God's Answers

Man's Questions

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.”
Genesis 12:1-3

The Abrahamic Covenant
An Everlasting Covenant

If Abram could count the stars, so also could he count his descendants. Genesis 15:5-6

Introduction.  There are a number of Biblical Covenants. One in particular, the Mosaic Covenant, is a conditional, thus temporary covenant. But a number of covenants are said to be everlasting. The Abrahamic Covenant is one of the everlasting covenants. This article discusses, in relation to the Abrahamic Covenant, A its foundation, B its ratification, C its fleshly threat, D its signs, E its sole heir in terms of Abraham's sons, F its test, G its delayed fulfillment, H the importance of theological purity in marriage for its recipients, I further selectivity as to its recipients, J its extension to Isaac, K its conditional  and unconditional elements, L the struggle between Esau and Jacob over its blessings, M its extension to Jacob, N its extension to Jacob's twelve sons, and O its summary.

A.    The Foundation and Framework of Yahweh’s Eternal Covenant with Abram. Yahweh’s relationship to Abram centered upon a promise of land, progeny, and blessing.

1.     Yahweh’s relationship with Abram began with a promise (Gen. 12:1-3).

a.     There was something Abram had to do: He had to leave his country, his relatives, and his father’s house. He had to move to the land which Yahweh would show him (Gen. 12:1).

b.     If Abram would do so, Yahweh promised He would make of him a great nation, bless him, and make his name great (Gen. 12:2).

c.     In addition, Yahweh commanded Abram, “be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2).

d.     Yahweh further promised He would bless those who blessed Abram, He would curse those who cursed Abram, and in Abram all of “the families of the earth” would be blessed (Gen. 12:3).

2.     When Abram arrived in the land of Canaan, Yahweh made him an unconditional promise: “To your descendants I will give this land” (Gen. 12:7).

3.     Yahweh had already begun to fulfill His promise to Abram. After a brief stay in Egypt, “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold” (Gen. 13:1-2). After Abram unselfishly separated himself from Lot because their combined herds were too great, Yahweh enlarged on His unconditional promise to him. He instructed Abram to look in all directions. He said, “all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever” (Gen. 13:14-15). He said that He would make Abram’s descendants as plentiful as the dust of the earth. He was to walk throughout the land, for Yahweh would give it to him (Gen. 13:16-17).

4.     Abram dutifully and miraculously rescued Lot and all the citizens of Sodom from the hands of Chedorlaomer and his allies (Gen. 14:1-17). He met Melchizedek, King-Priest of Salem (Jerusalem) (Gen. 14:18). Melchizedek pronounced a blessing upon Abram from God Most High, Possessor of Heaven and Earth, who had granted Abram the victory (Gen. 14:19-20).

5.     It was following Abram’s victory over Chedorlaomer and his allies that Yahweh, in Genesis 15, expanded His initial promise to Abram into a covenant. Return to Top.

B.    Yahweh’s Ratification of a Formal Covenant with Abram. Genesis 15.

1.     After Abram’s daring, miraculous victory, Yahweh announced to Abram in a vision that he was not to fear, for Yahweh was his defense, and He was going to reward Abram greatly (Gen. 15:1).

2.     Abram immediately responded and began to question Adonai Yahweh. He had experienced His blessing. He was living in the land, but he had no blood heirs. So where was the fulfillment of Adonai Yahweh’s promise (Gen. 15:2-3)?

3.     Yahweh assured him that someone who would come forth from his own body would be his heir (Gen. 15:4). Then Yahweh told him to look at the stars. If he could count them, then he could count his descendants (Gen. 15:5). Abram “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).

4.     Having successfully reassured Abram about his descendants, Yahweh reminded Abram that He had brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans with a view to giving him the land in which he was now a nomad. Yahweh’s purpose was that Abram would possess the land (Gen. 15:7). Abram asked for some tangible demonstration of that purpose (Gen. 15:8). His specific question was, “O Lord GOD [Adonai Yahweh], how may I know that I will possess it?”

5.     It was at this point that Yahweh reinforced His promises to Abram with a covenant, first so labeled in Gen. 15:18. Yahweh’s covenant formally guaranteed to Abram’s descendants a specifically bounded piece of real estate. In addition, Yahweh revealed something of the time constraints of His beginning to fulfill His covenant (in excess of four hundred years). In addition, He revealed the nations whom Abram’s descendants would displace (Gen. 15:9-21). Here are the details of the covenant ceremony.

a.     Yahweh instructed Abram to bring specific animals to the place where Abram had been conversing with Him (Gen. 15:9).

b.     Abram knew instantly that God was proposing a blood covenant, and so he killed the animals and “laid each half opposite the other” (Gen. 15:10). This was done so that the two parties might walk between the dead animals, formalizing their agreement. The idea was that if either party violated the terms of the covenant, he was liable to forfeit his own life. (For a subsequent example of this, see Yahweh’s requirement of the lives of all those who passed between the parts of a calf as a blood covenant that they would release their slaves from servitude (Jer. 34:18-19). Since they had reneged on their blood covenant, Yahweh would take their lives at the hands of the Babylonian army (Jer. 34:8-22)!)

c.     Time passed. This conversation between Yahweh and Abram had begun at nighttime, when Abram could see the stars (Gen. 15:5). But now it was daytime so Abram could see what he was doing. He had to wait all day for Yahweh to complete the covenant, and so Abram had to chase away vultures and other scavengers (Gen. 15:11). Finally the sun went down and God put Abram to sleep (Gen. 15:12). Yet he was acutely aware of what God was saying and doing.

d.     Elohim told Abram his descendants would one day be enslaved in another country four hundred years, but they would then be rescued and in possession of great wealth (Gen. 15:13-14). Abram would live out his full life. His descendants would be brought back to this promised land in the fourth generation. This was so because the land’s inhabitants (the Amorites) had not reached their Divine quota of evil, and Elohim would not yet destroy them in judgment (Gen. 15:15-16).

e.     When the sun had set completely and it was very dark, “there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces” (Gen. 15:17). In other words, while Abram was still incapacitated, Yahweh walked between the pieces of the dead animals alone. This unequivocally demonstrates the unconditional nature of Yahweh’s covenant with Abram. Its performance depended on Yahweh and His integrity alone. In any age, Abram’s descendants might be disqualified from the benefits of the covenant because of their faithlessness (Deut. 28), but the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant depended on Yahweh, not man.

f.      On that day Yahweh “made a covenant” (lit., “cut a covenant” – so stated because the animals throats were cut and the animals were cut in two to guarantee the finality and fulfillment of the agreement) with Abram (Gen. 15:18). Here were the terms of the covenant:

(1)  Yahweh gave to Abram’s descendants “this land” (Gen. 15:18).

