God promised Noah that never again would water be sent to destroy as much life and as much of the earth as the Great Flood had done. He pointed out that the rainbow in the sky (see “rainbow symbolic of Jesus”: C-6, P-V) would be the covenant between God and all living creatures on the earth, indicating that a flood never would destroy all life on the earth again (Gen. 9:8-17).
Centuries later, God also made promises to and covenants with one of Noah’s descendants, Abram (whose name later was changed to Abraham—Gen. 17:5). These promises and covenants (as well as the promise to and covenant with Noah) are still in effect today.
Abram was a descendant of Shem, one of Noah’s sons. From Shem comes the name “Shemites” or “Semites,” a common name for the Jewish people of whom Abram (Abraham) was the “father.” Actually, a Semite is someone descended from Shem through any one of his five sons (Gen. 10:22).
This was God’s first promise to Abram:
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 people on earth will be blessed through you (Gen. 12:2,3).
At another time, God told Abram, “Look at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. ... So shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5). Now, fulfilling the promise of a “great nation”—and more offspring than the number of stars he could count—coming from Abram would involve quite a miracle because, when this promise was made, Abram was at least seventy-five years old (12:4c); and his wife, Sarai (whose name later was changed to Sarah—17:15) was barren (11:30, 16:1a).
However, “Abram believed the Lord, and [God] credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Because Abram (Abraham) believed God’s promise—that is, because of his faith—God viewed him as “righteous” before His eyes, worthy to receive the rewards of His promises. Then God made this further covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates...” (15:18). God also said this to Abram (Abraham):
As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. ... I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 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 (Gen. 17:4,7,8).
covenant of circumcision
As a physical sign or confirmation of the covenant between them, God told Abraham that he, all the males in his household, and all of his male descendants were to undergo circumcision (removal of the foreskin of the penis). This was begun by Abraham (Gen. 17:10-14) and continues even today. Being circumcised was an external confirmation that a man would be true to God and would not turn away from Him.
Years later, due to Abraham’s righteous faith in God, God gave him a son, Isaac, with his wife, Sarah, when Abraham was one hundred years old (Gen. 21:5) and Sarah was ninety years old (17:17c). Some time after Isaac was born, God tested Abraham’s faith and loyalty to Him (see “Isaac”: “foreshadowings of the Millennium”: C-13, P-I). He told Abraham to take Isaac and sacrifice him (22:2). Abraham believed, in faith, that God would provide a lamb “in the nick of time” for the sacrifice to substitute for Isaac (22:8a); so he bound Isaac on the altar and took the knife to slay him (22:9b,10). But, at the last moment, God spoke to him from heaven (see “the Angel of the Lord”: C-8, P-I, S-1) and stopped him, saying, “Do not lay a hand on the boy.... Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (22:11a,12). Then God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac (22:13).
Because Abraham trusted God and had been willing to sacrifice his only (legitimate) son, God reiterated and added to His previous promises by saying to Abraham,
I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring [seed] all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me (Gen. 22:16-18).
Why did God swear by Himself? “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself...” (Heb. 6:13).
Now, many of Abraham’s descendants would come through Abraham’s eldest son, Ishmael (Gen. 17:20, 21:13, 25:12-18), whose mother was Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar (16:3,4a,15). (Most of the present-day Arabic nations are from Ishmael’s lineage.) However, Abraham sent away Hagar and Ishmael (21:14), because God had told Abraham, “[I]t is through Isaac that your offspring [seed] will be reckoned” (21:12c). At this point, Isaac was considered Abraham’s “only son,” as he was the only son conceived legitimately by Abraham’s lawful wife, Sarah, and under God’s promise. God’s blessing and covenant would continue with and through Isaac (21:12c, 25:11) and Isaac’s son, Jacob (27:27b-30a, 28:1a,13-15).
The promises made to Abraham actually have a number of important ramifications. The first one concerns the descendants of Abraham through his grandson, Jacob (son of Isaac). The “great nation” of which God spoke (Gen. 12:2a) is Israel. (Jacob’s name later was changed to “Israel”—32:28.) Also, God later said to Moses, “Israel is my firstborn son”—Exo. 4:22.) God clearly stated that the nations who were friendly toward Israel ultimately would find favor with God, while those who were Israel’s enemies would be cursed by God (“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse...”—Gen. 12:3a).
This is why it is of utmost importance that the United States, one of Israel’s few modern allies, remains Israel’s friend and does not turn on nor abandon Israel due to pressure from the rest of the world (most of which is anti-Israel and anti-Jewish). If so, our country could well be judged and severely punished, along with all the other anti-Israel nations of the world.
Note the “el” ending on Israel. God has set His Name (see “El”: P-I) as part of the name of that nation. “Israel” means “prince with God” or “struggles with God.” The latter arises from a wrestling bout between Jacob (grandson of Abraham) and a “man” at a place called Peniel:
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:24-26).
After this struggle, “...the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome’” (Gen. 32:28). I believe that the unidentified “man” was God incarnate, because He said that Jacob had “struggled with God.” Also, “...Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared’” (32:30). Furthermore, I believe that this is the same incarnate form of God Who previously had appeared and had spoken to Abraham (18:1-3,10a,13,14) and later to Joshua (Josh. 5:13-15, 6:2-5).
