Biblical Genealogies and the Law of Inheritance
by Gerald R. Thompson
LONANG LAW OF INHERITANCE
4. LAW OF INHERITANCE
Earlier I mentioned that the biblical genealogies, while they sometimes mention wives, mothers and sisters, only trace the male lineage, never the female line. To be sure, there are some instances in 1 Chronicles where the male descendants of a particular woman are delineated, but the biblical genealogies never trace a person’s female ancestors or his or her female descendants. Even Mary’s genealogy in Luke, though it terminates with her, is strictly concerned with her male ancestors. Why is this?
It is not because the biblical genealogies are part of any ideological system that men are inherently dominant or superior to women. Neither are the genealogies indicative of an unjust social system that oppresses women. Frankly, none of what we are about to discuss was the idea of any man or group of men because – I suggest – it was, and is, God’s idea.
I start with the assumption that the genealogies, as much as any other part of the Bible, are God-breathed, Holy Spirit inspired, and ultimately authored by God. Thus, not man invented or man perverted. And if that is the case, it may profit us to ask why God would do things this way, whether there is any way to make sense of it, and what we can learn about our world if this be so.
Let me suggest that there is such a thing as the law of the nature of inheritance, which is to say, there is a law of inheritance which is part of the law of nature. In biology, the law of genetics is such that each human child takes equally from both parents, one of which must be male, and the other which must be female. However, according to the law of the nature of inheritance (hereafter, the law of inheritance), each child takes solely from the father and the mother is disregarded. So while genetics says a child takes from his parents 50-50, for purposes of inheritance a child takes 100% from the father and 0% from the mother. Thus the difference between science and law.
It is most important that these two laws of genetics and inheritance not be confused. The law of genetics applies in the physical realm which mainly pertains to biology. The law of inheritance applies in the legal realm which mainly pertains to authority over property, the right to rule, and also goes to the matters of nationality and ethnicity. Before you get up in arms over gender-equality, let us see what evidence there is in the scriptures for this law of inheritance.
I have already noted that the Matthew genealogy makes reference to four women in the lineage from Abraham to Jesus, namely, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. I should also note here the general significance of the Matthew genealogy which I will discuss at length later on, namely, that it establishes the right of Jesus to rule the nation of Israel as the heir of David. So this genealogy is pretty darn important.
Imagine, if you will, that the Matthew genealogy was defective and insufficient to establish Jesus’ claim to the throne of David. This would be pretty darn important, as well. And that is exactly the result we should expect – if the right to rule is to be inherited pursuant to the law of genetics, i.e., 50-50 from the father and the mother. Why? Because there are several women in the lineage which are not Israelite, and at least two of which are not even descendants of Abraham through any child other than Isaac. If the law of genetics is controlling here, Jesus has a real problem.
The scripture does not indicate the nationality of Tamar, but in any event we can be fairly certain she was not Jewish. Why? Because Jews, or to be more precise Israelites, were descendants of the sons of Israel (i.e., Jacob). Tamar, the concubine of Judah, was undoubtedly neither a child or a sister of Judah or any of his brothers, as the sons of Jacob were themselves still in the process of having the first generation of descendants. Tamar may have been a remote descendant of Abraham though one of his sons other than Isaac, but at least she was not an Israelite.
Rahab’s ethnic identity is not identified either, but since she was not a part of the Israelite nation which had escaped from Egypt and undergone 40 years of testing in the Sinai, she could not have been Jewish. Most likely she was a Canaanite, since Jericho (where she resided with her father’s household) was located in Canaan. And Canaanites were descendants of Ham, not Shem (of the sons of Noah).
Ruth is specifically identified in scripture as a Moabite (Ru. 1:4), or a member of the nation of Moab, who were descendants of Moab the grandson of Lot (Abraham’s nephew). Thus, she was not a Jew or a descendant of Abraham. Bathsheba, in contrast to these other women, appears to have been an Israelite.
But here is the point: none of that matters. The purpose of the Matthew genealogy, remember, is to show that Jesus was a descendant of both Abraham and David. And in reckoning this lineage, the ethnicity of the mother never enters into the equation. It would not have mattered if every single wife and mother from Abraham down to Jesus was a non-Jew. As long as each male in the lineage was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then the lineage of Jesus as a descendant of Abraham and David is intact due to the operation of the law of inheritance.