(2)  The boundaries of the land were described as extending from “the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18). There is no debate as to which river the Euphrates is (closest to Israel in modern day Syria). In the heyday of the reign of Solomon, Israel controlled territory reaching as far Northeast as the Euphrates River (1 Kings 4:24 – Tiphsah was situated on the banks of the Euphrates River). But disagreement exists as to the identity of the “river of Egypt.” Most take the Southwestern border to be the Wadi El ‘Arish. But the Wadi El ‘Arish is a dry river bed during the dry season. Everyone knows the name of the river in Egypt comparable to the Euphrates. It is the Nile. So the best Southwestern counter weight to the well-known Euphrates to the Northeast of Canaan would be the mighty Nile River, or at least its eastern-most branch in its Delta. Abram’s descendants have never occupied the full extent of their promised territory, but the time will come when they will. (See a satellite image of the Nile Delta. See a satellite image of Wadi El ‘Arish. See a photo and satellite image of the Euphrates River at Dayr AzZawr, Syria. See a map of the Tigris-Euphrates basin. Go to Dr. Constable’s Notes on Genesis, 2009 Edition, p. 140 for the opposing view that the SW border is Wadi El ‘Arish.)

(3)  Yahweh identified the ethnic entities or nations that would be displaced by Abram’s descendants when their quota of evil had been breached. These included the following – the land inhabited by the Kenite, Kenizzite, Kadmonite, Hittite, Perizzite, the Rephaim, the Amorite, Girgashite, and Jebusite (Gen. 15:19-21). The Jebusites were the ancient inhabitants of Jerusalem.

6.     In summary, then, Yahweh established His covenant with Abram. We call this the Abrahamic Covenant. It guaranteed, on the strength of Yahweh’s integrity and faithfulness, two fundamental realities – Abram’s descendants were to inherit a specific piece of land bounded by the Nile and the Euphrates Rivers. In the process, the existing inhabitants of the land would necessarily be displaced because of their evil. This covenant built upon the foundation of Yahweh’s promises to Abram first stated in Genesis 12:1-3. Yahweh would unveil other specifics of this covenant as the years went by and Abram’s descendants began to appear. Return to Top.

C.    The Fleshly Threat to the Covenant. Genesis 16 records the attempt of Sarai, with Abram’s acquiescence, to implement a humanistic fulfillment of Yahweh’s Promise to and Covenant with Abram.

1.     Sarai acknowledged that Yahweh had prevented her from bearing children. She asked Abram to have sexual relations with her maid. Her hope was that she could have children through her maid. The offspring thus born would be counted as the offspring of Abram and Sarai (Gen. 16:1-2). This was an established legal precedent in those days (Notes on Genesis, 2009 Edition, Dr. Thomas Constable, pp. 142-143).

2.     When Abram had relations with the maid, Hagar, she immediately conceived, and Hagar despised her mistress (on account of Sarai’s infertility). Sarai disciplined her rebellious maid, and Hagar fled (Gen. 16:3-6).

3.     The Angel of Yahweh found Hagar and instructed her to return to Sarai and submit to her. He would multiply her descendants incalculably (Gen. 16:10). She would bear a son, Ishmael. Ishmael would be “a wild donkey of a man” (Gen. 16:11-12). This phrase probably refers to his nomadic traveling of great distances. This is accurately describes the existence of many freedom-loving Bedouins (see Constable, p. 144). “His hand” would be “against everyone, and everyone’s hand … against him” (Gen. 16:12). This depiction aptly describes the Arab peoples, kin folk to the Jewish people. There has been endless animosity among Arabs, as well as between Arabs and Jews. Never has there been a more potent illustration of the futility of trying to achieve God’s will through fleshly means. And he would “live to the east of all his brothers” (Gen. 16:12). “History has confirmed this promise. The Ishmaelites have continued to this day in free and undiminished possession of the extensive peninsula between the Euphrates, the Straits of Suez, and the Red Sea [Saudi Arabia], from which they have overspread both Northern Africa and Southern Asia” (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary).

4.     Abram was eighty six years old when Hagar gave birth to their son Ishmael (Gen. 16:16). Return to Top.

D.    Signs of the Covenant and Sarah’s Son as Its Beneficiary. Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth, when Abram was ninety-nine, Yahweh, in Genesis 17 began to “establish,” i.e. to confirm and implement (Gen. 17:1-2,7) His Genesis 15 promise to Abram of numberless descendants (Gen. 15:5) and His unconditional covenant to give his descendants the land “from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18). Yahweh’s confirmation consisted of two sets of signs – the sign of new names and the sign of circumcision.

1.     In the first instance, Yahweh revealed to Abram a new name for Himself. Our English text reads, “I am God Almighty” (Gen. 17:1); in Hebrew it is El Shaddai. In the context of Genesis 17, this newly revealed name of God connotes the idea that God (El) is mighty enough to make good on the promises He has made, reinforced by His unilateral covenant.

2.     In preparation for the implementation of this covenant, Yahweh urged Abram, “Walk before Me, and be blameless” (Gen. 17:1).

3.     Then Yahweh told Abram He would establish His covenant with him and multiply him exceedingly (Gen. 17:2). This refers to the covenant Yahweh had made with Abram in Genesis 15:18, at least thirteen or fourteen years earlier.

4.     Abram fell on his face in worship, and Elohim continued with a second name-change sign. He repeated that His covenant was with Abram. Then He stated, “And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.” He would no longer be “Abram,” “Exalted Father.” He would now be “Abraham,” “Father of a Multitude,” for Elohim had made him “the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:3-5). Elohim would make him “exceedingly fruitful.” Nations and kings would issue from him (Gen. 17:6). Furthermore, Elohim declared, He would establish His covenant between He Himself and Abraham and his descendants after him for an everlasting covenant (emphasis mine) – to be a God to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 17:7). And then, to reinforce the terms of the covenant, Elohim specified, I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession (emphasis mine); and I will be their God" (Gen. 17:8). For the first time we learn that the Abrahamic covenant is an eternal covenant. We also learn that the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant are that Elohim grants to Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan in perpetuity.

