© Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 5 April 2019
4A8. In grace, God “established His everlasting Covenant” with Abraham and his chosen descendants Isaac and Jacob (Israel):
God formally confirmed His unchanging, UNCONDITIONAL commitment to Abraham:-
(a) God promised that Abraham would have countless descendants
(b) God declared concerning Abraham and his chosen descendants Isaac and Jacob (Israel) that He would
(i) Be their God forever
(ii) Give them possession of the Land of Canaan to be their homeland forever
4A8(title) In grace, God “established His everlasting Covenant” with Abraham and his chosen descendants Isaac and Jacob (Israel)
Just as in His Covenant with Noah [3A8], God used a “covenanting” process to formally confirm His prior unchanging commitment to Abraham. God again described it as “my Covenant” that He was “establishing” and that it was “everlasting” Gen 17:7 [see 4A8(d)]. Once more it was initiated unilaterally by God and was self-binding upon Him [3A8(b)].
There were some obvious parallels between God’s Covenants with Noah and Abraham. In particular, God in both cases referred to them as “my Covenant” (singular). This raises the basic question of whether there was really only one Covenant. Were they in some sense the same Covenant? The Covenant-establishment with Noah was with all people, creatures and the whole Earth. But the next Covenant-establishment was only with Abraham and his chosen descendants. How then could they be the same Covenant?
It has already been concluded that in “establishing my Covenant” with Noah, God was unilaterally declaring His unchanged commitment to accomplishing His primary purpose [3A8(k)].
Similarly, the Covenant that God was “establishing” with Abraham was in principle another formal confirmation of this same ongoing commitment [4A3(c)]. So although the recipients of the latter Covenant-establishment were limited, God’s declared final outcome of both Covenant “establishings” was to be the same and would involve all peoples of the Earth.
The FALL, FLOOD and Babel had shown that all creatures and the whole Earth continued to be mortally affected by the people’s sin Gen 8:21b, 9:2, 11:4. So it is fair to assume that the eventual universal blessing of all peoples Gen 12:3c would also include similar blessing of all creatures and the whole Earth. Ultimately they would all share in the same blessing when God fully accomplished His primary purpose, because that would involve all of His creation! [3A8(title)].
This was the vast commitment that God was again formally confirming to Abraham as “my Covenant”. Indeed it would fulfil God’s original intentions and the relationships involved in His creation of the entire universe [3A8(b, j)].
4A8(subtitle) God formally confirmed His unchanging, UNCONDITIONAL commitment to Abraham
The specific references to “covenant” are scattered within the narrative about Abraham Gen 15:18, 17:1-14,19-21. There are also many repetitions throughout Genesis 12 – 50 of God’s declarations and promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their chosen descendants, using varying terminology. So this whole Covenanting process was again complex. Like the Covenant with Noah, all of its relevant aspects need to be identified as “Covenantal”.
It is necessary to clearly identify what was God’s commitment to Abraham. It did not involve repetition of the same Covenantal promises that God had made to Noah [3A8(sub-title, g)]. Those were permanent and applied to all later people including Abraham and his chosen descendants. So they needed no further confirmation and were not reaffirmed to Abraham. The following outlines what were God’s specific commitments to Abraham.
God had commanded Abraham to migrate to a land that God would show him Gen 12:1. Then the next two verses Gen 12:2-3 abruptly outlined God’s five promises to Abraham [see 4A9(a-e)]. They also included God’s two declarations to Abraham. These were that Abraham would “be a blessing” Gen 12:2d [4A5(sub-title)] and would have a central role in God’s accomplishing of His primary purpose worldwide Gen 12:3c [4A3(c)].
These two vital verses occurred without any further introduction. This suggests that they were repeating what God had previously told Abraham in Ur Gen 11:31, 12:1a, 15:7a.1 If so, these declarations and promises were all parts of a vast unchanging, UNCONDITIONAL commitment that God in grace had already made to Abraham, as follows.
4A8(a) God promised that Abraham would have countless descendants
God had promised Abraham that He would “make you into a great nation” Gen 12:2a even though Abraham was childless at the time Gen 11:30. God later repeated this promise by telling him that he would have “offspring” Gen 12:7b and that they would be countless Gen 13:16.
This promise actually repeated God’s original blessing as declared to Adam and Eve, to “be fruitful and increase in number” Gen 1:28b [1A11(c)(i)]. God had also declared the same UNCONDITIONAL Covenantal blessing to Noah Gen 9:1 [3A11(a)]. Now He was applying this blessing specifically to Abraham and his descendants. God later included it in His formal Covenant “confirmation” with Abraham Gen 17:2-4,5-6.
4A8(a)(i) God promised that Abraham would father a son
Abraham was acutely aware that he and Sarah were too old to have children. At that time Eliezer, a servant born in his household, was his heir. In anguish Abraham raised this problem directly with God Gen 15:2-3.
