Truth, Understanding, Insight

God's Promises

11th October 2006, hej


1) The meaning of 'Promise'

The Australian Oxford definition is:

Promise: assurance that one will or will not undertake a certain action. Promised Land: Canaan (Gen.12:7 etc).

A promise is an undertaking of one person to carry out an action to another. The promises of Yahweh are like prophecy, where, Yahweh states that a certain event will happen. However there is a difference. The promises are personal undertakings, and can be seen as covenants or contracts. We may say we have given 'our word', or our promise, that we will do something, in Western society verbal contracts are morally binding.

The God of the Bible, Yahweh, cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He will not mislead and will always literally deliver exactly what He says. When He said Tyre would be a place for fishing nets (Ezekiel 26:5,14), it was not a euphemism, the ancient site of Tyre is now a place for casting nets (not poles, reels or lines!). This is prophecy, so when He makes a promise the action will likewise be literal. The Bible says,

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Numbers 23:19

The Oxford definition includes reference to the "promised land", a traditional title Christians have used to refer to Palestine, now called Israel, as the Bible says it is the land that Yahweh, the God of Israel promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel).

The Importance of the Promises

The early Christians placed great importance of the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the fathers of Israel. The apostle Paul speaks of Christians adopting these promises a number of times.

Who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God and the promises. Romans 9:4
Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: Romans 15:8
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. Galatians 3:16
That you be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:12

By faith and patience the followers of Christ inherit the promises, at some future date.

Promises Not Inherited Yet

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have not yet been given by God that which was promised to them.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Hebrews 11:13

In addition many people had faith in these promises and did great things, but still died and have not yet inherited them.

Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,...And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: (Hebrews 11:33-39)

Stephen a Grecian proselyte, a Christian, has this to say before he was stoned.

And he gave him (Abraham) none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.Acts 7:5

Stephen, and those hearing him, understood Abraham had not inherited and was yet to inherit the land they were living in. (The patch of earth they were standing on). In the Apostles' time they were not in possession of the land either – the Romans were. They, like Abraham, were ‘strangers’ paying tax.

The promises are the good news of the gospel

separated unto the gospel of God,(Which he had promised before by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. Romans1:1

Jesus, who was made according to the promises, had a mission,

To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; Luke 1:72

In effect, if the promises are to be obtained in the future, they are the promises of the hope of life after death.

In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; Titus 1:2

2) The Promises To Abraham

The promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are The Promises,

A number of things were promised to them on more than one occasion. They are collectively The Promises.

The first promise was given soon after arriving in Canaan with Lot.

The LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto your seed will I give this land: Genesis 12: 7

This may be considered unremarkable, a historical fact. Or is it? It was extremely remarkable then for as yet Abraham had no children and a barren wife. The import of this promise is the emphasis on the 'seed' or children. It is expanded a little more in the next promise:

The LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, "Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which you seest, to you will I give it, and to your seed for ever. And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto you. Genesis13:14-18

Abraham would be given the land he sees and walks in - forever, his seed would also be given the same land - forever. This seed would be a multitude.

Note at this point Abraham had no son.

And Abram said, "Lord GOD, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, "This shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be thine heir".
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if you be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall your seed be".
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
And he said unto him, "I am the LORD that brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it". Genesis 15: 2-7
And he said, "Lord GOD, how shall I know that I shall inherit it?"

Abraham believed that he would have a son and numerous descendants, though his wife was obviously barren. This was coming soon in his lifetime, it was assured. He, however, needed confirmation he would inherit a land he could see as he would not inherit it until after he was long dead. He wanted assurance that he would be alive again.

He is given this assurance.

And you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come here again...In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

The answer was specific. He would die in peace. Also the covenant was that the descendants would inherit a land with specific boundaries from the Euphrates to the Nile. Not even under Solomon did this happen to Israel. It must happen as it is a covenant. A promise, a contract that cannot be broken. Again after a lapse of many years the promise is expanded:

And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with you,.. and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you, and to your seed after you. And I will give unto you, and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

At this time Abraham had a son called Ishamel. But Ishmael called a 'wild man' was rejected. Abraham was told he would have a son born through a miracle to his wide Sarah, who they were to call Isaac. Only with Isaac’s children was this covenant made. They would inherit the land for an everlasting possession. By contrast Ishmael was to be merely a great nation. It is to be noted that Abraham was promised again personally he would inherit the land where he was a stranger.

