The Abrahamic Covenant

Genesis 12:1-3

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2015

Last week, we looked at nine incredible promises that God gave to Abraham. Some of these promises were personal.  God promised to make Abraham’s name great.  He promised that Abraham would have many descendants.  Some of the promises were national.  They involved the promise of a great nation, a land in the Middle East and the promise of kings which would come out of that nation.

Some of the promises were universal.  God promised that in Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed, not just Jews but all of the families of the earth.  The goal of these promises was not just to benefit Abraham or his descendants but to benefit the whole world.  Some of the promises were fulfilled by Abraham.  Some of them were fulfilled by Israel and some of the promises were fulfilled by Gentiles.

These promises make up the Abrahamic Covenant, the second covenant in the Bible.  It is also one of the most important covenants in the Bible.  You cannot understand biblical prophecy if you do not understand this covenant and many Christians do not understand it.  We saw that last week.  Some Christians have some strange ideas about this covenant, like the idea that it guarantees all Christians to be wealthy and not just a little wealthy but very wealthy like Abraham was.

Last week, we saw that this covenant had so many different aspects to it.  It contained MATERIAL blessings (real estate that was inherited).  It included IMMATERIAL blessings (like the blessings of a good name or reputation).  It included PHYSICAL blessings (the blessing of children to an infertile couple).  It included FINANCIAL blessings (God blessed Abraham financially.  He was the Bill Gates of his day).  It included SPIRITUAL blessings.  The Messiah would be a physical descendant of Abraham.  He is called “the son of Abraham”.

Does This Covenant Still Apply Today?

This is a great covenant. Many do not like it.  It sounds too Jewish.  It deals with Abraham’s descendants and a Jewish land in the Middle East.  The Jews have crucified their Messiah and many think that God is finished with the Jews.  It is called replacement theology.  Many believe that this covenant is no longer in effect.  It doesn’t apply today.  In order to answer this, we have to ask two questions.

Has this Covenant Already Been Fulfilled?

Some would say that this covenant is NOT in force today because it has already been fulfilled. Everything that God promised to Abraham four thousand years ago has already been fulfilled (so Hank Hanegraaf). Israel became a great nation in Egypt, possessed the land under Joshua and Solomon and people from all the nations of the earth have been blessed through Jesus.  What verses would support this position?

I Kings 4:21 says, “And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life” (NIV).

Joshua says, “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed” (23:14). Have all of the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant already been fulfilled?  No.

The problem with this view is that even you agree with the premise, even if the Jews did inherit all of the land that God promised them in Joshua’s or Solomon’s day (which is debatable), the covenant still has not been completely fulfilled.  It cannot be completely fulfilled right now.  It is impossible.  Why?  It is impossible for at least two reasons.

One, God promised that they would have the land FOREVER, not just in Joshua’s day.  In fact, He said that five times.

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (13:14-15 ESV).  How long?  Forever.  The Jews are currently living in only a fraction of the land God promised them.

“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an EVERLASTING covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (17:7 ESV).

“And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an EVERLASTING possession, and I will be their God” (17:8 ESV).

“Both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an EVERLASTING covenant” (17:13 ESV).

“God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an EVERLASTING covenant for his offspring after him” (17:19 ESV).

God promised the Jews not just the Promised Land.  He promised them permanent possession of the Promised Land.  They have not had that yet.  In fact, for the last two thousand years, they have not even been in the land.  They were kicked out of it by the Romans in 70 AD and did not go back into it until 1948.

This covenant was an everlasting covenant, just like the covenant that God made with Noah.  It was called “an everlasting covenant.”  It was “an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (9:17).

Two, Abraham never possessed any land in Canaan.  He went there and lived there for a hundred years but never owned any land.  The only thing he owned there was a burial plot for him and his wife.  The NT tells us that he did not own anything else (cf. Acts 7:5; Hebrews 11:11-15).  Who did God give the land to?  He gave it to Abraham AND to his seed.

Is this a Conditional Covenant?

Many believe that this covenant is NOT in force today because it was a conditional covenant.  Abraham and his descendants did not keep the conditions, so the covenant is no longer in force.  That is the view of John Piper.  Where does he get this idea?  He gets that from Genesis 22.

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that BECAUSE YOU HAVE DONE THIS and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, BECAUSE YOU HAVE OBEYED ME.” (22:15-18 NIV)

Is he right?  What is a conditional covenant?  Was the Abrahamic Covenant conditional?  No.

An Unconditional Covenant

1.  There are no conditions stated in the covenant.

A conditional covenant says, “If then.”  It says, “If you obey, you will be blessed”.  If you meet certain conditions, you will get certain blessings.  The Mosaic Law is a conditional covenant.  The Abrahamic Covenant is not an “if …then” covenant.

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (12:1-3).

Does this passage contain the words “if…then”?  No.  It does have one command but there is no condition in the passage.  God doesn’t say. “If you do this, I will do that”.  He did not say “I am making this covenant and these promises subject to your obedience”.  There was no condition in Genesis 22.  God did not tell Abraham, “If you sacrifice you son, I will make a covenant with you.”  That was a test (22:1), not a condition.

