Abraham – The Covenant (Notes)

(Genesis 15, Romans 4, Galatians 3)

One of the chief ways in which the church reads Scripture and understands God’s relationship with humanity is through the various covenants by or between God and specific individuals. This method of reading and understanding scripture is called “covenant theology.” In the Old Testament (the word “testament” being the KJV’s use of the word “covenant”) there are five primary covenants:

  • Adam (God will punish the serpent through the seed of Adam, Genesis 3),
  • Noah (God won’t destroy all of humanity again, Genesis 8-9),
  • Abraham (see below),
  • Moses (obey my commandments and live long in the land, Deuteronomy), and
  • David (his lineage shall rule forever, 2 Samuel 7).

All of these covenants are fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. (After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Luke 22:20. BCP 363. The New Covenant is not a different covenant than the Old Covenants, but the New Covenant fulfills the Old Covenants in the same way that a Deed is the fulfillment of a Contract of Sale.

This week, we are reading about God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. It is this covenant – the promises made by God to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 and 15:1-7 and Abram’s acceptance of those promises by faith – that forms the foundation of Paul’s Gospel message. This message is that 1) God reckoned Abraham righteous by his faith and not by his obedience to the Law (which had not yet been given) and 2) that all the families of the earth – the blood descendants of Abraham (the Jews) and the spiritual descendant of Abraham (the faithful Gentiles) – will partake of God’s blessing. Paul will use the covenant with Abraham to argue against the Jewish Christians who asserted that a person must be Jewish first (such as undergoing circumcision and be obedient to the various Jewish laws) in order to be a Christian.

To gain the historical sense of Abraham’s covenant, please re-read Genesis 12:1-3 and read all of Genesis 15. Also, to have a better understanding concerning the making of covenants in the ancient Near East please read Jeremiah 34:6-24 and pages 103-05 in the attached except from Kugel’s How to Read the Bible. These additional readings are not required but will give you a deeper understanding of what is occurring in Genesis 15.

To understand Paul’s use of the covenant as the foundation of the gospel which he preached, please read Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 and Galatians 3:6-14, 25-29. In these verses, Paul doesn’t use the covenant as merely an example of the new covenant; rather Paul sees the promises made to Abraham as being fulfilled in Christ and his Church. In other words, for Paul, it isn’t that God makes a covenant with his people through Abraham and in the same way God makes a covenant with his people through Jesus; rather these covenants are the same covenant.

As you read through Genesis, think about these questions:

  • In Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 15, what are the promises made to Abraham by God?
  • How to the promises of Chapter 15 relate back to the story of Abraham and Melchezidek? (Remember that Biblical Hebrew doesn’t contain chapters, verses, paragraphs, punctuation, or spaces so in the original there is no separation between these two passages.)
  • In 15:1, God says he is Abraham’s shield. According to Psalm 91:4 (which we sometimes read at Compline) what is “God’s shield”?
  • What is Abraham’s initial response to God’s vision? Is that response typical? (see Exodus 4:1, 10, Isaiah 6:5, Luke 1:30).
  • God called Abraham from the astrologically-minded Chaldeans. Why is it significant that God uses the stars as an example of Abraham’s descendants?
  • Verse 6 says Abraham “believed the Lord.” Is there a difference in “believing God” and “believing in God”? How is this related to God’s promises that he is Abraham’s shield?
  • What does it mean to be righteous? Can a person be “righteous” by believing in God?
  • How does verse 7 relate back to Chapter 12?
  • Does Abraham’s faithfulness start to waiver in verse 8? Do you agree with Kugel’s analysis that Abraham is asking for the modern equivalent of getting God’s promise in writing?
  • Is there any Trinitarian foreshadowing in God’s request that Abraham bring him three animals each three years old?
  • According to Kugel and Jeremiah 34:18-20, what is the significance of cutting the animals in two?
  • What does it mean in verse 12 that a “dread and great darkness” fell upon Abraham?
  • Who is the “smoking pot and flaming torch”? (See Exodus 13:21-22)

As you read through Romans and Galatians, think about:

  • In Romans 4, how does Paul see God’s promises to Abraham? Does Paul see the promises made to Abraham as an example of God’s promises or something more?
  • In Romans 4:1-4, what is the purpose of Paul’s discussion of whether Abraham was justified by works or not? If Abraham was not called by God on account of his works, then why was he called?
  • In verse 13, how does Paul reword the promise to Abraham? What is the effect of this rewording?
  • In Galatians 3, who does Paul say are the descendants of Abraham (who are more numerous than the stars)?
  • Who are the recipients of the promises made to Abraham?
  • If our salvation lies in God’s promises to Abraham, what does it mean to “get saved”?
  • What is the purpose of the Cross in verse 14?
  • In the covenant in Genesis 15, there are three parts: the promise (v.7), the delay (vv.13-14), and the ultimate fulfillment (v.6). The person who ultimately fulfills the covenant is Joshua (“Jesus” being the Aramaic form of “Joshua”), who leads Israel back into the promised land. How does Paul use this same arrangement in describing the covenant in Galatians? What is the delay in fulfilling the covenant with Abraham?

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