5.     Having revealed to Abram His own name (El Shaddai – the God powerful enough to keep His promises and His covenant), and having revealed to Abram the latter’s new name, Abraham – “Father of a Multitude” – Elohim now expanded on the responsibility of Abraham and Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 17:9-14).

a.     Both Abraham and his descendants are to keep perpetually this covenant with Elohim (Gen. 17:9).

b.     When Yahweh alone had walked through the pieces of the dead animals (Gen. 15:17-21), that had been Yahweh’s sign that the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant was His and His alone. It was an unconditional covenant. Now Elohim pressed upon Abraham a sign for him and for his descendants to keep – they must be circumcised in the flesh of their foreskin (Gen. 17:10-11).

c.     This sign was to be applied to every male in Abraham’s retinue eight days old and above, even to servants, whether those born in his own household or purchased (Gen. 17:12-13).

d.     Just as Elohim’s covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant (Gen. 17:7), so Abraham and his descendants and his servants were to bear the sign of the covenant (circumcision) in their flesh as an everlasting covenant (Gen. 17:13).

e.     In fact, any uncircumcised male would be cut off from Abraham’s people, for that male will have broken the covenant (Gen. 17:14)!

f.      This sequence of events clearly illustrate this maximum: Elohim’s covenant with Abraham and His descendants regarding the land of Canaan is unilateral, unconditional, and everlasting; yet for any descendant of Abraham to partake of the benefits of that covenant, there are conditions to be met. In this instance there is a physical sign that must be displayed – circumcision. Subsequent communication from Yahweh would reveal the necessity not only of a circumcised organ of procreation, but also of a circumcised heart (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 9:25-26; Ezek. 44:7-9; Acts 7:51; Rom. 2:29).

6.     From the sign of circumcision Elohim reverted back to the sign of a new name – this time for Sarai. Her name would no longer be Sarai (my princess) but Sarah (royal princess) (Gen. 17:15).

a.     The name change was not insignificant. Elohim would bless Sarah and give Abraham a son by her! In blessing her, He would grant her to be a “mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her” (Gen. 17:16).

b.     Abraham’s response was instantaneous. He fell on his face and laughed. Polite, he did not verbalize his thoughts, but inwardly he ridiculed the idea that a one hundred year old man and a ninety year old woman could produce a child (Gen. 17:17).

c.     Outwardly, he wished that Ishmael might live before Elohim as the fulfillment of the latter’s covenant (Gen. 17:18).

d.     One the covenant fulfillment through Ishmael, Elohim demurred. “No,” He stated. Sarah, Abraham’s wife would indeed bear a son (Gen. 17:19).

7.     Here Elohim revealed yet another new name.

a.     Abraham was to name his promised son Isaac (meaning “he laughs”), a reference to Abraham’s having laughed (Gen. 17:19, 17).

b.     Furthermore, declared Elohim, He would establish His covenant with Isaac, and it would be an “everlasting covenant for his descendants after him” (Gen. 17:19).

c.     Nevertheless, Elohim did hear Abraham’s wish concerning Ishmael. He would bless Ishmael, make him fruitful, and multiply him exceedingly. He would become the father of twelve princes (Gen. 25:12-16), and He would make of him a great nation (Gen. 17:20).

d.     But Elohim would establish His covenant not with Ishmael, but with Isaac, whom Sarah would bear in about a year (Gen. 17:21).

8.     After this, Elohim left off talking with Abraham and departed (Gen. 17:22).

9.     Abraham promptly obeyed Elohim, taking upon himself and all the males in his household the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17:23-27).

10. What have we learned in Genesis 17? We have learned that Elohim’s covenant with Abraham, which He had unilaterally ratified in Genesis 15, was to be an everlasting covenant both with Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 17:7). This covenant was to give to Abraham’s descendants, furthermore, the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (Gen. 17:8). In any age, for Abraham’s descendants to inherit this promise, they would have to maintain a holy walk with God (Gen. 17:1) as well as to accept His sign of circumcision as an everlasting covenant in the flesh (Gen. 17:13). But that faithfulness which God demanded would alter neither the unconditional nature of the covenant, nor its irresistible fulfillment, nor its eternality. We have learned, further, that Ishmael was specifically excluded from this covenant, and that Elohim rather committed Himself to establish this same everlasting covenant with Isaac, the miraculous child of promise, yet unborn, and also with Isaac’s descendants. Still, in deference to Abraham’s request, God would bless Ishmael and multiply him exceedingly (Gen. 17:18-21).

11. In Genesis 18:9-15 Yahweh confirmed to Abraham that Sarah his wife would bear a son in about a year’s time. He also confirmed that Abraham would become a great and mighty nation, and that in him “all the nations of the earth would be blessed” (Gen. 18:18). Return to Top.

E.    Yahweh’s Provision of Isaac as the Sole Heir of the Abrahamic Covenant.

1.     In Genesis 21:1-7 Yahweh noticed Sarah and did for her as He had promised. She bore a son to Abraham in his old age, and Abraham named him Isaac.

2.     On the day Isaac was weaned, Abraham made him a great feast. But Ishmael mocked Isaac. Sarah was furious and told Abraham to drive out “this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac” (Gen. 21:8-10). Abraham was deeply distressed.

3.     But Elohim told Abraham not to be distressed and to do as Sarah requested, for, He said, it was through Isaac that Abraham’s descendants were to be named (Gen. 21:11-12).

4.     Yet God would make of Ishmael a great nation because he also was a son of Abraham (Gen. 21:13, 18, 20). Return to Top.

F.    Yahweh’s Reinforcement of the Abrahamic Covenant through His Testing of Abraham’s Faith and Obedience.

1.     In Genesis 22, God tested Abraham in regard to his son Isaac. He was to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain in the land of Moriah. Early the next morning Abraham proceeded to obey (Gen. 22:1-8).

2.     As Abraham was about to kill his son, the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven to stop. He knew Abraham feared God since he had not withheld his only son from Him (Gen. 22:9-12).

3.     The Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham again from heaven, and revealed that Yahweh had sworn that, because Abraham had not withheld his son, Yahweh would bless him, and He would multiply his seed “as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is upon the seashore.” Abraham’s seed would be victorious and would “possess the gate of their enemies.” In Abraham’s “seed all the nations of the earth” would be blessed because Abraham had obeyed His voice (Gen. 22:15-18). Return to Top.

