What is the Abrahamic Covenant and is it unconditional?
What is the Abrahamic Covenant? It is a promise that God Himself made with Abraham. It is first recorded in Genesis 12:1-3. The provisions of the agreement or the covenant will be explained in this study. In addition, we will give the answer to the question, “Is it unconditional?” This is important since amillennialists, postmillennialists, and preterists believe the covenant was conditional. However, it will become obvious in this study that the Abrahamic Covenant is unilateral, eternal, and unconditional, except for an initial condition God made of Abraham.. So, what is the Abrahamic Covenant?
Summary of the Abrahamic Covenant
The Abrahamic Covenant is given to Abram according to Genesis 12:1-3. The covenant contains three main provisions. Here is the passage,
Now the LORD said to Abram,
“Go from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you into a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing;
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 (NASB)
We should note that is a summary of the promise or covenant that was given by Yahweh to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3. The covenant is named the Abrahamic Covenant because God changed Abram’s name to Abraham twenty-four years later (Genesis 17:1, 5). The summary provision of the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12:1-3 states that God would do four things:
1. God would give land to Abram and to his descendants (Genesis 12:1; Hebrews 11:8-9)
2. God would make Abram’s descendants to become a great nation (v. 2)
3. God would make Abram’s name to be great (v. 2).
4. God would bless those who bless Abram, and curse those who curse him (v. 3).
The promise was unconditional, except for the initial requirement that Abram had to leave Haran and travel to the land that God would give to him. This is clear from Hebrews 11:8-9. Then Genesis 12:4-9 reveals that Abram did travel to the land that God gave to him. The land was at that time called Canaan. Thus Abraham fulfilled the initial requirements of the covenant. At that point, the Abrahamic Covenant was established and then became unconditional. We could say the contract was signed. For later in Genesis 17:2, 4, 7, and 9 God refers to it as My Covenant. That is, God unilaterally established the covenant.
More Details of the Abrahamic Covenant
After Abram arrived in Canaan (Genesis 12:5-6), Genesis 13:14-17 reveals that God expanded His promise to Abram.
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” Genesis 13:14-17 (NASB)
The passage reveals that two more provisions were added to the Abrahamic Covenant:
5. Abram would be given the land that he could see (Genesis 13:14, 17).
6. Abram’s descendants would become as numerous as the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:14, 17).
Less than ten years later, Genesis 15:5-21 states that Yahweh once again expanded the covenant to include two more provisions:
7. Yahweh Himself offered a sacrifice and ratified the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15:17).
8. The extent of the promised land was described (Genesis 15:18-21).
This expansion of the Abrahamic Covenant occurred after Abram believed in God and Genesis 15:6 says that his belief in God was reckoned as righteousness. The dimensions of the land promised to Abraham was defined in Genesis 15:18-21. It extended from the Nile river of Egypt to the river Euphrates. These verses also included the territory of certain nations. That is, the promised land is not spiritual. It was literally described as earthly territory. It is literally described in other sections of Scripture. The covenant will be fulfilled when Israel occupies the land someday since the covenant is literal. The descendants of Abraham have never occupied all of the territory promised to him. So, it is yet to be fulfilled. God’s promise to Abraham was a significant event.
The Abrahamic Covenant was repeated again in Genesis 17 when Abram was ninety-nine years old
“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. 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.” Genesis 17:7-8 (NASB)
Here Yahweh unilaterally referred to the Abrahamic Covenant as My covenant and told Abram the covenant was between Him and Abram (Genesis 17:7). God added that the covenant was an everlasting covenant, and that it would never cease to exist (Genesis 17:7). At this point it is clear the covenant was unilateral, unconditional, and eternal. God also promised Abram that the land was for him and his descendants forever (Genesis 17:8).
But Genesis 17:19-21 tells us that God extended the covenant to Isaac but not to Ishmael, Abraham’s first son. Here are verses 20-21,
As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” Genesis 17:20-21 (NASB)
Yahweh said He would establish the covenant with Isaac and his descendants after him as an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:19-21). So, the covenant is extended to Isaac and his descendants.
9. Yahweh unilaterally referred to the Abrahamic Covenant as My covenant (Genesis 17:7).
10. The covenant was an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:7).
11. The land was for Abram and his descendants forever (Genesis 17:8).
12. The covenant was also with Isaac and his descendants after him as an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:19-21).
In Genesis 22:15-18, the Abrahamic Covenant is repeated again, including the provisions of the land, numerous descendants, and being a blessing to the nations of the world. The covenant was also confirmed by Yahweh to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-22. It was repeated again in 1 Chronicles 16:15-22; and Psalm 105:7-12. Psalm 105:10 states the promise was given to Jacob and to the nation of Israel. Hebrews 6:13-18 states that the covenant was implemented by God Himself. The covenant was unilateral.
Not Included in the Abrahamic Covenant
As a reminder, Genesis 17:20-21 states that the Abrahamic Covenant does not extend to Ishmael and his descendants. It only applies to Isaac and to his descendants, the nation of Israel.
Understanding the Abrahamic Covenant is important to Christians and to the future of the world. First, Galatians 3:16 tells us that the promises were spoken by God to Abraham and to his seed. Then immediately, we are told the seed refers to Christ. That is, the covenant looked forward in time to Christ. That means the primary fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant is fulfilled in Christ.
The Old Testament prophecies and those in the New Testament about the Messiah’s reign over a kingdom on earth will be literally fulfilled (Luke 19:11; 24:21; Acts 1:6; Revelation 20:4-6; 21:1-22:9). The Abrahamic Covenant was promised to Abraham and his descendants, the descendants of ethnic Israel and it has not yet been totally fulfilled. Review the twelve points of the covenant. Even though they have not been fulfilled yet, will be fulfilled someday.
Suggested Links:What is the meaning of bless and curse in Genesis 12:3?
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God Will Punish The Sins of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism
Jerusalem – The Focus of the World