1 Chronicles 16:6-7,14-18 (NIV) says that the Israelite covenant is everlasting:

6 and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. 7 Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the Lord by Asaph and his brothers.


14 He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. 15 Remember his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 16 the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, 17 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, 18 saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan, as your portion for an inheritance.”

However, Hebrews 8:7-13 (NIV) says otherwise:

7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

So, is the Israelite covenant everlasting or obsolete, and what are the implications either way for Christians under the new covenant?

  • Up-voted +1 for referencing the single everlasting covenant (or 'age-enduring' as Young translates the word) referred to in a number of contexts in the OT and then again referred to in the NT, as a 'testament', which is other than 'the law of sin and death'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 11:30

5 Answers 5



The word translated as "forever" can be interpreted "long time, period, duration, farthest reaches of time, age".

There does not exist a word in Hebrew that unambiguously means "forever".

Moreover the meaning of this word changes over time in Hebrew as we start seeing plural forms, suggesting that olam shifted to mean "age".

There are many interpretations of this word, and especially when reading the later texts of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and the later prophets, I would not recommend translating it as "forever". See Appendix.


Some are claiming that different language was used to describe different covenants (e.g. Sinai, Abraham, etc.). This is incorrect. The same 'olam berith' is used to describe all five covenants (with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and David).

  • With Noah: Gen 9.16 (LEB)

The bow shall be in the clouds, and I will see it, so as to remember the everlasting covenant ("olam berith") between God and between every living creature, with all flesh that is upon the earth.”

  • With Abraham and his descendents

Gen 17.7 (LEB)

And I will establish my covenant between me and you, and between your offspring after you, throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant ("olam berith") to be as God for you and to your offspring after you.

  • With the Israelites at Sinai

Ex 31.16-17 (LEB)

The Israelites will pay attention to the Sabbath in order to fulfill the Sabbath throughout their generations as a lasting covenant ("olam berith"). It is a sign between me and the Israelites forever ("olam"), because in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh he ceased and recovered.”

Numbers 18.19 (LEB)

All the contributions of holiness that the Israelites offer to Yahweh I have given to you and your sons and your daughters with you as an eternal decree; it is an eternal covenant ("olam berith") of salt before Yahweh to you and your offspring with you.”

Leviticus 24.8-9 (LEB)

On every Sabbath he shall arrange it in rows before Yahweh continually; they are from the Israelites as an everlasting covenant ("olam berith"). And it shall be for Aaron and for his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, because it is a most holy thing for him from Yahweh’s offerings made by fire—a lasting rule. ("olam haq")

  • with Aaron and his descendents

Number 25:10-13

Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, turned away my anger from among the Israelites when he was jealous with my jealousy in their midst, and I did not destroy the Israelites with my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I am giving to him my covenant of peace, and it will be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of an eternal priesthood ("berith olam kehunnath") because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the Israelites.’ ”

  • With David and his descendants

2 Sam 23.5 (LEB)

Yet not so is my house with God, for he made an everlasting covenant ("olam berith") for me, arranging everything. He has secured all my deliverance, and all my desire he will cause to happen.

Given that claims that different language was used with Moses or Abraham is so easy to disprove (even a simple concordance will do) I really wonder why people keep making this argument, yet it so often comes up that, for example, it's OK that animals are no longer sacrificed but we still need to keep the sabbath. Or that we need to keep the feasts but it's fine if the levitical purity laws are no longer kept. Or that the covenant of Abraham was forever but the covenant of Moses wasn't, etc.

The same language was used for all of these, so if you want to argue that it's OK to do something but not another, you can still do so with other arguments, but not on the basis of 'olam berith' being used in some places but not others.


