The Bible’s Covenant Story. 2. Genesis 2:4-17 The Covenant of Works

The description of creation in Genesis 1 concludes with the creation of man in the image of God.  Adam and Eve are placed in ‘a garden in the east, in Eden’ (2:8).  Reformed theologians generally see here in Eden a covenant relationship between God and man.  In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 2. Genesis 2:4-17 The Covenant of Works.

1. Was there a covenant in Eden?

There is no mention of ‘covenant’ in the Genesis 2 record – so was there really a covenant in Eden?  Note Hosea 6:7 ‘Like Adam, they have broken the covenant’.  It seems clear that Adam was in a covenant relationship with God.  If the elements of a covenant are present, even if the word is not, we can conclude that there was a covenant in Eden.  The various elements are present, and so we can be confident Adam was in covenant with God.  Because the continuance of this covenant depended on Adam’s obedience, this covenant is generally called the Covenant of Works, without any implication that Adam earned God’s blessing.

2. The elements of the covenant

            (i). Parties.  Clearly God sets the terms for Adam’s life in Eden – he is sovereign and gracious.  The other party is Adam, his role being to accept and live by God’s terms.

            (ii). Requirements.  With all the wonderful provision of Eden around him, Adam is placed under a single requirement (v17), one prohibition by which he shows his obedience.

            (iii). Threats.  Covenant-breaking will be profoundly serious (v17) – the penalty is death.  It is a consequence that goes to the heart of Adam’s relationship with God.

            (iv). Promises.  Implied is at least the promise of continued life in Eden in fellowship with the Lord.  We should be wary of speculating beyond what the Bible actually reveals.

3. The place of Adam in the covenant

It is vital to understand the place of Adam in the Covenant of Works.  The consequences of his sin affect the whole human race (3:16-19) – why?  God has established a spiritual solidarity between Adam and his descendants.  He acts as their representative, so that what he did implicates all his descendants.  Specific New Testament texts support this view.  There is a parallel between Adan and his descendants and Christ and his people.  1 Corinthians 15:22 tells us, ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive’.  Adam’s actions brought death into the world for all mankind (Romans 5:12) and from Adam we inherit a fallen, sinful nature.  What Adam did affects us all and explains why we are sinners by nature.

4. The fulfilment of the covenant

As we will see, Adam fell into sin (seeking to put himself in the place of God) and so the whole human race was plunged into sin (1 Corinthians 15:22).  We live by nature under the broken Covenant of Works, dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1).  We need someone who can render the perfect obedience that we owe God, and that one is Christ, who represents his people in the Covenant of Grace, so that ‘in Christ all will be made alive’.  That is the gospel.

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