1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I [am] the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
4 As for me, behold, my covenant [is] with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
Not long ago, I listened to a series of messages online that turned out to basically be a pastor’s rebuttal of what he called “replacement theology.” I’d never heard the term, but as he defined it, I realized he was challenging my beliefs. In short, replacement theology states that the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament apply to the church in the New Testament, i.e. the church has replaced national Israel. His strongest reason for disagreeing with this view and accepting a literal reign of Christ upon the earth in the land of Canaan was the promise made to Abraham. After all, doesn’t v. 8 of our text say God would give to Abraham and his seed all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession? So, is replacement theology valid in light of the everlasting covenant made with Abraham?
We need to first understand that God made conditional and unconditional covenants. When the flood waters had receded, in Gen 9:8-17, God made a covenant with every living creature. We’re reminded of the covenant every time we see a rainbow in the sky. Will God ever destroy the earth with a flood again? We’d all agree, “Absolutely not!” Why? Because God that cannot lie made an unconditional, everlasting covenant with every living creature that He wouldn’t, right? Does God keep His word? His word is the only one we can depend on, isn’t it?!! “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my
words shall not pass away.” (Mt 24:35) You see this promise wasn’t dependent on creation abiding by God’s rules. He didn’t say, “As long as you don’t sin in the manner they did before the flood, I’ll never destroy the earth with water again.” No, He said simply, “I won’t do it ever again.” Period. Without condition and forever.
I ran across a similar promise in Gen 13:12-17as God spoke to Abram and promised to give him all the land he saw and make his seed as the dust of the earth in number. I couldn’t find an “if” in that promise! There was no condition. The Lord just said, “Abram, this is what I’m going to do!” It was so certain that in Gen 17 we read God changed his name to Abraham or “father of a multitude”! Again, in that text, I find no conditions, just a promise that God would make him the father of countless souls, many nations, and would give him and his seed the land wherein he was a stranger as an everlasting possession. Now, I didn’t have much problem with that everlasting covenant until I came to the part about the land! What am I to do with the land?
Before dealing with the land, let’s consider the fact that not all of God’s covenants are unconditional. God’s unconditional covenants depend entirely upon Him. You can count on them because of the faithfulness of His character. Heb 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the profession of [our] faith without wavering”, why? “…for he [is] faithful that promised”! However, conditional covenants aren’t dependent on only one party. Both parties must abide by the terms of the covenant.
The covenant established under the law was conditional on man’s obedience. In Deut 12:1,28, the eternal blessing is conditional on obedience: “Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee….” In, Deut 28:15, 45-46, disobedience will bring an eternal curse: “if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God…all these curses shall come upon thee….” Likewise, we find similar language in the conditional, eternal agreement between God and Solomon and Israel in 1 Chr 28:7-8. “Moreover I will establish his kingdom for ever, if he be constant to do my commandments and my judgments, as at this day. Now therefore in the sight of all Israel the congregation of the LORD, and in the audience of our God, keep and seek for all the commandments of the LORD your God: that ye may possess this good land, and leave it for an inheritance for your children after you for ever.” Notice the “if” and “may”. You find this wording in the covenant under the law. For this reason, the covenant of the law, or the first covenant, was considered to be faulty in Heb 8:7-8, not because the law was faulty, but because it was conditional on man keeping his part of the agreement. The problem was the weakness of our flesh! (Rom 7:9-13)
This first covenant was conditional on someone other than God, and, therefore, it was breakable. In fact, that’s exactly the accusation brought against Israel. They broke that covenant! (Jer 11:1-14) The law was a conditional covenant, given when Israel was delivered from Egypt (v. 4). It was dependent on their obedience (v. 4-5). This covenant had a curse attached to it! (v. 3) Since they have not obeyed (v. 7-8) and have broken the covenant (v. 10), these curses will come upon them and be inescapable (v. 11). There’s no point in even praying for them! (v. 14) This outcome is that of a covenant based on man’s obedience! It ends in a curse upon those that didn’t keep it!
So we find again and again that the covenant established under the law was conditional on man’s obedience and thus breakable; in contrast, however, the covenant made with Abraham contained none of this language. You can’t attach any condition to the initial covenant in Gen 13, but I want to deal briefly with what follows the covenant in Gen 17. We do have a condition in Gen 17:9-14. “To not be circumcised means you have broken my covenant,” God says. We need to examine this portion in light of the New Testament. We actually have a foreshadowing of both of the two great covenants with man that Gal 4:24 specifies—the covenant under the law and that according to faith—in the covenants made with Abraham. Circumcision of the flesh points to the law (Rom 2:25), but is that the circumcision we need to be recipients of the promises of God? Rom 2:28-29 tells us there is a circumcision experienced by all who have part in the everlasting, new covenant! This circumcision is “of the heart, in the spirit, [and] not in the letter….” What do we find out about this circumcision compared to the one in Genesis? We can’t do it! God has to! That’s the difference between the covenant under the law and the everlasting covenant in Christ.
