God’s covenant with Abraham focused on the inheritance he would receive as a result of his obedience. God told Abraham, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Genesis 15:7). The Hebrew word that is translated possess, yarash (yaw-rashˊ) means “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place)…This term is sometimes used in the generic sense of inheriting possessions (Genesis 15:3, 4). But the word is used usually in connection with the idea of conquering a land. This verb is a theme of Deuteronomy in particular where God’s promise of covenantal relationship is directly related to Israelite possession (and thereby foreign dispossession) of the land of Israel. This theme is continued throughout Israel’s history and prophetic message. Possession of the land was directly connected to a person’s relationship with the Lord; breaking the covenantal relationship led to dispossession” (H3423). The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians contained an explanation of the covenantal relationship and made it clear that the inheritance promised to Abraham was received through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul said:
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:15-29)
Paul referred to the Mosaic Law as a guardian that was necessary until Christ died for the sins of the world. Paul used the phrase justified by faith to indicate that salvation changes our status with God, we are no longer considered guilty sinners, but righteous saints and heirs according to the promise that God made to Abraham.
God told Abraham, “’This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:4-6). “This is one of the key verses of the entire Old Testament. It is an important witness to the doctrine of justification by faith and to the doctrine of the unity of believers in both the Old and New Testaments. Abraham’s faith was credited to him for righteousness before he was circumcised and more than four hundred years before the law was given to his descendants. Therefore neither circumcision nor the law had a part of Abraham’s righteousness. Abraham’s faith was not merely a general confidence in God nor simple obedience to God’s command; Paul stressed that it was indeed faith in the promise of redemption through Christ (Romans 3:21, 22; 4:18-25; Galatians 3:14-18)” (note on Genesis 15:6). “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abraham, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from 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’” (Genesis 15:18-21).
The central point of God’s covenant with Abraham was possession of a specific tract of land (Genesis 15:7, 18-21). After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they conquered many of the kingdoms in the north and south (Joshua 10:29-11:22) and it says in Joshua 11:23, “The land had rest from war,” but afterward, Joshua was told, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess” (Joshua 13:2). Even though the Israelites were living within the borders of the Promised Land, they had not driven out all of its previous tenants. God told Joshua, “I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh” (Joshua 13:6-7). The land was to be divided among the people and, “Their inheritance was by lot” (Joshua 14:2). The Hebrew word that is translated lot, goral (go-ralˊ) is properly translated as “a pebble, i.e. a lot (small stones being used for that purpose); (figurative) a portion or destiny (as if determined by lot)” (H1486). The idea behind the lot was that individuals didn’t choose which portion of land they would possess, it was determined by casting the lot or what we might think of today as rolling dice. According to Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” The decisions that God makes about peoples’ destinies are not based on haphazard guesses or random verdicts, but are based on legal decisions, judgments rendered by him (H4941).
God’s covenant with Abraham was not a one-sided attempt to accomplish a specific goal. The relationship between God and Abraham was based on God’s kindness or mercy toward him, but the Hebrew word cheçed (khehˊsed) “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…Biblical usage frequently speaks of someone ‘doing,’ ‘showing,’ or ‘keeping’ checed” (H2617). When God told Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering, “Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him…When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” (Genesis 22:3, 9-12). “Abraham proved that his faith in God was genuine, for he believed that God could bring Isaac back to life if need be (Hebrews 11:17-19)” (note on Genesis 22:12). God rewarded Abraham for his obedience. It says in Genesis 22:15-18:
And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
God specifically stated that he was going to bless Abraham because he had obeyed his voice. When Isaac sent his son Jacob to Paddan-aram to get a wife, he said to him, “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated sojournings, magur (maw-goorˊ) is derived from the word guwr (goor) which means “to turn aside from the road (for a lodging or any other purpose), i.e. sojourn (as a guest); also to shrink, fear (as in a strange place); also to gather for hostility (as afraid). A word that is related to magur that is also derived from guwr is magowr (maw-goreˊ). “A masculine noun meaning fear, terror. The fundamental concept underlying this word is a sense of impending doom. It is used to signify the fear that surrounds one whose life is being plotted against (Psalm 31:13); the fear that causes a soldier to retreat in the face of an invincible foe (Isaiah 31:9; Jeremiah 6:25); and the horrors that befall those facing God’s judgment (Lamentations 2:22)” (H4032).
