Covenant Theology and the Patriarchal age (Gen. 18 and 19)

Genesis chapter 18 opens with three “men” (the LORD and two angels) visiting Abraham as passing through on their way to Sodom. Abraham offers food and water with a most eager hospitality. The interaction results in two very distinct signs being given (from a Covenant Theology (Covy) perspective). First, the promise of a child to Abraham, to carry on the covenant relationship is restated, that Sarah shall have a son. Yet in the context of Sarah’s laughter, it is pointed out that nothing is too difficult for God. The Covy context here is the awaiting the promised child. We have been told, to follow Abraham and Sarah’s child/linage in faith (which is where their faith is grounded). We learn that where human inability makes things look impossible, God says He can accomplish His will. This may be seen as a sign to future generations that even the promise of a virgin conceiving a child is not impossible for God. Or even more simply, where human reason cannot grasp, fathom, or understand the things of God, God grants the faith to His elect to receive, love, and wait on Him (1 Cor. 2:14, Eph. 2:8, John 1:12-13).

The second interaction/sign begins as God prompts Abraham with a proposal of revealing what He is about to do: “The Lord said, ” Shall I Hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” – Genesis 18:17-18

Some interpret this discussion as something of a threat or warning. The reasoning goes, as Abraham is to be made a mighty nation, he (and his linage) should beware lest God hear any outcry against them, and comes in judgement. There is truth to this, in that any time a believer (in any age) sees the justice and judgement of God carried out on the wicked, they should be humbled to think that they too could have faced a similar fate or at minimum be chastened. As believers, there are tangible consequences for our sin (reap what you sow).  But looking at this with a wider lens, a Covy sees that this is the same language used for when God hears the cries of Israel in Egypt, and will send Moses to deliver them (Moses being the author here, thus knows of the connection).
“I [God] have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Exodus 3:7-8

There is a judgement on Egypt, whereas Israel is rescued, just the same as Sodom and Gomorrah are judged but righteous Lot is rescued (2 Peter 2:6-10). Prior to both of these, there was a judgement on the Earth, but Noah and family were rescued.  To a Covy, this is the other sign and theme that Abraham has passed on to the generations he will not witness, that the Almighty God who provides, is also the God who hears, sees, and rescues His people.  Abraham’s linage in 400 years can know that God will see, hear, and rescue them from the bondage they were told would occur (Gen. 15:13). This is not a stretch then to say that Abraham and those after him would have maintained the same understanding of God and His actions here.

This is also important to the Covy, because the context of this conversation between the Lord and Abraham contains the very gospel message within it. Those in bondage, God sees and sets free, while judging the wicked. This general message is something for all peoples and nations to hear and heed, as Abraham travels and encounters others. This message is within verse 18, saying again that “all the nations shall be blessed” in Abraham (Gal. 3:7-9). Should someone ask about this blessing, Abraham’s testimony is that God calls, provides, rescues, and will provide a deliverer from sin, from his linage to come.

Within Abraham’s intersession discussion with God (Gen. 18:22-33), I’ve heard Dispys teach that Abraham is at fault for stopping at 10 righteous to not destroy the city.  It is usually asserted that he should have petitioned God further, requesting if there were only five or maybe even just one righteous. But in the context of the passage, the point is already made that by God consenting to all of Abraham’s requests (from 50 down to ten), He has no intention of destroying the righteous with the unrighteous (2 Peter 2:6-10).  From Noah and now to Abraham and his family for generations can know that, no matter how mixed the multitude/church/family is, God knows those who are His and will rescue them in His own time and way.

Chapter 19 jumps to the two angels entering Sodom, finding Lot, and rescuing him, his wife, and two daughters.  Clearly the news of the city was as bad as God had “heard” and destruction was warranted. En route to a nearby small town (Zoar), Lot’s wife looks back and dies. Then, upon arrival at Zoar and getting drunk (twice), Lot’s daughter’s conceive by him, by which the nations of the Moabites and Ammonites will come (yet present day people to the author, Moses).  Now although we know we are not following the linage of Lot to the savior, he is used as a sign of salvation to Abraham, Moses and us (2 Peter 2:6-10). So we learn that although the righteous are saved, some of the unrighteous are at times saved along with us (circumstances of life – common grace). Although witnesses of so great a temporal salvation, they may continue to corrupt and negatively influence believers. Therefore, we learn here not to confuse common grace with saving grace. This is a theme for Abraham, Moses, and us. Even Noah saw that his sons were saved through the flood, yet only one was to carry forward the promise/covenant. Abraham was told that only Issac would carry on the covenant not Ishmael. Just like Israel out of Egypt, there were those who are of the physical/visible people of Israel, who came out of the same bondage, saw the same miracles, by the same Moses, that after which turned to seek after other gods, and tempt the righteous, and so on.

Covy’s see this as a constant that the church in all ages is a physical/visual mixed multitude and although outwardly many appear saved and bear the signs and seals of God’s people, yet only God knows and spiritually accepts those who are His, by the covenant union to Christ (looking forward or backward in faith). So Abraham moves forward knowing to look for the child of promise within his own linage through Isaac, whereby outwardly his people/family/church are marked (circumcised) as those looking and awaiting the child by faith. So in all ages there is an overlap of those who are the “people of God” as in the linage they are from, signs they bear, and the company they hold, and those who are the “people of God” spiritually by faith in Him and His promises. 

Hello – Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope all are enjoying this covenant commentary series. Leave a note if there is a Bible passage or doctrine/teaching you’d like me to discuss.

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