If this were not the case, i.e., the law of inheritance is not what I say it is, then the lineage of Jesus would be tainted or polluted by the presence of non-Israelite women in the genealogy. If, on the other hand, the lineage is untainted, then it must be because the ethnicity of the women is always to be disregarded as irrelevant, strongly suggesting that for all purposes with which the Matthew genealogy is concerned, only the fathers are important in determining the character and quality of that inheritance which is passed to the next generation.
There is an interesting property case in the Old Testament I like to refer to as In re The Daughters of Zelophehad found in Num 27:1-11 and Josh 17:3-4. In legal cases, the term in re (or, in the matter of) refers to a judicial proceeding having some item of property at the center of the dispute rather than adverse parties.
Zelophehad was an Israelite of the tribe of Manasseh who died and was survived by five daughters and no sons. At this point the nation of Israel was still quite young, just having emerged from the 40-year wilderness experience and the rudimentary principles of property transactions were just being established. Moses is still alive. In the immediately preceding chapter (Num 26), Israel had just undergone its second census, being the one which numbered the people emerging from Sinai.
At the conclusion of the census, even before Israel had taken possession of most of its Promised Land, God laid down the rule for property distribution. “The land shall be divided by lot. According to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.” Num. 26:55. So here the law of inheritance was expressly made applicable to property in the land of Israel.
What is unstated, but necessarily implied, is that only the sons would inherit from their fathers. If the second, or any succeeding, generation were also to inherit from their fathers, of necessity the only persons who can inherit must be limited to those who will one day become fathers themselves. Thus, as an initial rule, no provision was made for either wives or daughters to inherit.
But now comes the wrinkle, which had to happen eventually, where a man dies leaving no sons to inherit from him. And now, the daughters of Zelophehad have presented Moses with this exact problem.
Notice that this case presents two problems which must be resolved. First, who was eligible to receive Zelophehad’s inheritance: would it be the daughters, would it go to another relative of Zelophehad, or would it escheat to the nation or tribe and be auctioned to the highest bidder? Second, how to guard against the scenario that land allotted to a particular tribe might end up in the hands of a different tribe, thus altering the geo-political structure of ancient Israel?
The two questions are related, but separate. The first relates to what Blackstone called the laws of descent, or who is eligible to receive what from a decedent. The second question relates to the theocratic laws of ancient Israel which, generally speaking, have no relation to modern Gentile nations. But there is an underlying principle of a general nature which controls the outcome in both cases, namely, the law of inheritance.
Let’s review what the law of inheritance is: for purposes of inheritance a child takes 100% from the father and 0% from the mother. In the case of Zelophehad, notice there is no mention of his wife. Whether she is alive or dead at the time is irrelevant – under no circumstances can she inherit. In other words, the wife inherits (if at all) only from her father, not her husband. Thus, she plays no part in this little drama. As for the daughters, Moses was instructed to “transfer the inheritance of their father to them.” Num. 27:7. So yes, daughters could inherit in some instances.
In this way the first question (who was entitled to inherit) was answered in relevant part by the law of inheritance: a father’s inheritance goes to his children. For the mother’s part, anything she may have inherited from her father went to Zelophehad upon their marriage. And if she survived him, the mother was bypassed in allocating the inheritance.
The second question (preservation of tribal integrity) is also answered by the law of inheritance. To understand the problem and its solution, consider what would have happened if the daughters of Zelophehad (of the tribe of Manasseh) shared his estate, and then married men from other tribes of Israel – say, Reuben, Gad, Simeon, Benjamin and Levi. When it came time for the grandsons of Zelophehad to inherit, the land they would take from their father’s estates would be regarded as belonging to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Simeon, Benjamin and Levi, respectively. In point of fact, the land would have been assigned to those tribes immediately upon the marriages of Zelophehad’s daughters.
This would cause enormous geo-political problems by re-allocating the specific portions of land deeded by God to each tribe. Not to mention the added problem of vesting land in the tribe of Levi, which was prohibited from owning any portion in the land. Num. 18:20. So the solution was simple, i.e., require each of the daughters to marry a man from the tribe of Manasseh, which is what they did. In this way, the geo-political integrity of the various tribes would be maintained.