G.    The Death and Burial of Sarah as Illustrating the Delayed Fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant.

1.     Yahweh had covenanted to Abram’s descendants “this land” “from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18).

2.     Yet when Sarah died, Abraham confessed himself “a stranger and a sojourner” among the sons of Heth (Gen. 23:3-4). Consequently he was forced to purchase land in which to bury his own wife (Gen. 23:3-20).

3.     It would be centuries before Abraham’s descendants would physically possess the promised land (Gen. 15:12-16). Return to Top.

H.    Abraham’s Efforts to Secure a Believing Wife for His Son Isaac. Genesis 24. This beautiful chapter reveals the Sovereignty of God in His fulfillment of the promises He had covenanted with Abraham.

1.     It shows, first of all, the care Abraham took in acquiring a believing wife for his son Isaac. By acquiring a wife from the household of his relatives back in Syria of the Two Rivers (Aram Naharayim, in modern day Iraq), Abraham was doing his part to ensure that Isaac’s heart would not be pulled away from God by an unbelieving local Canaanite wife (Gen. 18:18-19; 24:1-10). Abraham’s extended family shared his faith, at least to some degree. This was all part of Yahweh’s sovereign plan.

2.     This account reveals also the sovereignty of Yahweh in blessing Abraham “in every way” just as He had promised (Gen. 12:2-3; 24:1, 31, 35, 60).

3.     This account further reveals the sovereignty of Yahweh in guiding Abraham’s servant to exactly the right young woman at the right place at the right time. When the young woman’s brother and father heard the servant’s story, they could only respond, “The matter comes from the LORD; so we cannot speak to you bad or good” (Gen. 24:27, 48, 50-51). The young woman, Rebekah, was even willing to depart her family to marry a man she had never seen at a moment’s notice (Gen. 24:50-67)! Return to Top.

I.    Further Selectivity as to the Recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant. The text of Genesis 25 advances the theme in Genesis that Yahweh extended the Abrahamic Covenant only to certain chosen heirs of Abraham.

1.     Abraham married a second wife, Keturah, by whom he fathered other sons. But Abraham “gave all that he had to Isaac.” While he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines, he sent them away from his son Isaac “to the land of the east” (Gen. 25:1-6). This would preserve the land of Canaan and the bulk of his estate for Isaac, the chosen seed.

2.     After Abraham’s death, God blessed Isaac (Gen. 25:7-11).

3.      What happened to Ishmael? He had twelve sons, “princes” (Gen. 25:12-18).

4.     Isaac’s wife Rebekah was barren, so he prayed on her behalf. Yahweh heard, and Rebekah conceived. Rebekah felt her children struggling within her, and she asked Yahweh why. He told her that two nations were in her womb. One people would be stronger than the other, “and the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:19-23). One concludes, therefore, that Yahweh had again chosen the second-born son to inherit the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. The narrative immediately describes a significant first step in that development. Jacob the heel-grabber, the second born, succeeded in talking his brother Esau out of his birthright (Gen. 25:24-34)! Return to Top.

J.   Yahweh’s Extension of the Abrahamic Covenant to Isaac. Genesis 26.

1.     Isaac had prayed to Yahweh, but Yahweh had never appeared to Isaac until the incident recorded in Genesis 26:1-6 took place.

a.     Because of a famine in the land, Isaac traveled to Gerar, where Abimelech was king of the Philistines (Gen. 26:1).

b.     While Isaac was there, Yahweh appeared to him, instructing him not to travel to Egypt, but to “stay in the land of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 26:2).

c.     Yahweh further commanded him, “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham” (Gen. 26:3, emphasis mine). Notice that the three components of the Abrahamic Covenant appear in this single statement – blessing, descendants, and land. These three are all tied together. The blessing is to be given to Isaac’s descendants in the land. Isaac’s descendants will never experience the full blessing of Yahweh if they are outside the land. Though Yahweh did not utter the word covenant in His conversation with Isaac, He did use the word oath – it was the particular oath that He had sworn with Isaac’s father, Abraham.  By this we know Yahweh was referring to the covenant He had sworn with Abraham. 

d.     Yahweh was not through with His speech to Isaac. He continued, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 26:4, emphasis mine). In His statement, Yahweh incorporated past speeches He had delivered to Abraham. He would multiply Isaac’s descendants as the stars of heaven, reminiscent of His previous promises to Abraham in Genesis 15:5 and in 22:17. Yahweh’s blessing of Isaac’s descendants in these lands would be so great that in his descendants all the nations of the earth would be blessed! This echoed Yahweh’s original promise to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, which He confirmed in Genesis 22:18.

e.     Yahweh concluded His extension of the Abrahamic Covenant to his son Isaac with the following explanation, “because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Gen. 26:5).

f.      Some might argue, “See – God’s covenant with Abraham was conditional upon his obedience, and God’s extension of that covenant to Isaac was conditional upon his remaining in the land” (Gen. 26:2-3). That is a fair observation, and it demands a satisfactory response, which we will soon provide. But let us first look at the evidence of Yahweh’s blessing of Isaac.

2.     There is abundant evidence that Isaac did indeed inherit the Abrahamic Covenant with its attendant blessings. Moses recorded that Isaac sowed in the vicinity of Gerar and reaped a hundredfold harvest from the land. That was evidence that Yahweh blessed him. Further evidence is provided in that Isaac grew wealthier and wealthier, as measured by the size of his flocks and herds and his entire household retinue. His Philistine neighbors were so aware of his prodigious wealth that they became envious of him and his power, and asked him to leave (Gen. 26:12-14).

3.     The next portion of the chapter describes the struggles between the herdsmen of Gerar and those of Isaac over water rights (Gen. 26:18-22). Isaac was not a confrontational person. When his servants had dug a well and the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with them over the water, he yielded, moved further away, and dug another well. Finally the herdsmen of Gerar left his herdsmen alone, and he called the well Rehoboth, for, he said, “At last the LORD has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land” (Gen. 26:22b, emphasis mine).

4.     Next, Isaac moved to Beersheba. That same night Yahweh appeared to him. Here is what He said:  “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, for the sake of My servant Abraham” (Gen. 26:3-4, emphasis mine).

