"The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God" (Genesis 17:8, NIV)

In the Torah, there's no real development on resurrection or afterlife. What does this passage mean then?

  • 1
    Could you expand on why you think this passage requires a concept of resurrection or afterlife? On a plain reading it seems only to guarantee to Abraham that his line of descendants won't die out. Aug 1, 2015 at 21:03
  • it is obvious G-d will give everlasting possession to "you" and answer is that Abraham will come back from the dead and will inherit and live and enjoy its milk and honey that he was promised, as it was promised to Isaac and Jacob , that's why Jesus said isn't G-d , "G-d of Abraham , Isaac and Jacob!
    – user8377
    Nov 27, 2015 at 21:42
  • 1
    I don't understand either premise of this question: 1) that the verse is describing Abraham's ownership, by itself, to be everlasting as opposed to his ownership, together with his descendants, to be everlasting. 2) Although there is no extensive treatment of the afterlife in the Torah, it is presumed throughout. Every time a prominent person dies they "gathered unto their nation" (e.g. Genesis 25:8, 49:33), a phrase that implies that the dead person is joining together with a larger group. This phrase is distinct from the burial, which is subsequently described in additional verses. Dec 29, 2015 at 21:58
  • That's why i love this site user8377. I have always assumed that everlasting possession meant that the land would always be possessed by his descendants. But your reading of Abraham returning returning permanently from death and enjoying it could be a good option. Certainly Genesis 2 creates the hope of a place where people have eternal life in a sacred land, so the promised land could be viewed as a re-establishment of that.
    – Steven
    Nov 2, 2023 at 1:55
  • And it's very distressing that most responses try to splain away god's clear promise to Abraham. Reams of nonsese turning the gospel into a lie (Galatians 3). Is there any sense in which the promises to Abraham are fulfilled currently? No. Yet almost all respondents argue YES! Blasphemers and heretics. Hebrews 11 - largely about these promises and their future fulfillment. Explaining NONE of those listed received the things promised and that they died in faith and that Abraham understood the resurrection. What an embarrassing bunch of pretend christians. Nov 2, 2023 at 13:48

8 Answers 8


Before being able to understand what the LORD meant by an "everlasting possession," as it pertained to the covenant He established with Abraham. A covenant the LORD established with Abraham as it pertained to His promised in Isaac, where the LORD said:

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. (Genesis 9:7-8 KJV)

As it concerns where the LORD says "all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession" (Genesis 9:7-8 KJV). The question that opens the discussion on this phrase "everlasting possession" is where it was posed: "In the Torah, there's no real development on resurrection or afterlife. What does this passage mean then"? Before it is possible, or appropriate, to discuss what the LORD meant by "everlasting possession", it is necessary to bring clarity to the question that opened the discussion.

The inference in the question asks from the expectation that it is Abraham who is actually to take possession of all the land of Canaan. And that he is to take possession of it either by living some extraordinary length of time, or somehow take possession of the same in the Life that is after this life.

Now there is a great deal of confusion concerning all that takes place with Abraham. The reason there is great confusion that concerns all that takes place between the LORD and Abraham is because we fail to make the distinction between a promise and a covenant. Our best example of a promise is where the LORD declares to Abraham that His promised is in Isaac:

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. And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham" (Genesis 17:19-22).

How we reckon Genesis 17:19-22 as a promise, is that, when the LORD makes a promise to the principal, despite whatever transpires with the principal, in time, the LORD will see His promise come to past. Judaism does not recognize a promise, only a covenant. Christianity recognizes a promise, but utterly confuses it with a covenant.

As for a covenant, save but for the First Covenant, which the ETERNAL GOD (Exodus 3:14 and Numbers 23:19) established with Noah. The First Covenant (Genesis 9:12-17), is the only covenant where it falls upon the ETERNAL GOD to display the sign, and call the promise into remembrance: the sign being the "bow in the cloud" and the promise, which is not only to ever again revisit the earth with such a great cataclysm. But, how man realizes this promise, is that, beginning with the generation of Noah, the LORD grants man the same privilege He took for Himself, which was for man to repent.

