One can learn much about God’s character by studying His various names. One of these names is “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Early in the Scriptures, we realize that God is a God of people – a God of relationships. This is one of the most reassuring aspects of our Creator.
Another way to look at the God of relationships is achieved by studying the different agreements that He made with humankind in general and with the Jewish people in particular. These agreements, celebrating relationship and commitment, are also known as covenants. Understanding God’s covenants is critical to understanding God’s plan for humankind and for Israel.
Eight such covenants have been drawn and ratified throughout God’s Word. They are the Edenic, the Adamic, the Noahic, the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, the Davidic, the Land and the New Covenants.
The most important and foundational of these is the Abrahamic covenant, as it governs not only God’s unique relationship with Israel but also His relationship with the nations of the world as a direct result.
A proper understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant is key to understanding God’s purpose for Israel and the Nations, as well as His way of dealing with humankind in general – as this covenant is also the basis for the development of other covenants. In many ways, God’s covenants can be seen as legal agreements between the Creator and humanity and/or Israel.
The first time we read about the Abrahamic Covenant is in 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.”
Additional references to the Abrahamic Covenant can be found in Genesis 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-21 and 22:15-18.
The first thing worth mentioning about the Abrahamic Covenant is the fact that God ratified it with Abraham alone. As a matter of fact, even though Abraham was the recipient of the Covenant and the representative of the Jewish nation, he did not actively participate in the signing of it.
History tells us that in the days of Abraham and before, when two parties joined efforts into the signing of a covenant, animals would be used as a witness to them and their adherence to that covenant. The two parties would gather a number of specific animals, sacrifice them and arrange their carcasses on the ground in some fashion, creating a path through which both parties would pass together as they swore to uphold their end of the contract lest they receive the fate of these animals for any breech of that covenant for which they would be responsible.
In the case of Abraham, he prepared the animals and made a path, but when the moment came for God to ratify the covenant, the Lord put Abraham into a deep sleep; and only His glory went through the animals. Most of the fifteenth chapter of the book of Genesis speaks of this event:
1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
7 Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
8 And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.
17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.
18 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…
The second important aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is the fact that since God was the only one to walk between the animal halves when He ratified the covenant with Abraham, and since God never changes His mind, the Abrahamic Covenant is eternal. It only depends on God fulfilling His part and not on Abraham.
From the introductory passage in Genesis 12:1-3 and subsequent passages listed above, we can deduce several clauses that are vital to the understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant.
- Abraham was to be the father of a great nation, and that is of course, the nation of Israel (Gen. 12:2; 15:5).
- He was promised a Land for his nation; specifically, the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1, 7; 15:18-21; 17:8).
- Abraham himself was to be greatly blessed (Gen. 12:2b).
- Abraham was to be a blessing to others (Gen. 12:2d).
- Those who bless Israel will be blessed (Gen. 12:3a).
- The one who curses Israel will be cursed (Gen.12:3b).
- In Abraham all will be blessed (Gen. 12:3c).
- Other nations in addition to Israel would come from Abraham (Gen. 17:3 4, 6)
- Circumcision was to be the sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14).
These clauses always fall into one of three categories regarding to whom they relate: Abraham, Israel as a whole, or the Gentiles.
Abraham is the father of a great nation (Israel). He was to possess ALL the Land promised to him by God. He would be greatly blessed and would be a blessing to others. To this day Abraham’s name is greatly recognized by all three major world religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Israel as a nation was promised greatness and a myriad of descendants as well as the whole Promised Land. It is important to understand that the mere fact that some of the promises were made to BOTH Abraham and his descendants proves that some of these blessings have yet to be fulfilled, which points to fulfillment in the future age of the Messianic Kingdom.
The Gentiles were promised a blessing for blessing the Jewish people as well as a curse for cursing the Jewish people. We must note that the Abrahamic Covenant contains both physical and spiritual promises for the Jewish people; but as it pertains to the Gentiles, only the spiritual promises apply. The physical promises such as the Land or circumcision apply only to the Jewish people.
Each covenant made by God calls us to consider any requirements or conditions attached to it.
The Mosaic Covenant, for instance, was an agreement made between God and the Jewish people through Moses; it required obedience to the 613 commandments in order for Israel to be blessed (Exodus 15:26). In other words, the Mosaic Covenant was conditional to Israel’s obedience to the Law. Another way to look at it is that when God makes a conditional covenant with a party, in essence He is saying: “If you will….I will!” But when the Covenant was unconditional, God simply stated: “I will!”
Abraham was told by God that he and the Jewish people would become a Covenant people and reap the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant simply because God said so – no strings attached! Thus the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional.
The three main aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant: The Land, the Descendants or Seed, and the Blessing are further developed, each leading into an additional, unique covenant. The Land is further expanded into the Land Covenant (Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20), the Seed is developed into the Davidic Covenant (II Samuel 7:11b-16; I Chronicles 17:10b-14), and the Blessing comes through the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Furthermore, the unconditional and eternal Abrahamic Covenant has been confirmed through one and only one of the eight sons of Abraham: the son of the promise, that is Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5, 24), as well as through Isaac’s son Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15. The Abrahamic Covenant was also confirmed through Jacob’s twelve sons, who represent the twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 49).
Finally, we must look at the Abrahamic Covenant and its fulfillment. The main item that has yet to be fulfilled is the Land aspect of the Covenant. There has not been in past history, nor up to the present day, a time when Israel has lived in the Land according to God’s expanded boundaries as delineated in Genesis 15:18-21.
The boundaries described here are to be fulfilled during the Messianic Kingdom (Luke 1:68-73; Hebrews 6:13-20), a promise that believers can easily grasp, since the Abrahamic Covenant is eternal and unconditional.
The Abrahamic Covenant was sealed between Abraham and the God of Israel as early as Genesis 15. Some of its clauses went into effect immediately, some a bit later, and others are yet to be fulfilled.
Regardless of God’s timetable for the fulfillment of the entire Abrahamic Covenant, it remains foundational to God’s dealing with Israel and the nations, as God chose to make it eternal and unconditional.
* The views above are those of the author.
Olivier is the author of They Have Conspired Against You, a book on the rebirth of worldwide anti-Semitism and how to fight it. He is also an accomplished artist and has used his God-given talent in several of Chosen People Ministries’ publications and evangelistic materials. Olivier, his wife Ellen and their two children serve in Southern California.