(Gen. 26:4-5) Is the Abrahamic Covenant still operative today? –or Did the Jews forfeit these blessings because of their rejection of Christ?

CLAIM: Amillennial interpreters believe that the Jews forfeited these promises, because they rejected Jesus—their Messiah. In Genesis 22:18, we read, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Later in Genesis 26:4-5, we read, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5 because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” Do these verses make the Abrahamic covenant conditional on the obedience of the Jewish people?

RESPONSE: A number of observations can be made:

First, these statements were made many years after God ratified his unconditional covenant. Originally, when the covenant was written, God put no conditions on the covenant. Therefore, it would be odd if he put conditions of obedience on the covenant years after he ratified it. This seems to be what Paul argues in Galatians: “Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it” (Gal. 3:15).

Second, it extended past Abraham’s death. God reiterated the contract to Isaac (Gen. 26:2-4) and Jacob, too (Gen. 28:13-15). Therefore, it at least extended to Abraham’s immediate descendents. No conditions of obedience were communicated to them, when the covenant was repeated. Portions of the promise have already been literally fulfilled (e.g. land, a nation, blessing, etc.). Therefore, we expect the rest to be literally fulfilled (e.g. permanent land, permanent nation, permanent blessing, etc.).[1] Paul Benware writes, “Most all interpreters agree that the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant were not completely fulfilled when the Old Testament came to an end.”[2]

Third, later authors referred to this covenant as intact and in place. As we read through the rest of the OT (and NT),[3] we see that these later authors still believed that this covenant was intact –even when the Jews were in exile. Jeremiah writes, “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar –the Lord of hosts is his name: 36    “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever” (Jer. 31:35-36 NLT). How likely is it that God would break this covenant? It is more likely that the sun and moon and stars would cease to exist! This passage affirms the Abrahamic covenant in a time of Israel’s great apostasy and unbelief. Clearly, God’s promise was not contingent on unbelief (see also Gen. 50:20; Ex. 2:24; Deut. 4:31; 9:5-6; 2 Kings 13:23; Mic. 7:18-20; Lk. 1:67-73; Acts 3:25-26; Heb. 6:13, 17-18). In the midst of apostasy (and disobedience), the Jews were given the strongest assurances of the covenant!

Fourth, the language states that this covenant will be “forever” and “eternal” and “everlasting.” A literal interpretation of the text seems to imply that this covenant will last forever (Gen. 17:7; 13; 19). In Genesis we read, “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting [Hebrew olam] possession to you and your descendants after you” (Gen. 17:8). When God gave the Jews the land, they were promised to have it for eternity. This is repeated over and over to Abraham (see also Gen. 12:3, 7; 13:14-17; 15:18-21; 22:15-18; 28:13-14; 1 Chron. 16:17; Ps. 105:10). John Walvoord writes, “The Hebrew expression for ‘everlasting’ is olam, meaning ‘in perpetuity.’ It is the strongest expression for eternity of which the Hebrew language is capable.”[4] This Hebrew word is used of the “everlasting” God (Gen. 21:33). In the same way that God is “everlasting,” the covenant with the land is considered olam or “everlasting” (Gen. 17:8; 48:4).

Fifth, this passage must refer to personal blessing to Abraham—rather than ultimate blessing through the covenant. These statements about Abraham could be statements of fact, rather than statements of condition. Perhaps, in his foreknowledge, God chose Abraham, because he knew that he would obey him and agree with his plan. In this way, the statements about obedience were not conditions on the covenant –but results of the covenant. These statements could also be statements of personal blessing and inclusion for Abraham in God’s plan—not conditions on the covenant itself. Those individuals who did not become circumcised could forfeit the covenant. Later in Israel’s history, the nation could temporarily forfeit the promise, but they could not ultimately forfeit the promise. Note that in Numbers 14, the willful disobedience at Kadesh-barnea could delay the blessings of the land for 40 years—but this was not indefinite. Likewise, Esau forfeited the personal blessing to Jacob—but God still worked through the nation (Gen. 25:27-34).

[1] We should make one caveat to this section. While an individual could be excluded from God’s ultimate plan, the nation would not be excluded. The unbelief of an individual might prevent them from seeing this promise, but it would not stop the promise from being fulfilled. Put another way, while the covenant could be immediately forfeited through disobedience, it could not be ultimately forfeited through disobedience. Esau is a good example. Esau was excluded from the covenant blessings, but this didn’t mean the covenant itself was defeated. For instance, Jacob was still able to inherit the blessing. God would have found a way to fulfill his covenant through one person or another.

[2] Benware, Paul N. Understanding End times Prophecy: a Comprehensive Approach. Chicago: Moody, 2006. 31.

[3] The NT authors held the view that this promise was not fulfilled in the OT. They believed that Abraham died “without receiving the promises” in his lifetime (Heb. 11:13; Acts 7:5). While the Mosaic covenant was conditional, the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional. This is the view of the author of Hebrews, who writes that God “could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself” (Heb. 6:13 NASB). In their minds, this covenant was unconditional, because “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18 NASB).

[4] Walvoord, John F. Israel in Prophecy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1978. 48.