God’s Covenant with Adam

Adam’s name means “humankind.” He represents all of humanity. Let’s see what we can learn from his story.

Please note: nowhere does Gen. 1-5 mention the word covenant, so if you see no covenant there, then you may be right. But let’s find out why many Bible interpreters and theologians see one.

As noted in every article about biblical covenants, here is a working definition of covenant:

Out of his great love for his highest creation, people, God unilaterally reaches out to them and initiates an unalterable legal agreement, in which he stipulates the terms that reveal how he relates to people, and they to him.

More simply:

A covenant is an unalterable legal agreement, in which God stipulates the terms that reveal how he relates to people, and they to him.

The main points are that he takes the initiative and spells out the terms of the agreement. We cannot strut up to God and demand that he relates to us in our way. That’s arrogant and presumptuous because our strutting and demanding fail to understand that he is the one in charge of his creation. He imposes the agreement on his highest creation, humankind, and they can certainly reject or accept it, out of their free will.

The first covenant we study is called the Adamic Covenant or the Covenant of Nature. Since all covenants have component parts, so does this one, as follows:

1.. God’s initiative

By creating Humankind, God initiated the covenant with him. Humankind did not negotiate with God. It is God’s divine covenant which he imposed on Humankind, since God created him and therefore had every right to do this. It is important to realize this biblical truth, or else we will believe that God asks permission. Or we will wrongly believe that we can do enough good works for God to notice us in the first place. So the Adamic Covenant was not initiated by Humankind by his doing good works. It was not, therefore, a covenant of works, but God’s grace initiative.

However, some theologians argue that the Adamic Covenant is based on works, but this seems weak if it means his works earned and initiated it.

It is not as if humankind had to do something to keep the covenant, other than just living at peace in the garden and eating of the tree of life. But he could do something to break it, which was to eat of the wrong tree, the tree of knowing good and evil.

2.. Type of covenant

This was a suzerain-vassal covenant. Humankind was a subject of his sovereign lord, who granted Humankind all the earth in a land grant, for absolute loyalty and obedience to the Lord of heaven and earth.

Alternatively, it could be a Royal Grant of land. Humankind was to care for the land God gave him and her. It was passed down to their descendants, if they remained loyal and obedient. They did not.

3.. Parties involved

They were God and Humankind. God made him in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), so this means God had a special relationship with Humankind that the other created animals did not and could not have. Thus, the Adamic Covenant involves all humankind, because he stands in for us; all Humankind bears the image of God. So this covenant was universal and for all living humans, including us. It was the covenant of life.

4.. Stipulations and obligations and promises

This aspect of the covenant could also be called requirements or conditions.

a.. Promises for keeping the covenant

In Gen. 2:15-17, God placed Humankind in the garden and commanded him to care it. God was to have close contact and relationship with humankind. God obligated himself to care for Humankind in a personal relationship with him.

In Gen. 3:22 the promise was life eternal. He could eat of the tree of life, which speaks of an intimate relationship with God, far beyond moral law. God was to be Humankind’s conscience and guide for living righteously. He could eat of the tree of life and so live forever in close communion with God. So the Adamic Covenant was a covenant of life.

b.. Consequences for breaking the covenant

The other command was a prohibition not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (moral law). Therefore, the covenant could be broken if Humankind ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which happened (Gen. 3:1-13). The penalty would be death (Gen. 2:17). God would punish his highest creation (Gen. 3:17-19). Eternal life was to be taken from him.

After Humankind broke the covenant, God placed cherubim (angel-like heavenly creatures to do God’s will) and ordered a flaming sword to go back and forth before the path and to block it, in case Humankind would become like God because he knew good and evil and would have eternal life (Gen. 3:14-19). This speaks of the loss of intimate relationship with God.

5.. Ratification

This means officially approving, sanctioning, and confirming the agreement.

It is not clear in Humankind’s case, but it seems to be ratified when God made the garden and placed Humankind in it and then issued the terms of the agreement. The ratification is his creation and placement of Humankind in his creation.

6.. Fulfillment of the covenant

Covenants have multiple fulfillments as it moves down the corridor of time. The Adamic Covenant is no different.

First, God still gives life, so even though Humankind broke the covenant, God still fulfills his side of the agreement, from Genesis to Revelation. Humankind is still alive.

Second, when humankind broke the covenant, God clothed humankind (man and woman) with animal skins. This foreshadows the animals sacrifices in Leviticus, which in turns foreshadows the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Heb. 8-9).

Third, Gen. 3:15 speaks of woman’s seed or offspring bruising or crushing the head of the serpent, and the ultimate fulfillment came through Christ, her greatest offspring, when he defeated Satan on the cross (Col. 2:14; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

Fourth, Christ perfectly obeyed God’s will (John 6:38; Rom. 5:18-19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), which reversed the curse and consequences of Adam’s fall (Rom. 5:15-19).

How does this post help me grow in Christ and know God better?

Humankind used to have fellowship with God as the preincarnate Christ walked through the garden with his highest creation (Humankind) all the way back in Genesis. By virtue of your connection to Humankind—by your being a human—you too were called to have that level of relationship with God. God created you to have intimate fellowship and a personal relationship with him. You are made in his image.

However, because of your sin nature, which you got naturally through Humankind, again by virtue of your being a human, that fellowship was broken. Now you were wandering around, lost and dazed and confused. You are on drugs; you are addicted to TV and social media; you are in dysfunctional relationships; you are a workaholic. Even your thoughts turn against you, saying awful and negative things to you. Satan attacks your mind, as well. Such is life without God.

Now, however, your fellowship and relationship can be restored through Christ who fulfilled the terms and intentions of the Covenant of Nature, the Adamic Covenant. His sacrificial death on the cross offers atonement (blotting out and wiping away) for your sins. You have been reconciled to God, not him to you, for he never moved! The way back to the garden, so to speak, is open—the garden of intimate relationship with God through your redeemer, Jesus Christ.


Bible Basics about Covenants

The Sinai Covenant

God’s New Covenant

One Decisive Difference Between Sinai Covenant and New Covenant

What Is Grace?

What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?

Do Christians Have to ‘Keep’ the Ten Commandments?

Ten Commandments: God’s Great Compromise with Humanity’s Big Failure

How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19


Works Cited

At that link, see the NIV Study Bible.


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