Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
– Genesis 12:1-3
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying,
“Do not fear, Abram,
I am a shield to you;
Your reward shall be very great.”
2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7 And He said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” 8 He said, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” 9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”
17 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeareda smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18 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:
19 the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite 20 and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim 21 and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”
– Genesis 15: 1 – 21
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,
“I am God Almighty;
Walk before Me, and be blameless.
2 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you,
And I will multiply you exceedingly.”
3 Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying,
4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,
And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram,
But your name shall be Abraham;
For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 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. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, aservant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” 19 But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will 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. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, andwill make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But My covenant I will establish withIsaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” 22 When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
– Genesis 17: 1 – 22
Q: Take into consideration the Abrahamic covenant as stated in Genesis 12: 1 – 3, Genesis 15: 1 – 21, and Genesis 17: 1 – 22.
Was God’s covenant meant specifically to bless only Abraham’s descendants (i.e. the Jewish race) or for other persons and nationalities as well? Was it universal or particular? What examples in the given narratives give evidence for either case?
Was Abraham’s covenant changed, amended, or nullified in the New Testament or does it remain as is till this day?
- How do the previous events of events of Chapter 11 (The Tower of Babel) fit in with the Abraham story?
- What is the meaning of “blessing” in God’s covenant with Abraham?
- Is this blessing local or universal? Meaning, was God’s covenant (that is, for land, posterity, and blessing) just for Abraham’s people/descendents or were other people originally included as well?
- Take notice of Abraham’s dealings and actions with his neighbors, such as the people in Gen. 14, Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18: 16 – 21), and Abimelech (Gen. 20).
In Gen. 12: 1 – 3, this “divine address” from God reveals to Abram that out of the descendents who rebelled and were scattered from Babel, God chooses one individual and opens a new horizon before him.
Take notice of these two verses:
“I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” – v. 2
“…and all people’s on earth will be blessed through you.” – v. 3
In this initial promise to Abram, the three elements of land, posterity, and blessing will belong to the ancient ancestral religion that will reoccur in the narrative over and over again.
Abram’s migration initiated a new kind of history, one in which encompasses God’s promises to Israel and to other people’s as well. The people of Babel desired to make a name for themselves to make themselves great (Gen. 11: 4); in contrast, God’s promises to make Abraham’s name great (Gen. 12: 2). This means that future Israel’s greatness will lie not in its ambitions or achievements, but in its witness to the God who acts in history to overcome confusion, disharmony, and violence that was so prevalent in the past.
There’s a prevalent misconception that Abraham’s covenant was specifically set for the Jews. One has to remember that the Jews aren’t even in existence yet as a community or race even. There was no “Jewish race” at this point in the narrative. None of the founding patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – are Jewish. Abram was a pagan Mesopotamian/Sumerian, and the rest of his community were essentially nomads who wandered around the desert wilderness. To identify one as being “Jewish” literally means to “come from the tribe of Judah”, so therefore, to describe the patriarchs as being Jewish is an anachronism. In fact, the notion for racial identity of being “Jewish” comes much, much later as it was a post-exilic idea. So in this sense, the pure “exclusive” nature of the promise being privileged only for the Jewish race is on shaky ground.
So in our narrative, in what sense can we see that God’s covenant with Abraham was universal from the beginning? As stated above, in Gen. 12: 3, through him “all people’s on earth will be blessed.”
In chapter 14, God’s promise for land was threatened with the invasion and subjugation of the cities of the plain by the kings of the east (v. 1 – 12). Abraham, acting on behalf of God (14:20, 22), overcame this threat. In his act of rescuing Lot’s people in 14:16, Abraham was fulfilling his God-given charge to be a blessing to other nations.
Also, in chapter 20, Abraham’s encounter with Abimelech of Gerar further testifies to Abraham’s role as mediator and being a blessing to other nations as his prayers remove the plague that God had brought upon Abimelech that were brought upon him and his household for his dealings with Sarah. (v. 17 – 18) Once more, Abraham’s function as dispenser of blessing to other nations is evident here.
When it comes to the New Testament, we can see how this same notion – that God would bless that nations through, that is, by means of– Israel’s role and witness in relation with the original Abrahamic covenant. In Galatians 3: 7 – 9, Paul hits home the universal aspect of God’s covenant with Abraham when he states, “Understand then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Here, Paul focuses on the significance of Abraham’s life for the Gentiles: from the start, it was never about genetic pedigree when it comes to being blessed by God. If God credited Abraham with righteousness because he believed, then surely the true children and descendents of Abraham are those who believe as he did, and not solely by his physical descendents. (A point he reiterates in Romans 4: 11 – 12: like Gentile Christians, Abraham was justified without being circumcised.) Paul’s reading of Genesis, in light of the fulfillment of God’s plan in Christ, allows him to see Abraham as more than just the father of the Jewish nation (Rom 4:1), but as the father of all Christians.
Also, bear in mind that Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles, but through their faith and choice to believe in God, they too received God’s blessing, further establishing the fact that God made himself available to “all who believe”. This is further evidence of the universal nature of God’s covenant with Abraham.