By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr.
It is a covenant nonpareil, a covenant without equal. The Abrahamic covenant towers above all other covenants in the scriptures. In terms of its enactment, scope and longevity, the Abrahamic covenant stands out.
It is a covenant that overflows with promises and blessings and stands tall with a timeless validity! In the Bible, covenants (reflecting the culture of the ancient near East) fall into one of three forms:
Royal Grant – It is the type of covenant whereby a ruler voluntarily grants a faithful subject a possession, especially land. Examples include the covenant God made with Noah in Gen. 9:8-17 and Abraham in Gen. 15:9-21.
Parity Covenant – It is a covenant made between equals, such as that between David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 23:16-18).
Suzerain – Vassal – It is a binding agreement between a potentate (powerful ruler) and a subject like that between God and Abraham in Genesis 17. With this covenant form, the obligations of both parties are clearly defined.
On the surface, there seems not to be much difference between the Royal Grant and the Suzerain-Vassal. But there is one major distinction. With the former, the promise of grant of land is unconditional – only loyalty or faithfulness to the benefactor (the ruler) is often required. With the latter, however, the fulfillment of the ruler’s promise is conditional on the subject keeping his part of the binding agreement.
Unlike other Biblical covenants, the Abrahamic covenant embraces elements of both the “Royal Grant” and the “Suzerain-vassal” models of covenant.
While on the one hand, God made an unconditional covenanted promise of giving the land of Canaan to Abraham as an inheritance in Gen. 15, on the other hand, He reaffirmed that same covenant with the inclusion of an obligation on the vassal, that is Abraham, in Gen. 17,
Little wonder, the Abrahamic covenant is broadly distinguished by faith (loyalty to/belief in the Sovereign) and obedience (to the same).
For God to enter into a covenant with Abraham, faithfulness would be required first, and that would come through faith. In time, that faithfulness would have to be proven through obedience.
Abraham fulfilled these requirements to the letter. Gen. 15:6 states: “Abraham believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness [i.e. as faithfulness to His law]” (NIV).
Note, the faith Abraham exhibited in God was credited to him as righteousness making him eligible for the divine covenant.
Earlier, the Lord had appeared to Abraham and instructed to leave his father’s house and “go to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1-4). Here, although God made promises to Abraham and Abraham did leave as told, no covenant was made between the two parities. The prerequisite faithfulness/righteousness on the part of Abraham did not yet exist.
It came in Gen. 15 by faith! And when it came, the relationship was ripe to be formalized with a covenant, reaffirming the promises already made.
In the Gen. 15 account, Abraham had complained to God about his childlessness. In reply, the Lord assured him that he would certainly have a child of his own and that his offspring would be as countless as the stars (vv 2-5). This was the promise Abraham believed (took by faith), and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Subsequently, the Lord reiterated His pledge to give the land of Canaan to Abraham (v 7).
Now, notice how Abraham reacted: “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it? (v 8).
Abraham wanted an assurance binding God to His promise. The onus was now on God to prove to Abraham that He meant business; He had to give a guarantee that His pledge was sure and firm.
In short, God would have to make a covenant with Abraham by which He would be bound to fulfill His promise to Abraham!
The enactment of the covenant had to be such that the commitment of both parties (and especially God being the initiator of the promissory covenant) would be total and irreversible! He would order a covenant ritual (called a covenant between the parts) by which Abraham would see Him as eternally and irreversibly bound to the covenantal promises. It involved the killing of animals to signify that should either party fail to carry out their obligations under the covenant, he should be similarly cut up!
In practice, this meant placing the pieces of the slaughtered animals opposite each other in two rows, after which both parties would walk between the parts to ‘cut the covenant.’
This was exactly how God enacted His covenant with Abraham in Gen. 15. While He put Abraham to sleep, He walked between the parts of the slain animals as a “blazing torch” to seal the covenant. By this covenant ritual practiced the ancient Near East, God unreservedly committed Himself to fulfilling His covenantal promises to Abraham, failing to do so He would subject Himself to self-dismemberment! (Gen. 15:9-18. See Jer. 34:18-20 for a similar ‘covenant between the parts’).
The Abrahamic covenant was a covenant God would never break! As the children of Abraham by faith and promise (Rom. 4:16-17, Gal. 4:28), we can certainly rejoice that our covenant with God will never come to an end. It is eternal!
