We continue our study on “Understanding the two covenants of Abraham” – God starts by telling Abram He will establish between God and Abram a covenant and multiply him exceedingly. But is this the Abrahamic Covenant?
Genesis 17:2-4 (NKJV)
2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many (multitude of) nations.
Now if you are paying close attention to the text you probably noticed something curious in this passage. God starts by telling Abram He will establish between God and Abram a covenant and multiply him exceedingly. At first glance, if you are familiar with Abrams story, you may have assumed this is the same covenant from earlier in Abrams story beginning in chapter 12. The one God announced in chapter 12, the one God confirmed in chapter 15 and echoed the whole way through. The one that had that ritual, the one that promises he will have many descendants. But when you look closely at the language it isn’t the same covenant. It speaks of a different covenant. First, the language is in the future tense. Not just in English, it is also in the future tense in Hebrew. He says I WILL establish something with you. So this is something yet to happen.
Understanding the Two Covenants of Abraham Secondly, this covenant is “between Me and you.” That’s an entirely new phrase. That has never shown up yet before in any of the prior moments where God appeared and gave the covenant to Abram. This is new. The term in Hebrew has a very certain meaning. It implies both parties have a role in keeping the covenant. It does not talk about a one-way suzerainty covenant. Instead, it talks about a two-way covenant of parity. Or of equals or two people who both have a role in the covenant. That’s not the language we’ve come to understand or expect when we talk about the Abrahamic covenant found earlier concerning God’s covenant with Abram. So this is something different. God is promising a new covenant, one he has yet to establish A two-way covenant. There is a relation with this second covenant and the first covenant. One will be the basis for being counted a part of the other.
At God’s appearing, Abram responds as all men do when God appears, he falls on his face. And God, it says, continues to talk as Abram stays in this position. And He says, if you notice in verse 4, God says “as for Me.” What He just said was, “for my part Abram, here’s what I am promising” Then God reminds Abram of the first covenant. Look at the language. In verse 4, “my covenant is with you.” That is present-perfect tense, that is something that is currently present and ongoing. That is different than what He said in verse two. Where He says “I will establish.” So God’s first statement concerning His part is, number 1, God reminds Abram, we still have a covenant already in place. To be sure Abram understands, God is not changing the first covenant into a new one or replacing the first one with a new one. He’s reminding Abram, there is still the first one and I will do what I said I would do under that covenant. That’s God’s first statement. He will be a father of a multitude. He will be a father of many nations and so on. That’s already in place. Understanding the Two Covenants of Abraham To testify to that one promise, God says in the next series of verses, I’m going to change your name. God is going to make sure for Abram’s sake that he will now have a new name One that echoes for the world to know that this promise exists.
Genesis 17:5 (NKJV)
5 No longer shall your name be called Abram (Exalted Father), but your name shall be Abraham (Father of a Multitude); for I have made you a father of many (a multitude of) nations.
Abram means “exalted father,” and Abraham means “father of a multitude.” In simple terms, God Changes his name so Abrams name itself says what the covenant that He has already given, says. “You will be the father of many nations.” Changing names was a common practice when forming covenants back then. Two people who entered into a covenant might take a part of each other’s name and insert that part into their own name so they actually change their own name to reflect the covenant. The fact there was this agreement between them and somebody else. We follow that same practice still today for the most part in the way a woman takes the man’s last name in the marriage covenant. It is a way of saying I am in covenant with you and we are one by that covenant.
In the case of Abram and God, look at what God just did. He took Abrams name, He split it apart, imagine this if you can, the pulling apart of the letters of the name and He stuck in the middle of Abrams name a piece of God’s own name. In the middle of Abram’s name, God inserts the breath sound in the pronunciation of His name in Hebrew. Yahweh has a distinctive breath sound at the end of its pronunciation. Abram is now a man who carries a part of God’s name, Abraham. God continues to tell Abraham all that He is bound to do by His word. Understanding the Two Covenants of Abraham
Genesis 17:6-8 (NKJV)
6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. 8 Also, I give to you and your descendants after you the land in (of your sojournings) which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
As God has said before in His earlier revelations concerning the Abrahamic covenant, He repeats here, I will make you fruitful and I will produce kings and nations from you.
And if you skip to verse 8, God repeats that He will give Abraham and his descendants
the land in which Abraham has been wandering. Both are not new. We heard those before. We know they are a part of the Abrahamic covenant. We’re simply watching God repeat to Abram, these are things He is bound to do because He said He would do them.
But look in verse 7. In the midst of that, He inserts this new phrase, this new statement where He says, there will be a future covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants. A covenant that is not yet here but is coming. And the one that is coming is not a one-way covenant like the one that already exists, this is a two-way covenant. This will require something of Abraham or if he does not comply and do his part then the covenant will be dissolved. We also notice God is weaving these two covenants together. Just in the very fact that verses 6 and 8 talk about the existing covenant, verse 7 talks about this new covenant. He’s moving them together closely now. If we are not paying attention we actually would miss the fact there are two covenants here. We just start seeing it as the same again. But they’re not. We also notice here, one becomes dependent on the other. Look what happens in verse 9 through 14:
Genesis 17:9-14 (NKJV)
9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
Notice there are some changes here from the language we’ve seen so far in respect to the Abrahamic covenant. There is some new stuff here. This is not the same covenant. He has a choice here, he could obey or disobey. Remember the first covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, were there any obligations placed on Abraham in that covenant? Clearly not… never once did God lay any requirements on him. In fact, just to prove that point, when the time came to initiate the covenant in the ritual, God put Abraham to sleep so He couldn’t do anything. And made him watch as God did all the work in the ritual. There was no doubt in that process Abraham was not to do anything to receive the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. And yet here now there are terms for both parties. That tells us here, we are looking at a different covenant, yet one that has a relation to the first.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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