Redemption, as our Reformed fathers have taught us, is sola gratia; it is all of grace. Moreover, the means of our redemption, as set forth in Scripture, is always through the covenant. All the biblical covenants demonstrate the principle of grace alone by contrasting the
faithlessness of man with the faithfulness of God. This pattern of man’s failure and God’s faithfulness is displayed throughout the whole history of redemption.
In the beginning God made a covenant with Adam, but Adam quickly revolted by partaking of the fruit of disobedience. God afterwards made a covenant with Noah; nonetheless, he rebelled thereafter in drunkenness and shame. God made a covenant with Israel, but the people immediately rose up in rebellion and made for themselves a god of gold. God made a covenant with David; yet he quickly revolted in the matter of the wife of Uriah. Jesus made a new covenant with His disciples, but that very night they deserted Him or, like Peter, denied Him.
As described in Genesis 12, God made a gracious covenant with Abraham, and he, too, immediately disobeyed the Lord. God promised Abraham a land and a seed (Gen. 12:1–3). But to test his faith, God brought Abraham into a land that was barren, having also given him a wife that was barren. Egypt, the land that was fertile, and the Egyptian handmaid Hagar, who was likewise fertile, would tempt Abraham to the disobedience of seeking God’s promise through his own means apart from faith in the covenant-keeping God.
God likewise promised Abraham, through the same covenant, that he would be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:3). But Abraham’s disobedience in venturing the purity of Sarah and deceiving the pharaoh into believing that his wife was actually his sister brought severe plagues instead of blessing upon the Egyptians. However, in spite of the flagrant disobedience of Abraham, God faithfully worked out His program to give Abraham’s seed a land and, through them, to bring the blessing of salvation to the nations of the earth.
The pattern of Abraham’s failure in Egypt is instructive, for in spite of Abraham’s sin God was demonstrating His covenant favor to this family. How did the Lord do this? What was the history of Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt? Read the account of Abraham in Egypt, and you will see a prophetic preview of the exodus of Israel under Moses:
A famine was the occasion that brought Abraham’s covenant family into Egypt (Gen. 12:10). While sojourning there, the seed of promise was put in jeopardy when the pharaoh took Sarah into his house (v. 15). To protect the purity of Abraham’s wife, God brought great plagues upon the pharaoh and Egypt
(v. 17). The plagues awakened the king to the recognition that God was protecting this covenant family (v. 18). Pharaoh summoned Abraham and commanded him to leave Egypt (v. 19). Abraham’s family was then driven out, but he left Egypt with much treasure (vv. 16, 20).
Five hundred years after Abraham, God would reveal Himself to Moses saying, “I am the God of…Abraham” (Ex. 3:6). Once again, a famine during the days of Joseph brought the children of Abraham into Egypt (Gen. 45:9–11). During their sojourn in Egypt, the seed of promise was put in jeopardy by another pharaoh, who did not remember Joseph (Ex. 1:8, 22). God revealed to Moses at Sinai that He had come down to deliver His covenant people, just as He had promised Abraham (Gen. 15:13–16).
But could the God of a wandering Aramean like Abraham really overcome the mightiest kingdom in the world? Of course He could! Abraham’s history revealed that God had already done so. And the man of faith in Israel during the ministry of Moses would have recognized the pattern of God’s deliverance, that the God of Abraham was remembering His covenant. For the Lord was once again working great plagues upon the pharaoh and Egypt (Ex. 11:1). Another pharaoh would likewise be made to recognize that the Lord was protecting Israel, the covenant descendants of Abraham (Ex. 9:27). Pharaoh would summon Moses before him and once again command Israel to leave Egypt (Ex. 12:31–32). And so Israel would be driven out of Egypt, but they would leave Egypt, just like their father Abraham, with great plunder
God’s faithfulness to His covenant was displayed not only in delivering Abraham’s children from bondage, but also in delivering Abraham and his seed from death. Two thousand years after Abraham, Jesus was confronted by the skepticism of the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. The Lord responded to the unbelief of the religious leaders in Jerusalem by quoting God’s revelation of Himself to Moses at Sinai, “I am the God of… Abraham” (Ex. 3:6). The Lord had not said to Moses, “I was the God of Abraham.” Jesus argues from the present tense of the verb that Abraham was still living in the presence of God five hundred years after his physical death and burial in Canaan (Matt. 22:31–32). Consequently, God’s covenant faithfulness was not merely displayed in redeeming Abraham from the oppression of Egypt, it was likewise manifest in redeeming Abraham from the curse of death itself. Such is the faithfulness of our covenant-keeping God, who redeems those of us who are Abraham’s covenant children by faith from both bondage and death, all by His grace alone!