5.     It is clear that God had extended the Abrahamic Covenant to Abraham’s son Isaac. Return to Top.

K.    Was the Abrahamic Covenant Conditional? 

1.     It is true that there are conditional aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant.

a.     Yahweh’s initial promise to Abram required that he leave his country and proceed to the land Yahweh would show him (Gen. 12:1). Had Abram stayed in Ur of the Chaldees, he would not have been blessed (Gen. 12:2-3). Abram, of course, did believe God, and he did travel to the land (Gen. 12:4-5).

b.     God instituted circumcision (Gen. 17:9-14) as a sign of Abraham’s descendants’ participation in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 17:1-8). Any uncircumcised male was to be cut off from his people for breaking God’s covenant (Gen. 17:14). Abraham was quick to obey God, and had every male in his household circumcised (Gen. 17:23-27).

c.     After Abraham had obeyed God in the mattering of sacrificing his son, Yahweh swore with an oath that because Abraham had not withheld his son, He would bless him greatly and fulfill the promises He had initially made (Gen. 22:15-18).

d.     When Yahweh first appeared to Isaac, He warned him not to travel to Egypt but to stay in the land, and Yahweh would bless him and establish the oath He had sworn to Abraham (Gen. 26:1-5). Isaac, of course, did stay in the land (Gen. 26:6), and Yahweh blessed him prodigiously (Gen. 26:12-14).

e.     Additionally, on the occasion that Yahweh extended the Abrahamic Covenant to Isaac, His stated rationale for doing so was that Abraham had “obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Gen. 26:5). One might logically argue that, had Abraham not obeyed God, Isaac would never have been granted an extension of the covenant to himself. The text, however, does not explicitly state that conclusion.

2.     It is also true that there are unconditional features of the Abrahamic Covenant.

a.     After Abram had arrived in the land and had parted ways with his nephew Lot, Yahweh told Abram He would give to him and his descendants forever all the land he could see (Gen. 13:14-17). There were no conditions attached. Furthermore, Yahweh’s use of the term forever presumes a future that is nothing short of being guaranteed.

b.     We have already discussed the promise to Abram and the covenant that God made with Abram in Genesis 15. The word blessing does not occur in Genesis 15, but the concept does. Yahweh told Abram his reward would be very great (Gen. 15:1). That amounts to a blessing. When questioned by Abram, Yahweh responded that the number of Abram’s descendants would be as incalculable as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5). Then Yahweh reminded Abram He had brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to possess “this land” (Gen. 15:7, emphasis mine). When Abram queried as to how he could know this, Yahweh responded by making a Blood Covenant with him. Yahweh staked His own integrity on this covenant by walking between the pieces of the dead animals alone (Gen. 15:8-17). This means that the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 15:18-21), a specifically bounded piece of land and the displacement of specific nations, made Abram and his descendants the unconditional, guaranteed beneficiaries.

c.     We generally think of Genesis 17 as introducing circumcision as the obligatory sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Indeed, this section begins with a command linked with a promise: Yahweh appeared to Abram, saying, “I am God Almighty (El Shaddai); walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly” (Gen. 17:1-2). At that point, Abram’s response was to fall on His face. Without demeaning that response, let me nonetheless point out that Abram had not yet had the opportunity to fill any condition of obedience. Nonetheless, Yahweh continued to make some unequivocal promises with eternal overtones as follows:

(1)  God’s covenant was with Abram (Gen. 17:4).

(2)  Abram would become “the father of a multitude of nations,” a reference to his descendants. On that account God changed his name from Abram to Abraham (Gen. 17:4-5).

(3)  God would make Abraham very fruitful, so that nations and kings would issue from him (Gen. 17:6), also a reference to Abraham’s descendants. The reference to kings paves the way for God’s covenant with Abraham’s descendant King David, and David’s greatest descendant, King Jesus through the Davidic Covenant as well as this Abrahamic Covenant.

(4)  God would establish His covenant between Himself and Abraham and his descendants after him as an everlasting covenant from generation to generation (Gen. 17:7).

(5)  God would give to Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (Gen. 17:8). Let me pause to ask a question. How could God make eternal guarantees of the covenant and grant land as an eternal possession if the outcome were uncertain? The answer is simple. He could not, and He did not.

(6)  After requiring the physical sign of circumcision (Gen. 17:9-14), God continued with more explicit revelation. Sarai’s name was to be changed to Sarah because she herself would bear to Abraham a son by virtue of Elohim’s blessing. Elohim would bless her so much that she would be the mother of nations and kings of peoples (Gen. 17:15-16). Since she was to be the maternal ancestor of royalty her name was changed from Sarai (“My Princess”) to Sarah (“Princess”).

(7)  Abraham was to name the son that Sarah would bear Isaac. Elohim would establish His covenant with Isaac, and as an everlasting covenant with Isaac’s descendants after him (Gen. 17:19). If there were any uncertainties about the eventual outcome of God’s relationship with Isaac and his descendants, how could the covenant be an everlasting one?

(8)  Abraham’s son by Hagar, Ishmael, would not be a party to this covenant, yet for Abraham’s sake, Elohim would bless Ishmael anyway (Gen. 17:18, 20).

(9)  Elohim would definitely establish His covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah would bear in a year’s time (Gen. 17:21). Let me conclude this section by remarking that, any conditions notwithstanding, any mention of an everlasting covenant, both with Abraham and with Isaac’s descendants, and any mention of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession requires the existence of an unconditional covenant. An eternal guarantee is, in effect, an unconditional guarantee. Any descendants of Abraham and Isaac who did not obey God, and who did not practice circumcision would themselves be disqualified. But with the use of the term “everlasting,” there could be no dispute as to the eventual outcome!

d.     Outside of the passages in Genesis we have discussed, there are two additional references in the Old Testament to an “everlasting covenant” in relationship to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These two passages are 1 Chronicles 16:15-18 and its almost verbatim repetition in Psalm 105:6-11. The term “everlasting” presupposes God’s eternal, and thus unconditional, relationship with Abraham and his physical descendants through Isaac and Jacob. There are several other references to an “everlasting covenant.” 2 Samuel 23:5 refers to the Davidic Covenant. I believe that the following refer to the New Covenant: Isaiah 55:3; 61:8; Jeremiah 32:40; 50:5; Ezekiel 16:60; 37:26. Both the Davidic and the New Covenants are based upon the foundation of the Abrahamic Covenant. The word “everlasting” in each can only mean that the ultimate success of Yahweh’s Covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob cannot be compromised.

