Creation Covenant

By Sean Finnegan

As we begin part two of our class, we will consider God’s covenant with creation and the roles Adam and Noah play.  God’s commitment to the created order shows us his original intention as well as providing the foundation stone upon which he will build all
subsequent covenants.


Two kinds of covenants in the ancient Near East (ANE)

  1. royal grant
  2. suzerain vassal

Wellum & Gentry: “A ‘royal-grant’ covenant is an ‘unconditional’ or ‘unilateral’ covenant.  The king enters into a relationship with his subjects and guarantees a certain gift to his subjects regardless of whether they obey.  In contrast, a ‘bilateral’ or ‘conditional’ covenant is a covenant similar to the suzerain-vassal treaties of the ancient Near East.  In such an arrangement the suzerain, or king, enters into relationship with his vassals, or subjects.  The king promises certain things to the subjects, and the subjects in return promise to obey the terms of the covenant.  They also agree that if they disobey the king, the king has the right to punish them, but if they obey, then the king must keep his promises to them.”[1]


Genesis 1.1–2  God creates the heavens and the earth

God speaks

  • v3 “let there be light”
  • v6 “let there be an expanse”
  • v9 “let the waters…be gathered together…let the dry land appear”
  • v11 “let the earth sprout vegetation…”
  • v14 “let there be lights in the expanse…”
  • v20 “let the waters swarm with swarming creatures and let the birds fly above the earth across the expanse…”
  • v24 “let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…”
  • God’s design tells us about his original intentions

Jeremiah 33.20–21, 25-26  God has a covenant with creation

Genesis 1.26–29  God put Adam and Eve in charge as image-bearers

Wellum & Gentry: “In the ancient Near East, since the king is the living statue of the god, he represents the god on earth.  He makes the power of the god a present reality.  To sum up, the term ‘the image of god’ in the culture and language of the ancient Near East in the fifteenth century BC would have communicated two main ideas: (1) rulership and (2) sonship.”[2]

God wanted an ordered world with tremendous diversity with his image-bearers ruling.

He provided them with

  1. food (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, etc.)
  2. home (Garden of Eden)
  3. welfare (tree of life)

He set clear expectations & consequences (in Genesis 2)

  1. no eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil
  2. if they do, they will surely die

Three reasons to think God established a covenant with Adam

  1. elements of covenant are there (bilateral agreement, blessings, curses)
  2. parentage implies covenant (Luke 3.28)
  3. later scriptures hold Adam as responsible head for all humanity
    (Romans 5.12-21; 1 Corinthians 15.20-21)

Tim Keller: “In a covenant, the good of the relationship takes precedence over the immediate needs of the individual.  For example, a parent may get little emotionally out of caring for an infant.  But there has always been an enormous social stigma attached to any parent who gives up their children because rearing them is too hard and unrewarding.  For most people, the very idea of that is unthinkable.  Why?  Society still considers the parent-child relationship to be a covenantal one, not a consumer relationship.”[3]

Wellum & Gentry: “[I]n Scripture the relationship between parents and children is considered covenantal, and this relationship is not with a nonrelative, nor is it a relationship
one chooses.”[4]

God originally wanted to be in a committed relationship (covenant) with his creation with human beings as his image-bearers to rule responsibly over everything else as his representatives (see also Psalm 8.5-8).


Genesis 3.6 Humanity disobeys God

God responds with curses (typical in a covenant relationship to enact curses if one of the parties breaks the covenant)

  • curses show change in humanity (pain in childbirth, misalignment between
    sexes, mortality)
  • curses show change in creation (thorns and thistles)
  • these curses affect all humanity, not just Adam and Eve (Romans 5.12-21)
  • these curses affect all creation, not just humans (Romans 8.19-22)

Genesis 3.15 God also makes plans to restore his original intention.  This is the first seed of God’s redemptive plan that will ultimately grow into a mighty tree, culminating in Jesus of Nazareth, the savior of all.


Genesis 9.8–16 Notice this is a covenant with creation (not just Noah).  God promises a stable world.  This is foundational, like concrete—a fitting base upon which to build.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “God does not forsake the earth: he made it, he sent his Son to it, and on it he built his Church.”[5]

This Noahic covenant is an update to the same covenant God had with Adam and Eve and all creation.

[1] Stephem Wellum and Peter Gentry, Kingdom through Covenant (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), fn 60, pp. 68-69.

[2] ibid., p. 227.

[3] Tim Keller and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (NY: Riverhead Books, 2011), p. 84.

[4] Wellum & Gentry, p. 164.

[5] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (1937; repr., New York: Touchstone,
1995), 110.

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