to Abram and his fleshly descendants through Isaac? Was God’s Covenant with Abram superseded or made of no effect?

God’s Covenant promises to Abram and his fleshly descendants through Isaac were that:

           Abram will be the father of many nations

           Abram’s name is to be changed to Abraham because God has made him the father            of many nations

           This is an everlasting Covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham                  (through Isaac) for generations to come

           God will be their God

           God will give the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession

               For Abram

               For his descendants (including his Seed – Jesus the Messiah)

           Sarai’s name is to changed to Sarah, because she is the mother of many nations

           Abraham and Sarah will have a son who is to be named ‘Isaac’

           God will establish His Covenant with Isaac

God Himself informed Abram that this was an everlasting Covenant. It was not a temporary Covenant that would be rendered idle by any subsequent Covenants.

Covenant Law

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul tells us: ‘The Law, introduced 430 years later, [after Abram at Sinai under Moses], does not set aside the Covenant previously established by God with Abram and thus nor does it do away with the promise. Because if the inheritance [of God’s Kingdom land] depends on the Law then it no longer depends on the promise. But God in his grace gave the inheritance to Abraham through a promise. So if this is the case then why then was the Law given at all? It was added because of transgressions, until the Seed, to whom the promise referred, arrived. The Law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. Is the Law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! Because, if a Law could have been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the Law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, [the inner principle, tendency or drive in our physical constitution that results in our tendency to fulfill mistaken and ungodly desires. Everything is locked up under the control of sin] so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe’. Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody [as if we were under a military guard], we were [enclosed, shut in and locked up] under the Law, until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the Law was our guardian. [The Law was like a young boy’s guardian and tutor in charge of his life and morals; a legally appointed overseer, authorized to develop a child by administering discipline, chastisement and instruction; by doing what was necessary to promote the child’s development] (Galatians 3 v 17 – 23).

Christians and the Law

The Law was our guardian until Jesus the Messiah came, so that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. [We are no longer like a child who is undergoing development by strict instruction]. So in Jesus the Messiah, you are all children of God through faith, because all of you who were immersed into the Messiah have clothed yourselves with the Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, because you are all one in Jesus the Messiah. If you belong to the Messiah then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3 v 24 – 29).

‘Jesus, the One anointed and set apart by God as the Deliverer is the culmination of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes’ (Romans 10 v 4). ‘A person is not justified by working and acting to try and obey the law, but by faith in Jesus the Messiah. So we, too, have put our faith in Jesus the Messiah that we may be justified by faith in the Deliverer chosen and set apart by God, and not by striving and working under the law, because no one will be justified by striving, working and labouring to keep the Law’ (Galatians 2 v 16).

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through [your union with] the body of Jesus the Messiah, in order that you might belong to another- namely – to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God’ (Romans 7 v 4).

Covenant Law and Faith

The principles of the Law on the one hand and Faith on the other hand are, as principles and processes, mutually exclusive – but they are not opposed to one another – they both point to righteousness. But ‘it was not through the Covenant Law at Sinai that Abram and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but rather, it was received through the righteousness that comes by faith. Because if those who depend on the Law are heirs, (if the people who rely on the Law are in line to inherit God’s Kingdom land), then faith means nothing and the promise is worthless – because what the Law does is to bring God’s furious anger. (Why? Because everyone who is under the Covenant Law disobeys it, they break the terms and conditions of the Covenant, and thus they forfeit the Covenant’s privileges and stir up God’s anger)’ (Romans 4 v 13 – 14). The Law revealed sin and transgression.

The Gentiles on the other hand, remained in relative ignorance. They had the laws of nature and principle of conscience, but they were not under the Covenant Law of Sinai. Even so, there could be no hope for either of these groups of escaping the accusation that they violated the respective Covenants that they were under. ‘Therefore, God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all’ (Romans 11 v 32).

The promise comes by faith, not by Law

‘Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the Law (Abraham’s physical descendants), but also to those who have the faith of Abraham (Children of promise). He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Against all hope, Abraham, in hope, believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead’ (Romans 4 v 16 – 24).

The gospel message to the ‘children of Israel’

Regarding ‘the ‘children of Israel’ – the fleshly descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son today I have become your father.’ God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ So it is also stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; (died); he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification that you were not able to obtain under the Sinaitic Covenant Law given through Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: ‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, because I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe even if someone told you’ (Acts 13 v 32 – 41).

The rejection of the good news of Jesus the Deliverer by the Jews

But of course, in the main, the ‘children of Israel’- the Jews – have rejected the gospel and they have rejected Jesus as their Messiah – the one chosen and anointed by God to be their Deliverer. So has God’s Word come to nothing? Have God’s promises failed? Not at all! The apostle Paul tells us: ‘It is not as though God’s word had failed. Because not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. Because this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son” (Romans 9 v 6 – 9).

Are you fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he has promised?


About Robert Laynton

Robert Laynton has a B.Sc.(Hons.) degree in psychology and was a member of the British Psychological Society, becoming a member of their Transpersonal Psychology Division and a contributor to their Journal, 'The Transpersonal Review'. He also gained a Post Graduate Certificate and Diploma in counselling. He likes photography, walking, jazz, reading American Crime Fiction from the 40's, 50's and 60's and enjoys watching older films, especially film noir. He lives in England.
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