Summary: In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we talk a lot about the Abrahamic covenant and how it is still important today. But what exactly is this covenant and how does it apply to us? And if a covenant is an agreement made between God and man, what is it in the Abrahamic covenant that we promise to do for God and what does God promise to do for us? This article seeks to answer these questions.
The Lord said to Abraham “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered” (Genesis 13:14-16).
We refer to this as the Abrahamic covenant, which includes three specific promises. One is that God promised he was going to give Abraham a specific piece of land. Another is that Abraham will have children as numerous as the dust of the earth or as numerous as the stars in the heaven (Genesis 15:5). And the third is that through him and his posterity, all the peoples of the earth will be blessed.
A covenant is a two-way agreement whereby each side promises to do certain things in order to receive something specific in return. It’s been said that a covenant is like a contract between two parties but that’s not entirely accurate.
In a contract, each party is only concerned about their own interests. For example, when someone wants to buy a car, they go to a car dealership where, after seeing the car they want, they sign a contract with the car dealership. In that contract, the dealer agrees to give the buyer the specific car they want, and in return the person buying the car agrees to give the dealer a specific amount of money. In this arrangement, all the buyer is interested in is getting a car, and all the dealer is interested in is making money. In other words, in a contract, each party wants something different out of arrangement.
However, in a covenant, both parties want the same thing. For example, someone who goes to college signs an agreement whereby the student agrees to study hard to learn the information being taught so they can graduate with a desired diploma, and the college agrees that if the student shows they have sufficiently learned the information given them, as indicated by their grades, then they will be award the diploma they want. In this situation, both the student and the college want the same thing, which is to have students successfully receive a diploma. Therefore, both the student and the college are working together to accomplish the same goal.
But one thing that is similar in both a covenant and a contract is that only one of the two parties sets the terms of the agreement. In the two examples just given, it’s the car dealership and the college who sets the terms that the car buyer and the student must agree to, and not the other way around. In other words, a student doesn’t have the right to tell the college what terms they must abide by in order for that student to attend their institution.
And it’s the same when making a covenant with God. He sets the terms of the agreement, and we can either accept or reject them. But, if a covenant is something where both parties want the same thing, what is it that God wants that we want as well?
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that we are spirit children of our Father in heaven, meaning that we were born to him and once lived with him in heaven. Then there came a time when our heavenly Father presented a plan whereby we could learn what he knows and someday become just like him.
When we heard this plan, we shouted for joy and were excited to participate in it, and when that happened, then what God wanted for us became the same thing we wanted for ourselves, which was to become like God. Therefore, we each had the same goal, but to bring about that plan, there had to be agreements made between God and us, whereby God promised to do certain, specific things for us, if in return we would do certain specific things. Yet it was God who set the terms of that agreement and when we agreed to those terms, we effectively entered into a covenant with him.
The stated goal of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to give us eternal life, whereby we can receive an incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:25), “a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:4), “which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12), where we will be “made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10). The Lord explained it this way: “To him that overcometh (keep the terms of the covenant) will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
This is what God promises to do for us, but what must we do in return to receive this promise? In the scriptures we read where someone came to Jesus “and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?… and he said unto him, if that wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16,17). In other words, if we do the things God commands, then he will give us eternal life. That’s the covenant we make with God, and we made that covenant even before the world began (Titus 1:2).
This is the same agreement God made with Abraham, which was that if he would “obey my voice, and keep my charge, my commandments, my statues, and my laws” (Genesis 26:5), then God would him the promised blessings.
When we talk about the Abrahamic covenant, we think of it pertaining only to life on this physical, mortal planet, but there is not only an earthly interpretation to this covenant, but there is also an eternal interpretation as well, with the earthly being patterned after the heavenly. Just like the animal sacrifices in the law of Moses foreshadowed the spiritual sacrifice of Jesus, the physical aspects of the covenant God made with Abraham foreshadows the spiritual blessings that await those who keep their covenants with God. Therefore, the blessing God promised Abraham wasn’t just an earthly one but pertain to the promise of eternal life.
