God’s relationship with Abraham was based on mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations that were established through a covenant. The covenant that was formed between God and Abraham was the result of God selecting Abraham, a sovereign act by God that was intended to create a predetermined outcome according to the purpose of his will. Genesis 15:4-21 states:
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “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.
And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, 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.”
God’s covenant with Abraham was an unconditional promise to fulfill the grant of the land to Abraham’s offspring (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Genesis 15:6 “is one of the key verses in 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 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 in 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).
God’s promise of redemption through Christ was evident when he tested Abraham’s faith. It says in Genesis 22:1-18:
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So 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. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
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 your 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.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
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’s provision of the lamb for the sacrifice was central to Abraham’s understanding of redemption through Christ. The ram that God initially provided pointed to the substitutionary nature of Christ’ sacrifice and John the Baptist’s declaration when he saw Jesus coming toward him, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) indicated that Jesus’ death was meant to atone for the sins of everyone, not just the nation of Israel.
Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that God’s promise could only be realized through faith. Paul said:
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:13-25)
Paul indicated that God’s promise to Abraham depended on faith, “in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring” (Romans 4:16). Paul also pointed out that the God in whom Abraham believed was the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). The Greek word that is translated grace, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers to “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). Abraham’s faith was a response to God’s influence upon his heart; the result of God’s sovereign power being exercised in and through him (H1285/H1254).
Paul explained in his letter to the Galatians that Christ was the offspring that God’s promise was intended for and that believers in him are Abraham’s heirs according to that promise. 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 slavenor 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 used the phrase justified by faith to describe what happens when we are born again, “’justification’ being the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344).
Paul talked about Abraham’s justification by faith in the context of faith being counted as righteousness (Romans 4:1-12). The Greek word that is translated counted, logizomai (log-idˊ-zom-ahee) is derived from the word logos (logˊ-os) which means “something said (including the thought)” and typically refers to “a word, as uttered by the living voice” (G3056). John identified Jesus as the Logos or the Word that was “with God” and John said “the Word was God” (John 1:1). When our faith is counted to us as righteousness, it is as if we are saying the same words that Jesus said. Jesus’ words are being attributed or charged to our account by God. Righteousness “is the character or quality of being right or just. It denotes an attribute of God (Romans 3:5). It is found in the sayings of the Lord Jesus of whatever is right or just in itself that conforms to the revealed will of God (Matthew 5:6, 10, 20; John 16:8, 10); whatever has been appointed by God to be acknowledged and obeyed by man (Matthew 3:15; 21:32); the sum total of the requirements of God (Matthew 6:33)…It is used of that gracious gift of God to men whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are brought into right relationship with God. This righteousness is unattainable by obedience to any law, or by any merit of man’s own, or any other condition than that of faith in Christ. The man who trusts in Christ becomes ‘the righteousness of God in Him,’ (2 Corinthians 5:21), i.e. becomes in Christ all that he could never be in himself. Righteousness in not said to be imputed to the believer save in the sense that faith is imputed (reckoned) for righteousness (Romans 4:6, 11). The faith thus exercised brings the soul into vital union with God in Christ, and inevitably produces righteousness of life, that is, conformity to the will of God” (G1343).
Paul talked about believers being slaves to righteousness and said that we must present our members to God “as slaves of righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:19). Paul went on to say, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23). Paul identified eternal life as the end of sanctification. The Greek word telos (telˊ-os) means “(to set out for a definite point or goal); properly the point aimed at as a limit, i.e. (by implication) the conclusion of an act or state (termination [literally, figuratively, or indefinitely], result [immediate, ultimate or prophetic], purpose); specifically an impost or levy (as paid)” (G5056). The point that Paul was making was that we should allow God to do what he wants to in our lives because the end result is eternal life. In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase present your members (Romans 6:19) is translated yield your members. The Greek word that is translated yield, paristano (par-is-tanˊ-o) means “to stand beside” (G3936). The root word histemi (hisˊ-tay-mee) “means ‘to make to stand,’ means ‘to appoint’” (G2476). It seems likely that Paul’s instruction to present our members as slaves to righteousness was intended to mean that we should allow God to determine the course of our lives and accept that his placement of us in certain circumstances is the destiny that he wants us to have.
God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was followed by an assignment that they refused to accept. The Israelites disobedience was described in Hebrews 3:19 as unbelief; indicating that at that particular point they were still unbelievers, without Christ. Forty years later, Moses told the people of Israel, “The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them’” (Deuteronomy 1:6-8). Moses later explained to the Israelites that they were God’s chosen people and that God intended to keep the covenant that he made with Abraham hundreds of years earlier (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Moses said it was not their righteousness that prompted God to do it (Deuteronomy 9:4); but, “that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deuteronomy 9:5). The confirmation of God’s word meant that he was making what he said to “stand up, come about.” The Hebrew word quwm (koom) is “used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965).
Joshua played an important role in the Israelites’ transition from wandering in the wilderness to entering the Promised Land. God told Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). A requirement for the Israelites to live in the Promised Land was that they had to drive out the previous tenants and possess it in their place. Joshua was given Moses’ leadership role in order to make that happen. After the land was divided among the twelve tribes and each of them had received their inheritance, Joshua 21:43-45 states:
Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.
Joshua indicated that “not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). In other words, God’s covenant with Abraham had been brought to fruition and was at that point considered to be complete, but that was not the end of God’s involvement with Israelites because Abraham’s offspring had not yet been born (Galatians 3:16). God told Abraham that he would give the land to him and his offspring forever (Genesis 13:15). Therefore, eternal life was required and Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection was necessary for that to happen.