The apostle Paul declares that there are two covenants that God made with men: “[…] for these are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children to bondage” (Gal. 4:24). This was the first covenant that Jehovah made with the people of Israel after delivering them from the yoke of Egypt by the hands of Moses. This first one was the covenant of slavery under the law of Jehovah, and its curses: “Nevertheless they shall be his servants, that they may know my service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries” (2 Chr. 12:8). The word “servants” implies slavery, for the people of Israel, in their captivities, were slaves, in horrible conditions (Lam. 5:1-16).
The story of the covenant of Jehovah with Israel happened in this way: The people of Israel were captive in Egypt for 330 years, which, added to the 70 years of peace before Joseph’s death, comes to 400 years. Moses, sent by Jehovah, delivered Israel with the miraculous rod and, crossing the Red Sea, led them to Mount Sinai. Moses went up the mountain and received the two tables of stone, which Jehovah dictated from the top of the mount in fire, surrounded by storms and darkness (Heb. 12:18-21). While Moses, during 40 days, received the two tables of stone, the statutes, and the judgments the people at the foot of the mountain gave themselves to lust before the golden calf. Then Moses threw the tablets from his hands, and ground it to dust at the foot of the mountain (Ex. 32:19-24). In this way the covenant of Jehovah with Israel was canceled before it began. The people wandered in the desert for 40 years. The entire generation that left Egypt died in the desert. Only their children were left, whom Jehovah made to inherit the land of Canaan together with Joshua and Caleb (Num. 14:28-38).
At the end of the 40 years Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Pentateuch (the word “Deuteronomy” is Greek, and means “second law”). Jehovah made a second covenant with his people before they entered in the Promised Land (Deut. 29:1-13). In this case there were not two covenants, but a re-edition of the first one, of 40 years before. In this re-edition Jehovah promises to not forgive infractions, and to destroy the people, as he did with Sodom and Gomorrah (Deut. 29:18-25). The people of Israel, though, taken by Jehovah into Egypt, there at his birth drank the milk of corruption and idolatry. They were divided then in two kingdoms. Jehovah said: “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city which I have chosen, even Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there’” (2 Kings 23:27).
Jehovah, then, makes a third promise saying through the mouth of Jeremiah that he would bring Israel and Judah from captivity to take possession of the Promised Land (Jer. 30:3). “Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together; for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow” (Jer. 31:13). “Behold, the days come, says Jehovah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them, says Jehovah. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Jehovah: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:32-33). In the letter to the Hebrews we can read the same words that Jeremiah said about the new covenant (Heb. 8:8-10). The majority of Christians has understood that this second covenant is that of Christ’s death on the cross. They think that the covenant mentioned in the letter to the Hebrews is that of the New Testament, and in this case it proves that Jehovah is the Father of Jesus Christ. Now, the covenant made by Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah was the same that Moses made on mount Sinai, for it says: “I will put my law in their inward parts”. But the Christians have died to the law (Rom. 7:6). And in the letter to the Hebrews: “For there is an annulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect)” (Heb. 7:18-19).
The covenant of Jehovah with Israel was based in the obedience of the Jews to the Law of Moses. The covenant of the New Testament is based on the sacrifice of Christ, and not on the obedience of men.
It is written about the new covenant: “But now he has obtained a more excellent ministry, by so much as he is also the mediator of a better covenant, which on better promises has been given as law. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second” (Heb. 8:6-7). The text of Hebrews is clear: a more excellent ministry, a better covenant, and better promises. The ministry of the Old Testament is different from the ministry of the New Testament (2 Cor. 3:7-9). The inheritance of each covenant is different.
The apostle Paul has the last word about the two covenants: “Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, don’t you listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid, and one by the free woman. However, the son by the handmaid was born according to the flesh, but the son by the free woman was born through promise. These things contain an allegory, for these are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to the Jerusalem that exists now, for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:21-26).
The first covenant, according to Paul, is the one of Hagar and Ishmael, the mother according to the flesh and the son of the flesh. Those of the flesh and of the first covenant will have the earthly Jerusalem as an inheritance, of which Sarah is the figure. The ones of the first covenant will inherit dust and matter, and the ones of the promise will inherit the kingdom of heavens (2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 1:3-4). The slaves of the flesh cannot inherit together with the children of the promise, which are spiritual, and begotten by the Holy Spirit. So, John, speaking about the new birth, says: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). The children of the slave woman are slaves, but the children of the free woman are free.
Paul continues to speak on the two covenants: “But as then, he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. However what does the Scripture say? “Throw out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the handmaid will not inherit with the son of the free woman. So then, brothers, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free woman” (Gal. 4:29-31). If the children of the slave woman do not inherit together with the ones of the second covenant, it is clear that the covenant of the law is not part of Jesus Christ; therefore, there are two covenants, with two authors and two heads. To believe in the author of the first covenant is to invalidate the covenant of Jesus Christ (Gal. 5:1-4).
By Pastor Olavo Silveira Pereira