All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

A Divine Covenant

When God calls Abram to Canaan He makes a covenant with him, and our need to understand this covenant cannot be overstated. So let’s look at it through the eyes of the ancients.

The divine covenant is very different from covenants made between two parties today. First, it is designed by God with no human input; second, it is God who takes the initiative.

Suzerains and Vassals

God uses a model for His covenant with Abram that he’s familiar with. The Hittite kings (called Suzerains) made covenants with other kings that allowed them to live and reign under them as vassal kings. If a vassal rebelled, the Suzerain wouldn’t kill him, but would extended a covenant of grace in return for his loyalty. The vassal’s only choice was to accept or reject the covenant—he could not bargain with the Suzerain about his terms.

The divine covenant is so similar to the Hittite model that it’s called a Suzerainty-type covenant. As sinners, we deserve to die for our disloyalty and rebellion against God (the Suzerain). But He offers us eternal life through divine grace, instead—as long as we remain loyal. We cannot modify His covenant of grace—we can only choose to accept or reject it. Note that God’s plan of salvation is referred to as “covenant” in the Old Testament, and usually “the gospel” in the New Testament.


In Genesis 12:2–3 God promises Abram: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God constantly repeats His blessing to Abram and his descendants throughout Genesis. However, the plural descendants narrows to singular in Galatians 3:16: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.” Clearly it’s Christ who brings the blessing of salvation.

God also promises Abram that He’ll make his name great. The tower-builders of Babel determined to make their own names great, but only God can do that. David is the only other person in the Bible to receive this promise (see 2 Samuel 7:9). As a descendant of Abram and an ancestor of Christ, God promised David that his line of kings and his kingdom would last forever. This will be fulfilled when Christ becomes King of this earth. His kingdom will last forever.

and Curses

God’s judgment always brings blessings for the righteous, and curses for the wicked. His promises to Abram include blessings for his faithfulness and curses on those who curse him; centuries later God cursed the Egyptians for not freeing Abram’s descendants.

In the same way, Christ’s final judgment brings blessings for the righteous and curses for the wicked. Those who accept His divine covenant are blessed by liberation from their bondage to sin and given the gift of eternal life. Those who don’t accept His divine covenant are ultimately destroyed.

Is Important!

We think of covenants in strictly legal terms today. But while both the Suzerainty and divine covenants are legally binding, they are very different from our covenants today because at their core their emphasis is primarily relational.

God’s divine covenant creates a relationship that lasts as long as each party lives—and for man, that’s forever, when he receives eternal life. Through this close, mutual relationship, the divine blessings of God’s covenant becomes reality for us. But while God longs to fulfill His covenant promises to us, He’s bound by His terms. He can only do this through our faithful relationship to Him.

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