The Covenant of Grace in the Pentateuch

Ever since the Covenant of Works was transgressed in the Garden by Adam and Eve, God has established a means of redemption for humanity. This means of redemption is often referred to as the Covenant of Grace and is the expression of the Covenant of Redemption which the Father made with Christ in eternity.

The Covenant of Grace is God’s promise to redeem a people to Himself. It is a promise on the part of God Himself, to restore the peace and fellowship between God and man that was broken when Adam transgressed the Covenant of Works. The Covenant of Grace is the promise of living personal communion and friendship between God’s elect people and Himself that is only made possible through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The Covenant of Grace is a major theme in the Pentateuch as it is established and developed. However, it never reaches its full revelation until the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is recounted in the Gospels. While the essence of the Covenant of Grace is the same in both the Old and New Testaments, is was administered differently in the Old Testament. This paper will seek to establish how the Covenant of Grace was established and developed in the Pentateuch.

The Covenant of Grace is probably developed the most in the Book of Genesis. Immediately after the Fall, God establishes the Covenant of Grace with Adam in His declaration of the protoevangelion in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”[1] In this verse, there is the first gospel promise immediately after the Fall. God is promising that He will provide a seed from the line of the woman who will crush the opponent and enemy of man: the serpent. While this seed will crush and destroy the serpent’s head, it will come at a cost: the bruising of the seed’s heel. Therefore, some sacrifice must be made on the part of the seed in order for the serpent to be crushed. This is evidently a gracious act on the part of the Lord. Man deserved to die for breaking the Covenant of Works, but God instead provides man a way of salvation promised in the protoevangelion and typified in the coats of skin that He made for Adam and Eve.

The history of Abraham is especially remarkable in the development of the Covenant of Grace. God had promised Abraham that he would have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky (Gen. 15:5). Yet, all his life, Abraham waited for God to grant Him one son. He waited all His life for God to grant Him seed so that that promise could be fulfilled. Then, when Isaac is finally born, God commands Abraham to sacrifice him. Abraham remarkably goes ahead and proceeds to sacrifice him, telling his servants to remain with the donkeys and that they would go sacrifice. Yet, Abraham states that they would both return (Gen. 22:5). Abraham had every intention of sacrificing Isaac, and yet he knew they would both return. Abraham must have then trusted in the resurrection power of God, knowing that He could raise Isaac from the dead. But, Abraham did not have to see the resurrection power. God saw the faith of Abraham and stopped him from offering his son. Instead, God provided a ram to be sacrificed. Abraham thus named the place the “Jehovah-Jireh”: the Lord will provide. While this phrase is popular among pagan prosperity preachers, it is not a reference to material blessings. It is a reference to Jesus Christ, the Seed who would be offered as the perfect sacrifice for sin and thus Jesus is able to say of Abraham in John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

The Covenant of Grace is clearly manifested in the book of Exodus when Israel is at Mount Sinai. The Mosaic Covenant is by no means a covenant of works as so many argue today. Rather, it is a further development and restatement of the Covenant of Grace. This is undoubtedly evident in the history of the Golden Calf narrated in Exodus 32 – 34. After Israel worshipped the Golden Calf, the Lord was furiously angry with them for their willful and blatant transgression of His Law. God would have had every right to destroy them from off the face of the earth. He tests Moses by threatening to do so, but Moses properly reminds God of His reputation among the heathen nations and His own covenant faithfulness: that he has made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses’ intercession (a type of Christ’s intercession) for the people of Israel results in this wondrous declaration of the Lord:

And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6 – 7)

This verse clearly illustrates that God is merciful and longsuffering, namely, He is gracious to an undeserving people. God goes in further in displaying His grace. He promises Israel in Exodus 34:10 – 28 that He will surely grant them the land of Canaan, by driving out all the inhabitants of the land.

One of the main themes in the Book of Leviticus is the establishment of the sacrificial system. The sacrificial system was not instituted with the thought that the blood of bulls and goats could somehow redeem man’s soul. Quite the contrary. These sacrifices instituted in Leviticus had to be offered year after year and only purified man’s flesh. Through the sacrificial system, God was demonstrating how He was going to bring the Covenant of Grace to fruition. One of the pinnacles of the sacrificial system was the Day of Atonement related in Leviticus 16. It was only on this day that the highpriest was to enter the most holy place and sprinkle the sacrificial blood on the horns of the altar. This was done to atone for the sins of the people before the Lord (Lev. 16:30). However, the Day of Atonement, to be observed every year, could not redeem the people of Israel. It only pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of the seed foretold in Genesis 3:15. Thus, the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 9:11 – 14:

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

What the sacrificial system pointed to, made it possible for the priests to bless the people. The Aaronic Blessing in Numbers 6:24 – 27 is a clear statement of the Covenant of Grace. Numbers 6:22 – 27 states, “’The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.’ So they [i.e. the priests] shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” How is it possible for a God, who is infinitely holy and righteous, to bless a people who transgress His moral law and thus are deserving of death? It is only grace that makes this possible. It is only God’s unmerited favour towards a rebellious people that allows Him to bless them. It is only the Covenant of Grace that makes it possible for the Lord to bless them.

Finally, neither the Aaronic Blessing nor the Covenant of Grace were given because of the righteousness of the people of Israel. This is manifestly evident in the Book of Deuteronomy. God states in Deuteronomy 9:4 – 6 that it is only because of His covenant faithfulness and His judgment of the heathen nations that they are being blessed with the land:

Do not think in your heart, after the Lord your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.

God is merciful to His people ultimately because He chose to be. It is nothing inherent in His people that made them more precious in His sight. The Covenant of Grace is just that: it is all of grace. Nothing in man is deserving of God’s blessing, but God chose to bless His chosen people anyways.

Therefore, in conclusion, it is fictitious nonsense to believe that salvation for the Old Testament church is different than that of the New Testament church. The Pentateuch is very clear that redemption is only possible through the salvific work of the seed. Obedience to the Law was not a requirement for God to be merciful to Israel. Time and time again, they transgressed His law, but He was always faithful to His covenant. It is never the righteousness of the church (whether in the Old or New Testament) that merits favour with God. It is only the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to God’s chosen people that allows God to display His unconditional and gracious love.

[1] All Bible quotations taken from The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982)

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