It is easy for us to get caught up in the tribal geo-political structure of the problem and then dismiss it as something irrelevant to us today. After all, that system was put into place as part of the unique theocratic laws of ancient Israel, which always were, and always will be, inapplicable to Gentile nations. But don’t lose sight of the underlying operation of the law of inheritance, which is not part of ancient Israel’s theocratic laws (because it has far wider application than merely ancient Israel), and therefore still has importance.
((Aside: The foregoing discussion should not be confused with the ancient Israelite law of the birthright, or what we call primogeniture in Anglo-American law. The birthright essentially gave a double portion of the inheritance to the firstborn son, was based on the principle of the firstfruits, and was totally unrelated to the principles discussed here. See, Deut. 21:15-17. Also see the cases of Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:31-34) and Reuben and Joseph (Gen. 43:33; Gen. 49:3; 1 Chr. 5:1-2).))
Curious, that we see the example of the ancient Jewish laws of descent mirrored in other nations throughout history. According to Blackstone,
“A second general rule or canon is, that the male issue shall be admitted [i.e., inherit] before the female.” “This preference of males to females is entirely agreeable to the law of succession among the Jews, and also among the states of Greece, or at least among the Athenians; but was totally unknown to the laws of Rome.” William Blackstone, 2 Commentaries on the Laws of England, Ch. 14 (1766).
He then noted the extent to which various other nations did or did not follow the same principle, which it is not necessary for us to review. However, I present this quotation to show that the law of inheritance as I have here described it was not limited to the nation of ancient Israel. One of the tests of whether a rule is part of the law of nature is whether it is commonly recognized among the civilized nations of the world. The law of inheritance is such a law.
I suggest that ethnicity or nationality also follows the law of the nature of inheritance. Meaning, that every person takes his or her ethnicity from the father and no part from the mother. The rule applies to women and men equally. And while the principle is easily observed with respect to ancient Israel (though not without some controversy), it is by no means limited to that nation. I assert the principle is universal and applies to all nations and ethnicities.
The national identity of ancient Israel was essentially defined as “the sons of Israel.” We see this when the initial seed population of the nation, i.e., Jacob and all his household, first came to Egypt in the time of Joseph’s rule and was referred to as the sons of Israel. Ex. 1:1. We see it when the nation coming out of Egypt was counted in the first census. “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head.” Num. 1:2. Similarly with respect to the second census in Num. 26.
Thus, when God called out the house of Jacob and the people of Israel as a special people among all the nations of the earth (Ex. 19:3-6), it is understood to refer to the sons of Israel and their households. The Israelites are referred to as the sons of Israel some 30 times in the Bible.
Historical evidence (albeit anecdotal) suggests it is quite possible Solomon had a son with the Queen of Sheba, who returned to her home country (somewhere in the vicinity of Ethiopia, most likely). When the son came of age and married, most likely he would have chosen a bride from the local population of Africans. His and his descendants would have looked African, but ethnically would be Jewish, if indeed parentage traced back to Solomon. An identifiable culture of Ethiopian Jews a/k/a Beta Israel still exists today.
Yet that result is no different from what happened to all the Jews in the diaspora. To the extent the sons of Israel intermarried with local populations their descendants would take on the physical characteristics of the local population, yet would still be ethnically Jewish. This is no mere hypothetical. If you are interested, just look into the history of the Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazic Jews – both the results of intermarriage between Jews and varying local populations.
You may be aware there is a longstanding tradition (via the Halakha) that Jewishness is determined not by one’s father, but by one’s mother. Although, there is a minority report, as it were, which is even older, that Jewishness is determined by one’s father. Both sides have citations from the O.T. scriptures and rabbinic writings to back up their claims.
What people fail to take into account is that God has His own way of doing things. He has His own rules for determining Jewishness and He keeps His own records. Thus, when the 144,000 Jews are called out from among the nations in the Tribulation, 12,000 males from each of the tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:1-8), God will know exactly who the sons of Israel are at that time. Then as now, the question will not be about Jewish self-identity. Rather, the question is how God operates.