From the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament:

Following E. Jenni, most scholars translate ʿôlām as “long time” or “farthest, remotest time.” The various nuances of this translation must then also be distinguished contextually.[...] That ʿôlām can have a plural at all might indicate that it can also refer to a “period of time,” with the plural then referring to “periods of time, ages,” or something similar. This situation, however, applies only to its later use in early Judaism and in the following period. A genuinely numeric plural occurs in the Hebrew OT at most only in Eccl. 1:10; otherwise the reference is usually to the iterative, extensive, amplifying plural. What the few plural occurrences of ʿôlām already show becomes quite evident in the numerous occurrences of the singular. In the OT (as also in Ugaritic texts), ʿôlām is used not as an independent subject or object but rather largely within construct combinations or as an adverbial accusative. Hence ʿôlām occurs in connection with terms for love (Jer. 31:3), signs (Isa. 55:13), joy (Isa. 35:10, etc.), shame and disgrace (Ps. 78:66; Jer. 23:40), a heap of ruins (Dt. 13:17[16]; Josh. 8:28), appointments (Ex. 29:28; 30:21; Lev. 6:11, 15[18, 22] etc.), possessions (Gen. 17:8; 48:4, etc.), berîṯ (16 times), etc. Similarly frequent combinations with other future-oriented lexemes underscore that ʿôlām functions to express the highest possible intensification (“perpetual holding,” “unending joy,” etc.); in such combinations with ʿôlām, these lexemes are themselves intensified (cf., e.g., the combination with → עד ʿaḏ, with → חיים ḥayyîm, or with → דור dôr, including examples in the pl.).13 Although ʿôlām is not yet attested in extrabiblical Hebrew witnesses (ostraca, inscriptions), its corresponding equivalents occur relatively frequently in texts within the OT environs.14 Reference can be made first to Ugaritic witnesses, particularly since combinations with the preps. le and ʿaḏ are also already attested here. Within Old Aramaic, texts from Sefire and Ahiqar are joined by one witness from Deir ʿAlla.16 Occurrences in Phoenician are frequent, while the orthography אולם is found in Punic. The findings in Old South Arabic are disputed.18 The Moabite of the Mesha inscription attests both meanings for ʿlm: “for always, perpetual” and “since time immemorial.” Following Biblical Aramaic, ʿlm (or similar forms) occurs in numerous more recent Semitic languages (Nabatean, Jewish Aramaic, Christian Palestinian Aramaic, Samaritan, Syriac, Mandaic, Ethiopic, Palmyrene, Egyptian Arabic, Arabic). Beginning approximately in the 1st century A.D., several of these languages start using ʿlm in a meaning different from that of the OT, namely, as “world” or “aeon.”21 Akkadian attests only the substantively parallel lexeme dārû(m). J. Assmann has shown anew that the Egyptians did not distinguish clearly between “time” and “eternity.” They used both the term nḥḥ (the fullness of time, referring more to what is coming and the change it will bring) and the term ḏ.t (as consummation, referring more to what endures, abides; the two words often occur together), referring to a long but finite period of time as something “unending,” so that here, too, context must determine whether the translation “time” or “eternity” is more appropriate. The LXX generally renders ʿôlām (236 times) as aiṓn or aiṓnios (95 times), less frequently as aeí or archḗ, and 4 times as chrónos. The previously mentioned occurrence of ʿôlām in various word and phrase combinations also suggests that the word field associated with ʿôlām is considerable. Terms include → בוא, bāʾôṯ, → דור dôr, → יום yôm, hakkōl, → נצח nēṣaḥ, → עד ʿaḏ, → עת ʿêṯ, → קדם qeḏem, and → תמיד tāmîḏ.

