The first covenant with Abraham

A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. It can be thought of as a deal, with both sides having responsibilities to carry out in order to keep the covenant in place.

Abraham

For Jews, Abraham is known as the founder or first patriarch of Judaism, and Jewish people strive to follow his example. He was the first Jewish prophet who received the first covenant from God and took God’s message to the people. It was through Abraham that the idea of the Promised Land, a homeland for Jewish people, was created.

God gives Abraham the covenant

Abraham was born in the city of Ur (located in the country now called Iraq) at a time when worshipping idols was common. The Book of Genesis explains how God spoke to Abraham in a vision:

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Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you.Genesis 12:1-2

God instructed Abraham to leave his home and travel to Canaan, the Promised Land, which is today known as Israel. God asked Abraham to follow his rules and be a good example to others.

In return, God promised to give Abraham and his wife Sarah the child they both longed for, and to name their descendants as his chosen people. Abraham agreed that he and his descendants would obey and worship God and lead by example.

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Jews believe that God and Abraham entered into a covenant in which God promised many descendants, a blessed nation and a Promised Land.
Infographic depicting the life of Abraham

Circumcision: the seal of the covenant

God commanded that the covenant was sealed through Abraham’s circumcision.

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[Circumcision] shall be the mark of the covenant between Me and you… 'Throughout all generations, every male shall be circumcised when he is eight days old… The uncircumcised male… shall have his soul cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.Genesis 17:11-14

Abraham kept this covenant and his wife, Sarah, gave birth to their son, Isaac. God chose Isaac to inherit the covenant directly from his father, and Isaac handed it on to his own son, Jacob. Therefore Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are known as Israel’s patriarchs.

As a sign of this continuing covenant, to this day Jewish people perform the rite of circumcision of male babies eight days after they are born, in a ceremony called Brit Milah.

Question

Why is Abraham important to Jewish people?

Abraham is believed to be the founder of Judaism and he made a covenant with God, which still exists for Jews today. Additionally, Abraham sealed the covenant with circumcision, which is an important ritual for Jews today.