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Shadows of Messiah: The Abrahamic Covenant

Updated: 5 days ago


 

Christian theology began a radical transformation shortly after the death of the apostles. With the influx of Gentile converts, the church leadership began trending away from its Jewish roots, from a Jewish Messiah, and from all the inherent foundational messianic belief systems of the Jewish faith that had solidified in the intertestamental period between the last of the prophets and the arrival of Yeshua. Those appointed to Church leadership came from cultures of idolatry, and they brought many pagan ways and integrated them into the practices of the faith.


With the fall of Jerusalem, the scattering of the Jewish people, and the death of the apostles, the Church began to see itself as the heir to the mantle of those called “Israel.” They began constructing a replacement theology that stated that the Jewish people had broken the covenant with G-d for the last and final time, that they had refused to believe in their Messiah, and that G-d was done with them. Their place in history was finished. The Church was now the “new” Israel and any remaining future prophecies that pertained to Israel was the purview of the Church and spoke of its future alone. Many denominations still teach this today.


But does this align with what the Bible tells us?


As Dr. Dynah Dye of Foundations In Torah says quite often, “The Bible was written for us but not to us.” What does that mean? Simply put, the Bible was written to a people group that lived roughly between 2,000 to 4,000 years ago. While the Bible is timeless in its essence, it was written in the language and to the culture of a people that were not us.


These people had no 21st century biases or worldview. They had no 13th century or 17th century or 19th century worldviews or biases. They didn’t even have the biases of the Dark Ages. They lived in a time and world vastly different from ours, and to understand many of the thematic elements of the Bible, we have to understand the times and cultures in which the scrolls were written.


To begin with, we find seven covenants in the scriptures: the Creation Covenant, the Adamic Covenant, the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the Renewed Covenant. Each covenant builds upon all the covenants that came before it. No covenant replaces or does away with a previous covenant. G-d’s promises are forever and enduring.


Consider Genesis 17:19 (CJB), which speaks of the further fulfillment of the promise of the Abrahamic covenant that G-d will establish with Isaac and his descendants: “G-d answered, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you are to call him Yitz’chak [laughter]. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”


The word “everlasting” in the Hebrew is עוֹלָם or “olam.” It means forevermore, unending. In this passage, Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon says this word means an indefinite futurity of G-d’s covenant, something that is established for all time.


And while we need to look at these covenants very quickly, I want to focus on the Abrahamic Covenant because it gives us such a clear picture of Messianic promises. Here is a quick recap:


  • Edenic or Creation Covenant: This details how the days of creation are built one on top of the other in progression, from the vastness of space to the miracle of life. And just as each day builds upon the one before it, the Covenants of G-d build upon the covenants one after the other, from the first to the last.

  • Adamic or Protection Covenant: This covenant defines mankind’s place in the Creation order. It places mankind as priests in the Garden of Eden, implementing G-d’s natural order and care for the earth. We were to tend to it, care for it, and protect it. This Creation Covenant mirrors the Heavenly Temple and Throne Room of G-d.

  • Noahic or Preservation Covenant: This is the covenant that G-d established not only with Noah, but with all humankind after the Flood. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow, set in the sky across the expanse of the heavens to signify G-d’s promise to never destroy the world by catastrophic flood again. This covenant gave mankind basic commandments for living moral lives (the Noahide laws) and tells us to be fruitful and multiply.

  • Abrahamic or Redemptive Covenant: This is a covenant of blessing, not just for Abraham, but for the world. Blessings are promised, curses are instituted, and Messiah is alluded to. It is a covenant of land as well as redemption. The seal of this covenant is circumcision.

  • Mosaic or Instructional Covenant: The purpose of this covenant is to fulfill the promises made to Abraham and indirectly the nations. It is a covenant of the Beit Midrash of G-d wherein the Hebrews are instructed in how to live holy, set apart lives to Adonai. This covenant was never about salvation, but rather a restoration of G-d’s wisdom, instructions, and relationship with a people group. However, because they stepped forward and agreed to this covenant, the Hebrew people were promised a land and a kingdom that would be permanent and everlasting. It was a covenant of marriage between G-d and the Israelites.

  • Davidic or Kingdom Covenant: This covenant instituted an eternal dynasty that was to rule the earth forever. It was a covenant of kingship, and it was through this covenant that Messiah would come, and His kingdom be established.

  • Renewed or Restoration Covenant: This covenant was not anything “new” in the sense of something unprecedented or not seen before. The Greek word used in Luke 22:20 for the “new” covenant is καινὴ or “kaine,” which means “fresh, in development, not found exactly like this before.” This covenant takes our relationship with G-d and His Torah to a new level, not just writing the words on stone, but inscribing them onto our hearts. It opens the Throne Room of G-d to those in covenant with Him and makes us priests before Him. It brought not just G-d’s allotted people back into community with Him, but those of the nations who desired to be grafted in. It brings us echoes of the Adamic covenant ringing down through the centuries, calling to us to remind us of who we were and who we can be again.


