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The Abrahamic Covenant Explained

The Abrahamic Covenant Explained

The Bible mentions several covenants that God made with certain individuals or a group of people, such as the covenant in Eden (Genesis 2:15-17), the covenant with Adam (Genesis 2:14-21, the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1-9), the covenant with Abraham, etc.

But unlike the first three which were God’s general provisions for the entire human race in their existence on earth, God’s Covenant with Abraham is the first of God’s covenants to establish a spiritual relationship with a called, believing people (Genesis 12:1-3).

The Call of Abram

Genesis 12:1-3

Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God's Covenant with Abraham ExplainedAbram was seventy-five years old when God called him out of idolatry (Joshua 24:2), while he was in Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:28, 31; 15:7; Nehemiah 9:7), a city devoted to Nannar, the moon-god. God spoke to Abram, and the Word brought about the miracle of faith (Romans 10:17).

Abram did not know the true God and had done nothing to deserve knowing Him, but God graciously called him. Abram did not choose God, but God chose him. In the same way, we Christians did not choose God but He chose us and appointed us (John 15:16).

The call was to separate himself from the corruption around him, and Abram obeyed by faith (Hebrews 11:8). True faith is based on the Word of God and leads to obedience. God would not bless and use Abram and Sarai unless they were in the place of His appointment. That principle still holds true today.

The fact that Abram was well-advanced in age when God called him tells us that age does not need to be an obstacle to faith. He trusted God for one hundred years (Genesis 25:7), and from his experience, we today can learn to walk by faith and live to please the Lord.

Three Areas of Blessings

God’s covenant with Abraham provides for blessings in three areas: national, personal and universal.

1) National Blessing

The covenant anticipated that Abraham and his descendants would not only dwell in a land that they can call their own but that he will become a special nation in the work of God – “I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2a).

So first, God promised to give Abram a land for him and his descendants (Genesis 12:7). But at the time of the call, Abram did not know where this land was. Only when we get to chapter 15 that the full description of the land was given:

On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18).

Although the land never belonged to Abram in his lifetime and had to buy a portion of the land for a burial site when his wife Sarai died, the title deed to the Promised Land was passed to his son Isaac (Genesis 26:3) and then from Isaac to Jacob (Genesis 28:13). Later on, Israel, under the leadership of Joshua went into the land of Canaan, possessed it and captured major cities.

*Related Article: God Promised a Land to the Jewish People

The second promise was that of a great nation coming from Abram. This promise demanded faith on the part of Abram because they were the least likely candidates to have a family and build a great nation. Abram was already aged and his wife Sarai was incapable of having children (Genesis 11:30).

But God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and by calling and blessing a barren couple, the Lord revealed the greatness of His power and His glory. Abram would be named “Abraham,” which means “father of many nations.”

2) Personal Blessing

The covenant also promised that Abraham would accomplish great things – “I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2b).

God made marvelous promises to the patriarch of the chosen nation. He would be the father of a famous nation; his name would be great because his life would be marked by God’s personal blessings and would be the channel of God’s blessings to many people.

Genesis 13:14-16

While much of Abram’s blessing was to come in the form of his offspring, there was also the blessing that would come in the form of the Messiah, who would bring salvation to God’s people.

God also promised to make Abram’s name great. No one is probably more honored in history than Abraham, who is honored not only by Christians and Jews but also by Muslims.

3) Universal Blessing

Finally, God promised Abraham that He was going to start a spiritual movement through him that would influence every nation of the earth – “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3c).

God’s covenant with Abraham reached beyond him to humanity in general. Those people and nations which treated Abraham well and the nation which would descend from him would know God’s favor. On the other hand, those people and nations who mistreated Abraham and his descendants could expect the curse of God to rest on them (Genesis 12:3).

The final universal aspect of God’s covenant with Abraham as implied by the promise that “in him all families of the earth will be blessed” would be Abraham’s most important descendant – the Messiah. The sacrifice and atoning death of the Messiah would make available forgiveness and salvation for the entire world.

This promise made more specific the prophecy in God’s covenant with Adam that the Seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:16).

Christ and the Abrahamic Covenant

God’s covenant with Abraham was more than a personal agreement between a godly man and the Lord; it promised blessings for “all the families of the earth.”

Paul wrote the church in Rome that believing Gentiles, like branches from “a wild olive tree, were grafted in among {believing Israel}, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree” (Romans 11:17). The “root” from which God’s people draw their rich spiritual life is God’s covenant with Abraham.

