Genesis #6 – God’s Promise to Abraham

God’s Promise to Abraham

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. – Romans 4:3-5

Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.  – James 2:23

 The Man Known as the Friend of God

The Friend of God – that is quite a privileged designation, earned by a life in close fellowship with God.  God declared Abraham to be a “friend of God” (Isaiah 41:8), and Jesus confirmed this treasured friendship with His disciples (John 15:13-15).  Sacrificial friendship, rooted in the faith relationship God had with Abraham, is brought forward to the sacrificial work of Christ on the Cross.  Friendship involves sacrifice, but it is given in the safe assurance of God’s promises.

Like the disciples, Abraham may not have grasped right away the full impact that sacrifice would have in his life once he turned his heart towards God.  Not only did he “sacrifice” in leaving the luxuries of Ur, but he suffered through a nomadic life and endured the testing trial of Isaac’s sacrifice on the mountain.

Lifelong enjoyment is not a given, and hardships and failures do come.  Abraham was not perfect, but he remained the Friend of God.  That seems like a noble goal for each of us – to remain faithful to the calling of God in our life, get through the struggles, not distracted by the pleasures, and remain a close companion to God.  That would be very good indeed.  As we begin our study of Abraham, we need to be mindful of how his life lessons can benefit us so that God knows us as His friend.

Abraham’s Timeline and Travels

    • The “main introduction” to Abram is Gen. 12:1, but the story does start at Gen. 11: 27-32 with the journey from Ur with his father Terah and family
    • 11:27-32 – called from Ur
      • The first main word in 27:11 is “toledoth”, used eleven times by Moses (inspired by God) to indicated major transitions in the book of Genesis – although translated “genealogy” or “generations” here – this could be seen as the major transition of the book.  Genesis 1-11 covers about 1800 years, or 29% of man’s history.  Gen. 12-50 covers about 300 years, a small snapshot by comparison, but with universal and eternal implications for mankind – the emphasis by God changes to focus on His faithful followers.  Genesis 12 is the “primary divide” of the book.
      • Ur was a very advanced city – a relatively society, comfortable homes, mansions, major buildings, libraries, etc.  It was located near modern Basra is south Iraq and it was the original “big city life”.  It was probably hard for Terah’s family to pack up and leave.
      • Ur was also a wicked society, obsessed with idolatry, including human sacrifice – they built the “ziggurat” temple, a marvelous tiered pyramid with 75′ high terraces, gardens.  They worshiped the moon God amazingly named “Sin”.  Haran was also a main worship center for Sin.
      • Abraham heard God’s call in Ur, not Haran.  He left the “great city” behind with his father Terah.  This can be seen as a reversal of Babel, which produced Ur – now God says I will build the nation that will be “My People”.
    • The Journey to Canaan
      • The total trip began by following ancient trading routes along the Euphrates river.  They traveled 600 miles from Ur to Haran.  Then after Terah died, Abram and his family traveled another 400 miles down to Canaan.  Also note Abram’s sojourn down to Egypt because of famine (Gen. 12:10-20), which was another 300 miles round trip.  Those camels were probably getting worn out.
      • Stephen refers to Abraham’s beginning in Acts 7:2-8
    • Abraham wasn’t perfect – his faith was weak at start and made some poor decisions, but he made himself available to learn & grow in faith.  He was to be sure a man of faith in the One True God.  Interesting that he lived 175 years, much shorter than compared to his ancestors.
    • As quoted above, Abraham is referred to in the Bible as the “Friend of God” – James 2:23.
    • This chart is a great help in our appreciating all the major events in Abraham’s life.  (Copy & paste it into a Word document to make it larger.)
      Map it!  Here is a map you should also copy/paste/pring so you can it keep handy as we study Abraham (you might have a map like this in your Bible).


God’s Covenant Promises

  • As you dig deep into the texture of the Bible…
    • You discover its foundation is built on God’s character and His promise to provide
    • You begin to “connect the dots” between major portions of Scripture, discovering the constants, relationships and progression
  • The result of this discovery shows us…
    • In Gen. 3:15, God promised to provide mankind deliverance from the sin’s penalty
    • The path of promises God established through man’s history
    • They take us from mankind’s loss in the Garden to our recovery in Redemption
  • The covenant promises are like an infrastructure…
    • They are given by God, and He executes His plan from them
    • They are a foundation for His governance of our world
    • They also develop His Relationship with us through redemption
  • The covenants lead us to the dispensations…
    • We maintain a commitment to the normal/literal/historical study method (hermeneutics)
    • We start to “look around” to identify the periods of time where the covenant was established, listen to the people who received the covenant, observe the responses by God’s people
    • From that effort we identify the administrative “dispensations” which reveal God’s progressive revelation of salvation truth
    • We begin to see how the dynamics and details of Scripture are woven together by the attention of our Sovereign God as He administers His creation and His master plan.

Covenants & Dispensations

Obviously, the Abrahamic Covenant looms large in Abraham’s life, as well as for the multitudes of his descendants who will follow in his footsteps.  Abraham, the establishment of the Jewish people as God’s Own, and the promises that God alone will deliver impact every believer in every generation up until the judgment (of sin) and deliverance (of His people)  by God are completed.

