The 4,000 year-old story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as told in Genesis 12-35, sheds much light on the answer to that question.
What do these chapters teach me about God?
God is the great Covenant Maker and Promise Keeper.
In Genesis 3 God promises that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. In the rest of the Bible we see the fulfillment of that promise, beginning with Genesis 12-35 and the promises God makes to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
God first pronounces the so-called “Abrahamic Covenant” in Genesis 12:2-3. Here we read that God says to Abraham,
“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 peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God repeats and expands this promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 and 17.
“Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (15:5).
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates” (15:18).
“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 descendants 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 now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God” (17:3-8).
After demonstrating his willingness to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, God repeats the covenant again:
“Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:16-18).
After Abraham dies, God gives the same promise to Isaac in Genesis 26.
The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (26:2-4).
God then repeats the same promise to Jacob in Genesis 28 and 35.
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).
And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you” (Genesis 35:11-12).
Throughout the Bible, the concept of “covenant” is a rich one, filled with much meaning and significance. It is essentially a promise, an oath, or an agreement made between two parties. A covenant can exist between two equal parties (such as the marriage covenant) or between a greater and a lesser (such as God’s covenant with Abraham). The greater party makes a binding commitment to bless the lesser.
We see this throughout the Genesis 12-35. God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a promise of many things, including:
- The land of Canaan
- A great nation of countless descendants
- The blessing of God’s favor and protection
- The blessing of being the channel through which God blesses the whole world
And so we see God as the great Covenant Maker. He binds himself irrevocably to the fulfillment of these promises. Nothing can stop God from accomplishing what He intends to do for and through Abraham’s seed.
God makes many promises in the Bible. In a sense, they are all the outgrowth of the one promise to the serpent (Genesis 3:15) and the multiple promises to Abraham/Isaac/Jacob (Genesis 12, 15, 17, 26, 28, 35).
This is why it’s so important to read the Bible with the understanding that we are reading God’s One Big Story – the story of what God has done to implement His plan to destroy Satan and save the world from sin. God’s plan of salvation is the keeping of His promises.
The Bible is the story of God’s wonderful acts to make good on His promise to defeat the Evil One through the seed of the woman. The meaning of Genesis 3:15 is made significantly clearer through the Abrahamic covenant. Now we know more specifically how God is going to pull this off. He is going to bless the whole world through the line of Abraham, Isaac (not Ishmael) and Jacob (not Esau).
Ultimately, God’s dual promise to destroy the devil through the offspring of Eve and to bless the world though Abraham are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This is made clear by Paul in Galatians 3:8, one of the most important verses in the Bible:
Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” God’s promise of blessing through Abraham was the pronouncement of the gospel of Jesus Christ! What a glorious statement!
How is the Abrahamic covenant an announcement of the Good News? Simply this: only through faith in the Son of God can the nations of the world receive God’s ultimate blessing of a restored relationship with Him via forgiveness of sin and the removal of His wrath.
Even though we have sinned and stand guilty before Him, God declares us righteous in His sight. He “justifies” us, pronouncing us “not guilty.” We are acquitted of our crimes because Jesus has received our punishment by dying on the cross, thereby satisfying God’s justice, absorbing God’s wrath, and enabling us to enter into the presence of God with a clean slate.
This is the meaning of God’s promise to bless the whole world through the seed of Abraham. Thanks be to God for making this covenant and keeping His promises!
How should I then live?
I must praise God every day for His wonderful covenant-making, promise-keeping faithfulness.
God’s commitment to the fulfillment of His promise to the patriarchs gives me a glorious reason to sing the words of Psalm 105:
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts. (v. 1-2)
And what has God done? What are his wonderful acts?
He is the Lord our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
He remembers his covenant forever,
the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac.
He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
“To you I will give the land of Canaan
as the portion you will inherit.” (v. 7-11)
God gave the land of Canaan to Israel so that one day, in the little town of Bethlehem, a Savior would be born for us. “He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
I must have the global focus of God.
God’s passion has always been to bless “all people on earth” (Genesis 12:3). He chose Abraham so that the whole world would benefit from that choice.
When God repeated the promise to Isaac, again we see the universal love of God: “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 26:4). And likewise to Jacob, God said, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 28:14).
The “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:18-20 finds it roots in the Abrahamic covenant. From the beginning God has desired the salvation of all nations. He blessed the Jews so that the whole world would be blessed.
“He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:14).
God saved me so that I can become part of this plan to save others. Oh, may I not keep the Bread of Life to myself! Because I have received much, I must give much. This motivates me to share the Good News of the gospel wherever I go.
Psalm 105:5 instructs me to “Remember the wonders he has done.”
By remembering what God has done in the past, I increase my awareness of what He continues to do today.
Do you ever ask yourself, “What in the world is God doing?” The Abrahamic covenant answers that question. Today God continues to keep the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Every day God is saving people from every nation and bringing them into His family, the church. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).
What is Jesus doing today? Exactly what He said He would do 2,000 years ago: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). And this statement, like the Great Commission, is the outworking of the oath God made in Genesis to bless all peoples on earth through Abraham.
In the hustle and bustle of life, we would do well to remember that this is our Father’s world. He made it; He owns it; and He is in control of it, even when it appears otherwise. Every day, whether we realize it or not, He is keeping His covenant with Abraham by calling people from every tribe, tongue and nation to join the family of God.
Let’s never forget to remember what God is doing in the world today. We remember His covenant because He remembers His covenant:
“Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles and the judgments he pronounced . . . He remembers his covenant forever . . . the covenant he made with Abraham” (Psalm 105:5, 8, 9).
Oh, God, please help me to stay focused on what you are focused on – the keeping of your promise to Abraham, via the salvation of sinners, for the glory of King Jesus.
NOTE: This post is part of a series prompted by my desire to read through the Bible over the next two years (Old Testament in 2016 and New Testament in 2017). For more information on this Bible Reading Plan, Click Here. To check out our Facebook group devoted to this endeavor, Click Here.