The Abrahamic Covenant is a promise of God where Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim) is promised a land (“from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” Genesis 15:18), posterity, legacy, universal blessing and salvation (Genesis 12:1-4; 17: 1-14). This Covenant was then reasserted to Abraham’s son Isaac (Prophet Ishaq), the latter’s son Ya’qub (Jacob, later named Israel), and to Moses (Prophet Musa).
In as much as covenants are agreements between two parties whereby both parties undertake to fulfil certain conditions, the Abrahamic Covenant was no different, despite the attempts of both Jewish and Christian apologists to establish otherwise. The following are indications of the conditions of the Covenant.
First, God said to Abraham, as part of the Covenant, that He “will be their (Abraham’s and his posterity’s) God” while they enjoy the everlasting possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 17:8), which means that forsaking God is indicative of a breach of agreement.
Second, God reminded Isaac that the Covenant exists because “(Abraham) obeyed my (God’s) voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:4), so the same has been expected from Isaac himself and from those who will come after him.
Third, while reiterating the Covenant to Jacob, God brought to his attention once more that He was the Lord, the God of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 28:13), hence He was his God too, a tenet upon which Jacob’s future and the future of his descendants depended. That likewise entailed their entitlement, or otherwise, to the Promised Land.
Moses and the conditions of obeying God and upholding the terms of His Covenant Finally, it was revealed to Moses - after whose death, led by (Prophet) Joshua, the Promised Land was captured and inhabited by the Children of Israel (Israelites) – that the Land and the prosperity of the people of Israel as the descendants of Jacob therein (the Israelites being God’s treasured possession out of all nations) was predicated on them obeying God fully and keeping His Covenant (Exodus 19:3-6).
These two general conditions were subsequently expanded upon in the book of Deuteronomy, wherein Moses conveyed to his people what their Lord had told him. The gist of Moses’ sermons or speeches is that, once inside the Promised Land, God will set the Israelites high above all the nations on earth, that they and everything that is theirs will be blessed, that they will be granted an immense prosperity, that they will be invincible and that every enemy will fear them - but only if they obeyed the Lord their God, and if they paid attention to His commands, carefully following them.
Moses told his people: “The Lord will establish you as His holy people, as He promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to Him… Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them” (Deuteronomy 28: 1-14).
However, if they did not obey their God and did not meticulously follow His commands and decrees, the Israelites were warned that diverse and essentially endless punishments and curses would inevitably come on them and overtake them. Those varied from devastated livelihoods and cursed existence, widespread physical scourges and mental disorders, to recurring national displacements, subjugations, humiliations and virtual exterminations.
All this was to come to pass if the Israelites did not carefully follow all the words of God’s law, and did not revere His glorious and awesome name – the Lord their God; that is to say, if they did not follow the terms of the Covenant God had commanded Moses to make with his people, which, in turn, was an extension and also realization of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Since the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, the minutest implications of the Abrahamic Covenant and the details of the succeeding Mosaic Covenant needed to be spelled out.
Thus, the paths to both redemption and relapse to subjugation and bondage were clearly defined. The Israelites were free to choose their destiny. Whatever they in the end chose, it was their pick and they were fully responsible for the consequences. Nonetheless, they only could trigger the laws of a heavenly causation inside a relationship that had been presented to them.
Inspired by the will of God, Moses let the Israelites know if they did not serve their Lord joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, they will serve the enemies the Lord will send against them as an instrument of His chastisement (as the rod of His anger). God “will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you” (Deuteronomy 28: 15-68; 29: 1-29).
If such a scenario happens, wherewith the Promised Land will become abandoned and scorched, and the once-chosen-people humiliated, destroyed, banished and totally subdued, the Israelites and their condition would serve as a sign and reminder. They will come to be not an example to be followed, but a paradigm to be avoided.
The Promised Land will transform into an environment of unfulfilled dreams and ambitions; it will function as a necropolis for a vain model and an unfulfilled legacy. It would be one of the greatest might-have-beens in history.
People from all the nations will then ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land (and its people)? Why this fierce, burning anger?” The answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the Covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the Covenant He made with them when He brought them out of Egypt (the Mosaic Covenant as an accomplishment of the Abrahamic Covenant). They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods He had not given them. Therefore, the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that He brought on it all the curses written in this book (Torah). In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land” (Deuteronomy 29: 22-28).