God then told Abraham that although he was old he would actually father a son who would be his heir! Gen 15:4. God also reaffirmed that his descendants would be countless Gen 15:5. Abraham believed that God would make this possible Gen 15:6a. God then made further references to Abraham’s promised descendants Gen 15:13,16a,18b.
Yet Abraham apparently did not believe that his wife Sarah would be the mother of his heir because she was far too old for childbearing Gen 18:11. Instead he and Sarah decided that at age 85 he should try to father a son by Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar (in those times that was a common cultural practice for childless marriages) Gen 16:1,2. This was successful and Ishmael was born Gen 16:3-4a,15-16.
4A8(a)(ii) God’s “impossible” promise that Abraham would father a son born to Sarah
Thirteen years later Gen 17:1a God again confirmed His Covenant between Himself and Abraham concerning multiple descendants Gen 17:2. God then went on to promise Abraham five times that he would be the father of a son born to Sarah! Gen 17:15-16a,19a,21b, 18:9-10,14b [see 4B24(a)(iii.iii)]. Both Abraham and Sarah greeted this with incredulous, laughing disbelief! Gen 17:17, 18:12a,15a. How could she possibly become a mother in her extreme old age?! Gen 18:11,12b [see 4B30(b)]. God then rebuked them for their disbelief Gen 17:19a, 18:13-14,15b [see 4B31(b)].
Yet what was “impossible” actually happened!! [4A6(c)]. At the age of 90 Sarah gave birth to Isaac and 100 year old Abraham was his father!!! Gen 21:1-2,5. God had done for Abraham and Sarah what He had promised Gen 18:14b. God’s generosity and joy in this extraordinary outcome was even more enriched by the fact that, in grace, God gave Isaac his name which means “he laughs”! Gen 17:19b, 21:3,6.
God further repeated His promise that Abraham would have countless descendants, including from Ishmael Gen 17:20, 22:17b. This same promise was later repeated by God to Isaac Gen 26:4a,24e and Jacob Gen 28:14a, 35:11b, 46:3c and by Jacob to Joseph Gen 48:4a.
4A8(a)(iii) Abraham and Sarah would be the origin of regal dynasties
God renamed Abram and Sarai Gen 17:5,15. “Abram” meant “exalted father” but “Abraham” meant “father of many”. God said that this referred to nations and kings not just individuals Gen 17:5b-6. “Sarai” meant “princess”, as did “Sarah”. God emphasised that this also referred to there being kings amongst her descendants Gen 17:16b.
So God’s promises of descendants to Abraham and Sarah were now also embodied in their names! These new names also indicated that Abraham and Sarah were to be a royal couple and the co-founders of regal dynasties! The Hittites at Hebron actually recognized this Gen 23:5-6a. This implied that God was expressing His own kingly sovereignty THROUGH Abraham, making this aspect of His own nature known TO other peoples. It echoed God’s original mandate for all people to be worldwide rulers Gen 1:26b,28b [1A3(h)(i)].
4A8(a)(iv) God’s chosen descendants of Abraham
However, God then revealed that many of Abraham’s descendants would be excluded from inheriting His Covenant and its promises. Only those chosen by God would be included.
4A8(a)(iv.i) Only descendants of Isaac would be heirs of God’s Covenant with Abraham
Abraham also had sons by his second wife Keturah and his concubines but they too were excluded Gen 25:1-2,5-6. Yet all these were partial fulfilments of God’s prior Covenantal promises to Abraham that He would increase his numbers and make him the father of many nations Gen 17:2b-6.
4A8(a)(iv.ii) Only the descendants of Isaac’s younger son Jacob (Israel) would be heirs of God’s Covenant with Abraham
Later Isaac blessed his son Jacob to be the sole heir of the Covenant Gen 27:27,28,29. So his older twin brother Esau was excluded Gen 27:30-40. But this blessing was obtained by Jacob by deception! Gen 27:1-26. Yet this bestowing of the Covenantal inheritance solely upon Jacob was later reaffirmed by Isaac Gen 28:3,4. God Himself also confirmed His sole choice and Covenantal blessing of Jacob four times and renamed him as “Israel” (meaning “he struggles with God”!) Gen 28:13,14,15, 32:28-29, 35:9-10,11,12, 46:1-2,3-4.
Israel frequently acknowledged God’s Covenant promises to him Gen 31:42, 32:9-12, 48:3,4,15-16,21. Finally all of Israel’s twelve sons and their families and descendants were blessed as heirs of the Covenant Gen 35:23-26, 48:9 – 49:28, 50:24,25.2
God had sovereignly chosen Abraham to have a specific, central, unique role in accomplishing His primary purpose. Similarly only his chosen descendants would be the sole heirs of God’s Covenant with him and founders of the nation of “Israel” [3B27(d), 4A(intro)3 and 4A3(a)].
