Q&A: Lectures on Prophecy and Genesis 12

Lectures on Prophecy and Genesis 12

Question

I'm listening to your "Lectures on Prophecy" series and am very much enjoying it. I have one question, though. You stated that Genesis 12 is not of covenant passage between God and Abram. Why do you feel it is not a covenant passage?

Answer

Scripture uses the term covenant in a couple of different ways when referring to Gods covenant(s) with human beings. On the one hand, we find special covenant ceremonies, like the one that took place between God and Abraham in Genesis 15. On the other hand, the Bible often indicates that a covenant relationship exists between God and his people, whereby he shows benevolence to them, places stipulations or requirements on them, and promises consequences of blessings and curses on them as a result of their obedience or disobedience to the stipulations. In all cases, when God makes a covenant with human beings, he solemnly promises to act in particular ways. Covenants restrict Gods freedom because he voluntarily obligates himself to abide by their terms.

Genesis 12 doesn't contain the normal covenant elements or vocabulary. It doesn't use any words like covenant, oath, promise, vow, swear or the like. The passage doesn't contain any covenant ceremony or refer to one having been made elsewhere. Moreover, there also doesn't appear to be a covenant behind the scenes. That is to say, a covenant doesn't appear to have been assumed as part of the background for the rest of the things the chapter says, and no other part of Scripture refers to a covenant that existed between God and Abraham at this time. To all appearances, this means that God didn't obligate himself to fulfill the offers he made to Abraham in Genesis 12.

In fact, Genesis 15 seems to assume that no prior covenant existed. In Genesis 15:8, even after believing God (Gen. 15:6), Abraham still asked God for something that would give Abraham confidence that God would fulfill his offers of blessing. The reason for this is that prior to God making a covenant in Genesis 15:9ff., God hadn't actually promised anything. He had merely offered blessings to Abraham. But offers aren't as secure as promises (cf. Jer. 18:1-10). These are the same kinds of offers we also see in Genesis 12. So, in Genesis 15:8, Abraham asked God to make a covenant so that Abraham would be absolutely certain to receive these blessings.

Later, in Genesis 17:2, we find the language of confirming a covenant that had already been established between God and Abraham. In this covenant confirmation, God confirmed two promises he had previously made to Abraham: many descendants (Gen. 17:4-6) and possession of the Promised Land (Gen. 17:8). Neither of these blessings was mentioned in Genesis 12; both come from Genesis 15.

For these reasons, it seems best to understand Genesis 12 as an offer of blessing made to Abraham. Certainly this offer was programmatic for God's unfolding relationship with Abraham and foreshadowed the covenant that would later be made. But at this stage, it wasn't a covenant yet.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.