If You are in Christ, You are Abraham’s Seed

In Galatians 3:17, Paul reasoned that God’s covenant with Abraham was foundational to spiritual life on two bases. First, it predated the Mosaic Law by 430 years. The law must always be understood in light of the covenant with Abraham.

More importantly, Paul insisted that God confirmed His covenant with Abraham “in Christ.” God had made His covenant with Abraham “and his seed” (Genesis 13:15; 15:18, “descendants” literally reads “seed”). Paul contended that God looked through all the generations of Abram’s “seed” to Christ, “the Seed,” as the means of guaranteeing the unconditional provisions of the covenant (Galatians 3:16-17).

Paul wrote, “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). The covenant made in Genesis 12:1-3 applied just to the physical descendants of Abraham. In Christ, the blessings promised to the heirs of Abraham find spiritual application to all people of faith (Romans 4:16).

Paul further reasoned that physical descendants of Abraham who rejected Jesus as their Messiah could be compared to Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar (Galatians 4:23-25). People who respond to Jesus with the kind of faith Abraham pioneered could be compared to Isaac, Abraham’s son of promise by Sarah (Galatians 4:28).

Paul called these people “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

All Israel will be Saved

By identifying people of faith in Christ as the heirs of blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham, the New Testament does not deny any future role to the Jewish people in the outworking of that covenant.

As mentioned earlier, the Book of Romans pictures native branches of the domesticated olive tree being broken off to make room for wild branches to be grafted in and draw fruitful life from the roots of Abraham’s covenant (Romans 11:17).

God's Covenant with Abraham Explained

That process is reversible as we read in Romans 11:23. Indeed, the New Testament anticipates a time of spiritual renewal among the physical descendants of Abraham when their ancestry and faith in Christ will align. “Hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26).

Conclusion

Other than being the first theocratic covenant (pertaining to the rule of God) and the basis of all the other theocratic covenants, the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional.

This means it was dependent solely upon God who obligates Himself in grace, indicated by the unconditional declarations, “I will,” without corresponding “you must” demands on Abraham. Though it was given in broad outline in Genesis 12:1-3, it was later confirmed to Abraham at various times in greater detail (Genesis 13:14-17; 15:1-7, 18-21; 17:1-8).

The Abrahamic covenant contained all that God then began to do, has since done throughout history, and will continue to do. All of God’s plans for humanity grow out of this covenant.


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What is the Mosaic Covenant?

What is the Mosaic Covenant?

The best-known covenant in the Bible is the one God made with Moses on Mount Sinai. This is the second of the theocratic covenants (after the one with Abraham) that elaborates on how God relates to His people as their sovereign Lord.

Unlike the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant was conditional as it is introduced by the condition: “Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5).

The Form of Covenant

The Mosaic Covenant was given to and accepted by the nation of Israel (Exodus 19:6-8) so that those who believe God’s promise given to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) would know how they should conduct themselves.

When God initiated a relationship with Moses and the Israelites at Sinai, He utilized a covenant style universally understood in the second millennium before Christ. The covenant begins with a preamble identifying the Lord as the absolute Sovereign (Exodus 20:1-2; Deuteronomy 1:1-5), followed by a brief history of relations between the Lord and His subject people (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 1:6 – 3:29).

Exodus 20:1-2

The bulk of the covenant is the stipulations that the subject people must observe (Exodus 203 – 31:17; Deuteronomy 4 – 26). The covenant is then sealed with an oath of allegiance and its accompanying blessings for obedience and curse for disobedience (Exodus 24:1-11; Deuteronomy 27:1 – 28:68; Joshua 8:30-35).

Finally, there is a list of witnesses and directions for keeping the covenant (Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 31:16 – 32:47).

Three Areas of Life Governed by the Covenant

God’s covenant with Moses found originally in Exodus and expanded in Deuteronomy, governed three areas of Israel’s life:

1) Personal Life

First, the (Ten) commandments in the covenant governed the personal lives of the Israelites in their relationship with God (Exodus 20:1-26). While all the Ten Commandments deal with Israel’s (and our) responsibilities toward God, the first four are particularly God-ward (Exodus 20:1-11) while the last six are man-ward (Exodus 20:12-17).