What is ethnicity, if not an inherited nationality? And the universal rule used to determine national identity in the Bible is the law of inheritance. See, e.g., the Table of Nations (Gen. 10:5, 20, 31):
The sons of Japheth: … From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations. …
These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations. …
These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.
So we see that before the nation of Israel even existed, the Bible uniformly refers to all national identities as being determined by who the father was, and those ethnicities carried through the male line.
Now for a couple of applications of the law of inheritance to current events especially as that law relates to the matter of ethnicity or nationality. First, it strikes me how recent innovations in genetic testing, i.e., as a means of determining a person’s ethnicity or ancestry, are limited and, I suggest, extremely misleading. You’ve seen the advertisements, haven’t you? Send in a swab of your DNA and find out what percentage of various ethnic groups you are. Ah, but the unstated assumption behind all such tests is this: your ethnicity is governed by the law of genetics, counting male and female ancestors equally. Bah, humbug! My recommendation: don’t waste your time or money.
Second, there is the favorite topic on everyone’s mind of a political bent, that is, what it means to be a natural born citizen. This question, to be sure, could warrant its own lengthy essay. But let me give you a quick and dirty analysis. In interpreting constitutional language written in 1787, we do not look to subsequent statutes enacted by Congress in the 20th Century. Rather, we must look to contemporary sources existing in 1787. And the singular authority on the subject at the time was Emmerich de Vattel, who wrote:
“The citizens are the members of the civil society; bound to this society by certain duties, and subject to its authority, they equally participate in its advantages. The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. As the society cannot exist and perpetuate itself otherwise than by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights.” Vattel, The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law, Bk. 1, Ch. 19, §212 (1758).
We see from this quote that Vattel followed the law of the nature of inheritance, in that a person’s citizenship derives principally from his father, not the mother. When considering candidates for political office, such as Barack Obama and Ted Cruz, the question is not essentially where each was born, but whether the father of each was a U.S. citizen at the time of his birth. And in both of these specific cases, notably, the mother of each was a U.S. citizen, but the father was not. Meaning, both are/were ineligible to serve as President of the United States.
You should not extrapolate any political leanings on my part as a result of this analysis, since Obama and Cruz are, to say the least, on opposite ends of the political spectrum. But that’s the point – this is not a political matter. It is a legal matter, and the law is what the law is. This is not my opinion. Let the chips fall where they may.
We also see the law of inheritance applied to the Church, the Body of Christ. Scripture indicates Christians are adopted as sons of God, not sons and daughters. Gal. 3:26. In a spiritual sense, God has children, but no daughters. Why? Because daughters do not inherit from their father, i.e., God.
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ….” Rom. 8:14-17. (Emphasis added.)
Notice how carefully this scripture distinguishes the relationship of the various parties. In other words, notice what the text does not say: it does not say that Christians are heirs of Christ. It also does not say Christians are fellow-heirs of God. In order for this whole inheritance thing to work, we have to clearly understand who stands in the position of a father, and who stands in the position of a son. Thus, with respect to God the Father, both Christ and all Christians stand in the same position. And the scripture nowhere refers to Jesus as a father.
I am not making the argument that women are not or cannot be heirs with Christ. Rather, that women must be placed in the position of a son, spiritually, in order to be a spiritual heir of God the Father. Gal. 4:7. Thus, the N.T. repeatedly refers to all Christians as the sons of God. Luk. 20:36; Jn. 1:12; Rom. 8:14, 19; Gal. 3:26; Phlp. 2:15; 1 Jn. 3:1-2.
It may not be politically correct in our culture, but this is the way God operates. If your translation of the Bible doesn’t carry this concept forward because it serves the false god of gender neutrality, throw it out.
Why should things be this way? Because it is the nature of God, i.e., Father and Son. Did you think it was just an accident, or a cosmic coincidence, that two persons of the divine trinity should be referred to in masculine terms, and none in the feminine? If you don’t like things this way, don’t take it up with me – take it up with God. But be warned – You can’t mess with the law of inheritance unless you mess with the nature of God as a masculine Being, and that is something you can’t mess with.
