By Eugene Garner
GOD'S COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM
From the first mention of Abraham in Scripture, God's promise to him overshadows everything else. All that follows Genesis Twelve, through the Revelation of Jesus Christ, is but a development and fulfillment of this promise. The divine plan of redemption in law, prophets, Psalms, the first coming of Christ, the church, and the expectation of the grand culmination of that plan in the coming Kingdom of God - ALL IS ROOTED IN THIS PROMISE.
The last study in this series examined some of the blessings promised in the Abrahamic Covenant. This one will be devoted to an examination of the symbols and conditions attached to it.
II. SEVERAL SYMBOLS ARE USED IN CONNECTION WITH THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT.
- THE SYMBOLS OF SAND AND DUST.
- These reminded the patriarch of God's promise concerning the numerical strength of his offspring, (Gen. 13:16; 22:17).
- Wherever Abraham looked he could see a reminder of God's promise.
- THE SYMBOL AND SIGN OF THE STARS.
- God's promise was written in the starry heavens so that Abraham could always look up and be reminded of it.
- Here is a sign that one may still read and be convinced of God's faithfulness.
- The light of God's promise shines through the darkness, (comp. John 1:5).
- The One who made the heavens promised to be Abraham's defence, (Psa. 147:4-5).
- He would be as unfailing as the stars.
- Since Abraham could never number the stars, the divine blessings promised him were more than he could imagine, (comp. Eph. 3:20).
- To Daniel the stars represented the glory belonging to those saints who "turn many to righteousness," (Dan. 12:3).
- THE SYMBOL OF A CHANGED NAME, (Gen. 17:5).
- Originally the patriarch's name was "Abram," meaning "exalted father."
- But God changed his name to "Abraham," meaning "father of a multitude."
- THE SIGN OF CIRCUMSION.
- This was the peculiar symbol of that purity which made possible a relationship of special nearness to God in covenant fellowship, (Gen. 17:10-14; Ex. 6:12, 30; Lev. 19:23; 26:41; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:25).
- Not only did it serve as a sign; it was also a measure involving physical hygiene -- necessary for physical cleanliness.
- Modern science has demonstrated that certain types of death-dealing cancer in women are traceable to uncircumcised husbands.
- As circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, so baptism now symbolizes our covenant relationship to God under the New Testament order. Bruce's paraphrase of Colossians 2:11-12 is very clear on this: "In Him, too, you have been circumcised -- I am not referring to literal circumcision but to Christian circumcision, that circumcision of the heart which involves the stripping off of the old nature. This took place at your baptism, when you were buried along with Christ; and not only were you buried with Him then, but you were also raised along with Him through faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead."
- THE SYMBOL OF THE COVENANT BLOOD, (Gen. 15:7-18).
In the ratification of most covenants there was some outward token or witness to the agreement -- usually a sacrifice. Associated with the word "berith" (covenant) was another Hebrew word, "karath" (to cut). To "cut a covenant" usually refers to the cutting in pieces of a sacrificial victim which both parties considered a witness to the agreement, (Jer. 34:18-20). This probably suggested the solemnity of the agreement -- each party invoking a similar curse upon himself if he failed to keep his part of the covenant.
- This is illustrated in Genesis 15:9-10, 17-18.
- It is seen in the covenant between Jacob and Laban, (Gen. 31:44-46, 54).
- The covenant between Abraham and Abimelech was witnessed by seven ewe lambs, (Gen. 21:22-34).
- Though the slaughter of these lambs is not specifically mentioned, it is declared that they were for "a witness."
- Familiar as the Jews were with covenant-making, it surely was not necessary for Moses to mention every detail.
- When the nation of Israel entered into a covenant relationship with God at Mt. Sinai, there was a similar witness, (Ex. 24:3-8).
- In view of this symbolism one may understand the seriousness of divine judgment against the sin mentioned in Hebrews 10:26-31).
