The Abrahamic Covenant — Introduction

I wrote this back in 2010 in an effort to help understand why Israel is Israel, how it all began.   There is nowhere in Scripture, except in Genesis, that God chooses a special people and uses them to create a nation.  God chose Abraham, a shepherd.  He was nothing special, he was, as all humans are, a sinner.  This is about an unconditional covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants.  It is about a process that began 3,998 years ago, culminating in the birth of Isaac

Between the time God created all that is and the birth of Abram, the world had been through a lot.  God had pronounced his creation “very good.” (Genesis 1:31)  That didn’t last very long.  Sometime between the creation week and the birth of Seth, one hundred and thirty years (Genesis 5:3), man had fallen into sin.  Paradise was lost in an instant as sin, corruptness, evil and death had entered the world.  Man had lost his personal relationship with God.

Still, despite the Fall, God made a promise during his judgment of the serpent (Satan), Eve and Adam. (Genesis 3:14-19)  He told the serpent that sometime in the future, the seed of the woman would “bruise (strike, crush) you (the serpent/Satan) on the head.” (Genesis 3:15)  This was the first promise of a redeemer, the Messiah that would be fulfilled by the life, death and resurrection of Christ.[1]

Centuries later, man was out of control in sin.  God decided to end all life on earth.(Genesis 6:17) However, He found a righteous man in Noah.(Genesis 6:8)  Noah and his family, plus representatives of all land animals and birds, were saved from the destruction of the global flood.  Still though, despite the lessons that should have been learned by the repopulated earth, man continued to sin.

During the life of Peleg, the great-great-great grandson of Noah and the great-great-great grandfather of Abram (Genesis 11:10-27), the earth was divided. (Genesis 10:25)  That event was the building of the Tower of Babel and the “dispersment of the nations.”[2] God had confused the language of all humans, causing the abandonment of the project. (Genesis 11:7-9)

Several generations later, God found Abram, the son of Terah in Ur of the Chaldeans. (Genesis 11:7-9) he called upon Abram to leave his “country, relatives and father’s house” to go to a new land where he would be made into a “great nation.”(Genesis 12:1-2)  Thus began God’s covenant with Abram that would eventually lead to the nation of Israel and Christ.

This series will discuss God’s covenant with Abram as told in Genesis chapters 12, 15 and 17.  It will not be a chronological, verse by verse description of the events.  Instead, this series will be more of an analysis of the points of the covenant as told to Abram/Abraham by God.   In the end, I will demonstrate that the covenant is still in effect, thereby rejecting the proponents of replacement theology, which claims that this covenant has been replaced by the Church.  First, I will discuss the various types of covenants of the ancient Near East in order to show that the Abrahamic covenant is eternal and without conditions.

[1]. John MacArthur, The Macarthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 17-18.

[2]. Ibid., 27

What is a Covenant?

Theologically speaking, a covenant is “a gracious undertaking entered into by God for the benefit and blessing of humanity, and specifically of those who by faith receive the promises and commit themselves to the obligations which this undertaking involves.”[1] There are three major categories of covenants in the Old Testament.  They are the Royal Grant, Parity and the Suzerian-Vassal.[2] (See comparison chart below)

These covenants can be either conditional or unconditional.  Ron Rhodes describes a conditional covenant as a “covenant with an ‘if’ attached.”[3] For example, Adam and Eve could live and keep their relationship with God as long as they continued to obey God’s command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If they disobeyed, they would die, at first spiritually and eventually physically.  As we know, Adam made the wrong choice.
An unconditional covenant places no conditions on its continuance.  The only party obliged to keep it is God.  In His covenant with Noah after the flood, God promised that He would never destroy all life on earth by water and used the rainbow as the covenant sign.  However, as John MacArthur writes, this “was qualified by the means of water, for God has since promised to destroy the earth with fire one day. (2 Peter 3:10-11, Revelation 20:9, 21:1)”[4]

COVENTANT Royal Grant Parity Suzerain-Vassal
TYPE Unconditional Conditional Conditional
FEATURES King’s grant to a loyal servant

Involved land or other benefits


Between equals

Binding to mutual friendship or respect to each others spheres and interests

Participants called each other brothers

Between a great king and a subject king

Great king claims absolute right of sovereignty

Demanded total loyalty and service

Vassal must “love” his suzerain

Conditional on vassal’s faithfulness and loyalty

EXAMPLES Noahic (Gen 9:8-17)
Abrahamic (Gen 15:9-21)
Davidic (2 Sam 7:5-16)
Abram and Abimelech (Gen 21:25-32)
Jacob and Laban (Gen 31:44-51)
Abrahamic (Gen 17)
Mosiac (Ex 19-24)

Source:  Date adapted from All-In-One Bible Reference Guide. Edited by Kevin Green. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 168-169 *

[1]. Gleason L. Archer Jr., “Covenant,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 299.

[2]. All-In-One Bible Reference Guide, ed. Kevin Green (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 168-69.

[3]. The Popular Dictionary of Bible Prophecy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2010), 11.

[4]. The MacArthur Bible Commentary, 25.

It should be noted that the source incorrectly defined the Suzerain-Vassal covenant as unconditional when, in fact, it is not.  Also of note is that the Parity covenant cannot be entered into between God and humans as it is between equals.  Humans are far from equals with God.

Next week will be Part 2 of this series.  In Genesis 12, we will read of God’s first contact with Abram, and the promises He made to him and his descendants.


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