The Abrahamic Covenant
It is not hyperbole to say that every spiritual blessing which the child of God possesses can trace its origin back to the Abrahamic Covenant.
From this unconditional covenant, the blessings of God have continuously and inexhaustibly flowed to satisfy thirsty souls for almost four thousand years.
Nationally, God did make a great nation (Israel) of Abraham’s physical descendants.
Universally, God has made great blessing available to all families of the earth through Abraham’s physical line of descent….
In previous articles two major systems of theology (Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology) have been examined in survey fashion. These two systems frequently differ from each other in their approaches to the major biblical covenants. These differences are significant, for they lead to contrasting views concerning the Millennium or future Kingdom of God foretold in the Scriptures. These differences are significant for another reason -they lead to contrasting views regarding the permanent existence of Israel as a nation and Israel’s permanent ownership of the promised land. Has God promised Israel permanent existence as a nation? Has He guaranteed Israel permanent ownership of the promised land, and, therefore, the right to possess Palestine?
A number of the biblical covenants will determine the final outcome of these important issues. Because this is so, the approach which one takes to these covenants is most crucial. In light of this, this and future articles will examine the biblical covenants which relate to these issues.
Major Issues Related to the Abrahamic Covenant
The Abrahamic Covenant involves three major issues. First, does it promise Israel permanent existence as a nation? Second, does it promise Israel permanent ownership of the promised land? Third, is the covenant conditional or unconditional? If it is conditional, then the fulfillment of its promises is dependent upon the obedience of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their physical descendants, the people of Israel. If the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional, then the fulfillment of its promises is dependent upon the faithfulness of God to His Word, not upon human obedience.
The Parties of the Abrahamic Covenant
God vowed to bless Abraham and to make him a blessing to others ….
God promised to make a great nation of Abraham s physical descendants ….
The Abrahamic Covenant was established by God with Abraham and his physical descendants, Isaac, Jacob and the people of Israel Genesis 15:18 states: “On that day the Lord made a Covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.’ ” In Genesis 17:4-8 God said to Abraham: “As for Me, behold. My covenant is with you, . . . And I will make you exceedingly fruitful,… And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.”
The fact that God established the Abrahamic Covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham is made even more clear in Genesis 17:19, 21 where He said: “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him . . . But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you …. God reestablished the promises of the covenant with Abraham’s physical grandson, Jacob (Gen. 28:13-17; 35:9-12; 48:3-4). The instructions which Joseph, Abraham’s great-grandson, gave at the end of his life clearly indicate that he understood the Abrahamic Covenant to have been made with Abraham and his physical descendants (Gen. 50:2425).
The Historical Establishment of the Abrahamic Covenant
Although some of the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant were given by God in Genesis 12:2-3 and 13:14-17, the covenant was not formally established until Genesis 15:7-21. It is specifically stated in Genesis 15:18 that “ On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, . .“ God formally established the covenant in the following manner: while Abraham slept a deep sleep, God (represented by a smoking oven and a flaming torch) moved between the pieces of animals which He had commanded Abraham to cut in two. Jeremiah 34:18 makes it clear that this procedure of passing between pieces of animals was a common way of establishing covenants in Old Testament times.
The Promises of the Abrahamic Covenant
God made three major kinds of promises in the Abrahamic Covenant. First, there were personal promises to Abraham. God vowed to bless Abraham and to make him a blessing to others (Gen. 12:2), to make his name great (12:2), to give him. many physical descendants (13:16; 15:4-5; 17:6), to make him the father of a multitude of nations (17:4-5), to give him the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession (13:14-15, 17; 15:7; 17:8) and to bless those who would bless Abraham and to curse those who would curse him (12:3).
Second, God made national promises concerning Israel. God promised to make a great nation of Abraham’s physical descendants (12:2), to give the land of Canaan from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates to Abraham’s physical descendants forever (12:7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21; 17:8) and to give the Abrahamic Covenant to his descendants for an everlasting covenant (17:7, 19). The Genesis 17:19 passage indicates that God intended the covenant to continue on through Isaac, Abraham s literal son, and Isaac’s descendants-thus, through Abraham’s physical seed. The fact that God promised to give Abraham s physical descendants the land of Canaan forever and the covenant for an everlasting covenant demands that Israel never perish as a people. Should Israel ever perish as a nation, then it could not possess the land forever, and its Abrahamic Covenant could not be everlasting.
Third, God made universal promises which would affect all peoples of the world. God vowed that all families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham’s physical line of descent (12:3; 22:18; 28:14). As shall be seen later, great spiritual blessing has been made available to all peoples through Jesus Christ and the Jews.
…. God’s blessing or cursing of the peoples of the world would be determined to a large extent by their blessing or cursing of Israel.
Personally, God did bless Abraham….
God did make him a blessing to others . .