But the covenant I want to concentrate on is the Abrahamic covenant because when we realize what this covenant really entails, it will take your breath away.


The Hebrew word בְּרִית or “b’rit” is a noun that translates to covenant and is one of the most frequently used words in the Bible, occurring some 270 times. According to John Parsons of Hebrew for Christians, it is also one of scripture’s most important concepts.


But what did a covenant mean in the Ancient Near East world in which the Torah was written? What did it entail? How was it enacted and enforced? What would happen if one of the parties broke a covenant? What were the penalties?


According to René Lopez in her journal article “Israelite Covenants in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Covenants,” there are 4 essential elements in the ANE covenants: oath and commitment, grace and friendship. In addition, three elements delineated a covenant: an agreement which binds the two together; the form or component parts of the agreement; and the concluding ceremony.


There were two distinct types of covenants as well: promissory and obligatory. The obligatory type is reflected in the Mosaic Covenant, but the promissory type is reflected in the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. The promissory covenant was an unconditional covenant. The subsets of a promissory covenant were the grant and patron covenants. The Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were grant covenants because in these covenants, G-d pledged something to them. He gave them a gift. However, part of the conditions of these covenants was obedience to the terms of the covenants.


This is where the disconnect in traditional Christian theology occurs. If obedience was indeed part of the conditions of the covenant, and the Israelites disobeyed these conditions, then the logical next step in thinking would be that the covenant has ended. The Israelites are no longer in a covenant relationship with HaShem and now the Church is the successor of Israel.


But….


That fallacy in logic only exists because of a misunderstanding of ANE covenants and why G-d’s covenant ceremony with Avram was such a supreme example of unconditional love and promise. It was absolutely unprecedented in that culture and time.


The gods of the ancient peoples were gods of avarice, impunity, death, bloodlust, and fear, among other characteristics. The gods of the nations didn’t love their followers. They were narcissistic entities whose only thoughts revolved around what they could get out of the twisted, warped relationship with their priests, empire leaders, and the common people. These people didn’t necessarily love their gods either. They feared them, on a visceral level, but they didn’t love them.


The G-d who called Avram out from Ur of the Chaldees was not this type of god. He was the Supreme G-d, the Creator of all things, and He separated for himself a people who would not only know His love, protection, and care, but would eventually be a people that would love Him, and by extension, bring His light and His love to the nations. Unlike the bloody gods of the world, His ultimate goal was not sacrifice, but mercy, and the knowledge of G-d, not burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6) So how does this play out in the Abrahamic Covenant?


The ANE covenants of the time were always promised and enacted before the gods. The ceremony of the covenant was replete with sacrifices, oaths, ceremony, and the penalty for breaking the covenant spelled out in intricate detail, which was death. Sacrifices were cut and laid out on opposite sides of a path, and both parties walked that path between the pieces of the animals, giving their oaths to the keeping of the covenant and taking on the penalty of like-death as the sacrifices if they broke the agreement.


Both parties were in agreement…and BOTH parties were subject to the penalties of the covenant.


So let’s look at the account in Genesis where Avram and G-d “cut the covenant.” In Genesis 15:1-6 (CJB) we read this:


Some time later the word of Adonai came to Avram in a vision: “Don’t be afraid, Avram. I am your protector; your reward will be very great.”  Avram replied, “Adonai, God, what good will your gifts be to me if I continue childless; and Eli‘ezer from Dammesek inherits my possessions?  You haven’t given me a child,” Avram continued, “so someone born in my house will be my heir.”  But the word of Adonai came to him: “This man will not be your heir. No, your heir will be a child from your own body.”  Then he brought him outside and said, “Look up at the sky, and count the stars — if you can count them! Your descendants will be that many!”  He believed in Adonai, and he credited it to him as righteousness.


Avram appears to be distressed. He has come out of his homeland to follow the One True G-d who has called him. But he and his wife were already aged. Time is not going backwards for them. Adonai, when He called Avram out, promised him not only a land, but a nation of descendants from his own loins. G-d promised blessing on those who blessed Avram, and He promised curses on those who cursed Avram. This was a verbal covenant that Avram believed in faith that G-d would provide.


But time has moved on, and Avram feels he is no closer to having a child than he was when he left Ur. Again, Adonai has given him a verbal promise and Avram again believes. This faith in the face of the uncertainty that Avram sees around him is credited to him as righteousness. While Avram believes G-d, he still asks Him, “How am I to know that I will possess it?” (v8). Avram wants a sign from G-d that His promises are true and faithful for all time.