II. (Long Ago) Bygone Times. About 60 occurrences of ʿôlām (over 20 with the prep. min) refer to a time long past, or to something extraordinarily old, albeit with different qualities of remoteness from the speaker/writer on the one hand, and the observer on the other. The expression mēʿôlām can mean “from time immemorial” (Ps. 25:6; Jer. 2:20; 31:3; Ezk. 35:5; then Isa. 64:4[5] (here an isolated ʿôlām? probably also Josh. 24:2 and the Mesha inscription; cf. Joel 2:2, NRSV “from antiquity”; also Job 22:15: the way of the wicked “from of old”; and the Aramaic occurrences in Ezr. 4:14, 19). Mountains and hills are “ancient” (Gen. 49:26; Hab. 3:6), as are gates (Ps. 24:7, 9; cf. also Jer. 5:15; Ezk. 36:2). Just how old or past the reference is usually remains open. The point is merely to direct one’s attention as far back as possible. The most distant time (Ps. 93:2) can then also refer to an otherwise indeterminate “distant past” (Gen. 6:4) or even to those who died long ago (Lam. 3:6; Ps. 143:3; cf. Ezk. 26:20), or simply an “earlier” time (Josh. 24:2; cf. the expression “as earlier” in Mic. 7:14; Mal. 3:4). Among the remaining occurrences (including Dt. 33:15; 1 S. 27:8; Isa. 44:7; 51:9; 63:9, 11; Jer. 5:15; 6:16; 18:18; 28:8; Ezk. 25:15; 26:20; cf. Sir. 16:7; 44 superscription, 2; 48:25; cf. also 42:21 with the article, “one is from all eternity[?]”; then also 51:8, or “already from an earlier time”? also Ps. 41:14[13]), Mic. 5:1(2) and Am. 9:11 are noteworthy inasmuch as they refer this past time to the time of David as the idealized past. Given Prov. 22:28, one might inquire whether 23:10 should not read → אלמנה ʾalmānâ instead of ʿôlām. In Prov. 8:23 (within the context vv. 22–31) Wisdom remarks in first-person discourse that she was created by Yahweh even before the creation of the world, and indeed was herself present at the creation of the world. This intensifying inclination is also attested in the combination min- (mē) (hā)ʿôlām (we)ʿaḏ-ʿôlām, which usually in later texts (cf. combinations with mēʿattâ in Ps. 113:2; 115:18; 121:8; 125:2; 131:3; Isa. 9:6[7]; 59:21; Mic. 4:7) and in the solemn, liturgically elevated language of prayers and doxologies celebrates hymnically God’s “eternity” or qualifies such praise as having already been sung much earlier and, indeed, will be sung much later as well and ultimately even “for all time”33 (with the article in 1 Ch. 16:36; Neh. 9:5; Ps. 41:14[13]; 106:48; without the article in 1 Ch. 29:10; Ps. 90:2; 103:17; Aramaic in Dnl. 2:10; then also in Sir. 39:20, already as “ages of the world”? further also in the Qumran texts). When ʿôlām (with min) is negated with reference to the past (Isa. 63:19a; 64:3[4]; Joel 2:2), it expresses the notion “never.”