5. DIVINE COVENANTS
The divine covenants, I argue, are the most important aspects of the entire Bible. From a basic laws of nature and nature’s God perspective, the divine covenants comprise the entirety of the laws of nature’s God. Think about it. The entirety of the laws of nature were impressed upon the world and mankind at the time of initial creation in non-verbal form. Those laws remain, until this creation is destroyed and replaced by new heavens and a new earth, eternal, immutable and universal from the time of creation. We can know the laws of nature apart from the Bible, but as Blackstone said, we can never know those laws without the Bible as well as we can with it.
Everything else we know about the will of God, particularly His will for all men (not merely individual commands) comes from the verbal revelations expressed in the divine covenants. And that is what the laws of nature’s God are – the verbal revelations of His will for all men.
Everything we know about early history, the Gospel, the nation of Israel, and the kingdom of Christ has been revealed under, or pursuant to, one of the divine covenants. The covenants divide history into different phases and serve as the main organizing principle for understanding all of scripture. Their importance cannot be overstated.
Thus, it is of paramount importance that we understand which divine covenants apply to which people if we are to accurately handle the word of truth. See, 2 Tim. 2:15. That is where the genealogies come in, because all of the divine covenants run to a stipulated set of descendants except the new covenant in Christ, which is open to all people. The general rule may be expressed as follows: the divine covenants (other than the covenant in Christ), according to the scriptures, apply to those who consented to them at the time and their physical descendants.
Accordingly, before you can understand how the divine covenants apply to you, you must know whose descendant you are. Applying the law of the nature of inheritance to the matter, it essentially requires each person to know who is their daddy. And this is what the biblical genealogies tell us – who our daddy is (and his daddy, and his daddy, and so on). So, what do the genealogies tell us?
The terms of the covenant with Adam relate primarily to the Dominion Mandate (Gen. 1:28-30): “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” over the entire animal kingdom. Comprehended in this mandate is the authority to have and raise children through the vehicle of the family, and the authority to dominate the earth and all creatures through labor, industry and property. By implication the Dominion Mandate includes the laws of marriage, parental authority and all economic rights. A matter of no small importance is the authority to consume “every plant yielding seed … and every tree with seed in its fruit” for food.
The biblical genealogies inform us that every person who has ever been born is a descendant of Adam – he is the ultimate father of us all. Therefore, the Dominion Mandate continues to be the foremost purpose of every individual even to this day.
But there is a flip side, namely, the fall and the curse (Gen. 3:16-19). Included in the curse is pain in child-bearing, strife between husbands and wives, the curse of the ground, and of course, death. While the curse is not strictly speaking a part of the terms of the covenant with Adam (because it came after the Dominion Mandate and was a consequence of judgment rather than consent), nonetheless, scripture clearly informs us that the fall and the curse also apply to every single descendant of Adam. Rom. 5:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:22.
Thus, since Adam was the ultimate father of us all, we all experience the consequences of the fall and the curse, including the curse of the ground, death, and what is sometimes called original sin, but is more accurately termed the sin nature. These consequences are inescapable for any descendant of Adam. “In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all.” The New England Primer (1690).
The Noahic Covenant is the covenant God made with the survivors of the great flood which covered the whole earth. Gen 9:1-17. This covenant expanded the food laws to include meat (literally, “every moving thing that lives”), but excluding blood. It further authorized capital punishment for the first time, reiterated the Dominion Mandate, and through the sign of the rainbow, God promised never to flood the earth again. The authorization of capital punishment is understood by many as the initialization of civil government among men, which took practical shape following the Tower of Babel dispersion 150 or so years later (i.e., when the nations were first formed).
The scripture expressly makes the terms of the Noahic Covenant applicable to all of the survivors of the flood and their offspring. Thanks to the biblical genealogies, we know exactly who those people were: Noah, his wife, and their three sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth) and their wives, i.e., eight persons. While none of the four women were descendants of Noah, of necessity all persons born of them would be descendants of Noah, as per the law of inheritance (looking only to the father).
In other words, since the flood Noah has become a sort of proxy for Adam, in that every person alive on the earth today is his descendant, and he is a father (in addition to Adam) of us all. Therefore, the terms of the Noahic covenant continue to apply to every person today, including eating meat, the promise of the rainbow, and yes, even civil authority. And thanks to the genealogies, we know there are no exceptions, i.e., there were no other survivors of the flood.
