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  • Writer's pictureElaine Kelly

Who is the seed of Abraham in God's Covenant?

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

After reading a biblical novel about Hagar, I did a deep dive enquiring into the seed of Abraham, who are the children of Abraham, and who shares in the inheritance of God's covenant with Abraham.

The Egyptian Princess, A Story of Hagar by KD Holmberg, imagines Hagar as the Princess of Egypt and details the life of ancient royals. Hagar is educated and compassionate, receives visions and prophecies, and seeks the one, true God. After Abram lies and gives his wife, Sarai, to the Pharaoh, disasters come to Egypt. As Hagar seeks the cause of disasters, she finds the living God in her dreams, the God who calls her by name. But the penalty for allegiance to any god other than her father, the Pharaoh, is death. Will the God of Sarai also protect Hagar?

This novel lifts Hagar from being 'just a slave' to being a noble-born royal Princess of Egypt, freely choosing to give voice to her belief in the God of Sarai, knowing it would mean punishment. Instead of presenting her as a slave abused by both Abraham and Sarah, the novel presents Hagar as a faithful woman of valour, who humbles herself to become a handmaid in order to follow God.

Not only is this biblical fiction a great insight into ancient Egyptian culture and religion, but it also made me think more deeply about Hagar's son Ishmael, the first son of Abraham. Seeing Hagar as a noblewoman before she became Sarah's handmaid made me reflect on the descendants of Hagar (Ishmael) and Sarah (Isaac), and all seed of Abraham.

In my novel Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, I tell the story of Rena who was bent over for eighteen (based on Luke 13:10-17). Jesus not only heals her physically, but he also frees her from Satan's bondage and calls her a child of Abraham. This title makes her a full participant in God's covenant with Abraham, with full inheritance rights. Abraham is a key father of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In writing the study guide for Forgotten Followers, I explore ideas about the children of Abraham.

  1. Who is the seed of Abraham in Christianity?

  2. What does it mean to be the seed of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, the ancestors of Jews?

  3. What does it mean to be the seed of Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael, the ancestors of Arabs?

  4. Who is included in God's covenant with Abraham?
Abraham entertaining angels (Gen 18) by Arent de Gelder Public Domain

1. Who is the Seed of Abraham in Christianity?

According to Christianity, the seed of Abraham refers specifically to the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the literal seed of Abraham through Sarah's son Isaac and through Judah (Matthew 1:1, Luke 3:23-38). God's covenant is established through the Messiah, Jesus, a descendant of Isaac and Judah.

Christians also see Jesus as the spiritual seed of Abraham, because everyone who trusts in Jesus is adopted into God’s covenant family and becomes a co-heir of God’s promises to Abraham (Ephesians 2:11-13, Romans 8:14-17, Hebrews 9:15 Galatians 3:7-9, 3:16-18, 3:26-29). Christians believe that through Jesus, all peoples, races, languages, and nations can be adopted into God’s family. We as Christians become Abraham's offspring; women and men believers are co-heirs of God's covenant with Abraham (Matthew 28:19-20, Revelations 5:9, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10-11).

Just as Abraham “believed God, and was considered righteous,” those who believe God are the descendants of Abraham. Since all who believe would be considered righteous, God told Abraham, “All nations will be blessed through you" (Galatians 3:8 NIV).

Paul writes that we were slaves to the law, and for a time law acted as our guardian, but God sent Jesus to free us so we are no longer slaves to the law, but adopted into God's family, receiving God's Spirit in our hearts.

"So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir" (Galatians 4:7 NIV).

Paul uses the story of Hagar and Sarah as an allegory, telling the Galatians that believers are children of the free woman, Sarah, and not the slave woman, Hagar. Refusing to believe in Jesus means you remain a slave to legalism and a child of Hagar, the slave woman. Believing in Jesus means you are a child of Sarah, the free woman, with the full rights of sons to inherit God's promises (Galatians 4:21-31).

When Paul quotes Sarah asking Abraham to cast out Hagar's son, some think it endorses casting out descendants of Ishmael. But we know from Genesis that Sarah's quote is followed up with God reassuring Abraham that God would bless all of Abraham's seed. Paul is not literally telling descendants of Hagar to be slaves because Paul says that in Christ there is no longer slave or free:

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:28-29 NIV).

2. What does it mean to be the seed of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, the ancestors of Jews?

The seed of Abraham may also refer literally to all the descendants of Isaac, the ancestor of the Jews. Isaac was the son born to Sarah when she was beyond her child-bearing years, the miracle child born of God's promise.

"And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. Genesis 17:19-21 KJV

God promises Abraham that he will establish his covenant with Sarah's son and most Christians and Jews believe this means that the seed of Abraham refers to descendants of Isaac and his son Jacob, who changed his name to Israel. This means that Jews inherit God's covenant with Abraham and are a people chosen and set apart. Many Christians agree that 'Abraham's seed' refers to Israel, and that God will bless those who bless Israel.

This passage also says that God will also make Ishmael the father of a great nation. An alternate view is that the seed of Abraham refers to all the descendants of Abraham, through Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah. After Sarah’s death, Abraham married Keturah and had many children (Genesis 25:1-2). Read on to reflect on God's covenant belonging to all people, including descendants of Abraham's firstborn son, Ishmael.

3. What does it mean to be the seed of Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael, the ancestors of Arabs?

The seed of Abraham may refer to all of Abraham's descendants. It was before Abraham had any children that God promised Abraham that he would be a great nation: