The book of Genesis is commonly known as the book of beginnings. In part, that is because of the beginning of the world with Creation and the name of the book in the Hebrew Bible, which is taken from the first word, “In the beginning” (which is one word in Hebrew).
And another beginning in this book is the beginning of the nation of Israel as the people of God. The relationship between God and this people was first established with Abraham as God promised Abraham in Genesis 12 that He would give Abraham a permanent land, an uncountable people, and a spiritual blessing through his progeny. That promise was not only reiterated to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 17:1-8; ratified, 15:12-21), but it was also reiterated to Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 26:1-5), and his son Jacob (Gen. 28:10ff; 35:9ff).
This covenant with Abraham not only governed how God related to the nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament, but it still assures a future for Israel today, anticipating a time when God will yet fulfill these promises to His people.
There are several key elements to the covenant with Abraham. First, it is unconditional. That is, there are no conditions attached to the covenant. The covenant was made (ratified) by God alone (Gen. 15:12ff), meaning that God alone was responsible for its fulfillment. No “if” was attached to the covenant, conditioning its fulfillment on the obedience of Abraham or the people. There was nothing that Abraham or the nation had to do to ensure that God would keep His promise.
Secondly, the covenant is literal; the Abrahamic covenant will be fulfilled literally (not figuratively or spiritually) so that the people of Israel will physically inhabit the land promised to Abraham. That the promise is literal is indicated by the dimensions of the promised land (Gen. 15:18-21).
Thirdly, the covenant is eternal; the covenant is unending in its scope and purpose. The covenant will never cease to be (cf. Gen. 13:15; 17:7, 13, 19; 1 Chron. 16:17; Ps. 105:10).
Finally, the content of the covenant between God and Abraham is comprised of three primary elements (which would be expanded upon in subsequent covenants —
- Land (Gen. 12:1) — expanded upon in the Palestinian Covenant (Dt. 30:1-10). The Palestinian Covenant is an unconditional covenant that promised a future for Israel in their promised land, possessing it as the rightful heirs. [Note the dimensions of the land God promised — extending to the Euphrates (eastward; Gen. 15:18) — a portion of land that has never been possessed by Israel.]
- Seed (Gen. 12:2 — a progeny) — expanded upon in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:12-16). This covenant with David is an unconditional, literal, and eternal covenant that promises a King and kingdom to David’s line. It will be fulfilled in the reign of Jesus Christ over the nation Israel in the millennium.
- Blessing (Gen. 12:3) — expanded upon in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezk. 36:22-32). The New Covenant is also an unconditional, literal, and eternal covenant promises the spiritual conversion of Israel. It was inaugurated and initiated by Christ (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25) but still awaits its fulfillment.
The covenant with Abraham and the covenants that flow from it are pictured this way:
Now if the covenant with Abraham and the following covenants are made by God with the nation of Israel, why are the covenants significant for New Testament believers (or are they)? These covenants are still significant for believers today because all prophecy is a revelation of God’s unfolding plan to fulfill those original promises. When we look at these promises, we are comforted and encouraged that just as God will keep all His promises in their entirety to the nation of Israel, so He will keep His promises of justification, sanctification, and glorification for believers today.
God promised Abraham and is faithful to those promises. And God promised believers today a salvation through Christ, and He is also faithful to that promise and all the promises that flow from it.