The Scriptures present two covenants: the everlasting (which later became the new) and the old covenant.
The Everlasting Covenant
This covenant is God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. This covenant was given to Adam and Eve in Eden (Genesis 3:15) and later renewed to Abraham (Genesis 15). The Everlasting Covenant represented the setting into operation of a plan that can restore man to his lost position. Man needed forgiveness of his sins. And this would be achieved through the sacrificial death of the Messiah (John 3:16).
Man’s character needed to reflect God’s image. And for this to happen, the Lord promised His power and grace to give man the ability to overcome sin (Ephesians 2:8,9). Although this covenant for salvation was made with Adam, it was available to all people in all ages (Acts 2:21; Romans 5:18; 10:13). In the New Testament, this same covenant became known as the new covenant, because it was confirmed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The Old Covenant
The old covenant was never designed to take the place of the everlasting covenant; neither was it intended to be an alternative way of salvation. But the historical background to the Israelites shows that they had lost their knowledge of the true God and of His laws. Therefore, they simply needed time to learn.
God began His education at Sinai by teaching His children that the goal of His plan was to bring their lives in line with His character. However, the goal was given tangibly, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:5, 6).
At that time, the Israelites didn’t fully comprehend God’s purpose. And they answered, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). Regrettably, the Israelites did not progress in their spiritual learning. They only understood the importance of obedience. And they tried to gain God’s favor by an external obedience to His law. But the Lord desired them to see the importance of having a heart religion and the need to seek God’s grace for obedience.
The New Testament
Except for few individual cases, the general failing attitude of the Israelites continued throughout the whole Old Testament period. In mercy, the Lord sent His prophets to call the people for renewing their relationship with Him but the people rejected their messages.
However, Israel’s unfaithfulness didn’t change the faithfulness of God. For He was willing to enter into a new covenant relationship when they repent. Realizing human’s inability to overcome, the Lord promised them “a new covenant.” By this plan, man becomes holy through faith in the Redeemer and Sanctifier (Hebrews 8:8–10).
The Israelites had been unsuccessful to obey God’s law because they tried to be righteous through their own fruitless efforts. Unfortunately, because of their continued apostasy, the fulfillment of His promise was delayed until the New testament times, when the permanence of the covenant was guaranteed in that it no longer depended upon a national base, but upon an individual base (Galatians 3).
In His service,