The Place of the Abrahamic Covenant in the Salvation of Mankind


In the Bible, the word seed carries the idea of children or descendants proceeding from a progenitor. The Hebrew word is zera which means posterity; progeny, offspring. The Greek word is sperma which has almost the same meaning as its Hebrew equivalent.

It is necessary to remember that the English word seed can be either singular or plural depending on the context. There are several English words like this, for example, deer and sheep. Whether one is referring to one descendant or a multitude of descendants, the same word, seed, is used. The context determines the number of the meaning.

Since the beneficiaries under the terms of the covenant are called "The seed of Abraham" it should be noted that the word "seed" is used in five different senses with respect to the progeny of Abraham.

Seed # 1

The word "seed" is synonymous with the words progeny, descendant, offspring, and posterity. Any persons who have Abraham as their ancestor can properly by called "The seed of Abraham". Like the English words, fish, sheep, deer etc, the word "seed" can be either singular or plural. The context in which the word is used, determines whether a single descendant is referred to or whether the text refers to a multitude or group of descendants.

Abraham had at least three wives. From Sarah was born Isaac. From Hagar was born Ishmael and from Keturah were born at least six sons who are nominated in Gen. 25:2: Zimram, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Children from all three wives can be rightly described as "the seed of Abraham". They all proceeded from "the loins of Abraham". All of these, in turn, had progeny which, as the generations descended, amounted to millions of peoples.

The first child born to Abraham was Isshmael (Gen. 16:11) His mother was a non-Israelite, an Egyptian named Hagar. Later on, Esau, the brother of Jacob (Israel) married one of the daughters of Ishmael. As time went on the progeny of Ishmael and Esau became intermingled and today they constitute the Arab nations surrounding the modern nation of Israel. Since Abraham was their progenitor they are, as far as natural descent goes, the seed of Abraham.

Abraham also had sons at a later date by Keturah. One of these was Midian. The Midianites, along with the other descendants of Keturah, intermarried with the Ishmaelites and are part of the Arab nations today.

Seed # 2

The second son born to Abraham was Isaac. Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah, his wife, was ninety years old when Isaac was born. Since Sarah had long since passed the menopause, her conception of Isaac was a direct result of the miraculous intervention of God. Hence, he is called by the Apostle Paul, A child of promise.

With Isaac, we are introduced to a Biblical concept which we will call, The Principle of Exclusiveness. Just as in a will or testament, the testator may exclude certain of his children (for one reason or another) so, in the Covenant with Abraham, The Principle of Exclusiveness became operative.

Although the terms of the covenant provided that the seed of Abraham would be heirs and beneficiaries of the covenanted blessings, nevertheless, the seed of Abraham from Hagar and Keturah were specifically excluded from heirship. Sonship does not automatically confer and guarantee heirship. In other words, they were disinherited, that is, they were deprived from coming into possession of certain rights which would normally devolve upon them as a result of descent.

When Sarah saw the son of Hagar mocking Isaac on the feast-day of Isaac's weaning, Sarah said unto Abraham, "Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman shall not be HEIR with my son, even with Isaac." (Gen. 21:10). Although this pronouncement was "very grievous" in Abraham's sight, God confirmed the dictum of Sarah, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called". (Gen.21:12). Although Abraham had many sons, from this point onwards, the only descendants who were qualified, reckoned or deemed as HEIRS of the covenant, were Isaac and his progeny

By this pronouncement, Ishmael, and his progeny, were excluded as beneficiaries and HEIRS of the covenant which God had made with Abraham. While it is quite true that Ishmael and Esau and their progeny had Abraham as their progenitor, and were therefore part of the natural seed of Abraham, legally, they were cut off from the covenant and excluded from its terms.

The only descendants of Abraham that were qualified for HEIRSHIP were in the line of Isaac and Jacob. The lines of Ishmael and Esau were excluded.