So, as we move forward in our Genesis study, as well as our lifelong study of God’s Word, we need to have a clear understanding of what the covenants are that God has made with His people, and how those covenants reveal to us God’s developing plan of administrations or “dispensations” through man’s history as He reveals His plan for relationship with man and all of His creation.

  • Four essentials for understanding covenants & dispensations
    • God’s overarching purpose for history is His glory.
    • The Scriptures must consistently be interpreted literally (normally), grammatically, and historically.
    • God has ruled and continues to rule over the earth in successive dispensations or “administrations”.
    • There is an ongoing distinction between Israel and the church and this distinction involves an eschatological future for Israel.
  • Consistent and thorough Bible Study
    • Covenants are agreements or promises, in the Bible the major ones are between God & man, all but two are “unconditional”, i.e. God says “I’ll do this on My own.”
    • They are clearly presented in the Bible as God reveals Himself to key godly leaders and declares promises for His people, providing revelation of key truths that declare and elaborate His redemptive plan
    • God-honoring study of His Word requires consistent study of the Bible using the literal, normal, historic approach to interpreting the Bible, avoiding spiritualization of passages unless the passage clearly indicates that it is needed (e.g. this results in interpreting prophecy literally, understanding that the Church & Israel are distinct entities in God’s plan, and anticipating a literal Rapture of the church before the Tribulation and then a literal Second Coming of Jesus Christ and establishment of the literal Millennial Kingdom)
    • Dispensations or “administrations” (Eph.1:10) are observed by this careful Bible study and demonstrate a progressive expansion of God’s revealed truth as the administers His relationship with man and builds the framework for Redemption.
  • God’s Administration of His Plan through the Ages
    • Eph. 1:10 is a key verse that Paul uses to express God’s ongoing and developing relationship with man. Paul says there is now revealed a dispensation of time in which God will finally reveal the Messiah and His plan for the Church.
      • The word “time”, refers to a specific time, or a careful plan
      • The term “Administration” – Gk “oikonomia”
        • A servant in charge of a household, Lu 16:1-13 – the unjust steward brought forward to account for his administration of the household
        • Consider the significance of God referring to His plan this way
        • cp Gal 3:13-18, 26-28; 4:4-7 to see Law as a past “administration”
      • The phrase “fullness of times” to a point in God’s plan when all the milestones are completed – this underscores the cosmic significance of the work of Christ.
      • See also Gal.4:4; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Col. 1:17-22
      • Constable commentary (e-Sword), suggests 3 key elements of dispensations:
        1. Divine revelation of God’s requirement for human conduct
        2. Consequent human responsibility
        3. A period of time in which God tests people for obedience
  • Get to know the Dispensations & Covenants
    Use this chart to look up key scriptures for each dispensation/covenant (You can copy/save this to your computer and paste into a Word document to make it larger).  This will give you an excellent grasp of the scope of God’s Plan for the Ages.  Click here to get another chart that provides a more detailed depiction of the covenants and dispensations.


The Abrahamic Covenant

  • The Abrahamic Covenant is Introduced to Abraham in Four Phases
    • Gen. 12:1-3, God provides a summary Introduction of the covenant to Abraham
    • Gen. 15:18-21, God declares the covenant in full in the light of Abraham’s believing faith, and commits as Sovereign God to deliver Land, Seed and Blessing to Abraham and his descendants
    • Gen. 17:1-21, God reaffirms the covenant with Abraham and establishes circumcision as the outward sign of the Jew’s possession of God’s promise.
    • The Covenant is renewed with Isaac, 26:2-5, and with Jacob, 28:10-17

Bible Study Journal
Get your Bible Study Journal out and spend some time looking at each of these four passages to see how the Abrahamic Covenant is elaborated, expanded and explained.

  • It is an Everlasting Covenant
    • Gen. 17:7-9; 1 Chron. 16:17; Psa.105:7-12; Isa.24:5
    • This is God’s promise of national blessing to Israel
    • It is a promise that will never end, to be fulfilled literally at the Second Coming of the Messiah
  • It is also ultimately an Unconditional Covenant – for salvation and  kingdom
    • Gen.17:12ff, God makes a unilateral promise/agreement that He alone will accomplish
    • It is irrevocable and eternal
  • The Basic Elements of the Covenant
    • Land – Abraham and his progeny would end up possessing all the land from the Nile (actually the Brook of Egypt in north Egypt) to the Euphrates
    • Seed – Abraham’s family line would produce the Messiah/Savior
    • Blessing – the blessing of redemption will be opened to all mankind with the sure hope of eternity in God’s presence

Study Questions

  1. List two OT passages where Abrahamic Covenant promises are mentioned.
  2. List two NT passages where Abrahamic Covenant promises are mentioned.
  3. Considering the mistake Abram made in Gen. 12:11-13, how was God still able to bless him?
  4. To what extent do you think Abraham understood the scope of the promises God gave him in Gen. 12:1-3?
  5. How does God’s promises in the Abrahamic Covenant fit into His eternal plan to provide salvation for all people?
  6. From the orange Dispensations chart, look up the reference for each dispensation and write you own description for each from the passage.
  7. Summary of Abraham’s life: Read Gen. 12-22 and for each chapter, write a 2-3 sentence summary.