Abraham’s Covenant

“My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations. No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations. I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you. I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.”

God also said to Abraham: “On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised… “

The prototypical covenant between God and Abraham is this passage, found in Genesis 17:4-10. God reiterates the covenant with Abraham in several places in Genesis, but this passage is the most fully developed expression of the covenant. Notice that God commits to at least four different promises in the covenant: 1) Abraham will be the father of a host of nations, 2) kings shall stem from Abraham’s offspring, 3) Canaan shall be a permanent possession, 4) His promise shall be everlasting, etc.

In the Abrahamic covenant, the sole promise that man makes to God is the agreement to circumcise every male. Descendants of Abraham who disobey the covenant are cut off (Gen 17:14) from God’s people. At this stage in Israelite history, there is not yet the obligation to more broadly obey the laws of God. A cursory reading of the covenant language found in Genesis 12:2 and Genesis 15:1 confirms that God does not stipulate much of Abraham in these covenants. The covenant of Genesis account is elementary: I will make a great nation of you; I will promise you the land of Canaan; and you shall keep the covenant of circumcision.

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