Description
This chapter describes the Abrahamic covenant in which God promised the land from the river of Egypt to the River Euphrates as the everlasting possession of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Commentary
The Abrahamic Covenant is a key foundation stone of the biblical end-time story. God's everlasting commitment to it is a basic assumption throughout the bible, including the New Testament (e.g. Luke 1:55, 72-75). However, some Christians have adopted a 'replacement theology', understanding the Church to have replaced Israel as the recipients of God's Old Testament promises to Israel. The relationship between Israel and the church is the topic of Romans 9-11.

The Abrahamic covenant is expressed in 12:1-7, 13:12-18, 15:1-21, and 17:1-22. It begins with Abraham's call in chapter 12, is formalised as a solemn covenant in chapter 15, and is reaffirmed in chapter 17 when circumcision is given as a sign of the covenant. The main elements of the Abrahamic covenant are that God promises:

1) to make Abraham's descendants into a great nation and bless them (12:2)
2) to make Abraham's name great so that all families on earth bless one another by his name (12:2-3)
3) to bless those who bless Abraham's descendants and to curse those who curse them (12:3)
4) to give them the Promised Land as their permanent possession (12:7)
5) to bless all nations on earth through Abraham's descendants (18:18)

The Abrahamic Covenant is different from the Mosaic Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant is the set of laws described in Exodus 19-24 and in Deuteronomy by which the Israelites were instructed to live in order that they might continue to live in the Promised Land under God's blessings.

A land covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
In Genesis 15, when Abraham and Sarah were still childless, God promised Abraham that he would give him so many descendants that counting them would be like counting the stars. In verses 13 to 14, God then told him that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign nation for 400 years, after which God would deliver them and bring them out with many possessions, as was later fulfilled in the exodus from Egypt. And in verses 18 to 21, God vows to give to Abraham's descendants the land from the river of Egypt to the River Euphrates, the land of ten ancient nations or tribes.

God confirmed this covenant in Genesis 17, when he gave Abraham the requirement of circumcision as a sign and ongoing reminder of his covenant. In 17:7-8, God made it a permanent covenant for all generations of his descendants after him. By this point in time, Abraham had a son, Ishmael, by Sarah's concubine, Hagar (see Genesis 16). In 17:15-21, God promised that Abraham would have another son by Sarah, whom they would name Isaac, and that the covenant would pass down through the descendants of Isaac, not of Ishmael.

Genesis 18:18 tells us, "…Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on the earth may receive blessing through him". In other words, the purpose of the Abrahamic covenant is not just to bless Abraham's descendants (Israel), but that the whole world will be blessed through his descendants.

In Genesis 26:2-5, God reaffirmed the Abrahamic Covenant to Isaac, "The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle down in the land that I will point out to you. 3 Stay in this land. Then I will be with you and will bless you, for I will give all these lands to you and to your descendants, and I will fulfill the solemn promise I made to your father Abraham. 4 I will multiply your descendants so they will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I will give them all these lands. All the nations of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using the name of your descendants. 5 All this will come to pass because Abraham obeyed me and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

In Genesis 35:9-12, God reaffirmed his covenant to Jacob, "God appeared to Jacob again after he returned from Paddan Aram and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but your name will no longer be called Jacob; Israel will be your name.” So God named him Israel. 11 Then God said to him, “I am the Sovereign God. Be fruitful and multiply! A nation – even a company of nations – will descend from you; kings will be among your descendants! 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you. To your descendants I will also give this land.”

In Genesis 48:3-4, Jacob recounted to Joseph what God had said when he appeared to him, "…The Sovereign God appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. 4 He said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will multiply you. I will make you into a group of nations, and I will give this land to your descendants as an everlasting possession’".

The everlasting nature of God's land covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a basic assumption throughout the rest of the bible and the end-time story. In Exodus 3:6, when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he identified himself as 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'. God was revealing himself as the God of the Abrahamic covenant who would honour and fulfil that covenant. In the birth narratives, both Mary and Zechariah affirm God's commitment to the Abrahamic covenant (Luke 1:55, 73). Jesus also speaks of God as 'the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob' (Matthew 8:11, 22:32, Mark 12:26, Luke 13:28, 20:37). By doing so, he affirms God's commitment to the Abrahamic covenant.


Boundaries of 'The Promised Land'
The land area described in the Abrahamic Covenant is known by Jews and Christians as 'The Promised Land'. It is sometimes also known as 'Greater Israel'. This implies that The Promised Land is an area of land greater than the modern State of Israel, and potentially greater even than historic Israel, even as it existed at its largest extent during the reigns of David and Solomon. The boundaries of the promised land are defined in the following scriptures:
Genesis 15:18-21, "That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River – 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites".

