The Eternally Renewed Covenant

February 27, 2024

This text, part of the covenant of circumcision, is the fourth time in Genesis that God promised the land to Abraham and his descendants. Here are the first three:

The Lord appeared to Abram and said: To your descendants I will give this land. He built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.

Genesis 12:7

The Lord said to Abram after Lot parted from him: Raise now your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your descendants forever.

Genesis 13:14-15

On that day, the Lord established a covenant with Abram saying: To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt until the great river, the Euphrates River.

Genesis 16:18

“After you”

In each of these three prior instances of God’s promise to Abram, God promised the land to Abram’s descendants. But then here in Genesis 17, God’s promise to Abraham includes an additional word each time his descendants are mentioned. Here are our verses again:

I will establish My covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an eternal covenant to be your God and for your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land of your residence, the entire land of Canaan, for an eternal portion.Genesis 17:7-8

In Hebrew, the word acharecha – “after you” – appears each time Abraham’s descendants are mentioned here in the covenant of Genesis 17. And it doesn’t stop with these two verses. Here are the next 2 verses that follow:

God said to Abraham: And you, you shall observe My covenant; you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant that you shall observe, between Me and you and between your descendants after you: circumcise every male among you. – Genesis 17:9-10

Five times across these four verses, God refers to Abraham’s descendants. And all five references include the word acharecha – “after you” – an additional word that never appears in any of the other times that God promised the land to Abraham and his descendants.

Furthermore, the word acharecha – “after you” – does not appear to serve any purpose. Just try reading these verses without the words “after you.” What is added by this word? Descendants are always “after you.”

“Between”

There is another nuance in the Hebrew syntax of the first of our verses that is not evident from the English translations. 

In Biblical Hebrew, when there is a covenant between two parties, the word “between” is repeated for each party to the covenant. Here’s another example from the book of Genesis:

I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living soul of all flesh, and the water shall not become a flood anymore to destroy all flesh.Genesis 9:15

The words “between Me and you and every living soul of all flesh,” if translated word for word from Hebrew would read: “between me and between you, and between every living soul of all flesh.” In this covenant, God was promising not only to humans, through Noah, but also to the animal kingdom, that He would never bring another flood.  

Here’s how our verse would look if we included every “between” where it appears in the Hebrew.

I will establish My covenant between Me and between you and between your descendants after you throughout their generations for an eternal covenant to be your God and for your descendants after you.

Why does this matter? 

To whom did God promise the land of Israel? The most straightforward answer is that God promised the land to Abram. That promise would then be inherited by all the generations of Abraham’s descendants after him. In other words, the land of Israel belongs to the nation of Israel because we are the descendants of Abraham and have thus inherited his rights to the land. Our right of ownership of the land is an extension of the promise made to Abraham. It is a right of ownership based solely on ancestry and familial inheritance. This is the plain meaning of the first time God promised the land to Abram:

On that day, the Lord established a covenant with Abram saying: To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt until the great river, the Euphrates River. – Genesis 16:18

Notice that here, the covenantal promise is only with Abram. It is worth noting that in this land promise God says that he has already given the land to Abram’s descendants. In other words, God gave the land to Abram, and as a result of that promise, the land already belongs to Abram’s descendants.

But here in Genesis 17, God makes a covenant “between Me and you and your descendants after you.” The covenant is not only with Abraham. The land promise to Abraham’s descendants forever is not only an extension of the promise to Abraham. The ownership claim of the Jewish people to the land is not merely the ancestral claim of inheritance. Here, the covenant of land is not only between God and Abraham. The covenant is also, independently, between God and Abraham’s descendants.

Let’s now look again at the verses of this covenant:

I will establish My covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an eternal covenant to be your God and for your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land of your residence, the entire land of Canaan, for an eternal portion. God said to Abraham: And you, you shall observe My covenant; you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant that you shall observe, between Me and you and between your descendants after you: circumcise every male among you. – Genesis 17:7-10

Here, God made a covenant with Abraham. But He also made a covenant with Abraham’s descendants. The condition of this covenant is that all males must be circumcised. By carrying out their side of the covenant with God, i.e. circumcision, the descendants of Abraham themselves merit the land.

According to this covenant, the nation of Israel’s claim to the land of Israel is not based on ancestry and inheritance. It is based on their own obedience to God.

Now we can understand why the word acharecha – “after you” – was repeatedly inserted into this covenant. God was saying to Abraham, that even though this covenant is binding on him and his descendants, the future claim to the land will not be merely an inherited extension of the covenant made between God and Abraham. Each and every Jew, for generations to come, “after you,” will enter into this covenant directly with God. 

While our spiritual legacy is passed on to us from earlier generations, each and every one of us is responsible to create our own covenant with God, our own independent relationship that justifies His providence in our lives.

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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By: The Israel Bible Team

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