3.     How do we reconcile the conditional aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant with its unconditional features?

a.     In the first mention of a covenant with Abram (Gen. 15:18, see Gen. 15:7-21), the initiative and the ratification of the covenant were Yahweh’s alone. Yahweh announced the covenant, and He alone ratified it by walking alone between the pieces. Prior and subsequent statements of condition cannot alter that fact. The Abrahamic Covenant, as it was formed, was unilateral and therefore unconditional. Nothing can shake that foundation.

b.     Taking note of the chronological indicators in the narrative helps to illustrate the unconditional, guaranteed nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abram was 75 when he departed Haran for Canaan (Gen. 12:4). It was at some time during the next ten years, when Abram was between 75 and 85, that Yahweh made the unconditional blood covenant with Abram to give his descendants the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:7-18; cf. 16:3). Abram was 86 when Hagar bore Ishmael to him (Gen. 16:16). It was not until Abram was 99 and Ishmael 13 (Gen. 17:1, 24-25) that God imposed the condition of circumcision upon Abraham and his household (Gen. 17:10-14). The addition of the requirement of circumcision could never alter the unconditional guarantee of God’s covenant with Abram, made, at the least, fourteen years earlier. Paul makes a similar argument when he states that the Law given to Israel could never invalidate the promises God had made to Abraham 430 years earlier (Gal. 3:15-18).

c.     The conditional elements of God’s promises (such as Abram moving from Ur to Canaan; Isaac remaining in Canaan and not going to Egypt) can be explained in terms of God’s election (Gen. 18:17-19). For example, Yahweh was not going to hide from Abraham His plans to destroy Sodom “since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” From Yahweh’s point of view, Abraham doubtless would become a mighty nation, and without question, through him all nations would be blessed (Gen. 18:18). How could Yahweh be so certain? The answer lies in Yahweh’s election, or choice: “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Gen. 18:19). When Yahweh chose Abraham, His choice carried with it the necessary implementation on the part of Abraham and His descendants that would permit them ultimately to partake of the benefits of the Divine choice. It has always been so in the Old Testament, and so it is in the New. God’s choice is God’s guarantee (Rom. 8:28-39). God’s achievement of blessing and redemption does not depend on human will or human effort, but upon the mercy of God (Rom. 9:16), “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29, emphasis mine). I am amazed at the Calvinists who will accept that verity in the New Testament for the Church, but reject it for the physical seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Old as it relates to Israel’s future restoration and blessing! 

d.     Considerable confusion exists between the conditional demands of the Mosaic Covenant (the Law, elsewhere called the “Old” Covenant) and the unconditional provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant. Doubtless the blessings of the Mosaic Covenant were conditional. At Mount Sinai Yahweh instructed Moses to tell the people of Israel, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). Notice the IF …. THEN. Nowhere more clearly are the conditional aspects of the Mosaic Covenant stated than in Moses’ words in Deuteronomy. If the people obeyed Yahweh’s commands, they would be blessed (Deut. 28:1-14). If they disobeyed Yahweh’s commands, they would be cursed (Deut. 28:15-68). In the amount of text devoted to each topic, the curses far outweighed the blessings! In contrast, the Abrahamic Covenant is not conditional as to its eventual outcome. So in any era, those Israelis who obey Yahweh are blessed, and those who disobey Yahweh are cursed. But there is coming a time when all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26). This salvation of all the physical seed of Abraham at some time in the future is no less certain than the salvation for Gentiles under the New Covenant in the Church Age. If God cannot be trusted to achieve the ultimate salvation of Israel as a nation, He cannot be trusted to achieve the spiritual salvation of Gentiles living in the Church Age. If He can be trusted to achieve Gentiles’ salvation in the Church Age, He can be trusted to achieve the ultimate salvation of Israel. We cannot have the one without the other. God is an equal opportunity Savior!

e.     Under the terms of the New Covenant, built upon the foundation of the Abrahamic Covenant, Yahweh committed Himself unconditionally to write His laws on the hearts of “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah.” He would emphatically be their God and they would be His people. The ultimate fulfillment of the New Covenant, and thus the Abrahamic Covenant, would depend on Yahweh’s faithfulness, not Israel’s. In fact, in the New Covenant, Yahweh stated He would forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more (Jer. 31:27-34)! In Yahweh’s mind, the perpetuity of the Jewish nation is as guaranteed as the perpetuity of the universe (Jer. 31:35-37)! Let me remind the reader that, though this present universe will be destroyed (2 Pet. 3:7-12), God will create New Heavens and Earth that exist without sin into eternity (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1 – 22:5).

f.      In summary, the ultimate outcome of the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional, guaranteed by the integrity of God Himself. The application of the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant to any particular Jewish people is conditioned upon their faith and obedience. But the ultimate fulfillment is unconditional, thus guaranteed.

g.     For a further discussion of conditional elements in the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant, see Thomas Constable, Notes on Genesis (p. 116 of the .pdf file). Return to Top.

L.    The Struggle between Jacob and Esau over the Blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant. Genesis 27. Unquestionably, the theme of blessing is of paramount importance in Genesis 27. The Hebrew verb barak (Strong’s # 1288), to bless, appears 17 times in this chapter. The corresponding Hebrew noun berakah (Strong’s # 1293), blessing, appears six times in this chapter.

1.     The significance of the dispute over the blessing is a measure of the enormous advantage one who was blessed by God under the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant would enjoy. When God promised to bless Abram (Gen. 12:1-3), it wasn’t an empty gesture. God’s blessings for Abram were not only spiritual, but also physical and material. After all, at the very least, His blessings were tied together with physical descendants and physical real estate – a specific land. It should be no surprise that the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant included material prosperity. The clues are there. Pharaoh had given Abram sheep, oxen, donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels as a dowry for Sarai (Gen. 12:14-16). The record states, “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold (Gen. 13:1-2). By the time Abram sent his most trusted servant to acquire a wife for Isaac, the servant endeavored to impress Rebekah’s family that the resources of the family he represented were more than enough to secure Rebekah’s well-being. He said to them, “The LORD has greatly blessed my master, so that he has become rich; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and servants and maids, and camels and donkeys” (Gen. 24:35). The wealth part of the blessing did not end with Abraham. We have already noted that after the death of Abraham, “God blessed his son Isaac” (Gen. 25:11). Later, Yahweh personally appeared to Isaac and extended to him the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 26:2-5). Moses then recorded the result of the promised blessing: “Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the LORD blessed him, and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him” (Gen. 26:12-14).

