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THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT

BIBLE PASSAGES - Genesis 12:1-3; 15:7-21


The Bible contains clear descriptions of God’s relationship to humanity from the beginning of creation to the eternal state.  In the Old Testament, this relationship is narrowed to a particular person, Abraham, chosen by God to become the father of a nation, through which would come the promised Messiah, Jesus.  This narrowing of focus implements God’s redemptive plan for humanity after the rebellion of the Tower of Babel and its divine judgement (Genesis 11:1-9).  Humanity needs a Saviour, who will come through a chosen people.


God calls Abraham to leave his country, kindred and father’s house with the promise of making him a great nation in a new location (Genesis 12:1-3).  This included blessing for Abraham and all who blessed him so that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed.  It also included a warning of cursing for those who dishonoured him.  The promise of blessing and cursing is reiterated in Balaam’s third oracle over Israel (Numbers 24:9), which extends it from Abraham to the nation formed through him. Abraham obeys the call to leave and begins a journey of faith that has failures and successes, demonstrating his imperfections, as well as his obedience.  Further appearances of God communicate the permanent provision of the land that God called Abraham to sojourn in (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-15). 


One success involved the rescue of his nephew, Lot, by defeating Chedorlaomer and his coalition, and meeting with Melchizedek before the king of Sodom offered to reward Abraham for his victory over the king’s enemies (Genesis 14).  This dramatic event provides another blessing on Abraham, which leads to his fourth encounter with God coming to him in a vision (Genesis 15:1).

“The Abrahamic covenant has specific features, conditions and fulfilment, which we do well to grasp as the foundation of God’s plan of redemption”

This encounter serves to ratify formally God’s promises to Abraham in a binding covenant between God and Abraham, known as the Abrahamic Covenant.  The covenant has specific features, conditions and fulfilment, which we do well to grasp as the foundation of God’s plan of redemption. 


In Genesis 15:1-8, three features of this covenant are revealed.  First, it includes the provision of an heir/son for Abraham (vv. 1-4).  God initiates a conversation with Abraham that prompts Abraham to question his lack of a child and having a foreign heir in his household.  God declares that Abraham’s “very own son” will be his heir (15:4)

Second, God promises the population of a nation (vv. 5-6).  God then takes Abraham outside to view the stars in the heavens and declares that his descendants will be as numerous as them (15:5).  In response, Abraham believes God, which is counted to Abraham as righteousness (15:6).  Spiritual benefits accompany God’s promise when Abraham believes, which are even greater than the physical benefits.

Third, this covenant guarantees the possession of a land (vv. 7-8).  After Abraham’s response of faith, God promises Abraham the land in which he currently sojourned, which prompts Abraham to seek confirmation of this possession.  This introduces the enactment of a strong covenant (15:9-21).


God instructs Abraham to set up the covenant enactment with animals and birds laid out to form a path between them.  He does so by cutting the animals in two apart from the birds, which expresses a blood covenant involving sacrifice (v. 10).  This type of covenant is deadly serious, implying death to a participant for failure to adhere to it.

Abraham protects the arrangement from attacking birds of prey until sunset, at which time God puts Abraham into a deep sleep, rendering him inactive in the making of the covenant (v. 12).


God prophesies the near future of Abraham’s descendants, as well as Abraham himself.  His descendants will reside outside of this land in affliction, but return to the land “in the fourth generation” (v. 16).  The reason for this extended period out of the land is that the current inhabitants are not yet ready for judgement, because their iniquity is not yet complete.  The nation of Israel will become God’s instrument of judgement in conquering the land and destroying its vile inhabitants.

Genesis 15 provides the conditions that applied to this covenant.  It usually required the participation of both parties walking together between the separated animals and birds, but Abraham cannot do so.  God has put Abraham to sleep prior to the enacting of the covenant.  Consequently, he has no conditions or obligations placed on him for the covenant to be fulfilled.


God alone passes between the separated animals and birds in the symbols of a “smoking fire pot” and “flaming torch” (v. 17).  Such symbols emphasise God’s holy character and prerogative of judgement.  This places the obligation solely on God to fulfil the covenant with Abraham.  On this basis, the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional, not dependent on Abraham for its fulfilment, which is important as Abraham and his descendants will often fail.


This covenant has a near and far fulfilment.  The near fulfilment is demonstrated by Abraham having a son, Isaac, as his heir, miraculously born to Sarai.  Further, Abraham’s descendants did multiply in Egypt, were dramatically released from slavery to Pharaoh under Moses, and did conquer the land of Canaan, being settled under the leadership of Joshua, as promised.  


Yet, Israel failed to occupy the entire Promised Land and did so temporarily, even though for hundreds of years.  God partially fulfilled the Abrahamic Covenant historically, but the complete and permanent fulfilment is yet future.  The covenant is still in effect as the apostle Paul teaches in Romans 9:4 and 11:26-27.


The far fulfilment is through Jesus Christ, Israel’s promised Messiah.  He is the agent of the Abrahamic Covenant’s fulfilment, which will occur at His Second Coming to establish His kingdom on earth.  Israel will be redeemed as a nation (Zechariah 12:10-13:1) and enjoy security in the Promised Land with Jerusalem as the capital (Zechariah 14:11).  The national and geographical elements of the Abrahamic Covenant will be realised in the Millennial Kingdom, as well as the nation’s spiritual salvation, which is most clearly revealed in the New Covenant (1) (Jeremiah 31:31-37; Ezekiel 36:22-37).


God will make good His promises to Abraham in this covenant.  The nation of Israel was reconstituted in 1948 in unbelief as prophesied by Ezekiel in chapter 37.  It has been restored to its ancient land, and is being prepared for salvation at Jesus Christ’s Second Coming after the seven-year Tribulation period.  God is faithful!

“By God’s grace, we are included as spiritually related to Abraham, having the same faith as him, expressed so long ago in believing what God promised”

By God’s grace, we are included as spiritually related to Abraham, having the same faith as him, expressed so long ago in believing what God promised (Galatians 3:7-8).  This is a great blessing that comes from the Abrahamic Covenant.  Gentiles receive the gift of faith and with it, righteousness, as fulfilment of God’s promise that “in you shall all the nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:8).  This does not eliminate Israel, nor replace Israel with the Church, rather it expands the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant to Gentiles in this era especially.


Faith in God has always been the pathway to blessing and so we rejoice today that we can participate in God’s eternal plan of redemption regardless of our ethnicity.  May that be true of you!

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