What is the Abrahamic Covenant in the Bible? Its Characteristics and Inspiring Lesson for our Lives.
The Biblical doctrine of the Abrahamic Covenant basically has to do with God’s divine commitment and relationship with Abraham which fundamentally started in Genesis 12:1-4, and had been confirmed and developed in Genesis chapters 15, 17, 18, and 22. This covenant, unlike other Biblical covenants, is theologically recognized as “unconditional” because it was initiated by God Himself apart from Abraham’s initial desire and effort.
It was a covenant that was divinely instituted when Abraham was still a pagan who like many other people in his society was also inclined to follow the faith and practices of his pagan culture and ancestors.
Yet, aside from being unconditional, the covenant is also considered as “redemptive,” because God has promised to make a great and holy nation out of Abraham’s seed/s.
Moreover, to see the importance of this covenant in the time of Abraham, you must remember what happened in Genesis 11, where you’ll see how mankind joined forces – even after the divine Flood-Judgment – to live independently from the true God and be against Him through the building of the great tower Babel.
Hence, to see the Lord in Genesis 12:1-4 making a move of revealing Himself to a certain pagan man is graciously redemptive. That’s because out of a society or humanity that was totally sold out to the sin of selfishness and self-centeredness, God called out a certain man unto Himself and from that man will create a great and holy nation separated for Himself.
Furthermore, aside from being “unconditional” and “redemptive”, the Abrahamic Covenant has been viewed by the Apostle Paul himself as “evangelical.” That’s because the covenant serves as a shining light that will lead sinners to the enjoyment of God and His promises through Christ.
Saint Paul explains in Galatians 3 that those who believe in Jesus Christ, being ultimately “the seed of Abraham” (Galatians 3:16), will also be partakers of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. Thus, we can say that when God historically instituted this covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12, He was not only radically transforming Abraham’s life, but He had a Christological and an evangelical plan of transforming the lives of those who will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Therefore, because of Jesus Christ as the essential and center fulfillment and fulfiller of this covenant, the Abrahamic covenant then is not bounded to a particular person or nation, but rather it is “universal” in blessing and impact because, through Jesus Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike can be partakers of the covenant blessings, if they are joined together in Christ by faith (Romans 4:9-25).
Christ then is the door to this covenant. He is the seed of Abraham who will unite us in the blessings of this covenant. But aside from the nature of the covenant as being “unconditional,” “redemptive,” “evangelical” and “universal,” it is also relevantly and practically “inspirational.”
That’s because the impact of the Abrahamic Covenant and the principles it teaches us will really warm our hearts to follow the Lord even if it means sacrifice, leaving our comfort zone, and facing challenges along the way of obedience.
To better understand its inspiring character, it would be good to quickly ponder on Genesis 12:1-4 and see the lessons to learn from the call of God and the faith of Abraham. Remember, the reason why theologians call this passage as “Abrahamic Covenant” is because it is a “covenant” between a God who called and a man who responded to the call.
It’s like this: God says, “I will be faithful to my promises to you.” And Abraham says, “I believe you and I will obey you.” Here’s the passage, “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; 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; 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.” So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him.” (Genesis 12:1-4, NASB)
You’ll notice at this juncture that Abraham wasn’t yet called “Abraham” but “Abram.” His name was only later on changed in Genesis 17:5. This development in Abraham’s name is also significant in the purpose of the covenant, because contrary to the world’s ambition and effort to make a “name” for themselves (Genesis 6:4) apart from God, the Lord here is giving and making a great name to a man whom He has chosen solely through His grace.
The name “Abram” literally means, “high father” while “Abraham” means “father of many nations.” It is true that “Abram” was not a “nobody” before God called him. He actually occupied a major position in his country as one of the sons of Terah (Genesis 11:28-32).
Yet here, we can see that the Lord is calling him to “Go forth from your country.” This is not an easy thing to do. It basically means leaving your comfort zone. Professor Keith H. Essex observes,
“…the command to leave his “land” and go to the “land” that the Lord would show him (Gen 12:1). According to the genealogical record of the sons of Noah, the “nations” were divided according to their “lands” (Gen 10:5, 20, 31, 32). By leaving his “land,” Abraham would, in essence, be leaving his nation. “From your relatives” and “from your father’s house” in this verse further confirms this understanding. According to Genesis 10, common ancestry was the basis of national identity. Thus, the LORD called Abraham to renounce his identification with the nations who were in rebellion against Him. The promises of God to Abraham (12:2-3) were contingent on Abraham’s obedience to the Lord’s command”
Thus, it is true that the call was very challenging for Abram. He might have been shocked when God stated this call to him. Yet, the Lord didn’t leave Abraham without a ground to stand on. Yes, the call was challenging, it was even a call to sacrifice, yet, since it was God who made the call, it was also both a high and holy calling.
It was a “high calling” because the God who created the heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1) was the one calling; and it was a “holy calling” because it was a call of separation – that is, separation from the world’s wickedness.
And since the Lord knows our human and earthly frailty very well, He supported Abraham’s faith, even his decision-making, and obedience by making a great promise that guarantees “obedience to God” will certainly bring blessings; it will never be put to shame.
And the promises stated here established the Abrahamic Covenant which in effect radically changed the life of Abraham.
Now even though the impact of the call and promise to Abraham was very personal, but if you’ll observe carefully the fulfillment of the promise – it was actually unconditional. In other words, it depends on the Sovereign will of God.
Notice how many times the Lord in this passage sealed the promise with His personal declaration of “I will”. It is emphatically repeated 5 times in this passage.
“…to the land which I will show you”
“I will make you a great nation…”
“I will bless you and make your name great”
“I will bless those who bless you…”
“…the one who curses you I will curse.”
Having this divine promise, Abraham was completely provided and protected by the Lord in this venture of faith and sacrifice. The Lord was actually trying to tell Abraham here that since He was the one who personally chose to enter into this covenant, He was also committed to bringing to pass the fulfillment of the promises in Abraham’s life.
Thus, the covenant was not only personal to Abraham, but it was more seriously personal to God, for the veracity of His faithfulness and power hangs on the experiential realization of this promise.
Notice also that the blessings of the call were far greater than the call to sacrifice. If you’ll observe, God was calling Abraham to sacrifice his homeland, his relatives, and his leadership position which at that time were moving fast into a culture of wickedness.
And so God wanted Abraham to hold on to His faithfulness and power, which can surely give him a “land” that will become “a great nation” where his name will become “great” and a “blessing” to those who will bless him and a “curse” to those who will curse him. And indeed Abraham responded to the challenge of the call for it says in Genesis 12:4, “Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him.”
You see, that’s the lesson of the Abrahamic Covenant, not only for Abraham but for us as well who are connected to this Covenant by faith in Jesus Christ.
But there are clarifications to take note. You need to be very careful in the interpretation of the total and complete fulfillment of this promise during Abraham’s lifetime.
For although the Lord had truly blessed Abraham in matters of Patriarchal legacy, real state, biological successors, and influential leadership position, yet it was only partial and temporal, for the fullness and the eternal realization of the promises are still in the hands of God; they are still yet to come and have been reserved for the right time, in the day of Christ’s glorious revelation (Hebrews 11:8-16).
Abraham’s faith in the God of this covenant was not contingent on his personal effort, but on what God will do in His own time, basing his sight on God’s promises, character, and power. Just like what Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
This is the lesson and the inspiration of the Abrahamic Covenant – to believe and obey God no matter what, for according to Apostle Paul, the Lord Jesus who is the door to this Covenant is also the “Amen” of all its blessing. “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him (Christ) they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” (2 Corinthians 1:20, NASB).
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