Genesis 15:18-21 - "To your descendants I give this land ..."

On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates--the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites." (Genesis 15:18-21)

Is this allegorical?

These ancient events were told and retold orally over many generations through the centuries before they were recorded in about the Sixth Century BCE. This means that while the stories might have been told accurately in the beginning, they were also adapted to the time and circumstance as they were retold over the centuries.

As such, they cannot be accepted as an accurate historical record.

Most notably, many of these events took on an allegorical element as they were told to present to the next generation the underlying devotional mission.

With respect to land, we must understand that during many of these centuries, the feudal tribal system put a great emphasis on controlling territory. Therefore, it was important to these tribal leaders to have been given authority over the lands.

As such, the events regarding Abraham's history included statements about God granting land to Abraham. This fabled part of the story was to portray that the control over the land was authorized by the Supreme Being - which is an over-reach from a practical basis.

But it does accurately portray the notion that God does control all land. And if anyone gains control over lands, that control was essentially authorized by the Supreme Being - since He controls all land.

This, then, portrays the allegorical nature of these texts. It isn't that God gave specific land to Abraham as though God is a land-grant office. The message is that God owns all land and He sometimes grants temporary control to others.

But we must realize that this literal translation was embellished. After all, is God in the land division business? Does He go around apportioning out all the land to various families and their descendants?

Furthermore, we know today that Abraham's descendants (assuming they are part of the population of Israel today) do not today own or control all of these lands. Some are governed over by Egyptians. Some are governed over by Iran, Syria and Iraq. If God gave all this land to Abraham's descendants, then why do they not control these lands today? Does God give out land and then take it back?

The Supreme Being perpetually owns all land. No one else truly owns and land, and God would never give up His perpetual ownership, especially to a single family or race of humans. After all, every human body dies.

Why is this so convenient?

It is convenient that it was those who claimed to be Abraham's descendants - through the guise of those emperors and scribes in the centuries following Abraham - that would produce such a message. The interpretation and translation - made repeatedly - claims that God gave the lands occupied by other groups to a particular family was made by those who claimed to be from that family, even though the claim was made more than a thousand years later.

And how could they know they were Abraham's descendants? Did they have genetic testing done to find out whether they were direct descendants of Abraham? Did they do the "family tree" testing that is now offered by laboratories who do genetic testing?

Note that this interpretation followed more than 400 years of enslavement, plus more than two thousand years after that. How did they know which of the population were direct descendants of Abraham?

It would be like someone today trying to claim they were a descendant of Jesus. How could someone truly trace a family tree that far back?

Indeed, you have a supposed genealogy that is recorded in the Book of Genesis and Exodus. But the problem here is that it was recorded more than a thousand years later, in the Sixth Century BCE. Even if you take the genealogy of Jesus that is recorded in the New Testament you find two different genealogies with many holes between each (for example, Jesus is supposedly a descendant of David, but David was apparently not part of that genealogy. He was from another family, even though David received lessons from Saul.)

Nonetheless, we are speaking of a race of people, not a single person.

Even if we were to accept, for example, that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, then we have a problem. The problem is that Judea was controlled by the Romans during Jesus' lifetime. So how could Jesus be one of the owners of this land if it was supposedly given to Abraham's descendants?

The Romans occupied Judea for centuries. If a country could take that ownership away, then Abraham's supposed descendants never did own the land. Ownership means control. And if the Judeans could not control those lands they were supposedly given, then they never owned them in the first place.

Certainly, it is heresy as to which of those people who claimed that occupation were actually descendants. What about those who were descendants of the people surrounding Abraham but not Abraham's? Are they to be included in the ownership of all these lands?

What this sets up is quite simply racism. If a person is lucky enough to be born within a society of a particular race of people, they become the rightful owner of all that land?

The Supreme Being does not give any family ownership of lands.

Aren't we only traveling through?

We are each a passenger on the planet earth. No one but the Supreme Being owns anything. It is like being on an airplane and claiming ownership of the airplane seat we were given. Yes, we can be in that seat for the flight. But then after the flight is over we must give up the seat.

It is the same with these physical bodies. We leave our bodies behind at the time of death, along with everything surrounding them.

The correct translation of this verse relates to an instruction by the Supreme Being telling Abraham that his followers will spread his teachings throughout these lands.

The word "given" comes from the Hebrew root נתן (nathan). This indicates employment, assignment, appointment or devotion. In can indicate something given, but that something is relating to some duty or ascription. The duty or devotional ascription is teaching love for God and living a life of loving God. This is what Abraham was teaching.

What is the true covenant?

The Supreme Being was assigning a task to Abraham concerning his followers. Note that this relates to a covenant between God and Abraham:
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram ... (Gen. 15:18)
What is a covenant? Is a covenant giving land in exchange for worship? Certainly not. The word "covenant" is being translated from the Hebrew ברית (bĕriyth), which means, according to the Gesenius lexicon:

between God and man
1) alliance (of friendship)
2) covenant (divine ordinance with signs or pledges)

What we are talking about is a personal pact between God and Abraham. Is this a land exchange? Did Abraham worship God so that God would give his ancestors a bunch of lands? No, that would essentially be a business relationship.

The true covenant relates to a relationship of love. Abraham has pledged his love to the Supreme Being, as noted in the previous verses with his worship of God and "calling on the Name of the Lord" and making offerings to God and so forth. These are acts of love.

It is not as if God is rewarding Abraham for his devotion with a bunch of lands - which, if it were so, could not be rewarded for 400 years later, and then taken away again. What kind of reward would this be anyway?

Abraham does not want a reward. Abraham wants to serve God. He wants to please God. This is love, not business. Abraham was concerned about who would continue to pass on his teachings after he was gone. To that, God said that Abraham's followers would stretch far and wide, into those various populations and throughout those lands.

How far would his followers be spread out? Everywhere. They would pass on the message of love of God throughout the Middle East region, and eventually throughout the world. That is the covenant. That is the relationship, and that is what Abraham's followers would be spreading throughout the land - far and wide.

We can see how this has taken place factually. If we look now at those lands discussed above, we definitely know that Abraham's descendants have not been given those lands, as they are now controlled by various governments. But we can definitely know that Abraham's followers - including David, Samuel, Moses, Jesus and so on - spread Abraham's devotion into those lands, and now there are so many followers of Abraham in these regions.

Thus we would more appropriately translate this verse to:
"Your followers will be spread throughout the land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates - the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites." (Genesis 15:18-21)
Consider another translation of this verse in Chapter 15 of the New Book of Genesis.