Taking possession of the land of his sojournings meant that Jacob had to not only conquer his enemies, but he also had to overcome his fear. The reason why the Israelites didn’t enter the Promised Land when they were first given the opportunity was because they were afraid. The men that went up to spy out the land told the people, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are…The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:31-33). When Joshua was instructed to lead the people over the Jordan River, he was commanded to “Be strong and courageous” and the LORD said, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The words frightened and dismayed have to do with the focus of our attention. God wanted Joshua to pay attention to him rather than his enemies. In Moses’ final instructions to the people of Israel, Joshua was told, “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I, How can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt, the great trials your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So will the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deuteronomy 7:17-19).
Jesus told his disciples numerous times not to be afraid. On one particular occasion, Jesus connected Peter’s fear with his lack of confidence in him as well as doubt. Matthew 14:22-33 tells us:
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
The disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the sea. What they saw affected the disciples’ minds and caused them to be disturbed or troubled about their situation. Jesus said to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27), something similar to what God told Joshua shortly before the battle of Jericho (Joshua 1:9). In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase take heart is translated be of good cheer. The Greek word that Jesus used, tharseo (thar-sehˊ-o) means “to have courage” (G2293).
Peter demonstrated courage when he got out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus, but when he saw the wind, he was afraid again (Matthew 14:30). The problem that Jesus identified was that Peter’s faith was too small (G3640). The Greek word that is translated doubt in Matthew 14:31, distazo (dis-tadˊ-zo) “means to stand in two ways implying uncertainty which way to take (Matthew 14:31; 28:17)” (G1365). Peter intended to keep his eyes on Jesus when he began walking on the water, but the wind got his attention and afterward, Peter couldn’t get the thought out of his mind that the wind was stronger than he was. Jesus rebuked Peter for this and later explained to his disciples that it only takes a very small amount of faith to do impossible things. Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).
Just as Joshua was instructed to “remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:18), so believers today must think about and meditate on the things that God has done for them. Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:29-32). Paul referred to his teaching and preaching of the gospel as the word of God’s grace and said that it could build you up and give you the inheritance. The Greek word that is translated inheritance, kleronomia (klay-ron-om-eeˊ-ah) means “’a lot’, properly ‘an inherited property.” Paul used kleronomia in Galatians 3:18 to stand for “the title to the inheritance,” but in his speech to the Ephesian elders, Paul was referring to, “The prospective condition of possessions of the believer in the new order of things to be ushered in at the return of Christ, Acts 20:32; Ephesians 1:14; 5:5; Colossians 3:24; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4” (G2817).
Paul indicated that sanctification is connected with receiving the inheritance. The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) “means to make holy and signifies to set apart for God, to sanctify, to make a person or thing the opposite of koinos (G2389-common)” (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os). “Hagios expresses something more and higher than sacred, outwardly associated with God; something more than worthy, honorable; something more than pure, free from defilement. Hagios is more comprehensive. It is characteristically godlikeness” (G40). Paul used the word hagios in many of his letters to refer to believers. Hagios is also translated as holy and is used throughout the New Testament to refer to the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians about the Holy Spirit being the guarantee of our inheritance. Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul said, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). Paul said that when we heard the gospel and believed in Jesus we were sealed with the Holy Spirit. To be sealed with the Holy Spirit means that we have received a secret mark that identifies us as God’s children. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is considered a pledge or you might say a down-payment on the inheritance that we will receive when we are resurrected like Christ. In his first letter, Peter indicated that our inheritance is being kept for us in heaven until the last time. Peter said:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)
Peter describe the inheritance as imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, suggesting that it may have something to do with our glorified bodies and our eternal union with Christ. The book of Revelation provides further insight by identifying the context in which the inheritance will be received, the new Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2). John wrote:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:1-7, NLT)