Indeed as the Lord would reveal in the ‘obedience aspect’ of the covenant, He intended “an everlasting covenant” with Abraham (Gen. 17:7).
But until now, Abraham’s righteousness which had been credited (or ‘lent’) to him was yet to be vindicated by obedience. This is what Gen 17 is all about. God now demands not just faith (belief/trust) but obedience as well to bring Abraham to perfection.
Thus we read in Gen. 17:1-2: “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect [blameless].
“And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly” (K JV).
In confirming His covenant with Abraham, God now made His promises conditional on Abraham and his descendants observing his covenant sign of circumcision (v 10-14). Here, the significance was not in the act itself but in Abraham and his descendants consecrating (dedicating) themselves to the service of Yahweh.
Today, circumcision of the heart is what the Lord demands, representing sincere obedience to His law (Rom. 2:25-29; 1 Cor. 7:19). The rite of circumcision enjoined on Abraham, therefore, pointed forward to dedication and obedience to God (Deut. 30:6, Jer. 4:4).
Not surprisingly, the Lord spoke concerning Abraham:
“I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken [promised]” (Gen. 18:19).
Yes, righteousness was credited or imputed to Abraham by faith not by works when he believed God (Rom. 4:9-11), but that righteousness wasn’t going to be something he wouldn’t practice eventually! He proved “creditworthy” through acts of obedience that proved the sincerity of his faith (Jam 2:20-23).
By his unquestioning faith in Him, the LORD foreknew and realized that Abraham would be faithful in keeping His laws and commandments and so considered him as such (righteous) in advance! And he did vindicate God’s judgment! Abraham actually did keep God’s laws, statutes and commandments (Gen. 26:5). He believed and then obeyed. His faith expressed itself in obedience – as seen in obeying the Lord to leave Ur and in offering Isaac as a sacrifice to God (Gen. 22:16-18, Heb. 11:8).
Faith and obedience is still the ‘standard practice’ in the New Testament. The new convert who believes the gospel is “credited righteousness” so he can be saved in the hope that he will eventually obey the One whom he has believed – Christ (Mark 16:15-16; Matt 28:19-20). We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), but let’s be forewarned: only the righteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9-11; Rom, 2:4; Philippians 2:12).
And thus has remained the everlasting Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:7; Ps. 105:8-10), the bedrock of the New Covenant, to this day. Its adherents must first believe and then obey – or as Rom. 1:5 puts it practice “obedience that comes from faith” (NIV).
Under the Abrahamic covenant, God makes seven specific promises to Abraham and his descendants. The promises in their fullest form arc set out in Gen. 12 where God first invites Abraham into a covenant relationship with Him.
Here are the 7 promises listed for their full appreciation:
- “I will make you into a great nation
- “I will bless you
- “I will make your name great
- “You will be a blessing
- “I will bless those who bless you
- “Whoever curse you I will curse
- “All people on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:1-3).
Beloved, these promises are as applicable to Abraham as they are to you and me today. As the children of Abraham through Christ, we are entitled to all the divine promises and blessings made to him (Gal. 3:29). Their ultimate fulfillment is in Jesus
Christ who became a curse so that the blessing of Abraham might come to us (Gal. 3:13-14). It is an inheritance we must claim by right, fully aware that God is eternally and irreversibly sworn to bestow it on us. (See Heb. 6:13-18).
We have not been the only beneficiaries of the Abrahamic covenant; all true descendants of Abraham have had the blessings and promises dangled before them. The promises and blessings were repeated to Isaac and Jacob and then the children of Israel (Gen. 26:3-4, 28:13-14; Lev. 26:40-42; Deut. 7:12-13).
When God established David in his throne, He presented him with the same blessings culminating in a declaration to establish his throne forever, even the Messianic throne (I Sam. 7:8-16, 25-29; Ps. 89:3-4).
As already pointed out, in all its confirmations and renewals, the one theme that runs through the Abrahamic covenant is the theme of faith and obedience. Father Abraham is our model of faith and obedience whose example we must follow for the covenant blessings to be fulfilled in us (Isa. 51:1-2). As Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in his father’s days, so must we persevere in the life of faith and obedience lived by Abraham (Gen. 21:30, 26:18; Acts 3:25-26).
As the Lord Jesus put it, the children of Abraham must do the works of Abraham, that is, practice his faith and obedience (John 8:39).