III. The (Distant) Future. In over 260 instances ʿôlām is used in reference to the future. In many cases (about 160 times), the substantive is preceded by le (more common when the reference is to something static or unchangeable) or (about 80 times) an ʿaḏ (focusing more dynamically on the temporal progression). The actual “duration” is often specified as “for always,” “perpetual” (esp. with le) in many combinations and as an adverbial accusative with largely concrete and often plural referential words (something also attested by the parallel expressions; cf. 1 S. 1:11, 22, 28; Ps. 34:1[superscription]; 71:15; 89:2[1]; 104:33). Such duration does not, however, necessarily mean “perpetually, for always,” something attested by 1 S. 2:30f., where the time in question must at some point come to an end. This particular usage, occurring also in texts from the OT environs,38 is attested in the most varied textual types and periods of OT literature (Gen. 3:22; 6:3; 13:15; Ex. 3:15; 14:13; 15:18; 19:9; 40:15; Dt. 5:29; 23:4, 7[3, 6]; 28:46: like here and in Gen. 13:15 also in 1 S. 20:42; 2 S. 22:51 par., etc., together with → זרע zeraʿ or → דור dôr or with the latter in the pl.; then 1 S. 1:22; 20:15; 20:23, 42; Ezr. 9:12; 2 S. 23:5; Ps. 30:13[12]; 49:9[8]; 61:8[7]; 66:7; 73:12; 89:2, 3, 38[1, 2, 37]; 90:2; 106:31; Prov. 27:24, “forever”; Isa. 30:8; 35:10; 55:3; 60:19f.; Jer. 20:7; 23:40; Ezk. 25:15; Jon. 2:7[6]). Job will not live “forever” (7:16), and the same is asked analogously with regard to the prophets (Zec. 1:5). The stones in the Jordan will be an “abiding” memorial (Josh. 4:7). Ps. 77:8(7); 1 K. 8:13; and 2 Ch. 6:2 all speak of coming times (pl.!). With future reference, negated ʿôlām can mean both “no longer” (Ex. 14:13) and “never” (1 S. 20:15; Neh. 13:1; Isa. 25:2; Jer. 35:6; Ezk. 26:21; 27:36; 28:19; cf. Dt. 23:4–7[3–6]). The obvious use of ʿôlām in Ex. 21:6; Dt. 15:17; 1 S. 27:12 (cf. Lev. 25:46; 1 S. 1:22; Job 40:28[41:4]) to mean “as long as one lives” (e.g., a slave for life) does not necessarily contradict its other meanings, for even when the king is greeted with “may the king live forever,” this does not, despite the obvious presence of “courtly style,” imply the wish that the king be granted eternal life, but rather that he live “as long as possible” (contrast Job 7:16). When referring thus to a time enduring long into the future, ʿôlām is quite naturally and often combined with and intensified or strengthened by other lexemes. These include dôr (or its pl. or dual; usually with le) (Gen. 16:7; Ex. 3:15; 31:16; Dt. 32:7; Ps. 33:11; 45:18[17]; 49:12[11]; 61:7f.[6f.]; 77:8f.[7f.]; 79:13; 85:6[5]; 100:5; 102:13[12]; 106:31; 119:89f.; 135:13; 146:10; Prov. 27:24; Eccl. 1:4; Isa. 34:10, 17; 51:8; Dnl. 3:33[4:3]; 4:31[34]; Sir. 45:26). An analogous situation already obtained in Ugarit. One additional intensifying combination is the expression (le) ʿôlām wāʿeḏ (Ex. 15:18; Ps. 9:6[5]; 10:16; 21:5[4]; 37:27 [following LXX]; 45:7, 18[6, 17]; 52:10[8]; 104:5; 119:44; 145:1, 2, 21; Dnl. 12:3; Mic. 4:5; Sir. 40:17), which Jenni calls a “solemn formula of conclusion and reinforcement” (cf. also the noun → עד ʿaḏ together with ʿôlām in Ps. 111:8; 148:6; Isa. 45:17). The formula mēʿattâ (we) ʿaḏ-ʿôlām is similarly “solemn” (Ps. 113:2; 115:18; 121:8; 125:2; 131:3; Isa. 9:6[7]; 59:21; Mic. 4:7; cf. Sir. 51:30 [all these are probably later texts]). Finally, the formula “for his steadfast love endures forever” ([kî] leʿôlām ḥasdô) should be mentioned. Apart from Ps. 136, where it is a refrain in every verse, it occurs 16 times in the OT (1 Ch. 16:34, 41; 2 Ch. 5:13; 7:3, 6; 20:21; Ezr. 3:11; Ps. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1–4, 29; 136 [26 times]; Jer. 33:11; also Sir. 51:12). This context of reinforcement and intensification also includes the use of ʿôlām in oaths (Dt. 32:40, divine discourse; cf. Josh. 14:9; Jer. 49:13; Dnl. 12:7; Zeph. 2:9) or in asseveration (2 S. 3:28; 7:26, 29). The term ʿôlām then also occurs over 120 times in construct combinations, especially with a future orientation within theologically significant contexts.

Preuss, H. D. (1999). עוֹלָה and עוֹלָם. G. J. Botterweck, H. Ringgren, & H.-J. Fabry (Eds.), D. W. Stott (Trans.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Revised Edition, Vol. 10, pp. 531–536). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