Do you read these verses and wonder if Avram is having a crisis of faith? I don’t think he is. I think he wants a level of certainty to allay any lingering doubts that keep cropping up. This is no different than Gideon’s fleece or Jacob wrestling with G-d. Our Father knows we are finite human beings, and there are times we need to make sure our ears and our eyes are not deceiving us.


But instead of a “sign,” G-d decides to formalize their arrangement. He decides to officially “cut a covenant” with Avram (v 9-10).


He answered him, “Bring me a three-year-old cow, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove and a young pigeon.”  He brought him all these, cut the animals in two and placed the pieces opposite each other; but he didn’t cut the birds in half.


What exactly are the terms of this covenant? We need to go back to the beginning of the chapter and try to glean this from the story being told.


  • First, G-d promises descendants to Avram. “No, your heir will be a child from your own body.” Then he brought him outside and said, “Look up at the sky, and count the stars if you can count them! Your descendants will be that many!”

  • Next, G-d promises him the land. “I am Adonai, who brought you out from Ur-Kasdim to give you this land as your possession.”

  • G-d promises blessings: “Don’t be afraid, Avram. I am your protector; your reward will be very great.”

  • G-d promises judgement on a foreign nation that will enslave Avram’s descendants: “Know this for certain: your descendants will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs. They will be slaves and held in oppression there four hundred years.  But I will also judge that nation, the one that makes them slaves. Afterwards, they will leave with many possessions.”

  • G-d promises Avram long life: “As for you, you will join your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.”


As we’ve stated before, when a formal ANE covenant was cut, both parties to the covenant walked the path between the sacrificed animals, pledging their lives to the oath they are taking. Anyone reading this account 4,000 years ago would know exactly what is taking place in this chapter.


But look what happens….


As the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell on Avram; horror and great darkness came over him. (v12)


After the sun had set and there was thick darkness, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared, which passed between these animal parts. That day Adonai made a covenant with Avram: “I have given this land to your descendants — from the Vadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River — the territory of the Keni, the K’nizi, the Kadmoni, the Hitti, the P’rizi, the Refa’im, the Emori, the Kena‘ani, the Girgashi and the Y’vusi.” (v 17-21)


Avram is asleep. He isn’t awake to walk the path to accept the covenant. Instead, only G-d walks the path, passing between the animal carcasses as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch. Avram was given all the certification and promises of the covenant, but it was Adonai, G-d himself, who accepted the penalty alone if the covenant was broken.


And what was that penalty?


Death.


G-d KNEW the covenant would be broken – multiple times! He is outside time and space. He sees all things and all vantage points at one time. And yet, He still instituted the covenant and walked the path. This first glimpse of a suffering Messiah/King is seen here, when we, looking backward in time, clearly see the picture that is presented in this encounter.


No other “god” had ever done what our G-d did. No other “god” would have taken a penalty of death upon his shoulders like our G-d did.


Do you see why the nations were so incredulous of this “strange” G-d? This G-d that allowed no image of Himself, this G-d that didn’t demand the children be burned in offering to appease His wrath, this G-d that walked with His people?


This G-d that spoke of love and protection and blessings.


G-d knew from the beginning that the end would be Golgotha on a stake. But He also set the stage for the redemption as He prepared for the sacrifice.


There were shadows of redemption from the first moments after the Fall in Gan Eden. Genesis 3:15 (TLV) tells us of G-d saying:


“I will put animosity between you and the woman—between your seed and her seed.  He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel.”


And we get our promise that G-d will never again destroy all life on earth by way of a catastrophic universal flood in Genesis 9:8-11 (CJB):


God spoke to Noach and his sons with him; he said, “As for me — I am herewith establishing my covenant with you, with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you — the birds, the livestock and every wild animal with you, all going out of the ark, every animal on earth. I will establish my covenant with you that never again will all living beings be destroyed by the waters of a flood, and there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.


But it is the Abrahamic Covenant that gives us the first fullest glimpse of Messiah in the Torah, the suffering He would go through for our breaking of the covenant, and the restoration we would receive at the hands and mercy of G-d who loves His creation to distraction.


G-d would do all He could to give His creation the choice of life, even as He pledged His death.


But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities. The chastisement for our shalom was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (Isa. 53:5 TLV)


Yet, that is not the end of the story! Even as we are presented with Messiah ben Joseph, the Suffering Servant, from the first moments after the Fall, we know that we await hopefully for Messiah ben David, the Conquering King. Because the grave was not the end of the story!


But G-d raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:24 NASB1995).


We do not serve a G-d who is dead, but alive! And we eagerly await the coming of His earthly Kingdom where tears and sorrow will no longer exist, where wars will no longer be fought, and where each man will live in his own house in peace.


Even so, bo Yeshua bo! Come quickly!

 

Hanne Moon

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