God has made Abraham s name
In addition, Jesus statements in Matthew 25:31-46 (especially verses 40 and 45) seem to indicate that, when God promised to bless those who would bless Abraham and to curse those who would curse him. He intended this to be applicable, not only to Abraham, but also to Israel. In other words, God’s blessing or cursing of the peoples of the world would be determined to a large extent by their blessing or cursing of Israel. Jesus statements in Matthew 25 promise blessing to those saved Gentiles who will aid persecuted Jews of the Tribulation period and judgment to those unsaved Gentiles who will not aid them.
The Partial Historic Fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant
Parts of the Abrahamic Covenant have been fulfilled historically already. Examples of this fulfillment will be given. Personally. God did bless Abraham (He gave him great wealth and other blessings – Gen. 24:1, 35). God did make him a blessing to others (for example, Abraham rescued Lot from captivity – Gen. 14). God has made Abraham’s name great (Judaism, Christianity and Islam have respected his name for centuries). God has given him many physical descendants and made him the father of a multitude of nations (Israel has descended from him through Isaac and Jacob; Arab nations have descended from him through Ishmael).
Nationally. God did make a great nation (Israel) of Abraham’s physical descendants. He did give the promised land to Israel after its exodus from Egypt (Dt. 31:78; 32:45-52; Josh. 1:1-5, 10-11). In addition, Israel has never perished as a people.
Universally, God has made great blessing available to all families of the earth through Abraham’s physical line of descent (redemption and other blessings have been provided through Jesus Christ; the Scriptures have been produced primarily by Jews). God has blessed those people and nations who have blessed Israel, and He has judged those who have abused Israel.
It should be noted that those parts of the Abrahamic Covenant which have been fulfilled thus far have been fulfilled literally (in accord with the historical-grammatical method of interpreting the Bible, not in accord with the allegorical or spiritualizing method). This would seem to indicate that God intends every promise of that covenant to be fulfilled in that manner.
In addition, it should be noted that some parts of the Abrahamic Covenant have not been fulfilled totally. Inasmuch as God promised to give the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession to Abraham’s physical descendants (Gen. 17:8) and to give the Abrahamic Covenant for an everlasting covenant to those same descendants (Gen. 1:7,19),one cannot rightly say that all the promises of the covenant have been fulfilled totally until at least the end of world history.
The Controversy Concerning the Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant
In many respects the most crucial of the three major issues related to the Abrahamic Covenant is this: is the covenant conditional or unconditional? This issue is most crucial, because it determines the outcome of the other two major issues which were noted earlier.
If the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional (not dependent upon the obedience of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their physical descendants, the people of Israel, for the fulfillment of its promises), then every promise of that covenant must be fulfilled, including the promises that Israel would be given forever the land described in Genesis 15:18 and that the Abrahamic Covenant would be an everlasting covenant for Israel. This would mean that Israel will last forever as a people and that God has a future program for that nation and its land. This would also mean that the biblical prophecies concerning the future of Israel and its land are to be interpreted literally and that the Dispensational-Premillennial view of those prophecies is correct.
. . . if the Abrahamic Covenant is conditional. then every promise
of that covenant does not need to be fulfilled.
Theologians disagree concerning whether the Abrahamic Covenant is conditional or unconditional.
By contrast, if the Abrahamic Covenant is conditional (dependent upon the obedience of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the people of Israel for the fulfillment of its promises), then every promise of that covenant does not need to be fulfilled. Disobedience by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or the people of Israel could nullify the fulfillment of the covenants promises. In light of such disobedience Israel would not have to be given the land of Canaan forever. the Abrahamic Covenant would not have to be an everlasting covenant for Israel, the biblical prophecies concerning the future of Israel audits land could be interpreted aIlegorically or spiritualized, and the Dispensational-Premillennial view of those prophecies would be wrong.
Theologians disagree concerning whether the Abrahamic Covenant is conditional or unconditional. Dispensational Theologians contend that the covenant is unconditional. Covenant Theologians disagree with each other on this issue. Many Covenant Theologians say that the Abrahamic Covenant is conditional. Others say that it is unconditional, but that the national promises to Israel must be interpreted allegorically, not literally.
Those who believe that the Abrahamic Covenant is conditional point to certain biblical statements as their proof. For example, Genesis 17:1-2 declares that, when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, God spoke to him as follows: “Walk before Me, and be blameless. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you. And I will multiply you exceedingly.” In Genesis 22:16-18 God said to Abraham:
By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.
In Genesis 26:3-5 God spoke the following to Isaac:
Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.
On the surface these statements do appear to indicate that the Abrahamic Covenant is conditional in nature. Before that conclusion is drawn, however, two significant things should be noted. First, these statements were made years after God formally established the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. When the covenant was formally established, God stated no conditions. According to Galatians 3:15, once a covenant has been established no conditions are added to it. Thus, to say that the statements of Genesis 17:1-2; 22:16-18 and 26:3-5 indicate that the Abrahamic Covenant is conditional is to say that God added conditions after the covenant was established and that God thereby violated the principle of Galatians 3:15.
Second, there is extensive biblical evidence for the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. This evidence will be examined in the next article.
NASV used throughout