Covenant – Eternal or Not?
Tricia Miller, Ph.D.
One of the foundations of Evangelical support for Israel is an understanding of the eternal nature of the covenant God made with Abraham. And one of the reasons Evangelical support for Israel is under assault by some within the church is a misunderstanding of that very thing.
In Genesis 12, God promised to bless Abraham and make him a great nation. In Genesis 13, after Abraham arrived in the land of Canaan, God repeated the promise of descendants and told Abraham that all the land he could see would be his and his descendants forever. In Genesis 15, God cut a covenant with Abraham and repeated the promise of possession of the land of Canaan.
A covenant is a formal agreement, a binding contract, that usually involves commitment and obligation between two parties. However, in Genesis 15, only God takes the steps that indicate commitment to the covenant between them. In other words, God alone is responsible for fulfilling the covenant. Fulfillment of the covenant is NOT dependent on anything Abraham does, or doesn’t do.
In Genesis 17, the covenant between God and Abraham is repeated, and for the first time, the covenant is called a berit olam, an everlasting covenant. Here again, the covenant emphasizes descendants and land.
The reality that God made an everlasting, eternal covenant with Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob is emphasized over and over throughout the biblical text – throughout the prophets, the Psalms, and the Christian Testament.
So, what does the biblical emphasis on an eternal covenant have to do with Israel today?
The fact is that biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Jews who have been dispersed all over the globe for over 2000 years – are returning to their historic homeland in record numbers. Evangelicals recognize that what is happening is a fulfillment of the eternal covenant made with Abraham and all the prophecies found in the Hebrew prophets.
Unfortunately, as a result of misunderstanding the eternal nature of the covenant God made with Abraham, and a disregard for the whole counsel of the Hebrew prophets, there are some within the church who oppose Evangelical support for Israel and work purposefully to undermine it.
Indeed, Israel’s enemies understand the importance of Christian support for Israel, and recognize that in particular, American Evangelical support for the Jewish State represents a major obstacle to their efforts to turn the United States against Israel.
So, they have developed a long-term strategy that targets Evangelical hearts and minds, that is based in part on bad theology. Ever since the first generation of the church after the time of the apostle Paul, some church leaders have taught that Christians and the Church have replaced Jews and the nation of Israel in the purposes of God. This theology is now known as replacement theology.
Replacement theology can only be maintained by a faulty interpretation of Scripture that contradicts an understanding of the concept of covenant – a concept that is consistent from Genesis through Revelation, as demonstrated by the covenants made with Noah, Abram, Moses, David and the New Covenant revealed through the Christian Testament.
Unfortunately, a misunderstanding of covenant in relation to Israel and the Jewish people is quite prevalent in the Church today. This misunderstanding is the result, in part, of erroneous biblical interpretation that says Israel and the Jewish people have lost the blessing of God as a result of disobedience.
Indeed, the Hebrew prophets have a lot to say about the consequences of Israel’s failure to keep God’s covenant. BUT they also have a lot to say about God’s promise to return the Jewish people to the land as evidence of the eternal covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The bottom line is this – adherence to replacement theology denies the eternal aspect of the covenant God made with Abraham. Furthermore, the belief that something God called eternal is not really eternal calls into question the faithfulness and reliability of God.
In order for a Christian to believe in replacement theology, they must be able to explain why an everlasting covenant is not really everlasting. They must then be prepared to believe that the new covenant they believe in is no more reliable or trustworthy than the Abrahamic covenant. That should be a frightening thought for any thoughtful Christian!
And finally, the Christian who believes that God has no further purpose for Israel or the Jewish people must be able to explain how the apostle Paul didn’t really mean what he wrote in Galatians 3:15-18, where he explained that the Abrahamic covenant is bound to the character of God and thus it cannot be broken or annulled.
In conclusion, believers in replacement theology use this erroneous belief system to support a political agenda that delegitimizes Israel’s right to exist. In contrast, Evangelical supporters of the Jewish State understand that when God makes an everlasting covenant that includes the promise of a people and a particular land, that covenant really is everlasting.
The Christian’s position concerning the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel in the historic homeland of the Jewish people essentially begins by answering the question, “Covenant – Eternal or Not?”