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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