“Covenant” is a very important term in Scripture. In our English Bibles, it occurs 318 times. A “covenant” was an agreement – but it was more than just an agreement. Students of the Ancient Near East have recognized the “covenant” of the Bible with the “treaty” form of a conquering king. The king initiates the agreement and dictates the terms. He expects certain actions on the part of his clients, and in return, he promises certain blessings. The clients do have a choice whether to accept the treaty, but the choice is just “accept or face the consequences.” The consequences, by the way, are always dire.
Mankind doesn’t initiate covenants with God, and we cannot negotiate the terms but the blessings of God are tied inseparably to His covenants. In other words: no covenant, no blessing. Bible students will do themselves a favor if they will remember this. When we are asked: “Do you believe only Christians will be saved?” our understanding (and perhaps our answer) should be: salvation is available only to those who enter the covenant of God – where salvation is promised. Want to be saved? Enter the covenant, and yes, that requires being a Christian.
It is, of course, frustrating. Even Abraham found it so. That’s why he laughed. In the next chapter, Sara laughs. But she does so because of unbelief. Abraham does it here because of his frustration with God. He knows God could change the terms and make it easier on everyone, but God won’t. If Abraham is to be the father of many nations, he will have to yield to God.
And yielding our way to God’s way is always the problem.