The Covenant with Abraham and the Patriarchs
The two previous covenants covered promises between God and humanity. Now we move onto the remaining four covenants. These four covenants cover promises between God and Abraham and his descendants.
It is very important to understand the terms of these covenants, because these are the ones that Christians say have now been cancelled in favour of their so-called ‘New Covenant’ (see Jer 31:31). When you understand what these covenants entail, you will appreciate why we feel that these covenants cannot be annulled or replaced. For example, if these covenants have truly been cancelled by God, it would mean that YHWH no longer protects these who follow YHWH – a promise which a just and eternal God would undoubtedly never renege on.
The text of the Covenant
- As spoken to Abraham:
“I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will magnify your reputation and you will be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and those who call curses upon you I will curse. Through you all the clans of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen 12:2-3)
“Now lift up your eyes and look out from the place where you are: Towards the regions of the north, and the regions of the south, towards the east, and towards the west. For all of the land that you see I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants to be like the dust of the earth, So that if anyone were able to count the dust of the earth, your descendants could also be counted. Come! Walk throughout the length and breadth of the land, For I am giving it to you.” (Gen 13:14-17)
“Don’t be afraid Abram, I shall be your Sovereign Protector; the benefit to you will be enormous. This man [Eli`ezer of Damascus] will not be your heir; But rather he whom you will father yourself will be your heir. Come, look up at the sky, and number the stars – if indeed you can number them! That is how your descendants will be. I am YHWH who brought you out of Ur in the land of the Chaldeans, to give you this land for the taking. I give this land to your descendents, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates; the lands of the Qeynites, the Qenizzites and the Qadmonites; the Hittites, Perizzites and the Refaites; the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” (Gen 15:1, 4-5, 7, 13-14, 18-21)
“I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and I will greatly increase your numbers. As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God. As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner – those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant. As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” (Gen 17:1-2, 4-16, 19-21)
“By myself I swear, Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your favourite son, I will bestow my blessing upon you, and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and the sand on the seashore. And your descendants shall seize the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall be blessed by your descendants, Because you carried out what I asked of you.” (Gen 22:16-18)
- As spoken to Isaac:
“I will be with you, and I will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands, And I will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and will give them all these lands. And through your descendants all the nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham did what I asked, and kept my rites, my precepts, my laws and my teachings.” (Gen 26:3-5)
- As spoken to Jacob:
“I am YHWH the God of your forefather Abraham, and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and the east, to the north and to the south. And all the clans of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. Behold, I will be with you and watch over you wherever you may go, And I will bring you back to this land. Indeed, I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen 28:13-15)
The terms of the Covenant
What God will do:
- Be the God of Abraham and his descendants forever
- Give to Abraham’s descendants the lands from the Nile to the Euphrates as an eternal possession and inheritance
- Specifically give Canaan as an eternal possession to the descendants of Jacob
- Be Sovereign Protector (as a king is a shield and protector to his people)
- Watch over Abraham’s descendants wherever they may go
- Set Abraham’s descendants free from slavery, and bring them back to Canaan
- Not leave them until God has done what God has promised
What Abraham must do:
- Worship YHWH alone
- Keep God’s rites, precepts, laws and teachings
- Walk in God’s ways
- As a sign of the covenant, every male descendent must be circumcised; also everyone who is part of his household
- Abraham’s descendants will be more numerous than the dust of the earth, the stars of the sky, and the sand of the seashore
- Abraham will be father of many nations
- His descendants will be a great nation
- His reputation will be great
- God will bless those who bless Abraham
- All the peoples of the earth will be blessed because of Abraham
- When Abraham’s descendants are set free from Egypt, they will be given great wealth
- Whoever fails to be circumcised will be cut off from their people
We believe the story of Abraham may have some basis in historical fact, and is a character passed down through the generations in oral tradition. Although there may have been layers laid onto the story, we think there probably was someone called Abraham, who emigrated from Ur in Sumeria in about 1900 BCE (it was only part of Chaldea at the time this story was set down in writing).
What does this covenant mean to us?
- All the lands of the Middle East will be given to the Jews and the Arabs forever (both being descendants of Abraham)
- The land of Canaan will specifically be given to the Israelites forever
- YHWH is our eternal Ruler and Protector; YHWH is our God forever.
And on our part:
- We must keep to YHWH’s teachings;
- As a sign that we adhere to this covenant, every male Israelite is circumcised at eight days, and every Arab is circumcised (according to their tradition) at thirteen years, as was Ishmael.
For Jews, circumcision is a sign that YHWH will be our God, and that we will be the people of YHWH, belonging to God. In the same way that, in ancient times, servants had a sign to show who was their master, circumcision is a sign that YHWH is our Master, and that we will follow the ways of YHWH.
This particular covenant applies to Israelites and Arabs (the descendants of Abraham through his first son Ishmael, the son of Hagar). This means that God gave all the Middle East to the Arabs, but specifically to the descendants of Jacob (Israel), God gave the land of Canaan.
It may be unpalatable to many, but the covenant also means that YHWH is to be the God of the Jews and the Arabs, because God promised to be the God of Abraham and his descendants forever (Gen 17:7). Does this mean then that God fulfilled his promise to the Arabs through Mohammed?
This covenant may give Jews and Arabs a link that we would rather not have, but considering the way in which they hold each other with such enmity, it would do our two groups some good to realise that we are linked.
This particular covenant is well-worth re-examining, and its implications worth thinking about.