So, where it concerns a covenant, there are two aspects to a covenant, a sign and a promise. Why a covenant as opposed to only a promise? The reason, is because, if you look up the difference in LORD as opposed to God, where at its root LORD means to bring into being, or "to be". Where it concerns God, God means to "twist" or make harden, as in the way of truth. So, where and whenever you read "Lord" it is an acknowledgement of coming into being. While, where it concerns God, it bespeaks to what is "fixed".

Now, there are only two remaining covenants, the Second Covenant (Genesis 17:9-14), which God establishes with Abraham, and the Third Covenant (Exodus 20:1-17) which God establishes with Moses as it concerns the Ten Commandments. Where we find the LORD calling Israel to call into remembrance the covenant He established with them, centers on the Ten Commandments in the wake of Israel coming into possessing that portion of Canaan they possessed.

So, where it concerns a covenant, we find that which bears the Spirit of the LORD, in that it is coming into being. And the general course of where we find a covenant, is that it comes in the wake of the LORD fulfilling a promise.

With that, we are better now to take up the matter of the Promised Covenant (Genesis 17:7-8), the covenant that covers Isaac. The promise that precedes the covenants the LORD established with Abraham, as it pertained to both Ishmael, the First Born Covenant (Genesis 17:4-6) and with Isaac, the Promised Covenant (Genesis 17:7-8). And yes...the LORD does resolve Ishmael before He takes up the subject of Isaac, as this bespeaks to Divine Prudence.

With this, we are better now to return to the subject of Abraham (Abram) before the advent of the covenants in the 17th chapter of Genesis. It is in the 12th chapter of Genesis where the LORD makes His promise with Abraham. There is only one promise. What you find taking place in the 15th chapter of Genesis is only presenting to us what's taking place that we have some sense as for the effort the LORD puts forth to ensure the ends of His promise comes into being. That is, in the 15th chapter of Genesis, the LORD only impresses on Abraham what is to come into being. And the LORD seeks to reinforce this upon Abraham, as He finds Abraham overly distraught over not having a male heir who bears his name. And the reason why a male heir is central to Abraham's distress (Genesis 12-15), centers on the essence of what the LORD promised Abraham.

In the 12th chapter of Genesis, it is there where the LORD makes His promise with Abraham where He says:

...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.ll the sign into remembrance Every other covenant" (Genesis 12:1-3).

What is central to the LORD fulfilling this promise, that we find the ends of this promise fulfilled, is a male heir. If Abraham's name is to be great, it is only possible by their being a male who carries his name forward. And it must be a male, not only given the complications of marriage, whereby a woman gives up the surname of her father. But it is even more so because when a man departs from his father and mother, he cleaves to his "wife" (802): this "wife" (Genesis 2:24) is not a natural wife.

The wife in Genesis 2:24 alludes to the belief system every man carries with him when he departs from his father and mother; this belief system being where we "add" and "take" from what our parents taught that we fashion for ourselves a "wife" that comforts us throughout our entire adult lives. It is a "wife" that is not born of or borne by marriage, it is a spiritual result from what our father and mother trained us up in believing.

So, with these concerns, a male heir is of an invaluable asset, not only in that it serves as the means by which Abraham envisions himself being able to hold the LORD to His promise. But a male heir is also essential in that it is for the man, it is for the son to reveal the veracity of what his father taught, as it is for the son to pick and choose whether to cleave to what his father taught. A woman is of a very different constitution. In the spiritual sense, a woman never departs from her father and mother. A woman always cleaves to what she knows, and what a woman "knows" is what she receives from her father and mother, whether for good or evil.

So, in essence, it is for the man to choose whether he is to serve or reject the LORD, the same establishes why it is the male who takes the center role in all that takes place within the Bible.

