What is the Relationship Between Each of the Four Main Covenants? Part 1: Abrahamic Covenant

Abrahamic Covenant

The Abrahamic Covenant is defined as “God’s promise to the first patriarch, Abraham, which functions as the basis for Israel’s covenant with Yahweh.”[1] The covenant starts out as promises from God to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3:

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘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 bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’” (NASB95)

The main promises God gives to Abraham are a land, making of him a great nation (seed) and a blessing. These promises are ratified and made into a covenant in Genesis 15:1-21:

“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.’ Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.’ Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. And He said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.’ He said, ‘O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?’ So He said to him, ‘Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. ‘But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. ‘As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. ‘Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.’ It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.’” (NASB95)

“In the solemn ceremony in which the Lord made a binding covenant with Abram, God assured him of the ultimate fulfillment of His promises (vv. 7, 18–21).”[2]

This is an everlasting, unilateral and unconditional covenant; meaning there is no expiration date for the blessings. The covenant was ratified while Abraham was asleep, thus it rests entirely on the sovereignty of God. Charles Ryrie explains it this way: “By passing alone between the pieces of the animals, God (whose presence was evident by the fire and smoke; cf. Ex. 13:21) swore fidelity to His promises and placed the obligation for their fulfillment on Himself alone.”[3] Furthermore, God gave Abraham no conditions for the covenant to be fulfilled. However, there were conditional blessings (conditioned upon obedience) that will be discussed later.

“It becomes apparent throughout Scripture that the history of Israel and God’s dealing with Abraham’s descendants is founded and built on the Abrahamic Covenant.”[4] In a sense, Dwight Pentecost is saying this covenant becomes a foundation and starting point for the following Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenants. Each of these covenants build off the Abrahamic Covenant in different and distinct ways.

[1] C.E. Shepherd, “Abrahamic Covenant,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[2] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty 2 Volumes Old & New Testament, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 55.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie NAS Study Bible Genuine Leather Black Red Letter (Ryrie Study Bibles 2012) (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011), 20.

[4] J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program and Covenant Promises Throughout History (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1995), 72.

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