God’s Covenant Promise

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob

“By myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah … I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore … and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves” (Genesis22:16-18, RVIC).

by David Rice

God’s Covenant Promise – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob

Four thousand years ago, God chose Abraham, a man of faith, through whom God would fulfill His intention to bless “all the nations of the earth.” Three ages of God’s Plan are used in the process: the Jewish Age, the Gospel Age, and the Millennial Age. In these three ages God develops the nation of Israel, the Heavenly Church Class, and restores the World of Mankind to everlasting life.

Genesis 22, the source of our opening text, records the offering of Isaac that God asked of Abraham. This was a severe test of Abraham’s faith. It also pictures the essential foundation on which God’s plan rests, namely, the offering of Jesus Christ, the son of God, as the ransom sacrifice for mankind.

“God tested Abraham … take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Genesis 22:1,2, NASB). The location Moriah is meaningful, for that is where the Temple would be built. “Solomon began to build the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem in mount Moriah” (2 Chronicles 3:1).

Jesus himself would die at Calvary, west of Jerusalem, on a prominence nearby. Verse 2 specified the kind of offering, a “burnt offering.” In Leviticus, there are three basic kinds of offerings — burnt offering, peace offering, and sin offering. The burnt offering was accepted “to make atonement” for the offerer, and was to be put directly “upon the wood” (Leviticus 1:4, 8) — just as Jesus’ death on the wooden cross secured atonement for mankind. Jesus “bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).

Abraham, with Isaac and two young men, set off on his journey. “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off” (Genesis 22:4). Jesus later would say, “Farther Abraham rejoiced to see my day” (John 8:56). The time from Adam to Abraham was a bit over 2000 years, so that Abraham’s prophetic view of Messiah, “afar off,” occurred on the third 1000-year day of mankind.

Genesis 22:6 says that Abraham “took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son.” The Apostle John later said of Jesus, “He bearing his cross went forth [to] … Golgotha” (John 19:17).

Abraham and Isaac alone ascended the mount, perhaps representing that God was the responsible party for offering his “only begotten Son” for us (John 3:16). As they ascended, Isaac asked, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” The reply was, “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:7,8).

Later, an angel stilled the hand of Abraham. But the lamb, Isaac, had been accepted. The next animal mentioned was different. It was “a ram caught in a thicket by his horns,” which Abraham offered “for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.” The dry brush in which this sacrificial animal was caught by its head, reminds us of the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus (Matthew 27:28-29).

“And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh,” which means “Jehovah will see, or provide” (Genesis 22:14, margin). God Himself provided the redemption for our sins, by offering His own son, in sacrifice, to redeem Adam and his race, from the curse.

Sworn with an Oath

The angel of God then called out a second time, “By myself I have sworn, declared Jehovah, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore … And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:16-18, NASB).

This is a remarkable commitment. When God speaks, we have full assurance that whatever is spoken, will be done. But on this occasion God did something remarkable and unparalleled. God himself swore with an oath the accomplishment of His promise. When Christ Jesus suffered and died on the cross, God spoke again. “The veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened … when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:51-54). These actions were inviolate testimony from God that by the death of Jesus all things would be accomplished.

Two ages of redemption were initiated to accomplish all that God promised. The veil rent in the temple signified that by the rending of Jesus’ flesh, “the way into the holiest of all” became manifest. The “High calling of God in Christ Jesus” was opened to develop the “stars of heaven” or the Bride class (Hebrews 10:20, 9:8). The earthquake that shook the land signaled that the judgments of God would remove old powers, and replace them with a rule of righteousness. The graves opened testified of the time when all mankind, everywhere, will rise from death to be blessed as “the sand of the sea shore.”

Two Immutable Things

“God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things [God’s word, and God’s oath], in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation … to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17, 18). The offering of Isaac was the occasion of God’s irrevocable affirmation. The death of Jesus at Calvary provided the immutable foundation for accomplishing the promise and pledge of God.

“So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up, and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba” (Genesis 22:19). The meaning of Beersheba is “the well of the oath” (Genesis 21:31, margin). It is a fitting name. Well reminds us that Jesus is the source of living waters. Oath pledges the use of these waters to bless mankind.

The two young men cooperating with Abraham and Isaac on this journey remind us that two groups of people are involved in the ages of redemption following Calvary. In the Gospel Age, Jewish believers were admitted at Pentecost. Later, Gentiles were admitted from Cornelius forward.

For the second age of Redemption, the Millennial Kingdom, Ezekiel 46:1 shows that the gates allowing people to access God will be opened on the Sabbath, the seventh millennium from Adam, for mankind. The gates are also to be open on the day of the new moon, depicting the time when Israel’s favor increases again. These two groups, Gentiles and Israelites, were suggested even at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was put on the cross to redeem Jews from the curse of the Law, at the third hour. Jesus subsequently died for everyone, at the ninth hour. Later, the holy Spirit descended on Jewish disciples at Pentecost at the third hour, and upon the gentile Cornelius at the ninth hour.

Good News from the North

“It came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham … Milcah … hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor” (Genesis 22:20). This suggests that after the age of sacrifice, there is good news about natural Israel, represented in Abraham’s brother who had stayed northward in Haran. He had not come into the land of promise — just as natural Israel had not taken the opportunity of the Gospel.

But they are not forgotten. Genesis 22:21- 24 lists 12 sons of Nahor, representing 12 tribes of Israel. At the opening of the second age of redemption, Israel is found in good condition, ready for the Kingdom. Ishmael, another picture of natural Israel, also had 12 sons (Genesis 25:16). Both those 12, and Nahor’s 12, represent fleshly Israel.