With this, if and when we begin to reckon that Abraham was not a simple man, but Abraham served the land of his kindred and lived in his father's house as a high priest. This is how we come to reckon why a man, so high in the number of years (Abraham was 65 when the LORD made His promise with him), was so willing to depart from all that he knew, to cleave to some feat of vanity, what appears to the naked eye of man, as a farfetched dream. It is best likened to a man who is willing to swap a bird in the hand for an unlimited flock in the bush.

Why the LORD's promise was not a temptation unto Abraham however, in the sense of a bird in the hand, is because, as a high priest, Abraham stood in a place that granted him the vantage to see how the people prevailed when the did what the LORD commanded, as well as how they prevailed when they rejected what the LORD commanded them.

What we see taking place with Abraham then, with the LORD having established His promise (Genesis 12:1-3), is how Abraham struggled over how to resolve the matter of a male heir that it then becomes possible, in his mind, to hold the LORD to His promise. In this sense, Abraham coveted. And we bear witness to how this desire for a son plagued Abraham so in that, with the famine having beset Canaan (Genesis 12:10), it forces Abraham to enter Egypt.

Where, before Abraham enters the land of Egypt, to demonstrate how Abraham coveted a male heir that it attended for Abraham as his god, in that it is the pursuit to serve this god, that Abraham sought to rid himself of Sarah, who he saw as a natural impediment to him gaining his treasure. It is for this reason Abraham trains up Sarah in the way of an abomination, in that he impresses on Sarah to bear false witness of herself before the Egyptian and Pharaoh:

And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee" (Genesis 12:11-13).

And though there are apologist for the steps and actions of Abraham, in that they claim that Abraham did not bear false witness of Sarah. But if that were so then why did the LORD plague Abimelech, the king of Gerar, if He did not reckon Sarah as a wife unto Abraham (Genesis 20:1-7)?

Now, we prepare ourselves for the revelation of Hagar (Genesis 16). Aware of how it is Abraham who sets his wife, Sarah, on edge. Where we now find Sarah ever dwelling in fear of being cast off because, though 10 years Abraham's junior, she was yet and still beyond the age of motherhood. Now overly distressed, given what transpires in Egypt (Genesis 12:11-20). Fully aware of how she finds her husband overly distraught over not having a male heir, key if Abraham was to hold the LORD to His promise (Abraham never appreciating how with the LORD a promise is a promise). Sarah takes the unique step to prepare a wife for her husband. A wife Sarah believes serves as a worthy surrogate for her, that she, Hagar delivers unto Abraham the treasure of his heart, which is, a male heir. It is for this reason:

And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived" (Genesis 16:2-4 KJV).

With this, we are better now to understand why there are two covenants the LORD establishes with Abraham, one for Ishmael (Genesis 17:4-6), which is the First Born Covenant; and the latter for Isaac (Genesis 17:7-8), which is the Promised Covenant. The LORD demonstrates Divine Prudence in that He resolves what is confusion, before taking up the essence of what is righteous.

Now, as for the phrase "everlasting possession" (Genesis 17:8). Aware that it is a phrase associated with the Promised Covenant that covers Isaac (Genesis 17:7-8). We are then to reckon, now that though the substance of the LORD's promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) is fulfilled in Ishmael. The essence or spirit of the LORD's promise remains unfulfilled, given Ishmael is Sarah's promise to Abraham and not the LORD's.

The same bears implications on the phrase "everlasting possession" (Genesis 17:8), in that this becomes the sign of the covenant associated with Isaac, and it is Isaac's sign, which he must call it into remembrance, instead of the name of his father Abraham, which is the sign that follows the covenant covering Ishmael (Genesis 17:4-6).

However, where the difficulty for Isaac becomes apparent is in what serves for Isaac as the promise of the covenant. Where the promise of the covenant that covers Ishmael, the First Born Covenant (Genesis 17:4-8), is for the scions of Ishmael to live in a manner that honors the name Abraham.