Through Christ, God has made us descendants of Abraham by both promise and birthright – as free born sons – and therefore entitled to all the blessings due us as heirs (Gal. 4:5-7, 28 ,30; Rom. 8:15-17). Sonship comes with rights, in this case inheritance rights to claim the blessings to which we have been named as heirs!
Those blessings are fully spelt out in Gen. 12 and Deut. 28; Gal. 3:13-14 is the truncated version. To each one of us – called as a child of Abraham – have these covenant promises been made. Jesus, the seed of Abraham, is the ultimate instrument of fulfillment – the One through whom we receive the blessings (Gal. 3:16).
The shed blood of Yeshua provides the permanent guarantee of God’s irrevocable commitment to the Abrahamic covenant. His shed blood is “the blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20; Matt 26:28).
That is why by His blood we have boldness (or the right) to appear before His throne of Grace in the holiest sanctuary in heaven to make claims for blessings (Heb. 10:19, 4:16, and 6:18-20).
Demanding something by right is quite different from a favour. As beneficiaries of the everlasting Abrahamic covenant, we come to God to request not a favour but blessings that belong to us by right of covenantal promise!
Such was the attitude displayed by Jacob in his struggle with God. He knew God was supposed to bless him in fulfillment of His covenantal obligation and so told Him: “1 will not let you go unless you bless me [as reaffirmed to me in Gen. 28:13-14]” (Gen. 32:24-29).
We are sons not slaves (John 8:35; Rom 8:14), and so God is obliged to give what is due us as sons. That’s the norm in any father-son relationship worth the tag! (Matt. 7:7-11. See also Matt. 6:31-33 and Phil. 4:6).
Once we fulfill our part in demonstrating faith and obedience, the onus is on God to fulfill His part too (Heb. 10:36). Thankfully, the God of Abraham is a faithful covenant keeper.
King Solomon testified: “O LORD, God of Israel there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below – you keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. Not one word has failed of all the good promises He gave through His servant Moses” (I Kings 8:23, 56 NIV). (See also Ps. 105:8-10).
Although not all the promises are meant to be fulfilled in this life, many others are. Abraham himself lived some of these promises and, if not for anything, was certainly a blessing, as one of the promises specified:
“Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed him in every way” (Gen. 24:1 NIV).
Of course, blessing is a generic term which can refer to all sorts of pleasant situations other than material riches. One specific promised blessing among others that God, using Balaam as a mouthpiece, blessed Israel with is found in Num. 24:9:
“He couched; he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.”
This was a blessing that came to characterize the national life of Israel as God crushed her enemies before her and cursed those who cursed her.
May the enemy, the devil, be cursed in every sphere of our lives as we excel in His salvation, even the salvation of our covenant-keeping God (Luke 1:68-75).
Because God does not intend to run away from His binding promises. He has made all of them “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ, His Son (2 Con 1:20). In fact, He is the guarantee that God will give us every blessing promised in His covenant (Rom. 8:32; I Con 3:21).
Bluntly speaking, God’s promises have been made to no other group of people apart from the descendants of Abraham. That’s why the gospel was first preached to the physical children of Abraham (the Israelites) having the natural birthright before the Gentiles (Matt. 10:6, 15:24; Rom, 1:16). But ultimately all those who will inherit salvation, among other Abrahamic blessings, will have to be children of Abraham by either birthright or adoption.
John the Baptist emphasized this point when he told the Jews that, if as the natural children of Abraham they misbehaved, God would be able to raise up Gentiles with stone-like hearts as children for Abraham (Matt. 3:9).
In the kingdom of heaven, Abraham, as the father of many nations (Gen. 17:5), will sit with many adopted Gentile children (believers) who will have become his children though his example of faith and obedience (Matt. 8:11-12). By taking hold of his covenant, renamed the New Covenant, they will follow Abraham into the city of God he sought by faith when he obeyed God and left his father’s house (Heb. 8:10-11, 11:8-10).
In Abraham we have a father through whom God has passed on to us grand and awesome promises. In Christ, those promises are perfected and guaranteed.
A perfect order imposes greater responsibilities. We must be careful not to offend the Spirit of grace and the blood of the eternal covenant through disobedience (Heb. 10:26-29). If we do this, not only will the inheritance and blessing we have in Abraham remain intact but will come to define our lives now and forever Amen!