"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.VI No.VII Pg.4-5,7b
February 1944

Questions On The Abrahamic Covenant

W. Curtis Porter

Sometime ago an article of mine, entitled "Will The Jews Return to Canaan?" appeared in the Bible Banner. This called forth a letter, from Arkansas, asking a number of questions concerning the Abrahamic Covenant. While the letter addresses me as "Dear Sir and Brother" I am unable to tell whether the writer of it is a member of the church, for he refers to "your faction of the Church of Christ." I may remind him, however, that I am not a member of a faction of the Church of Christ; the faction, as far as this issue is concerned, is that group of Premillennialists, led by R. H. Boll. But the following are the questions that he wishes considered.

1. Is the Abrahamic Covenant a law or a promise?

2. Is the Abrahamic Covenant a unilateral or bilateral agreement?

3. Is the Abrahamic Covenant conditional or unconditional?

4. Who were the "fathers" Joshua refers to in Joshua 21: 43, 44?

5. Were the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua given the land of Canaan for an "everlasting possession" under the terms of the Mosaic Law Covenant?

6. When will Moses receive his "heritage" (Gen. 6:8)? 7. Does the word "land" in Acts 7:4 and Hebrews 11:9 have reference to the "land" mentioned in Genesis 15:15 and 17:8?

8. What does the word "promise" in Hebrews 11:13, 39 refer to?

9. Please present explicit citational evidence in proof that Abraham and the other ancient worthies mentioned in Hebrews eleventh chapter were promised admittance into the spiritual realm of heaven.

In considering these questions it is a little difficult to ascertain just what the questioner has in mind at all times. He merely refers to the "Abrahamic Covenant." But God made more than one covenant with Abraham. There is first what may be called the Seed Covenant recorded in Gen. 12:1-3 and in other portions of the divine record. It gave to Abraham the promise that "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed," a promise which is fulfilled in Christ as the seed to whom the promise was made. Gal. 3:16-19. There is another covenant that God made with Abraham that may be called the Land Covenant which offered to Abraham and his seed all the land of Canaan. Gen 13:14-17; 15:18 and 17:8. A third covenant that God made with Abraham may be called the Circumcision Covenant. It required all the males of the Jews to be circumcised. Gen. 17:9-14. But the querist seems to confuse all of these and simply refers to them as the "Abrahamic Covenant." My article regarding the return of the Jews to Canaan, however, pertained to the land covenant and from that point of view I shall endeavor to answer his questions. Of course, in many respects, the answers will apply with equal force to the Seed Covenant and the Circumcision Covenant. But now for a consideration of the questions in the order in which they are given.

1. Is the Abrahamic Covenant a law or a promise? The land covenant which God made with Abraham involves both law and promise. In Acts 7:5 Stephen referred to this covenant made with Abraham and declared that God "promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him." And Paul in Heb. 11:9 referred to Isaac and Jacob as being "heirs with him of the same promise." The, same verse also calls it "the land of promise. " So these statements all show that a promise was involved in the covenant made with Abraham concerning the land. But in 1 Chron. 16:16-18 it is referred to as "a law." Notice carefully the reading of it: "Even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac; and hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan." This is definite. It pertains to the covenant concerning the land of Canaan. This covenant was first made with Abraham; it was given to Isaac by an oath; and was "confirmed unto Jacob for a law." Hence, the elements of both law and promise are included in this covenant.

2. Is the Abrahamic Covenant an Unilateral Or Bilateral Agreement?

The land covenant made with Abraham may be said to be both unilateral and bilateral, depending on the angle from which you view it. It was unilateral in the sense that is was made or arranged by one--God himself, but it is bilateral in the sense that it concerns or obligates more than one--God as the giver and Abraham and his seed as the recipients. This can be easily and definitely seen by reading the passages in Genesis already mentioned.

