The Abrahamic Covenant–Part 2

GENESIS 12:1-3: GOD CALLS ABRAM

1Now 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; 2AndI will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3And 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)

Background

What is known about Abraham is what is written in Genesis.  He is first mentioned as one of the three sons of Terah. (Genesis 11:26)  He was born in Ur of the Chaldeans about 2166 BC.[1]

Growing up in Ur, a major religious center southeast of Babylon, Abraham very likely knew of the local deities and perhaps worshipped one or more.  He may have read the Sumerian creation saga as well as the Epic of Gilgamesh.[2]

It should be noted that Abraham and his family were originally pagans.[3] Joshua, in his farewell address, reminded the Israelites of this saying “From the ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely Terah, the father of Abraham and father of Nahor and they served other gods.” (Josh 24:2)  Monotheism was a new concept and took time to take hold.  Rachel, wife of Jacob, stole “household idols” prior to leaving to Canaan. (Gen 32:34)  Even during the Exodus, the people constructed a golden calf to worship. (Ex 32:1-6)

It is also very likely that Abraham could have heard first hand experiences of the Flood and the Tower of Babel.  Noah and Shem were both alive when Abraham was born; in fact Abraham was fifty-eight when Noah died.  His great-great-great grandfather Pelag, in whose lifetime the earth was divided, could have told him all about what happened at Babel. (Genesis 9:29, 10:25, 11:10-19)

There is confusion about when Abraham left Haran.  Millard Erickson points this out when commenting on an apparent discrepancy noticed by Dewey Beegle.  Luke wrote about Abraham “Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran.  From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living.” (Acts 7:4)  In contrast, Moses wrote that “Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed Haran.” (Genesis 12:4)  Abraham was 135 years old when Terah died.  Why the sixty year discrepancy?  Erickson writes that “Beegle concludes that specific words certainly are not authorative.  That would involve dictation.”[4] (This was in discussing the inspiration of the Bible)  Regardless, the fact remains that God called Abraham to leave Haran in order to provide the seed for a nation that would ultimately bring us Christ!

The Promises

When God first called Abram, the word “covenant” was not used.  MacArthur explains “The Abrahamic covenant proper is introduced in verses 1-3, actually made in 15:18-21, reaffirmed in 17:1-21, then renewed with Isaac (26:25) and Jacob (28:10-17).[5]

Eight promises are made by God to Abram in 12:1-3:

  1. I will make you a great nation.
  2. I will bless you.
  3. I will make your name great.
  4. You will be a blessing.
  5. I will bless those who bless you.
  6. I will curse those who curse you.
  7. All the persons on earth will be blessed through you.
  8. I will give you the land of Canaan.[6]

Let us examine these promises:

A great nation. Abraham’s descendants did indeed become a great nation.  Though he never saw it in his lifetime, the number of his descendants grew rapidly.  A. Boyd Luter, Jr notes that “his descendants apparently numbered over two million by the time of the Exodus (some 600,000 men, plus their wives and many children; Ex 12:37)[7] Today there are almost fifteen million Jews in the world.[8] In Israel, 76% of the populations of over 7,230,000 are Jews.[9]

God will bless him.  There is no doubt that God greatly blessed Abraham.  While in Egypt, Pharaoh gave him a large number of sheep, oxen, donkeys and camels as well as male and female servants. (Gen 12:16)  It is unclear though if he kept them after Pharaoh discovered Abram’s deception concerning Sarai and ordered him out of Egypt.  Still though, Abram owned a large amount of livestock and employed herdsmen to tend to them.  The numbers were great enough that the land wasn’t able to handle both his and Lot’s herds and flocks, thus forcing the two to go their separate ways. (Gen 13:6-12)

Abraham was blessed by kings.  After he defeated Chedorlaoner, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, blessed him saying “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth.” (Gen 14:18-20)  Later, Abimelech, the king of Geror, after he discovered that Abraham had deceived him in the same way he deceived Pharaoh, still blessed him, giving him sheep, oxen and male and female servants. (Gen 20:14)  The king told him “Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.” (Gen 20:15)

God would make his name great.  Abraham is one of the most famous people of the Bible.  His seed gave us three major religions.  The Jews still call him Father Abraham.  Even in his own time he was well known and greatly respected.  One example of this happened when Abraham was looking for a burial place for Sarah.  He asked the sons of Heth, who were Hittites, for a burial site.  They responded “you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.” (Gen 23:6)

You will be a blessing.  Abraham became a blessing through his example.  Luter writes the example was “of proper worship and proclamation of the Lord’s name (12:8), as well by his justifying faith (15:6, Rm 4:3).[10] In Romans 4:1-3, Paul uses the example of Abraham to “prove justification by faith alone because the Jews held him up as the supreme example of a righteous man.”[11]

I will bless those who bless you.  This pertains to both individuals and nations, although the list of nations that have blessed the Jews is few and continues to dwindle.  It is different with individuals.  One example is that of Abimelech.  After he blessed Abraham, “God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids so that they bore children.  For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.” (Gen 20:17-18)  Another who became blessed was Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho who hid the Israelite spies from the king of Jericho. (Josh 2)  For her help, she was blessed by being saved from the destruction of the city by Joshua.

I will curse those who curse you.  There once was a t-shirt for sale that listed all the nations throughout history who sought to destroy the Jews only to be destroyed themselves due to the promise of the curse.  Some of those listed were the Philistines, Babylon and the Roman Empire.  Suffice to say, going against the Jews is something God will not tolerate.  There will be more about this and those blessed because they blessed in the conclusion of this paper.

All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.  It was the Jews who gave us all Scripture through which God is revealed through us.  From Abraham’s seed, through Jacob’s son Judah, we were given Christ Himself, the ultimate blessing for all people who believe in Him.

I will give you the land of Canaan.  Abram was called by God to leave his home in Haran and go to Canaan, which is the Promised Land.  To this day, the Jews have yet to occupy the entire land.  This will be fully discussed in the next chapter.

Thus God had made His promises to Abram.  In the next chapter God will reaffirm these promises as He formally establishes the covenant.


[1]. MacArthur, The Macarthur Bible Commentary, 29.
The year of Abraham’s birth is dependant on the year the Exodus began.  The NLT Study Bible (p 15) provides both 2166 BC and the alternate year of 1990 BC to match the early date of the Exodus by some scholars. (1270 BC instead of 1446 BC)

[2]. David Rosenberg, Abraham: The First Historical Biography (New York City: Basic Books, 2006), 88.

[3]. J. Julius Scott Jr., Jewish Background of The New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), 127.

[4]. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 239.

[5]. MacArthur, The Macarthur Bible Commentary, 29.

[6]. Rhodes, The Popular Dictionary of Bible Prophecy, 11.

[7]. A. Boyd Luter Jr., Comments On Genesis 12-50, in The Apologetics Study Bible, ed. Ted Cabal (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 23.

[8]. World Almanac and Book of Facts 2010 (New York City: World Almanac Books, 2009), 704.

[9]. Ibid., 793.

[10]. A. Boyd Luter Jr., Comments On Genesis 12-50, in The Apologetics Study Bible, ed. Ted Cabal (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 23.

[11]. John MacArthur, MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1515.

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