How do you feel when someone keeps their promise to you? What about when they let you down?
God’s covenant with Abraham forms the foundation of the world’s three major monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The setting for the covenant is God’s call to Abraham to leave the country of his family—Ur in what would become Babylonia—and resettle in Canaan. God’s relationship with Abraham is deep, complicated, and challenging to study.
The Name of God
Scripture identifies the deity who contacts Abraham. The quarterly notes the meaning of the four-letter name of God (Hebrew: yod-he-vav-he), usually spelled Yahweh in English. It is closely related to the word “to be” or “to exist.” Therefore, God’s name is, “the one who exists.” Certainly that is true of an everlasting God. But many Hebrew linguists have noted the spelling of the Hebrew name is the causative form of the word “to be,” meaning “the one who causes to be.” That means more likely, that His name is “the creator.” Who else can bring something into existence that doesn’t now exist, in essential material form?
This God, who alone can make something out of nothing, calls Abram to the land of Palestine. No planes, trains, or automobiles aided him in his journey. It was solely on foot and by faith that He followed God’s leading.
The text may not say so directly, but how did Abram know that he was hearing the voice of the creator? Do we hear His voice today? Does He still speak to us, asking us to follow His leading?
What barriers or obstacles do you imagine Abram had to overcome in order to make such a journey.
Covenant Promises to Abram
In several places (see Genesis 12, 15, and 17, especially), God makes promises to Abraham. Each one strikes at Abram’s personal situation and identity.
- To the homeless man who left all behind, God promises land, as much as he could see
- To the man and woman too old to have children, God promised them offspring, descendants as numerous as the stars or grains of sand on the shore.
- To the insignificant offspring of Noah’s son Shem, God offers to be a blessing to all the nations, and a representative of heaven on earth.
What was required for Abram to fulfill His part of the covenant? How did He respond to each of God’s visits and subsequent promises?
How are these promises fulfilled in the New Testament through Jesus? What does the land have to do with God’s promises? (see Hebrews 11 for more…)
Credited as Righteousness
Between God’s promises in ch. 15 and ch. 17 is the unfortunate and sad story of Hagar, Sarah’s maid. Because Abraham and Sarah don’t trust God’s power to give them a child, they attempt to force the outcome of the promise through someone else. Their interference in God’s promises brought only misery and pain, both immediately and for centuries following. Of course, the conclusion to the matter is found in the next stage of the covenant promise in ch. 17. God reassures Abraham, and the patriarch believed God. That is, He took Him at His word. God counted Abraham as righteous, changes his name, and assures Abraham that His wife will bear their child.
What is the relationship between “taking God at His word” and using my (admittedly quite limited) reason, logic, or experience to judge God’s promises? Is it a balancing act, must one be subsumed under the other, or can I live with both active, even if they contradict each other?
Some points to remember about this lesson:
- God initiated the covenant with Abram, as He did with Noah. God is the one who does the seeking after relationship, even when people are ignorant of Him or don’t know His voice.
- Human stipulations in the covenant are few, but powerful: to obey God’s voice and trust Him.
- After Abraham believes, God grants him a new name, and gives a sign of the covenant—circumcision. The order is vital here!