The Israelites persisted in breaking the Covenant
Notwithstanding myriads of boons included in the Covenant and the severe warnings should the terms of the Covenant be infringed, the Israelites never hesitated to violate the sacred agreement. From the very beginning, their conduct remained entrenched in a culture of transgression and rebellion, continuously testing the boundaries of divine clemency.
As early as during the time of Jacob (Prophet Ya’qub, a.k.a. Israel), ten of his twelve sons – the Children of Israel from whom the genealogy of the Jews arose, twelve sons corresponded to their twelve tribes – plotted to kill Joseph (Prophet Yusuf), in the process constantly causing all sorts of pain and sorrow, apart from Joseph, to their father as well. How sincere they were in their subsequent remorse and repentance has remained the subject of debate. In any case, the onset of events revealed that the state of affairs within Jacob's (Israel's) household was not in an ideal condition, and the first signs did not bode well for the future.
The mischievous and rebellious character of the Israelites was on full display after Moses had been sent to them as a prophet with the aim of delivering them from the captivity of Egypt to the freedom and prosperity of the Promised Land.
They were so unresponsive and ungrateful that Moses encountered serious difficulties while dealing with them. His patience and that of God were stretched to their limits. While God Himself called the Israelites “stiff-necked people” (Exodus 32: 9), Aaron (Prophet Harun, Musa’s brother) told Musa concerning them: “You know how prone these people are to evil” (Exodus 32: 22).
Even prior to entering the Promised Land, the Israelites had already abandoned their God and became idol(calf) worshippers. This happened when Moses was on the Mount Sinai, conversing with God. God informed Moses: “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said: ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt’” (Exodus 32: 7-8).
Were it not for Moses’ intervention, once and for all, then and there, would God have settled the score with the Israelites. He said to Moses: “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation”
(Exodus 32:10). It was only because of Moses’ desperate intercession that God softened His position and forgave the Israelites.
God’s words “then I will make you (Moses) into a great nation” implies that, owing to their deep-rooted disobedient nature, the Israelites were not qualified to be (remain) God’s chosen people, nor to enter the Promised Land and become a great nation, i.e. to fulfil the Abrahamic Covenant. God initially suggested that He perhaps should do away with the Israelites and start over again with Moses, in which case a different nation, or nations, would have been considered.
The Qur’an on Prophet Musa’s plights with the Israelites
The Qur’an also vividly documents the (mis)behavioral patterns of the Israelites vis-à-vis their Prophet Musa. So extreme were they that Musa at one point said to them: “O my people, why do you vex and insult me, though you know that I am the messenger of Allah sent to you?” Branding them “rebellious transgressors”, the Qur’an then pointed up that the hearts of the Israelites were caused to deviate only after they themselves had deviated from the right path (al-Saff 5).
Moreover, when, while standing at the threshold of the Promised Land, the Israelites refused to enter it, because doing so required some nominal sacrifices, dejected, Musa turned to God and implored: “My Lord, indeed I do not have power except over myself and my brother, so separate us from the defiantly disobedient people” (al-Ma’idah 25).
In this exclamation-cum-supplication, Musa effectively declared that, en bloc and after a series of earthshattering miracles, his people failed to accept his teachings and to follow him. There was a lack of alignment in their viewpoints, as well as discrepancy between their beliefs and deeds, due to which Musa and his brother, Harun, in effect dissociated themselves from the Israelites. As if they declared that, as such, the Israelites did not meet the expectations and so, were to be stripped of the divine privileges earlier granted.
However, the resultant punishment was partial: only the current generation of the Israelites was to be denied the entry into the Promised Land, and was to be sentenced to a 40-year wandering in the wilderness. After the 40-year period, when a new generation of the Israelites will emerge and will be in charge of their nation’s affairs, a new lease of life and a new opportunity will be given.
Needless to say, though, that the rulebook applied on the first generation will be applied on the new generation, and indeed on all the future generations of the Israelites, as well. The quintessence of the rulebook was to the effect that the divine Covenant was conditional and that, though enjoying the overtures of heaven, the destiny of the Israelites was in their own hands. They will be the masters of their providence and the ensuing (mis)fortune. Their treatment by God will be commensurate with their treatment of Him.