But what exactly is eternal life? If we’re going to receive an incorruptible crown and be made kings and priests unto God forever, whereby “we shall reign on the earth” with Christ, there has to be a reason, or a purpose to it, and that purpose is summed up in the covenant God made with Abraham.
God promised Abraham that his seed (posterity) would be as numerous as the stars in the heaven, that the land he would be shown would his forever, and that through him all the children of the earth would be blessed, and that promise has been fulfilled in a physical sense. From the time of Abraham to today, the number of children who can trace their lineage back to him is beyond our ability to count. In time, Abraham’s children did possess the land that God had shown him, and it’s through his posterity that Jesus was born, who has brought salvation to the world.
However, that’s all that most people see when they talk about the covenant God made with Abraham, but when we look at the covenant we made before the world began, we see that the promises God made to Abraham also apply to our life in heaven after the resurrection.
Having eternal life doesn’t simply mean that we will live forever, because even the wicked will do that. And eternal life doesn’t just mean we will live with God eternally. It means that we will be able to live like God, the eternal, and do what he does.
If our goal, or purpose on earth, is to learn how to become like our Father in heaven, then we must do that the same way children on earth learn how to grow to become like their earthly fathers and be capable of doing what they do. If God can continue to create children of his eternally, then when we become like God, then we too will have the ability to do the same. Thus, part of what it means to inherit eternal life is the ability to create life eternally.
But having children and being a father are not the same thing, therefore we have to learn how to become the kind of a father God is before we can become worthy of having children as innumerable as the dust of the earth. The reason why God requires us to keep his commandments is because they teach us how to think, act, and behave just like he does, because it’s only in that way can we then become the kind of eternal father God is.
But what will we do in heaven with all of the infinite number of children we’ll produce? The answer is: the same thing that God does with his children, which is to help them to also become a gloried, exalted being. It is God’s glory to help his children become immortal and gain eternal life (Moss 1:39), and when we become like God, it will also be our glory to help our children to gain immortality and eternal life. And the way we will do that is through making the same covenants with them that our Father in heaven makes with us.
This is the same covenant God made with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abaham, Moses, and what he wanted to make with the children of Israel, and it is the same covenant we enter into today with God in his church. Then why is this called the Abrahamic Covenant? For the same reason we talk about the Melchizedek priesthood. This priesthood existed long before the time of Melchizedek, but because he “was such a great high priest” it was called after his name (D&C 107:2). In the same way, because Abraham was great in keeping this covenant that it is now called after his name.
Because a covenant is an agreement to achieve a mutual outcome, and since God is the one who sets the terms of the agreement, what he is inviting us to do is enter into a special personal relationship with him. It’s true that God loves everyone because we are all his children, but when we enter into a covenant with him, we become more than just his children. We also become his students who have committed ourselves to becoming as perfect as he is. That is the desire of those who enter into covenants with God and it’s also God’s desire for us as well, but how does that happen?
At baptism we take upon ourselves the name of Christ, which is like signing a marriage contract, wherein we agree to officially wed or bind ourselves to him, or it’s like we’re signing adoption papers saying we agree to be adopted into the family of Christ. When we do that, we then belong to Christ, just as children belong to their parents. Therefore, our baptism signifies that we accept Christ as our spiritual Father and our king to whom we have pledged our loyalty and obedience.
Just like contracts are signed on official documents, covenants with God are made through sacred ordinances, that are administered by his legal representatives in the presence of witnesses and are recorded both in heaven and on earth thereby binding or sealing God and man together in special and sacred relationship.
Therefore, once we officially belong to God, he has a special interest in us, and is committed to seeing to it that we succeed in gaining eternal life. For that reason, he will never give up on us and will always be there to help us, guide us, strengthens, teach us, persuade us and chastise us if necessary as we strive to become like him, which is the same thing earthly fathers do with their children.
