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The Abrahamic Covenant

Abram had exercised the same faith as his ancestor, Noah who, ten generations earlier, built a large boat at God's command, even though he was miles from the sea and despite the ridicule of those around him. It takes great faith indeed to follow God's commands when it seems to go against all natural logic and takes you far away from the comfort zone of your everyday life. Abram's faith muscles were stirred into life, but they were going to have to be flexed to breaking point soon, as we start to read Chapter 15 in the Genesis account.

"Abram, your offspring will be like the dust of the earth ..." "How so? I am childless." "A son from your own body will be your heir ..."

Look at this through Abram's eyes. He was getting on a bit, perhaps in his 80s already. His wife Sarai had never borne children, so it was unlikely that she was going to start now. But Genesis 15:6 gives Abram's response to God's promise:

"Abram believed the LORD ..."

That was good enough for God, very pleasing in fact. His reaction was this:

"... and he credited it to him as righteousness".

Abram's reaction put him into credit with God. He had done the right thing. This is when God's promises to Abram became God's covenant with Abram.

What's a covenant? It's not a word that we tend to use much these days, so it's important that we understand it using concepts that we are more familiar with. A covenant is basically a contract between two parties, a binding agreement that may or may not be torn up by one of the parties, depending on what type of contract it is. This covenant/contract came about when Abram, in a very human way, asked for assurances. After all he was 'well past his prime' and had produced no heir, yet here was God promising this land to Abram's descendants! He needed a few more details, even though he never for once doubted that God would remain true to His promises. So God gave Abram the assurances he asked for.

'When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.'

He made a covenant with Abram, in the custom and manner that such transactions were conducted in those days, except for one thing - only God signed the contract. Only God 'passed between the pieces' in Genesis 15:17, which meant that only God had to fulfil the covenant conditions - the covenant was going to be unconditional, as far as Abram and his descendants were concerned. There would be no conditions for Abram to fulfil - or break. This meant that God would never have reason to tear it up.

However much Abram's descendants tried - and, boy, did they try in their chequered history - there were no actions, whether idolatry or faithlessness or whatever, that would cause this covenant to be torn up or nullified.

And what were the words of this unconditional covenant? You can read the words of the covenant in Genesis 15:18-21, "On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, 'to your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates - the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites'".

The plain literal reading of this verse is that Abram's descendants will inherit, by divine promise, the land indicated. There are no conditions, no time frame, so, for now, we won't add any of our own. All that is left is to decide what exact area is being referred to in this description. We're looking at an area stretching from Egypt in the west to modern day Iraq in the east and Syria (or arguably Turkey) in the north. One thing is certain about this - the land that God speaks of here has never at any time been seen, in its totality, as the 'Land of Israel', even at the time of King Solomon's empire, which, according to 2 Chronicles 9:26, stretched from 'the River (Euphrates) to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt', but certainly didn’t stretch as far north as the lands of the Hittites. The full area promised by God to Abram's descendants has yet to be settled by any one people claiming this promise. Interesting.

Steve Maltz
June 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation)

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