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PFRS Home > Doctrinal Studies > Progressive Dispensationalism >

The Abrahamic Covenant
In the Both Testaments
Copyright © Tim Warner

After the flood, when mankind once again turned away from God to worship idols, God chose one man through which He would bring about His entire plan or redemption and restoration. That man was Abraham. God spoke to Abraham several times. The first was a promise to inherit a "promised land" if he would simply leave his home, and follow where God led him. Abraham obeyed, and took his family and belongings, and headed out to this unknown promised land.

Gen 15:6-8
6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
7 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
8 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

Notice that God promised the land inheritance to Abraham Himself, not only to his seed. God then made a covenant with Abraham, and promised to fulfill His covenant based on an oath. In the above verses, Abraham asked God for proof that He would fulfill His promise.

Gen 15:8-12,17-18
8 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. ...
17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.
18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

In chapter 17, the Abrahamic covenant is further expanded upon.

Gen 17:1-8
1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

The book of Hebrews specifically mentioned this passage in chapter 6, and explains that this same "hope" of the Abrahamic Covenant is the HOPE of believers. (text in blue are New Testament quotes of the Old Testament).

Heb 6:12-20
12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,
14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. [from Gen. 22:17]
15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:
18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

What is interesting about this passage is that the writer of Hebrews clearly places the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant as the future hope of believers. God gave Abraham two "immutable things" to confirm His promise -- the covenant sign, when the burning lamp passed between the pieces of the animal Abraham slaughtered, and God's own oath. These two things, according to the above passage, provide the "anchor of the soul" and the same "hope" for New Testament believers. There is no way to disconnect the two "immutable things" from the Abrahamic Covenant as well as the future hope of these Jewish saints without demolishing the context.

Non-dispensationalists usually argue that every aspect of God's promises to the Fathers (including Abraham) was fulfilled in Joshua's day. But this is a misunderstanding of Joshua. It is easy to make such a mistake, and this mistake was also taught by some of the Jewish rabbis at the time of Christ. Hebrews discusses this point precisely, explaining that Joshua had NOT brought Israel into the FULL possession of all the promises, but that a FUTURE fulfillment remains and is certain, particularly in relation to the everlasting possession of the land. (the "Sabbath" rest)

In Hebrews 3, the writer speaks about the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea, when they refused to enter into the land because of unbelief. He then warns Jewish believers not to follow the same example of unbelief. Following this, he clearly says that Joshua did NOT bring Israel to the entirety of the realization of the promises to the patriarchs. In the following passage from Hebrews 3-4, the writer cites Psalm 95 more than once to prove his point. He does not cite it from the Hebrew text, but from the Septuagint (LXX- Greek Old Testament). We know this because the word "Today" does not appear in the Hebrew, but does in the Greek. Here is the passage in question from the LXX.

Psalm 95:8-11
8 To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, according to the day of irritation in the wilderness:
9 where your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works.
10 Forty years was I grieved with this generation, and said, They do always err in their heart, and they have not known my ways.
11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.

Now, here is how the writer of Hebrews applies this to the question of whether the entirety of the Abrahamic Covenant had been fulfilled in Joshua's day, or whether it concerns a future hope for Jewish believers.

Heb 3:15-4:11
15 while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
16 For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?
17 Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?
19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
4:1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.
2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: "So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,"
[from Psalm 95:11 LXX above] although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
4 For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works";
[from Genesis 2:2-3]
5 and again in this place: "They shall not enter My rest."
[from Psalm 95:11]
6 Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience,
7 again He designates a certain day, saying in David, "Today," after such a long time, as it has been said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts."
[Psalm 95:8]
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.
9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.
10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

The argument here is very clear. He argues from Psalm 95:8-11, that since God said to Israel through David, "Today, if you hear His voice harden not your hearts as in the provocation" (ie, at Kadesh Barnea), the implication is that there is still a FUTURE fulfillment, even in David's day, to be realized by Israel that was not accomplished through Joshua! In other words, the command for Israel in David's day NOT to repeat the Kadesh Barnea rebellion, implies that the inheritance is still future. In David's day, Israel was in the land and even had a king! Yet, the complete fulfillment of the promise remained FUTURE. The writer of Hebrews goes on to state clearly that himself and his readers must strive to enter the very thing that the Jews were denied at Kadesh Barnea! Which was the possession of the land! This is the same "hope set before us" in chapter 6.

Amillennialists usually deny any future fulfillment of the land promises based on the following "proof text" from Joshua.

Josh 21:43-45
43 So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.
44 The LORD gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.
45 Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.

This statement does not establish the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant in its entirety. Only a couple chapters later, in Judges , we are informed that the land was not completely conquered under the leadership of Joshua.

Judges 2:20-23
20 Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, "Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice,
21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died,
22 so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not."
23 Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.

When Joshua wrote that all had been fulfilled that God spoke to Israel, he meant that they had indeed conquered the enemies and were presently in possession of the land. Thus far, God had made good on His word. The claim by Amillennialists is simply not true. The land inheritance in its entirety as promised to Abraham was NOT fulfilled during the lifetime of Joshua. His statement is somewhat of a hyperbole, similar to Paul's statement that he had personally preached the Gospel to every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23). Historically, Israel has never had possession of all the land God promised Abraham, from the Nile river in Egypt to the Euprates in Iraq (Gen. 15:18).

Furthermore, there is more to the Abrahamic covenant than to initially seize the land and drive out the inhabitants. The covenant refers to an EVERLASTING POSSESSION of the land. And this was a promise to Abraham as well as to His seed. (Gen. 17:8). Abraham has never had one moments' possession of one square inch of the land!

