The Central Covenant

The Bible is a collection of sacred books written by ancient prophets and historians. The authors recorded inspired words about the relationship between God and His people for over 4,000 years.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica: the great themes of the Bible are about:

  • God,
  • His revealed works of creation,
  • His revealed works of provision,
  • His revealed works of judgment,
  • His revealed works of deliverance,
  • His covenant,
  • And His promises.

The Bible sees what happens to mankind in the light of God’s;

  • nature,
  • righteousness,
  • faithfulness,
  • mercy,
  • and love.

Most biblical scholars say that one should begin his study of the Bible with its first two books: Genesis and Exodus to gain essential foundations of the entire Bible. Genesis contains creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the patriarchs. Genesis has three of the covenants in the Bible.

Note: I prefer to start teaching new Christians with the Book of John. The Book of John is the Gospel of Jesus Christ written for the Gentiles (non-Jews) at John’s church in Ephesus (upper Greece). Then I proceed through Genesis and Exodus to ascertain the foundations of the entire Bible and the Old Testament’s revelations of Jesus Christ. Between the Book of John and the Book of Genesis, I often teach from Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

Genesis 12:1-3

Genesis 12, verses 1-3 are often referred to as the most important scripture verses in the Bible. Genesis 1 and 2 cover creation. Then there are nine chapters, from Genesis 3–11, where everything goes wrong.

In Genesis 12:1–4, the narrator’s focus moves from the broad landscape of world history in Genesis 1–11 to the particularities of one family’s story. At this point God inspires the most important passages in all of scripture. Genesis 12:1-3 provides the absolute platform and foundation for everything else that happens in scripture.

In Genesis 12:1-3, the calling of Abram/Abraham is a fulcrum text, serving as a transitional point between what comes before it with what follows. Genesis 1–11, also known as the Primeval History, recounts the beginnings of the world. Two dominant themes emerge in these stories:

  • the tendency for human beings to rebel against their Creator and the consequences of judgment that follow; and
  • the continued blessing of God that seeks to address humanity despite divine judgment.

God’s judgment concludes each of these stories (Genesis 1-11). The conclusion to the Tower of Babel story, however, does not have an immediate blessing that balances the divine judgment. With the confusion of tongues at Babel, distinct nations necessarily began to develop. The people are left scattered over the face of the earth at the end of Genesis chapter 11.

The early history of the people of God is set in the context of “the nations.” (Genesis 12:3; 22:17) 1 This has significance for the unfolding of God’s redemptive intent for humanity. 2

God’s Promise to Abraham

There is no evidence of organized religious life in the earliest accounts of the Scriptures. The nearest approach to it was the family. The father acted as the priest and leader in the worship of God. This was the case with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) 3

God’s promise to Abram (later renamed Abraham), in Genesis chapter 12:1-3, sustains Abraham and Sahar and their descendants. The promise to Abraham establishes him and his descendants as conduits of God’s blessing for the whole world. And through this promise, God binds Godself to these people forever.

The covenant between Abraham and God consisted of three separate parts:

  • the promised land (Genesis 12:1; 12:7),
  • the promise of the descendants and “great nation” (Genesis 12:2),
  • the promise of blessing and redemption “bless you and” … “you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2, 3)

The scripture presents God’s promise to Abram as a sevenfold structure:

  1. “I will make you into a great nation,”
  2. “I will bless you,”
  3. “I will make your name great,”
  4. “you will be a blessing,”
  5. “I will bless those who bless you,”
  6. “whoever curses you I will curse,”
  7. and “all peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.”

This promise (12:2–3; 22:18) is the foundation for the rest of the Bible.

The Mission of Abraham

The call of Abrams marks a critical turning point in history. Before Genesis 12:1-3, God’s covenant with mankind (Genesis 9:8-17) applied to all men alike. Genesis 12:13 is a turning point in the book of Genesis. Before this chapter, of course, we have all the familiar stories that makeup what scholars call the “primeval history” — Creation, the Fall, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood. 4

Though the covenant with Noah is everlasting, it was now necessary for this to be supplemented (not replaced) by a special relationship through which the promised seed of woman (Genesis 3:15) would eventually enter the human race to redeem lost mankind. 4

God called Abraham to be the head of a special people (Genesis 12:1-3). 5 Abram will certainly become a giant of faith, and the father of those who believe (Galatians 3:7).

The Jews boast that Abraham was their father, yet they were concerned only with physical lineage. Jesus told the priests and Pharisees that the kingdom would be taken from them and “given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43). That nation is defined, not by a physical bloodline, but by a certain faith and a different spirit. Peter calls those with the faith of Abraham “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9).

The three-fold promise to Abram is reiterated by God to his son Isaac (Genesis 26:3-5) and his grandson Jacob (Genesis 28:10-15). That promise sustains them, and the nation descended from them, during terrible times.