2.     Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s twin sons, did not grow up in a vacuum. Their father Isaac no doubt had told them of his father Abraham’s encounters with God and of his own. He had told them of God’s plan to bless their grandfather Abraham and their father Isaac. The blessing was worth a great deal. At first, only Jacob seemed to understand the significance of the blessing. He was also a schemer, as his name suggested (Gen. 25:26, footnote a). When the boys grew up, Jacob successfully bartered some stew with a hungry Esau for the latter’s birthright. Moses concluded, “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Gen. 25:27-34). The writer of the book of Hebrews revealed that Esau’s problem was a spiritual one. He was both “immoral” and “godless” (bebelos – Strong’s # 952 – meaning profane, worldly, irreligious or secular) (Heb. 12:16).

3.     But there was something else at work. It was the sovereign choice of God. When Rebekah was carrying her twins, they struggled against each other in her womb. This condition was so pronounced, she prayed about it. Yahweh told her, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). So the truth is that God had chosen Jacob, not Esau, to be the recipient of the Abrahamic Covenant and resultant blessing. The Apostle Paul made it abundantly clear that God’s choice of Jacob was not based on the moral superiority of Jacob, for when God chose, neither twin had done anything good or bad (Rom. 9:10-12)!

4.     But there was yet another factor at work in the struggle of which son would receive the blessing. Sadly, both parents had acquired a favoritism of one son over the other. Esau had become a “man’s man.” He was a skilled hunter in the out of doors. Jacob was more docile in temperament, preferring to stick around home. Isaac loved Esau because of his taste for game. Rebekah, however, loved Jacob (Gen. 25:27-28).

5.     As Isaac grew near to his time of death, he thought about passing on the blessing of Abraham to his son. He of course had heard from Rebekah Yahweh’s pronouncement that the elder (Esau) was to serve the younger (Jacob) (Gen. 25:22-23). But Isaac’s flesh overruled his walk with God. He was determined to bless his favorite son Esau. He communicated this to Esau, but Rebekah overheard (Gen. 27:1-5). She arranged with Jacob to sabotage Isaac’s plans by subterfuge. Jacob reluctantly cooperated. So Jacob succeeded in securing the Abrahamic blessing from his blind father (Gen. 27:6-29). Isaac could not reverse the blessing he had given, but he could throw some twists into the blessing on Esau’s behalf (Gen. 27:30-40). So God’s will was achieved, but human integrity was sadly compromised, and Jacob was forced to flee for his life to Syria under the guise of seeking a Godly wife (Gen. 27:41-46). When Rebekah sent off her favorite son, she would never see him again. Lack of integrity fatally disrupts family unity (Gen. 28:1-2)! Return to Top.

M.    The Extension of the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob. Genesis 28.

1.     Isaac was at least spiritually perceptive enough to realize that Yahweh, in His sovereignty, had overruled his own desire to pass on the Abrahamic blessing to Esau. Isaac agreed with his wife that sending Jacob to Syria to find a godly wife was a wise choice. After all, he had acquired his own wife, Rebekah, from there. So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him (Gen. 28:1). This time the blessing was voluntary, not involuntary! He instructed him to take a wife for himself from the daughters of Laban, his mother’s brother (Gen. 28:1-2).

2.     At the same time, he specifically passed on the blessings and terms of the Abrahamic Covenant on to his son, Jacob! He said, 3“May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4“May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham” (Gen. 28:3-4, emphasis mine). Notice that Isaac’s blessing included the requisite three components of the covenant:

a.     The multiplied blessing of God Almighty; “the blessing of Abraham” (emphasis mine).

b.     The bequeathal of the blessing to Isaac and his descendants.

c.     Jacob’s possession of the land that God had given to Abraham.

3.     Not only did Isaac pass on the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob, but Yahweh Himself also did so (Gen. 28:10-15).

a.     As Jacob was on the way to Haran, he stopped for night at a certain place. That night he dreamed of a ladder reaching up to heaven with God’s angels ascending and descending. Yahweh stood above the ladder and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants14“Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed15“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen.28:13-15, emphasis mine). Notice once again the familiar triad: land, descendants, and blessing.

b.     Jacob was in awe of what happened to him. He called the name of the place “Bethel,” “House of God.” Then he vowed that if God would be with him, grant him food and clothing, and permit him to return to his father’s house safely, then Yahweh would be his God, the stone he set up would be God’s house, and he would give him a tenth of all (Gen. 28:16-22).

c.     Jacob did arrive in Haran, and began working for his uncle Laban (Gen. 29).

4.     The evidences of Jacob’s having received God’s blessing.

a.     After a time, having acquired two wives and two concubines from Laban, and many children, Jacob requested permission to leave (Gen. 30:1-24). Laban asked him to stay on, for he had perceived that Yahweh had blessed him on Jacob’s account (Gen. 30:25-28), and offered him a job. Jacob agreed that Yahweh had blessed his Uncle Laban on his account (Gen. 30:29-30). The two settled on Jacob’s wages (Gen. 30:31-34). The result was that Jacob grew exceedingly prosperous, possessing large flocks, female and male servants, camels, and donkeys (Gen. 30:43).

b.     Yahweh instructed Jacob to return the land of his father (Gen. 31:3). On his way back to the land of promise, the “angels of God met him.” Jacob said it was “God’s camp,” and he called the place “Mahanaim” (Gen. 32:1-2), which means “two camps” or “two companies” – his own and God’s (Gen. 32:2, footnote).

c.     Jacob grew fearful when he heard that Esau was coming to meet him, and in preparation, he divided his retinue into two companies, perhaps prompted by the name “Mahanaim” (Gen. 32:3-8). That night a man wrestled with him. The man injured Jacob, but Jacob would not let him go, even though he was requested to do so. Jacob told the man, “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Gen. 32:24-26, emphasis mine). The man changed Jacob’s name to “Israel” (Gen. 32:28), which means “he who strives with God,” or possibly “God strives” (Gen. 32:28 footnote). The man would not reveal his name to Jacob, but he did bless Jacob (Gen. 32:29). Jacob named that place Peniel, meaning “the face of God” (Gen. 32:30 footnote) for, he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (Gen. 32:30). Jacob believed he had been wrestling with God, probably a pre-incarnate appearance of the Messiah.

d.     When Jacob did meet his brother, he urged Esau to accept the gift (lit. blessing) which he had prepared (Gen. 32:13-20), for, he said, “God has dealt graciously with me” (Gen. 33:8-11).

e.     Though Jacob’s sons slaughtered the Shechemites because Shechem had raped their sister Dinah (Gen. 34), God protected Jacob from the surrounding cities by placing within the surrounding cities a great terror (Gen. 35:1-5).