*Related Article: The First and Greatest Commandment of God

Now, why do you think the covenant has its focus first and foremost in the people’s relationship with God? It’s because generally, how we relate to others depends on how we relate to God, for if we love God and obey Him, we’ll also love our neighbors and serve them (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10).

2) Social Life

The judgments governed the people’s social lives in their relationship with one another Exodus 24:1 – 24:11). Exodus chapters 21 to 24 deal with the rights of each person, his properties (money, animals, etc.), how he should conduct himself, social justice, observance of the sabbatical year and national feasts, conquest regulations and how the covenant is ratified through blood.

Let’s take for instance Exodus 21:12-17. The laws outlined here are laws regarding capital crimes and are the logical application of the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13; Leviticus 24:17). We’re made in God’s image, so to murder a fellow human being is to attack the image of God (Genesis 9:6).

If a person was found guilty of murder on the testimony of two or more witnesses (Numbers 35:30-31), then the murderer was killed.

Exodus 23:1-5 is a call for justice, an amplification of the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16), a warning not to endorse falsehood and promote injustice because of what the crowd is doing (Leviticus 19:15-16; Deuteronomy 22:13-19).

Nor should God’s people be influenced by the wealth or the poverty of the accused or by the bribes people offer them for their support (Exodus 16:18-20; Isaiah 1:23; Micah 3:11). To condemn an innocent person for personal gain is to become guilty before God, and God doesn’t acquit the guilty (Exodus 23:7).

3) Religious Life

Finally, the ordinances governed the people’s religious lives so that they would know how to properly approach God (Exodus 24:12 – 31:18).

The promise of the Lord in Exodus 6:6-8 was now about to move into its third phase. God had redeemed His people (Exodus chapters 1 – 18) and taken them to Himself as His people (Exodus chapters 19 – 24); now He was about to come and dwell among them and be their God (Exodus chapters 25 – 40).

The Covenant between God and Moses

This area governed by the Mosaic Covenant focuses on the design, construction, and dedication of the Tabernacle which is how the people of God can approach Him. Man cannot come to God in any way other than that which He ordained. Therefore, God commanded the Jews to build the Tabernacle so that He can fulfill His promise to be Israel’s God by coming to the camp to dwell with His people.

God met with His people at the Tabernacle of Moses set up for worship and sacrifice. Today, God’s people meet with Him through prayer, Bible reading and meditation, worship, service, and sacrifice which can be done individually (at home or in any in a private setting) or through corporate worship and fellowship (church setting).

Worshiping God is the highest privilege and the greatest responsibility of the Christian life because God is the highest Being in the universe and the One to whom we must one day give account. Everything that we are and do flows out of our relationship with the Lord.

God created us in His image so we might love Him and have fellowship with Him, not because we have to but because we want to. God is seeking people who will worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).

Revelation 21:3

Conclusion

The Mosaic Covenant in no way replaced or set aside the Abrahamic Covenant. Its function is clearly set forth by Paul (Galatians 3:17-19), who points out that the law, the Mosaic Covenant, came 430 years after the Abrahamic Covenant.

The Mosaic Covenant was added alongside the Abrahamic Covenant so that the people of Israel would know how to conduct their lives until “the Seed,” the Christ, comes and makes the complete and perfect sacrifice, toward which the sacrifices of the Mosaic Covenant only point.

The Mosaic Covenant was not given for salvation. The law was not given so that by keeping it people could be saved. Keeping the law does not save. Rather the law keeps and prepares a person for salvation by faith.

The law was given that man might realize that they cannot do what God wants them to do even when God writes it down on tablets of stone; that man is helpless and hopeless when left to himself, and realize that his only hope is to receive the righteousness of God by faith alone in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:22-24).

Descriptions of a Childlike Faith

Descriptions of a Childlike Faith

Jesus’ statement to His disciples in Matthew 18:3 about them not entering the kingdom of heaven unless they are converted and become as little children speaks volumes of the importance of having a childlike faith.

But what is childlike faith? What makes one’s faith childlike?

Faith Rooted in Security

During the days of childhood, one learns how to survive and prosper, how to love and share, and how to serve and praise. A well-cared-for child has no worries about house payments, no anxious moments over job opportunities, no apprehensions about failure, and no thoughts of vengeance.

David exemplified this kind of faith while he was on the run from Saul. In Psalm 131:1-2, David compared the calmness and serenity he had in the Lord to that of a weaned child with his mother.

