Ask Steve: The Abrahamic Covenant

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Question: Steve, can you explain to me what the Abrahamic Covenant is and its importance?

Answer: The Abrahamic Covenant is an eternal, unilateral covenant that God made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 and ratified in Genesis 15:7-21 in which God declared certain, unalienable promises to Abraham. The nature of these promises are so far reaching that they affect his offspring (spiritual and physical) as well. According to the stipulations of this covenant, God promised that a great nation would come from Abraham, implying that Abraham would have innumerable physical descendants and they would be a strong nation.

 Genesis 12:2 shows that Abraham will be blessed, his name will be great, and he will be a blessing to others. In fact, the name of Abraham would be so great that those who bless Abraham would in turn be blessed by God and those who curse Abraham will be cursed by God (v. 3). The Covenant also states that in Abraham all the Gentile families of the earth will be blessed, implying the spiritual salvation and benefit of the nations in the future. The Abrahamic Covenant is an everlasting covenant which contains four elements: 1). Seed (Gen 17:2-7; ct. Gal 3:8, where it referred to Christ), 2). Land (15:18-21); 3). A nation (12:2; 17:4), 4). Divine blessing and protection (12:3).

 The Abrahamic Covenant is the father of all the unilateral, biblical covenants (Davidic, New, etc) that God established in the Bible and is significant for a few reasons. The first reason is that it reveals the truth about God’s certain plan for Israel, which has implications for eschatology, the relationship and distinction between Israel and the church, and how one should interpret Scripture. Genesis 15:7-21 reveals that the covenant God made with Abraham is unilateral, which means that it is entirely up to the Lord to fulfill the conditions of the agreement before the close of world history. This means that this covenant cannot be broken and its benefits cannot be transferred to another party such as the church, which rules out the supercessionist theory. Although it can be delayed, the Abrahamic Covenant cannot be nullified because of the disobedience of Abraham or any of his descendents (Israel). This was the case with the bilateral arrangement, the Mosaic Covenant. All the promises to Abraham’s descendants, Israel, must be carried out before history comes to an end, which gives credence to the distinction between the church and Israel, and the eschatological truth regarding futuristic premillennialism.

 Another reason why understanding the truth of the Abrahamic Covenant is important is that it is the foundation by which we understand the other covenants that God established with Israel, most specifically the Davidic and the New Covenant, which have implications for today and the future. Like the Abrahamic Covenant, the Davidic and New Covenant are also eternal, unilateral covenants, which means that God will carry out the conditions of the covenants with the people of Israel in His sovereign timing, and that its benefits will not be annulled or transferred to another party because of Israel’s instances of disobedience or lack of faith. The Davidic and New Covenant are not additions or contradictions to the Abrahamic Covenant, but are in essence the fullest expressions of it since their aim is, like the Abrahamic Covenant, to bless the descendents of Abraham with a land, nation, and divine blessing to the entire world. The Davidic Covenant of 2 Sam 5:7 promises that Israel will never lack a king to sit on the throne of David, while the New Covenant promises that an ultimate remnant will experience spiritual salvation and be the people of God who will partake of His kingdom and bless the Gentile nations forever afterwards.

 Although some aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant have already been played out in history, such as the birth of Abraham’s many physical descendants and the seed which came in the form of the Messiah who blesses the nations to this day with spiritual salvation, the fullest effects of the Abrahamic Covenant have not yet come to pass. The land promises of Genesis 15:18-21 have not been fully realized. Although Israel did occupy a portion of the described Promised Land in its conquest of Canaan as described in the book of Joshua, they did not occupy all of it, which God prophesied that they would. Since the land promises are part of God’s eternal covenant with Abraham, and God cannot lie, this means that Joshua’s conquest of Canaan is not the fulfillment of Genesis 15:18-21, and that there is still a future group of descendants who will inherit that much larger region of Israel in fulfillment of the land promises (Palestinian Covenant). The only sensible time in which this will happen is during the millennial kingdom, after Israel repents and fulfills the New Covenant during the 7-Year Tribulation.

 Another major component of the Abrahamic Covenant that is yet to be fulfilled is the promise that national Israel is to be blessed by God and be a blessing to others (12:2). Although it is indisputable that a small group of Jews in history, such as Jesus and the apostles, were a blessing from the Lord and in turn blessed the Gentile world with the gospel that saved innumerable souls during the past 2,000 years, it seems unfitting to say that they fulfilled the words spoken of here in Gen 12:2. It is even more of a stretch to take on a supercessionist view that the “you” represents the church and “all the nations” represents the mission field of unbelievers. In reality, this verse seems to imply God’s favor upon the nation of Israel as a whole, which has to be eschatological in nature, since the current state of Jewish apostasy, which is quite massive, would not be in line with God’s favor. However, the book of Romans speaks of the final remnant of Jews who will repent and believe in Jesus in the last days and be saved (Romans 11:27), thus becoming fit to be the people of God and the proclaimer of God’s word to the Gentiles during the period of the kingdom on earth (Isaiah 52:7). Only then will they be a blessing by God and be a blessing to the world.

 The Abrahamic Covenant is important because it firmly establishes the identity of Israel, the future people of God. The Covenant also testifies to the integrity of the grammatical-historical hermeneutics that informs our understanding of both Old and New Testament Scripture, in which we take the normal sense of the language to understand the nature of God’s unchanging covenants with Israel and His prophetic plans for Israel and the Gentile nations as depicted in Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Revelation. The Abrahamic Covenant testifies to God’s faithfulness so that we as a church can trust in the Lord, as we observe how God has been faithful to Israel and will continue to be faithful to her. A last, but not least, factor is that the Abrahamic Covenant rightly informs us as a church to pray for and bless Israel. God promises to bless those who bless Israel and to curse those who curse her. The church blessing Israel is something that the Lord desires and it is a commitment that can be so easily lost if one takes a covenant theology position on this issue, which can basically treat Israel as just another nation that needs to be evangelized (with no special divine plan in store for her in the future).