  • From what you say above, I am understanding olam berith to be a single covenant (not multiple covenants, as some suggest) and it is 'age-enduring' as Young translates the word. Thus I am understanding this to be exactly the same covenant as that which is referred to in Hebrews 13:20 'the everlasting testament' (diatheke). Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 11:27
  • All the covenants may be everlasting, but it's still not inaccurate to call the Mosaic a "conditional" covenant, in that what the covenant meant for each generation would depend on their actions. Deuteronomy contained both blessings and curses. In contrast the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 15 contains no conditional clauses - no matter how Abraham and his descendants acted God was promising to give them a certain area of land.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 11:53
  • @Robert 'which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant,' Why did he mention Jacob and Israel when they are the same guy? Jacob refers to the flesh, and Israel refers to the spirit. It was a law to the flesh. But to Israel, man יש joined to God אל by revelation ר it is an everlasting covenant. sensusplenior.net/wiki/MYHB%20-%20Teaching%20-%20Israel
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 3:19
  • @Robert you're one of my favorite writers here. Great response. It's annoying that English translations often create apparent theological contradictions by so consistently translating olam as some infinite time period.
    – Austin
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 6:45

God made several covenants. If you are back referencing a covenant which replaced a previous one, you need to ensure you are referencing the correct one.

God made a covenant with Abraham - for a nation. Abraham represented the Nation. He was the ‘father’ of the nation. It was this covenant that is everlasting. This is the covenant referenced in 1 Chronicles 16:15-18, established in Genesis 17.

In Exodus 19, we see The Sinai covenant which was for them, the ‘people’. It was not ever described as everlasting. A covenant between God, and man. It was, in essence, an agreement that was demanded (not by God, but, nevertheless required.) It was the ‘legal’ agreement which allowed God to [legally/righteously] bless his people, but the requirement was both parties had to be ‘righteous’. And, as this was impossible, that covenant was never made nor ‘seen’ as everlasting - in fact, it wasn’t God’s idea in the first place. (The sacrificial system was put in place to allow man/Israelites to participate.)

And, it is this covenant that is referenced in Hebrews 8:7-13, as now being obsoleted, and this, that it would be replaced, was prophesied in/by Jeremiah. (Amongst others.). That covenant offered the same blessings, but was made between Jesus and God. That way no party could fail. And, we partake in that covenant through Christ. That’s the only way we can participate, as this new covenant was made with the Jews (house of Judah/Israel).

So, your question is taking verses from two different covenants, and then asking a question as if they were the same. The covenant that is ‘obsolete’, is the Sinai (Mosaic) covenant, and that was always the intention, as it was flawed in that ‘man’ was/is unable to do ‘his part’.

  • But 1 Chronicles 16:6 says "[...] before the ark of the covenant of God", which is a clear reference to the ark of the covenant/ark of the testimony storing the two stone tablets given to Moses at Mount Sinai. How is 1 Chronicles 16 not talking about the "The Sinai" covenant? See hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/19855/38524
    – user38524
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 0:26
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator 1 Chron 16:6 talks of the Mosaic covenant, 1 Chron 16:15-18 talks of the Abrahamic covenant. Hebrews 8 clearly refers to the Mosaic covenant as it is the covenant with priests and sacrifices.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 0:53
  • Dave , An excellent answer +1 Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 8:54

The answer to this question is actually in the text quoted by the OP, in Heb 8:6-10, particularly V8:

But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

Thus, according to Heb 8:7, 8, 9, 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.”

Jesus makes it quite clear that He had not come to make the Law obsolete in Matt 5:17-19

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. So then, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

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.

[That the Jews rejected the Old Covenant is amply seen in their actions at Jesus crucifixion when the Jews shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!" "Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked. "We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests answered. John 19:15. Thus, they rejected not only the Old Israelite Covenant but the Davidic Covenant, the Levitical Covenant, and Jesus as Messiah.]

Thus, the New Covenant and the Old Covenant are the same thing distinguished only by the people to whom God made the promises, namely, Israelites for the Old Covenant and Christians for the New Covenant (without excluding the Israelites!!). The same Moral Law applied in both cases (see below). Indeed, the Old and New Covenant distinction becomes quite blurred when one recalls that the Israelite covenant was always open to all people. Anyone was free to become a Jew or Israelite by joining their community of faith.

As usual, the key to understanding this is the centrality of Jesus. See Heb 8:6-13, and Heb 9:15.

