FROM ABRAHAM TO MOSES
The Covenant God Made With Abraham
Although God created all things to exist in a state of blessedness, in Genesis 3 we see that Adam and Eve have brought a great curse upon the world. We saw that curse operating with full force in Gen. 4-11. At the end of the Bible what does John the apostle tell us will happen to the curse (Revelation 22:3)?
At the end of time God will destroy the curse to such an extent that we will once again live in a state of total blessedness. To emphasize this John pronounces not one, not 2, not 3, not 5, not 6, but rather 7 blessings upon God's people in the Book of Revelation. By pronouncing SEVEN blessings upon us (a divine number), John is saying that we will live in a state of perfect blessedness. By the end of Gen. 11 though with the incident at Babel the curse is fully operating. Although Jesus is the One who ultimately does away with the curse, God started destroying the curse before Jesus came to earth. The story of Abraham is so important because with Abraham God begins to destroy the great curse which has fallen upon mankind.
Why is Abraham so important? Abraham is so important not only because his life begins the destruction of the curse but also because the way Abraham was saved is the way we too are to be saved. Why is this statement true? Because according to Paul, Abraham is "the father of us all" (Rom. 4:16). God is going to make a promise to Abraham, not only to Abraham though, but to Abraham and to his children. Abraham sets the tone for what it means to be in a right relationship with God, that is, to be saved. The way he was saved is the way we too are saved.
(At the beginning of the story of Abraham, Moses calls him "Abram." Only later does God change his name to Abraham. For the purpose of simplicity we are just going to call him "Abraham" throughout the entire study.)
THE COVENANT (Gen. 12:1-3)
Before we look at the actual covenant God made with Abraham, we need to understand what the Bible means by "covenant." To put it simply, a covenant is a promise, or even better, it is a contract one person makes with another. We saw God making a covenant with Noah after the flood. Here God makes another covenant, this time with Abraham. This is THE great covenant/promise of the entire Bible.
Fill in the blanks to understand God's covenant with Abraham: "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will ___________ you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a __________ing; and I will _________ those who _________ you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be _________ed" (Gen. 12:1-3).
Look at the progression in this promise God made to Abraham. First God says that He is going to bless Abraham. Then God says that He is going to bless all the families of the earth "in" Abraham. In other words, God is going to use Abraham in order to bless all mankind, including us.
Throughout the story of Abraham, God develops this promise to Abraham. Gen. 15:1-6 in addition to Gen. 12:1-3 is monumental in the development of Christianity. In Gen. 12:1-3 God tells Abraham that He is going to make of him a great nation and that not only will God bless him but that he also will be a blessing to all peoples. Now if Abraham is going to be the head of a great nation, then he is going to have to have children. The nation Abraham was going to have was not going to be acquired through conquest but through the birth of sons, grandsons, and many more descendants. According to Gen. 15:1-2 what problem is Abraham facing which is preventing him from being the father of a great nation?
Because Abraham has no child, he has made Eliezer of Damascus his heir. According to Gen. 15:4 is Eliezer going to be Abraham's heir?
According to Gen. 15:4 Abraham's heir will come from where or better, from whom?
God then takes Abraham out beneath the starry sky and promises him what (Gen. 15:5)?
According to Gen. 15:6 how does Abraham respond to this promise?
How does God respond to Abraham's belief (Gen. 15:6)?
The clause "reckoned to him as righteousness" is a HUGE concept in the Bible; I cannot emphasize enough how important this concept is. This clause has behind it a banking image. It has the idea of a merchant or banker assigning a value to an object which is different from the object itself. For example, when Julia Motycka from Motycka's Gift Shop assigns to a basket of goodies the value of $50, the basket is not the $50. What it is and what its value is are 2 different things. Well, belief is not the same as righteousness, but God the Ultimate Banker has assigned the value of righteousness to our belief.
This system of being made righteous totally flies in the face of the way we think that people are made righteous. We think that people are righteous because they do righteous works. God doesn't operate that way because He knows that that kind of system will never produce a righteous person. Neither does He tweak the system. He doesn't say, "OK, I will declare that the person who does righteous deeds 51% of the time will be declared righteous," or "I will declare the person who does righteous deeds 30% of the time righteous." Instead, God scraps this system of righteousness and replaces it with the one in which faith is given the value of righteousness.
Someone asked me recently how Noah could be called righteous since he later got drunk and exposed himself after the experience of the flood and the ark. That question is based upon the idea that righteous deeds are what make a person righteous. Most people do view righteousness that way. To be honest though, if that is the way we determine who is righteous, then nobody is righteous, even the person who becomes a Christian. According to Heb. 11:7 Noah was declared righteous for the same reason Abraham was--he believed God. He believed God to such an extent that he built an ark after God told him to. Building the ark did not make him righteous; believing God is what God says made Noah AND Abraham righteous. (Although we are going to want to do righteous deeds, this concept really relieves us of a lot of pressure.)
Faith/belief is the key characteristic of Abraham. Abraham's faith is such a vital part of him that the NT calls him "Abraham, the ____________________" (Gal. 3:9).
Just how serious is God about His promise (covenant) to Abraham? When Abraham asks God how he could be sure that God meant to keep His promise, what does God order Abraham to do in Gen. 15:9-10?