However, for Isaac, the promise is very different, in that, depending upon how Isaac or the scion of Isaac (We know that it is the scion of Isaac who takes possession of some portions of Canaan) takes possession of Canaan, determines whether it's possible to fulfill the First Born Covenant (Genesis 17:7-8). Since the promise of the First Born Covenant (Genesis 17:7-8) is for the God of Israel to be the God of the Canaanite and all the inhabitants of Canaan. The LORD assures us that this is the promise of His covenant with Isaac, in that the final phrase of the covenant is "And I shall be their God" (Genesis 17:8). "Their" being the Canaanite and the inhabitants of Canaan. This phrase cannot allude to the Isaac or the Israelites, as by the sign, it's plainly realized in the earth how there is a God that dwells with Israel unlike any other God. A realization that is only so, if Israel comes into possession of all the land of Canaan in a manner that is in Harmony with the LORD.

As for Canaanite and the inhabitants of Canaan, what the LORD sought in the Promised Covenant (Genesis 17:7-8) is to establish the means by which Canaan repents, and turns to the LORD to reckon Him as their God. The same bears implications upon Noah's curse of Canaan (Genesis 9:25-27). Implications that sought to ensure that never was Noah's curse of Canaan to implicate either Ham or the sons of Ham as being accursed. Which is the basis as for why the LORD established a covenant with Isaac as it concerns "all the land of Canaan" and not with Egypt or an land in which the remaining sons of Ham inhabited.

Yet, with this we are better to see how the LORD did not intend for Abraham to take possession of all the land of Canaan. As for the Spirit that follows the LORD, which is in the verb "to be" or "to become". Abraham was the nascence of what was in the process of "becoming" as it pertain to Israel possibly taking possession of all the land of Canaan, that she does so in a manner as an "everlasting possession".

  • Next time please use the "edit" link below your posts to update then rather than re-posting. I'm deleting the original now, but that's now how this site is supposed to work.
    – Caleb
    May 25, 2016 at 8:08

The promise is made to Abraham and his descendants. How can it be an everlasting possession for Abraham if he dies? Because it becomes the possession of his descendants after him - HIS descendants... and so it is in effect land that is "kept in the family" as an everlasting possession.

But a bigger question is how it is everlasting, when it clearly wasn't in their possession for over 2000 years and may not be at some point in the future. The answer to this is deeper. The promise of a people, a land and blessing is really a promise of a kingdom. But this kingdom has two 'levels' of fulfilment - a temporal (partial) fulfilment in the nation of Israel; and an eternal (ultimate) fulfilment in the kingdom of Jesus. The descendants of Abraham, the land of Canaan and the blessing to all nations through Abram's descendants (Gen 12:3) actually point to a deeper, fuller, ultimate promise - an eternal kingdom in and through Jesus Christ. In Jesus a new people (a new Israel) is established (Gal 3:29, 1 Pet 2:9 compared to Exodus 19:6). In Jesus a new 'Canaan' is in view - a new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17, Rev 21:1). In Jesus (the seed of Abraham) a new blessing comes to all nations (Matt 28:18-20) - the blessing of forgiveness and eternal life.

In summary, the "everlasting" possession of a land points to the new creation in Jesus... which Abraham himself will also inherit!

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    – agarza
    Jun 3, 2021 at 2:59

I think that it can be considered established that although there might be no direct reference to the resurrection or afterlife, it nevertheless is a substratum of the meaning. For instance, in Genesis 3:15, a promise is given to Adam and Eve about a seed that would not appear for another circa 4000 years. It is therefore in expectation of the seed that the promise is given, but the promise is not given to the seed, but rather to Abraham.

