Wellum observes, “The ‘land’ promise of the Abrahamic covenant must also be understood in terms of what preceded it, namely, the covenant of creation. When this is done, there is further biblical warrant to view the ‘land’ as a type or pattern of the entire creation” (Kingdom through Covenant, 709). Leaving typology aside for the moment, the connection between Eden and the land promise in the Abrahamic covenant is a strong connection.
All three of the summary categories of the Abrahamic covenant are found in Genesis 1:26-28:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This passage recounts God’s first stated blessing of man: “And God blessed them.” The blessing focuses on seed and land/dominion. The first blessing, that mankind would “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” is tied to the seed promise. The blessing then turns to land/dominion: “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God’s intended land/dominion blessing was never limited to the garden. God. intended for man to “fill the earth” (1:28). Genesis 2, which is largely a development of the blessing, seed, land/dominion themes introduced in 1:28, looks to beyond the garden in verses 10-14. The river that provided water for garden (2:6, 10) also provides the highways into the lands beyond Eden. Yet when Adam and Eve leave the garden it is not to extend good and wise dominion over the earth. Instead they find themselves exiled from the garden (3:23-24). This begins an exile theme in Scripture.
These three themes of blessing, seed, and land also appear in the Fall narrative. In Genesis 3 Adam’s sin results in a curse rather than a blessing. Fittingly, the curse focuses on seed (pain in childbearing; 3:16) and on dominion over the earth (3:17-19). Adam’s role as the cultivator of the ground is reaffirmed (see also 3:23). But the ground now resists human dominion. It is painful to work the ground, and the ground produces thorns in thistles along with food. In the end it seems as though the ground will have dominion over the man because the man returns to the dust of which he was created.
These three themes also occur in the Flood narrative and in the Noahic covenant. Land words occur in Genesis 7 at a higher percentage per verse than in any other chapter in Genesis. In both chapters 7 and 8 land is at the center of the problem. instead of being filled with humans as God intended (1:28), the earth is filled with violence. This violence corrupts the earth, just as Cain polluted the ground with the blood of Abel. When God makes his covenant with Noah, he reiterates the creation blessing of Genesis 1:28, though in the context of the Fall. The nature of the Noahic covenant is to set bounds on the curse so that God’s plan of redemption can be worked out in the world. The culmination of the redemption made possible by the Noahic covenant is the removal of the curse. In this way Noah plays a significant role in God’s plan to bring the earth relief from the curse. Land plays an important role in the Noahic covenant. This is clear when God’s purposes (8:21-22) are enshrined in the covenant (9:8-17). The heart of the covenant is that God will never again destroy the earth with a flood.
Thus when we come to the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12, there should be little surprise that land has a prominent place alongside seed and blessing in these promises. Land was part of God’s initial blessing to mankind, land was affected by the Fall, and land was the focal point of the Noahic covenant. Nor, given this background should it surprise us if, as the Scripture unfolds this theme, the promise has a significance that broadens out beyond Israel to encompass all of God’s people and all of creation.
On the connection of the land promise with Eden, and on the implications of that connection for the expansion of the land promise, I register no disagreement with Progressive Covenantalists.
This is part of a series of posts on Progressive Covenantalism and the land theme in Scripture.
Progressive Covenantalism and the Land: Making Land Relevant (Part 1)
Progressive Covenantalism and the Land: Progressive Covenantalism’s View (Part 2)