Deuteronomy 11:22-24, "For if you carefully observe all of these commandments I am giving you and love the Lord your God, live according to his standards, and remain loyal to him, 23 then he will drive out all these nations ahead of you, and you will dispossess nations greater and stronger than you. 24 Every place you set your foot will be yours; your border will extend from the desert to Lebanon and from the River (that is, the Euphrates) as far as the Mediterranean Sea".

Exodus 23:31, "I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River, for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you".

Joshua 1:2-4, "…Cross the Jordan River! Lead these people into the land which I am ready to hand over to them. 3 I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.
Analysing these scriptures, some boundaries are clearer than others. The eastern boundary is defined by the River Euphrates:
Stacks Image 4587
The western boundary is defined by the Mediterranean Sea, also called the Sea of the Philistines because they lived along the Mediterranean coastline.

The south-western boundary is defined by the 'river of Egypt'. Scholars debate whether this is the River Nile, which would designate a larger territory including the Sinai Peninsula, or whether it refers to a seasonal wadi along the south-western border of ancient Israel, which would exclude Sinai. The latter view seems better supported by Exodus 23:31, which defines it running from the Red Sea (i.e. from modern day Aqaba) to the Sea of the Philistines (the Meditteranean).

The south-eastern boundary is defined by 'the desert' and by the promise to both Moses and Joshua that wherever they set their feet would belong to Israel. Because this promise was given first to Moses, the Promised Land potentially includes the desert of their exodus wanderings. Traditionally, many Christian bible scholars have assumed that the Red Sea crossing was across the Bitter Lakes, and that Israel wandered around what is known today as 'The Sinai Peninsula'. According to that position, Mount Sinai is identified with Jabal Musa in Egypt. Modern research increasingly supports the position that the Red Sea crossing was across the Gulf of Aqaba from Nuweiba to modern-day Saudi Arabia. In that case, the true Mount Sinai is identified as Jabal Lawz in north-western Saudi Arabia, and the desert wanderings were around the Arabian Peninsula. So the Promised Land could include much of the Arabian Peninsula. This is consistent with many prophesies indicating that end-time Israel will conquer those left in Edom (e.g. Amos 9:12). By the time many of these prophesies were given, Edom was considered to stretch a long way south into the Arabia Peninsula, as far as Dedan (modern-day Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia) - see Ezekiel 25:13.

According to Joshua 1:4, the Promised Land extends northwards to Lebanon and includes all the land of the Hittites (interpreted as 'all of Syria' by the NET bible. Does this mean that Lebanon is included, or excluded? Although historically it was never included, Zechariah 10:10 prophesies that when God restores the northern tribes of Israel in the end times, he will settle them in Lebanon because there will not be enough room for all of them in Israel. Concerning the land of the Hittites, at the time this scripture was given during the exodus in the 15th century BC, the Hittite Empire extended over Syria and much of Turkey, as shown by the green border below:
Stacks Image 4589
So potentially, the Promised Land could include Lebanon, Syria and much of Turkey!

Historically, Israel never conquered the whole of the Promised Land. At its largest extent during the reigns of David and Solomon, Israel ruled the territory shown below:
Stacks Image 4591
God retains ownership of the Promised Land
Although God promised the land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it is clear from many scriptures that God still claims ownership of the Promised Land. God calls it 'My land' in 2 Chronicles 7:20, Isaiah 14:25, Jeremiah 2:7 and 16:18, Ezekiel 36:5 and 38:16, Joel 1:6 and 3:2. In the Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21:33-46, Jesus identifies God as the owner who plants a vineyard, and Israel is likened to the tenants. In Deuteronomy 28, God makes it clear that their ability to remain in the land and possess it is dependent upon them honouring the Mosaic Covenant. In others words they have to obey the set of laws expressed in Exodus 19 to 24, and in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 28 makes it very clear that if they disobey God's law, they will be driven out of the land and taken into captivity. But even if this happens, God's everlasting commitment to the Abrahamic Covenant is still assumed. In Deuteronomy 30:1-5, God promises that if they are driven out but later return to him and obey him, he will restore Israel to the land of their ancestors, even if they have been scattered to the most distant nations of the world. He promises that they will repossess it, and that he will then multiply their numbers more than he did their ancestors.

End-time Israel
In several end-time passages, God promises that Israel will conquer her enemies and that Israel's borders will be enlarged. Passages include:

Psalm 108:7-9 in which God declares his people's ownership of Shechem (in northern Israel), the Valley of Succoth, Gilead and Manasseh (which were the territories of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh on both east and west sides of the Jordan), Ephraim (roughly the same area as the occupied West Bank today), Judah (southern Israel including Jerusalem), Moab (central Jordan), Edom (southern Jordan and northern Arabia), and Philistia (Gaza).