  • 1
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    – ThaddeusB
    Jul 29, 2015 at 14:40
  • Thank you. I am new to Stack Exchange for Hermeneutics, but I am aware of the basic ideas of Stack Exhange and have gone on the site tour. It is my first post, so I guess I shall still work out how the community functions. For instance, how closely should I stay within the text? Should I be aware if the source is J or E for instance, or can I assume that another passage in Genesis is still in context?
    – Calla H
    Jul 30, 2015 at 12:35
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    How you interpret the passage is mostly up to you. If you want to go the source-critical route (JEDP), that is fine, but it certainly isn't required. What I was really trying to say is that we expect more in depth answers. Explain how you got your interpretation. You can cite a commentary that backs the opinion, or work only with the text... Your answer is OK, but a bit lacking because it kind of just says the idea of an afterlife and leaves it at that (offering only one example). A better answer would show how this passage fits into the broader idea of an afterlife.
    – ThaddeusB
    Jul 30, 2015 at 13:50
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    Okay, I get it. Thanks for the help. As soon as I get a chance, I will have a look at it in more depth. I don't know if I am overstepping the bounds using this comment section as a chance to learn from a regular contributor, but I do appreciate the help.
    – Calla H
    Jul 31, 2015 at 6:30
  • Maybe I should retract my answer. I do not have the time at present to do the question justice. I have tried to remove it, but I don't know how. Any help?
    – Calla H
    Aug 3, 2015 at 14:44

The answer only becomes clear in light of further revelation given with the inauguration of the new covenant in the time of Christ, and in seeing how the Gentiles were brought into this "covenant for a kingdom" as spiritual Israelites. But for as long as people confine their thinking to literal applications, the puzzle will remain. I suggest making a start by considering the symbolic use of mountains in the Bible.

Why? Because one of the devil's temptations of Jesus was to take him to a high mountain to show him ALL the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time - Luke 4:5. In Genesis 17:2-8 God covenanted with Abram, aged 99 years, to multiply him so that he would become 'father' to many nations (which is why his name was then changed to Abraham). "Kings shall come out of thee" God promised. Kings rule over kingdoms. Many kingdoms with many nations and kings. This goes way beyond the one nation of Israel, the one, literal kingdom of which king David was its representative head.

Then, as explained by the apostle Paul in light of what Jesus achieved as King of the Kingdom of God, two mountains represented what happened with Abraham, Hagar and Sarah. See Galatians 4:21-31. The free 'children of promise' belong to 'Jerusalem above' who is the spiritual 'mother' of Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Jesus, the King of God's Kingdom. This is heavenly Mount Zion as detailed in Revelation, which will come down to a new earth, one day. Further, Paul explained:

"Even as Abraham believed God. and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abram. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, 'In thee shall all nations be blessed.' So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abram... That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith... Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, 'And to seeds' as of many, but as of one, 'And to thy seed', which is Christ". (Galatians 3:6-16)

This is the glorious heavenly vision of those many Jews and Gentiles who form the spiritual inheritors of the covenant made with Abraham - along with Abraham, of course, for the twelve tribes that came from his miracle child of promise, Isaac, are named on the twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:1-14).

Verse 1 explains that the first earth had passed away, so this is the new earth promised in 2 Peter 3:10-13, after all unrighteousness has been judged and removed permanently. This new earth is established after the last trump and the Day of Resurrection and Judgment. This is where resurrection and after-life play their part. It is with respect to this future "new earth in which righteousness will dwell" that "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9) and then it will be clear just how stupendously God has kept his covenant promises to Abraham, through his Seed - Jesus Christ. "The whole land" includes what was called Canaan, but incorporates the whole world, in this New World! This is what Genesis 17:8 means.

Our problem so often is that we only look at what can be seen so that God's promises about eternal, spiritual verities are out of sight to us. Yet that is where understanding lies - spiritual realities of which earthly things are but a shadow, a pointer.

How Could Abraham receive Canaan 
as "an everlasting possession", 
as promised in Genesis 17:8?

In the Torah, 
there's no real development 
on resurrection or afterlife.

I hate to be the bearer of good news but the premise is entirely false.
While there are few overt conversations as to the resurrection in the hebrew bible, it's entire premise is built on the idea of access to the tree of life and the resurrection of the dead. Of which idea we are informed quite plainly Abraham had an awareness.

Redemption and Resurrection

'In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.'

Genesis 2:9 NIV

The narrative tells us that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was represented to Adam as such.

'And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”'

Genesis 2:16-17 NIV

We also know that Adam's physical constitution was corruptible, being - from the dust - the natural body.

