Understanding God’s Everlasting Covenant
Covenant of Grace
The Abrahamic land grant is introduced in Genesis 12:1-3, expanded in Genesis 13:14-17, clarified and signified in Genesis 15. “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). “The Abrahamic covenant is not so labeled until Genesis 15:18. In this introit of Genesis 12:1-3, all of the elements of the covenant are present. It functions as a prelude, each motif given in succinct fashion, awaiting embellishment and enlargement in the subsequent texts. Interestingly, the whole covenant section begins with Abraham going to possess a granted parcel of land in a foreign country.”
“Then He said unto him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to assign this land to you as a possession.” This declaration forms the preamble to the promise that was to follow, identifying the Grantor and indicating His purpose. Just as with the covenant at Sinai, the preamble identifies Yahweh as the as the source of the blessings. When Abraham showed confusion regarding the “how” of the fulfillment of the promised of seed, Yahweh responded with a solemn oath to the patriarch (Genesis 15:1-21). “God contracts a solemn covenant with the patriarch, who becomes the passive beneficiary of His unilateral obligation, unconditionally assumed. It would seem that this form of covenant was modeled after the royal land-grant treaty common in the ancient Near East. By this instrument a king bestows a gift of land on an individual or vassal as a reward for loyal service. . . .For the first time in the history of religions, God becomes a contracting party, promising a national territory to a people yet unborn.” Through the making of this covenant, literally k-r-t berit, Yahweh assumes ful responsibility for the fulfillment of the covenant. “The cutting of the animals is thus a form of self-imprecation in which the potential violator invokes their fate upon himself. This is confirmed in the above-cited Sfire treaty, which included the following clause: ‘As this calf is cut up, thus Matti’el and his nobles shall be cut up.’ The fate of the animal is explicitly projected upon the violator. In the case of land- grant covenants, the curse would be directed against anyone who interferes with the realization of the suzerain’s promise.”
The Abrahamic covenant is a defining component of the Gospel, which is the promise of an everlasting possession and the righteousness to obtain it. “Do not forget as we proceed that the covenant and the promise are the same thing, and that it conveys land, even the whole earth made new, to Abraham and his children. Remember also that since only righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth, the promise included the making righteous of all who believe. This is done in Christ, in whom the promise is confirmed.” The promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 included the promise of posterity who would eventually inherit and occupy the land granted to Abraham. Through his posterity, Abraham would produce the promised Redeemer who would reverse the terrible state of affairs set in operation at the fall of Adam. “The promise to Abraham is seen as the embodiment of Yahweh’s plan of redemption. As such, its unilateral nature, initially seen in its affinity to the grant treaty, is all the more emphasized. The redemptive blessing to mankind is the ultimate promise and it is guaranteed as the gift of the King.”
It is the covenant with Abraham that forms the background for Paul’s discussion of the covenants in Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews. Abraham is portrayed as the father of the faithful; all who are Christ’s are heirs according to the promise given to Abraham; through Abraham’s posterity would come the Redeemer; and the covenant made with Abraham is contrasted with the covenant made at Sinai, which was a covenant of bondage. The New Testament writers focus on the covenant with Abraham as the embodiment of the Gospel’s message. “The New Testament writers do not leave us in doubt as to the identity of the one promise which they regard as summing up the hope of those who believe in Christ. They identify it for us as the promise that was made to Abraham when God called him, the promise that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed.”
The promise of redemption and restoration is the Bible’s overarching theme and the New Testament writers link it directly to the land grant covenant made with Abraham and restated with David. From the events of the birth of Christ to His death we find elements of the everlasting covenant portrayed clearly for us. When Zacharias prophesied Christ’s birth, he said that the Lord remembers “His holy covenant, the oath which He sware unto our father Abraham” … and He was “raising up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David” (Luke 1:69-73), thus uniting two iterations of the land grant covenant together in one Person. The apostle Paul repeatedly refers to the promise God gave to Abraham as being eternally operative and irrevocable, especially when witnessing to his brethren: “And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again” (Acts 13:32-33).
Paul told the Galatians that the covenant made at Sinai could not nullify the establishment of the eternal and everlasting covenant God and Christ had made with Abraham 430 years before. “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise” (Galatians 3:17-18). The inheritance comes to us only through God’s promise.
“The more one studies such utterances in their contexts, the more he sees the reason for the intense interest which the men of the New Testament take in the eternity and the immutabililty of the promise. They regard it as the charter of all the rights which they and their successors may possess as Christians. Further, they claim especially that the salvation of the gentiles through Christ comes under the promise. They make it emphatic that God’s promise to Abraham was for the nations, and therefore conveys title to the gentiles, under which they may receive the gospel. Paul says to the Galatians:— ‘And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, gave the gospel before unto Abraham, [saying], In thee shall all the nations be blessed’ (iii. 8).”
Christ must be the ground of our hope; for only through Him can we be heirs to eternal life. An immortal inheritance is presented to us on certain conditions. We cannot inherit a possession in this world unless we have a title that is without a flaw, and our right to an inheritance in the world to come, must also be clearly proved through a faultless title. The line through which the heavenly inheritance is to come is plainly revealed in the Word of God. We must come under the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant, and the requirements are, “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” If we are Christ’s, our title to the heavenly inheritance is without a flaw, and in harmony with the provisions of the covenant of grace. Through grace we shall be able to make our calling and election sure, putting on the excellency of Christ in spirit and character. No one will be entitled to the heavenly inheritance who has not been purified, refined, ennobled, and sanctified.
