Monday, April 23, 2012

The Promises to Abraham

There were several promises made to Abraham, made on several occasions (see "Summary of Promises" section below), but the basic promises boil down to three:
  • I will make of you a great nation, kings, uncountable offspring
  • I will give you the land
  • I will bless the nations of the earth through you
These three promises are seen when God first starts making promises to Abram (see "Gen 12" section below), and when God confirms the covenant with Isaac (see "Gen 26" section below).

Although these promises were made at various times there were two specific covenant ceremonies:
  • Genesis 15 (the cutting of animals)
    • core stipulations:
      • land, great reward
      • uncountable offspring from his own loins
      • Abram believed this promise and his faith was credited as righteousness
  • Genesis 17 (the cutting of foreskins)
    • core stipulations:
      • land
      • uncountable offspring from his own loins
      • covenant to be confirmed with Isaac
Notice that although both of these ceremonies include the promise of land and of uncountable offspring, neither includes the promise to bless all nations. However, when God confirms the covenant with Isaac (see "Gen 26" section below), it includes the blessing of all nations.

Summaries of Promises:

Gen 12:1-3, 7 (the initial call of Abram)

  • I will make you a great nation
  • I will bless you
  • I will make your name great
  • You will be a blessing
  • I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who treat you with contempt
  • All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you
  • I will give this land (Canaan) to your offspring

Gen 13:14-17 (Abram & Lot split, dividing the land)

  • I will give you and your offspring all the land you can see
  • I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth - uncountable

Gen 15:1-21 (faith credited as righteousness)

  • Your reward will be great
  • Eliezer not to be your heir, but a son of your own loins
  • Uncountable offspring
  • Abram believed this about his offspring, and God credited it to him as righteousness
  • You will possess this land
    • the animal-cutting ceremony in response to "how will I know I will possess this land?"
      • Your offspring will be enslaved & oppressed in a foreign land for 400 years
      • I will judge that nation; your people will go out with many possessions, returning here in the fourth generation
      • You will go to your fathers in peace
  • Covenant summarized in v 18 as "I will give this land to your offspring"

Gen 17:2-26 (circumcision given)

  • I will establish My covenant between Me and you
  • I will multiply you greatly
  • You will become the father of many nations
  • Name changed from "Exalted Father" (Abram) to "Father of a Multitude" (Abraham)
  • I will make you extremely fruitful; nations and kings will come from you
  • Covenant is everlasting throughout your offspring's generations to be yours and your offspring's God
  • To you and your offspring I give this land, and I will be their God
  • This is my covenant: you and all your males to be circumcised
  • Your wife's name changed from Sarai (a form of "princess"?) to Sarah ("princess") (the meaning of the name seems less significant than the change itself)
  • Sarah will give you a son, next year
  • I will bless Sarah
  • Nations and kings will come from Sarah
  • Your son through Sarah will be named Isaac ("he laughs")
  • I will confirm my covenant with Isaac
    • Ishmael will also be blessed
      • I will bless him
      • I will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly
      • He will father 12 tribes
      • I will make him a great nation

Gen 18:9-19

  • In a year, Abraham's wife will have a son
  • Abraham to become a great and powerful nation
  • All the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham

Gen 26:2-5 (Covenant confirmed with Isaac)

  • I will be with you and bless you
  • I will give all these lands to you and your offspring
  • I will confirm the oath I swore to Abraham
    • Uncountable offspring
    • Land given to offspring
    • all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring

Gal 3:1-29 (We are children of Abraham by faith)

  • those who have faith are Abraham's sons
  • Scripture saw:
    • that God would justify the Gentiles by faith
    • God told the Gospel to Abraham, that all nations will be blessed through him
  • Therefore, those who have faith are blessed with Abraham
  • The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed
  • That seed is Christ
  • And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed
The covenant made with Moses and his people, which God "made with [them] when [He] took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (Jer 31:32) is separate and apart from any previous covenants/promises, including these promises to Abraham. It "came 430 years later, [and] does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God" (Gal 3:17). This covenant, made with Moses, "was added because of transgressions" (Gal 3:19), and was temporary, to last only "until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come" (Gal 3:19). But the promise to Abraham still stands: "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:29).

Note, there were two laws given for circumcision: one for all of Abram's seed, given as a part of the promises/covenants with Abraham; and one for the subset of Abraham's seed known as the Jews, given as a part of the later and temporary and faulty (see below) covenant of Moses. So the Jews had two laws insisting on circumcision; their cousins, the Ishmaelites (from Hagar) and the children of Keturah (who may have intermingled to become the ancestors of today's Arabs - Book of Jubilees 20:13), only had one such law.

Regardless of whether circumcision is required of us as part of the promise (it is required, because we are now Abraham's seed; it is not required, because what's important is faith, not the letter of the law), Paul's point in Romans 4 is that Abraham's righteousness came by faith, prior to any work (i.e. circumcision) done on his part. James, in James 2, adds that "faith" is useless if it's merely an academic acceptance without a life-changing acceptance.

The faulty covenant, replaced by the more excellent ministry, was not those promises made to Abraham; the faulty covenant was the temporary one that was added because of transgressions, the covenant which God made with the ancestors of the House of Israel when He took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. The writer of Hebrews cites Jeremiah 31, explicitly defining the faulty covenant (Heb 8:7) as "the covenant that I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by their hands to lead them out of the land of Egypt" (Heb 8:9, citing Jer 31:32).

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