Berean Blog

Random thoughts from a Doulos Theos (servant of God)

Location: Rocky Point, North Carolina, United States

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Abrahamic Covenant

This is a paper I wrote for my Old Testament survey class. I had fairly good feedback on it (although my professor wasn't as impressed as I would have hoped!).

The Abrahamic Covenant is a fascinating study, and one with far-reaching implications and ramifications.

The word “covenant” appears 293 times in 273 verses of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. The overwhelming majority of those appearances are in the Tanakh. The KJV Old Testament contains 272 uses of “covenant” in 254 verses; that is approximately 93 percent. Although the concept of covenants is all but forgotten by our modern society, they were obviously fundamental to the lives of people in Biblical times, particularly in the times chronicled in the Old Testament. Therefore, before looking into any particular covenant itself, one should first understand Biblical covenants in general.

The Easton Bible Dictionary (1) defines covenant as, “A contract or agreement between two parties. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word berith is always thus translated. Berith is derived from a root which means “to cut,” and hence a covenant is a “cutting,” with reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant (Genesis 15; Jeremiah 34:18, Jeremiah 34:19).” As Easton notes, every time we see the word “covenant” in the KJV (in eight occurrences, it is implied only, rather than a direct translation [2]), it originates from the Hebrew בּרית, beriyth (H1285 in Strong’s Concordance [3]), which comes from the root barah (Strong’s H1262), or בּרה. The root means “to select”, which gains significance shortly when we look more closely as the covenant between Yahweh and Abram.

Lateral and Unilateral Covenants

Two types of covenant appear in the Bible, lateral and unilateral. Lateral covenants are agreements between two parties that hold responsibilities for both involved. If one of the parties participating in a covenant failed to uphold their covenant responsibilities, the other party was relieved from his responsibilities by default. Deuteronomy 11 contains an example of such, wherein Yahweh promises blessing and protection as long as the nation of Israel obeys His commandments. I see Zechariah 11:10 as a pronouncement by Yahweh that He would no longer honor His responsibilities under this covenant (this passage then continues in verses twelve and thirteen with a powerful and keenly accurate Messianic prophecy).

Unilateral covenants make Biblical appearances, as well. A prominent example is the Davidic Covenant, found in the seventh chapter of Second Samuel, verses 12 through 16, wherein Jehovah identifies the reign of the Seed of David, or Messiah, as forever. This is reconfirmed in Jeremiah 33:20-26, a passage that mentions not only the Davidic Covenant, but also the Abrahamic Covenant.

The Unilateral Covenant with Abram

The Abrahamic Covenant has its origins in the first three verses of Genesis chapter twelve. Abram receives divine promises of inheritance and blessing. The inheritance promised is a substantial tract of lands from Egypt to the Euphrates (in modern Iraq), a parcel that has never been fully occupied by Abram’s descendants. The blessing extends to Abram personally, as well as his descendants, to include “many nations”. This is the first hint that Israel will not be the only beneficiary of this promise.

The promises are reiterated in the next chapter. Verses 14 through 18 of Genesis chapter 13 must have caused Abram great awe in consideration. They should also cause the modern reader to realize that the inheritance was indeed an earthly and literal possession, particularly when coupled with the first ten verses of Deuteronomy chapter 30.

The Covenant Ceremony

As we reach the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, Abram is already beginning to doubt the veracity of Jehovah’s promises. The divine answer assigns him the impossible assignment of counting the stars in the night sky. In my mind, I can see Abram throwing his hands up in sheer desperation at the feat, then hearing the reassurance that his offspring will rival that multitude of heavenly lights. Verse six records that Abram’s belief counted for righteousness, a declaration reiterated by the Apostle Paul in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Romans. Verse three records the transmittal to Abram, and verse five records a similar transmittal to all that believe likewise.
Abram desires a covenant ceremony at this time to signify the promises, and he receives divine instructions toward that end. We see a fascinating development, however, as Abram falls into an unusually deep sleep (one that I believe is divinely orchestrated). As Abram sleeps, Yahweh walks the beriyth alone, in the form of a burning lamp. This aspect identifies this covenant as unilateral. By this arrangement, Abram was under no obligations whatsoever, nor were his descendants. They were promised the inheritance and blessing regardless of their conduct.
Jehovah continues to reiterate His blessing in chapter 17 of Genesis, and institutes the sign of circumcision as a reminder of His promises to what will become the nation of Israel. It is interesting to note that those who are not circumcised are to be “cut off from his people”, but no mention is made of being cut off from Almighty. It is also at this time that Yahweh changes the names of both Abram and Sarai. The slightest knowledge of Hebrew construction reveals that the name changes were affected by merely adding one character, the “Heh”. This is also the character representative of the Holy Spirit, which becomes significant to the New Testament believer.

