By Joshua Spurlock
The first words recorded in Scripture between Avraham (Abraham) and HaShem (the LORD) are truly astounding. After calling Avraham (then known as Avram / Abram) to leave his homeland and his relatives, HaShem gives a stunning promise to him that would change the world.
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
– Bereshit (Genesis) 12:2-3, ESV
If you have read this passage in Parashat Lekh-Lecha before, you may have lost the awe and wonder of this promise. But consider this: HaShem is literally promising Avraham that he will be used to change the world. Furthermore, it is a promise that is absolutely critical to our relationship with G-d.
Promising a People
Before Avraham, there was no national Am HaShem (People of the LORD). There was no Yisrael (Israel), there was no people group set apart for G-d, and no home for His presence in Olam HaZeh (This world).
This is not to say that there weren’t believers in HaShem that were part of His people in a sense, but those persons were not united as a nation. The promises to Avraham, however, change everything.
Shaul (Paul) speaks highly of the descendants of Yaakov (Jacob), with good reason.
“Then what advantage has the Jew [Yehudi]? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews [Yehudim] were entrusted with the oracles of God [Elohim].”
– Romans 3:1-2, ESV
Before Yisrael, there was no nation that received HaShem’s Torah (Instruction) and had become a light to the nations of the world. It was to Yisrael that HaShem spoke to and through, and it is to Yisrael that those who are called by HaShem from among the nations are joined by grace through faith in Messiah Yeshua.
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.”
– Romans 11:17-18, ESV
One of the promises HaShem makes to Avraham regarding his descendants that become Am Yisrael is the promise of relationship with Himself.
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God [Elohim] to you and to your offspring after you.”
– Bereshit / Genesis 17:7, ESV
Later, HaShem confirms that promise and reiterates it to Moshe (Moses).
“Say therefore to the people of Israel [Yisrael], ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians [Mitzrayim], and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm [Bizroa Netuyah] and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God [Elohim], and you shall know that I am the LORD your God [Elohekem], who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians [Mitzrayim]. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham [Avraham], to Isaac [Yitzhak], and to Jacob [Ya’acov]. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’”
– Shemot (Exodus) 6:6-8, ESV
Throughout history, HaShem has repeatedly called Yisrael His people. And it began with the promises to Avraham.
Promising the Progeny
Of course the only way that Avraham can become a people is through children. HaShem makes him that promise as well, but the promise of offspring to Avraham goes deeper than just a son who would carry on his name. Ultimately, it is the promise of Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ) Himself.
“Now the promises were made to Abraham [Avraham] and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ [Mashiakh].”
– Galatians 3:16, ESV
Shaul is not arguing that the promises do not apply and are not carried by Avraham’s immediate descendant—Yitzhak (Isaac)—but that the ultimate descendant promised to Avraham that would inherit the promises to own them and be the guarantor of them to others is Yeshua.
One of the promises given to the immediate descendants of Avraham is a powerful promise of victory over their enemies, and it too speaks of Mashiakh.
“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies.”
– Bereshit (Genesis) 22:17, ESV
This promise to overwhelm the “gate” of the enemy sounds remarkably similar to a promise Yeshua makes to His disciple Kefa (Peter) regarding the power of His position for His people.
“Simon Peter [Shimon Kefa] replied, ‘You are the Christ [HaMashiakh], the Son of the living God [Elohim].’ And Jesus [Yeshua] answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah [Shimon Bar Yonah]! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven [BaShamayim]. And I tell you, you are Peter [Kefa], and on this rock I will build my church [Kehilah], and the gates of hell [Gk. hades] shall not prevail against it.”
– Mattityahu (Matthew) 16:16-18, ESV
What a promise!
This, however, is not a new promise. It is the same promise given to Avraham about his physical offspring—which is ultimately Yeshua. This does not mean that the physical descendants of Avraham were not the recipients of the promises. Heaven forbid! On the contrary, Yeshua—himself a physical descendant of Avraham—is the primary inheritor of those promises as a member of Am Yisrael.
