Before we can begin to understand the essence of the Abrahamic covenant, it is important to grasp what a covenant is to begin with. A covenant is an agreement entered into by two sides. It is either conditional, wherein the fulfillment of certain conditions must be complied with by both sides. Or, it can be unconditional, wherein the fulfillment of the covenant is dependent on the actions of only one side. The Abrahamic covenant was an unconditional covenant between God and Abraham. It can be considered such because God made promises to Abraham which did not require any conditions to be complied with on Abraham’s part. More specifically, God promised that the Israelites, the people from nation of Israel which was fathered by Abraham, would have a land just for them in Israel; to bless Abraham and make him a blessing to the families of the earth; to multiply his seed abundantly and make him a father of many nations; to give Abraham and his descendants access to all the land they can see; to bless those who bless him, and curse those who curse him (Genesis 12, 1-3). The Abrahamic covenant has three main features which will be elaborated in the following paragraphs.
The first main feature is the promised land. Genesis 13, verses 14 to 18 specifies the extent of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants. Genesis 15, verses 18 to 21 further specifies the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites – all to belong to Abraham and his descendants.
The second main feature is the promise of descendants. The seventy-five year old and childless Abraham was promised that nations and kings would descend from him (Genesis 17, 6). As fulfillment of this promise, Abraham was given a son – Isaac – who then had a son of his own – Jacob – who then had twelve sons of his own, who grew up to represent the twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 26, 2 -5; Genesis 49).
The third main feature is the promise of blessing. God promised to bless Abraham and the families on earth, through him (Genesis 12, 3).
The above features of the Abrahamic covenant paved the way for the creation of other covenants. And, while the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional, the same cannot necessarily be said for the other covenants stemming from such. For example, another covenant was made by God with the Israelites for the grant of the promised land and other blessings, under the condition that the Israelites obey His commandments (the Mosaic covenant – the covenant God made with Moses when he laid down His commandments) and love Him totally and unconditionally (the Land Covenant). On another note, the promise of blessing was later on modified to give way to the New Covenant. While in the old testament the sole penalty for sin was death, and sacrifices were required to remain in God’s favor, the New Covenant introduced the concept of retribution and salvation. Again, the promise of retribution and salvation cannot be said to be unconditional since the New Covenant requires faith in Jesus Christ.
In addition, history indicates that God intended for the literal fulfillment of the promises stipulated in the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham was given the land within his sight as indicated by Genesis 13. God blessed him spiritually by sparing him from strife (Genesis 13, 8) and being ever present in all his affairs (Genesis 21, 22). God gave him an uncountable number of descendants who were given power over their enemies (Genesis 22, 17).
Given the present circumstances which indicate that Israel presently does not possess the promised land leads to another important aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant – it is eternal. The passages previously mentioned indicate a history of the partial fulfillment of God’s promise. The element of eternity is reflected in the book of Ezekiel 20, verses 33 to 37 which describes how the promised land will be given to the Israelites – that they will be gathered from wherever they have scattered to be brought home to the promised land. Again, while the original Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional, the covenant with the Israelites has been modified to indicate a condition that the Israelites must fulfill – they are required to give their contributions, the choicest of their gifts and sacred offerings so that they may be accepted into the promised land (Ezekiel 20, 40 – 42).
In relation to the future aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant, it would be relevant to go back to one of the promises – God promised to bless those who blessed Abraham, and curse those who curse him. Babylon and Assyria have cursed Israel, the consequences of which require further research. It remains to be seen if other nations who went down the same road will share the same fate.
Finally, it must be pointed out that the Abrahamic Covenant does not apply to the entire human race – it only applies to the Israelites who descended from Isaac and Jacob. The Abrahamic Covenant is an indication of the unique relationship God has with the Israelites because there is no other event in history where God made a promise to a particular race at the exclusion of everyone else.