Thursday, January 6, 2011

God's Covenant with Abraham


Morning Reading - Genesis 15-17
Evening Reading - Matthew 5:27-48

This morning we arrive at Genesis 15 and the establishment of God's covenant relationship with Abram and his descendents. The promise given to Abram is one of both progeny and land. First, God promises that Abraham's decendants will be more numerous than the stars of the sky. As we have noted before, Matthew's geneology of Jesus is traced back to Abram. Second, the covenant includes the promise of land, which Abram's descendents will inherit. As we will see, God will call Moses to lead the people of Israel into this promised land, the land sworn to Abram.

One of the key verses in this passage is Genesis 15:6, "So Abram believed the Lord and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness." New Testament writers such as Paul and James will use this verse to demonstrate that we are made righteous by faith, not by works of the law (see Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23). They point out that the covenant of circumcision has not yet been implemented and yet Abram is still counted as righteous because of his faith and trust in God's promises. Therefore, Abram, as the forerunner of our faith, establishes the pattern of justification (being made righeous before God) by faith alone.

In Genesis 17, the Lord changes Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah. As one biblical scholar observes, "the name changes of the ancestors to Abraham and Sarah imply both the authority of the giver of the name and the new destiny or mission indicated by the new name." So, by changing Abram's name to Abraham, the Lord claims Abraham as his own. Likewise, the Lord gives Abraham a new mission, namely to be the "father of many nations," which is the very meaning of the name Abraham.

Finally, a word about covenants. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew idiom for establishing a covenant is to "cut a covenant," which implies that a covenant requires sacrifice. Therefore, in Genesis 15, we find that Abram cuts the animals in half and the Lord passes through the carcasses. In Genesis 17, we find that the cutting of the covenant is connected to the act of circumcision (ouch!).

The covenant between God and Abraham is an extremely important part of our journey through the Bible, because it is through the descendants of Abraham that God's purposes are accomplished and ultimately the Messiah, the Christ, is born.

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