A friend recently asked me: “Does a non-covenant keeping people (Israel) have a divine right to the land?” I answered with a brief comment, but maybe I should have asked which covenant he was referring to. Exodus 24 describes the Mosaic Covenant in which the Law is confirmed. The people tell Moses, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (vs 7). And yet the people did not obey.
God foreknew their disobedience and described two different times the children of Israel would be removed from the land. But, as was covered in Part 2, he also provided assurances that they would be regathered to the Land of Promise.
In Genesis 17:9-14, we read of a different covenant, the Covenant of Circumcision. God told Abraham this was to be an everlasting covenant for both natural born and those brought in through adoption or servanthood, and the descendants of Abraham keep this covenant to this day.
But since the question referred to the Land, the covenant could only be the one found in Genesis 15. Prior to this chapter, God progressively revealed to Abraham the extent of the land he was giving to him and his descendants as an everlasting possession.
In Genesis 12, the Lord told Abraham “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 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 peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
In this passage, God promises Abraham a land that will be revealed to him. Abraham leaves with only this vague promise. Further in the chapter, Abraham travels to the land of Canaan and in 12:7, God says, “To your offspring, I will give this land.”
In Chapter 13, God reveals more: “The Lord said to Abraham after Lot had parted from him, ‘Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you‘” (Genesis 13:14-17). Abram is told to walk the land, and all that he sees is for him and his descendants. This area includes Hebron, which is a city in Judea and Samaria, the area the world now refers to as the West Bank.
But in Genesis 15, something different happens. The Lord appears to Abraham and promises to protect him and to provide for him. And then Abraham has the chutzpah to remind God that he hasn’t yet given him children. And in an extraordinary exchange, God again promises the land to Abraham and tells him he will take possession of it. But Abraham replies, “how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” (vs 7).
What happens in the following verses is profound and marvelous, and yet the greater church misses it because we don’t understand the historical and cultural context of what is written. God tells Abraham they are going to “cut covenant,” or walk the blood path. This blood path ceremony is one that is still used today in the cultures of the Middle East, but it is an ancient custom that was a common method of ratifying agreements.
In the blood path ceremony, covenants were almost always between a greater party and a lesser party. Both parties would agree to the terms and conditions and then animals would be sacrificed to execute the agreement. The animals would be cut in half and arranged opposite each other. The blood from the dead animals would run between the halves and both parties, the greater followed by the lesser, would walk between the animals and through the blood. In doing so, they were vowing fidelity to the agreement and were stating that if they failed to uphold their part of the agreement, they were accepting that they would realize the same fate as the animals through whose blood they had just walked.
Here’s the ceremony described in Genesis 15:
He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:7-21 NIV)
Abraham brings the animals and arranges them accordingly. Then Abraham fell into a deep sleep and is terrified! Why? Because he realizes what is required of him in walking the blood path, and he recognizes with certainty that there is no way he can meet God’s standard of perfection. He knows he’s a dead man after he walks that path.
Then we understand why God put Abraham in a deep sleep, for Abraham never walks the blood path. Instead, the greater party, Almighty God, as represented by the smoking pot, walks first. This smoking pot symbolizes the Shekinah glory of God as seen throughout scripture. He is the One who set the terms of the covenant. He is the One who promised the land to Abraham and his descendants. He is the One who is effectively saying that if He does not uphold His promise of giving the land to Abraham and his descendants, He will be as these animals are.
Then it’s Abraham’s turn to walk the blood path. But he can’t move. So instead, we see another take his place: a blazing torch, God the Son, Jesus, the Light of the World. God, in an everlasting affirmation of the eternal nature of the promise, took it upon himself to walk both parts of the blood path. And when Abraham and his descendants failed to live up to God’s standards, it was Jesus that was broken, bruised, and sacrificed.
Through this cutting of covenant, God is unconditionally giving Abraham and his descendants the land. God also established another unconditional covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, in which David and his descendants would rule over Israel and David’s house and kingdom would endure forever (vs 16).
And in a foreshadowing of the future, God tells David, “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”( 2 Samuel 7:12-16)
This is a dual prophecy, for the Temple was built by Solomon, David’s son. And while Jesus was beaten and flogged, and while the line of David endures eternally through Him, God is also promising David that when his descendants sin, they will be punished, but God’s love for them, and His plan for them will not be taken away.
We see that in a look back at Genesis 15. Jesus was the one who was broken when the descendants of Abraham, and David, sinned.
Aren’t we thankful that Jesus, too, paid the price for us when we couldn’t live up to God’s standard?
God has His own plans and purposes for the descendants of Abraham. We may not always understand what He is doing and accomplishing, and we may not even like or agree with His plan. But His ways are not our ways (as much as we think they should be), and His thoughts are not out thoughts.
Whose Land Is It? (Part 1) is a study of the nation of Israel from 1000 BC to 1948.
Whose Land Is It (Part 2) is an exhaustive look at the scriptures describing two distinctly different separations from the land, each followed by a regathering.