So, what has God in His infinite mercy done? In Jer 31:31-37, he planned to set up a new, unbreakable covenant that is entirely dependent on Him! God says, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The old covenant we saw ended in a curse, but what has the Mediator of this new covenant done for those included in it in Gal 3:13? Christ became a curse for us to redeem us from the curse of the law! And, just as we’re considering the establishment of this new covenant, guess who God connects to it in v. 14? Abraham! In fact, this text reveals that the new covenant was actually declared in the everlasting covenant to Abraham (v. 8, 9) and the law couldn’t undo that! (v. 15-18) So, Abraham’s eternal covenant extends not to a natural seed but a spiritual one! (v. 7) Unlike the law, this new covenant will stand b/c God, Who changes not, made it without condition!
Following shortly on the heels of our Jer 31 passage, in Jer 33:14-22 we see this everlasting covenant again as the Branch of righteousness, our Lord Jesus, is revealed! Here the generation of spiritual kings and priests are in an unbreakable covenant with God! This covenant is the same one that can be traced all the way back to Abraham in v. 23-26. We have now a better covenant that Christ is the minister of (Heb 8:1,6) based on better promises because the first one was faulty (v. 7). Thus this new covenant takes our flesh out of the picture and is founded on God working and not us. (Heb 8:8-13) This better promise carries us back before Moses to God’s immutable promise made to Abraham! (Heb
Now, I told you before that my struggle in the promise to Abraham was not the idea of his natural offspring. There are so many passages pointing out there is no difference between Jew and Gentile in Christ that it seems obvious that Abraham’s seed refers to those that possess the faith of Abraham. My struggle was with God including the land in his promise in Gen 13 & 17, reiterated again in 2 Ch 20:7. No condition listed here either; it’s just given to Abraham and his seed forever. Passages like Rom 4:6-18 are pretty plain concerning who the seed is. But, what to do with the land?! Well, this very passage in Romans unlocked it for me! V. 13 says Abraham was promised to be not just the heir of Canaan but of the whole world! There are a couple Greek words that are often translated as world—one is literally “soil” (earth, ground, land) and the other is the cosmos (“orderly arrangement”—the entire created order, the universe). Guess which one is in Rom 4:13? Universe! We have limited the promise of God in Gen 13:14-15,17 concerning the land just as we have limited Him concerning the seed in v. 16! Once I saw this truth, I realized that not only is the seed clearly dealt with in the NT, but so is the land. We need to quit limiting God! Yes, Abraham’s seed will inherit all the land Abraham saw on that day along with the rest of it for we shall inherit the whole earth (Rev 5:10)! In Gen 17:8, he is to inherit the land “wherein thou art a stranger”. Does Heb 11:13 say Abraham was only a stranger in Canaan? No, he was a
stranger in the earth! Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit what? The earth!
In Ps 37, those that wait on the Lord inherit the earth in v. 9! So shall the meek (v. 11) and the blessed (v. 22). And the righteous inherit the land FOR EVER! (v. 29) Who are the righteous in v. 30-31? They have the law in their hearts! That’s new covenant language!!! (Jer 31:33) In Ez 37:21-28, the everlasting covenant with God (v.26) will be to those God has cleansed (v. 23), who are the subjects of David, their Shepherd (v. 24). They will possess the land forever under the reign of the heavenly David! (v. 25) We are joint-heirs with Jesus! (Rom 8:17)
And is natural land really the fullness of this promise? To whom did God first promise to give the land forever in Gen 13:15? Abraham! But, he didn’t get it according to Stephen in Ac 7:5! In the natural then, God missed his opportunity because when Abraham had a natural body, he didn’t get the land. Concerning the natural aspect of the promise, Joshua said the Jews got all God had promised in Jos 21:43-45, 23:14-15. Consider the conditional language in this passage. Is that new covenant language or old? Old! Abraham didn’t see the natural fulfillment, but did he die discouraged? Did his faith fail because God didn’t keep His promise? No because he wasn’t looking for an earthly possession! Heb 11:16 takes our mind off of this literal ball of dirt and says we should be seeking the same land that Abraham really had his heart on—not an earthly but a heavenly one!
The inheritance we will receive under the new covenant is eternal life with Christ in that heavenly country Abraham was seeking! Again, this covenant will last because God will perform the keeping of it in us: “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Heb 13:20-21)