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The Abrahamic Covenant And Prophetic History

Part 1

 

Introduction

 

Abraham is an important man in history.  Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all claim close association with him.  What I say about Abraham, and especially God's promises spoken to him, may be a bit technical for some people, but it's important if you want to understand the message of both the Old and New Testament.  God's promises to Abraham are first seen in Genesis 12, then thread their way to the last chapter of Revelation. 

 

What God promised Abraham is commonly known as the "Abrahamic Covenant".  When properly understood, these promises are the basis to a good understanding of the Bible, and  especially to Israel's place in Biblical prophecy.  You may or may not agree with my position.  That's your prerogative.  The debate over this issue has been raging a long time and is presently in the forefront of debates again.  I certainly won't end the debate.  So as the apostle Paul said, "consider what I say and the Lord give you the understanding in all things (2 Timothy 2:7)."  

 

The term "Replacement Theology" is important to the discussion concerning the "Abrahamic Covenant".   Replacement Theology teaches that all the promises that God spoke to Abraham, and subsequently to Israel, and confirmed throughout the Old Testament, are no longer promised to Israel.  They are promised to the church.  Thus, the church has replaced Israel in the prophetic history of the Bible.  All the prophetic promises directed towards Israel in the Old Testament are seen as being directed towards the church.

Replacement Theologians thus understand the Old Testament prophecies in a way that those Israelis living during the Old Testament wouldn't have understood them.  

To be clear, I do not believe in Replacement Theology, and will show you why in the following pages.  In my opinion, the whole debate over Israel's place in prophecy hinges on how we understand the "Abrahamic Covenant".

 

 

What Did God Promise Abraham?

 

I'll quote what God promised Abraham from the NIV.   Reading these passages will refresh your memory. 

 

Before I begin, I need to say a couple of things.  Paul, in Galatians 3:16 speaks of  "promises" God made to Abraham.  It's important to know that God promised Abraham more than one thing, and on more than one occasion.  Paul addresses many of these promises separately throughout his writings, and so should we.  We tend to lump them all together into some sloppy soupy mix that is hard to swallow.   

 

You'll notice the word "offspring" that appears in certain verses in the NIV.  The KJV uses the word "seed" instead of "offspring".  Both words mean the same thing in the context that they are used.  Paul builds a major argument on the fact that the word  "seed" is singular and not plural.  For this reason I've placed the word "seed" in brackets after each time the word "offspring" occurs.   

 

You'll also notice the word "descendents", that's plural, not singular.  If you consider what Paul says, the word "descendents" differs in meaning from the words "offspring" or "seed" which are singular.  This has led to much confusion.  I'll talk about that later.  

 

Here are the promises God made to Abraham in the order in which they occur in Genesis.

 

"I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you."  (Genesis 12:2 and 3)

 

"To your offspring (seed) I will give this land." (Genesis 12:7)

 

" look north to south, and east to west.  All the land you see will be given to you and your offspring (seed) forever." (Genesis 13:14 and 15)  

 

"This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir   Look up at the heavens and count the stars, if indeed you can count them So shall your offspring (seed) be ...  I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land and take possession of it." (Genesis 15:4 to 8).

 

" your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions  you however will go to your fathers in peace " (Genesis 15:13 and 14)

 

"On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham and said, 'to your descendents I will give this land. From the river of Egypt to the great river - the Euphrates " (Genesis 15:18)

 

"I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers As for me, this is my covenant with you: you will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you and kings will come from you.  I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendents after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendents after you, and I will be their God." (Genesis 17:3 to 8)

 

"God said your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendents after him my covenant I will establish with Isaac " (Genesis 17:19 to 22)

 

"I will surely return to you this time next year, and your wife Sarah will have a son." (Genesis 18:10, also in verse 14)

 

"Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation and all nations of the earth will be blessed through him " (Genesis 17:17 and 18)

 

 " it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." (Genesis 21:12)

 

"I will surely bless you and make your descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.  Your descendents will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring (seed) all nations on the earth will be blessed " (Genesis 21:17 and 18)

     

There they are.  Hopefully I can clarify any confusion.     