'But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.'

'But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”'

'*hen you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.'

'So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable ... it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.'

'If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.'

'I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.'

'For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”'

1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 35, 37-40, 42-44, 44-47, 50, 53-54 NIV

Adam however was not experiencing the decay associated with that body, until the ejection from Eden.

"... until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:19 NIV

In other words, Adam was eating from the tree of life being permitted to eat from any tree except one particularly.
And in the same way that he was informed as to the nature of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he had an awareness of the nature of this other significant tree.
It was only with the ejection from Eden and the barring of the way of the tree of life that his "natural" "corruptible" body experienced a return to the dust.

'So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden ... After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.'

Genesis 3:23-24 NIV

It seems fair given the circumstances surrounding this ejection that Adam understood the purpose and function of the tree of life.
And it also seems fair given the continued existence of the tree and the continued fellowship with elohim and the promise given in 3:15 and the sacrifice in 3:21 and so on that Adam understood the capacity for redemption through a process similar to that in which he was created.
Returning to the dust from which he was taken and then re-constituted from that dust again.

However, let there be no doubt about that understanding as it pertains to Abraham.

'Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead ...'

Hebrews 11:17-19 NIV

This is straightforward. Abraham understood one way or another that the future was bound up in Isaac yet being asked to kill him. The mathematics on that being performed leading to only one conclusion. "Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead". And further, in a repeat of the process in Eden, a ram is provided as a symbolic sacrifice and a promise of "I will provide".

'... the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.'

Revelation 13:8 NIV

Jesus considered these understandings "assumed knowledge".

"But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Matthew 22:31-32 NIV

The indication from this and other similar statements by Jesus is that there was a general lack of insight at that time, a spiritual decline, a lack of insight not found amongst the patriarchs nor under Moses. We are certainly told that :

'Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.'

1 Peter 1:10-11 NIV

The previous spiritual leaders, understood quite well the circumstances in Eden, and of Isaac and the sacrifices under the law, the resurrections associated with Elijah and Elisha and so on.

'Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not."

Malachi 3:17-18 NIV

A revisiting of the circumstances of Isaac where Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead.

'People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish.'

'They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning).'

'Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions.'

'But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.'

Psalm 49:12, 14-15 NIV

'It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence;'

'it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore.'

Psalm 115:17-18 NIV


'On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.'

Revelation 22:2-3 NIV

Gospel preached to Abraham.

'Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”'

Galatians 3:8 NIV

This gospel not only the lowering of the "sheet" from heaven and access for all through faith, but of necessity the resurrection of the dead, and in this case an inheritance in the land of Canaan with natural Israel.

'By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went ...'

'By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.'

'For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.'

'All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.'

'... they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.'

'These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised ...'

Hebrews 11:8, 9, 10, 13, 16, 39 NIV

This future permanent possession in the land of Canaan, a city whose founder is the most high being found elsewhere :

'I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God ...:

Revelation 21:2 NIV

This future for all faithful yet tied inextricably with the children of Jacob.
As Paul puts it :

'It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.'

Acts 28:20 NIV


What the scripture is about, is the covenant between Abraham (Abram) and his God, in this scripture, he calls himself El Shaddai. There are actually two stories about the covenant between Abraham and his God. This one in Chapter 17 and another one in Chapter 15, where he identifies himself as Yahweh to Abraham.

Chapter 17

When Abram was 99 years old, Yahweh appeared to him. He said to Abram, “I am El Shadday. Live in my presence with integrity... 8 I am also giving this land where you are living—all of Canaan—to you and your descendants as your permanent possession. And I will be your Elohim.”

Notice Abraham in Chapter 17 did not know the name Yahweh, but only El Shadday. Then in Chapter 15

7 Then Yahweh said to him, “I am Yahweh, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land so that you will take possession of it.”... 18 At that time Yahweh made a promise[c] to Abram. He said, “I will give this land to your descendants. This is the land from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates. 19 It is the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

This is YHVH's promise to give the land (Canaan) to him and his offspring and it will be theirs forever. This is also what is referred to as a doublet, 2 tellings of the same story. In Chapter 17 the covenant is set and symbolized by the practise of circumcison, in chapter 15 it is set and symbolized by the sacrifice of a Three year old heifer, a Three year old female goat, a mourning dove, and a pigeon.