He did not say, “When you leave Ur and leave your father’s house, then I will make a covenant with you”.  The covenant was made in Ur BEFORE he even left and not because he left.  Now God did give Abraham a command but he has given us all kinds of commands and we are not saved by works.  Our salvation is not conditioned on obedience to a bunch of commandments.

2. Paul distinguishes between law and promise

Galatians 3:17-18 says, “What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Paul mentions not only two covenants but two different kinds of covenants.  What is the law?  The Mosaic Covenant.  What is the promise?  The Abrahamic Covenant.  One is clearly conditional and one is unconditional.  The conditional covenant did not set aside the previous covenant of promise.

3. The Abrahamic Covenant is based on an oath.

 “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.”

“People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.”(Hebrews 6:13-18 NIV)

We saw this oath in Genesis 12.  Six times God says “I will”.  God made Abraham unconditional promises and made an oath.  The one who made this promise to Abraham could not lie, so it must take place.

4. When the covenant was officially made, God alone walked through the animals.

The Abrahamic Covenant was a blood covenant.  In the Ancient Near East, when a covenant was made, they had a ceremony.  The ceremony involved killing an animal and both parties walking through the parts of the animal, as if to say if to say if either side broke the covenant, they would be torn apart like animals.

“So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him….the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (15:9-12, 17)

When the actual covenant was made and the animal was cut open, God was the only one who walked between the parts (15:17).  A flaming torch and a smoking firepot went through the animals but Abraham did not. That means that the promises were totally dependent on God and not on Abraham.  It was a unilateral covenant.  It was unconditional.

 Lessons on the Jews 

1) They are the Chosen People

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (Deuteronomy 7:6).  In fact, God says in Amos 3:2 of Israel “You only have I known of all the families on the earth.”  God calls them “Israel My Chosen One” in Isaiah 45:4.

There is only one nation on the planet that God chose to be His people.  It was the Jews.  God didn’t make a covenant with America or with China.  The only country He made a covenant with was with Israel.  It doesn’t mean that everyone in the nation was saved.  He chose them as a nation.  Their election was national.  It was corporate, not individual.

We should have some respect for Israel.  It is the only democracy in the Middle East.  Every Christians should support Israel. The nation is not perfect.  It is not even Christian but God did make a covenant with them. Many wonder why God has not judged America.  As Billy Graham used to say, “If God doesn’t judge America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah”.

One reason why He has not judged America, is because of our foreign policy.  We have supported Israel.  The US gives Israel billions of dollars annually.[1]  When America blesses Israel, America will be blessed.  When America curses Israel, America will be cursed.  Who says that?  Right-wing conservatives? No.  God says that.  God promised to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel.  Not all of our presidents have been supportive of Israel.

2) God gave them the Promise Land

For decades, Jews and Arabs have been fighting over a small strip of land in the Middle East.  Many have a lot of sympathy for the Palestinian people and say that the land of Israel does not belong to the Jews.  It belongs to the Arabs.  Some Christians have said that Israel does not have a right to the land.  John Piper says that.

Piper believes the covenant was conditional.  The Jews broke the covenant.  They crucified their Messiah.  He says, “The secular state of Israel today may NOT claim a present divine right to the Land, but they … should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.”[2]

I strongly disagree with Piper.  The Jews do have a divine right to the land.  They have a legal right to the land.  They got it from God himself. He gave it to them.  God owns the world.  He created it and He has a right to any territory away.  God did not just say that one day in the future He would give them this land.  He already did.  “To your offspring I GIVE this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates (15:18)

God condemns people for dividing up the Promise Land.  Joel 3:2 says, “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land” (NIV).  That is the modern approach.  The modern approach is to trade land for peace and to split the country up and give some of it to the Jews and some of it to the Arabs (the Two-State Solution).

3) The nation of Israel will always exist.

God did not just make a covenant with the Jews, He made an EVERLASTING COVENANT with the Jews (Genesis 17:7, 19; 1 Chronicles 16:15-17; Psalm 105:8-10). The covenant with Israel cannot be everlasting if they cease to exist.  God promised Israel permanent existence as a nation in this covenant.  If the nation ever ceased to exist, then this covenant would not be fulfilled. The fact that the nation has survived is a miracle in itself.

The Romans kicked them out of Israel in 70 AD and the Jews have been scattered all over the earth for two thousand years but they survived.  Many other nations have died off (The Hittites, the Philistines) but they survived.  Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews in the Holocaust.  He called it “the Final Solution”.  Six million died but they miraculously survived.

Today, are surrounded by a group of nations that want to destroy them.  Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel right in its charter.   Some nations today are threatening to destroy Israel and are trying to get nuclear weapons to do it.  They say that they will wipe Israel off the map but God says that Israel will never be destroyed and can never be destroyed because of something called the Abrahamic Covenant. As Isaiah said, No weapon formed against the Jews will prosper (54:17).

[1] This text does say that God will bless those who bless Israel, but rather those who bless Abraham. However, these same promises were later repeated to Abraham’s descendants (27:29) and they were later applied to the nation as a whole in Numbers 24:9.

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