The First Gospel
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
There is much to say about this one passage:
God's message is directed to Satan who instigated the Fall; and to woman, who first ate of the forbidden fruit, and a reference to the “seed of the woman”—an enigmatic phrase at its biological essence – combined with the promise of a Redeemer, born of a woman without reference to the male, who crushes the head of Satan.
This Redeemer’s mission of salvation—of humanity and all Creation—is realized at the deadly price of a viperous wound. Yet, we must leave this passage as it is, except to say that this is, indeed, the fountainhead from which we will discover the unconstrained response to the question, "What did God promise Abraham?"
The Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace
Mankind was created and placed into a conditional relationship with God that is rightly called, "The Covenant of Works." In this holy arrangement, Almighty God requires perfect obedience and undivided loyalty. He is God, after all. In return, the Lord offers life and life eternal. The penalty for breaking God’s law—a veritable cosmic rebellion—is death. Mercifully, death is not (necessarily) immediate, but is, by this stage, a “monster inside me,” to borrow the title of a popular real-life show about larva, snails, and man-eating crustaceans lodged in parts of the human body. It's not a very pleasant mental image, I admit. Neither is death from the inside out.
Nevertheless, our loving heavenly Father proclaims another way: what theologians call "The Covenant of Grace." In this God-initiated arrangement, born out of Adam and Eve’s disobedience and the Lord’s plan to enjoy fellowship with His Creation, God promises to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. God will keep the law perfectly. He will take the punishment for sin. Like our first parents, we are each born into a covenant of works. Yet, none of us can maintain complete obedience to God. Those who believe they can work their way to God are foolishly wagering that their own supposed holiness can provide a perfection of life that the Lord requires. They assume the punishment for our sins. The tragic end of such delusional spiritual bravado will be death and hell. God provides what we are incapable of doing (and being): we are invited to come to the Lord and to plead for his forgiveness and to receive the gift of his grace.
So, this is the framework through which we access the truth of the Abrahamic Covenant and, in doing so, answer the question, “What did God promise Abraham?”
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