From 12 to 15 years later comes the promise that underlies many of the Apostles' statements.

And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son:
That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.

This is the gospel preached to Abraham, the good news. It is in addition to the previous promises. The seed now not only will inherit the land, and be a multitude, but this seed would cause all the nations of the earth to be blessed.

This particular promise is according to the word sworn by Yahweh Himself. But when has the descendant of Abraham conquered his enemies?

Those who spiritualise this promise to make Christianity the 'seed' also have a problem. It says quite specifically all the nations should be blessed. There is no way Christianity as it is now is a blessing to all the nations. It must be concluded that we are waiting still for the time when all nations will be blessed.

The Bible says when this will be. It is when Abraham walks again in the land that was called Canaan. When he is alive again, and alive for evermore.

3) Promises to Isaac and Israel

And Yahweh appeared unto Isaac and said,

Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell you of: Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for unto you, and unto your seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham your father;
And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;Genesis 26:2-4

This seems to repeat the promise to Abraham. However it is made personally to Isaac. Just as Abraham is assured he would be personally given the land he was living in, so is Isaac and Isaac’s seed. At this time Isaac has two sons, of whom, before they were born Yahweh has said the elder will serve the younger. Genesis 27 recounts the how the blessing is given to Jacob the younger. Isaac can only give one blessing, reinforcing the idea of the ‘seed’ being singular.

The promises to Jacob (Israel)

Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.

And he lighted upon a certain place... And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed; And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

Jacob is promised he would be given the land he was sleeping on, also his seed would inherit it. And that this seed would be many. In both Jacob and the seed would all races be blessed.

The promise is expanded when Jacob does return many years later.

And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him.
And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins; And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land. Genesis 35: 9-11

Specifically a Nation (the nation of Israel) and an assembly of nations would come from him and a many kings from his body. Also it is repeated that he personally will inherit the land, as will the seed.

And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.
Verse 3: And he said, I am God, the God of your father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation:
Verse 4: I will go down with you into Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes. Genesis 46:2-4

Verse 3 happened. For the sons of Jacob became a million. Verse 4 did not completely occur. Jacob lived 17 years in Egypt and died. Joseph did put his hand on Jacob’s eyes. Of interest is Jacob’s understanding of the promise to bring him up again. He told Joseph his son to bury him in Canaan, not in Egypt

Jacob knew he was to die in Egypt despite the promise 17 years earlier that, ‘just as you go into Egypt you will come back up’. Jacob seems to accept he will not go back but only his body will. If we read further (see below) we see that Jacob understands the land is to be his everlasting possession.

And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,And said unto me, Behold, I will make you fruitful, and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people; and will give this land to your seed after you for an everlasting possession. Genesis 48:3

Above are the records of the promises made to Jacob at Bethel or Luz on two separate occasions, neither of them record it was said the land is an everlasting possession. Genesis 84:3-4 is therefore Jacob’s understanding of the promises, based on being there and on his knowledge of what had been promised to his fathers. It is clear that Jacob understood he was to inherit, just as Abraham and Isaac, the area to the North, South, East and West of Bethel for an everlasting possession, not at that time, but some time after he had been dead. Jacob had been promised he was to go back alive.

In summary the promises to the Fathers are:

  • Personally they would inherit the Land of Canaan forever.
  • Their seed would inherit the land forever.
  • This seed would be numerous.
  • They would be blessed, and those that blessed them would be blessed
  • The seed would be a great nation
  • From their natural descent would be kings
  • In the seed would all nations be blessed.
  • Who are the seed, or descendants?

    4) The ‘seed’

    The concept of ‘the seed’ is introduced by God when talking to Eve and the serpent. It is the same word as used for that of fruit and herb plants. The Bible does not use the term children (bene) or house/family (bayith), as a 'seed' is the same as its parent plant, and is the product of its parent. The 'seed' does not refer just to natural children as Ishmael is the son of Abraham but is not ‘the seed’ (Genesis 19:19).

    Jesus has a discussion on this point, recorded in John chapter 8.

    "They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father". Jesus said unto them, "If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham". John 8:39

    The seed of Abraham are those that do the works of Abraham. And also that there is another class: those whose father speaks a lie. The seed of the serpent. So seed is about a class of people.

    This issue is important as Paul takes it up on a number of occasions and it is a theme of the writer to the Hebrews.

