In the last post we covered the proto-covenant in Genesis, and the first explicit covenant between God and Noah. Both of the these covenants are pre-historical with respect to the history of the Israelites. The proto-covenant between Adam and God requires simple obedience to God’s will on man’s part, for the wages of sin (and disobedience) is death. (See Romans 6:23)
Perhaps, because the Genesis account constitutes Paradise Lost, we should not refer to the agreement between God and Adam as a covenant. But there was an implied promise on God’s part – freedom from want and death. The Genesis account tells us that freedom from death will have to wait, as man is cast out of the Garden of Eden. But more importantly, the Genesis account tells us that God had a relationship with man from the beginning of time.
The first explicit covenant between God and man, the Noahic covenant, requires that man refrain from visiting violence on his brother. God, for his part, promises that he wil never again bring catastrophe on all of humankind on account of the disobedience of a few.
Abraham, Great Grand Father of the 12 Tribes
Now we move onto the covenant with Abraham, father of Jew ands Arabs, and great-grandfather of the twelve tribes of Israel. God makes a promise to Abraham four times in the Book of Genesis, at verses 12:1, 13:14, 15:1-21, and 1:1-27.
biblical scholars believe that the four-fold repetition of the covenant suggests that the Genesis account was edited over the course of several hundred years by some clumsy redactors, perhaps in the eighth, seventh, and sixth centuries BC. Their principle argument is that, since the scrolls were destroyed along with the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC, the entire Torah must have been re-written, and slightly modified as well.
What’s a Covenant?
Prior to getting into Abraham’s covenant, we should define what a biblical covenant is. One classic definition is an agreement between two very unequal parties – a king and his vassal. In this case, the biblical covenants are very one-sided, with God holding all the cards and man, with no negotiating authority, simply trying to hold up his end of the bargain. (Pardon the non-inclusive language). The biblical covenant also suggests divine generosity and favor, since God has nothing to gain from the covenant. The covenant is a freely-given gift (compare to Ephesians 2:8).
The Proof is in the Circumcision
Let me excerpt the covenant from Genesis chapter 17, verses 5 to 14:
No longer shall you be called Abram, 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. I will give to you and 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… On your part, you must keep my covenant… every male among you shall be circumcised… If a male is uncircumcised, such a one shall be cut off from his people, for he has broken my covenant.
to be continued…