Author: Ron Graham
God’s Covenant with Adam
—Before and after the Fall
In this lesson we look at whether God made a covenant with Adam. If so, did this covenant include both Adam and Eve and their descendants? Did the covenant exist before and after the fall? And what was the nature of this “Adamic” covenant?
The idea of a covenant between God and human beings is an important topic in the Bible. Two covenants have a special place in the Bible: the “old covenant” that God made with the Israelites through Moses, and the “new covenant” with the world through Jesus Christ.
In ancient times, God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17). Even earlier, God made a covenant with Noah which included the rainbow as a sign that God would never destroy the world again with a flood (Genesis 9). What about Adam?
1 Did God Make a Covenant with Adam?
Some have come to the conclusion that God made no covenant with Adam. That's because God never used the word "covenant" in anything he said regarding Adam. Only one verse in the Bible mentions a covenant with Adam. "Like Adam they transgressed the covenant" (Hosea 6:7).
However the word translated "Adam" in that verse is translated "men" in many versions, in the sense, "Like men [so often do] they transgressed the covenant". So this verse does not definitely indicate that God had a covenant with Adam.
The absence of the word "covenant", in the biblical record of God’s dealings with Adam, may seem curious. However it does not really mean that no covenant existed. We see, in God s dealings with Adam, and other patriarchs before the flood, all the indications of a covenant in force.
In the Bible, a covenant between God and human beings is observed to be a set of promises made by God. The covenant may include laws and conditions, rewards and punishments. The offering of a sacrifice may be required. Such a covenant can come from God directly, or through a mediator.
Did God make promises to Adam, make laws for him to obey, and decree rewards and punishments? Did the laws include offerings and sacrifices? If so, then God made a covenant with Adam.
Here are some observations...
- God created Adam and Eve uniquely in God’s own image, and he called them “mankind’ He commanded them to " be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over... every living thing" (Genesis 1:27-28, 5:1-2).
- God ordained that herbs and trees should provide food, and God "took Adam and put him in the garden of Eden, to tend and keep it" (Genesis 1:29, 2:8,15). So God appointed Adam a place and an occupation
- God warned Adam not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. "For in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17).
- God said, "It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18). God made a woman and decreed that "a man shall be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).
- God foretold and promised that the seed (a descendant) of the woman would bruise the serpent's head and the serpent would bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15). This is thought, with good reason, to be the first Messianic promise —a promise that, although Satan would cause Christ to suffer, Christ would conquer Satan.
- God said to Eve, "Your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:10).
- God said to Adam, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19).
- "God made tunics of skin and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). It is thought, with good reason, that this meant that God killed animals to obtain the skins, and so made the first sacrifice of flesh and blood for sins, and this foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ.
- God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden where grew the tree of life. God appointed angels to guard the way back (Genesis 3:23-24).
You can see from the above that God decreed several things for Adam to honour and obey. Adam’s spiritual life, through fellowship with God, depended on Adam’s respect for God’s laws. There were punishments for transgressions and disobedience, and of course rewards for faithful obedience. What you see in the list is very strong evidence that God made a covenant with Adam.
2 Who Was Subject to God’s Covenant with Adam?
After Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden, they continued to be under the covenant. Check the points in the list above to see how many extended beyond the expulsion from the garden. Almost all of them, is that not so? Adam and Eve’s sin did not cancel the covenant that God decreed for Adam. Furthermore, their children also were required to abide by the covenant.
Here are some more observations...
- Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve, were apparently required to offer sacrifices of the firstborn of the flock (Genesis 4:1-7).
- Cain committed murder and told a lie, breaking God’s law. Cain was cursed by God and lost his livelihood as punishment (Genesis 4:8-12).
- As human beings began to multiply, "people began to call on the name of the LORD." (Genesis 4:26).
- However, Later, by the time of Noah, humanity had become universally wicked —except for Noah and his family. "Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD." (Genesis 6:8).
We gather from the above points, that the covenant God made with Adam was a covenant to which all the Patriarchs and their families were subject. God reinforced this covenant through Noah; enhanced it through Abraham; added to it another covenant for the Israelites through Moses. Later, God replaced the Adamic covenant, along with the Mosaic covenant. In their stead, God made the new covenant for the whole world through Christ.
3 What was the Nature of God’s Covenant with Adam?
We see all the makings of a covenant in God’s dealings with Adam and his descendants. Let's summarise our lesson by listing seven elements of a Biblical covenant and how they can be seen in Adam and his descendants.
1. Promises to believe.
The Tree of Life in the garden held the promise of eternal life. God promises that those who keep the covenant that God has granted them, will live forever with God after their life on earth (Revelation 22).
A “seed” (or descendant) of Eve would bruise Satan’s head. This “seed”, who is the descendent of Abraham also, would bless all nations of the world. He is the Christ and those who wish to inherit the promises must believe in him (Genesis 22:15-18, Galatians 3:16, Hebrews 6:11-20).
2. Commands and laws to obey.
God made law for Adam and Eve and their descendants. They were expected to keep God’s commandments. They would do this by (for example) tending the garden; producing children; ruling the creation; and of course keeping away from the forbidden tree.
3. Manifold Grace from God.
God made sure that the world he created was "very good" (Genesis 1:31). He created man in his own image. He did acts of kindness. For example he created a companion for Adam. He gave the couple a beautiful garden full of good food.
When he had to banish Adam and Eve from the garden, God did not send them out naked. God made them clothes of animal skin (Genesis 3:213). When Cain likewise was banished from his garden, and sent wandering, God granted this killer immunity from being killed (Genesis 4:13-15).
More than these things, God had a plan of salvation ready, by which all sinners could be forgiven. The seed of Eve would be their hope (Genesis 3:15).
4. Reward for faithfulness.
According to his grace, God rewarded those who showed superior righteousness and faith. Enoch was privileged to not see death because he "walked with God". (Genesis 5:24, Hebrews 11:5). "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" and was saved in the ark from the flood with his family (Genesis 6:8).
5. Wrath for disobedience and unbelief.
God’s commandments came with warnings that disobedience would be punished. Regarding the forbidden tree, God said, "In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). God not only banished them from the life they had known in paradise, but allowed their sin to cut them off from eternal life. That was severe punishment indeed. (Genesis 3:23).
6. Sacrifice For Sins.
As we noted earlier, when Adam and Eve’s sin caused them shame in nakedness, God killed animals to provide garments for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:9-11,21).
Abel killed the firstborn of his flock as a sin offering (Genesis 4:4). Noah, after the flood, buit an altar and "took every clean animal and bird and offered burned offerings upon the altar" (Genesis 8:20).
Those examples show that there was a system of sacrifices for sin in place in the earliest times.
7. Forgiveness of sins.
In view of the sacrifice that would be made by Christ, God was able to provide provisional forgiveness. Whilst "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4), God was able to forgive on the basis that these animal sacrifices would be replaced by Christ’s sacrifice of his own flesh and blood (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 9:15).