The Covenant with Abraham

Now you might be thinking ‘why should we be interested in Old Testament stuff?’ or ‘that stuff was for the Jewish people way back then’ – well let’s not be too hasty, I think you might find it is just as important for you and I today as it was for Abraham back then!

After all didn’t Paul say something about being Abraham’s children?

Galatians 3:7-9 NRSV
so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.
8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.”
9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

If we are of the true faith and believe our Father God, then we are counted as Abraham’s children – will this make much difference to us? We will see as we progress with this study!

Notice the immediate verse before the above scripture:

Galatians 3:6 NRSV
Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,”

It is quoting Genesis 15:6:

Genesis 15:6 RSV
And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Notice that Abraham ‘became and was acknowledged as a believer by Yahweh (our Father God)’ when he was still called by the name Abram, and this was not only well before the ‘Law’ (the Old Covenant) was put in place through Moses, but it was also before any covenant was made between Yahweh and himself!

The ‘believing’ was considered by Yahweh as righteousness – but what was it he believed? He believed all the promises made to him by Yahweh!:

Genesis 12:1-3 WEB
Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.
2 I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you, and make your name great. You will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. In you will all of the families of the earth be blessed.”

Genesis 12:7 WEB
Yahweh appeared to Abram, and said, “I will give this land to your seed.” He built an altar there to Yahweh, who appeared to him.

Genesis 13:14-17 WEB
Yahweh said to Abram, after Lot was separated from him, “Now, lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward,
15 for all the land which you see, I will give to you, and to your offspring forever.
16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then your seed may also be numbered.
17 Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it to you.”

Genesis 15:3-5 WEB
Abram said, “Behold, to me you have given no seed: and, behold, one born in my house is my heir.”
4 Behold, the word of Yahweh came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir, but he who will come forth out of your own body will be your heir.”
5 Yahweh brought him outside, and said, “Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” He said to Abram, “So shall your seed be.”

In the last scripture above it is almost 10 years since Yahweh had promised Abram He give him many descendants to inherit and live in the land – but as yet he didn’t even have a child of his own, and he and Sarai were both old. Abram suggested to Yahweh that perhaps the way forward was for him to declare a servant born within his household to be his heir.

What was Yahweh’s response to this?

Genesis 15:4-6 WEB
Abram said, “Behold, to me you have given no seed: and, behold, one born in my house is my heir.”
4 Behold, the word of Yahweh came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir, but he who will come forth out of your own body will be your heir.”
5 Yahweh brought him outside, and said, “Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” He said to Abram, “So shall your seed be.”
6 He believed in Yahweh; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.

Yahweh told him ‘that’s not the way I am going to do it, you will have your own son and through him your descendants will be as numerous as the stars’. Abram believed Him – he took Yahweh at his word.

But the conversation continues:

Genesis 15:7-8 WEB
He said to him, “I am Yahweh who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it.”
8 He said, “Lord Yahweh, how will I know that I will inherit it?”

Abram understands that the land is promised to him and his descendants, but he asks for some confirmation that he himself will possess it, ‘how am I to know?’ (we know from Hebrews 11:8- this has yet to been fulfilled, but it is absolutely certain). Yahweh understood Abram’s need and moved in an awesome and undeniable way so that Abram could have complete ongoing trust in Him – He obligated Himself to Abram!

Genesis 15:18 WEB
In that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates:

This was no casual thing, this was serious, serious business – this was going to bind Yahweh and Abram together in an unbreakable bond and commitment for life – for ever actually!

Look at how this was put in place:

Genesis 15:9-18 WEB
He said to him, “Take me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.”
10 He took him all these, and divided them in the middle, and laid each half opposite the other; but he didn’t divide the birds.
11 The birds of prey came down on the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.
12 When the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. Now terror and great darkness fell on him.
13 He said to Abram, “Know for sure that your seed will live as foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them. They will afflict them four hundred years.
14 I will also judge that nation, whom they will serve. Afterward they will come out with great substance.
15 But you will go to your fathers in peace. You will be buried in a good old age.
16 In the fourth generation they will come here again, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full.”
17 It came to pass that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.
18 In that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates:

Look again at the verses above and make careful note of the answers to these questions:

What did Abram do to the animals?

What happened when the sun set?

What did Yahweh say about Abram’s descendants? Where would they go? How long would they stay?

Who/what passed between the pieces of flesh? (A manifestation of Yahweh’s presence?)

Did Abram also pass through the pieces?

Was the covenant thus ratified?

Could Abram now ‘know for certain’ – verse 13?

The Hebrew word for covenant is ‘beriyth’ and is defined as: a compact, a confederacy, a covenant, league; when between God and man it is a covenant accompanied by signs, sacrifices and a solemn oath that sealed the relationship with promises of blessing for keeping it and curses for breaking it.

The other word used here with ‘beriyth’ is ‘karath’ – translated as made a covenant – ‘karath’ means to sever by cutting with a blade. Hence we say ‘cutting a covenant’ – in this case a reference to the cutting of the pieces, which were then passed through.

