The Stuff of Martyrs

by Darrel Cline

Chapter Six: The Martyr and the Covenant

Having established the basic foundation, we are now going to dig into the issue of just what God has promised. When we question the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, the most telling issue is that one which addresses just what it is that He has said He will do. So, this chapter will address that issue.

A person can only be held to be insufficient if he has said He would do something that he does not do. On the other hand, if he consistently does what he has promised, he clearly is trustworthy and can be considered sufficient.

The Categories of Man's Need Addressed by Covenant

In the first two chapters we addressed the categories of man's need according to the way God created him. He created a body that has certain requirements for life (food, drink, health, etc.). He then breathed into that body the breath of life. This gave the body a capacity for activity (the heart started pumping blood, the lungs began to function as the process of breathing began, and all of the functions of life kicked into gear). At this point, Adam could exercise all of the capacities associated with physical life in a perfect body. The Scripture says that he had become a living soul. This meant that he was now capable of experience, action, and reaction. The soul is the seat of the capacity for response to the experiences of the whole person.

So we were created with certain needs in place. Our bodies need things to sustain them in health, our souls need experiences that are good and wholesome and desireable, and our spirits need wisdom for direction in order to energize the body to do the things that the soul can enjoy.

Now, when these need areas were manipulated by the serpent in the garden, Adam fell into a state of perpetual conflict over his needs. His body was now subjected to intense labor in order for it to gain the food that it needed to sustain itself. His spirit was subjected to the absence of God's daily fellowship and instruction. It was left to figure out what to do and how to do it, all on its own. His soul was abandoned to the wisdom of the spirit and the capacity of the body: its experiences were to be whatever those two could produce. For about 2,000 years humanity was left to drift with a minimum of heavenly input. The result was predictable. Without God's wisdom we can not discern the true methods of life.

Instead humanity degenerated into strife in every aspect of his being. This brought on the flood and, eventually, the confusion of languages that dispersed all of the peoples upon the face of the earth.

The Martyr's Covenant

At this point, God stepped rather dramatically into history with a summons for a man named Abram. Genesis 12:1-3 records a very critical covenant that God made with this man: "Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."

Since it was God's plan for this man to be known as the father of all who believe, this covenant is a very critical document. Much has been written about it. Most of the material addresses questions about its conditionality and its content. I have read little that has been written about why God gave the promises that it contains. So, I would like to suggest a reason or two.

The Commands

First, note that the covenant consisted basically of three commands and three promises. The first command was Get out of your country. Most notable here is the fact that the word translated country is the same one translated land in the promise section ("...unto a land that I will shew thee..."). Thus, God commanded Abram to get out of his land. The second command was to get away from his kindred. This meant he had to leave the familiar relationships that he had enjoyed all his life. The third command was to get away from his father's house. This meant he had to leave the place which formed the core of his identity.

The Promises

The promises corresponded perfectly with the commands. The first promise was that he would be given a land to replace the land he had to leave. The second promise was that he would be given a seed (a great nation) to replace the kindred that he was leaving. The third promise was that he would be given a great name to replace the status of his father's house that he had to abandon. Thus, we can summarize the promises as a land, a seed, and a great name. Abram would be blessed in these three areas and become a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.

The Rationale for the Promises

It should go without saying that God's promises to Abram had to have some appeal in order for them to be motivational enough to get him to act on them. In all of the material written on this covenant that I have read, however, little is written to address what I have just said should go without saying. I would like to make a very critical observation at this point. (In fact, it is the most critical point of this entire book.) The promises were specifically designed by God to fit the needs of man as established by creation and the record of temptation.

To briefly explain, let me say that the promise of the land was made because man is a body made of dirt that requires the fruit of the land to sustain it. In other words, God's promise of a land to Abram was a promise of a sufficient provision for him as a physical being. Likewise, the promise of a great nation (seed) was made because man became a living soul who needs the security of significant relationships. Dwelling among his kindred gave Abram a sense of belonging to a community of people who would look out for him. God commanded him to leave that community and the security that it would give him. So, God promised a new community and a new source of security. And, in the same way, God promised Abram a great name because the spirit of Abram had a significant need to be somebody. The great name would fulfill this spiritual need. So, the Abrahamic Covenant, as it is known today, was actually a commitment by God to Abram to fulfill all of his needs in all of the realms of his identity: land for the body, seed for the soul, and a great name for the spirit. Consider the following chart:

God's creation of man as a tri-unity The consequent needs of man's tri-unity The covenant provisions to the father of those who believe
BODY Physical supply LAND
SOUL Security through relationships SEED
SPIRIT Significant Status GREAT NAME

A Land for the Body

The first command of the Abrahamic Covenant is the command to leave the present land (Ur). The first promise of the covenant is a new land. As we said earlier, we must understand that these promises of God had to have had some appeal to the man in order to provide him with motivation to act. So, what was the appeal of a new land?

