Relevant Biblical Passages: Genesis 12:1-2; 15:7-18; 17; 18:19
An Everlasting Covenant: God’s Covenant with Abraham. In traditional Christian interpretation, especially those systems which contrast the Sinai covenant with the new covenant, it has often been said that the new covenant is a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant. Paul’s reference to Abraham in Galatians 3:6-7, which quotes Genesis 15:6, is often cited in support of that conclusion: “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ so you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.” Our task here is to explore the idea of covenant in the Old Testament context of Abraham’s experience.
Discussion themes and questions:
- An implied covenant? In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham and promises to make him a great nation. This call is often linked with the idea of covenant, even though the word is not used. Is it correct to find the idea of covenant in passages where the word is not even mentioned?
- A promise of many descendants, but the means of fulfillment left open. In Genesis 15, God quite literally “cuts a covenant” with Abraham. The smoking fire pot and flaming torch which passes between the sacrificial animals is the visible symbol that God will fulfill the promise. Is there any indication in Genesis 15 as to how God expected Abraham to experience the fulfillment of God’s promise?
- Circumcision: a sign to Abraham and to Ishmael. The entire chapter of Genesis 17 describes the covenant sign and process: circumcision. Isaac was not yet born. Ishmael was the only son which Abraham had and he was circumcised. How does this sign of circumcision mark the Abrahamic covenant apart from the new covenant in Jesus, given the fact that the New Testament would lay aside the rite of circumcision, at least for Gentile believers?
- Obedient response. In the record of “obedient” Abraham, Genesis 18:19 presents several translation alternatives:
- KJV: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him.”
- NRSV: “I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him”
- NIV: “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him.”
Literally, one could translate the Hebrew: “I have known him in order that he might command his children after him.” Is it good theology and in keeping with the teaching of this particular passage to say that obedience is not the condition of acceptance but the result of acceptance?
- Covenants compared. Given the remarkable blend of divine initiatives and human responses in the story of Abraham, how does the covenant with Abraham compare with the covenants which God made with Noah and with Israel? How does it compare with the new covenant promise?