The covenant was later confirmed to Isaac (Gen, 28:3-5) and later still to Jacob (Gen. 23:13-14) whose name was subsequently changed to Israel. (Gen 32:28) The same Principle of Exclusiveness became operative between Jacob and Esau as it was formerly operative between Isaac and Ishmael. HEIRSHIP under the terms of the covenant was exclusively in the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel). Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. (Gen. 25:33).

The effect of the Principle of Exclusiveness was that of all the descendants or seed of Abraham, only the descendants in the line of Isaac and Jacob qualify for heirship under the terms of the covenant. All the rest, the Ishmaelites, the Hagarenes, the Midianites, the Edomites, etc., are excluded.

Seed # 3

When Jacob's name was changed from "Jacob" to "Israel" (Gen. 32:28), the descendants of Jacob were henceforward called "The Children of Israel" or Israelites. Since the true "Seed of Abraham" was confined to the line of Isaac-Jacob (Israel), as far as the covenant was concerned, the heirs and beneficiaries were restricted to the Children of Israel. This people were later referred to as "Israelites" and later still as "Jews".

Does this mean, then, that the whole nation of Israel were to become heirs of the Abrahamic covenant? By no means. The reason for this is that another Divine Principle of Exclusiveness was operative, namely, "They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. " (Rom. 9:8)

We need to digress here and discuss the significance of the word counted. A synonym for counted is reckoned, treated as, or deemed. What Paul is saying is that, out of the multitudinous Nation of Israel, (the Jews) only those who were "children of the promise" that is, those who had faith in the covenant, were deemed, reckoned and counted as the true seed of Abraham.

In other words, just because a person is a descendant of Jacob by the accident of birth, does not automatically entitle him/her to heirship under the terms of the covenant. As Paul argues in Romans 9: 6-7, "For they are not all Israel which are of Israel."

A concept is introduced here that takes some explanation. What does Paul mean by saying "They are not all Israel.."? Frequently, in the Bible, the term Israel has a spiritual connotation. It is an equivalent expression for God's elect; the saints; the redeemed. When Jesus saw Nathaniel, he exclaimed, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile". (John 1:47). Paul refers to the saints in the Galatian ecclesias as "The Israel of God". (Gal. 6:16)

Very frequently in the Psalms, the word "Israel" is used to describe the true children of God by faith, in contradistinction to the natural descendants of the patriarchs, who are styled "Jacob." An instance: "When the Lord bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob (the natural seed) shall rejoice and Israel (the spiritual seed) shall be glad. (Psa. 14:7). "Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac, and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and unto Israel for an everlasting covenant." (Psa, 105:9-10). And again, "For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure". (Psa. 135:4)

Therefore when Paul observes, "They are not all Israel which are of Israel" we could explain this concept by turning the sentence from back to front. The expression "of Israel" is tantamount to the expression "the natural descendants of Jacob" in short, the Jewish people or the Nation of Israel What Paul is arguing is this: Just because a person is a Jew, a natural descendant of Jacob, does not qualify him for the designation of a true Israelite - that is, a saint in the eyes of God,

He further goes on to say, "Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children.. " Here the word children is another expression for "children of God" - true Israelites or saints of the Most High. Natural descent, of itself, confers no heirship of the Abrahamic covenant.

Paul concludes this portion of his explanation by adding, "They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God." The "children of the flesh" - the natural descendants - are here contrasted with "the children of God" - the spiritual seed, the true saints of the Almighty.

Paul's final summation is: "the children of the promise are counted for the seed". While all naturally-born Jews are the fleshly descendants of the patriarchs, the only ones of this multitude that are deemed or reckoned to be qualifiers for the inheritance nominated in the covenant are those who are "children of the promise" - that is, those who have faith in the promises as exhibited by the faith of Abraham and who walk in his steps.