The answer lies in the relationship between the land promise and the inner motivations of man. One of these powerful motivators is the body's pain/pleasure sensors, called by John "the lust of the flesh". When the body is considered a source of powerful motivation, it is almost entirely reduced to these two issues: pain and pleasure. The carrot and the stick. God made our bodies to be the vehicle of our self-expression, and He built pain and pleasure sensors into it so that it could tell us whether we were doing something harmful to ourselves (pain), or something we might want to do again and again (pleasure). Our bodies, as our primary means of self-expression, need to be kept in good repair so we can continue to live. The sensors let us know when we need to water the beast, feed it, rest it, etc.

But the body was made of the dust of the land, and its fundamental needs (food and water) required the fruit of the land and its rivers. Thus, the land promise was simply God's way of telling Abram that his physical needs would be abundantly supplied in the new land.

Now, in the development of this land promise, we note in Genesis 12 that the very first area of difficulty that Abram ran into was famine in the land. Because God's value system requires that man believe in God's sufficiency, the first thing Abram had to face was a test of his confidence in God's sufficiency as a provider of a sufficient land. He didn't pass the test. The famine seemed to say that God's land wasn't good enough to meet his physical needs. And, once that doubt was established so that Abram felt the need to go to Egypt, it was all downhill. Things didn't get better until he returned to the land. But when he returned, he had even greater substance that needed sustanence--so he needed even more to be able to believe that God's land would suffice.

As the land promise developed over the years, it gained the description of being a land flowing with milk and honey. All this meant was that it would be a phenomenal provider for the physical flesh of its inhabitants. Interestingly, even what is sometimes called the Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 27-30) is decidedly marked by the issues of pleasure and pain (carrot and stick) in what is known as the blessings and the cursings.

The point is simply that the land promise was God's way of saying to the man who would believe Him that He would underwrite His physical needs. Thus, this covenant issue is a promise on the part of God and a requirement of faith on the part of man.

However, as time went by, the men of the land (Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs of the nation) began to take advantage of the liberality of God and ceased to see the land as His special provision for their need. As this awareness of God's faithfulness to His covenant commitment diminished, the natural tendency of the body toward hedonism began to assert itself. This created significant problems because the unbridled indulgence of the body's appetites invariably causes the more critical, but less visible issues of life (those which affect the soul and the spirit) to take a lesser place of prominence. When this happens, the promises made in respect to them also dim. When the promises dim, the life of faith ceases--and life becomes an abuse of the gracious provision of God.

Therefore, God built a temporal conditionality into His willingness to provide the land: if the inhabitants would keep their focus upon the real issues of life, they could enjoy the rich produce of the land, but if they let the abundance turn their hearts away, they would either be enslaved in the land, or ejected from it. So, in the national history of Israel that followed this phenomenal covenant, there is the record of abundance when faithfulness was promoted, and the record of bondage in the land when faithlessness was promoted. Eventually, the land promise was suspended (not terminated, but temporarily suspended) and the inhabitants were ejected. This occurred in stages in history. The northern kingdom was expelled. Then the southern kingdom was expelled. Then the southern kingdom was allowed to return and rebuild. But the faithlessness continued, so it was again expelled after the death of the Messiah. And so it continues even unto today. Israel is now back in the land, but it faces a serious time of severe testing before it will be permitted to really enjoy the fulness of the land promise in this world.

Finally, God has always had it in mind that this world would not be the final experience of the land promise. So, over time, the promise of resurrection became more and more prominent until, in the New Testament, it becomes the chief theological cornerstone of the doctrine of the faithfulness of God. And, after resurrection, there is the continuing promise of land forever. Man will always be a creature with a body that has a need for sustanence. Thus, in the last chapters of the Bible we read of God's plan to create a new earth with trees that produce fruit every month and rivers of water that quench the thirst of man in his physical identity.

Thus, in the beginning, man was made of dust of the ground, he was settled in Eden with every physical need abundantly supplied, and he forsook faithfulness. Since then, he has been on the long path back to Eden. Before he can inherit the new earth and its edenic character, he has to learn the lesson of faith in the covenant promises of God. The lesson begins with the promise of a land for his physical well being. He hasn't learned yet, so hedonism abounds and grows more pronounced as the days march toward the climax of God's judgment upon hedonists. But that judgment will bring understanding and man will inherit the earth as his land-provision.

A Seed for the Soul

The second part of the Abrahamic Covenant is the command to Abram to leave his kindred. The second promise of the covenant is God's commitment to make of Abram a nation. The command bore its threat, and the promise alleviated it. What, then, is the danger of the departure from one's kindred, and how does the promise lift that sense of dread?