Content with God and the works He was doing in his life, David did not concern himself with great matters such as selfish ambition and self-promotion. Rather, he found serenity and security in his relationship with God.

Descriptions of a Childlike Faith

To have a childlike faith is to find serenity and security in our relationship with God no matter the circumstance.

Faith that Praises

Jesus loved children. He loved to use children to teach hard-headed and hard-hearted grown-ups about faith and praise. While preaching in the region of Judea, Christ was encircled by a great crowd.

“Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there” (Matthew 19:13-15).

He later reminded the priests and scribes that “the mouth of babes and nursing infants” would offer praise fitting for God’s Anointed (Matthew 21:16). When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a colt, a very great multitude that included children cried out saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9)!

The sound of the children praising Jesus in the temple courts made the chief priests and scribes indignant. In response, Jesus quoted from Psalm 8:2. God does not only want prayer in His house, He also delights in praise.

To have a childlike faith is to have a heart that always longs to praise and glorify God in each and every life’s circumstance.

*Read here: The Elements of Praise

Faith that Believes

Jesus used the lad with the five barley loaves and the two small fish to feed five thousand people (John 6:9). To show His power over death, He used a little girl. Jairus, a ruler in the synagogue, fell at Jesus’ feet begging Him to come to his house and save his dying twelve-year-old daughter.

Jesus agreed and tried to make His way with Jairus, but the surrounding crowd made the trip difficult. Word came that Jairus’ daughter had died. But Jesus responded, “Do not be afraid, only believe and she will be made well” (Luke 8:50).

At the house, as the parents wept over their loss, Jesus said, “She is not dead but sleeping” (Luke 8:52). Through tears, the people laughed at the impossibility of what they heard. Jesus then asked everyone to leave the room, and then He said, “Little girl, arise” (Luke 8:54), and she did!

Descriptions of a Childlike Faith

Romans 4:17 says that “God gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” Jesus spoke to the girl with the power of God, and she was raised from the dead. Jairus’ faith definitely played a part in the miracle healing of his daughter just like the faith of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years had made her well (Luke 8:43-48).

Nothing is impossible with God if we would just believe. This is what it means to have a childlike faith.

Faith that is Humble

Another time, Jesus used a child to teach humility. In Matthew 18:1-5, we read how the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” and how did Jesus respond? He called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them and said, “Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

He then went on to say, “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”

The fact that Jesus had been sharing with the disciples that truth about His approaching suffering and death did not affect them for they were thinking only of themselves and what position they would have in His Kingdom. So absorbed were the disciples in this matter that they actually argued with each other (Luke 9:46).

Pride – the very sin that caused Satan to be cast down from heaven is what’s causing people to think of themselves more highly than others. When Christians are living for themselves and not for others, conflict and division are bound to result (James 4:1-2).

Descriptions of a Childlike Faith

True humility means knowing ourselves, accepting ourselves, and being ourselves – our best self – to the glory of God. It means avoiding two extremes: thinking less of ourselves than we ought to (as did Moses when God called him, Exodus 3:11), or thinking more of ourselves than we should (Romans 12:3).

The truly humble person does not deny the gifts God has given him or her but uses them to the glory of God. The truly humble person also helps to build up others, not to tear them down. This person is a stepping-stone, not a stumbling block. Thus, we must remove from our lives anything that makes us stumble. If we don’t, we will cause others to stumble as well.

An unspoiled child has the characteristics that make for humility: trust, dependence, a desire to make others happy, and an absence of boasting or selfish desires to be greater than others. By nature, we are all rebels who want to be celebrities instead of servants. And so we need a great deal of teaching for us to learn the lesson of humility.

Final Words

As Christians, we are encouraged to have a childlike faith. To have faith like a child is to completely trust our heavenly Father’s goodness, care, provision, leadership, and protection.

Have you experienced the peace of a well-cared-for child in letting Jesus take care of your worries? Have you found the healing that faith in Jesus brings? Have you praised His name with the joy of a child? Have you answered Jesus’ call in childlike faith, asking Him to be your Savior?

God’s Unconditional Promise to Israel

God’s Unconditional Promise to Israel

Whether the Jews have a right to their land has been the subject of dispute among many nations up until today. Some say that the Jews have occupied a land that wasn’t theirs and that the occupation must be stopped.

However, the Jews claim that the land originally belonged to them and they have every right to it. They base their claim to the land of Israel on at least four premises and one of them is that God promised the land to the patriarch Abraham.

