To understand Bible theology, Bible history, and Bible prophecy it is necessary to understand the covenants that God has made with Israel, particularly the Abrahamic.
The Setting of the Abrahamic Covenant
Abraham was still in the idolatrous city of Ur when God spoke to him, commanding him to leave his father to go to the land of Canaan (Ge. 11:27-32). He disobeyed at first, by taking his father with him and by stopping in Haran.
After his father died, Abraham continued the journey to the Promised Land and dwelt there by faith, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises (Heb. 11:8-10).
Abraham was in the plain of Moreh. It was near Shechem (Sichem in the KJV). This is a different location than hill of Moreh (Jg. 7:1), which sits on northeast edge of the valley of Jezreel.
God repeated His covenant with Abraham and this time He gives him the land.
It was here that Abraham built his first altar to the LORD to worship Him and to thank Him for His goodness.
God appeared to Abraham in Bethel (see verse 3) and promised to give him the land to the north, south, east, and west.
He promised to give the land to Abraham and to his seed forever.
He promised that Abraham’s seed will be greater in number than the dust of the earth.
Abraham then moved to Hebron and built his second altar to the Lord.
Abraham was in Hebron in the plain of Mamre where he was when Lot was taken from Sodom (Ge. 14:13).
God saw how that Abraham chose to take nothing from the king of Sodom but rather to trust in “the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth” (Ge. 14:21-24). God reaffirmed His covenant with Abraham and enlarged on it.
The covenant is unconditional (Gen. 15:12-17). The covenant was made by God alone while Abraham was in a deep sleep and could not participate in the ritual. Normally both parties of the agreement would walk between the animals, but in this case God walked alone. Abraham did not deserve these promises; he did not earn them; and he could not lose them.
The covenant is sure (Gen. 15:13). God said, “Know of a surety...” Likewise, the believer’s salvation is sure; God has given us a “know so” covenant in Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 5:13).
The covenant is based upon a substitutionary sacrifice (Gen. 15:9-10). The blood and death of the sacrificial animals depicted the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. His blood and death are the basis for all of God’s covenants with sinners, from Adam throughout eternity. Christ is the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). The blood of Christ provides an everlasting covenant with all believers (Heb. 13:20).
The covenant describes the future (Gen. 15:13-16). Prophecy is one of the evidences that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. In the amazing prophecy in Genesis 15, God foretells the exact events of the next four centuries.
First, Abraham’s seed would become servants in a strange land (Gen. 15:13).
Second, after 400 years God would judge that land and bring Abraham’s descendants out “with great substance” (Gen. 15:14). Compare Exodus 12:35-36. A question arises as to the 400 years, since Israel was not in Egypt for that long and was not actually afflicted in Egypt for more than about 120 years. According to Ussher’s biblical dating system, from the time that Jacob went down to Egypt in 1706 BC to the time of the Exodus in 1491 BC was 215 years. That is the time that Israel spent in Egypt, and the affliction didn’t begin until a considerable time after Joseph’s death in 1635 BC. It is probable that Genesis 15:13 is referring to the entire time that Israel was both a stranger and was afflicted, both in Canaan and in Egypt. Compare Acts 7:6 which refers to sojourning, being in bondage, and being evil entreated. This period applies to the beginning of the verse as well as the end; it applies to the sojourn as well as to the bondage and affliction. It was spoken to Abraham as to his seed, and if we start from the birth of Isaac it stands thus: From the birth of Isaac to the birth of Jacob (60 years), from the birth of Jacob to the birth of Joseph (90 years), to Joseph’s death (110 years), to the birth of Moses (60 years), to the Exodus (80 years) = 400 years (Bible Handbook). We give more information about this in the book Things Hard to Be Understood: A Handbook of Biblical Difficulties, available from Way of Life Literature.
Third, Abraham’s descendants would come again into the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:16). Note the amazing longsuffering and mercy of God in waiting for centuries before judging the wicked inhabitants of Canaan (Gen. 15:16).