3. Is the Abrahamic Covenant Conditional Or Unconditional?

This covenant made with Abraham involved conditions--hence, it was a conditional covenant. The mere fact that no conditions are mentioned when first the covenant is revealed does not prove that no conditions were implied. When God made with Abraham the Seed Covenant in Gen. 12:1-3 no conditions are mentioned as necessary on the part of the multitudes to be blessed through him. It definitely states: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." In Gen. 18:18; 22:18 and 26 4 we have this promise repeated with no mention of conditions. Yet I do not believe that the querist will claim that this proves it an unconditional covenant, for when we turn to the New Testament and find the promise being fulfilled we learn that conditions were implied. Paul declared in Gal. 3:2629 that it involved the conditions of faith and baptism and said: "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Being heirs "according to the promise" made to "Abraham's seed" depended on an if--"if ye be Christ's." And being Christ's depended on being Baptized into him by faith. So this covenant was a conditional covenant although no conditions were mentioned when it was made known.

Just so it is with respect to the land covenant. The conditions are shown in connection with the fulfillment of the promise. The children of Israel who continued to rebel against God were not allowed to enter. When the ten spies brought back the evil report concerning the land to be inherited and caused a large portion of Israel to determine to make them captains and return to Egypt, thus provoking God in the wilderness, God said: "Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: but my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land where into he went; and his seed shall possess it." Num. 14:22-24. So these men were shut out of their inheritance because of disobedience, and such would not have been so if no conditions had been implied. But perhaps God had not promised the land to this particular group. Oh yes, he had, for he said in Num. 14:30 to them: "Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein," save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. Then he added: "But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which he have despised." So the oath was made to them that they would dwell in the land but by rebellion they despised the land and forfeited their right to it. And so God said to them: "Ye shall know my breach of promise." Num. 14:34. His purpose was altered concerning them because of their rebellion against him. All this shows that entrance into that land was conditional; otherwise there would have been no "breach of promise." Furthermore, the land was to be given to the seed of Abraham "forever." Gen. 13:15. Or, in other words, it was to be given to them for "an everlasting possession." Gen. 17:8. But this part of the covenant was also conditional. Whether they remained in the land depended upon their obedience to God, for Moses said to them: "When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke him to anger: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed." Deut. 4:25, 26. Likewise, if they would not obey the voice of the Lord, he said: "And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to naught; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it." Deut. 28:63.

4. Who were the "fathers" Joshua refers to in Joshua 21:43, 44?

Joshua said: "And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers." So "their fathers" were the ones to whom he swore to give the land. Who were they? Referring to the same oath and promise Moses said: Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them." Deut. 1:8. This ought to settle it. Moses said their fathers to whom he swore to give the land were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I take it that he knew what he was talking about.

5. Were the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua given the land of Canaan for an "everlasting possession" under the terms of the Mosaic Law Covenant?

The Israelites under the leadership of Joshua were under the restrictions of the Mosaic law when they inherit the land, for they received the land in the law dispensation; but the land covenant was made with Abraham before the Mosaic law was given, and they inherited the land under the terms of that covenant. But terms implied in that covenant were revealed through Moses, as has already been shown, just as terms of the Seed covenant have been revealed through the apostles of Christ. The promise of the land covenant was not fulfilled independent of the law just as the promise of the seed covenant is not fulfilled independent of the gospel.

6. When will Moses receive his "heritage" (Gen. 6:8)Gen. 6:8 says nothing about the heritage of Moses. I am sure the querist intended to give Ex. 6:8. This statement says: "I will give it you for an heritage." Whatever "heritage" Moses had in the land of Canaan was forfeited by his disobedience at the waters of Meribah when he failed to sanctify God in the eyes of Israel. Num. 20:7-13.