17:10 This is how you are to be faithful to my promise: Every male among you is to be circumcised. 11 All of you must be circumcised. That will be the sign of the promise from me to you

15:9 He answered Abram, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a mourning dove, and a pigeon.” 10 So Abram brought all these animals to him. He cut each of them in half and laid each half opposite the other. However, he did not cut the birds in half.

It is not clearly known why there seem to be two versions of the story of the covenant with Abraham. There are theories however as to why. One is that the second is giving additional detail to make the story clearer. Another is what they call the "Documentary Hypothesis, which states, that it is two different writers from two different time periods, with two different goals in mind.

Over the next two generations the promise was again repeated to the descendant that was to inherit the promise, Isaac, then Jacob (who became Israel). Not until the descendants of Israel spent 400 years in Egypt (as foretold in Genesis 15:13, 14) did the actual promise or covenant become realized, with the Exodus from Egypt, and the giving of the Covenant one last time through Moses. then the giving of the Torah or Laws, which again is another part of the covenant by which was stipulated they must live by. Exodus 34:27

27 Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Write down these words, because on the basis of these words I’m making a promise to Israel and to you.”

All verses are from the NOG (Names of God) bible

  • 3
    I'm having a hard time seeing how this responds to the question of what "everlasting" could possibly mean in the context of Genesis 17:8 (and presumably more widely in the Hebrew Bible as well).
    – Dɑvïd
    Sep 29, 2015 at 20:03
  • Everlasting in the concept of the scripture is that it would be a possession of his descendants "forever", not actually his. 15:18 states “I will give this land to your descendants." 15: 13-15 states > “You can know for sure that your descendants will live in a land that is not their own, where they will be slaves, and they will be oppressed for 400 years. 15 But you will die in peace and be buried at a very old age.
    – seedy3
    Sep 30, 2015 at 2:43
  • I've traveled and after I posted the added comment I realized I didn really answer your comment 9 hours on the road will do that to you
    – seedy3
    Sep 30, 2015 at 3:08
  • and I keep using the enter button and it posts right away grrr. To answer your comment. There is no concept of an afterlife, in Judaism until Daniel. That being said, what is being stated here is the forever possession of the "Land" by his descendants, through Isaac, not really his own possession. If you read some of the early portions of both chapters, it mentions that he has no heir, for this "promise" to pass on to. Any actual relationship to an afterlife would be a subjective/interpretive reading of this scripture.
    – seedy3
    Sep 30, 2015 at 3:15
  • 1
    Please edit your post to explain why you think the doublet explains the "everlasting possession”. As it currently stands, this is definitely not an answer to the question asked, but rather just some (seemly unrelated) thoughts on the passage in question.
    – ThaddeusB
    Sep 30, 2015 at 3:53

According history, the lineage of Abraham has not maintained the control of the Canaan's region through the century from then until now. This is a fact we cannot deny. Also if we would interpret the lineage of Abraham in a Christian frame (see for an example the Pauline talk in Gal 3:7-9), we cannot deny that historical fact.

Happily, we have no need to clutch at straws, in an attempt to harmonize a Bible prophetic statement with the historical happenings, because the linchpin of the dilemma is on the real meaning of a pivotal term of the Bible passage you quote.

In Gen 17:8 the pivotal term around your question revolved around עולם [OULM], that is a derivative term coming from the MT root עלם (OLM). So, the answer to your question is linked with the real meaning of this root.

The basic meaning behind the terms עלם (OLM) > עולם [OULM] is not ‘to be eternal’, but ‘to be indistinct, indefinite’, and, in connection to time, it refers to ‘an unsighted (not seen) time’, a time that man cannot define in its duration, often, above the possibility to imagine or live it.

In fact...