III. TO CLAIM THE BLESSINGS WITHOUT MEETING THE CONDITIONS ATTACHED WOULD HAVE BEEN MERE PRESUMPTION. And there are at least five conditional elements involved in God's covenant-dealings with Abraham.
- FAITH, AS A CONDITION, MAY BE ASSUMED FROM THE START; THIS WAS THE ONE OUTSTANDING CHARACTERISTIC OF ABRAHAM'S LIFE, (See Romans 4).
- IT INVOLVED A "FORSAKE ALL" CONDITION, (Gen. 12:1-4; Heb. 11:8-9; Comp. Lk. 9:23; 14:33; Phil. 3:7-8).
- IT INVOLVED A "WALK BEFORE ME" CONDITION, (Gen. 17:1-4).
- He was to continue walking in prepared paths, (Comp. Lk. 1:6; John 12:35; Rom. 6:4; Gal. 5:16; 6:16; Eph. 5:2, 8; Col. 1:10;
I Jn. 1:6; 2:6).
- Abraham's fulfillment of this condition was evident in his steps of unfaltering faith and unquestioning obedience, (Gen. 18:19; 22:18; 26:4-5; Jn. 8:39; Rom. 4:12; Heb. 11:8).
- IT INVOLVED A "KEEP MY COVENANT" CONDITION - referring specifically to the outward sign of circumcision, (Gen. 17:9-11).
- There is no such assurance in the Scriptures as "once-in-the covenant, always-in-the-covenant."
- Covenant-breakers are "cut off," (Comp. Rom. 11:13-22).
- IT INVOLVED A HEART CIRCUMCISION.
- This involved the desire and determination to please God above all else.
- The command to "offer up Isaac!" was God's supreme test of Abraham on this condition, (Gen. 22:1-2, 11-12; 16-18; Heb. 11:17-19).
: Having briefly examined the blessings, symbols and conditions of the Abrahamic Covenant, it will surely be of interest to note the prominent part that it has played in the history of Israel.
- It is described as an "everlasting covenant," (Gen. 17:7), and God has never forgotten His promise to Abraham.
- The godly among the nation have always been aware of their blessings through Abraham.
- Moses saw clearly how the whole life of Israel hinged on God's faithfulness to Abraham, (Ex. 3:15; 32:9-14; Deut. 29:10-13; 34:1-4).
- Elijah looked to the God of Abraham for power over the prophets of Baal, (I Kings 18:36).
- Nehemiah recognized God's faithfulness to Abraham in the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls following the Babylonian captivity, (Neh. 9:5-8, 32).
- Many other passages assert the benefits bestowed through Abraham, (Psa. 105:1-45; Isa. 51:2; Micah 7:1-20).
- Though many nations have attempted to wipe out the children of Jacob, their efforts have failed; God will not forsake His friend.
- The modern Arab hatred of the Jews is nothing new; nor was Hitler's bloody slaughter unique, (Psa. 83:4-5).
- But all efforts to destroy the Jews will utterly fail; God will see to that.
- Though the nation has rebelled and been cast off, God has not utterly forsaken her; she will be brought back into the covenant, (Rom. 11:23-29).
God's promise cannot fail! Let not unbelief hinder us from enjoying the full BLESSINGS OF ABRAHAM.
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
- What three main thoughts have been examined concerning the Abrahamic covenant?
- How is this covenant related to all that follows in the Scriptures?
- How many symbols can you recall being used in this covenant?
- What was the peculiar sign of this covenant?
- What is there in the New Covenant relationship that corresponds to this sign?
- What Scripture explains this correspondence?
- What was generally considered to seal and bear witness to a covenant?
- May one consistently claim for himself the blessings of any Biblical covenant without first meeting its conditions?
- How many conditions have been observed in this covenant?
- Are there any of those conditions that do not have a corresponding role in the New Covenant?
- What part has the Abrahamic Covenant played in the history of Israel?
- May we enjoy the "blessings of Abraham?"
- That principle must govern our lives if we would enjoy these blessings?