Shaul, speaking of the physical people Yisrael, says,
“As regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God [Elohim] are irrevocable.”
– Romans 11:28b-29, ESV
In fact, the promises to Yisrael are eternal and are cited as a key reason for HaShem’s ongoing relationship and election of the physical descendants of Avraham.
HaShem makes numerous promises to Avraham before He makes any demands of Avraham’s responsibility. In Bereshit 15, HaShem makes a covenant with Avraham that does not mention anything of Avraham’s responsibilities towards HaShem.
“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram [Avram], saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt [Mitzrayim] to the great river, the river Euphrates [N’har P’rat], the land of the Kenites [Kenii], the Kenizzites [Kenizzi], the Kadmonites [Kadmoni], the Hittites [Khetti], the Perizzites [Prezzi], the Rephaim, the Amorites [Amori], the Canaanites [Kena’ani], the Girgashites [Girgashi] and the Jebusites [Yebusi].”
– Bereshit (Genesis) 15:17-20, ESV
Later, when HaShem does call upon Avraham and his descendants to uphold their role in a covenant with Himself in Bereshit chapter 17, that responsibility is merely the physical act of Brit Millah (circumcision). In other words, HaShem’s promises to Avraham are remarkably one-sided. Throughout HaShem’s relationship with Yisrael, it is those “one-sided” promises that prove HaShem’s faithfulness in spite of Yisrael’s sins.
“For the LORD your God [Elohekha] is a merciful God [El Rakhum]. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:31, ESV
“Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God [Elohekha] is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham [Avraham], to Isaac [Yitzhak], and to Jacob [Ya’acov].”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 9:5, ESV
And when Yisrael sinned most grievously in the wilderness with the egel vahav (golden calf), it was the covenant with Avraham that Moshe used as a key part of his plea to HaShem to spare the people in spite of their sin.
“Remember Abraham [Avraham], Isaac [Yitzhak], and Israel [Yisrael], your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”
– Shemot (Exodus) 32:13-14, ESV
For those Gentiles who have been grafted into Yisrael by grace through faith in Messiah Yeshua, they should be very grateful for HaShem’s faithfulness to the promises to Avraham. Especially since the promises are a vital reason the Gentiles have any hope at all.
HaShem promises Avraham many things: offspring, blessings, a physical land, and a relationship between Himself and Avraham’s descendants. But HaShem also promises to use Avraham and his descendants to spread that promise and blessing abroad.
“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
– Bereshit (Genesis) 12:3, ESV
This blessing is foundational to the salvation of the Gentiles. Shaul keys in on this as a primary promise by HaShem to include the world in His plan of redemption.
“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God [Elohim] would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham [Avraham], saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham [Avraham], the man of faith.”
– Galatians 3:8-9, ESV
Furthermore, it is through that promised Offspring of Avraham—Yeshua HaMashiakh—that the Gentiles receive that blessing.
“Christ [Mashiakh] redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus [Mashiakh Yeshua] the blessing of Abraham [Avraham] might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit [Ruakh] through faith [emunah].”
– Galatians 3:13-14, ESV
Time and time again in the Book of Romans, Shaul uses Avraham as the quintessential man of faith whose example proves and paves the way for Gentiles to be saved by faith in HaShem through Yeshua. In other words, without Avraham and the promises made to him, Gentiles have no way to HaShem. After all, it is the covenants to Am Yisrael that promise the only true relationship with HaShem.
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ [Mashiakh], alienated from the commonwealth of Israel [Yisrael] and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God [Elohim] in the world. But now in Christ Jesus [Mashiakh Yeshua] you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ [Mashiakh].”
– Ephesians 2:11-13, ESV
So whether you are a physical descendant of Avraham or not, your hope and faith rest on the promises HaShem made to this great man of faith. As you read these blessings and covenants, may they inspire you with a sense of awe and gratefulness to our Faithful Creator for His love toward Avraham and us.
May you live out the blessings and divine relationship promised to Avraham, and may you shine their light to all those living without them in the grace and power of our Lord Yeshua HaMashiakh—the Offspring of Avraham.