A covenant is simply a contract that ancient men would make with one another. They made covenants over land, family ties, and marriages. Like a modern day contract or agreement, men would bind themselves to the stipulations of the covenant. For example, two men might make a covenant of peace with one another. They might say, “Our covenant is that we will agree not to attack one another.” They would both enter into that covenant (or contract) together. We see covenants being made throughout the Bible: Abraham and Abimelech (Gen. 21:27), Laban and Jacob (Gen. 31:44ff), David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:3; 23:18), Solomon and Hiram (1 Kings 5:12), and even husbands and wives (Mal. 2:14; Ezek. 16:8).
1. Abrahamic Covenant
God made a contract with Abraham. To confirm this contract, God (1) stated the contract, (2) signed the contract, and (3) gave a symbol for the contract.
1. God STATED the contract
Abram was a pagan, living in the land of Ur, when God reached out to him for the first time (Gen. 11). God made at least three promises in his covenant with Abram:
(Gen. 12:1-3) Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house,  To the land which I will show you; 2And  I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse and  in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
This promise was so shocking that Abraham actually interpreted it figuratively. He thought that there was no way that he could possibly produce a family with his elderly wife, who was far past the age of bearing children. So, Abraham slept with his housemaid (Hagar), who was younger and able to bear children, giving birth to a boy named Ishmael.
But God rebuked Abraham for doing this. He told him that this wasn’t a figurative promise; it was a literal one. Abraham and his wife (even though they were elderly) would give birth to a child. To assure Abraham of this promise, God went to incredible lengths to confirm this promise.
2. God SIGNED the contract.
If I had a verbal contract with God, I’d say that this would be good enough! Yet God went to greater lengths to confirm this contract.
(Gen. 15:1-8 NLT) Afterward the LORD spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” 2But Abram replied, “O Sovereign LORD, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since I don’t have a son, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. 3You have given me no children, so one of my servants will have to be my heir.” 4Then the LORD said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own to inherit everything I am giving you.” 5Then the LORD brought Abram outside beneath the night sky and told him, “Look up into the heavens and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be like that—too many to count!” 6And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD declared him righteous because of his faith. 7Then the LORD told him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land.” 8But Abram replied, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I be sure that you will give it to me?”
In a modern day contract, both parties need to sign on the dotted line. In the ancient Near East, they didn’t do it this way. Instead, they used to split animals in two, and both people would walk down the middle of the split animals. It was gruesome, but it communicated that neither party could break the contract. It meant, “If one of us breaks this covenant, then this is what will happen to the one who breaks it!” (for an example, see Jer. 34:18-20)
(Gen. 15:7-12, 17 NLT) Then the LORD told him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10Abram took all these and killed them. He cut each one down the middle and laid the halves side by side. He did not, however, divide the birds in half. 11Some vultures came down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away. 12That evening, as the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep… 17As the sun went down and it became dark, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses.
Did Abraham have to sign the contract? Did he walk down the middle of the carcasses? No. God did this all alone. In fact, Abraham was asleep, when God approached him (v.12). Therefore, Abraham wasn’t a participant in the contract; he was a recipient of the contract. This wasn’t a bilateral agreement; it was a unilateral agreement (compare with Ex. 19:5). It was as if God was saying, “Abraham, I’m going to fulfill my end of the bargain, whether you are obedient or not.”
(Gen. 15:18-20 NLT) So the LORD made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River—19the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”
Clearly, this covenant contained the land of Israel.
3. God gave a SYMBOL for the contract.
(Gen. 17:3-8 ESV) And God said to him, 4”Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
God changes his name from Abram (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”), which further demonstrates God’s promise to him. Notice, the “I will” and “I shall” language. This is unilateral language. God is promising that he is going to make good on this promise—whether Abraham was faithful or not.
