The Adamic Covenant

The glory of God is related to the unfolding revelation of the prophetic Scripture. In other words, as redemptive history unfolds we find that God’s Word becomes more than it seemed when it was first given, though never something other than what was given. The initial covenant of God with man in the garden sets the stage for this entire age which means understanding it is critical to understanding God’s covenantal interaction with man over the course of redemptive history. In God’s interaction with man in the garden we see His original intention for man, an intention that He returns to at the end of the age.

This entire age is the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption to address the crisis that emerged in the garden. If we do not understand this crisis and God’s prophesied resolution to it, then we do not understand the season of redemptive history that we live in.

The Adamic covenant begins in the very beginning of the book of Genesis. It occurs in the first chapters of Scripture in a context about which we have very little information. Scripture is the only resource that we have at our disposal in interpreting the context of the garden and man’s initial state. Since we can only use Scripture to interpret Scripture in the book of Genesis, it is important to understand that Moses assembled Genesis in such a way that the events of man’s early history were being viewed through the lens of the Patriarchs and the promised seed. Moses wrote the book in such a way as to give Israel the context of her unique calling and covenant destiny.

An Overview of the Adamic Covenant

Some use the Adamic covenant as a reference to God’s covenant with Adam both before and after the fall, while others use it to refer only to God’s agreement with Adam in Genesis 3 after the fall. For our purposes, we will reference both covenants as part of the Adamic covenant, but refer to the pre-fall covenant as the Edenic covenant.

  1. The Edenic Covenant – God’s commandments to man before the fall.
  2. The Adamic Covenant – God’s covenant with man after the fall.

Though the covenant was made with Adam and Eve specifically, they were representative of the entire human race so the covenant is essentially being made with all mankind.

The Edenic Covenant

26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. (Genesis 1:26–30 NKJV)

16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17 NKJV)

The covenant was made between God and Adam. The covenant consists of several positive commands because man, both male and female, was created in God’s image:

  • Man was to subdue the earth.
  • Man was given dominion and authority over the earth and the animal kingdom.
  • Mankind was to reproduce and inhabit the entire earth.
  • Man was to be a vegetarian.
  • Man was also to keep the garden sanctuary.

The covenant consisted of one negative command.

  • Mankind was not to eat of the tree of good and evil. Although he was made in the very image of God and had delegated authority from God over creation, was to remember that he was subservient to God and incapable of determining good and evil.
  • The penalty for breaking this command was death.

We know that God viewed these commands as a covenant because of how He viewed Adam’s fall:

7But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me. (Hosea 6:7 NASB95)

The Adamic Covenant

14So the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. 15And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” 16To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” 17Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. 18Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. 19In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:14–19 NKJV)

After Adam broke God’s initial covenant and fell, God made a specific covenant with Him related to what conditions would be like for man and how He would restore creation. This part of the covenant, specifically Genesis 3:15, is typically referred to as the protoevangelium or the “first gospel.” This time the covenant involved God, Adam, Eve, and the serpent. God addressed each of them individually in the covenant with man, both male and female, collectively bearing the weight of their sin.

The following aspects of the covenant applied to Adam:

  • Adam is ultimately held responsible for his sin and man’s judgment.
  • Adam would experience a cursed ground. Work would become difficult and hard. He was made of dust and his sin affected the dust of the earth from which he came and would also return.
  • Adam would die.

The following aspects of the covenant applied to Eve.

  • The woman would have increased sorrow and pain in the birth of children.
  • A power struggle would emerge between man and woman and the man would rule over the woman in a way that was different from the social order in the garden.

The following aspects of the covenant applied to the serpent as a creature:

  • The serpent is cursed more than any other animal.
  • The serpent would be forced to crawl on his belly on the ground. This curse continues into the millennium (Isaiah 65:25).

The following aspects of the covenant applied to the serpent as satan:

  • There would be perpetual hatred between him and the offspring of woman.
  • There would be a specific conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.
  • The woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head, though he would bruise the heel of the seed. The fact that the serpent could only bruise the heel indicates just how lowly the serpent would be. He could not inflict an injury any more significant than this. Furthermore, the bruised heel would crush his head.

God promises to provide a “seed” that will do the crushing of the serpent. God is intimately present in His judgments. Though he judges the violation of the covenant, He inserts Himself into the scenario and offers redemption. He is not detached from the effects of their sin, but both involved and determined to provide a means of restoration.

The Significance of These Two Covenants

The first part of the covenant is important because it gives us insight in God’s intention for man and His purpose in creating him. While the Edenic context no longer exists, the Scripture ends with a return to a similar context (Revelation 21-22) so understanding God’s initial plan for man gives us great insight in understanding God’s eternal plan for man.

The second part of the Adamic covenant is critical because it is the first covenant made after the fall. It is His initial agreement with us and promise to us in our fallen state. As such, its essential elements define God’s relationship to man in this age and it governs the present state of our existence. This is God’s most concise summary of His redemptive plan. It was designed to deal with the problem that the sin in the garden created and answers important questions about our own existence. It both summarizes what life will be like in this age, and gives God’s answer to the crisis of the fall and His initial prophecy of how He intends to deal with it. It essentially encapsulates God’s entire plan to redeem and restore man in this age.

The Implications of the Adamic Covenant

The first half of the covenant has significant implications for how we understand other passages of Scripture, however we will focus on the implications of the second half of the covenant, because God’s response to the covenant dilemma gives us significant insight into God’s relationship with man and desire for him.

The immediate negative effects of the covenant were a loss of communion and the experience of death entering the human race. The fact that God immediately responded with a solution to the crisis of the covenant shows how deeply important communion with man is to Him and how unnatural death is for mankind. God intends to address the loss of fellowship and the issue of death.

God took on all the responsibility of fulfilling the covenant. In the second part of the covenant, no condition is given to man for the fulfillment of the promise made. It is clear that God Himself will orchestrate and empower the resolution of the covenant promised in Genesis 3:15. No human strength will help Him. This points both to the supernatural nature of His covenant solution and the inability of man to contribute anything to his salvation.

No matter how seductive the enemy’s lies appear there is deep enmity between man and the serpent. In this statement, God exposes all the serpent’s future temptations. No matter how seductive his future lies are, men must remember that the serpent is committed to man’s destruction.

God makes a prediction that both the serpent and the woman will have offspring. The serpent’s offspring will bruise, but the woman’s offspring will crush.This prediction is meant both in the collective sense and the individual sense. In other words, mankind will conquer the serpent, but man conquers through a specific seed. The rest of Old Testament history will record the development of the seed. The community of the promise will be highlighted in the form of Israel, Judah, and finally David’s descendants, but the individual nature of the promise is emphasized through specific individuals who keep the promise alive. At times, the fulfillment rests on just one individual.

In the poetry of God, the serpent will also have offspring. Like the promise made to man, this promise will have both collective and individual applications. For example, Jesus makes reference to the religious leaders being of their father the devil, but redemptive history ends in the individual seed of the serpent stepping on the stage of history. Satan does not naturally reproduce, so the fact that God highlights the “seed of the woman” and the “seed of the serpent” points to supernatural circumstances surrounding the offspring of each. The age will end in the conflict of the two seeds. God’s prediction ends with Eve’s seed crushing the serpent’s seed indicating that the age will end at this point.

A brief overview of this covenant shows us that the nature of God and the nature of our redemption are clearly seen both in the condition of man before the fall and in God’s initial promise to man after the fall. That covenant with Adam gives us a summary of all of redemptive history. This initial covenant is also the governing factor over all subsequent agreements of God with man. It initiates God’s redemptive work in this age and will serve as a foundation for everything that unfolds after it.

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