5.     After the fiasco with the men of Shechem on account of matter of Dinah (Gen. 34), God instructed Jacob to return to Bethel and make an altar to Him (Gen. 35:1). Jacob obeyed. There God blessed Jacob and repeated to him the following (Gen. 35:9-12):

a.     His name would no longer be Jacob, but Israel (Gen. 35:10). (See also Gen. 32:28.)

b.     God Almighty commanded Jacob to be fruitful and multiply. He revealed that “a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you” (Gen. 35:11). This, of course, was a reference to Jacob’s descendants.

c.     God repeated, “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to  you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you” (Gen. 35:12, emphasis mine). Return to Top.

N.    The Extension of the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob’s Twelve Sons as Clan Heads of the Future Nation of Israel. From Genesis 37-50 we are told what became of Jacob, especially as it relates to his sons (Gen. 37:1-2).

1.     Jacob’s son Joseph had two dreams, both of which depicted his brothers bowing down to him (Gen. 37:5-11). The brothers hated Joseph for these dreams, but the dreams eventually were fulfilled by God, their author, on two levels: 1) The brothers did bow down to Joseph (Gen. 42:6; 43:26, 28); and 2) Joseph was granted a double portion of land in Israel through his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48). In effect, God chose to grant a double portion of the Abrahamic blessing to Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. This is clearly demonstrated in Jacob’s conversation with Joseph:

3Then Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4and He said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.’ (Gen. 48:3-4, emphasis mine).

It was immediately after this that Jacob claimed Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own sons on a par with his other sons, such as Reuben and Simeon (Gen. 48:5). In this way, Joseph would receive a double portion in Israel, a double portion of the Abrahamic Covenant and its blessings (Num. 1:20-46; Ezek. 47:13).

2.     Even though Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him as a slave into Egypt, God blessed Joseph there. Yahweh was with Joseph and he became successful in the house of Potiphar, his master. Potiphar saw that Yahweh blessed him personally on account of Joseph (Gen. 39:1-6). Through a false accusation (Gen. 39:7-18), Joseph was thrown into prison, but Yahweh was with him and granted him favor in the eyes of the warden, and everything Joseph did prospered (Gen. 39:19-23).

3.     While in prison Joseph was twice able to use his God-given ability to interpret dreams (Gen. 40). God used Joseph to interpret two dreams of Pharaoh (Gen. 41), both of which predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph used his God-given administrative ability to recommend a way for Egypt to tax the bounty of the good years to provide a reserve to carry the nation through the bad years. Pharaoh and his courtiers recognized this God-given ability and Pharaoh made Joseph second in authority in all the land to administer the grain reserve program (Gen. 41:37-45).

4.     From this position of authority, Joseph was able to rescue his family from the devastating effects of the famine, and Jacob and the entire clan moved to Egypt (Gen. 42-47).

5.     As we have already observed Jacob claimed Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own and thus granted Joseph a double portion of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 48).

6.     As Jacob was about to die, he prophesied what would happen to his sons in the future (Gen. 49). Of particular note was his prophecy that royalty would spring forth from Judah (Gen. 49:10). This, of course, was fulfilled in God’s anointing of David, of the tribe of Judah, to be king (1 Sam. 16:1-14), and later, in His anointing of Jesus, also of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David, to be King (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). Also worth noting is the fact that Jacob passed on a special measure of blessings upon Joseph (Gen. 49:22-26). Jacob’s faith-filled prophecy about his sons amounted to an implicit passing on of the Abrahamic Covenant and its blessing to them as clan leaders of the future nation of Israel (Gen. 49:28; Heb. 11:21).

7.     Before his final breath, Jacob asked to be buried back in the land of Canaan (Gen. 49:29-33). This wish his sons carried out (Gen. 50:1-14).

8.     Before Joseph died, he charged his brothers that, when God visited the sons of Israel and took them back to the promised land of Canaan, they should bury him there (Gen. 50:22-26; Heb. 11:22).

9.     In this way, the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant were extended by faith to the twelve sons of Jacob, with Joseph receiving a double blessing. Return to Top.

O.    Summary.

1.     The Abrahamic Covenant is based on a triad of promises to Abram found in Genesis 12:1-3. This triad of promises includes the land of Canaan, an incalculable number of descendants, and blessings from Yahweh. Through Abraham and his descendants all the families of the earth are to be blessed.

2.     The original promises to Abram were reinforced by Yahweh’s unilateral, thus unconditional blood covenant in Genesis 15:7-21.

3.     The original triad of promises to Abram were passed on directly by God to his son Isaac and to his grandson Jacob. So also was the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham’s firstborn son Ishmael and Isaac’s firstborn son Esau were specifically excluded from the Abrahamic Covenant, though both were blessed because they were descendants of Abraham.

4.     On several occasions the Abrahamic Covenant is explicitly stated to be an Everlasting Covenant. The land of Canaan is specifically stated to be an everlasting possession of Abraham’s descendants. These everlasting features, both explicit and implied, reinforce the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. Though any generation of Israelis may forfeit the blessings of the Covenant through disobedience, the ultimate supremacy and blessing of Israel as a redeemed nation is without question. It is predetermined.

5.    The Abrahamic Covenant is the foundation for both the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant. Jesus is the ultimate Anointed One (Messiah, Christ) who will reign as King over Israel and the world in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant. Both the David Covenant and the New Covenant fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant. Neither abrogates it. Gentiles receive incalculable blessings by participating as beneficiaries under the New Covenant, but they do not ultimately displace the sons of Israel as being its primary beneficiaries.

7.    Jesus is the ultimate descendant of Abraham through whom all the families of the world are supremely blessed.

8.    I urge the reader to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the only means of access to God (John 14:6). If the reader does not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by means of trusting in Him, he can never hope to gain the blessings promised to the world through the Abrahamic Covenant for himself. Instead, he remains under the judgment and wrath of God (John 3:16-21, 36).

Return to Top.

Go to the Index of Biblical Covenants.

(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)

 Completed March 27, 2012
Updated April 23, 2016

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