(Gen. 17:9-11 ESV) And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
This isn’t a condition on the contract; it is more of a declaration. For instance, the Noahic covenant, God gave a rainbow as a symbol of his promise never to flood the Earth again (Gen. 9). It is a sign of what God will accomplish. In the same way, the American Flag doesn’t secure freedom for U.S. citizens; it is a symbol (or sign) of our freedom. Jeremiah Unterman writes, “Genesis 17:1-14 does demand circumcision of Abraham and his descendants, but this is only a sign of the covenant, and therefore of a loyalty that is to be expected.”
It is clear that God made an unconditional and eternal promise to Abraham’s descendants that they would have a nation, land, and be a blessing to the world. The Jews firmly believed that these promises were unconditional and permanent.
2. Davidic Covenant
David was the second king of Israel. He took over the throne after King Saul turned into an ego-maniac. David was a man of war. He compiled a group of warriors called his Mighty Men, who defended Israel from foreign invaders.
David wanted to build a temple for God, but because he was a man of war, God told him that he wasn’t allowed to build it. Instead, he told him that one of his descendants would build it after him. It was in this context that he gave him the Davidic Covenant (or contract). Just like Abraham’s contract, this was an unconditional contract from God. In this contract, God promised David a number of things:
(2 Sam. 7:12-16) “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13”He shall build  a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his  kingdom forever. 14”I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity,  I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16”Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your  throne shall be established forever.”’“
In this passage, God promises David a number of things:  a house,  a kingdom for one of his descendants,  discipline for sin, but never rejection, and  eventually, an eternal throne.
Some interpreters hold that the Davidic Covenant was fulfilled under Solomon. For a refutation of this argument, see endnote.
Was this covenant fulfilled by Solomon (1 Kings 4:21)?
Some interpreters (Amillennialists) claim that this covenant was fulfilled in 1 Kings 4:21 (“Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt,” cf. Gen. 15:18). God made this promise to David’s heir—Solomon. Was the Davidic covenant already fulfilled under Solomon? This is doubtful for a number of reasons:
First, this argument shows that this covenant needed a literal fulfillment. Amillennial interpreters often claim that this covenant was spiritually fulfilled in Christ’s first coming. By citing 1 Kings 4:21, these interpreters are inadvertently admitting that this contract needs a literal fulfillment.
Second, Solomon didn’t own the land at this time; he just collected taxes. While Solomon collected taxes from all of these people, he did not own the land. They merely acquiesced to him by paying tribute to him.
Third, this passage doesn’t fulfill all of the land promised to Solomon. Gen. 15:18 claims that more land was promised than is detailed in 1 Kings 4:21 (“they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life”).
Fourth, Solomon obviously didn’t own the land eternally. As we have already seen, the promise in the Davidic covenant was an eternal one. Solomon did not fulfill this. God promised the land, as an “eternal” inheritance (Deut. 30:1-10; Num. 34:1-12).
Fifth, after Solomon’s death, the prophets still referred to this promise as unfulfilled. This is interesting because it demonstrates that the people at the time did not believe that these promises had been fulfilled (Isa. 11:1-12; 14:1-3; 27:12-13; Jer. 16:14-16; 23:3-8; Amos 9:11-15; Mic. 4:4-7; Zech. 8:3-8). These passages are clear that these prophets believed that the land would be inherited in the future.
Both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were unconditional and eternal contracts. This means that they are still in effect for today. Thus this subject is incredibly important when understanding our interpretation of eschatology.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come: a Study in Biblical Eschatology. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie, 1964.
Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy: a Comprehensive Approach. Chicago: Moody, 2006.
Walvoord, John F. The Millennial Kingdom. Findlay, OH: Dunham Pub., 1959.
 Walvoord, John F. Israel in Prophecy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1978. 33.
 Note: both circumcision and rainbows existed before they were made signs. It wasn’t that God was creating circumcision or rainbows; instead, he was signifying that these things represented his promises.
 Achtemeier, Paul. In Harper’s Bible dictionary. Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. San Francisco: Harper & Row. 1985. “Covenant.”