Paul stated plainly in Gal. 3 that the promise to Abraham that "in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," only BEGAN to be fulfilled through the coming of Christ. Was that aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant completely fulfilled in Joshua's day? Hardly! This is proof that Joshua did NOT mean that every aspect of the covenant God made with Abraham was fulfilled entirely, ONLY that they had conquered the land and were currently in possession of it. They did NOT maintain possession of it, however, and were driven from the land twice. Yet, God had promised Abraham himself an everlasting possession and inheritance in that very land.

Paul, in Romans 4, says nearly the same thing.

Rom 4:13-16
13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect,
15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all

That Abraham, and his seed, would be "heir of the world" is the same as what David says in the 37th Psalm.

Psalm 37
9 For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.
10 For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
11 But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. ...
18 The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever.
19 They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
20 But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away....
22 For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off. ...
29 The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever. ...
34 Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.

There can be no question that this Psalm promised Israel a FUTURE inheritance while Israel was already dwelling in the land in David's day! This is why the writer of Hebrews keeps appealing to David in support of the FUTURE inheritance of the land! And this FUTURE inheritance of the land will occur when "the wicked are cut off." This agrees with a plethora of other Scripture from nearly all of the prophets, where there is prophesied a future Day of the Lord, when all the armies of the world will gather against Jerusalem. The armies will be defeated by the LORD, and then Israel will be restored. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel put the resurrection of the just at this time (cf. Isaiah. 26:19, Ezekiel 37:12, Dan. 12:1-2).

Jesus Himself quoted Psalm 37:11, when He said in Matt. 5, "the meek shall inherit the earth."

Hebrews 11 explains the promise in no uncertain terms.

Heb 11
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;
10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

The most important point here is that the inheritance promised to Abraham was the very land in which he sojourned, living as a foreigner in tents with his son Isaac, and grandson, Jacob. Also, the promise was that he, Abraham, would inherit the land, not only his distant offspring.

Regarding the "city" for which Abraham looked, keep in mind that the city now called "Jerusalem" is on the location of what was called "Salem" in Abraham's day. It included Mt. Moriah, where Abraham offered up Isaac. Melchesedek was the "King of Salem" in Abraham's day.  Abraham met Melchesedek (Gen. 14:18), and who brought Abraham bread and wine. Abraham lived in this land God promised him as a "stranger and pilgrim." He was looking for the city built by God. Isaiah 65 describes the rebuilding of the present city of Jerusalem by the hand of God.

Isa 65:18-25
18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
19 And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them.
24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.

Abraham was looking for this city, which, according to the context, would be on the location of Salem currently in Abraham's day. Hebrews 11 continues:

13 These all [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

The writer of Hebrews plainly says that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did NOT realize the promise while they were still alive. The implication is clearly that their receiving the inheritance was still future.

The translation "earth" is unfortunate. The problem is that our modern understanding of "earth" as the third planet from the sun was not the understanding of the term when Hebrews was written. That is not the Biblical meaning of "earth." The Greek (and Hebrew) word translated "earth" in Scripture means "land." It says absolutely NOTHING about the planet. It CAN be used of ALL the land, meaning the whole surface of the planet. Or, it is commonly used of a specific piece of land, like a country. It is used many times of the "land" God promised Abraham. The best way to illustrate this is to refer to the very first time the "earth" is defined in Scripture.

Gen 1:10
10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

As you can see, "earth" is distinguished from "sea." That "land" is the best rendering in Hebrews 11:13 is clear from the context, which is speaking about where Abraham lived as a pilgrim and stranger -- the LAND that he would afterward receive as an inheritance. So, the implication that seems to come from our modern English translations, that Abraham was a "pilgrim and stranger" on this planet, looking to be whisked away to heaven, is completely foreign to both the context and the rest of Scripture. The text says that Abraham was a stranger and pilgrim on the very land that God promised to give him afterward.

14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.

"Those who say such things" refers to Abraham's saying that he was a pilgrim and stranger in the land that he was to afterward receive as his inheritance. The word "homeland" means a permanent residence. In other words, what Abraham sought, while living as a pilgrim and foreigner in the land God promised to give him afterward, was a permanent residence. ie, the fulfillment of the promise to inherit that very land forever.

15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

The phrase, "they seek a better country," does NOT refer to heaven, as amills claim. The word "better" demands a contrast to something else. We must ask, "better than what?" The context supplies the answer --  the country Abraham left, Ur of the Chaldees. Abraham LEFT Ur when God told Him, seeking a "better" country, a "heavenly" country, a country God would show to Him. The "heavenly country" is NOT heaven, it is the "promised land" (from the Nile to the Euphrates). The word "heavenly" is NOT a noun, it is an adjective. It describes a QUALITY, not a location. It is "heavenly" because God is going to recreate and restore it, as per Isaiah 65-66.

Heb 11:39-40
39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise,
40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Notice that the writer of Hebrews plainly says that these died in faith, not yet having received the fulfillment of the promise. He explains the reason -- that God wanted to perfect or complete "us" (Jewish believers to whom Hebrews was written) along with Abraham and the patriarchs. Abraham's receiving the fulfillment of the promise is still future!

The whole theme of Hebrews is perseverance in the Faith so that his readers would inherit the Abrahamic promise, the everlasting possession of the land! While the language is colorful, "heavenly country," etc, it clearly refers to what is prophesied by the prophets. It cannot be "heaven" because the "better country" of which Abraham sought is NOT heaven. It cannot be "heaven" because Hebrews says plainly that Abraham lived in this land as a pilgrim and stranger.

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