The Nation of Israel was founded by God

The Bible clearly tells us that Israel is the only nation founded by a sovereign act of God. It all started when God told Abraham to “get out of his country, from his family and from his father’s house, to a land that He will show him” (Genesis 12:1). And then God promised to give him that land (Genesis 12:7).

However, there are two controversies concerning the nation of Israel. The first is whether the promise to Abraham was a promise of literal land or promise of heaven. The second controversy asks whether the promise to Abraham and his seed for a literal land is conditional based upon Israel’s obedience to God or an unconditional promise.

We will then examine Scripture to verify beyond any doubt that God intended for Abraham and the Jewish people to have a literal land upon which they would live.

God's Unconditional Promise to Israel

God Promised a Land

In Genesis 13:14-15, God told Abraham, “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are … for all the land which you see I will give to you and your descendants forever.”

And Genesis 15:18 states, “On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.’” This is a very literal land. Heaven is not described, even allegorically, as the area between the river of Egypt and the Euphrates.

God told Abraham, “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14).

Israel’s departure from the Promised Land was literal because they went into a literal Egypt. After four hundred years they became a nation of two to three million people and they physically left a literal Egypt for a literal Promised Land – not heaven.

God's Unconditional Promise to the Jewish People
Photo Credits: Piano Bible Chapel

The title deed to the Promised Land was passed from Abraham to Isaac. God said to Isaac, “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father” (Genesis 26:3).

The title deed to the Promised Land was then passed to Jacob from Isaac. In Genesis 28:13, God said, “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.”

You have to be in a very literal land to lie on it.

God’s Promise was Unconditional

Was God’s promise to Abraham of a Promised Land conditional or unconditional? Those who believe God’s promise was conditional simply do not understand the blood covenant.

In the Old Testament, there were three ways by which covenants could be made; a shoe covenant, a salt covenant, and a blood covenant.

In the blood covenant, the contracting parties would agree on the terms of the covenant. Then they would take an animal, kill it, split the carcass in half down the backbone, and place the divided parts opposite each other on the ground forming a pathway between the pieces.

The two would join hands, recite the contents of the covenant, and walk between the divided halves of the slain animal. The blood covenant meant they were bound until death, and if either broke the terms of the covenant, his blood should be spilled as the blood of the slain animal. A blood covenant was a permanent and unconditional covenant.

God's Unconditional Covenant with Abaraham and the Jewish People

In Genesis 15, God commanded Abraham to take a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon; and all were split in half except the birds. God placed Abraham in a deep sleep, for no man can look upon God and live, as He prepared to enter a blood covenant with Abraham.

In his sleep, Abraham saw “a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces” (Genesis 15:17). In the Old Testament, the burning lamp signified the presence of the Shekinah Glory of God. God was binding Himself, unconditionally, by a blood covenant to Abraham and his descendants forever, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land” (Genesis 15:18).

Confirmation that the promise to Abraham and to his seed was unconditional is presented in Psalm 89:30-37. God says, “If his sons [Israel] forsake My law and do not walk in My judgments, if they break My statutes and do not keep My commandments, then I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.”

“Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, nor allow My faithfulness to fail.” God is saying here that He will not break His covenant.

God’s Promise Fulfilled

What about the future of Israel? Israel was reborn as a nation in one day on May 14, 1948, when the United Nations recognized the state of Israel. This was a fulfillment of Isaiah 66:8.

God Promised to bring the Jews back to their own land

Amos writes concerning the restoration of Israel, “I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them, says the LORD your God” (Amos 9:14-15).

The prophets of Israel declared the nation of Israel would be reborn, would be rebuilt, and the Jewish people would never again be removed. When the Messiah comes, He will set up His throne in the city of Jerusalem and of His kingdom, there shall be no end.

*Read more of the promises of God to the nation of Israel in this article: The “I Will” Promises of God

Conclusion

God’s covenant with Abraham and the nation of Israel was unconditional, depending solely upon God who obligated Himself in grace. The unconditional character of this covenant is indicated by God’s declarations “I will” that repeat throughout without corresponding “you must” demands of Abraham.

This covenant contained all that God then began to do, has since done throughout history, and will continue to do.


*Reference Material: 

NKJV Prophecy Study Bible {Top 20 Questions About Bible Prophecy & God’s Great Promises}
General Editor: John Hagee