That is why it is so dastardly, and ultimately subversive, for people to suggest either that: 1) Adam and Eve were not actually the parents of all people, but merely representative of people alive at the time, or worse, did not really exist; and/or 2) the flood was localized (not global) and there were human populations which survived the flood apart from the eight persons in the ark.
If either of these suggestions were true, it would mean: a) some people are more authorized to populate the earth than others (and history is replete with examples of how that kind of thinking plays out in practical terms, i.e., genocide); b) not everyone is subject to the fall (or in other words, people are not inherently sinful); c) people should really be vegetarians; d) capital punishment is a rogue doctrine that has no place among an evolved species; and e) the rainbow is merely a weather phenomena and means nothing with respect to a re-flooding of the world.
Taking the early chapters of Genesis as mere allegory may sound spiritual, but isn’t any better. It leads people to say stupid things, like:
“Sure, God wants us to populate the earth – but hey, don’t take it too far and go overboard. We’ve got an overpopulation problem to deal with or we’re in big trouble. Yes, God wants us to take care of the animals. But that doesn’t make us better than them and it’s not like we can treat them (gasp!) like property or anything. We have to be good neighbors and share the earth with our animal friends.”
“Sure, we can eat whatever we want for food, but stay away from red meat and for heaven’s sake you’ll be so much more healthy if you just stick to fruits and vegetables. It’s not like eating meat is a duty or anything like that. OK, we obviously need to restrain evil, but capital punishment? It’s barbaric, and so beneath us. God, who gave us life, wouldn’t really want us to take life in this way – it’s hardly the way to love our fellow man.”
Do you see how crucial the biblical genealogies are to understanding the nature of our world and human existence? If the genealogies are not factual, the divine covenants with Adam and Noah ultimately mean little or nothing. Which of course is exactly the way most people view them today, sadly, even many in Christian circles. Don’t let yourself be named among these unbelievers in the historicity of Genesis.
The Abrahamic covenant was revealed in three steps: when Abram left Haran at age 75, when he arrived at Canaan, and finally when he was about 85 (accompanied by animal sacrifice). Gen. 12:1-7; 15:1-21. The terms of the covenant had three parts: a) to make Abraham a great nation (numerous as the stars) via the natural heir of his body; b) to be a blessing to all the families of the earth; and c) to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring forever.
This covenant was later confirmed to Isaac (Gen. 26:4) and to Jacob (Gen. 28:13-14). Wrapped up in the circumstances surrounding the description of the covenant in Gen. 17 is a prophecy predicting the Israelite slavery in Egypt and the Exodus. Also, statements are made contemporaneously with the giving of the covenant that Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. I don’t consider either the prophecy or the description of Abraham’s faith to be part of the express terms of the covenant per se, but whether they are or not is of little consequence.
In Christian circles, much is made of the linkage between Abraham’s righteousness, the promise that he would be a blessing to all the families of the earth, and the new covenant in Christ being modeled after the faith example of Abraham. See, Gal. 3:5-9; 16-18. This is all well and good and I do not deny the connection. But the error many people make is to jump to Rom. 2:29 (a true Jew is a spiritual Jew) and then conclude (wrongly) that Christians are the ones to whom the Abrahamic covenant applies. Recognizing the spiritual benefit of Abraham’s example is not the same as being a natural/biological heir of his body.
The promise to make Abraham a great nation (numerous as the stars) via the natural heir of his body is just that – a promise relating specifically to his biological heirs. The same is true for the land of Canaan (i.e., Israel) – there are no land rights inherited by Christians from Abraham. Only biological offspring of Abraham have any claim to the land of Israel. Even the promise to make Abraham a blessing to all the earth looks forward to the future restoration of Israel, when all the nations will look to the Jews as a source of blessing. Zech. 8:23.
We must also note that Abraham was not merely the father of Israel, but in fact was the father of many nations, as God promised. Gen. 17:4-5. Not only was Abraham the father of the Ishmaelites, but also the Midianites and other nations. See, Gen. 25:1-6. Yet, the Abrahamic covenant does not apply to any of these offspring of Abraham except the Jews. Why? That is where the confirmations of the covenant with Isaac and Jacob come in.
By these confirmations, God limited the applicability of the covenant to the offspring of all three men, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, meaning Israel only. That is why even God referred to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a means of self-identification when he revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. Ex. 3:6.
