The Abrahamic Covenant

The promise of redemption came to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, but it was through Abraham that the future pathway for redemption was realized.  Alexander writes, “In terms of the number of chapters given over to him, Abraham is clearly the most important of all the human characters in Genesis.”  The Abrahamic Covenant and the promises made to Abraham remain in effect even as they found fulfillment in Christ (Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:6-18, 29; Hebrews 2:16; 6:13-20). Abraham holds a key place in the unfolding narrative of the Bible and the history of Israel.  With Abraham, God narrows his plan for the world to a specific family.  This plan will lead to blessing for all people through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).  The Abrahamic Covenant, established and fulfilled by God, was used to bring about blessings for nations and redemption for mankind through Abraham and his seed.

The Origins of the Abrahamic Covenant

Sin led man away from God and resulted in the fall of mankind and the separation between God and man.  Despite man’s fall, God instituted a plan of redemption and restoration for mankind, and that redemption would come in the form of a human Messiah in Genesis 3:15.  The Reformation Study Bible note on the covenant reads:

“These verses [Genesis 12:1-3] mark a pivotal point in Genesis and in the history of redemption as God begins to establish a covenant people for Himself in fulfillment of the promise He made in 3:15.  The progress of God’s redemptive plan is evident in His setting Abraham apart (v.1) and making Israel into a great nation.  It climaxes in Jesus Christ, the true seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), who brings salvation to the world (v.3).”

As time went on, God narrowed the coming Messiah down to a man from the descendants of Abraham, and it was with Abraham that God made this covenant.  Hill and Walton write, “The purpose of the book of Genesis is to tell how and why Yahweh came to choose Abraham’s family and make a covenant with them.  The covenant is the foundation of Israelite theology and identity, and its history is therefore of understandable significance.” God made the Abrahamic Covenant with Abraham and his seed in all their generations (Genesis 15:18; 17:7).  Abraham was called out of the land of Ur unexpectedly by God

“And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

The Stipulations of the Abrahamic Covenant

Debate rages amongst theologians and congregations alike on the conditionality, longevity, and purposes of the Abrahamic Covenant.  The covenant contains conditional and unconditional elements.  God tells Abraham to leave his country to receive the blessing (Genesis 12:1-2), commands him “walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you (Genesis 17:1-2), and promises the fulfillment of the covenant based on Abraham’s obedience (Genesis 26:5).  Additionally, Abraham is commanded to circumcise his descendants (Genesis 17:9-14) and demanded a response of obedient faith (Genesis 15:6; 26:4; Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19; James 2:21-23).  John Frame summarizes the stipulations:

“So like all the other covenants, the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional in the sense that in it, God declares that he will certainly accomplish his own purposes, the blessing of the nations through Abraham.  But it is conditional in that those who would receive that blessing must trust and obey.  As sovereign controller, God is the God of grace.  As sovereign authority, he demands obedience of his covenant partners.”

The Abrahamic Covenant required obedience on the part of the recipients, but the redemption and forgiveness of sins came through faith in God’s promise. It was his faith that saved him from his sin, and subsequently, the Lord blessed him through the covenant promise.  Abraham moved out of Ur in faith, obeyed God in faith, believed the promises of God in faith, and had multitudes of descendants on account of his faith.  The blessings promised to go far beyond human descendants, but through his offspring came the Messiah who would receive the fullness of the promises made to Abraham and realize in his spiritual descendant (Matthew 3:9; John 8:39; Romans 11:12; 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; Galatians 3). God delivered to Abraham far more than human expectations of descendants could be fathomed for through Abraham, all the world received the blessing, and multitudes have received eternal salvation. 

By Faith Abraham

The significance and importance of Abraham and his Covenant are undeniable in the Old Testament, and they additionally continue into the New Testament.  The promises to Abraham and his response of faith are foundational to both and Old and New Testaments.  Abraham is important taking place as the first ancestor to Jesus’ lineage (Matt. 1:1-2, 17; Luke 3:34), but also as one to whom God’s promises were given and who responded in faith to the Gospel beforehand (Romans 4; Galatians 3; Hebrews 11:8-19).  The descendants of Abraham would not be limited to those who were physical descendants but the addition of spiritual descendants.  Those who would possess faith in response to the promises and redemption brought by God would expand to the entire world (Galatians 3:26-29; Romans 4:11-12, 23-25, 13). 

Abraham would ultimately be redeemed by saving faith in Jesus Christ since Jesus’ atoning death would cover all saints from the past and saints in the future. Despite the specifics being unrevealed at Abraham’s time, Christ’s blood covered him.  John Piper writes:

But the obedience which Abraham had (though not perfect) was the inevitable outcome of his faith in God’s gracious promise. He obeyed God and offered his only son Isaac on the altar not to earn God’s favor, but because he was so confident in God’s promise to give him posterity through Isaac (Genesis 21:12; Hebrews 11:17–19) in spite of everything. Obedience is the necessary outcome of truly trusting in God’s promises, and so obedience is made a condition of inheriting God’s promises which are granted by grace and through faith. This means that the Covenant of Abraham is just like the new covenant under which we live. For it too is conditional—not on works, but on the obedience of faith.

Paul’s Handling of the Abrahamic Covenant

The reality is that without the resurrection, the Christian has no hope.  If Christ stayed dead, He was a lunatic and blasphemer and at enmity with God and could by no means atone for sin.  The resurrection showcases that Christ was whom He claimed He was and that the sacrifice and atonement for sins were truly accomplished.  Paul mentions that Jesus was “…delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  There is no hope of reconciliation and deliverance and justification without the resurrection.  Examining the context of the chapter shows the reality of Abraham’s faith is accounted to him for righteousness just as it is for Christians.  Ultimately what is meant here by faith is accounted for righteousness is said in Romans 4:20 and 21.  Verses 20-21 reads, “No unbelief made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.”

Belief in the promise of God that was to come would be what counted righteousness to Abraham, which would be ultimately the belief that the Messiah would come. Galatians helps pull this together when Paul speaks on offspring being singular referring to Christ.  The emphasis on the resurrection is essential because resurrection from the dead goes against all human logic, reasoning, and biology.  There is no 10th law of Thermodynamics that people, when they desire to, will raise themselves from the dead. The sacrifice for sins is nothing without resurrection; otherwise, there is no justification.  Christians believe in the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ, which clearly states the fullness of the Lord’s deity, humanity, life, death, burial, and resurrection.  Just as Abraham believed in the promise of the Messiah to come, Christians believe in the promise of the Messiah who has come and will return again. 


The Abrahamic Covenant was given by God and would prove to be an event of tremendous importance in shaping the world and redemptive history.  Abraham was unexpectedly approached by God and was brought into a covenant, and through this covenant, the Messiah would come to restore the broken and destroyed relationship between God and man.   God told Abraham, “I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse, and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).  Abraham would not have known what that would look like, how it would come about, but he believed God in faith and was given righteousness.  Two thousand years later and his faith would be debited and finalized in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The promises of God are completely fulfilled, and multitudes of spiritual descendants owe their salvation to a great and faithful God.  The Abrahamic Covenant, established and fulfilled by God, was used for the purpose of bringing about blessings for nations and redemption for mankind through Abraham and his seed.  The Christian should be exceedingly thankful for God’s gracious provision and purposes in intervening in the depraved state of humanity to provide a path to eternal salvation.

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