The next scripture, Genesis 23:1, records the death of Sarah, who represented the spiritual or heavenly part of the Abrahamic covenant. Her passing represents the close of the Gospel Age, which opens the way for the Millennial Kingdom.

Dust of the Earth

God’s promise after the offering of Isaac included two descriptions of the seed of Abraham, the “stars of heaven” and the “sand of the sea shore.” Those link in turn to the two ages of redemption following the death of Christ.

However, there is a third description of the seed of Abraham, whose first mention precedes the others. It is, the “dust of the earth.” This appears first in Genesis 13:14-17. “Jehovah said unto Abraham, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever” (verses 14, 15).

The subject here is the physical land of promise. Israel, Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob, would receive this land after 400 years (Genesis 15:13). That would be after the Exodus of Israel from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan. Thus verse 16, “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth,” has a symbolic meaning to natural Israel.

That promise, of the physical land, was fulfilled to natural Israel during the Jewish Age. It is true that because of disobedience they were later driven from the land by the Assyrians and Babylonians. But in each case God promised, through the prophets, that they would be restored. They did return after their captivity to Babylon. Then they were scattered again by Rome, and have been restored again today. But God’s promise to give the land to the descendants of Abraham was first fulfilled in the Jewish Age, before Jesus died at Calvary. Perhaps that is why, on the occasion of Abraham offering Isaac, only the two remaining descriptors are mentioned — stars and sand — two classes developed after Jesus’ death.

It seems that the three designations of Abraham’s seed, given in this sequence — Dust of the earth, Stars of heaven, and Sand of the sea shore — apply to three sequential ages of God’s Plan — the Jewish Age, Gospel Age, and Millennial Age. The dust is Israel, the stars are the Church, the sand is the world.

Three Women

The same sequence is represented by three women in Abraham’s life by whom he had the children named in the Old Testament. Sarah was the wife of Abraham when God gave His promise (Genesis 12:7) and his oath (Genesis 22:16). The promise given was with a view to the coming of Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham in the highest sense, who would bless the world (Galatians 3:16).

However, in the long passage of years until Christ came, Israel was developed during the Jewish Age under the Law Covenant, with its numerous rules and obligations. Paul says that this covenant, nurturing natural Israel, was represented by Hagar. She was never a full wife of Abraham, but a bondmaid of Sarah (Galatians 4:22-25) — representing the bondage of the Law, under which Israel (Ishmael) was developed. The fact that Hagar was an Egyptian, suggests that Israel would be “born” out of the pain of Egyptian servitude (Genesis 16:1, Exodus 4:22).

Sarah represented God’s original covenant with Abraham for a seed to bless the world. Her son, Isaac, represents Christ. However, in Galatians 3:29 Paul expands this to the Church also. If we come into Christ, “then are [we] Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” “We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (Galatians 4:28).

Paul does not speak about Keturah. Living at the transition closing the Jewish Age and opening the Gospel Age, Paul’s thoughts were focused there. But Abraham had other children, and after the passing of Sarah, he took another wife, Keturah. Thus, after the close of the spiritual part of the Abrahamic Covenant, another feature opens, pictured by Keturah, an earthly part of the Covenant of promise.

According to 1 Chronicles 1:32, the six sons that Keturah bore to Abraham were born before the death of Sarah, when Keturah had been a concubine. Symbolically, this is fitting, for her six sons represent the world of mankind born during the 6000 years of sin. After the death of Sarah, when Keturah became a full wife, the status of Keturah’s sons would have been elevated. Similarly, in the Kingdom, the status of mankind will be elevated. Subsequently, Abraham sent the six sons of Keturah “eastward, unto the east country,” reminding us that the original paradise home of man was located “eastward in Eden” (Genesis 25:6, 2:8).

Four Locations — Four Ages

After the flood, four ages take us to the fulfillment of God’s promised blessings. Perhaps these are indicated by the four locations involved in Abraham’s journey, until his visit to Egypt, which begins another picture.

Abraham began in Ur of the Chaldees. He moved from there with his father Terah to Haran, then onward to Shechem, and finally, to Bethel — four locations. Haran was mentioned earlier, as connecting with the 12 tribes of Israel. In this connection, Haran represents the Jewish Age. Israel had left the world’s old heathen concepts, and then became a nation committed to worshipping Jehovah during the Jewish Age. Perhaps Ur of the Chaldees represents the previous age, the Patriarchal Age, when the promises were given.

When Abraham came into the land of promise, he stopped first at Shechem. There, for the first time in the narrative about Abraham, an altar is mentioned. If Shechem represents the Gospel Age, it is fitting that the altar there reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus that opened up the first age of redemption.

Abraham stopped next east of Bethel, “the house of God.” Here, he also built an altar, and “called upon the name of Jehovah” (Genesis 12:8). Perhaps this location represents the second age of redemption, delivering mankind from the curse.

Thus, after the Patriarchal Age, three ages of blessing follow. Three women bear children to Abraham. Three descriptions of the seed of Abraham are given. In each case, we have a symbolic preview of three ages: the Jewish Age, the Gospel Age, and the Millennial Age.

Just at Hand

Today, just ahead, the blessings of God’s Covenant with Abraham will reach to “all nations.” Then, every person, by faith, may come into Christ, and become acknowledged, in a spiritual sense, as a descendant of Abraham, “who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).

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