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A Study on the Covenant Promise to Abraham in its Canonical Setting

오원근 1

1나사렛대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Through this article I try to see the purpose of the covenant promise to Abraham from the canonical perspective of the Pentateuch in order to show that the argument that the Abrahamic covenant focuses on 'the prosperity of descendants' and 'the conquest of land' results from the misunderstanding of the purpose of the covenant. For this purpose I first see Genesis 12:1-3 as constituting the themes of the Pentateuch as given in the structural characteristics of Genesis, and interpret two passages in the canonical context of the Pentateuch that give a significant hint on the understanding of the purpose of the covenant, that is, Genesis 15:6 and Numbers 15:14-16. In the literary context of Genesis as a whole, it is with Abraham that God restores the divine-human relationship which had been lost by people turning away from God in Genesis 2:4-11:26. This restored relationship begins with the initial divine command "go" that places conditions upon Abraham for the covenant relationship (12:1-3). From this initial announcement onwards, the Abraham narrative structurally develops the idea of holy in a repeated form of 'command-compliance' pairs, until it is proclaimed that Abraham is finally determined to meet the command to holiness laid on him, "walk in fear of God," and thus determined to be "blameless" in relationship with God. In this respect, the Abraham narrative views holiness as a life-long response of faithfulness to the divine command in the context of the covenant promise. Furthermore, Abrahamic holiness, which is to be realized by a God- fearing walk in the divine-human relationship, is the nature of the blessing that God wants to bring upon all the families of the earth, which forms the theme of the Pentateuch as a whole. This theme is further elaborated when the God of Abraham commands Israel to be holy as He is holy (Lev 19:2), so that the people of Israel function as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation among all nations (Exod 19:6). Therefore, other elements of the covenant promise, no matter how significant they may look, should be interpreted in the context of this overarching theme of the Pentateuch. Taking the primary purpose of the covenant promise promulgated in Genesis 12:1-3 as the hermeneutical key, a fresh meaning of Genesis 15:16 can be discerned. The role that the Israelites play in the realization of the covenant promise, as they enter the land of the Amorites, is not simply as warriors enlisted to mete out God's punishment on the sinful nation, but more as holy priests to bless those who are doomed to perish because of their sins. Numbers 15:14-16 sheds further light upon the scope of the covenant people by including the sojourners among the Israelites. When the whole covenant promise is up in the air because of the disobedience of the covenant people, a reversal is announced as God confirms that the new generation will enter the promised land despite the sins of the old generation. Numbers 15:14-16 is significant in that the sojourners as well as the native Israelites are equally commanded to keep the same law. Considering that the covenant relationship is presupposed to the observance of the law, this inclusion of the gentiles may show a possibility of the expansion of the scope of the covenant people. In conclusion, the purpose of the covenant promise is made clear, that God's desire is to bring blessing upon all the families of the earth through a people who live a life of holiness in covenant relationship with God. For Christians obsessed with such elements of the promise as descendants and land, the current study will give a fresh understanding of the primary purpose of God's calling and of His giving the covenant promise.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.