We are now in a position to define the Seed # 3 of Abraham. The only natural Israelites who will inherit the promises are those who become heirs of the Abrahamic covenant through faith therein and who "walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham". They constitute the called, the chosen and the faithful; "Israelites indeed"; the "Israel of God" - the true spiritual seed of Abraham.

Examples of the natural seed of Abraham who are counted for the true or spiritual seed of Abraham are such men as Moses, Daniel and Samuel. Examples of the natural seed of Abraham but who have no part nor lot in the eternal inheritance are Korah, Ahab and Jeroboam.

Seed # 4

As mentioned above, the word "seed" can be either singular or plural. The context is the determining factor in its usage.

When the covenant was extended to Abraham and recorded in Genesis 17, the context demands that the word "seed" be construed in the plural sense. "I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations... (Gen. 17:7). The usage of the word "their" in conjunction with the word "seed" indicates a plurality of descendants.

A similar usage is found in Gen. 17:8, "And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, ..all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be THEIR God."

If this is the case, why did the Apostle Paul make such a point in Galatians 3:16 that the promised seed was in the singular number and was, in fact, one person, namely Jesus Christ? "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, 'And to seeds' in the plural, but in the singular, 'And to thy seed' (singular) - which is Christ".

The answer to this question is found in Gem 22:17 where the extension of the covenant under oath is recorded, "Thy seed shall possess the gate of HIS enemies." The usage of the word HIS indicates that the "seed" referred to is just one person and the Apostle leaves us in no doubt that this singular seed is Jesus Christ.

In passing, we should note that the whole argument of Paul in proving that Jesus Christ is the singular seed of Abraham and that it is through him that all nations of the earth will be blessed is totally lost in the translation of both the RSV and the NIV. In both of these versions, the translation of Genesis 22:17 is set forth, not as a singular seed but as a multitudinous seed. This manipulation of the text, effectively nullifies the reasoning of Paul in Galatians 3:16. Under divine inspiration, Paul identifies Jesus Christ as the (singular) seed referred to in Genesis 13:15:

"For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed for ever".

The "land" that Abraham saw in four directions is present-day Israel. It was promised to Abraham; to his greater Son, Jesus Christ; and by extension, to the heirs of the covenant, namely, baptized believers.

The apostle further emphasizes his point in Galatians 3:19 where he argues, "Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come TO WHOM the promise was made". It is important to note that the apostle does not say, "....ABOUT WHOM the promise was made". He is very specific that the covenant was made to Jesus Christ personally in its primary application, and that he is also promised the Land of Israel along with the spiritual seed of Abraham.

It is Jesus who is going to "possess the gate of his enemies" and it is through Jesus that "all nations of the earth shall be blessed". (Gen, 22:17-18) The Scriptures place especial emphasis on the connection between Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Covenant. Not only is he described as "the messenger of the covenant" (Mal.3:1) but he is described as A COVENANT in Isaiah 42:6: "I the Lord,,, give thee for A COVENANT of the people, for a light unto the Gentiles".

Seed # 5

In addition to the covenant conferring eternal benefits, personally upon both Abraham and his seed - Christ, provision was made for the true seed of Abraham to join in the covenant and so become beneficiaries under its terms. This provision is set forth in Genesis 17:7 , "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee AND THY SEED AFTER THEE IN THEIR GENERATIONS for an everlasting covenant...."

We have seen men like Moses, Samuel and Daniel did join in the Abrahamic covenant by faith and by walking in the steps of Abraham. These men were all Jews - natural descendants of Abraham in the line of Isaac and Jacob. They will be recipients of the blessings of the covenant which includes a resurrection from the dead, and an eternal inheritance in the Holy Land. This implies the forgiveness of their sins through the redemptive work of the singular seed, Christ.

The Great Question, the Mystery, the Enigma to be solved is this: How can a Gentile, who is not descended from Abraham by natural birth, ever become a beneficiary of a covenant that confers benefits exclusively on Jews.

