Art design "The Covenant" by Pete Garcia
Terah, the father of Abram (Abraham), was originally from the land of Ur of the Chaldeans in Mesopotamia. According to Joshua, Terah was a pagan and served false gods. “Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times, and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:2). Terah took his son Abram and Abram’s wife Sarai, and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and they went out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there until Terah died in Haran at the age of 205 years. Terah never made it to Canaan.
The father of the nation of Israel, Abram, was 75 years old when, by faith, he heeded the word of the Lord and departed out of Haran to a land God would show him. The Lord said, “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless you, and curse them that curse you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, 70 servants, and all their possessions and entered the land of Canaan in approximately 1876 BC (2084 AM). For a detailed chronology, see A Chronology of Mankind – 6000 Years of History (rev310.net). Upon entering the promised land, Abram built an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him and said: “Unto your seed will I give this land” (Genesis 12:7). This was the first promise from God that He would give the land of Canaan to Abram’s descendants.
Abram entered the Promised Land 427 years after God made his covenant with Noah after the Great Flood (2303 BC - 1657 AM). Actually, He made his covenant with Noah and his descendants and with every living creature on the face of the earth. “Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth” (Genesis 9:11-13). Abram was a descendant of Noah’s son, Shem.
Abram’s entourage relocated to Egypt after famine struck the land. As time passed and the famine receded, Abram returned to Canaan. The first thing he did when he was back in the land was to call on the name of the Lord. He did it in the exact place where he had previously built the altar unto Him. Lot and Abram were very rich in cattle, silver, and in gold. The land was not able to bear both Abram’s and Lot’s flocks, so they parted ways. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent toward Sodom.
The Lord said unto Abram, after Lot was separated from him, Lift your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward, southward, eastward, and westward: for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever. And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your seed also be numbered. Arise walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it, for I will give it unto you” (Genesis 13:14-17). We see here that the Lord was confirming his original promise to Abram and his descendants that the land would be theirs, for He had given it to them.
THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT ESTABLISHED
The word of the Lord came into Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not Abram: I am your shield, and your exceedingly great reward” (Genesis 15:1). Abram questioned God as to how this would be accomplished, as he was childless with no son to inherit the land. The Lord assured Abram his descendants would inherit the land, and they would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. “And he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). However, Abram asked the Lord God how he would know that he would inherit it. The Lord told him to take a heifer of three years old, a she goat of three years old, a ram of three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon: and cut in half (except the birds) and divide them in the midst, laying each piece against one another.
“Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep (trance) fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. And it came to pass that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces” (Genesis 15:12,17). I believe this was Elohim (the Son and the Holy Spirit) that passed between those pieces. The words “smoking furnace” and “burning lamp” were probably the only words Abraham could describe the supernatural appearance of Elohim. A similar theophany would occur about four centuries later when the children of Israel left Egypt. “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22).
On the same day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying,” Unto your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:17-18). This was the original covenant between the Lord and Abram and his descendants. It occurred in approximately 1866 BC (2094 AM). In this covenant, all Abraham had to do was supply the animals for the sacrificial covenant. He did not have to walk between the pieces. Only God walked between the pieces. This signified that it was an unconditional covenant between God and Abraham (and his descendants) regarding the land of Canaan. The Lord gave ownership of the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants forever.
As Abram and Sarai grew older and were still childless, they tried to help God along with His promise by giving Sarai’s servant, Hagar, to Abram to be his wife. Abram was 86 years old when Hagar birthed a son to him. They named him Ishmael. He was the patriarch of the Arabs, to be the ancestor of the Ishmaelites. Ishmael was born in 1865 BC (2095 AM), one year after God’s covenant with Abram.
GOD CONFIRMS HIS COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM
The Bible tells us that the Lord visited Abram five times, and on the fifth visit, He changed Abram’s name. In 1852 BC (2108 AM), when Abram was 99 years old and Sarai was 90 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and confirmed his covenant with him. “My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4-5). When God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, he inserted the 5th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the “heh” into the middle of Abram’s name, forever imprinting upon Abraham the quality of God’s grace. In Judaism, the “heh” is also the numeral 5, which represents grace. God showed amazing grace to Abraham because of his faith, just as He does with you and me as believers in Christ.
This confirmed or strengthened the original covenant between Abraham and God that occurred 14 years earlier. “And I will establish my covenant between you and me and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you, and to your seed after you. And I will give unto you and your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7-8).
Abram and his male descendants were to keep their part of the covenant by circumcising the flesh of their foreskins (a form of cutting and dividing of the flesh). Ishmael was 13 years old at this time. Circumcision was a symbol of “cutting off” the old life of sin and dedicating oneself to God. Circumcision, more than any other Hebrew custom, separated God’s people from their heathen neighbors.
The Lord also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. He promised Abraham the following regarding Sarah: “And I will bless her and give her a son also of her: yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations: kings of people shall be of her” (Genesis 17:16). “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, Oh that Ishmael might live before you” (Genesis 17:17-18).
