The Bible’s Covenant Story. 5. Genesis 17:1-8 The Covenant with Abraham

The ways of the Lord often surprise and even puzzle us.  His great covenant plan, established in eternity, has been to redeem a people to live in loving fellowship with him.  To begin with, his covenant community embraced a multitude of people, but at a certain point the line of the covenant narrowed to a single individual and his family, drawn from Ur far to the east of the land of Canaan.  In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 5. Genesis 17:1-8 The Covenant with Abraham.

1. The God of the covenant

God reveals something of his nature through the names that he uses:

            The Lord (v1): especially associated with the covenant.  It speaks of God in relation to his people, and particularly of his unchanging nature (see Malachi 3:6).  He is constant in his love and grace and faithful to his promises.

            God Almighty (v1): used especially in the sphere of salvation.  Only the saving power of God can overcome sin and Satan, as is supremely evident at the cross, in the person of the Son of God incarnate.  God establishes his covenant in a work of sovereign grace.

            God (v3): thinking especially of God as Creator, who brings life out of nothing and who is able to give Abraham an heir at his very advanced age.  He gives spiritual life to those ‘dead in transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1).

2. The terms of the covenant

In v7 the Lord states ‘I will establish…’, stressing his sovereignty.  He provides the covenant on his terms, with sovereign authority.  It is ‘an everlasting covenant…to be your God’ – taking sinners into a saving relationship with himself.  To be saved is to be in covenant with him.  The covenant relationship (Leviticus 26:12) will last eternally (Revelation 21:3).  It all flows from the grace of God, not our deserving.  Promises are made to Abraham.  ‘I will make nations of you’ (v6), a spiritual seed, with a glorious fulfilment in the multitude saved through the work of Christ (Galatians 3:29).  There is also the promise of the land (v8), pointing to the glorious inheritance of the believer (1 Pater 1:4).

3. The beneficiaries of the covenant

It is vital to see that those brought into the covenant are sinners like Abraham.  This is evident in 16:1ff with his mistreatment of Hagar and her son.  Like Abraham, we are all ‘children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3).  It is with people like us, in our sin and failure, that God deals in his covenant, not the self-righteous or those trying to earn his favour.  Note however that Abraham responds in faith – 15:6, as we too must trust entirely in the covenant Lord.

4. The responsibilities of the covenant

Entrance into the covenant has life-changing implications – ‘walk before me and be blameless (AV ‘perfect’)’.  We are called to live in obedience to our covenant King, being holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:16).  We are to be a ‘living sacrific’ (Romans 12:1), holding nothing back.

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