Hosea described Jacob’s encounter as having been with an angel: “[A]s a man [Jacob] struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him” (Hosea 12:3b,4a). I believe this angel, in the form of a man, was the Angel of the Lord (see “the Angel of the Lord”: C-8, P-I, S-1)—the visible, touchable God.
Although there no doubt will be disagreement, I will state my opinion about this incident between Jacob (Israel) and the man (God incarnate). I see it as a picture or foreshadowing of how the nation of Israel would be rebellious and would “struggle” against her God. God has tried to “overpower” Israel with reason; however, He has not forced her to acknowledge Him and His great Plan of salvation, because He has given everyone, including His chosen people (Israel), the gift and privilege of free choice. At “daybreak” (which I believe is symbolic of the dawning of the Millennium—seeC-13), when the time for making choices is over, God will “wrench” Israel out of her disbelief and rebellion. Then all of God’s promises to Israel will be fulfilled, and those who choose not to “let go” of the true God will be blessed forever.
Due to Abraham’s complete trust, against all odds, in what God would do, God promised him, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates...” (Gen. 15:18). God also promised Abraham, “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” (17:8). This is an indication that, at some point in our future, the land of Israel will extend from what now is Egypt to what now is Iraq.
The twelve tribes of Israel, each arising from one of Jacob’s twelve sons, will share in this eternal inheritance (see “regathering of the Jews”: C-12, P-IV, S-1). These are the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel from four different wives (the mother of the first four was Leah; of the next two, Bilhah; of the next two, Zilpah; of the next two, Leah; and of the final two, Rachel—Gen. 29:32–30:24, 35:16b-18):
|1) *Reuben||4) *Judah||7) †Gad||10) *Zebulun|
|2) *Simeon||5) §Dan||8) †Asher||11) ‡Joseph|
|3) *Levi||6) §Naphtali||9) *Issachar||12) ‡Benjamin|
* mother = Leah § mother = Bilhah † mother = Zilpah ‡ mother = RachelJoseph
Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob, was a well-built, handsome man (Gen. 39:6c—see “pride in our appearance”: C-9, P-II) and was Jacob’s favorite. Joseph had two dreams, both of which were indications that his father, mother, and brothers would bow down to him as a ruler (Gen. 37:5-11). In the second dream, his family members were depicted by the sun, the moon, and stars, respectively (Gen. 37:9; Rev. 12:1), representing all of Israel. Because of Joseph’s dreams, his brothers despised him. So they sold Joseph for silver to a caravan of Ishmaelites (recall that Jacob’s half-uncle was Ishmael) going to Egypt (Gen. 37:25-28); they, in turn, sold him to Potiphar, an official and captain of the guard of the Egyptian Pharaoh (37:36). Meanwhile, Jacob’s other sons deceived their father into believing that Joseph had been killed by a ferocious animal (37:31-33).
In Egypt, Joseph was unjustly placed in prison (Gen. 39:6c-20a). But in jail, God was with him (39:20b-23), because Joseph was a vital link in the chain leading to the eventual fulfillment of God’s promises. After more than two years of imprisonment, Joseph precisely interpreted two dreams of Pharaoh (41:14-32), giving God the credit for doing so (41:16). Both dreams were an indication that Egypt would have seven productive years followed by seven years of famine, which is exactly what happened (41:53,54a). Joseph was placed as lord over Egypt, under Pharaoh (41:41-43); and, during the abundant years, he was in charge of storing up vast reserves of grain for the famine (41:47-49). Making this apparent “nobody” into a great “somebody” served as an example of how God keeps His pledges. (See also “Joseph”: “foreshadowings of the Millennium”: C-13, P-I.)
The famine also affected neighboring Israel, including Joseph’s family. Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain (Gen. 42:3); and, not recognizing Joseph (42:8), they bowed down before him (42:6b, 50:18), fulfilling his dreams of many years before. After an amazing sequence of events, showing the remarkable ways God works (and well worth reading), Jacob and all of the other children of Israel came to live in Egypt (42:1–46:7). There the Hebrew children of Israel remained for exactly 430 years until Moses led them out (Exo. 12:40,41).
As will be seen (in “mistreatment of children of Israel; plagues upon Egypt”: C-4, P-I), after Joseph’s generation had died, the children of Israel came to be unfairly treated in Egypt (Exo. 1:6-14); and God saw the unfairness and hardship they were enduring (3:16b). God had compassion on the persecuted children of Israel, because His Spirit could feel their pain (see “Heart and Emotion”: C-6, P-IV). Promising to free the people from their misery and bring them into a better land (3:17), God empowered a great man, Moses, to lead them out of captivity (12:31-41, 13:17–14:31). God’s special affection for the children of Israel, as well as for all people who have loved and obeyed Him throughout the ages, is evident in statements like these made by Moses to the people:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands (Deut. 7:6-9).
The next statement (by Moses to the children of Israel), however, makes it clear that God would (and will) destroy those who hated (hate) Him:
But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today (Deut. 7:10,11).
The eternal realities of God’s Love and Anger (see “Love” and “Anger”: C-6, P-IV) applied not only then to the children of Israel but even now to all people. In turn for our loving God and voluntarily adapting to His wonderful Plan (see “God’s Plan”: C-15, P-I), He has pledged to give us incomprehensibly more good things than we possibly could ever give up to follow Him. However, if we refuse to love, obey, or even acknowledge Him, He most assuredly will remain turned away from us and, even worse, will sever us from His presence eternally (see “rejection of God’s Plan”: C-14, P-I).
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