Thus, unless you are a biological Jew, the Abrahamic covenant simply does not apply to you.
I will not go into detail here concerning the Mosaic covenant, which is really the covenant with Israel, since Moses was merely the person who transmitted the terms of the covenant to the nation and was no more or less a party to the covenant than any other Israelite. Broadly speaking, the covenant with Israel contained the Ten Commandments and all the various statutes and ordinances issued under them. Typically, the covenant is viewed as having three great parts, i.e., the eternal moral law (laws rooted in creation); theocratic laws (relating to national polity); and the ceremonial laws (relating to atonement and the priesthood).
People sometimes get confused by the fact the covenant was issued and confirmed several times. To wit, the covenant was initially adopted at Mt. Sinai when Israel first escaped from Egypt. Ex. 19:3-7. It was confirmed – as symbolized by re-writing the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments – shortly thereafter, also at Mt. Sinai in Horeb. Ex. 24:3-8. Both of these occurred before the 40 year wilderness experience. Then, the covenant was re-affirmed in Moab, just before crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land (after the wilderness experience). Deut. 29:1-9.
The so-called Palestinian Covenant is nothing more than the renewal or confirmation of the covenant with Israel in Moab. As I said earlier, a divine covenant applies to those who consented to it at the time and their physical descendants. In the case of Israel, everyone who was alive at Mt. Sinai was (at the time of Deut. 29) now dead except for Moses, Joshua and Caleb. So the people in Moab were the next generation of Israelites, but they were all either actual parties to the original covenant or the physical descendants of them.
Meaning, the covenant in Moab was every bit as much a covenant between God and Israel as the original at Mt. Sinai. And none of the original terms was modified. So the parties were the same, and the terms were the same. Thus, the Mosaic covenant and the Palestinian covenant are really one and the same.
And, as the referenced texts clearly indicate, the covenant only applied to the nation of Israel. The Mosaic law never did apply to Gentiles, and nothing in the N.T. makes it applicable to Gentiles. So again, unless you are a biological Jew, the covenant with Israel does not apply to you.
The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:12-16), after a fashion, is a subset of the covenant with Israel. It provides that only the seed (a male descendant) of David may inherit the throne of Israel. This explains why Athaliah (a woman who was of the royal family), when she claimed the throne of Israel for herself, was a usurper and put to death for her treason. 2 Ki 11:1-16; 2 Chron 22:10-12; 23:12-15. In this instance, disregard for the law of inheritance proved to be fatal.
By definition the covenant applies only to biological descendants of David, who was a Jew. Although, as we will see shortly, this covenant has its terminus in Jesus, so if you are a male descendant of David, don’t wait around to be crowned. In any event, unless you are a biological Jew, the Davidic covenant really won’t have any impact on you.
All of these Old Testament covenants, though divine, are earthly, or temporal. That is, they all pertain to heirs of the physical body. The new covenant in Christ, or the Church Covenant, is a spiritual covenant only. Therefore it does not, and we should not expect it to, run to the benefit of anyone’s physical heirs. Participation in the Church covenant is decided on an individual basis, irrespective of one’s ancestry. And of all the divine covenants, only the covenant in Christ applies to Christians (or the Church), per se.
If you view the various divine covenants according to the Reformed doctrine of continuity, i.e., that each covenant is a successive chapter in a single unfolding (progressively revealed) relationship between God and His people in which later installments modify or supersede prior ones, then you will necessarily regard the divine covenants as applying to Christians only. In other words, because the Church covenant is the last one to date, it supersedes and in essence controls the prior ones.
However, in order to reach this conclusion you must disregard the plain language of the O.T. texts indicating who each covenant applies to, and this is something I am unwilling to do. No express language in the N.T. cancels out or rescinds the express language in the O.T., and such a cancellation, if God had ever intended it, is far too important to be merely inferred by reading language in an allegorical way.
Until God expressly designates otherwise, we must take each divine covenant as being applicable only to those people (and their descendants) who received the oracles of God at the time and consented to them. And who those people are is directly made known in the biblical genealogies. Thank God He has a provided us with a means of certainty in this area, and not left the matter to guesswork.