  • The purpose of the Old Covenant is exactly the same as the New Covenant: Specifically, God said of the Christian community, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9, 10 (Compare Ex 19:5, 6, Hos 1:9, 4:6).
  • All the promises God made under the Old Covenant to Israelites find their fulfilment in Jesus as mediator of the New Covenant to Christians, Matt 5:17, Gal 3:14, 16, 22, 29, Eph 1:18, Col 3:23, 24, 2 Cor 1:20, Rom 9:8, Heb 9:15, 11:18, 1 Peter 1:4. Thus, the New Covenant promises to save all people. For example, The Old Covenant was to save people from slavery, Ex 20:1, 2, 23:23, Deut 5:6; the New Covenant is also designed to save people from slavery (of sin), Luke 4:18, 19, John 8:32, 34-36, Gal 3:22, 5:1, 13, 14, Acts 8:23, 13:38, 39, Rom 6:14, 18, 22, 8:1-4, 20, 21, James 1:25, 1 Peter 2:16, 2 Peter 2:19, etc.
  • The Jerusalem council resolution in Acts 15:28, 29 is a specific set of requirements that were repeated from the Old Covenant for the New Covenant.
  • Hebrews discusses the same idea that the Moral Law of God is to be written on our hearts, Heb 8:7-13, 10:16, 17, exactly as it should have been under the Old Covenant (compare Deut 6:5, Jer 24:7, 31:33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28). Significantly, when Heb 8:10, 10:16, “I will write my law on their hearts” quotes Jer 31:33, the word used for “law” is “Torah”. This further reinforces the idea that it was the Torah and its Israelite Covenant that is to be kept.
  • Christians were to be “called by my Name” as confirmed in Acts 11:26, just as under the Old Covenant (2 Chron 7:14, Isa 43:7, 65:1). Matt 10:22, 24:9, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17, Acts 15:17.
  • Indeed, being “called by my name” (= Christians) and imitating Christ is the seal of God and of the New Covenant as administered by the Holy Spirit, 2 Cor 1:22, Eph 1:13, 14, 4:30.

This new covenant is summarized in Eph 2:8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.

APPENDIX 1 - Old Covenant Overview

That this Israelite Covenant was a covenant of transforming grace (just as the New covenant) 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. This confusion is perpetuated by the (erroneous) practice of labelling the Israelite and Levitical covenants, “Mosaic”, as if they are the same thing.

APPENDIX 2 - Ten Commandments before Sinai

The following (far from exhaustive) list shows that people knew of the law and ten commandments well before the formal giving at Mt Sinai. Indeed, we have the very general comment –

  • Gen 26:5, because Abraham listened to My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.

Commandment #1 – Worship only YHWH:

  • Gen 22:5, 24:26, 48, 52 all describe worship of the true God of heaven, YHWH.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #2 – Idolatry prohibited

  • Gen 31:32-35 – Jacob clearly understood that idolatry was forbidden.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #3 –Cursing and taking the name of the LORD in vain prohibited

  • Job 1:5 – When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

Commandment #4 – Sabbath worship

  • Gen 2:1-3 – Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. And by the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on that day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on that day He rested from all the work of creation that He had accomplished.
  • Gen 16 also records the incident with manna and that collecting manna on the seventh-day Sabbath was forbidden

Commandment #5 – Respect for parents, elders and authority

  • Gen 28:6, 7 tells of the story of Jacob following his mother’s advice. Respect for parents is built into the very fabric of the patriarchal stories in Genesis.

Commandment #6 – Sanctity of Human life

  • Gen 4:8-12, 15 records Cain’s punishment for the sin of murder
  • Gen 9:5, 6 records that murder was prohibited under the ancient Noahide covenant

Commandment #7 – Adultery prohibited

  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for almost tricking a pagan king into committing adultery
  • Gen 19 records the appalling events involving attempted pack-rape of the two angels
  • Gen 39:7-9 – Joseph calls Potiphar’s wife proposal “a great evil and sin against God”.
  • Gen 49:4 – Reuben is scalded for his sin of incest
  • Gen 34 – the story of Dinah records a heinous incident involving her defilement (plus murder and lying)

Commandment #8 – Stealing prohibited and respect for property

  • Gen 30:33 – Laban and Jacob discuss the problem of stealing of wages and property
  • Gen 31:32-35 – Laban is angry about the sin of stealing the household gods

Commandment #9 – Lying prohibited; insistence of honesty and integrity

  • Gen 4 – the story of Cain being punished, among other things for not being honest with Abel and God in his statements
  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for lying to a pagan king about their marital status
  • In the story of Jacob, he is pejoratively called Jacob = “deceiver”, Gen 27:36.