4A8(b) God made two further declarations concerning Abraham and his chosen descendants Isaac and Jacob (Israel)
When God formally “established” His Covenant with Abraham, He made two further declarations. These included repetitions of “everlasting”, to “be your/their God”, and “you and your descendants after you”. This had the effect of “bracketing” these two declarations together. God was confirming them with Abraham forever, by establishing His Covenant with him. These were God’s two unchanging core commitments, as follows.
4A8(b)(i) God declared that He would be their God forever
This Covenantal declaration confirmed God’s “everlasting” choice of Abraham and his descendants and the unique relationship between Himself and them, forever. God was always going to be their God Gen 17:7b,8b and they were to be permanently set apart exclusively for Him [4A4(b)]. All His other promises to them were based on this relationship. They would be His agents in His worldwide strategy for accomplishing His primary purpose.
Obviously their required response was to acknowledge Him as their God. This was to be expressed by their total commitment to Him and their absolute rejection of all other gods. On this basis God would have ongoing positive interactions with them, making Himself known TO them. God intended that their whole national culture would develop on this foundation, so that He would make Himself known THROUGH them as a nation Gen 18:19 [see 4A11(b)].
4A8(b)(ii) God declared that He would give them possession of the Land of Canaan to be their homeland forever
God’s second Covenantal declaration to Abraham and his descendants was that He would give them the Land of Canaan. It was to be their homeland forever, their “everlasting possession” Gen 17:8a. This reaffirmed God’s four previous repetitions of this promise Gen 12:7a, 13:14-15,17, 15:7.3
But although Abraham had believed God’s promise of a son Gen 15:2-6, he doubted God’s further promise to give him possession of Canaan. He asked “how can I know” that he would gain it! Gen 15:8. God responded by “making” a formal covenant with him Gen 15:17-21. It involved a specific ritual procedure, with the required components specified by God Himself Gen 15:9. But Abraham then apparently knew what to do with them Gen 15:10-11. Archaeologically this has been identified as conforming to the pattern of ancient Near Eastern royal land grant treaties. These were unconditional and perpetual, based on a solemn pledge or oath (seeThe NIV Study Bible (Zondervan, 2008), page 40). That was its relevance to God’s promised “land grant” to Abraham.
What followed was a profound divine encounter for Abraham! Gen 15:12-13a. It was how God powerfully made Abraham “know for certain” that His declaration to grant possession of Canaan to him and his descendants would be fulfilled Gen 15:17-21. Yet centuries of afflictions would pass before it would finally happen Gen 15:13-16.
God later reaffirmed this Covenant declaration on three other significant occasions:-
4A8(c) A wider Covenantal package that involved mutual commitments
God had begun by detailing His own Covenantal commitments to Abraham Gen 17:4-5,6,7,8.4 God referred to this not only as “establishing my covenant” but also as “confirming” it Gen 17:2a NET. Similar language was used later when God reaffirmed the Covenant promises to Isaac Gen 26:3.
God then went on to outline reciprocal responsibilities for Abraham Gen 17:9a such as circumcision Gen 17:10-11,12,13-14 [see 4A10(a)(ii)] and to train his children and whole household to “do what is right and just” Gen 18:19. This indicated that God’s Covenant with Abraham was not entirely one-sided. Instead it was a wider arrangement involving mutual obligations.
All of God’s declarations and promises, as well as His requirements, commission and warnings, formed a complete Covenantal “package” (see 4A9 to 4A13). They were vital parts of God’s commitment to Abraham and his chosen descendants, who in turn were to be wholeheartedly committed to God.
Arrows 4A4 -> 4A8,
4A5 -> 4A8 and
4A6 -> 4A8
These arrows indicate God’s strategy to express TO all people His own nature as perfection, love and power. The central features of this strategy were His choice of Abraham, in grace, and His unchanging commitment to him and his chosen descendants. He would make Himself known TO them and accomplish His primary purpose THROUGH them!
1. God “had said” to Abraham to leave Ur and go to a place God would show him Gen 12:1a,c. Presumably that was why Abraham had left Ur, intending to go to Canaan Gen 11:31. However, he had not separated from his “people” and “father’s household” as God had commanded Gen 12:1b. Instead, his father Terah not only went with him but assumed leadership of the expedition Gen 11:31a, resulting in them stopping at Harran before they reached Canaan. Terah also took along Lot, another member of the household. (Return to reading).
2. There were apparently 13 sons included in the tribal names, because Jacob “adopted” Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manasseh as his own Gen 48:5-6. This in effect doubled his blessing upon Joseph Gen 49:22-26.(Return to reading).
3. The Hebrew verb forms used (Gen 13:15, 15:18) indicate God was saying that He had already given the Land to them. This was an even more emphatic way of expressing the certainty of His promise (W.J.Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, page 49).(Return to reading).
4. God used similar language when making another parallel promise to Sarah Gen 17:15-16. This was a further clarification of God’s Covenantal promise to give Abraham a son to be his heir Gen 15:4,5.(Return to reading).