God then further elaborates on His promise to Abraham. What else does God promise Abraham in Gen. 15:13-17?
God now appears to Abraham as a smoking oven. To show Abraham that He meant business, what did God do next (Gen. 15:17)? Why do you think God did this?
God passed between the animals which had been cut into 2 pieces as if to say that if He broke His promise to Abraham and to his descendant[s], then He would inflict the same fate upon Himself that He inflicted upon these animals. Now that is serious.
Gen. 17:7 continues the development of the covenant God made with Abraham. According to Gen. 17:7 God made the covenant not only with Abraham but also with whom? (Do not write down the word "descendants." That word violates what God is doing here. If your translation says "descendants," look either in the margin of your Bible or in the King James Version to find a better translation of this word.)
THROUGH THE EYES OF THE APOSTLES
The concept of blessing and especially the concept of the blessing of Abraham are important terms for the apostle Paul. Galatians and Romans basically describe the way a person is saved, that is, the way a person comes into a RIGHT relationship with God. He claims that if we try to become righteous by keeping the Law, then what will fall upon us: "__________________ is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law" (Gal. 3:10).
By living a perfect, sinless life Christ can take our curse upon Him when He dies upon the cross. When we accept by faith what Jesus did for us on the cross, what do we receive: "in order that in Christ Jesus the ____________ of _____________ might come to the Gentiles" (Gal. 3:14). This blessing of Abraham is nothing less than another way of speaking about the salvation Jesus has purchased for us on the cross.
Paul states over and over again that the only way a person can receive this blessing/salvation of Abraham is by receiving it the same way Abraham did--by faith. Unfortunately, many have changed what Paul means by faith. For Paul faith is believing and accepting; for others faith is really faithfulness. Although my faith will make me faithful, there is a radical difference between faith and faithfulness. For example, our Church of Christ and Catholic brothers believe our faithfulness saves us. The first group says you must be baptized in addition to believing in Jesus if you are going to be saved. The Catholics add confirmation, the Lord's Supper, marriage or monastery vows, confession, and the Last Rites. Yes, they believe that Jesus' death on the cross is necessary to our salvation; however, they also assert that we must be faithful in keeping this rites if we are going to be saved.
The only problem with this is that this is NOT the way Abraham was saved, that is, made right with God. All Gen. 15:6 says is that Abraham BELIEVED God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. It doesn't say that Abraham believed God and was baptized, or believed and perform the 7 sacraments, or believed and attended church, or believed and tithed. All it says is that Abraham believed God and God THEN declared him to be righteous.
"Ah," you might say, "but baptism was not around when Abraham was saved." So. According to Paul there is only ONE God, that is, He is consistent. He's not schizophrenic saving some people one way and another people another way (see Romans 3:30). The only way any man has ever been declared right with God is by his faith (see Heb. 11:1-40).
God did not make this covenant/promise of blessing with Abraham alone. Fill in the blanks to find out with whom else God made the covenant: "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your _________________ after you . . . (Gen. 17:7). (If you wrote down the word "descendants," you need to look again, especially in the margin of your Bible to see what word Moses literally uses). According to Paul how many persons make up the "seed" (Gal. 3:16)?
According to Paul who is this seed (Gal. 3:16)?
Too often when you ask somebody what was the difference between Abraham's faith and our faith, that person will respond: "Whereas Abraham believed in God, we believe in Jesus." On the surface that answer might seem right. The only problem is that it contradicts what Jesus said. When Jesus is engaged in a conflict between Himself and the Jewish religious leaders (John 8:12-59), the Jewish religious leaders begin to get agitated because they believe that Jesus is making some pretty heady claims for Himself. In fact they ask Him if He thinks He is greater than Abraham. To this Jesus outlines His relationship to Abraham: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and HE SAW IT, and was glad" (John 8:56). According to Jesus Abraham was looking for the coming of Jesus. Acts 7: and Gen. 12-21 inform us that not once did Abraham inherit a single foot of land in Canaan, the Promised Land. Why then did Abraham follow God? He followed God for the sake of his seed, that one ancestor God was going to use to bless the world. Although Abraham did not know all there was to know about this Person who was coming, we know that this Person was none other than Jesus. Whereas we look back to Christ's first coming, Abraham looked forward to Jesus' coming.
When you understand that this blessing is related strictly to Abraham AND Christ, you begin to understand how much more meaningful the beatitudes are in the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus 9x says that His followers are blessed, He is not saying primarily that we are "happy" creatures. Rather He is saying that God's promise to Abraham is coming true. The curse is in the process of being broken. The blessing is now coming in full force.
Since God made the covenant/promise only with Abraham and Jesus, I must be rightly related to one of them if I am going to receive the blessing. Since Abraham is dead, that leaves only Jesus. If I am going to receive the blessing, then I must be rightly related to Jesus, and the only way to be rightly related to Him is for me to trust Him as Lord and Savior.
If I don't receive the blessing God is offering me in Jesus, then all I have left is the curse. The choice is mine--Jesus and the blessing, or no Jesus and the curse. The choice is that simple. The blessing/salvation is found nowhere else (Acts 4:12); it is found only in Jesus.