So here we find the presence of Yahweh passing through the pieces whilst Abram does nothing but observe the commitment of Yahweh to His promises. Yahweh is effectively saying ‘my covenant is unconditional, the seed, the possession of the land, depends only on Me – not on you’. Yahweh is swearing an oath by Himself (for there is none greater) to fulfil all His promises – this is how Abram will know for certain!

So the covenant was cut, the promises were certain – but Sarai was still not pregnant! Time was passing and Abram and Sarai weren’t getting any younger, so she decided to give Yahweh a helping hand (haven’t we all got impatient waiting for God) – well that didn’t work out too great, you can read all about it in Genesis 16. The result being the birth of Ishmael to Hagar, Sarai’s handmaid.

When Abram was 99 years old Yahweh appeared to him again – to confirm and extend the covenant, let’s look at that in chapter 17:

Genesis 17:1-8 WEB
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Yahweh appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty. Walk before me, and be blameless.
2 I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”
3 Abram fell on his face. God talked with him, saying,
4 “As for me, behold, my covenant is with you. You will be the father of a multitude of nations.
5 Neither will your name any more be called Abram, but your name will be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made you.
6 I will make you exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of you. Kings will come out of you.
7 I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and to your seed after you.
8 I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land where you are traveling, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession. I will be their God.”

Now notice :

Abram was to be multiplied exceedingly.

He will be the father of many nations.

His name is to be changed to Abraham (father of a multitude).

Kings were to come from him.

It is to be an everlasting covenant, not only with Abraham but all his descendants.
Yahweh will be God to Abraham and his descendants.

The land is still to be theirs as an everlasting possession.

See verse 9

Genesis 17:9 WEB
God said to Abraham, “As for you, you will keep my covenant, you and your seed after you throughout their generations.

Abraham’s part (and his descendants) is to ‘keep my covenant’. How? Where is there something for Abraham to do? Verse 1 ‘walk before me and be blameless’, ‘blameless’ meaning continuously upright, with integrity and sincerity, entirely. And verse 7 ‘to be God to you and your descendants’ – in other words ‘I am your God, no other, it is me your love, worship, believe, trust, etc etc’.

Yahweh also gave Abraham and his descendants a sign that their covenant was with Him, a constant reminder that they were God’s people:

Genesis 17:10-11 WEB
This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your seed after you. Every male among you shall be circumcised.
11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. It will be a token of a covenant between me and you.

Subsequently we see that this was also accompanied by a ‘circumcision of the heart’:

Deuteronomy 10:16 WEB
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.

Not just an outward physical thing, but an inner nature and motivation.

Yahweh also addresses Sarai’s ‘helping hand’ – 13 years after the event (verse 25):

Genesis 17:15-16 WEB
God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but her name will be Sarah.
16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. Yes, I will bless her, and she will be a mother of nations. Kings of peoples will come from her.”

Notice that Yahweh changes Sarai’s name to Sarah (‘princess’ wife of Abraham)

To which Abraham responded:

Genesis 17:17-18
’I will be 100 years old and Sarah will be 90! What about Ishmael, can’t it be him, can’t he live in your sight?’ Yahweh responded ‘NO, however…….’

Genesis 17:19-21 WEB
God said, “No, but Sarah, your wife, will bear you a son. You shall call his name Isaac.Isaac means “he laughs.” I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.
20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.
21 But my covenant I establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this set time in the next year.”

It is through Isaac who your wife Sarah will bear you – that is where I will establish my covenant.
The end of this part of the story:

Genesis 21:3 WEB
Abraham called his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.

One part of the covenant promises fulfilled, unbelievably, astoundingly – but just as Yahweh said!

Now as we are informed by Paul and Peter there is also a deeper meaning to ‘seed, descendent, offspring’:

Galatians 3:16 NASB
“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.”

Notice the covenant also promised the eventual arrival of the Messiah, and was also a promise to Messiah Jesus in advance!

Acts 3:25-26 NRSV
You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, “And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

All the families of the earth would be blessed by Christ (the seed) in turning people from their wickedness.

Genesis 18:17-18 WEB
Yahweh said, “Will I hide from Abraham what I do,
18 seeing that Abraham has surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed in him?

Genesis 22:17-18 WEB
that in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore. Your seed will possess the gate of his enemies.
18 In your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

The gospel was preached to Abraham in anticipation of the New Covenant brought by Christ, the seed:

Galatians 3:7-9 NRSV
so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.
8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.”
9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

This wonderful covenant with Abraham and his descendants, including ‘the seed’ Messiah Jesus, was subsequently reaffirmed to both Isaac and Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) as you can read for yourselves in Genesis 26:1-6, Genesis 28, and Genesis 35:10-12.

Summary

So as we look into the covenant cut with Abraham we get clear indications of the gospel of grace, the role of faith and believing in the new covenant that was to come (and now has). In fact we ought not to forget that the covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant for all Abraham’s descendants and if we are of the true faith and believe our Father God, then we are counted as Abraham’s children. We are in a covenant relationship with our Father – isn’t that wonderful, to know how much we can rely upon Him, trust Him, believe Him – knowing that He is completely and totally committed to us and the promises He has given us!

