Israel and the Promised Land (III)

December 11, 2010

In my chapter, “Israel and the Nations in God’s Redemptive Plan,” which I recently placed on this blog for you to have the opportunity to read, if you choose, I concluded with an explanation of the spread chiasm of four of the statements related to the Abrahamic Promise in the middle chapters of Genesis.  The inverted parallelism develops like this:

A (12:3) To Abraham: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Promise/ Unconditional)

B (22:18) To Abraham: “In your seed all the families of the earth by your offspring, because you have obeyed my command” (Faith-Obedience Displayed/Conditional)

B’ (26:4) To Isaac: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed by your offspring, because Abraham listened to my voice and kept My mandate, My commands, My statutes and My instructions” (Faith-Obedience Recalled/Conditional)

A’ (28:14) To Jacob: “In you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Promise/Unconditional)

My understanding of what is laid out here is different from those who see the Abrahamic Covenant/Promise as being either exclusively unilateral/unconditional or bilateral/conditional.  I think the mirroring material in the chiasm above demonstrates that the Abrahamic Promise/Covenant is to be understood as primarily unconditional (i.e., ultimately everlasting), but secondarily conditional (i.e., upon faith/obedience for continuance in blessings and residence in the land).

In between the initial promise to Abram, in 12:1-3, and his great test of faith/obedience (see Heb. 11:17-19), in Gen. 22:1ff., are two great back-to-back steps forward in God’s progressive revelation: 1) Abram’s faith in response to God’s renewed/clarified promise in 15:6, notably including the promised land (see v. 7); and 2) God’s “cutting” of a clearly unilateral (i.e., one party responsible for keeping it) covenant in 15:9-21.  Lest there be any misunderstanding as to why Abram was put to sleep (15:12) to see the covenant ceremony, verse 18 says, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘I give this land to your offspring from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates River” (HCSB).  All this was in response to Abram’s question in verse 8: “Lord God, how can I know that I will possess it?”

That is the unconditional side of things.  However, we must also pay attention to why Abrams’s descendants are required to wait quite a while (15:13) to inherit the land: “… for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full” (15:16, HCSB). 

What this shows is that, even before the land came into the possession of Israel, God, though extremely patient (see 2 Pet. 3:9), does not at all overlook the (cumulative) sinfulness of the occupants of His “holy land.”  A number of further examples of this crucial principle will be seen as we move further through the Bible in future posts.


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