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The Covenants: The Abrahamic Covenant

Where Have We Been?

We have examined the covenant of redemption (Lat. pactum salutis) which is the pretemporal intra-trinitarian covenant between the Father and the Son.[1] This covenant is affirmed by the Holy Spirit who, in turn, empowered Christ to redeem a people for Himself. Thus, the pactum salutis is a covenantal agreement established within the Godhead “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4b). Next, the covenant of works is a divinely sanctioned relationship conditioned upon obedience which promises blessing and, conversely, provides curses for unfaithfulness.[2] Unfortunately, Adam—the federal head—brought forth death through disobedience and transmitted enmity between humanity and God (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). In the midst of brokenness and despair, God proclaimed what is called the protoevangelium or the first Gospel proclamation (cf. Gen. 3:15); that is, the Creator promised that “he shall bruise [the serpent’s] head and [the serpent] shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). This, fundamentally, introduces the covenant of grace which is the unconditional fulfillment of Christ to restore creation and bring forth eternal life for those who except and embrace the free gift of salvation.


The Noahic Covenant, then, is a covenant of preservation in order to ensure arrival and realization in the messianic seed.[3] The events of the Flood showcase two sides to the same coin in God's divine character. First, it speaks to the just-wrath of God which stands in opposition to the corruption and fallenness of this broken world (Gen. 6:5-7). Secondly, it conveys the steadfast love and mercy grounded in the Creator who brings about restoration and redemption for the world. The covenant, furthermore, provides common grace for the entirety of creation; that is, the covenantal Lord has established a “covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you” (Gen. 9:9; italics mine). Lastly, the covenant made with Noah embodies societal structure that grants preservation for the life of humanity. “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning; from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man” (Gen. 9:5-6). In effect, social and governmental networks are commissioned by God for the well-being and prosperity of life and family (cf. Gen. 9:1, 7). Civic institutions, then, are appointed for the betterment of humanity and are designed to safeguard the messianic seed of Christ (cf. Gen. 3:15).


Establishing a Kingdom:


The formation of civil networks produced in the progression of human history is found chronicled in the narrative of Babel (cf. Gen. 11:1-9). The people of the time conceded and said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (11:4; italics mine). The covenantal Lord confessed, “they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (11:6). The question, in turn, must be asked: what is inherently wrong with the unity amongst these people? Why does God disavow humanity’s potential?


The fundamental error in the unity found within the people of Babel was their anthropocentric aim and, consequently, their disobedience toward the command of God; that is, there was a blatant disregard to “be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:7). All of this, in turn, was to be done for the glory, fame, and renown of God. On the contrary, they neglected to disperse and sought to remain together for their own purposes. Thus, the unity that was built upon this faulty premise was as dangerous as the prospect of drinking poison for the sake of celebration. Their misguided unity became idolatrous and, in turn, resulted in a curse by the covenantal Lord.


A God-centered society, then, was placed in the hands of the covenantal Lord in which the end-product was the calling of Abram who was called out from the practice of paganism. That is, the Lord God called one out from among the moral chaos to be a beacon of hope in the aim of redemption. This movement, then, was the outworking of the covenant of grace to bring about salvation to the world. The Abrahamic covenant is a foundational and monumental event in the scope of the biblical storyline. What do we see in this covenant? Two centralizing imperatives: (1) “go” and (2) to “be.”


The Command to Go. In the brink of a broken society, God establishes an initial kingdom instituted through Abram for the redemptive purpose of the world. He will fashion a people out of Abram that will be His covenant community. The covenantal Lord calls Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house” (Gen. 12:1a; italics mine). That is, God is calling Abram to forfeit for himself the safety, security, and inheritance of his biological reign. Ultimately, God is commissioning Abram—humanly speaking—to commit suicide. In an epoch in which refuge, shelter, and sanctuary are enveloped through tribal and familial safeguards, the covenantal proposal is commissioned for Abram to place all of those assurances upon the Lord God Himself. Notice how the covenantal Lord conveys His active agency in the structural development in the pact with the notion of “I will;” that is, “I will show . . . I will make . . . I will bless” (12:1-2).


Thus, in the command to “Go,” three (3) central components are identified. First, the covenantal Lord provides a land (12:1b).[4] In the construct of a kingdom there is a geographical need for a monarch to have a place to dwell. This land, Canaan, is a recapitulation of the Edenic garden. The covenantal people will have a domain to reside and a sphere to govern. Secondly, a kingdom needs a people to rule. This people will be the vehicle by which the covenantal Lord will bring about His messianic seed. The people are under the reign and governance of the covenantal King Himself. Not only that, this people will provide the means by which multiplication will endure for the sake of witnessing to an unregenerate world. Thirdly, the renown of a kingdom is central to its rulership and prestige. The promise in making Abram’s name great counteracts Babel’s attempts to self-indulge in their idolatrous deeds. The greatness of Abram’s name, then, will be intrinsically tied to the greatness of God; that is, Abram’s fidelity will be attributed to the faithfulness of his covenantal Lord.


The Command to Be. In receiving the promises of the Creator God, Abram will become the conduit to which the covenantal Lord will restore and exceed the intended design of the created universe. The emphasis, then, is to bless all of creation through a covenantal establishment. Yet, what does it mean to bless? How does the biblical text speak of blessing throughout the narrative?


The first time we find the term blessed (heb. barak) is in the context of creation and, thus, is attributed to the charge to “[be] fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:22, 28). This statement is laced in the notion that God’s glory is tied to the miracle of life. John H. Sailhamer helpfully contends, “the notion of ‘blessings’ is appropriate because the blessing relates to the giving of life.”[5] This correlates with covenantal language which ties blessings to relational fidelity with the Creator Lord. Furthermore, Psalm 1:1-2 (italics mine) says,

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.

This blessing, then, which constitutes covenantal allegiance, will stretch out, according to the Abrahamic covenant, to “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3). The aim of calling Abram to be the father of Israel is, in turn, that he would be the father of faith for the entire world (cf. Rom. 4:9-12). To this end, the Lord God cut a covenant with Abram in accords to His redemptive aim in redeeming and restoring His created world back to Himself (Gen. 15:12-21).


A Covenant of Grace:


The outflow of covenant established with and through the person of Abram is a promise to bring about salvation through the messianic seed of Eve. The promise, then, embodies an established kingdom which will encompass a people who are called to reach the nations of the world. This ultimately will be accomplished through the mighty hand of the covenantal Lord who will not leave it to mere man but will actively pursue it in covenantal fidelity. That is, though the weaker party will be unfaithful to uphold their end of the bargain, the Lord God Himself will remain faithful in accords to His divine character and virtue.


Thus, the outworking of the Abrahamic covenant is personified in the work and Person of Christ. As the Apostle Paul conveys, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5; italics mine). The blessings, then, flowed to all tribes, tongues, and nations through Christ. It is in His redemptive work by fulfilling the covenant set in Abraham, “He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. . . So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Gal. 2:17, 19). To this end, the covenant of grace and the Abrahamic fulfillment reaches its climax through Christ Jesus in redeeming a people to Himself; all of which is done for the fame and renown of the covenantal Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] See J. V. Fesko. The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption. London, GB: Christian Focus Publication, 2016.

[2] See Thomas R. Schreiner, Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 19-29; Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ His Covenant & His Kingdom (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019), 59-77; Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 211-258.

[3] See Schreiner, Covenat and God’s Purpose for the World, 31-39; Renihan, The Mystery of Christ His Covenant & His Kingdom, 78-84; Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 179-209.

[4] See Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015.

[5] John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary, LBI (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 94.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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