The answer lies in the reality that one's security has everything to do with the other people in one's life. There are a few dangers that have nothing to do with other people, but the vast majority of dangerous situations are dangerous precisely because there are other people on this planet who have intense commitments to agendas that are contrary to you and yours. It is the commitments to these agendas that produce the danger. People (and I use that term technically to include all personalities, whether angelic, human, or divine) are dangerous. For that reason, kindred are critical. The more a person has, in a setting like Abram's, the more secure that person is. The command to leave kindred is more demanding than simply the emotional tug that we all experience when someone we love moves away. The command is one that demands that we place our desire for security in the hands of the one making the demand and offering the promise.

This was one of the reasons for the power of temptation. In the temptation of Eve, the key suggestion was that God was not as good as He was presented to be. The suggestion was that He had ulterior motives. This suggested that He might be dangerous, and that meant that the soul was not able to relax until some kind of security had been arranged.

These are uniquely issues of the soul. The reason is that the term for soul in the Old Testament sometimes means nothing more or less than the throat. The throat is where the breath goes into the lungs to provide spirit for the body's life. It is also where the voice gets its ability. And it is also the place where the taste is centered. Now, excepting the voice briefly, all of these issues are what I call passive matters. The throat cannot determine what will come into it; it can only pass judgment upon what comes. Thus, according to the analogy of the throat, the soul of man is what experiences what comes down the pike. It has only limited ability to determine what comes; it primarily serves to render judgment. The limitation is, of course, the voice. It can complain, rejoice, sing, scream, demand, etc., but that's it.

The soul of man thrives on security. For this reason, the eyes are called the windows of the soul. With them, the soul anticipates the future and experiences the present. It is with the eyes that man determines what will be in life for him. And everything that is coming is either a benefit or a curse. Security is what the soul wants: a hedge against the future potential for disaster.

But all it can really do is passively experience. It is dependent upon what the spirit causes the body to do in respect to the laws of cause and effect. What the spirit in the man empowers the body to do, the soul has to live with. And, as the passive responder, the soul is the seat of qualitative life. This is where the joy and grief are felt.

As a passive element in man, the soul is a prisoner of external forces. There is a heart full of desires and fears but the soul has no ability beyond complaint, praise, and other verbal expressions to determine what will be. Thus, its greatest need is to be secure.

It is at this point that kindred become important. Kindred are what cause a person to feel secure. The blood is thicker than water syndrome makes us aware that we can relax if we are surrounded by people who have a family obligation to us. Abram admirably demonstrated this reality for Lot when that unworthy was captured in the conquest of the kings. As soon as Abram heard of it, he, as kindred, moved to do what he could to secure Lot's future. And, by the powerful grace of God, Lot's soul was delivered from a life of slavery and disaster through the instrumentality of his kindred. Thus, the leave your kindred command from God was a threat to Abram's security. His soul was in danger.

But herein came the significance of the promise. God promised a more significant kindred--a seed that would result in a vast national identity. Abram is, by this promise, offered the opportunity to be related to God (who is more secure than the one who is kin to God?) and to have from His hand a provision of greater security than he had ever had before. It is not an accident that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the ultimate Seed of Abraham, is a message of fundamental security for the soul through the ministration of the Near-kinsman Redeemer. By faith in Him, our souls are eternally secured for life forever.

Historically, as the seed promise developed, it developed along the lines of the soul's need for security. In the well known covenant which God made with David in 2 Samuel 7 (which has been understood in the past as a development of the seed promise), it is interesting to note that the primary contextual issue is whether God's commitment to the man will endure. David sees God dwelling in a transitory tent; dwells himself upon the reality of God's rejection of Saul; and, apparently, wonders if God will stick with him. God's words to David make no impact if these are not the lines of David's thought. So, the Davidic Covenant, as the extension of the seed promise made to Abraham, is a covenant designed by God to communicate security. Relax. God will not leave you, nor your seed. You are secure. These are the elements of the covenant.

Ultimately, the seed promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In Him we have the finest form of security to be had. He died in our place, eliminating any reason for God's abandonment of us. Since we have, in Him, an efficient and sufficient salvation, we are not to be abandoned. Security for the soul has been established forever. It was accomplished by the near kinsman. Security is tied to relationships. The soul thrives in secure relationships and dies in the face of disintegrating relationships. Since Jesus is our greatest and most significant relative, our soul's deepest need has already been met.

Not unlike the land promise, security can be taken advantage of and grace abused. Thus, Jesus left his disciples so they could no longer see Him. He sent them His Spirit to dwell in them, but they could not see or feel His presence. They had to believe in order to enjoy their security. So, faith continues to be required. The soul is secured by Jesus, but its security is only known by those who spend their lives trusting/believing.