Isaiah 26:15, "You have made the nation larger, O Lord, you have made the nation larger and revealed your splendour, you have extended all the borders of the land".

In Isaiah 54:2-3, God tells end-time Zion, "Make your tent larger, stretch your tent curtains farther out! Spare no effort, lengthen your ropes, and pound your stakes deep. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your children will conquer nations and will resettle desolate cities".

In Amos 9:11-12, speaking about end-time Israel, God says, "In that day I will rebuild the collapsing hut of David. I will seal its gaps, repair its ruins, and restore it to what it was like in days gone by. 12 As a result they will conquer those left in Edom and all the nations subject to my rule…"

Speaking of the 'Day of the Lord' at the end of the age, when the Messiah will begin to rule as king, Obadiah 1:17-21 says, "But on Mount Zion there will be a remnant of those who escape, and it will be a holy place once again. The descendants of Jacob will conquer those who had conquered them. 18 The descendants of Jacob will be a fire, and the descendants of Joseph a flame. The descendants of Esau will be like stubble. They will burn them up and devour them. There will not be a single survivor of the descendants of Esau!” Indeed, the Lord has spoken it. 19 The people of the Negev will take possession of Esau’s mountain, and the people of the foothills will take possession of the land of the Philistines. They will also take possession of the territory of Ephraim and the territory of Samaria, and the people of Benjamin will take possession of Gilead. 20 The exiles of this fortress of the people of Israel will take possession of what belongs to the people of Canaan, as far as Zarephath, and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will take possession of the towns of the Negev. 21 Those who have been delivered will go up on Mount Zion in order to rule over Esau’s mountain. Then the Lord will reign as King!

Zephaniah 2:4-9 says, "Indeed, Gaza will be deserted and Ashkelon will become a heap of ruins. Invaders will drive away the people of Ashdod by noon, and Ekron will be overthrown. 5 Beware, you who live by the sea, the people who came from Crete. The Lord’s message is against you, Canaan, land of the Philistines: “I will destroy everyone who lives there!” 6 The seacoast will be used as pasture lands by the shepherds and as pens for their flocks. 7 Those who are left from the kingdom of Judah will take possession of it. By the sea they will graze, in the houses of Ashkelon they will lie down in the evening, for the Lord their God will intervene for them and restore their prosperity. 8 “I have heard Moab’s taunts and the Ammonites’ insults. They taunted my people and verbally harassed those living in Judah. 9 Therefore, as surely as I live,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, “be certain that Moab will become like Sodom and the Ammonites like Gomorrah. They will be overrun by weeds, filled with salt pits, and permanently desolate. Those of my people who are left will plunder their belongings; those who are left in Judah will take possession of their land.”

If you Google 'Map of Greater Israel' you find results like the one below:
Stacks Image 4593
This map assumes the 'river of Egypt' to mean the River Nile, and takes into account most of the above. But if you include 'all the land of the Hittites' (Joshua 1:4), it could extend northwards still further into Turkey.

During the Millennium, Isaiah prophesies that God will make Egypt and Assyria a special blessing to the earth, alongside Israel. Egypt and Assyria seem to still be distinct and independent from Israel, but there will be a highway stretching across Egypt, Israel and Assyria, facilitating joint worship together in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 19:21-25 "21 The Lord will reveal himself to the Egyptians, and they will acknowledge the Lord’s authority at that time. They will present sacrifices and offerings; they will make vows to the Lord and fulfill them. 22 The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and then healing them. They will turn to the Lord and he will listen to their prayers and heal them. 23 At that time there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will visit Egypt, and the Egyptians will visit Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 At that time Israel will be the third member of the group, along with Egypt and Assyria, and will be a recipient of blessing in the earth. 25 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will pronounce a blessing over the earth, saying, “Blessed be my people, Egypt, and the work of my hands, Assyria, and my special possession, Israel!”