A vital part of the Book of Ephesians is devoted by Paul to explain the solution to this Mystery. The explanation is contained in Eph. 3:2-8 which we will now discuss in detail.

Paul begins in verse 3 by declaring that the explanation of The Mystery was granted to him by direct divine revelation. Furthermore, says Paul, The Mystery in former ages "was not made known unto the sons of men". He then continues in verse 5 by announcing that The Mystery has been revealed to his holy apostles (of whom Paul was chief).

Paul then discloses, in verse 6, to his readers (and us) the divine solution to The Mystery. An understanding of the solution is so vital to Gentile believers that it is necessary to explain it in detail.

Ephesians 3:6:


Paul makes six points in his explanation which need expansion:

  1. "That the Gentiles" The Mystery in essence concerns how Gentiles can join in the Abrahamic Covenant and thus become heirs of the blessings contained therein.

  2. "Should be fellowheirs" We should next discuss the ramifications of the word "Heir". An heir is one who is entitled to inherit and is the rightful future recipient and beneficiary of the blessings and property set forth in the Covenant. The Principle of Exclusivity is operative under the terms of the Covenant. The heirs of the Covenant are beneficiaries and all others are excluded. Unless a person qualifies as an "heir", the blessings contained in the Covenant are not available to that person. When the word "fellow" is prefixed to the word "heir" there is an implication that there are at least two groups of people who qualify as "heirs". When they are both recipients of the blessings under the terms of the Covenant, then they can rightfully be called, "fellow-heirs." The first group of people who qualify as heirs of the Covenant are taken from the natural seed of Abraham - people like Moses, Samuel and Daniel. These are, Israelites indeed, children of the promise, heirs of salvation etc.

    The second group of people who qualify as heirs of the Covenant are Gentiles who join in the Covenant in the appointed way by faith and become the seed of Abraham by adoption. Weymouth translates this section: "I mean the truth that the Gentiles are joint heirs with us Jews.."

    The "appointed way" for Gentiles to become the seed of Abraham is by adoption. This principle of adoption is such an important principle that we want to make a special explanation of it in a separate section - in Chapter 5.

  3. "And of the same body" Strong's concordance makes this comment on the word body (Greek sussomos) : "a fellow member of the Christian community". Writing to the ecclesia at Corinth, Paul says: "Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular." (1 Cor. 12:27). The community of believers called the body of Christ, consists of Abraham's seed numbers 3 and 5 above. By baptism into Christ, Gentiles then, at that point of time, become Abraham's seed by adoption, heirs of the Covenant and members of the body of Christ.

  4. Partakers of his promise The Mystery is now solved! Gentiles, by divine provision, can now be partakers, co-participants with Jews, beneficiaries and heirs of the promise. Here the word promise is a synonym for Covenant. Unlike a human Covenant, God cannot break his covenant and therefore it rises to the status of a promise.

  5. In Christ. The only route by which a Gentile can become an heir of the Covenant is in and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Abrahamic Covenant was ratified and brought into force by the sacrificial blood of Christ. By nature, a Gentile is a "stranger from the Covenants of promise" (Eph. 2:12). But when a Gentile is baptized into Christ, he is baptized into his death (Rom 6:3). This is the divine formula whereby a Gentile becomes Abraham's seed by adoption and an heir of the covenanted blessings.

  6. By the Gospel In order for a baptism into Christ to be valid, it must be preceded by a belief in the Gospel, that is, a belief in the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is an integrated system of doctrinal beliefs which Paul describes as "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1: 16)

To summarize Paul's teaching in this explanatory Scripture: First comes a belief in The Gospel including the things concerning the Kingdom of God which arise out of the Covenants of Promise. Next comes a valid baptism into Christ. By this act, a Gentile becomes not only a member of the body of Christ but he also automatically becomes an adopted seed of Abraham who is entitled to the eternal blessings and benefits which accrue to a rightful heir of the Covenant.