Commandment #10 – Coveting prohibited

  • Gen 3:6 – the woman is tricked by the serpent using the sin of covetousness

Other Laws

Even the prohibition against eating blood is listed among the requirements in the Noahide covenant, Gen 9:4, 5.

  • 1
    You seem to have turned both covenants (old and new) into a matter of 'moral law', an expression nowhere found in scripture. There is a 'law of sin and death', but I can find no law in the bible which results in 'morality' (if you actually mean 'righteousness' by 'morality'). Had such a thing existed, Christ would not have required to suffer.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 11:25
  • @NigelJ - I am surprised that someone like you would misunderstand to that extent. The law is an integra; part of the covenant. The moral law of righteousness cannot exist without the covenant and vis-versa. The people are distinguished by their morality/righteousness. Now we know that righteousness/morality cannot be achieved without Christ via the Holy Spirit, that has always been the case. Our keeping the moral law does not earn righteousness; but the covenant cannot exist without it else we have lawlessness.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 21:14
  • @NigelJ - are you suggesting that Christians do not need to abide by any moral principles? That we can do as we please so long as "we have Christ"?
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 21:15
  • I never suggested any such thing, nor did I imply it, nor did I allude to it. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. Gal 5:17.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 21:25
  • @NigelJ - then what are you suggesting?
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 21:31

When one talks about covenant, we need to distinguish between the Law of the covenant and the covenant per se. The Law specifies the instructions pertaining to the covenant. The covenant per se is the deal between two parties. If the Israelites follow the Law, they will be blessed. If not, they will be cursed. That's the deal; that's the covenantal legal contract.

How long will the Law last?

Matthew 5:18

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

It will last as long as this heaven and earth will last.

What are the implications either way for Christians under the new covenant?

Hebrews 8:13

By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

For Christians, we have the new covenant in Christ. The new deal is the gospel of Jesus. He died on the cross for all our sins. The old deal no longer applies to us. The old deal is obsolete to us. We are under the new deal, the new covenant.

Hebrews 10:16

"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds."

Instead of the letters of Moses' Law, the Spirit writes the laws in our hearts and minds. It is the law of liberty and grace in Christ Jesus.


Question: Is the Israelite covenant everlasting or obsolete?

Short answer: Both.

A covenant is a promise of relationship. “Everlasting covenants” we see in the Bible:

  • Between God and all the earth: God will not destroy the earth by water again (Gen 9:16)
  • Between God and Abraham/Abraham’s descendants: YHWH will be God to them and they will inherit the land of Canaan; all potential bloodlines in this covenant are marked by circumcision; Sarah’s son (i.e., Isaac not Ishmael) will be the next generation to receive this everlasting covenant (Gen 17; cf., 1 Chron 16:16-18; note that Jacob, not Esau, is the third generation; Gen 35:9-12; 48:4)
  • Sabbath was Israel’s everlasting covenant sign (Ex 31:16)
  • In sanctuary service, 12 fresh loaves of bread (showbread/bread of the Presence) were arranged before YHWH and the previous week’s bread given to the priests for food (Lev 24:8-9)
  • As the people brought food (animals, grain, oil, wine, etc.) to YHWH, anything that did not belong to YHWH (all dedication offerings, all fat, etc.), anything that did not belong to the offeror (in the fellowship or thanksgiving offering, etc.), and anything that was not poured out or burned as refuse (blood, entrails, etc.), belonged to the priests for their provision/living (Num 18:8-20)
  • Between God and David: God will establish his dynasty, ultimately to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ (2 Sam 7:8-17; cf., 2 Sam 23:5; Isa 55:3)
  • Prophetic judgment against the earth because “its inhabitants…transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24) [Exploring this is off topic to this question, but briefly, I believe this refers to the Creator-creature relationship all human beings are born into: YHWH is our God and we are his image. Every human except Jesus violated this covenant to some degree.]
  • Prophetic promise of God’s new covenant with all nations through his Christ (Isaiah 61:8-9; Jer 31:33-34; 32:40; 50:5; Ezek 16:60-63; 37:24-28)

