Abrahamic Covenants Now Terminated

Collateral Covenants Fulfilled and Terminated

By R.B.C. Howell

In Genesis 12, we have the original promise made to Abraham: “In you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” In this simple narrative, we have the pledge that the Messiah shall come of his family.  Abraham was seventy-five and received the promise with faith, and promptly complied with the command which the promise was associated. “Into the land of Canaan they came. And Abraham passed through the land to the plain of Moreh” and built an altar unto the Lord, who there again appeared to him, and said, “To you will I give this land.”  Paul explains in Galatians 3:8-9; “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to your seed, which is Christ.”

Promises of the land of Canaan were indeed (so important was the separate national existence of Israel regarded) included also  in the Genesis 15 covenant and also, as we shall see, in the subsequent “covenant of circumcision”. The land covenant was inaugurated. The family of Abraham was separated from all others, and made a distinct nation. A specified territory was prescribed, where they were to remain under the divine government and protection. In that land they were to reside, a peculiar people and an isolated people, until Christ would come and establish His claims, and by one offering perfect forever all them that are sanctified.

The second collateral covenant was also made with Abraham, and is known as “the covenant of circumcision”. The first covenant separated Israel as a nation from every other people. This second covenant distinguished them as individuals. The covenant of circumcision was made with Abraham when he was ninety-nine years old;   eighteen  years after the covenant of the land, and twenty four years after the “the covenant of promise in Christ.”

Genesis 17. “This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you, and your seed after you; every man child shall be circumcised.” “And my covenant shall be in your flesh, for an everlasting covenant”. “And the uncircumcised man shall be cut off from his people.”

This covenant excludes from that family everyone who shall be found uncircumcised. Its general bearing is explained by Paul, who says: “I testify again, to every man who is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. “ This rite was observed by his descendents until the object which is proposed, had been effectually secured. Christ came; its design was accomplished; the covenant, as all the others of like temporary character, ceased to exist.  The gospel now reigns, under which “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God.”

The third and last of the collateral covenants is known as the covenant of Sinai. This covenant gave to the people of Israel their peculiar national government. It was not made with Abraham, but “with the fathers, when God took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.”

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4 Comments on “Abrahamic Covenants Now Terminated”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.

    So Ishmael was never an outward Jew, or was cut off from being an outward Jew? When? Were Esau and Ishmael in the outward “new covenant”? Were Jacob and Isaac in the new covenant?

    Romans 9: 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

    Since Abraham is the father of those who believe the gospel, does that mean that Abraham is not the father in any sense of Esau and Ishmael? Since Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that His seed would bring salvation and the “new covenant”, does this prove that Esau and Ishmael were in the new covenant? I suppose the problem here is that Paul is not using the administration/substance distinction and therefore Paul’s “not all” makes it sound like some kind of antithesis.

    Romans 9:8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

    But it would be too simple to flat out say that Ishmael was “not a child of God” and not a “child of promise”. Better to ignore that there are various promises to Abraham, and assume that a promise to Abraham is also a promise to Ishmael, even if that promise turns out to be conditional.

    Romans 9: 30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it….

    But this is not normal or ordinary. Usually you have to be in the covenant, and then it’s conditional on if you pursue it the right way, like we do.

    Galatians 4: 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.

    But focus on verse 24, and see that the law is about Sinai and Moses, so this is not about Abraham, not about the two sons of Abraham, even though verse 22 talks about Ishmael also, and verse 23 sounds like there is no promise for Ishmael, but we know this is not true, because we know that the Abrahamic covenant has a promise for Ishmael also, even if it’s conditional. So the son of the slave born according to the flesh really has nothing to do with Abraham but only with Moses.

    So it comes down to what the “new” in new covenant means. Does it mean “utterly” new or a “gradually a little” new or “someday in the end” new or “different in kind” new or “conditioned only on Christ” new? Is the new covenant in ANY WAY different from the Abrahamic covenant? Not when you talking to baptists, because then you need to keep it simple so they can get it .

    Since Scott Clark has used the rhetoric of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend News already , let me do so as well. REALLY?

    We tend to come out with the same presuppositions with which we entered. This is a long debate. It will not be resolved here soon. And it’s not because one side is stupid or rebels against God’s Word. Even when we make a distinction between outer and inner, that does not mean that we need to say that the never-justified yet are in the new covenant. Waiting to see who God calls is not only about waiting for Gentiles to come in. Unless we have an over-realized eschatology, we know that some of our children have not yet been called. The promise of the gospel was never for those who never believe it.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    DeRouchie—In contrast to previous covenants, the ‘seed’ of the new covenant are not physically born into covenant membership. Even Sarah ultimately experienced labor in pain at Isaacs birth (Isaiah 51:2), but the ‘barren ones’s’ lack of labor and childbearing in 54:1 suggest that spiritual adoption, not physical birth, would characterize the identity of the new children.”

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Martin Luther on Genesis 17 —“But at this point it is proper to raise the question why in this passage God clearly distinguishes one covenant from the other, for he mentions two covenants. The first is the covenant of circumcision, to which Ishmael also is admitted, yes, the slaves to whether born in the house of Abraham or purchased…The second covenant is here established with Isaac. Ishmael is clearly excluded from it. Hence this text proves that besides the covenant of circumcision there is another, which pertains to Isaac alone and not, like the covenant of circumcision, Ishmael also.”

    https://books.google.com/books?id=40m8BAAAQBAJ&pg=PA585&lpg=PA585&dq=The+second+covenant+is+here+established+with+Isaac.+Ishmael+is+clearly+excluded+from+it.+Hence+this+text+proves+that+besides+the+covenant+of+circumcision+there+is+another,+which+pertains+to+Isaac+alone+and+not,+like+the+covenant+of+circumcision,+Ishmael+also.%22&source=bl&ots=u7aBzeTkhI&sig=lUfRxhzpUen0COLYBnDP5pLl_wk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwid8-jJ3v3NAhVBcT4KHaWUA_kQ6AEIHjAA#v=onepage&q=The%20second%20covenant%20is%20here%20established%20with%20Isaac.%20Ishmael%20is%20clearly%20excluded%20from%20it.%20Hence%20this%20text%20proves%20that%20besides%20the%20covenant%20of%20circumcision%20there%20is%20another%2C%20which%20pertains%20to%20Isaac%20alone%20and%20not%2C%20like%20the%20covenant%20of%20circumcision%2C%20Ishmael%20also.%22&f=false


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