Because of this transgression Moses was not allowed to enter Canaan. Deut. 32:51, 52. And there is no more reason why he should have a future heritage in the land than there is for the Israelites who rebelled and were overthrown in the wilderness. But if you will look closely at Ex. 6:8 you will see that it says nothing about the heritage of Moses anyway. In the statement, "I will give it to you for an heritage," the pronoun "you" does not refer to Moses but to Israel as a people. This can be easily seen by reading the context. Read verses 6 to 8. It is not what God said to Moses but what he said to Israel through Moses. Let us read it and emphasize the pronoun "you" as we go along. "Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord." So the heritage was the heritage of Israel; not merely the heritage of Moses. Of course, Moses was a part of Israel, and the promise was to him just as it was to any other Israelite; but it was not a special promise to Moses. Sometimes we become so enamored with a theory that we may make a passage say what it doesn't say. That is what the querist did with this verse.

7. Does the word "land" in Acts 7:4 and Hebrews 11:9 have reference to the "land" mentioned in Genesis 15:15 and 17:8?

Yes. Stephen in Acts 7:4, speaking to the Jews of his time, referred to it as "this land, wherein ye now dwell." That was the land of Canaan. It is called the "land of promise" in Heb. 11:9. This is the same land mentioned in the Genesis record as being promised to Abraham and his seed.

8. What does the word "promise" in Heb. 11:13, 39 refer to?

In Heb. 11:13 the word is "promises," not "promise." "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." The promises of this verse evidently have a spiritual significance and cannot be made to apply to the land promise. The following verses show a desire for a heavenly country which they entertained. They were looking for that and "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." And the promise of Heb. 11:39 was the promise of the Messiah and the work which he would accomplish as the following verse indicates: "God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." They died in faith, not having received this promise.

9. Please present explicit citational evidence in proof that Abraham and the other ancient worthies mentioned in Hebrews eleventh chapter were ever promised admittance into the spiritual realm of heaven.

In Heb. 11:10 Paul said that Abraham looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." This cannot refer to any city on earth that has been built by man. So it must have to do with a city in "the spiritual realm of heaven." And unless he had been promised something of this nature how did he know that there was a city of this kind for which to look? Also Heb. 11:16 says: "But now they desire a better country, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city." So there is a city in a heavenly country which God has prepared for them. It is not an earthly city nor an earthly country. It therefore must pertain to the spiritual realm of heaven. If this is not "explicit citational evidence" that they had a promise of entering heaven, I am at a loss to know just what it would take to constitute such evidence.

In my former article I called attention to the fact that every promise in the Old Testament to the Jews that they would return to Canaan was made before the Babylonian captivity, or during the Babylonian captivity, or before the restoration from Babylon had been completed. Hence, a return to the land has been accomplished since those promises were made. I further said: "There is not a promise in all the New Testament that the Jews will ever inherit the land of Canaan." Commenting on this the writer of the letter says: "No--but the apostle Paul takes in more territory and declares that Abraham and his seed were given the promise... that he should be heir of the world.' Rom. 4:13." Thus he would indicate that Abraham and his seed are promised "the land of the world" for their inheritance. That is "more territory' than I knew a Premillennialist would be willing to include. If that is the meaning of the passage, then why argue anything about the regathering of the Jews to Canaan in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham? The land of Canaan is only a very small part of the world. Hence, it would not be necessary for the Jews to return to Canaan in order for the promise to be fulfilled. They might be anywhere in the world--in Egypt or in Spain, in Germany or in France, in China or in Japan, in the United States or in Mexico, or anywhere else in all the world--and the promise be fulfilled. In fact, it looks like, according to this position, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham as it concerned the Jews would demand a dispersion, a scattering, instead of a gathering. They would have to be in every land beneath the sun or the promise would fail. So maybe, after all, the promise has already been fulfilled in the dispersion of the Jews and Premillennialists are just now beginning to find it out. What straits men are driven to when they try to defend a false doctrine.

The promise made to Abraham, as mentioned by Paul in Rom. 4:13, is not a land promise, but is the promise that all nations of the world would be blessed through him, as the connecting verses clearly show. The land promise has been fulfilled. Joshua said it had all been fulfilled and not one thing had failed. Josh. 21:43-35. I believe he told the truth about it.