When my two oldest sons were quite young, we use to visit my mom and dad, who lived within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. My folks had retired to a quaint little town called New Smyrna Beach, which back then, was a sleepy little treasure, ideal for family gatherings and fun experiences in the sun and beautiful saltwater surf. Choosing this beach town to settle down in retirement was a bit of a returning to roots for my parents because they had, many years past, once lived just an hour or so from this very beach. We would often go there as a family in those years when I was growing up. As such, my brothers and I knew the beach and its charms very well. The beach is such a special part of my personal history that I found myself eager and excited to share that part of me with my own boys when the opportunity came.
One of the cool things to do at the beach is to ride the waves on blowup rafts. My boyhood memories of catching waves are full of unlimited exhilaration! We never tired of the surf! We would literally stay in the water for hours on end, exhausting ourselves in an athletic arena of sun and churning water. So, it was no surprise to me upon my revisit to the beach as a young father, to see my boys follow suit and take to the surf as if born for it.
On one particular day, I was there in the water with both sons. They were both wildly participating in wave-catching mania on the shore break, which made for catchable, but small waves. Further out, there stood a sand bar that was producing much larger and more perfectly ridable waves. I suggested we move out to the sand bar and enhance the riding all the more. I did so because I knew it was not only safe but eminently worth it! I had done it countless times when I was their age. I was surprised at the response to my suggestion. Both sons were hesitant because there was deep and mysterious water to traverse between us and the sand bar. Understandably, there were trepidations of the unknown. A conversation ensued wherein I sought to sell them on the idea. In a sense, I put all my credibility on the line in this pivotal parental moment. I was asking them to trust me to an extent they perhaps had not had to consider before. I asked them to go, by faith, because I would be with them and my motivations were to bring blessing and love and not harm.
Well, to cut to the chase, one took me up on the idea, and the other left the beach in tears. We have all since resolved all of this by God's grace, but I never forgot the moment. I was pierced through the heart that one of my sons would choose fear over faith in me. It hurt me, and by his own admission, it hurt him back in that fateful moment.
I think we do this with God more than we realize, do we not? Last week my blog topic was the Noahic Covenant, and in that blog, I promised a few weeks of on covenant teachings in Scripture. This week’s focus is on the Abrahamic Covenant.
The foundation of the Abrahamic Covenant is found in Genesis 12:1–3. A man named Abram was given a faith challenge. God asked him to leave his home, with his kindred, and go to a land God would show him. With that faith challenge came God's promises. God promised to make Abram a great nation, bless him, make his name great, bless those who would bless him and curse those who would dishonor him. Moreover, through Abram, God promised to bless all the families of the earth. However, unlike the Noahic Covenant, which was unconditional, this covenant foundation was conditional on Abram’s faith to “go.”
The mysterious making of the Abrahamic Covenant between God and Abram unfolded in Genesis 15:1–21. After Abram’s sojourning in Egypt and conflict with the kings, “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.” At God’s appointed time, Abram—obedient and willing—was shown God’s plan for his offspring to suffer and sojourn through centuries before receiving promised land. The land’s location and boundaries were even described in precise detail. This, of course, was the vision of the Nation of Israel to come who would suffer as slaves in Egypt, be rescued by Yahweh in a miraculous deliverance, and be given Canaan to conquer—all of which we know came to pass in every specific detail.
Then, in the dark, God symbolically sealed the covenant by means of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch that passed between the halves of animals and bodies of birds that Abram had explicitly been instructed to prepare. Pot and torch represented God alone passing through the sacrificed halves, emphasizing His total sovereignty over the covenant and His commitment to keep it regardless of future unbelief on the part of Abram’s descendants.
Genesis 17:1–14 narrates the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, male circumcision. The Lord appeared to Abram when he was ninety-nine years old, expressing His desire to multiply him greatly as the father of nations. Abram was also given a new name, Abraham, and God again affirmed the promise of land—Canaan—to his seed, adding it would be everlastingly theirs. But in this encounter, God also promised Himself, expressing His amazing heart to fellowship with men: “I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8). Specific instructions were then given regarding male circumcision to express the sign, in human flesh, of God’s everlasting covenant commitment.
Genesis 18:17–19 later affirmed God’s purpose in the Abrahamic Covenant with another supernatural visitation in the context of the miraculous promise of a son to aged Abraham and Sarah and Sodom’s impending doom. Here God made clear He chose Abraham to lead in a manner that faith-induced near and long-term righteousness and justice would further on result. This result was “so that” God deliver on His promises to Abraham as an example to all men.
The importance God places on reward for obedience rooted in faith in the covenant relationship unfolds further on in Genesis 22:15–18. Abrahams’s extraordinary trust seen in the wielding of his knife over his precious son, Isaac, was marvelously and symbolically rewarded. God reaffirmed previous promises using the language of "blessing." There was also a new commitment by God regarding the future possessing of the gates of his enemies, which is considered a Messianic promise and prophesy.
Finally, God proves Himself faithful and reaffirming throughout the remainder of the genesis narrative with specific and powerful confirmations of the permanence of the Abrahamic Covenant to Abraham’s seed—Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—as found in Genesis 26:2–5, 23–25; 28:10–17; 35:9–12; and 50:24. God is a promise keeper.
The Noahic and Abrahamic covenants reveal a transcendent God whose grace is ever on display even as He justly punishes. God expresses His heart, He conveys blessings, He draws crucial boundaries, and He advances His purposes completely within the context of His covenants with men in Genesis.
Hebrews 11:17–19 offers a post-cross-of-Jesus take on Abraham’s faith and God’s faithfulness within the Abrahamic Covenant:
By faith, Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, so he did receive Isaac back from death in a manner of speaking. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
We know the amazing truth that we receive Jesus back from the dead in a manner that meets our most profound need, the forgiveness of sins. We have a loving, gracious, redeeming, powerful, righteous, holy, and perfect God! Respond to Him in faith today and always!