In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all the living creatures thereof. Everything God created was good, but only one thing was created in His image— mankind. In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion... over all the earth” [ESV]. In the time and culture in which this was written, the king of a nation was understood to be the image or living representation of a certain god. This idea indicated two things: 1) the king’s relationship to that god as his son and 2) the king’s relationship to the nation as its ruler. Both of these were understood as covenant relationships.
Whether or not a covenant was actually made between God and creation in Genesis 1 is debated since the word “covenant” is never explicitly used in the chapter. However, the language used there (as well as the language used with Noah discussed later in this post) strongly implies that this type of commitment between God and humanity did in fact take place. Imagine if I described to you a special day in my life. I told you that I wore a white dress and walked down an aisle with a bouquet. Jarrett waited at the other end wearing a tux. We exchanged vows and rings and the preacher pronounced us man and wife. What am I describing here? I never once used the word “wedding,” but I doubt there's anyone reading this blog who didn’t know exactly what I was talking about.* The fact that a particular word wasn’t used wouldn’t have kept the original readers from understanding the concept.
When God created man (specifically Adam) in His image, He established him as His son and gave him the task of ruling over the earth on his behalf. (God established His rule on the earth through His covenant relationship with man, hence the name God's Kingdom through God's Covenant.) In keeping with the covenant of “sonship,” God faithfully provided for Adam. He gave him trees and plants for food, a river for water, and a wife as a companion and helper. As a faithful son, Adam was to walk in the ways of his Father and reflect His image to all creation. Regarding his role as “ruler,” God explicitly gave Adam dominion over all the earth, both the land and the animals. God told him to be fruitful and multiply and gave him one other commandment: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
In Genesis 3, after being influenced by the serpent, Adam and Eve broke the covenant by eating from the one tree God commanded them not to. As Gentry and Wellum argue, “the conditions for maintaining love, loyalty, and trust in the covenant relationship were not met” (GKtGC, p. 91). Adam and Eve wanted to be like God and to determine right and wrong for themselves, rather than to trust God regarding this distinction. They did not follow the terms set out for maintaining a relationship with God (see post #2). As a result of their sin, the image of God they were given was not totally lost, but their roles as both “sons” and “rulers” were now broken and distorted. Their lives were no longer marked by close intimacy with the Lord, but by distance and rebellion. And the roles God had given them in the earth were no longer characterized by joy and fruitfulness, but by pain and turmoil.
The Covenant with Noah
After the initial fall of Adam and Eve, the human race continued to spiral down into sin and destruction until “every intention of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5 [ESV]). God brought divine judgment in the form of a flood that wiped out all living creatures from the earth, sparing eight people by way of an ark— Noah and his family. In explaining His plan to Noah, God said, “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Gen. 6:18 [ESV]). According to Gentry and Wellum, the Hebrew phrase here translated “establish my covenant” is used consistently in Scripture to indicate the affirming of a covenant previously made. There is a different Hebrew phrase used when a new covenant is being initiated. So, in Genesis 6–9, God started over with creation and passed his original covenant with Adam down to Noah and his descendants. Noah became a new covenant head over a new creation, or essentially a “new Adam.” God’s promises to humanity during creation were given to Noah, along with a new promise to never again destroy all of creation with a flood. Like Adam, Noah was given dominion over all things and commissioned to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (compare Gen. 9:1 to Gen. 1:28). He was also given a few new stipulations since this covenant was made in a fallen world, compared to the creation covenant, which was made before Genesis 3. Even after this cataclysmic act of judgment from God and a brand new start to creation, the state of the human heart remained unchanged (Gen. 8:21). By the end of Genesis 9, Noah, like Adam, ended up naked and ashamed. The people continued to break their covenant with God and practice all kinds of evil. Yet God, in His amazing grace, did not put an end to His relationship with humanity.
As the first covenant head, Adam was the designated representative of the human race. God gave him life, centered around the call to be a faithful and obedient son and to rule on His behalf. Yet Adam acted in distrust and disobedience, leading himself (and thereby the human race) into sin and death. God eventually passed His original covenant down to Noah, who took on the role of the “new Adam.” Yet Noah (and his descendants) also failed to be a wholly faithful covenant partner. Mankind remained in a sinful and hopeless state as they continued to believe the lie of the serpent and to rebel against their Creator.
Sin brought condemnation to the world, but in Genesis 3:15, God promised this curse would not last forever. He promised that one day, a descendent of Adam and Eve would crush the head of the serpent and renew what had been lost in the fall. One day, man would have a new representative— a better son and a better ruler. Just as the curse of sin was brought about by one covenant head, so the hope of salvation would be ushered in by another.
Suggested Reading: Genesis 1-9, Romans 5:12-21
*Gentry and Wellum use a similar illustration in ch. 4 of GKtGC, but with the example of the word “king” rather than “wedding.”
**The ideas in this blog series are a synthesis of Dr. Peter Gentry’s and Dr. Stephen Wellum’s presentation of the covenants in God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenant. For deeper study on this topic, I highly recommend this resource.
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