The covenant guarantees that Israel will own the land of Canaan forever (Gen. 15:18-21). This is one of at least five major descriptions of the land given to Abraham and his seed. Others are found in Ex. 23:31; Num. 34:1-15; De. 1:7-8; 11:24. At the very least, Israel owns the land from the river of Egypt in the south to the river Euphrates in the north and from the Mediterranean on the west to the Jordan on the east. The land includes part of modern day Egypt, the West Bank, all or most of Lebanon, and part of Syria. God’s covenant that Israel owns the land of Canaan has never been rescinded.
Abraham was instructed by God to go from Beersheba to Mt. Moriah to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice (Ge. 21:33 - 22:1). Mt. Moriah was the future temple mount (2 Ch. 3:1).
After Abraham was willing to offer his beloved son Isaac, God reaffirmed His covenant.
This event signifies the sacrifice of Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and teaches us that God’s covenant with Abraham was based on Christ’s atonement.
God promises Abraham that his seed will be like the stars of heaven and the sand of the sea shore.
God promises Abraham that his seed will possess the gate of his enemies. This will be true for Israel when Christ returns.
God repeats His promise that in Abraham’s seed all nations of the earth shall be blessed. This begins through the worldwide gospel preaching of the church age and will continue during the Tribulation and Christ’s millennial kingdom and beyond. We still see nations in the new heaven and new earth (Re. 21:24, 26).
The Importance of the Abrahamic Covenant
God’s covenant with Abraham is one of the most important things in human history. By this covenant, God created the nation Israel and brought the Scriptures and the Saviour to the world. By this covenant, God brought salvation to the sinful human race through Christ. By this covenant, God will fulfill His eternal plan to bring together all things in one in Christ (Eph. 1:10).
The Three Blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant
God’s covenant to Abraham promises personal blessings (for Abraham himself), national blessings (for the 12 tribes of Israel), and universal blessings (for all of the redeemed)--not one or the other, but all three.
The PERSONAL aspect of Abraham’s covenant belongs to Abraham himself (“I will bless thee, and make thy name great,” Ge. 12:2). Abraham is one of the most important men in human history. He is mentioned 250 times in the Bible. He was blessed by wealth even in his lifetime (Ge. 24:35). Through Isaac, Abraham is the father of the Jews and the Christians, and through Ishmael, he is the father of the Arabs and the Muslims. Paradise is named after him (Lu. 16:22), because he is the father of saving faith (Ro. 4:11-12; Ga. 3:14).
The NATIONAL aspect of Abraham’s covenant belongs to the nation Israel (“I will make of thee a great nation,” Ge. 12:2). Israel inherited the covenant through Isaac (Ge. 26:1-4) and Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. God said to Jacob, “And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land” (Ge. 35:12). To national Israel belongs THE LAND that was promised to Abraham. The giving of that land to Abraham’s seed is mentioned at least 12 times in Genesis. See Ge. 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:7, 18; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3; 28:4, 13; 35:12. In 1 Chronicles 16:13-17 David affirmed that Abraham’s covenant passed through Isaac and Jacob to Jacob’s children, the nation Israel, and that the promise includes the inheritance of the land.
The UNIVERSAL blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are enjoyed by all believers through Abraham’s greater Seed, Jesus Christ (“and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,” Ge. 12:3). Those who receive Christ become Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:6-9, 29). But New Testament believers do not possess the land of Israel and our hope is not tied to that land. Our hope is not earthly but heavenly. We will rule and reign with Christ, not as Israel, but as Christ’s Bride. How exactly the church will relate to Israel in the Millennial kingdom is not revealed in Scripture.
The universal blessings of the Abrahamic covenant are beyond comprehension. God promised that Abraham’s seed would be multiplied as the stars and the sand (Ge. 22:17). Even with modern technology, man cannot even begin to number the stars, but the number is known to be incomprehensible. The most up-to-date star count was announced in July 2003 as 70 sextillion (70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). This was the conclusion of the world’s largest galaxy study, the Two-Degree Field Galaxy Redshift Survey. This massive figure, of course, probably accounts for only a tiny percentage of the stars. The number of those who are saved through Abraham’s Seed Jesus Christ will also be beyond human counting and will increase forever in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
The Seed of Abraham
Abraham was promised a seed. This is mentioned at least 24 times in Genesis (Ge. 12:7; 13:15; 13:16; 15:5, 13, 18; 16:10; 17:7, 8, 9, 10; 17:19; 21:12; 22:17, 18; 24:7; 26:3, 4, 24; 28:4, 13, 14; 32:12; 35:12; 48:4).
