The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
At this point it is worth bearing in mind that there are other interpretations of the verses examined already, although we have only covered, so far, a couple of chapters in Genesis. Objections have been raised against some of the assumptions made so far. These will be covered shortly, but, in the meantime, please indulge me as I build my case.
A literal reading of the Biblical account seems quite clear and explicit. The land belongs, by divine decree, to the descendants of Abram. The only things that we need to get clear are:
1. Who are the descendants of Abram?
2. What are the conditions for this very generous offer?
To answer the first question we have to look at one of Abram’s very human failings, his impatience. Perhaps quite a few years had passed since this great act of faith and the old bones were creaking a bit. After all he was around 86 years old now when Sarai turned round to him and said, “It’s not happening is it, dear?” No child had yet burst forth from her loins.
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said.” (Genesis 16:1-2)
So his wife, Sarai, talked him into sleeping with Hagar, her Egyptian maidservant, to ‘hurry things along’ and give God a hand. Out of this union came a child, Ishmael, the ‘father of the Arab nations’ and this act of impatience laid the foundations for the current Middle Eastern conflict, over 4000 years later! Surely, you may say, the Arab people can claim that Abram, the father of Ishmael, was their ancestor too and so the Biblical promises concerning the land could be theirs as well as for the Jews?
In fact God does give them specific promises. We read them in Genesis 16:10-12. Firstly, ‘I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count’ and (referring to Ishmael) ‘he would be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility towards all his brothers’.
But as far as the covenant promises of the land are concerned, their claim is null and void according to the Word of God, which we will discover as the story unfolds.
God’s relationship with Abram – now 99 years old – deepens in Genesis 17, when the covenant is confirmed and some small print added.
‘The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God’ (verse 8).
Again the land is mentioned – Canaan is confirmed as an everlasting possession for Abram and his descendants. God also confirms the everlasting nature of the covenant, reminding Abram of the sheer numbers of his descendants and also declaring that He, the God of Abram, will also be the God of his descendants and Abram also gets a name change, to Abraham, meaning ‘father of many nations’, adding weight to the earlier promise of ‘making him into a great nation’.
The next verse is where some may question the unconditional nature of the covenant. In verse 9, God says, ‘as for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep … ‘
It seems that this covenant can be broken, so can Abraham’s descendants break the covenant and nullify it? It’s true they can, but what God is actually talking about here is the act of circumcision, the sign of the covenant. We read this in the next verse:
‘This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised’ (verse 10).
Much squealing must have been heard in camp on the day Abraham and his son were circumcised. He didn’t have the benefit of anaesthetic or the trusting nature of an 8-day-old baby! Abraham was 99 years old when he was snipped. And no men in his household escaped from this ordeal, even foreign servants. They were all put to the blade. It was to be a visible reminder from that day onwards that Abraham and his descendants belonged to God in a special way.
This was the only condition that God imposed. If Abraham’s descendants were to stop circumcising their children, then they individually, will be cut off from the covenant, but as far as the unconditional nature of the covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants, concerning the land, that’s as ‘safe as houses’.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Outcast Nation)