John Parkhurst wrote (in his An Hebrew and English Lexicon) about עלם (OLM) and the derivative term עולם [OULM]: "עלם or עולם are used both as N[ame]s and particles, for time hidden or concealed from men, as well indefinite. [...] It seems to be much more frequently used for an indefinite, than for infinite, time."

Benjamin Davidson, in his Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon defines עלם (OLM) and the derivative term עולם [OULM] as: "a time hidden, indefinite or unlimited".

Luis Alonso Schoekel, in his Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew (in its Italian edition) correctly defines עולם [OULM] as: "a time, or an indefinite, incalculable duration" (my translation from Italian language).

Granted, also ‘eternity’ - from men’s viewpoint – could be included into the well established concept of ‘indistinctness’, because we humans cannot understand, or, fully imagine what can indicates a time without a start and/or an end. So, in many Bible passages is correct translate it with "eternal/eternity" and so on. Nevertheless, there are other situations of ‘indistinctness’ that are not linked with ‘eternity’, necessarily.

A simple logical connection can help us to grasp this concept.

All A are B, but not all B are A.

We go now to explain it using a common analogy, substituting A with dogs, and B with quadrupeds:

"All dogs (A) are quadrupeds (B), but not all quadrupeds (B) are dogs (A)"

Now, if we change the value of A and B, using the Hebrew terms/meanings we discuss, we reach this following situation (where A = an eternal being/eternity; and B= עלם [OLM] > עולם [OULM])

"All eternal beings/eternities (A) are (linked with) עלם [OLM] > עולם [OULM] (B), but not all עלם [OLM] > עולם [OULM] (B) are (linked with) eternal beings/eternities (A)".

Look at some Bible examples of this real meaning:

Was a ancient Israelite slave able to serve his master eternally? Surely not. Whereas, Exodus 21:6 says he may do עלם (OLM). See also Lev 25:46.

Was/is 'a sword' against the David's family, for eternity? No, the Bible says only for עולם [OULM] (2 Sam 12:10).

Were the God-prescribed tabernacle/temple's fittings (and their utilization modes) established to exist eternally? History said, 'No!'. In fact, the Bible said only for עולם [OULM] (Exo 27:21).

Is the lineage of Aaronic priests continues to performing the incense fuming before God until now? Is not necessary, because they must perform those duties only for עולם [OULM], not for eternity (1 Chr 23:13).

I think that these examples would be sufficient to understand that the best translation of עלם (OLM) > עולם [OULM] is one which takes into consideration the concept of ‘indefinite, indistinct time’. So, sometimes עלם (OLM) is linked with ‘eternity’ (or alike), but other times not, as we have seen.

Probably, from עלם (OLM) > עולם [OULM] derived an amount of terms that were utilized in the past, but, we also are using today.

For example, Latin language had (the ‘>’ simbol indicates samples of passages of this term in other languages): - olim, ‘that time’, ‘time ago’ > Anglosaxon hwilum, ‘formerly, times ago’ > Old English whilom > Contemporary English while (as in the expressions like ‘long while ago’, or, ‘it takes a while to read’).

velum, ‘a veil’ (that is ‘something that hide’) > English veil.

English: - gloom, a term that retains all the letters of עלם (OLM) [according John Parkhurst, A Hebrew and English Lexicon].

Icelandic: - hilma, ‘to hide’.

Then, the translators are justified to translate עלם (OLM) as a derivative of ‘to be eternal’ only if the Bible context permits so.

The God's prophetic expression in Gen 17:8 did not claim that the Abrahamic lineage would maintain the control of the Canaan's region eternally, but only for 'an indefinite period', surely beyond the Abraham's capability to mentally grasp this timespan.

I hope these notes will be useful for your research.


Young's literal translation is:

and I have given to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, the whole land of Canaan, for a possession age-during, and I have become their God

So it is clear that Abraham will die and his descendants with inherit the right to the land. It is not meant as a mathematical infinity, but generation after generation of Abrahams's descendants have the right to the land without limit.

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