To say that a covenant is “everlasting” indicates that the covenant is generational: it continues without God having to make the covenant personally with each new individual in the covenant lineage. God’s covenant bloodline or family established at Sinai increased generationally because his covenant with them was “everlasting.” As God’s covenant partner, Israel possessed the family land inheritance. All legitimate heirs were to bear the covenant mark of circumcision or else be cut off from the covenant community, and it was the responsibility of parents (or the proselyte) to perform the covenant sign on the new members of YHWH’s family. (Only those who were “circumcised in heart” lived a life of faithfulness so that the outward sign of covenant matched their inward spiritual life in YHWH’s name; cf., Deut 30:6 and Rom 2:27-29.) If we remember the history where God told Joshua to “circumcise the sons of Israel the second time,” we should realize that God’s instruction there does not mean each man had to lose a little bit more of his part. It means the everlasting covenant had not been kept during the years of their wilderness punishment (and possibly during their years of Egyptian sojourn and oppression), and he ordered the everlasting covenant reinstated “the second time” as it was in Abraham’s day (Josh 5).

When God promised to make a new covenant with the house of Israel (Jer 31:31f), the Sinai covenant began to grow old and become obsolete (Hebrews 8)—that is, right then, at the time Jeremiah received that prophecy, the Sinai covenant was made obsolete. Just like the iPhone 10 begins to be obsolete at the announcement of the iPhone 11 (and fanatic Apple users whose iPhone 9 needs replaced will wait until the 11 actually comes to market rather than buy the 10…sorry if that’s a crude example), so with God’s “old” covenant with Israel: “…whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” Merely by mention of a coming “new” covenant, the first covenant became the “old” one.

With the death of Jesus, Son of God (YHWH) and Son of Man (Israelite of Judah)*—both covenant partners in one Person—the relationship between God and Israel changed fundamentally as that first covenant ended. (See Gen 15 where YHWH indicated to Abraham that his promise to give the land inheritance to his descendants would not and could not end without his own, i.e., YHWH God’s, death. That is the significance of God’s presence moving along the pathway between death. Cf., the context of Jer 34:18-19 for an example of this.) Everything wrapped up or nested within in the Gen 15 covenant—the signs of circumcision and Sabbath, the land inheritance, the “marriage” between God and Israel at Sinai, the Levitical priesthood and sanctuary service (tabernacle and temple), and the Law of Moses as testimony against Israel for her adultery/covenant breaking (cf., Ex 31:18, “the tablets of testimony;” Deut 31:26; Jer 44:23; Col 2:14)—was fulfilled and brought to its intended and final purpose in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Ultimately, the bloodline covenant at Sinai was put in place for a very specific purpose: to provide a legitimate human lineage for Jesus, the Son of God (David’s heir) who would be the anointed Son of Man (of Daniel’s prophecy), raised to eternal life and glorified to reign over the earth as a Man at the right hand of God. Now, in the new covenant sealed by the blood of Christ, Jew and Gentile alike may belong to the covenant family of YHWH God by being joined to “him who was raised from the dead,” that is, Jesus of Nazareth who is the Lord’s Christ (cf., Rom 7:1-6; Heb 9:15).

So the Israelite covenant was everlasting (passed generationally) and became obsolete (at the prophecy of a “new” covenant) and was finally brought to its intended end (at the death of the God-man Jesus), and “disappeared” when the temple was destroyed in AD 70 (undeniable evidence that God’s presence had departed; cf., Jer 7; 26:6; Psalm 78:60f; 1 Kin 9:6-9; Matt 24).

*Note that the terms Son of God and Son of Man are also used to identify Jesus as the heir of David and the anointed human one in Daniel’s prophecy, respectively. The fullness of Jesus’s identity is multifaceted. It is sometimes difficult or impossible to speak comprehensively and meaningfully at the same time.

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