God’s Covenant with Adam

Today, I want to take what we learned about the five-point covenantal outline found (used) in Scripture and apply it to God’s covenantal relationship with Adam. This is often denoted the Covenant of Works by Reformed theologians and other orthodox teachers of the past. Some deny that there ever was a covenant between God and Adam due to the lack of “I will make a covenant with you…” type language, but this is an unfortunate misunderstanding. God did not say to Adam, “I will make a covenant with you…,” at least that we can know of. Rather, God created the first man in a covenantal relationship with Him. The entirety of Scripture confirms that God is a covenantal God, and so it would be an error on our part to assume that the concept of “covenant” came later as almost an afterthought.

As way of reminder the five-point covenant outline disclosed by Ray R. Sutton1 is as follows:

  1. Transcendence/immanence—God is distinct (transcendent) from His creation and yet personally present (immanence).
  2. Hierarchy/Representation—God is the ultimate authority as Creator (hierarchy) and He has created Image Bearers to Mirror Him (representation).
  3. Ethics/Law—God has the right to set the standard of how His creatures ought to live (Ethics), and He has established these moral precepts (Laws) which reflect His Holy heart.
  4. Sanctions/Blessing or Cursing—God as Judge with execute judgment (sanctions), giving good (blessing) to the obedient and bad (cursing) to the disobedient creatures He has made.
  5. Continuity/Inheritance—God promises either life or death (continuity), and our reaction to our Creator affects our future (inheritance) both temporally and eternally.

While, I find the above helpful I think that seeing them in question format makes it a bit easier to see their logical layout:

  1. Who is God?
  2. Who represents God?
  3. What are God’s laws?
  4. What are His sanctions?
  5. Who will inherit?2

What we find in the opening chapter of Genesis is that everyone of these points is touched upon.

Point One—Who is God? The Transcendent Personal Creator God

The Bible does not attempt to prove God, but assumes Him from the very first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen1.1).3 Here we find point one answered, God is the Creator of all things. He transcends His creation because He is distinct from it. He is not a part of creation in a pantheistic sense for He spoke it into existence (cf. Gen 1.3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26; Psa 33.6, 9; 148.5).

And yet, we find that God not only transcends His creation, He shares a personal affinity towards it (immanence); part 2 of point 1. He is directly involved with it personally. This is demonstrated in a variety of ways. First, He puts His personal blessings on everything He made. When the Lord made the creatures of the air, land and sea He blessed them, gave them food and told them to be fruitful and multiply (cf. Gen 1.22, 29-30). Secondly, we find this personal aspect of God’s interaction with His creation in the forming of Adam.

First we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man…So God created man…male and female he created them. And God blessed them.” (Gen 1.26a, 27a & c, 28a). In Genesis 2 we are given more details regarding this creative act of God in making man on day 6 of creation.

“Then the Lord God formed the man of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2.7). Catch this, the Lord not only formed the man from the very clay of this earth (the potted vessel), but He then breathes into this man the breath of life making this new creature of dirt a living being. Life, precious life comes from God, but the Lord is not done yet.

In the very next verse we read that “the Lord God [had] planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden…” (Gen 2.8-9a).

Again, we find the personal tenderness and care of this Creator God who though He is distinct (transcendent) from His creation, He goes to great lengths to make His presence known to His creatures in the way that He provides for them (life, blessing and purpose); and as we shall see in a bit, in the way He instructs them. God who created everything “very good” (Gen 1.31) took the man who He made last—distinct from all other life on the planet—and placed this man in a garden in Eden. The man’s own private sanctuary of joy and beauty, where he was to be reminded, and in light of this reminder, enjoys his Creator.

Point Two—Who represents God? God the Chief Hierarch and man His representative

Just as the Bible assumes the Triune God of creation, so too is His authority presupposed. “The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psa 113.4-6). “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…[for] Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales” (Isa 44.22, 15).

The Scriptures describe God as above all things and all other things (His own creation) as nothing. He alone has ultimate authority over all things. He alone is to be praised.

Yet, we find that God has established man as His representative. Not only did the Lord God create man in the beginning, but He made the man to mirror Him in all of life, giving him authority to rule over lesser creatures.

  • “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living that moves on the earth” (Gen 1.26-28).

The dominion or rule that God has given the man is to be done in a reflective manner after the Creator who created him (and her). Both genders, male and female, are the image bearers of God. They are both given the responsibility of displaying God’s likeness to the rest of creation. The subduing of the earth (v.28) and the dominion over the earth (v.26) is to be done in a godly fashion. Man was not created as an independent being, but a dependent creature. Much like a baby in the womb is dependent upon her mother via the umbilical cord, so too is the man and woman of God (His possession) to be so plugged into Him (i.e. dependency).

Point Three—What are God’s Laws? God’s Law/Ethics, His Instruction sets the Moral boundaries of His creatures

Because God has authority over mankind as the Transcendent Creator, and due to the fact that God has made mankind to image Him in the rest of creation, God necessarily sets the rules/codes of conduct. In short, God tells human beings how to think and live (act). We see this in the early details of Genesis 1-2.

God commands the man to be fruitful and multiple. They are to form family units and have babies in order to fill the earth (v.28). One of the things that ought to strike our attention is the detailed plot line in Genesis 2.

God formed the man first, and then the Lord began to bring various animals to the man on the sixth day, to see what he would name them. This was not pet naming as we do with cats and dogs, but classifying animals within their various kinds based upon their characteristics. God doesn’t do anything without a purpose behind it; so what’s the purpose here?

God knows things that His creatures do not—God is omniscient—and one of the things He knows early on day sixth is that “it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (Gen 2.18). As Adam is naming the animals he no doubt notices that they have two genders, male and female. They have equal counterparts, but not so for him. Thus we are told in Gen 2:20, “But for Adam there was not a helper fit for him.” Adam learned this through God’s object lesson.