The promise to first given to Adam, then renewed to Abraham is the foundation of the everlasting covenant which contains the promise of righteousness, everlasting life, and an inheritance in the earth made new to all who will believe like their “father” Abraham (Romans 4:13-16; James 2:21-23, etc.). All blessings, whether in the present life or for all eternity, are found in Christ our Righteousness, who is the earnest or guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:3-14). “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is His name whereby He shall be called, THE Lord OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:5-6; see also 33:14-16). Our right to the promised inheritance comes only through the work of our Saviour. “The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven.”
Continuing with the parallels to the royal land grant we find that Genesis 13 bears resemblance to the surveying process of the grants, wherein the grantee was instructed to “walk about in the land through its length and breadth,” thus staking a literal claim on the land. Genesis 13:15 reflects the royal land grant element of perpetuity, and the building of an altar confirmed Abraham’s faith that the land was a gift from Yahweh (Genesis 12:7, 8; 13:18). “The proclamation of the gift of land in Genesis 15 is also styled according to the prevalent judicial pattern. In the gift-deed of Abba-El to Yarimlim we read: ‘On that day Abba-El gave the city . . .’ Similarly we read in Genesis 15:18: ‘On that day Yahweh concluded a covenant with Abraham saying: “To your offspring I give this land.”’ The phrase ‘on that day’ in these instances certainly had legal implications. The delineation of the borders and the specification of the granted territories in vv. 18-21 indeed constitute an important part of the documents of grant in the ancient Near East.” In the making of the k-r-t berit, “the principal party passes between the pieces. He is represented by the smoke and the fire, which are frequent symbols of the Divine Presence. As a legal document, the nature of the instrument of transfer is defined, its promissory clause is specified as concerning a grant of land, and the extent of the territory involved is delineated in geographic and ethnographic terms.”
Once the terms of the covenant are specified, a validating ceremony takes place. “Chapter fifteen of Genesis constitutes the covenant ratification ceremony. In it the promises of the covenant are restated, the land is specifically described by the natural landmarks and by naming the adjacent lands, and an oath ceremony is conducted. There are parallels to the grant treaty in each of these.” “It should be noted that in this covenant ratification, the land has played a dominate role. While the covenant includes other blessings, such as a great name, innumerable progeny, protection and general blessing, in the ceremony itself, the land-grant has all but eclipsed these promises. The reason seems clear—the author intends to cast the covenant in the tradition of the land-grant.”
Land Grant Defines the Everlasting Kingdom of David
When David had obtained peace in his kingdom, was blessed with wealth and children, he desired to more fully serve the Lord who had given him all these blessings. His resident prophet was close at hand and one day David inquired of him, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains.” (2 Samuel 7:2). It seemed highly inappropriate for God’s Shechinah glory to be roughing in a tent rather than having a formally constructed place of rest. David thought it appropriate for him to use Yahweh’s gifts to construct a permanent place for the ark of the covenant. However, God had other plans. David was not to be His architect and building contractor. Because David was a man of war, he was not allowed to build a sacred home for the ark of the covenant. That duty would fall on David’s future son, who would be a man of peace.
Though David was disappointed in his building plans, he was not discouraged with the remainder of Nathan’s prophecy. Through Nathan’s prophecy, Yahweh renewed His land grant covenant with His beloved servant, a “man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). When Nathan informed David of the details of his vision, he included a renewal of Jacob’s prophecy that “scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto Him shall all the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49:10). Nathan said “and the Lord telleth me that He will make thee an house. . .and thine house and they kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:11, 16). As with the promise given to Abraham, the term “house” includes the establishment of a family line that, as David’s descendants for generations to come, would continue to inherit the land of Israel. Even after the nation of Israel was divided, right up until the Babylonian captivity, the southern section remained under the rule of one of David’s offspring. Through Shiloh, the throne of David would be eternally established as the everlasting kingdom of Yahweh.
Instead of arguing with Nathan or Yahweh regarding the issue, David simply agreed with God’s plans. Like Abraham’s “amen” (see Genesis 15:6), David’s prayer is an acknowledgment of Yahweh’s sovereignty and righteous judgment in all things (2 Samuel 7:18-29). David was called a man after God’s own heart simply because his will was submitted , his heart was yielded, and his affections were fixed upon the promises of Yahweh—the covenant-keeping God. Such submission to the divine will foreshadowed that of David’s coming Son who, as Servant of mankind, would empty Himself of all self-will and self-centered motivations, humbling Himself, making Himself of no reputation, and becoming obedient to the divine will for the salvation of the human race (John 5:30; Philippians 2:6–8). Such heart-felt devotion and allegiance toward Yahweh is the hallmark of true faith which results in righteousness.
Since David was at peace in his realm, Yahweh only needed to renew His covenant promise regarding descendants and eternal dominion over the land. The covenant with Abraham was centered on land and seed (Genesis 12:1-3; and chapter 15); the renewal with David did the same (2 Samuel 7:11-16). Yahweh said: “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn unto David My servant, thy seed will I establish forever and build up thy throne to all generations.” (Psalm 89:3-4). The import of this sworn promise is the same as was given to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15), then to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; cf. Hebrews 6:16-18), that a “Seed” would come through whom all the earth would be blessed. Paul makes the same declaration that “to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy Seed, which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). For fulfillment, the promise required that a biological descendant of David would occupy his throne forever. In an unbroken line, Jesus traced His genealogy back through his mother, not only to David, but on to Judah and Abraham and then to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). Christ is the second Adam, fully qualified to be the nearest of kin for the whole human race. Thus we see that the everlasting covenant, which included the promise of land and the righteousness to possess it, was bound up with the promise of the coming Kinsman Redeemer who would ransom the lost possession from Satan, the wily usurper who stole Adam’s birthright from him. As King of kings, Jesus set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44).