Saturday, July 18, 2009

Suzerain Covenants in Scripture, II: The Adamic Covenant

The Adamic Covenant is the first covenant between God and man. Genesis opens with its beautiful Creation Song (Gen 1:1-25), ending with a crescendo at the creation of the first man, Adam.

With the end of the Creation Song, we immediately enter the first covenant between God and man - the first suzerain treaty.

The Adamic Covenant (Gen 1:26-2:17)

Suzerain Party - God the Father
Vassal Party - All of Adam's descendents
Broker/Mediator for Vassals - Adam
Right to Serve as Broker - Father of all vassals

Now we will discuss the details of the covenant, and you will see how neatly and interestingly it fits within the suzerain structure:


Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:26-27)

The preamble identifies the parties and their relationship to one another. God is the suzerain party, as a result of His creative sovereignty. All mankind (males and females) are the vassal party.

Adam is the mediator (ambassador) of the covenant on behalf of mankind, acting on his authority as the father of mankind. Because the covenant applies to all of Adam’s progeny, we are all bound to this covenant.

Historical Prologue

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria And the fourth river is the Euphrates. Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen 2:4-15, 18-25)

The historical prologue recalls the history of how the suzerain has shown benevolence to the vassal in the past. Many readers of the Bible misunderstand Genesis 2 as a second creation account; in reality, it is a part of a contract, and is a reminder of why man owes God so much—because before planting Eden, He formed man from the ground, placed him in the beautiful garden of Eden, gave him dominion over all the animals (this is the significance of Adam’s naming them), and made him a wife.

Conditions and Terms

God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so. …The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Gen 1:28-30, 2:16-17)

The conditions and terms of the Adamic covenant are also spelled out in this passage. There are three commands:

1. First, man is commanded to be fruitful and fill the earth. This does not necessarily imply that each person is commanded to have children, but that mankind as a whole should spread out across all of the earth. (This command becomes of increasingly lower importance as the population expands, because a lower percentage of parents are required to maintain our widespread presence.)

2. Secondly, man is given the command to subdue the earth—literally, we are to be earth’s "governors". Recall that God is speaking as King of the Universe, the Lord of all creation. On one of the provinces of creation—Earth—he has appointed a governor (mankind). We are responsible to govern the earth just as the governor of a province in any empire should: we must maintain control of the earth, and we must ensure that the earth is healthy and successful. In turn, God tells us that He will provide us food (as any good emperor would, ensuring that each governor had the appropriate funding and backing to make his province successful).

3. Finally, man is forbidden from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

This covenant is still in effect today, and all of mankind is still bound to it.

Witness of the Covenant
It is a bit uncertain whether there was any witness, or sign, to this covenant. Because this predated other covenants by thousands of years—and because there were no other humans to witness such a sign!—it is possible that no sign or witness was required. Some scholars identify the blessing of the Sabbath (Gen 2:3) as one possible sign, since it chronologically occurs after God finishes creating the heavens, earth, and planting the Garden of Eden.

Curses and Blessings
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Gen 2:16-17)

Finally, God informs Adam of the curse which results from breaking any of the three conditions of the covenant: death (Paul will say later, both physical and spiritual death) will result.

Unfortunately, we see these curses having to be fulfilled in the next few chapters, and as a result of Adam’s failure to live up to his agreement, we all now must taste death. The Fall of Man outlined in Genesis chapter 3 is an example where man almost immediately fails to live up to his first covenant with God. As a result, God enacts the cursings above, which is His right as sovereign.

In particular, the cursings that God establishes on man in Genesis 3 are: painful childbirth (v.16), inequality of leadership between men and women (v.16), the requirement of work to provide sustenance (v.17-19), death at the end of life (v.19), and banishment from the Garden of Eden (v.23).

Final note: We are all still under the Adamic Covenant today. We cannot adhere to the third condition any more, as Adam already broke it; furthermore, the first condition has been fulfilled (our only duty being to ensure that man continues to populate the earth). The remaining condition to which we are bound by the Adamic Covenant is to subdue the earth, helping to ensure always that (1) mankind remains governance and control of earth, and (2) that mankind governs wisely.

Next up: the Noahic Covenant