Jehovah further repeats the promises of the covenant through Isaac, the promised son of Abraham, in Genesis 21 (verse 12) and Genesis 26 (verses three and four). Isaac’s son Jacob also receives confirmation in Genesis chapter 28 verses 14 and 15. The unilateral nature of the covenant is apparent in the fact that both of these offspring were undergoing times of rebellion at the time of their receipt of the promises! Even after all of these patriarchs have passed away, the entire nation receives an assurance of the covenant in verse 42 of Leviticus chapter 26.

The Covenant's Modern Applicability

Moving forward in time to today, we might ask, has the historical nation of Israel truly been beneficiaries of the Abrahamic Covenant? They are truly a nation that has flourished in spite of circumstances. Never in history have a people been recipients of such focused attacks at completely wiping them from the face of the earth. From the attempts of Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, to the attempts of Haman in the book of Esther, to the maniacal efforts of Hitler’s Third Reich, and even the modern aspirations of the so-called Palestinian Arabs, the Jewish people should, by all rights, have vanished from human history. The most callused observer, if honest, would be forced to admit Divine protection on this unique group of people. I have heard it stated that, “every time you meet a Jew, you have witnessed a miracle”. (4)

While the personal and national blessing might be simpler to prove, the inheritance portion of the covenant seems to remain unfulfilled. The Jewish nation has certainly never completely inherited the entire Promised Land. Indeed, modern efforts by Israeli administrators seem bent on reversing that very hope.

Many in the fundamentalist camp have argued that Israel, by rejecting Yeshua as Messiah, forfeited their rights, which then default to the church. Without digressing, one can accept this heresy only by completely disregarding several entire portions of Scripture, most glaringly chapters nine through eleven of Romans.

If the Abrahamic Covenant is truly unilateral, Israel has not and can not forfeit her rights to blessing and inheritance promised through Abraham. This fact points then, to a yet-future fulfillment of Jehovah’s covenant promises. Jeremiah spoke of this in chapter 31 of the book that bears his name, from verse 33 to the end of the chapter.

Yeshua Himself pronounced a judicial blindness upon His chosen people in the nineteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, as He also foretold the coming destruction of the beloved Jerusalem in 70 AD. Paul quickly clarifies in chapters nine through eleven of Romans that individual Jews can still receive the blessing through faith, although national acceptance is still future.

Not Forgotten

As we see the seventieth week of Daniel (9:27) rapidly approaching, we are seeing the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones (in chapter 37 of Ezekiel). Israel is being gathered back into their homeland, never to be scattered again. The stage is set for national revival after the oppression of the Antichrist forces them to turn back to Yahweh for help (Hosea 5:15). As their King returns to earth with ten thousands of his (church) saints (Jude 14), He will set up the Messianic rule promised to Mary (Luke 1:32) and fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant in full during the millennium (Revelation 20:2, Isaiah 65, Hebrews 8:6-13).

"Many nations..."

All of this does not exclude the church, however. Our lives are intertwined in the unfolding of this real-life drama. Remembering that Israel is one nation among the many nations that were promised to Abraham, and seeing that promise echoed before the Heavenly throne in Revelation (5:9), we look outside the national borders and lineage of Isaac to others touched by this far-reaching covenant. David hints at this in Psalm 25, verse 14: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.”

Galatians chapter three is the linchpin of this glorious hope for us as Gentiles. Verse six recounts that Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness. Verse seven develops the thought that all that are of faith are his spiritual seed. Verses eight and nine complete the concept that the fulfillment of the covenant is found in this precept.

As New Testament believers, we have received the literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). As Abram was changed in name by the addition of the “Heh”, we are also changed. He received a new name and purpose under the Abrahamic Covenant. Under the same covenant, we receive a new name (Revelation 3:12) and a new character (Second Corinthians 5:17). Although we don’t all share the outward sign of physical circumcision (Galatians 6:15), we have the lasting circumcision of heart of which Paul speaks in Romans chapter two.
The Abrahamic Covenant may be misleading in name. While it was made with Abraham, it affected so many more, the number of the stars throughout history who are the “whosoever will” who become his offspring through faith in His lineage through David, Yeshua ha Meshiach.

Works Cited

(1) M.G Easton, M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1897
(2) I Samuel 11:2, 20:16; I Kings 8:9; I Chronicles 16:16; II Chronicles 5:10; Nehemiah 9:38; Psalm 105:9; Isaiah 57:8
(3) James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, 1890
(4) Unknown


Blogger Becky Paulson said...

Excellant!! You are a great writer and it sure stepped on my toes regarding my responsibilities as a parent. Just when I think I've got it all together and don't need God (although I wouldn't actually SAY that), the devil blindsides me and gets the victory. And I'll be a monkey's uncle if he's going to ruin my daughters!! Good one, Lee, thanks!!

11:14 PM  

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