The Abrahamic covenant – What is it?
The Abrahamic covenant is a unilateral covenant that God made with Abraham. A unilateral covenant is an agreement made between two parties, in which only one of the parties has responsibility to act. In the case of the agreement between God and Abraham, God was the only one who was required to act, making it a unilateral (or unconditional) covenant. The Abrahamic covenant is found in Genesis 12:1-3. Abram was a man living in ancient Mesopotamia, a descendent of Noah through Shem (Genesis 11:10-27). One day, God called to Abram and gave him a command that was also a promise: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:1-3). This promise is what we now call the Abrahamic covenant.
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We know that the covenant was unilateral because, in the ancient world, a covenant would be made official by cutting open a dove or a ram or some other animal or animals, and placing them on the ground so that both parties involved in the covenant could walk between the pieces. In the case of the covenant God made with Abraham, God took on the form of a "smoking furnace and a flaming torch" and passed between the pieces alone. God caused Abraham to fall asleep while this took place, further ensuring that the full weight of responsibility in the covenant was to fall on God, rather than Abraham (Genesis 15).
The Abrahamic covenant has three main parts:
First, there was the promise of land (Genesis 12:1). When God called Abram, he was living in Ur of the Chaldeans, and God told him to move to another land that God would show him. That land turned out to be Canaan (Genesis 12:6-7), but it would be several more generations before Israel took full possession of that land (Joshua 22:1-6).
Second, there was the promise of descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore, or the stars in the sky, who would bless the whole earth (Genesis 22:17-18). God told Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation, with mighty kings (Genesis 17:6).
Third, there was the promise that God would bring blessing and redemption to all people through Abraham's people. God made this promise again to Isaac (Genesis 21:12; 26:3-4) and again to Jacob (Genesis 28:14-15). Despite the sins in the lives of all three patriarchs, God's unconditional promise stands. Since he was the only participant in the covenant, there is no way for the actions of any human to make the promise null and void.
The Abrahamic covenant is an everlasting covenant, which extends into the future kingdom of Christ. Ezekiel prophesied a day when Israel would be fully restored to the Promised Land (Ezekiel 20:33-37, 40-42; 36:1—37:28) as a nation. Israel as a nation will also be restored, blessed and redeemed, as promised (Romans 11:25-27). Best of all, not only Israel, but all people, have access to God's kingdom through the Messiah, who was a descendant of Abraham (John 3:16-17).
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