And as resurrection is the ultimate expression of God's care for the body, the New Jerusalem is the ultimate expression of God's care for the soul. He has planned a city of love for those to dwell in who have found His promises believable. It is a phenomenal place, but it is not until after the resurrection that we will live in it.

Thus in Eden man became a living responder to the events of life. He was surrounded by security. But it depended upon his willingness to believe God's words to live in that security. As soon as the serpent raised the spectre of a God who wasn't as altruistic as He seemed, Adam had to chose what to believe. He believed the snake. Big mistake. His children ever since have looked for a return to the security of Eden. But not having it, we have erected the materialism of this age to compensate. Perhaps if I have enough money I will be secure. No wonder Jesus said we could not love two masters. We have to choose between God and money. The New Jerusalem is coming, but it will only have in it those who have believed the promise of a seed.

A Great Name for the Spirit

The third part of the Abrahamic covenant is the command for Abram to leave his father's house. The third promise of that covenant is God's commitment to make Abram's name great. The command was a threat to Abram's spirit, but the promise was a sufficient compensation to overcome the perceived threat. How are the two related?

The answer lies in the reality that the spirit of a person has everything to do with his activities and goals. Most actions are taken in view of goals desired. One primary driver of man's goals is his need to be significant. In the garden, Adam had a job to do (a spiritual service) because he was God's sub-sovereign in this world. Being a significant person (God's actual this-world representative) was followed with labor to effect God's purposes in this world. So, Adam had significance by divine fiat. But when the serpent entered the garden, a subtle temptation was suggested in which Adam could be free from being God's representative. He was offered something greater: you shall be as God. This was nothing more or less than an assault on the nature of Adam's grasp of his significance. He bought it and immediately lost his position and status.

When Abram came on the scene, being someone important was still a powerful desire in the human breast. God told him he would have to leave his father's house. But this was a command to leave the very thing that gave him his identity--and with it his significance. This was a powerful threat. But God calmed the fear by promising to compensate. "I will make your name great". Then, He also promised that Abram would become the agent of blessing to all the nations of the earth. So, out of a new identity (the great name God offered), he had a new task (being God's agent of blessing to the whole world). Abram's name was changed to Abraham--the father of a multitude. So, Abram became the father of all who believe--and millions and millions of people today try to get a sense of significance from their identification with Abraham.

Now, this issue of significance also had a further covenantal development. As the land promise had a further elucidation in the Palestinian Covenant, and the seed promise had a further elucidation in the Davidic Covenant, so also the great name promise has a further elucidation in the New Covenant. Though there are many particulars in that covenant, the two most prominent are the offer of forgiveness and the creation of a new heart. These two aspects of the New Covenant actually deal directly with the needs of man as a creature of spirit. Man must have some way to deal with his past activities (forgiveness) and some way to deal with the future (empowerment for future actions). So, the details of the New Covenant are particularly addressed to the issue of the spirit of man. And, interestingly, in the development of that New Covenant, the real issue is a new identity: Jesus said you must be born again so you can have a new identity. "Behold, now are we the children of God."

This means that the new covenant was particularly suited to deal with the issue of significance. What makes man important? Only God's attitude toward him. If God establishes him in His kingdom, the man so established is obviously important. But his importance springs not from God's action, but from God's motivation. Thus, because man is loved by God, he is significant. And that significance is revealed when God grants him a place in the eternal kingdom.

It is God's action of giving us the new status of children of God that gives us the status we need. Then, as heirs of His kingdom, we have a new task. Like Adam, we have both an exalted identity and a significant task. So, like the need for security, the need for status is a given. We already have status with God.

But most men do not understand, nor believe, this. So they go about boasting and performing to get adulation from men. But those who believe God are free to serve men in anonymity and humility. Thus, the promise of a great name is, perhaps, the most freeing promise of God.

Historically, God gave Abram his great name. With every passing generation it becomes greater. When Jesus, the seed of Abraham, came into the world, God promised to give Him a name that is above every name. When we as believers accept this commitment from God, we find ourselves being prepared for an identity in the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, the great name promise is actually designed by God to provide for us our greatest need: a need to be somebody!


Our needs are threefold. Physical supply, relational security, and spiritual significance. God originally provided for these needs in the Garden of Eden. But when we rebelled against the demand for faith in the word of God, we lost our ability to enjoy these freely given benefits. With the covenant with Abram, God revealed His continuing interest in returning us to our initial state of blessedness. He was willing to provide a land flowing with milk and honey to supply for His peoples' physical needs; He was willing to provide a new Seed to provide for His peoples' soul-needs; and He was willing to provide a great name to provide for His peoples' spirit-needs. This He revealed in the covenant He made with the father of all those who believe.

Previous ChapterReturn to Contents PageNext Chapter

Back to Pastor's Study