Today's Jews are the descendants of the southern kingdom of Judah which comprised the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Although they were exiled to Babylon in 586 BC, they later returned and resettled their ancestral homeland after Babylon fell to Persia in 539 BC. They were later driven out again by the Romans in 70 AD, but they preserved their cultural and ethnic identity in all the nations to which they were scattered. By contrast, the northern kingdom of Israel, comprising ten tribes, was exiled to Assyria in 722 BC and never returned. These ten tribes assimilated into the nations they were scattered amongst, and are now known as the lost tribes. However, many end-time passages prophesy that at the end of the age, God will not only restore the Jews to Israel, but also the descendants of the lost tribes. One such example is Isaiah 27:12-13, "At that time the Lord will shake the tree, from the Euphrates River to the Stream of Egypt. Then you will be gathered up one by one, O Israelites. At that time a large trumpet will be blown, and the ones lost in the land of Assyria will come, as well as the refugees in the land of Egypt. They will worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem". This implies that when God gives Israel the full extent of the land he promised to Abraham, it will include all twelve tribes of Israel. Isaiah 11:10-16 is another important prophecy about this.
Tags
Places: Israel, Greater Israel, Egypt, Assyria, Moab, Edom, Jordan, Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Philistia, Turkey, Land of the Hittites
Symbols:
Tags: Abrahamic covenant, Restoration of Israel and Judah, Israel inherits land from her enemies
The Obedience of Abram
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you.
2 Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, so that all the families of the earth may receive blessing through you.”
4 So Abram left, just as the Lord had told him to do, and Lot went with him. (Now Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran.)
5 And Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they left for the land of Canaan. They entered the land of Canaan.
6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the oak tree of Moreh at Shechem. (At that time the Canaanites were in the land.)
7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So Abram built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
(NET)
12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, but Lot settled among the cities of the Jordan plain and pitched his tents next to Sodom.
13 (Now the people of Sodom were extremely wicked rebels against the Lord.)
14 After Lot had departed, the Lord said to Abram, “Look from the place where you stand to the north, south, east, and west.
15 I will give all the land that you see to you and your descendants forever.
16 And I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone is able to count the dust of the earth, then your descendants also can be counted.
17 Get up and walk throughout the land, for I will give it to you.”
18 So Abram moved his tents and went to live by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron, and he built an altar to the Lord there.
(NET)
The Cutting of the Covenant
1 After these things the Lord’s message came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield and the one who will reward you in great abundance.”
2 But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, what will you give me since I continue to be childless, and my heir is Eliezer of Damascus?”
3 Abram added, “Since you have not given me a descendant, then look, one born in my house will be my heir!”
4 But look, the Lord’s message came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but instead a son who comes from your own body will be your heir.”
5 The Lord took him outside and said, “Gaze into the sky and count the stars – if you are able to count them!” Then he said to him, “So will your descendants be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord credited it as righteousness to him.
7 The Lord said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”
8 But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, by what can I know that I am to possess it?”
9 The Lord said to him, “Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two and placed each half opposite the other, but he did not cut the birds in half.
11 When birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep, and great terror overwhelmed him.
13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.
14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions.
15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.
16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts.
18 That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River –
19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites,
20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,
21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”
(NET)
The Sign of the Covenant
17 When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Sovereign God. Walk before me and be blameless.
2 Then I will confirm my covenant between me and you, and I will give you a multitude of descendants.”
3 Abram bowed down with his face to the ground, and God said to him,
4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of a multitude of nations.
5 No longer will your name be Abram. Instead, your name will be Abraham because I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.
6 I will make you extremely fruitful. I will make nations of you, and kings will descend from you.
7 I will confirm my covenant as a perpetual covenant between me and you. It will extend to your descendants after you throughout their generations. I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
8 I will give the whole land of Canaan – the land where you are now residing – to you and your descendants after you as a permanent possession. I will be their God.”
9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep the covenantal requirement I am imposing on you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.
10 This is my requirement that you and your descendants after you must keep: Every male among you must be circumcised.
11 You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskins. This will be a reminder of the covenant between me and you.
12 Throughout your generations every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, whether born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not one of your descendants.
13 They must indeed be circumcised, whether born in your house or bought with money. The sign of my covenant will be visible in your flesh as a permanent reminder.
14 Any uncircumcised male who has not been circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin will be cut off from his people – he has failed to carry out my requirement.”
15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for your wife, you must no longer call her Sarai; Sarah will be her name.
16 I will bless her and will give you a son through her. I will bless her and she will become a mother of nations. Kings of countries will come from her!”
17 Then Abraham bowed down with his face to the ground and laughed as he said to himself, “Can a son be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”
18 Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live before you!”
19 God said, “No, Sarah your wife is going to bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as a perpetual covenant for his descendants after him.
20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will indeed bless him, make him fruitful, and give him a multitude of descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes; I will make him into a great nation.
21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this set time next year.”
22 When he finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.
23 Abraham took his son Ishmael and every male in his household (whether born in his house or bought with money) and circumcised them on that very same day, just as God had told him to do.
24 Now Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised;
25 his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised.
26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised on the very same day.
27 All the men of his household, whether born in his household or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
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