Many people refer to the Torah as the "Mosaic Covenant". This is too simplistic as they are at least six covenants that God made with people, just one of which was "Israelite Covenant". Here are the six covenants that I found:
1. Noahide Covenant: Gen 8:20 – 9:17.
2. Abrahamic Covenant: Gen 15, 17, 18:9-15, 22:15-18 involving a miraculous son and the land of Canaan. It was a covenant of grace.
3. Israelite Covenant: Exodus 19-24, and expanded in parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – often called, “The Old Covenant”, or, “Moral Covenant”, or, sometimes incorrectly called, “The Mosaic Covenant”. It was a covenant of grace (see below).
4. Levitical Covenant – Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11. This is an eternal covenant (Num 25:12, 13, Ps 106:30) of salt, Num 18:19. The Levitical covenant is stated in Num 3:11-13 where God takes the Levites instead of the all the firstborn of each family, thus changing the (informal) priesthood from the firstborn of each family to the (formal) priesthood of tribe of Levi.
5. Davidic (or Regal) Covenant: 2 Sam 7, 23:5, 1 Kings 6:11, 12, 8:25, 1 Chron 17:11-14, 2 Chron 6:14-16, 7:17, 18, 13:5, Ps 132:11, 12, Eze 37:15-28. This involved the eternal kingdom of David and the permanence of his posterity on the throne.
6. Christian Covenant – often called, “The New Covenant”, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6-13, 9:15, 10:16, 29, 12:24, (Jer 31:31, 33), an eternal covenant (Heb 13:20).
All these covenants have the same pattern:
- God promises to give a number of privileges
- God sets out a series of requirements, almost always moral requirements for the people
- There is some kind of token or sign of the covenant (more than one is some cases)
- The covenant is initiated by "cutting" (hence the Hebrew word for covenant is "berith") always involving a sacrifice.
The Israelite covenant was set out primarily in Ex 19-23 but later expanded in some chapters of Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
The ancient Israelites were often reprimanded for assuming that God’s covenant with them was a mere matter of ceremonies, the stone tablets and the temple. 1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, etc. That is, they confused the Levitical and Moral Covenant. More particularly, the Israelites were repeatedly told that the conditions of the Covenant were a matter for the heart and NOT external regulations (Deut 6:5, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28), because God initiated the covenant to save Israel; it was a covenant of grace and forgiveness! Isa 59:21 says the covenant is the eternal gift of the Spirit.
That this Israelite Covenant was still a covenant of grace is confirmed by several ideas:
- The Old Covenant was a covenant initiated entirely by God alone, to save Israel. God alone set out the requirements and blessings. God makes it clear that they were selected as the chosen people, NOT because of any Israelite merit, but simply because God wanted to. Deut 7:7, 9:5, 6, 10:15.
- The Old Covenant was a matter of the “heart” (Deut 6:5, 10:12, 16, 11:18, 22, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28) and NOT mere regulations (1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8). These references make it clear that the Old Covenant did not really include the animal sacrifices, and that they could not define nor atone for sin. (Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22). The animal sacrifices and the sanctuary ritual were part of the Levitical covenant which acted as teaching device that anticipated, and was a type of, the High Priestly ministry of Messiah.
- The Ark of the Covenant, containing the Covenant stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, was constructed in a highly symbolic way. The 10 Commandments were inside the box and the “atonement cover” or “mercy seat” was placed above them. Ex 25:17-22, 26:34, 30:6, 31:17, 37:9, 40:20, Lev 16:13; see also Heb 9:5. This arrangement was placed in the Most Holy Place, in the sanctuary, and always remained at the center of God’s Covenant people.
- In Solomon’s prayer of dedication, he describes the (Israelite) Covenant as God showing “lovingkindness”, or, “steadfast love”, to people. 1 Kings 8:23, 2 Chron 6:14, See also Neh 1:5, 9:32, Ps 89:28, 33, 34, 103:17, 18, 111:4, 5, 9, Isa 54:10, 55:3. This suggests that the Law of God, or the Moral Law, is an expression of God’s love and is just as eternal.
Note: Most of the confusion about the various covenants arises because people confuse the Israelite Covenant with the Levitical Covenant, or, assume that the Levitical Covenant and the Davidic Covenant are part of the Israelite (Old) Covenant.
It is this "old" (Israelite) covenant that the Israelites failed to properly understand; it is also the covenant referred to when unqualified in the OT. Note that the Old Covenant is called eternal (1 Chron 16:17, Jer 50:5, Ps 105:8).
The New Covenant is discussed in several places and always in a language that makes it the continuation of the Old Covenant. According to Heb 8:7, 8, the New Covenant was created, not because the Old was defective but because the people (literal Israelites) did not understand, rejected the old covenant and a New Covenant was made with new people, Christians, who accept the promises by faith. Jesus made the same point in Matt 21:43, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” See also Gal 3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise”. Paul makes the same point in Rom 9:6-9, 11:11-22 where the old covenant was not revoked (it was immutable, Jer 31:35-37) but Christians, people of faith, were grafted into the original “olive tree”. This is also confirmed by Eph 2:12 where Paul discusses Gentiles being absorbed into spiritual Israel becoming part of the ancient covenant promises, all by faith.
The covenant referenced in Jer 31:31-34 is the Old Covenant, or Israelite Covenant as first described in Exodus 19-24, and expanded in parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. [The Abrahamic covenant was a promise of a son, increased posterity, the land of Canaan; it included no provisions as listed in the Old Covenant with Israel.]
The Old Covenant or Israelite covenant was established in Ex 19-23 with a very specific purpose in mind: God declared, “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession … a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Ex 19:5, 6. Earlier, God had also said, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, … ” Ex 6:7. Because the Israelites sinned consistently they were rejecting Jehovah as their God.
Israel broke the Old Covenant and so God rejected them. Jer 31 simply states that God would ultimately find a people who would keep the covenant (the new covenant) which as we now know is the Christian Church who now inherit the promises (Gal 3:29, Matt 21:43)