Therefore, once the lesson has sunk in the Lord performs the first surgery in history. He puts Adam into a deep sleep (by the way this is why/how anesthesia was invented) and takes some meat and bone from his side (Gen 2.21). From that flesh and bone the Lord forms the woman, and then after Adam is awake brings her to the man (Gen 2.22).

Notice Adam’s response: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen 2.23). In other words, Adam was so excited by this new gift of the Lord—a helper comparable to him—that he said “Woooo-man!” (Sorry, couldn’t resist a little humor here). In short, Adam learned what God already knew; God is seen forming Adam’s thinking, helping him determine what is good.

God also tells the man that he was created to work. He is given instruction (command/law) “to work it and keep” the creation given to him. Yes, it is, in a word, a paradise, but this is not a Sandal’s Resort. Adam cannot lazily lounge by the river drinking from a glass with an umbrella in it; he has been instructed to work, to exercise dominion (cf. Gen 1.26, 28). By the way, part of that instruction from the Lord in guarding (“keeping” means to build a hedge around it) what has been entrusted to him, is properly teaching and protecting his wife. Which, he does a poor job of doing as we see in Genesis 3.

The Lord also tells Adam what he is allowed to eat, and what he is not. Genesis 1:29-30 tells us that God gave all plant life for food. In Genesis 2:9 we see that God has created a wonderful orchard from which the man and woman may enjoy. However, in the middle of the garden the Lord put a “NO-TRESSPASSING” sign on one tree—The Tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2.9b). “This tree,” said the Lord “is off limits. You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.16b-17).

This particular tree did not have “special knowledge,” and no the man did not need to eat of it in order “to learn” what was good and bad. That knowledge had already been established when God said “No!” This law of God established the boundary line of what was “good and evil,” as in all the other thing that God had been doing this instruction was given in order to teach the man and woman how to think and act. They were God’s representatives, not their own.

Point Four—What are God’s Sanctions? God Blesses Obedience and Curses Disobedience

God is judge: “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Eccl 3.17). And, as judge God rewards faithfulness to His Law-Word, but promises negative acts of retribution to those who are unfaithful.

As long as Adam was obedient to the Law-Word of God he was promised Life. The other tree in the middle of the garden was the Tree of Life (Gen 2.9). Adam and his wife were not prohibited from eating from this tree.

If you remember in my last post I pointed out that the those in covenant with God in the O.T./N.T. (via circumcision/baptism), were allowed to eat at the table of the Lord. Both tables (Passover and Eucharist) symbolize life and blessing to the faithful. However, they also symbolize death and cursing. To attempt to partake of the Lords table in an unholy fashion promised separation from the goodness of God (cf. 1Cor 11.27-32).

Adam disobeyed the voice of the Lord. He disregarded the commands/instruction/law of his Creator, instead turning inwardly to the creature. He allowed the serpent to deceive his wife, he allowed his wife to coerce him to go against what he knew to be true, and in so doing he purposefully and willfully rebelled against his Creator in whose image he was made (cf. Gen 3.1-7; 17-19). The consequence is that the earth was cursed (Gen 3.17; Rom 8.19-22) as signified by “thorns and thistles” (Gen 2.18), and the days of man’s existence will be painful labor where eventually the body will waste away and return to the dust from which it came (Gen 3.19).

Point Five—Who will inherit? God Promises Temporal and Eternal Inheritances in light of one’s Reaction towards Him

The final judgment that day was being kicked out of the garden (cherubim were placed guarding it) and access was denied to the Tree of Life (Gen 3.22-24). That was the inheritance that Adam bought for his offspring. This is why Paul later says that all human beings in Adam were condemned as sinners (Rom 5.12, 18-19) and are therefore “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2.3; italics added). The Greek term for nature4 Paul uses here in his Ephesian letter, describing the fate of all mankind means by “birth, physical origin.” Therefore, we “were [born] dead in…trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1). Adam’s sin purchased death (separation) from God. The umbilical cord, so to speak, was severed by his transgression, and as the representative head of the human race we are born into this world in that state.

Closing Remarks…

The good-news is found in the grace of God. Adam could not cover (atone) for his transgression, but God could. This image of covering is displayed in Genesis 3:21 when “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” They attempted to cover (atone; clothe) their nakedness (Hebrew for sin/shame) in Genesis 3:7, but what they couldn’t do for themselves the Lord did for them. Why? Because of the promise He gave in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This has nothing to do with fear of snakes, that’s just foolish superstitious belief, but it has everything to do with God’s promise to redeem and ransom and regenerate fallen mankind in Jesus Christ.

All in Christ receive eternal life (Matt 19.29; Rom 6.23) having been adopted back as God’s children (John 1.12-13; Rom 8.15; Gal 4.5). Every one of the points above is found demonstrated in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the God-Man. He acknowledged God as Creator (He knew His Father; cf. Luke 10.22; John 10.15), and He acknowledged God’s authority (John 8.28; 12.49) and therefore
perfectly imaged Him in all creation (cf. Col 1.15;Heb 1.3) by doing all that the Father commanded Him (cf. Matt 5.17; John 14.31; Heb 5.8) He was richly blessed (cf. Rom 9.5; also see Isa 9.6-7; Dan 7.13-14) and inherited for His offspring an unfailing inheritance (cf. 1Pet 1.4).

I have more to say, but your eyes need a rest…until next time.



1 Outline points taken from: Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion by Covenant, 3rd Printing (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, [1987], 1997).

2 Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 92.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

4 5449
φύσις [phusis /foo·sis/] n f. Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

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