                              

 

Summing Up The Promises  

 

I count 13 main promises God made to Abraham.  There's a few more minor ones.  I've placed them in three categories.  

 

Category 1 - Personal promises

 

God promised Abraham:
1 - that he'd have a son through Sarah
     (Genesis 15:4 to 8, 17:19 to 22, 18:10 and 14)

2 - that it would be through Isaac that his offspring or
      seed would be reckoned (Genesis 21:12)

3 - that he'd be a great nation (Genesis 12:2 and 3)

4 - that he'd be the father of many nations, not just
     one nation (Genesis 17:3 to 8)

5 - that these promises would be forever and that He'd
      be the God of his descendents forever (Genesis 17:3
      to 8, 13:14 and 15, 17:19 to 22)

6 that he'd die in peace at an old age (Genesis 15:15)

 

Category 2 - Promises relating to Abraham's descendents

 

God promised Abraham:

7 - that the number of his descendents would be as
     the stars in the sky and sand in the sea
     (Genesis 21:17 and 18) 

8 - that his descendents would inherit a specific piece of
      property (Genesis 15:18)

9 - that his descendents would be freed from four
     hundred years of  slavery (Genesis 15:13 and 14)

10 - that his descendents would possess the cities
       of  their enemies (Genesis 22:17 to 18)

 

Category 3 - Promises relating to Abraham's offspring or seed

 

God promised;

11 - a certain piece of land to Abraham's offspring that
       would be forever (Genesis 12:7, and 13:14 and 15)

12 - that his offspring would number as many as the
       stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:4 to 8)

13 - that all nations of the earth would be blessed
       through his offspring, or seed  (Genesis 21:17
       and 18, 12:2 and 3)

 

There you go, specific promises in three categories. You will notice that promises relating to land, numbers, and greatness are promised to both Abraham's descendents and also to his offspring.  This is important because Paul teaches us that descendents are not the same as offspring.  I'll explain later.  

 

To sum up, God promised Abraham certain things relating to personal issues, descendents issues, and offspring or seed issues.   

 

"Zera" The Seed

 

There is an important point that I have to address before I go any farther.  I have just said that there are 3 recipients to the Abrahamic Covenant.  I say this based on the NIV Bible.  If you read the KJV Bible, you will note that there are only two recipients to the Abrahamic Covenant.  They are Abraham and his Seed.  This is an important issue because this is where our present day problem lies, or so I believe.  

 

I will explain the 2 major theological issues that concern the Abrahamic Covenant.  One say there are 2 recipients of the covenant while the other states there are 3 recipients.  When I come to explaining Galatians 3:15 to 18 where Paul says there are 2 recipients of the covenant, this becomes an issue.

 

The Hebrew word "zera" is the word in the Genesis account that is translated as "seed", or as "descendents" in the NIV.  The KJV only translates "zera" as "seed".  It does not translate "zera" as "descendents anywhere in the Genesis account.  Why would this be so. 

 

First of all, it is clear the NIV translators translated "zera" in some places as "seed" (singular) and in other places as "descendents" (plural) because of the context.  Simply put, they felt the context made it clear that "zera" should be singular in certain places and plural in other places, and when it was plural, that would refer to Israel.  When it was singular, as we will see later in Galatians 3:15 to 18 it is Jesus.  Some might suggest that they NIV translators had a theological bias, and I cannot discount that, but I am far from convinced that is so.  

I suggest that the KJV translators had a bias and did not translate "zera" as "descendents" because that would have recognized Israel as having prophetic and historic significance right up until the end of this age, and most theologians back then did not believe that.  There was very much an anti-Israel bias throughout church history. 

 

So, depending on what translation of the Bible you prefer, might well determine what theological position you will hold to.

 

I do want to make this note.  Even though Paul stresses the point that the word "seed" is singular in Galatians 3:16, it is clear that he sees the same word "seed" as plural in Galatians 3:29.  This then shows us that there were in fact 3 recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant.  So, in my thinking, the NIV translators have done a better job at translating "zera" into English than the KJV translators did.                    

 

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