God calls the generational covenant that he made with Abraham an “everlasting covenant”. It is easy to demonstrate that this covenant proceeds throughout the Old Testament, and that the expectation is that it would continue on throughout the history of the world. Consider a selection of verses.
Exodus 3:15 15 God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.
Exodus 20:5-6 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Deuteronomy 7:9 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
Deuteronomy 29:10-13 10 “You stand today, all of you, before the Lord your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
1 Chronicles 16:15-16 15 Remember His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations, 16 The covenant which He made with Abraham, And His oath to Isaac.
Throughout the early chapters of Israel’s history, and into the kingdom period, it is plain that God’s covenant is generational, includes children and is intended to proceed for a thousand generations. It is worth noting that at a conservative estimate of 20 years per generation, 1000 generations is equivalent to 20,000 years. We’ve got a ways to go before the covenant made with Abraham expires!
The Psalms are filled with praise for God’s faithfulness to His people AND their children.
Psalm 8:2 2 From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries,To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.
Psalm 22:9-10 9 Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. 10 Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.
Psalm 22:30-31 30 A seed will serve Him; It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation. 31 They will come and will declare His righteousness To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
Psalm 90:16-17 16 Let Your work appear to Your servants And Your majesty to their children. 17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
Psalm 102:27-28 27 “But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end. 28 “The children of Your servants will continue, And their seed will be established before You.”
Psalm 103:17-18 17 But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, 18 To those who keep His covenant And remember His precepts to do them.
Clearly, God had the ability and willingness to interact with young children and infants as part of His people under the older covenants. David’s claim in Psalm 22:9-10 is that God was HIS God from within his mother’s womb; an insight gleaned directly from God’s covenant promise made to Abraham. It is worth noting that these Psalms were intended for use in Israel’s worship at the tabernacle and later the temple. All of the covenant people were expected to sing these words and relate to them.
Finally, in the period of the prophets, leading up to and during Israel’s exile into the foreign nations, God still views the children of the covenant as belonging to Him. A part of Israel’s great sin was that they sacrificed their children as burnt offerings. See how God responds:
Ezekiel 16:20-21 20 “Moreover, you took your sons and daughters whom you had borne to Me and sacrificed them to idols to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter? 21 You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire.
The prophets, while predicting Israel’s exile, also predicted a future point where God would turn back in favor upon Israel, and pour out greater blessings than ever before. Specifically, the gift of His Holy Spirit.
Isaiah 44:1-5 1“But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, And Israel, whom I have chosen: 2 Thus says the Lord who made you And formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. 3 ‘For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring And My blessing on your descendants; 4 And they will spring up among the grass Like poplars by streams of water.’ 5 “This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s’; And that one will call on the name of Jacob; And another will write on his hand, ‘Belonging to the Lord,’ And will name Israel’s name with honor.
Isaiah 59:20-21 20 “A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the Lord. 21 “As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your seed, nor from the mouth of your seed’s seed,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.”
Joel 2:28-29 28 “It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. 29 “Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
Isaiah 44:1-5 predicts the coming of the Spirit, and mentions specifically that it will be poured out on “your offspring”, and “blessing on your descendants.” Isaiah 59:20-21 clearly points to the coming of Jesus, the Redeemer who will come to Zion. Those who turn from their evil and align themselves with Jesus will be joined with Him in the coming New Covenant. Those who reject Him and refuse to forsake their evil ways will be judged when God’s wrath is poured out on Jerusalem in A.D. 70. And the coming covenant involves the promise that the Spirit which is poured out and words of God will “not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your seed, nor from the mouth of your seed’s seed, from now and forever.” This recalls Psalm 102:27-28 and 103:17-18 above. It certainly does not sound like the coming of the New Covenant is expected to remove the generational aspect of God’s covenant!
This does not mean that every individual person who enters the covenant is guaranteed eternal salvation, along with all of their offspring for the rest of time. Apostasy through unbelief is still a real possibility in the New Covenant. It merely means that once God pours out His Spirit on the covenant people, He will never again be removed, but will proceed on with them from generation to generation. Those in the covenant look to God in faith to fulfill the promises to themselves and their children as members of the covenant people, but must know that it is still possible to be removed from the covenant through hardness of heart and unbelief (see Hebrews 3:12).
Finally, Joel 2:28 predicts that God will pour His Spirit on all mankind, with no exception being given for age. All types of mankind are represented: your sons and daughters (children), old men (the elderly) and young men (adults). The male and female servants of a household can even expect to receive the blessing of the Spirit, in continuity with the servants of Abraham’s household being included in the Abrahamic covenant through circumcision. This passage is fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, and is explicitly quoted in Peter’s sermon (discussed in a future post).
In summary, the Old Testament carries a lot of momentum forward as the coming of Christ approaches. The honest expectation of any faithful Israelite (based SOUNDLY on God’s word) would have been that their children belonged to God. And not only from the point of being old enough to make a cognitive decision to follow God, but from their birth, and even before (Psalm 22:10). Their expectation, based on the original promise to Abraham, and reiterations of the promise that followed throughout the tabernacle, temple, and exile periods was that the covenant which they and their children belonged to would be an everlasting covenant. They also understood (although many ignored and abused this truth) that their and their children’s continued standing in the covenant was not automatic. Faithlessness and unbelief would result in curses upon them and their children (Exodus 20:5), despite God’s promise of ongoing blessings to the covenant people as a whole.