14. Abraham and the Covenant

A beautiful rainbow signifies the covenant that God made with mankind through Noah and Abraham. We also call this the Noahic covenant.

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your relatives and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and him who curses you I will curse and by you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”

-Genesis 12:1-3

The above promise to Abraham has seven parts to it. The significance of this number would not have been lost on Abraham. The number seven in the Old Testament represents the concept of covenant and goes all the way back to the creation account in Genesis with the seven days of creation.1

On the seventh day, God rested from His work of creation and declared the seventh day a sabbath – a day of rest and worship. The number seven appears in all of the covenants in the Old Testament including the sevenfold promise to Abraham above.2 The seventh day, the sabbath, was to serve as a reminder to the Jews of God’s covenant with His people. God’s covenant with His creation ensured that there would be peace between Him and His creation and within His creation.

The Covenant with Adam and Eve

The first covenant that God made with Adam and Eve came with a mandate to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Man was put in charge of the earth as a steward over God’s creation. He was to rule over all of it. The proviso of this covenant was man’s obedience. When man disobeyed by eating the forbidden fruit, he still remained as steward over the earth, but with the added elements of pain, suffering, and death. This initial act of disobedience also plunged the entire human race into spiritual darkness and alienation. Rather than a sabbath rest, we have alienation between each other, between us and our environment, and between us and God. Rather than peace, there is disorder and chaos.

The Covenant with Noah 

In the covenant that God made with Noah after the Flood, called the Noahic Covenant, the word “covenant” is used seven times.3 This was the renewal of the covenant that God made with man in Genesis. This Noahic Covenant was made with all of mankind and extended to all living creatures and the earth itself. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow.4 Whenever we see a rainbow, we should be reminded of the promise that God made to Noah in regard to preserving mankind, the earth, and the created order as we read in Genesis 9:

“I have set my bow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 

The covenant with Noah was a precursor for the Abrahamic covenant. It doesn’t do much good to save humanity if creation itself is not redeemed. Eventually as the prophet Isaiah says, there will be a new heaven and new earth. St. Paul states in Romans:

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

-Romans 8:20-21

The Covenant with Abraham 

In regard to salvation, though, the sevenfold Abrahamic promise is the foundational promise on which all of the other promises of the Old Testament are based. It is also quoted in a number of important places in the New Testament, especially in relationship to the evangelization of the Gentiles. Because of this, Abraham holds an important place in the biblical narrative. Abraham’s story runs from chapter 11 to chapter 25 in Genesis which means that 28% of the book of Genesis is dedicated to that one man. There are 162 references to Abraham in the Old Testament, 32 in the Apocrypha, and 72 in the New Testament for a grand total of 266 Scriptural references.5 I would say that Abraham is a pretty important figure both in Scripture and in world history.

The story of Abraham is important because it is foundational in establishing the concept of faith in human history. As the story moves on from Abraham, God progressively reveals more of Himself to His people. God’s revelation is not simply information about God, but it is a relationship by which we know God experientially and personally. It is like a marriage. A marriage has a legal aspect for sure, but it is much more than that. It is a relationship by which a man and a woman personally commit to one another in an exclusive way, knowing one another intimately, and solidifying that commitment with sacred vows.

In summary, God desires not just to redeem the human race, but to redeem creation as well. He has a vested interest in it. He will save both our souls and our bodies. As we saw above, He has interwoven the covenantal structure within the very fabric of creation itself with the seven-day week and the sabbath rest. We do not have a deistic god who creates the world and just walks away from it. He desires to reveal Himself to His creation in the context of a covenantal relationship. As we continue to study the life of Abraham, we will get a better grasp of what it means to live according to the covenant. 

Understanding the covenant also has important implications for the environment. The chief motivation behind taking care of the environment nowadays is fear.6 We motivate our young people to be good stewards of the environment by making them deathly afraid that if they don’t, then a cataclysm will occur and everyone will perish. The results of this approach have been widespread anxiety, depression, pessimism, and even suicide.

The problem with this approach is that it looks at the problem from a purely secular horizontal level. The entire burden for “saving the planet” rests on our shoulders. With that perspective, fear seems like the only logical motivator. When was the last time that any political leader encouraged us to look upward as well as outward?

Some may object, though, that if we developed a faith-based approach rather than one of fear, people would become irresponsible with regard to the environment. But this response arises from ignorance and a misunderstanding of the nature of the covenant. In such a relationship, like marriage, both parties do their parts to make the relationship work. God does His part of governing and preserving His creation and we do our parts of being good stewards of what He has entrusted to us. The burden of “saving the planet” really lies with God. We are just His instruments to do only that which He has commissioned us to do.

We can use Aristotle’s golden mean as a guide. On one hand, we can exploit the environment for selfish gain and on the other hand, we can conduct ourselves as if the full responsibility for the environment rests on our shoulders. The first extreme leads to ravishing the planet through greed and the second leads to ravishing ourselves through fear. The truth involves faith in God expressing itself through personal responsibility. In this manner, faith can conquer fear since faith is the opposite of fear. In fact, the word “confidence” comes from the Latin meaning “with faith.” 

It seems like we are constantly being told by our culture to live in fear of climate change. We should refuse to live that way and choose instead to live by faith. Living by faith leads to an incredible sense of liberation and empowerment. It also enables us to make more rational rather than emotional decisions. 

The point of this blog post is in accordance with the overall theme of this blog, which is to say that the answer to our present problems is to look upward to God through faith and not just horizontally. Living like we do in a secular, materialistic matrix leads to a whole host of problems including mental illness and nihilism. 

God promises to take care of us and if we turn to Him in faith, we will find this to be true. We must stop living like He doesn’t exist.

St. Peter says:

“Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”

-1 Peter 3:14

Finally, consider the following question:

What is the difference between stewardship of the earth concept and “save the earth movement?” Or is there? Please leave a comment below. Thank you!

Footnotes:

  1. Carnazzo Ph.D., Sebastian, “Lecture 1 Genesis 1-3, from the course Old Testament in Words and Images, Master of Sacred Arts Program, Pontifex University, 2020, https://www.pontifex.university
  2. Ibid.
  3. Carnazzo Ph.D., Sebastian, “Lecture 2 Genesis 4-27
  4. Nash Tom, “Reclaiming the Rainbow,” Catholic Answers, June 28, 2018, https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/reclaiming-the-rainbow
  5. I came up with those numbers simply by doing a word search on Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com
  6. Cegarra, Laura, “Extending Environmental Ethics Through Fear,” Harvard University, 2019, https://green.harvard.edu/news/extending-environmental-ethics-through-fear

Bibliography and Sources:

Balentine, Samuel E., editor, The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology: Two-Volume Set, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2015

De Mieroop, Van, A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC, 3rd Edition (Blackwell History of the Ancient World), Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, N.J., 2015

Hahn, Ph.D., Scott, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, 1998

Hahn, Ph.D., Scott, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT., 2009

Weinfeld, M., “Covenant Terminology in the Ancient Near East and Its Influence on the West.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 93, no. 2, 1973, pp. 190–199. JSTOR

Voegelin, Eric, Order and History, Vol. 1: Israel and Revelation, classic reprint hardcover, Forgotten Books Publishers, London, 2018

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