Of course, our part is the same as Abraham’s was – ‘walk before me and be blameless’, ‘blameless’ meaning continuously upright, with integrity and sincerity, entirely – with a circumcised heart, and know that Yahweh is our God, no other, and it is Him we are to love, worship, believe, trust, rely upon, run to, seek etc etc’. Will we believe Him as Abraham did?

Our Covenant God

Do we understand how important it is to our Father, Yahweh God, that we believe Him and trust Him? That we actually believe and trust Him to such an extent that we will do precisely what He wants us to do – what He instructs us to do for our own good.

Does it make any difference whether we believe, trust and obey our Father God or not? Well it certainly made an incredible difference to one particular man and his family, and consequently to all of us, as we will discover in this study. It is all about the first recorded ‘covenant’ of this present civilization.

We see from Genesis chapters 5 and 6 that by the 9th generation from Adam mankind had greatly multiplied on the earth in terms of population, but also in wickedness, which grieved Yahweh exceedingly:

Genesis 6:5-6 WEB
Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 Yahweh was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart.

So much so that Yahweh came to a decision:

Genesis 6:7 WEB
Yahweh said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the surface of the ground; man, along with animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

However, there was one man who was different!

Genesis 6:8-10 WEB
But Noah found favor in Yahweh’s eyes.
9 This is the history of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time. Noah walked with God
10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Noah walked with God – probably not perfectly, but he looked to God, listened to Him, believed Him and did his best to obey Him – and this made all the difference. Yahweh gave Noah an instruction to follow:

Genesis 6:14 WEB
Make an ark of gopher wood. You shall make rooms in the ark, and shall seal it inside and outside with pitch.

Yahweh told Noah He was bringing a flood to destroy all life and that Noah was to build an ark – a big one! No simple or easy task – it probably took in excess of 50 years (Noah was over 500 years old by the time his 3 sons were born and he was 600 years old when the flood came).

Did Noah believe God – well he spent all that time building the ark exactly as he was instructed, even though he was probably ridiculed in the extreme by all the people in the surrounding area.

Genesis 6:22 WEB
Thus Noah did. According to all that God commanded him, so he did.

Was this pleasing to God? What did Yahweh tell Noah?

Genesis 6:18 WEB
But I will establish my covenant with you. You shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.

Genesis 7:1 WEB
Yahweh said to Noah, “Come with all of your household into the ark, for I have seen your righteousness before me in this generation.

Notice the Yahweh took the responsibility of shutting Noah and his family (and creatures to be saved) into the ark, and therefore all others out

Genesis 7:16 WEB
Those who went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded him; and Yahweh shut him in.

And the result of the flood:

Genesis 7:23 WEB
Every living thing was destroyed that was on the surface of the ground, including man, cattle, creeping things, and birds of the sky. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.

Genesis 8:15-19 WEB
God spoke to Noah, saying,
16 “Go forth from the ark, you, and your wife, and your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.
17 Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh, including birds, cattle, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply on the earth.”
18 Noah went forth, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him.
19 Every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, whatever moves on the earth, after their families, went forth out of the ark.

Noah worshipped God:

Genesis 8:20-22 WEB
Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and took of every clean animal, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
21 Yahweh smelled the sweet savor. Yahweh said in his heart, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake, because the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again strike everything living, as I have done.
22 While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

Yahweh blessed Noah and his family and instructed them (similar to Adam and Eve):

Genesis 9:1 WEB
God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

And the almighty, most high creator God, Yahweh, established His covenant with Noah – He made an absolute, unbreakable commitment to Noah, obligating Himself never again to destroy the earth and all flesh by flood – without any obligation on Noah’s part, an unconditional promise:

Genesis 9:9-11 WEB
“As for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your offspring after you,
10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every animal of the earth with you. Of all that go out of the ark, even every animal of the earth.
11 I will establish my covenant with you; neither will all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither will there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Notice that this covenant was extended to be with not only Noah but all his subsequent descendants after him and also all living creatures. It has never ended either.

And the sign God gave that this covenant was in force and we can have absolute confidence in His promise is the rainbow:

Genesis 9:14-17 WEB
It will happen, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow will be seen in the cloud,
15 and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 The rainbow will be in the cloud. I will look at it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
17 God said to Noah, “This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Summary
The recorded story of Noah shows us the kind of wonderful God we have – Yahweh, who hates wickedness, but loves and preserves those who look for Him, listen to Him, believe what He says, and do what He instructs us to do.

He is the only living God, who works by revealing His truth and enters into binding, unbreakable, covenant relationships with His people. He delights in those who believe Him and trust Him.

Every time we see a rainbow we know for certain that our Father is totally true and faithful to His word, His promises, His covenants – He never fails.

Everyone reading this can be very thankful that Noah believed our Father God and followed His instructions, otherwise we would not be here right now! Will we do likewise?

In future studies we will look at just how serious our Father is about covenants and how He deals with His people in covenant relationships, including you and I.