Abraham’s seed is Christ (Ga. 3:16).
Abraham’s seed is national Israel. Abraham’s seed is the nation Israel which shall inherit the land (Ge. 15:13-21). God was referring here to the Israel that came out of Egypt.
The rebellion of Abraham’s national seed, Israel, does not annul the promises that God has made to her. Everywhere in Scripture we are taught that national Israel would be judged for her sin, but that she will be restored to her own land and to the place of God’s blessing when she repents. In the section on distinguishing Israel from the Church in the previous section on the Interpretation of Prophecy, we looked at many passages that teach this (De. 28-30; Am. 9:8-15; Ac. 3:18-21; 15:13-18; Ro. 11:25-29).
Hosea 3:4-5 describes this teaching in a nutshell. Israel will be judged and for “many days” will be without a king and a priesthood, but in the latter days she will be restored.
Consider Leviticus 26:14-45. This passage describes the judgment that will come upon Israel because of her sin against God, but it says further that Israel will be restored when she repents and acknowledges her sin, and this restoration is because of the covenant that God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. See verses 42-45. Words could not be plainer. Israel’s rebellion does not annul the covenant that He made with her through Jacob. In this passage, God is talking about the people of Israel and the land of Israel, and there is no legitimate way to apply this to the church.
Abraham’s seed is all believers through Christ (Ga. 3:29). The apostle Paul teaches that all of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant come through Abraham’s greater Seed, Christ (Gal. 3:16), but Paul also teaches that Israel today is Abraham’s seed, though not currently the children of God (Ro. 11:1; 2 Co. 11:22).
The Blessing and the Curse (Ge. 12:3)
God promised to bless those who bless Abraham and to curse those who curse him.
Laban testified that God blessed him for Jacob’s sake (Ge. 30:27).
Potiphar testified that God blessed him for Joseph’s sake (Ge. 39:2-3).
The principle of cursing those who curse Abraham and blessing those who bless him is applicable to Abraham’s national seed. God has blessed and cursed nations for how they have treated Israel. God has used many nations to judge Israel when she sinned, but He always judged those pagan nations afterwards. Isaiah 33:1 pronounces woe upon “the spoilers,” referring to the spoilers of Israel. God used the spoilers to judge sinning Israel, but He pronounced woe upon the spoilers. In Zechariah 2:8-9, God says that Israel is the apple of His eye, and He warns that He will judge those who destroy Israel. The prophet Ezekiel addressed many nations and pronounced judgment upon them for hating Israel. See Eze. 25:3-7 (Ammonites), Eze. 25:8-11 (Moab), Eze. 25:12-14 (Edom), Eze. 25:15-17 (Philistines), Eze. 26:2-5 (Tyre), Eze. 28:22-24 (Zidon). Israel is under God's judgment today for her unbelief, but she is still Israel, and she still belongs to God, and she is still under God’s watchcare, and those who curse her are still cursed. I, for one, would not curse Israel, even in her most apostate condition. When Israel was wandering in the wilderness because of her sin and unbelief, God did not allow Balaam to curse her. “How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?” (Nu. 23:8).
I believe we can see this biblical principle at work in the history of Great Britain. After Britain turned against Israel and renounced the Balfour Declaration, which was a solemn promise because of Jewish help during World War I, and Britain did everything she could to arm the Arabs and to disarm the Jews prior to and after 1948, she soon lost her empire.
The principle of cursing those who curse Abraham and blessing those who bless him is applicable to born-again Christians who are Abraham’s seed (Ga. 3:29). God has blessed nations for how they have treated Christians and how they have given liberty for the preaching of the gospel. We can see this today. Those nations that give the most freedom for gospel preaching and church work are the most blessed nations.
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