The New Covenant succeeds, or arises from and out of, God’s old covenant with Abram (who God later renamed Abraham). In this article we will see that the Old Covenant was a covenant of flesh. God first established the covenant with Abram in Genesis 15. The word translated “covenant” is the Hebrew word ber-eeth’ which means “an agreement or contract made by passing between pieces of flesh.” Here is the Genesis 15 account.
After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
7 And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
8 And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces [pieces of flesh].
18 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates…. (Genesis 15:1-18)
About fifteen years later, after Abraham had attempted to establish the covenant in his own flesh and procreated Ishmael (who became the perpetual thorn in the flesh of the spiritual man), God renewed the covenant.
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. (Genesis 17:1-2)
Here God reveals his ultimate goal regarding his covenants with man, that he would walk before him in perfection just as he himself is perfect. But, men had many lessons to learn before this could ever become reality. Thus the LORD continued explaining to to Abram, saying,
4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
15 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.
16 And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.
17 Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?
18 And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.
21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. (Genesis 17:4-21)
Here once again we see that God established his old covenant by the cutting of flesh. In order to remain under the Old Covenant every Israelite male child had to be cut in his flesh, he had to be circumcised. If he was not so cut, then his “soul” would be “cut off from his people.” By this we see that the Old Covenant was a covenant of flesh. Paul’s teachings make it very clear that no one will ever be perfected in their flesh, and yet “perfect” is exactly what God called Abraham to be. Paul says, “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3) The obvious answer here is, “No, we cannot be made perfect by our flesh.” Also, remember that the book of Galatians deals almost exclusively with the Christian heresy of Paul’s time which demanded that Christians become circumcised in order to be saved, in order to be true Christians. By this Paul was showing the distinction between the Old and the New Covenants. The Old was a covenant of flesh, the New a covenant of spirit.
Regarding our flesh Paul also says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18) Concerning this distinction between flesh and spirit Jesus says, “It is the spirit that quickeneth [gives life]; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) Clearly both Jesus and Paul think very little of man’s ability to please God by his own fleshly efforts. God revealed his standards of right conduct in his old covenant laws, but both Jesus and Paul affirm that man cannot perfectly obey those laws. Thus we see that the old covenant of flesh was destined to fail because man in and by his flesh could never walk in the perfection which God requires. Men required something more than the laying down of right precepts in order to please God. They needed to eat God’s body and drink his blood, said Jesus. They needed the very life of God himself. This is why God himself came in the flesh and established a new covenant. Once again a covenant was established through torn flesh, but this time the flesh was God’s own flesh, and it resulted in tearing the veil that separated God from man and allowed man to enter into God’s spiritual presence.