The Promised Land

Abram is the first of the patriarchs from whom the Jews trace their descent, not only physically but spiritually. A major importance of Abraham was that he was the first to travel to Canaan and, according to legends not appearing in the Bible, that he publicly abandoned the worship of idols and became a staunch monotheist. (The legends explain that his father, Terah, was a manufacturer of idols and that Abram broke them in anger.) 6

God had spoken to Abram “while he was still in Mesopotamia; before he lived in Haran.” (Acts 7:2) Abram must leave the settled world of the post-Babel nations and begin a pilgrimage with God to a better place of God’s making (Genesis 24:7, Hebrews11:10). 7

Abraham’s Descendants

The stories of God’s dealings with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (the ancestors of the Israelite people who are also called the patriarchs of Israel) are recorded in Genesis 12–50. A major focus in these stories is the multifaceted promise that God gave them and reiterated to them.

The promise was repeated to his son Isaac (Genesis 26:3–4) and to his grandson Jacob (Genesis 28:13–14; 35:11–12; 46:3–4). These same promises are also found later in God’s covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:1-29).

According to passages such as 1 Kings 6:1, Exodus 12:40, and others, Abraham would have entered the land of Canaan in 2091 B.C. at age 75 — about midway through the archaeological period known as Middle Bronze I (2200–2000 B.C.).

At the time of Abraham’s death in 1991 B.C., the land of Canaan was moving into the Middle Bronze II period (2000–1550 B.C.).

Here begins the story of redemption. It had been hinted at in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). Now, 400 years after the Flood, God calls Abraham to be the founder of a nation through which He would make the reclamation and redemption of mankind a reality.

Blessing to all nations

The calling of Abram seeks to bring blessing to all the people of the earth, and hence addresses the effects of judgment after Babel. The Lord accomplishes this through the promises made to Abram and his descendants, through whom “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

God did not will human suffering, God desires to bless His creation, not to harm it (Genesis 12:3; James 1:17) 8

Ultimately, this promise to Abram was fulfilled in Jesus. It is only through Him all the families of the earth can be blessed. From Abraham’s line came Jesus, and his death and resurrection blesses anyone who believes in him (Romans 9:5). As Paul said: “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.’ So, then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”  (Galatians 3:8, 9)

In Summary

Genesis 1 shows that God created according to a plan that included sequence, balance, correspondence, and climax. From that point on the Bible gradually unfolds a plan of redemption with promises given to Abraham (Genesis 12:3), to David (2 Samuel 7:11, 16), and to the Old Testament prophets; promises that point ahead to the coming of Jesus and His ultimate triumph. That is, the whole Bible focuses on the future, a future that is assured by the very nature of God Himself. 9

Genesis 12:1-3 begins the story of redemption. It had been hinted at in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). 400 years after the Flood, God calls Abraham to be the founder of a nation through which He would make the reclamation and redemption of mankind a reality.

Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom must be understood in terms of the covenant to Abraham, terms that declared God’s purpose to bless all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:3). 10, 11

Closely notice the text saying that God promises a blessing to Abram, but it is not because Abram has done anything to deserve it (contrary to the later explanations of the rabbis). God is the one who will fulfill this covenant with his man, Abram. Over and over again in the passage, God says, “I will …”. This is a theocentric covenant. Even though Abram is called to obey God, God is portrayed as the first mover. He acts. He moves. He initiates.

Remember this when it comes to your own experience and walk with God. He is active. He initiates. He pursues. And there is much he will do for his people — therefore it makes good sense to obey and follow him. Like jumping into a flowing river, Abram would jump into God’s flow through obedience. We should also see God as moving on our behalf. Jump into his stream of activity through obedience.

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In conclusion, consider what the Daily Bread email message sent on 4/4/2023 says,

Daily Bread Logo

Genesis 12:1-3 — Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you

And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing

And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (NASB)

From this point on the Bible gradually unfolds a plan of redemption with promises given to Abraham (Genesis 12:3), to David (2 Samuel 7:11, 16), and to the Old Testament prophets.

Jesus proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom in terms of this covenant to Abraham.

The text says that God promises blessings to Abram. God is the one who will fulfill this covenant with Abraham. Even though Abram is called to obey God, God is portrayed as the first mover. He acts. He moves. He initiates.

Remember this when it comes to your own experience and walk with God. He is active. He initiates. He pursues. We should see God as moving on our behalf. Join His activity through obedience.

You Can Receive The Daily Bread, for FREE.

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1. Stanley M. Horton, general editor, Systematic Theology (Springfield, MO: Legion Press, 1994), pg. 598.

2. Roger E. Hedlund, The Mission of the Church in the World, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), pg. 33.

3. Henry C. Thiessen (revised by Vernon D. Doerksen), Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), pg. 374)

4. Morris, Henry, The New Defender’s Study Bible, (Nashville, TN:World Publishing Inc.,2006)

5. Thiessen, pgs. 109, 374.

6. Isaac Asimov, Asimov’s Guide To The Bible – Two Volumes In One (New York, NY: Avenel Books, 1981), pg. 56.

7. NIV,” International Bible Society, The Holy Bible, New International Version, International Bible Society, (Zonderman Publishing House copyright 1973, 1978, and 1984.), pg. 24.

8. Horton, pg. 490.

9. Horton, pg. 597.

10. Horton, pg. 571.

11. Gordon Fee, “The Kingdom of God and the Church’s Global Mission,” in Called and Empowered: Global Mission in Pentecostal Perspective, ed. Murray A. Dempster, Byron D. Klaus, Douglas Petersen (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), pg. 14.

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