We know very little about Abram before He is chosen by God. The end of Genesis 11 says his father, Terah, took Abraham and Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and their families and left Ur to go to Canaan. For a reason not spelled out in Scripture, they stop in Haran before completing their journey. It is there that Terah died. We are also told that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is unable to have any children.
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about Abraham. Still, he is chosen by God. A voice from Heaven comes to him and makes a series of unbelievable promises. And Abraham’s part in the agreement is to believe that voice. That is the one characteristic about Abraham that is praised throughout the Bible. Genesis 15:6 says, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”
This is a righteousness that is not earned in any way. Just a cursory look at the life of Abraham makes that clear. Abraham goes to Egypt and convinces Sarah to lie and say that they are brother and sister. Later, Abraham seeks to fulfill the covenant on his own by taking Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar, and bearing a son through her. He lies again about his relationship with Sarah, this time to Abimelech, the king of Gerar. After God fulfills His promise to Abraham by giving him a son through Sarah, he rejects Hagar and Ishmael, his son through her. Abraham, like all of us, had his weaknesses and problems.
Yet the Bible is clear when it calls Abraham “righteous.” Abraham would go on to be the father of many nations. Even today, his name is praised by Jew, Arab and Gentile. The Abrahamic Covenant is the picture of God’s relationship with man: God promises; man believes God; and God fulfills His promise.
In reality, the Abrahamic Covenant is developed from Genesis 12 through 17. Immediately we see a difference between this covenant and the previous three we’ve looked at. In the Edenic, Adamic, and Noahic Covenants, there is a single person who exists as the forerunner of all who would live after them (Adam and Noah). But in the Abrahamic Covenant, the Earth is already populated. Because of this, the Abrahamic Covenant does not apply directly to all of humanity, but to the descendants of the one with whom the covenant is made, Abraham.
The Abrahamic Covenant is a unilateral/ unconditional covenant. Genesis 12:1-3 show promises made by God, without any condition placed upon Abraham. Five times in these verses we hear God say, “I will,” without hearing Him place the condition of “if you” on Abraham:
1. “I will show you…( a land)” (verse 1)
2. “I will make you a great nation…” (verse 2)
3. “I will bless you…” (verse 2)
4. “I will bless those who bless you…” (verse 3)
5. “I will curse those who curse you…” (verse 3)
There are three major provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant. First, we see that Abraham is promised a land for his descendants to dwell in. This promise is confirmed and developed later in another covenant with Israel – the Land Covenant. Second, the promise of the Seed is confirmed and developed further in the Davidic Covenant. And third, the blessing to the nations is confirmed and developed further in the New Covenant.
The beauty of the Abrahamic Covenant is its simplicity. A common man with common weaknesses meets the Creator and is changed forever. Abraham makes many mistakes. He even doubts God at times.
God comes to Abraham again in Genesis 15 to remind him of the promise, and Abraham questions God asking, “’LORD God, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus’?” Then Abram said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir’. (verses 2-3)”
But God is patient and faithful to His promise. He takes Abraham for a walk and promises that Abraham’s servant will not be his heir, but instead, one that will come from his own body (verse 4). Then he tells Abraham to count the stars, and promises that his descendants will outnumber them.
Then God tells Abraham to prepare for a covenant ceremony. In Abraham’s day it was common for two parties who were entering into covenant to take several animals and slaughter them, cutting them in half. The two parties would then pass between the pieces, signifying that if either party broke the covenant, the same fate should come to the covenant violator as did the animals. Abraham would have been familiar with this ceremony. The beauty is that God caused Abraham to fall into a deep sleep. During that sleep, he had a vision of God. God spoke to Abraham saying, “’Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age…’And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces” (verses 13-17). God passes alone through the pieces. The responsibility for the Abrahamic Covenant rests on God and God alone.
Events occurred exactly as God told Abraham they would. Abraham lived a long life. Sarah bore him a son – Isaac. The covenant was confirmed with Isaac (Genesis 26), and again with his son, Jacob (Genesis 28). A famine forced Jacob (now called Israel) and his family into Egypt. And four hundred years passed. God delivered the Children of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and they left Egypt with great wealth. A nation has been born. And a new covenant is necessary to guide it.