The Bible addresses us in our fallen state. It says precious little of what came before, or what will follow after the Fall. This is mostly because fallen humans cannot comprehend life without mortality, or an existence not bound by time and space. Such things cannot be rendered in human languages. The Bible is God’s revelation on how to restore faith and obedience while in our fleshly sojourn, so that we can return to Eden.
The God of the Bible portrays Himself as an eastern potentate, a nomad desert sheikh as feudal lord over His people. His people are His true treasure; it’s not about land and resources as in the West. In an sheikh’s domain, he has family, servants or hirelings, and slaves. Scripture depicts slaves as the wider world of people who do not know God. They don’t care about His agenda and serve His purposes unwittingly. Servants or hirelings are not family, but are committed to His mastery and His designs so long as it serves their needs. The meaning of family should be obvious, with the caveat that this an Ancient Near Eastern family, not a Western household. An Ancient Near Eastern family fully identifies with their Lord.
Those who lived within an eastern sheikh’s domain were under one or another covenant, except for slaves. The people must know the expectations of their lord. Family had one covenant; this is their household, too. Servants had another covenant that presumes they have no inheritance in the household. Slaves were simply under command. An Ancient Near Eastern sheikh would typically hold forth adoption into the family household to anyone who was willing to pay the price: They had to take upon themselves a commitment of loyalty, a sort of blood oath, to justify bringing them into the family. And slaves could always embrace a servant’s covenant, as well. It was a fundamental hostility, based on a sense of identity, that kept them in slavery. Covenants were not contracts, wherein goods and services are committed. Covenants are a commitment of the self, entirely personal in nature. It’s a moral connection to the Lord of the domain. So it’s not a question of what you are or what you do, but who you are.
God does nothing in this world that isn’t revealed or explained under one or more covenants. Everything you can know about God in this fallen realm is wrapped up in covenant awareness. God has long established the terms under which we exist in this world, and it’s all covered under covenants. There is no relationship to God otherwise.
Every covenant in the Bible is a path toward Eden. The covenant that applies to you depends on your status in God’s domain. Abraham was called by God as a servant; he was under the Covenant of Noah. That’s a law covenant. In Abraham’s world, the intellectual assumptions would be quite different from ours. He would have instinctively understood the necessity of dwelling under that covenant until he absorbed enough of the moral nature of his sovereign to be ready for something higher. So we see that, once he has proved his obedience and commitment to his Lord, he is offered a covenant of faith — a covenant family adoption. It was a new turning point on the same path to Eden he had long traveled.
He was treated differently as family, and the demands were actually much higher. It was necessary he be willing to sacrifice his only natural born son. To him, that was tantamount to sacrificing everything that mattered. It was a demand of self-death. Jesus said that Abraham is in Heaven (Matthew 22:29-33). People have always been offered an opportunity of spiritual birth into a covenant of faith.
For a time, the nation of Israel lived under a law covenant. It was not different from Noah’s Covenant, but a specific application of it. It was that people, that place and that time. Noah applies to the whole human race; what Moses offered was a far better explanation of what was inherent in Noah, but for that specific nation. They had a special status in revelation, one they trashed over the centuries. Moses ended at the Cross; the Temple veil was torn open and things reverted to their previous state. And the ancient faith covenant of Abraham was updated as the Covenant of Christ. There had always been law covenants and faith covenants.
Law covenants were intended to prepare the mind and flesh to obey the Spirit of God. They presumed one would commit to the Lord from the heart, which the Bible regards as the seat of the will, of convictions and faith. Faith cannot arise in the intellect, which is under the Fall and inherently hostile to faith. It has to be imposed on the mind from above. So the first step to rising above slavery to sin is to invest one’s conscious awareness in the heart. This qualifies one for a law covenant as a willing servant of God. Then one can serve until the soul has been conditioned. Servants were treated the same as minor children in the Master’s domain; they had to develop an awareness and desire for the Lord’s interests.
In Christ, we gain a new wrinkle in this regime. Rather than slog through a law covenant on the way to learning self-death, one can simply seize upon self-death up front. Instead of a highly veiled reference to the Flaming Sword, we now have the very obvious Cross. We still have to learn how to be His children and to take up the family business with a loving heart, but we can do all of that after coming to Christ and making Him Lord. Thus, embracing Christ is a shortcut to family adoption, but it still means embracing the covenant of faith and all it requires.
The law covenants were to exemplify what faith looks like in terms of behavior and thinking. They have always been the bottom half of the faith covenants.