Yes, even the man of faith, Abraham, sometimes felt moments of doubt. God explained that Sarah, herself, would bear unto Abraham a male son in her old age, and they would name him Isaac. He told Abraham, “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto you at this set time in the next year” (Genesis 17:21). God not only wanted Abraham’s lineage to inherit the promise and covenant but Sarah’s as well.
Some months later, the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, “And the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born unto him” (Genesis 21:1-5). These events occurred in approximately 1851 BC (2109 AM).
The confirmed covenant between the Lord and Abraham had begun. Both parties kept their end of the bargain. Abraham lived to be a hundred and seventy-five years old. He then gave up the ghost and died in a good old age. There were three times Abraham was called the “friend of God”: 2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, and James 2:23. Here is how the writer of Hebrews describes Abraham’s faith: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith, he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10).
The three patriarchs of the Jewish race are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:15). God chose Abraham out of the nations of the earth. He also chose Isaac over the firstborn son, Ishmael. God then chose Jacob (whose name was later changed to Israel) over Esau, the oldest twin brother. Jacob’s twelve sons and their descendants would eventually become the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.
The story of Joseph and his interaction with his brothers and father and the subsequent relocation to Egypt because of the great famine is told in Genesis 39-50. After hundreds of years in Egypt, the Bible says, “ And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:6-8). This king eventually made slaves of the Hebrews and even tried to slow down their population growth by killing their babies. Moses was one of these Hebrew babies during this time, but his parents saved him. After Moses grew into adulthood, he killed a man and had to flee Egypt to the land of Midian.
“Now, it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out, and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them” (Exodus 2: 23-25).
God chose Moses and his brother Aaron to represent Him in dealing with the new Pharaoh of Egypt regarding freeing the Hebrews from their life of slavery and returning them to their Promised Land of Canaan. It took 10 plagues against the Egyptians before Pharaoh finally relented and allowed the Hebrews to leave Egypt. They left Egypt 430 years after Abraham entered Canaan in 1876 BC; according to the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation, “Now the sojourning (length of the stay) of the children of Israel in Egypt and Canaan was four hundred and thirty years” (Exodus 12:41).
THE MOSAIC COVENANT – THE LAW ESTABLISHED
“In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai” (Exodus 19:1). They left Egypt after the 10th plague, the Passover slaughter of the Egyptian firstborn, occurred on Nisan 15, 1446 BC. On the first day of the third month, Sivan, the children of Israel came to Mt. Sinai. “Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and bolts of lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:16-20).
On this day, God gave the children of Israel the 10 commandments verbally. The Bible does not say how many days after this God gave the two tablets of stone upon which God had engraved the 10 commandments. It is thought that it was on Sivan 6 or Sivan 7 (the future day of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling upon the apostles on Pentecost). The statutes and commandments God gave the Hebrews on Mt. Sinai did not replace the covenant God gave to the patriarchs, for the Abrahamic covenant was an everlasting and unconditional covenant. The land of Canaan would always belong to the children of Israel, for it was given to them by the Lord Himself.
In contrast to the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of the Law (or the Mosaic covenant) between the children of Israel and God was conditional. “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive” (Deuteronomy 5:4-6). If the children of Israel would obey God and His laws, then the people would be greatly rewarded. If not, they would be punished. The blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience are found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. “ Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).
Moses wrote all the words of the Lord regarding his commandments and ordinances in a book called the Book of the Covenant. He then built an altar and offered oxen as burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” Just as the first covenant with Abraham involved the blood of sacrificed animals, so did the covenant with Moses and the children of Israel. A covenant with God always involved the shedding of innocent blood, typologies of the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The Israelites agreed to this covenant and said they would be obedient, but they were incapable of holding up their end of the deal. A big part of their disobedience was not observing the sabbath of the seventh year as described in Leviticus 25. God informed them of the extremes He would go to for the land to rest every seven years. “I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemy’s land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate, it shall rest—for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it” (Leviticus 26:33-35).
THE DAVIDIC COVENANT ESTABLISHED
436 years after the Exodus from Egypt and the establishment of the Mosaic covenant (1446 BC), God set up “a man after His own heart,” named David, to assume the throne of Israel after Saul and Jonathan’s death. This occurred in 1010 BC (2950 AM). Many years later, Nathan the prophet relayed a message from the Lord to King David concerning his descendants. “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-16). This is known as the Davidic covenant and will be fulfilled eventually by Lord Jesus during his 1000-year Kingdom reign.
During the Exodus, God told the children of Israel, “I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the sea, Philistia, and from the desert to the River (Euphrates). For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (Exodus 23:31-33). Israel never gained possession of all the land God gave them, even in the glory days of David and Solomon. Only when Jesus returns and establishes His Millennial Kingdom will Israel finally claim all the land God promised them.
In part II, we will look at the covenant that is to be confirmed in Daniel 9:27.