We may give up on him but once we enter into a covenant with God, he is committed to doing whatever is necessary to help us gain eternal life, no matter how long it takes. But what God won’t do is take away our agency to decide for ourselves. If we choose to break our covenant, God will still seek to bring us back into that special relationship with him, like any loving father would do, but he will never force us to do anything we don’t want.
In the days of Moses, the Lord told the Israelites “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), and the apostle Peter told the Christians in his day, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
When we read scriptures like these, we always think of them as referring to our life here on this earth, but as we’ve already seen, those who inherit eternal life in heaven will wear crowns, become kings and priests unto God, and will reign with Christ on the earth. Would that not make them “a kingdom of priests?” And if everyone who has entered into a covenant with God number in the billions, would not this kingdom of priests in heaven also be a holy nation? And yet, despite the vast number of people who have entered into this covenantal relationship with God and have gained eternal life, it will still be a small percentage of the vast number of other people who chose not to make or keep their covenants with God. In that case, those who inherit eternal life would certainly be a peculiar people in comparison to the rest of the world.
The Lord also told the Israelites, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me” (Exodus 19:5). If those who made a covenant with God and kept it by obeying his voice, would they not “be a peculiar treasure unto” God, not only here on earth but also in heaven throughout all of eternity?
What we see is that the covenant we make with God not only pertains to our earthly life but also refers to our life in heaven.
Therefore, to inherit eternal life means we will not only belong to a peculiar class of people but will part of a holy nation in heaven. However, we’ve also seen that we will be crowned as kings and priests unto God, and kings don’t rule over a nation. They rule over a kingdom. Therefore, it would be more accurate to say that we will belong to a holy kingdom of priests and kings.
But what will we do there as kings and priests?
We’ve already looked at the scripture that says we will reign with Christ on the earth, but if we’re reigning with Christ, then that means he is a king himself who we’re reigning alongside of. Does that mean we will be equal in glory and honor to him? Notice the scriptures say that we will be made kings and priests “unto God,” and a priest, by definition, is a representative of God, or someone who serves at the direction of God.
Although will wear a crown, sit on a throne and be a king, we will do so as priests of God, serving under his direction. In other words, he will be the head king, or the supreme king over all the other kings of heaven, or as we like to say, Jesus will be the King of kings. Again, we usually think of that as meaning Jesus is the king over all the mortal kings who live on this physical earth, but this also has a heavenly meaning to it.
The scriptures tell us that someday “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
Most Christians believe that heaven is “out there” somewhere in the universe and is where the righteous will live with God forever, yet Jesus taught that that the meek “shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5), but how can that be if the earth is going to be destroyed?
The Lord has revealed that because the earth “hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father” and will be “prepared for the celestial glory” (D&C 88:19,18). Just like we will die and then rise in the resurrection as gloried and glorious beings, so also, the earth we live on will die, but then be resurrected and become a glorious and sanctified place fit for God to dwell on, and it is here that the righteous will reign as heavenly kings and priests and raise their spirit children who will call them their father who lives in heaven.
When God promised Abraham that he was going to give him a specific area of land that would belong to him and his posterity forever, we assume that he was only referring to a specific physical location on earth that we can go to today and actually see it. If that’s our only understanding of this promise, we could conclude that the promised land of Israel is the complete fulfillment of this part of the covenant that God made with Abraham.
However, according to the promise God made to Abraham, he and his seed would possess this land forever (Genesis 13:15). Yet, history shows that the children of Israel had times when they didn’t possess this land, and if the earth is going to be destroyed, how can Abraham and his seed possess this promised land forever?
If we view this promise only from a mortal perspective, then we would conclude that God’s word wasn’t really fulfilled as he said. But if this earth will someday be the eternal home of the righteous, then the promise God made to Abraham and his seed refers to them inheriting a specific portion of land on the earth in its sanctified, glorious, and immortal state. When understood in this way, then it becomes clear how they will inherit the land forever.
When we only view the covenant God made with Abraham in a purely physical sense, we miss the greater spiritual meaning of the Abrahamic covenant.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Covenants