    For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
    Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
    Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall your seed be. Romans 4:13-18

    Paul establishes that the seed is counted of those who have the faith of Abraham. The same faith. Let us put it another way, that just as Abraham believed the promise that they also believe the same promise. What is the promise? That Abraham and his seed should be heir of the world (v13).

    To the Galatians Paul thought the issue so important he devoted much of his letter to it.

    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 your seed,which is Christ. Galatians 3:16
    And if you be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.Galatians 3:29

    Here we have on authority that the term “your seed” was singular. It was Christ. Paul says that through Christ we become like Christ and are the heir of the promise to Abraham.

    Peter puts it like this:

    Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever.1 Peter 1:23

    There is to be a class of people who are sons born again to be incorruptible, by the word of God. Through the seed, Christ, would all the earth be blessed (Galatians 3:16) and the seed would inherit the land that the patriarchs of Israel walked on and saw.

    Gospel & Promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

    The Apostle Paul makes a point that the Gospel, or good news, was preached to Abraham. The focus of the whole book of Galations is the one gospel and Paul’s argument is centred on Abraham.

    And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In you shall all nations be blessed. Galatians 3:8
    Know you therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.

    If we go back to the account where Abraham is pronounced righteous we find he believed in the birth of a son, not quite what one would expect. What must the children of Abraham believe or have faith in? Surely they must believe the promises made to Abraham. All of them. Just in case we miss the point Paul points to human contracts where nothing is added or subtracted.

    Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannuls it, or adds thereto.Galatians 3: 15.

    Jesus makes the following statement.

    Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. John 8:56

    Which son was Abraham expecting when he believed God, Isaac or Jesus? Was not Isaac’s birth the miracle that made the later birth of the seed possible… What personal benefit is gained by having a child, except some minor pride your line is to continue? It only makes sense if the seed was to be a saviour that would personally benefit Abraham.

    5) Promises to King David

    David having recently conquered Jebus and made it his capital under the name Jerusalem, wants to build a house for his God. The reply is a very public promise. The promise to David was delivered by the prophet Nathan and recorded in the book of Samuel, which was always intended as a public history.

    Thus says Yahweh of Armies, I took you from the sheep pen, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people, over Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the name of the great ones who are in the earth. (2Sam 7:8)

    First David was given a personal promise. And this has been fulfilled: who does not know of this king David? It goes on to speak of Isarel.

    and as from the day that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel; and I will cause you to rest from all your enemies. Moreover Yahweh tells you that Yahweh will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who shall proceed out of your bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son: if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but my loving kindness shall not depart from him,... Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before you: your throne shall be established forever. (2Sa 7:9-16)

    This was not talking about the kingdom of Israel BC 1000. Why would they need a place appointed then? They had a reasonable territory (somewhat larger than present day Israel) at that time. They only lost it later. In fact at that time also their enemies were quiet. This promise is to take effect long after king David is dead. At some point of time long after David was dead he would have a descendant who was also to be the son of God. At this point there seems nothing in this for David. Does it really matter if he has a son who's throne goes on forever if he can't know of it or enjoy it?

    Then we come to the last section where David is promised that his family and his kingdom would last for ever in his presence. David is promised that he will personally see “before him” his descendant who reigns forever sitting on his thone in Jerusalem.

    This thone was a real physical thing over a territory that we can identify today. Further,

    Yet the LORD would not destroy Judah for David his servant’s sake, as he promised him to give him alway a light, and to his children.2 Kings 8:19

    We can look back over history and note the last of the king descendants of David was carried away to Babylon and the kingdom ceased in BC 580 a mere 400 or so years after the promise.Until the years AD though Judeans, or Jews as they came to be known, knew who were of the royal line. However in AD 70 the records were lost with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. It can only be concluded that the promise to David is yet to be fulfilled or a people were deluded. The second option has suprising reasons for being unlikely.

    6) Concrete Promises

    The concrete and specific nature of the promises cannot be ignored. The are not vague promises of eternal life. Abraham when asking for assurance regarding life after death is given a detailed history of his children and an assurance that his seed would inherit the land from the Euphrates to the Nile! Therefore this is life after death. The term ‘life eternal’ or ‘eternal life’ does not occur in the Old Testament at all, 'everlasting life' only occurs once in Daniel speaking of a Resurrection from dust. It occurs only 30 times in the new testament. With a further 11 references to 'everlasting life' or 'life everlasting'. Compare how small a number this is to the 149 times that ‘the kingdom’ is referred to or 73 times the judgement is referred to or the 69 times Abraham is referred to. It cannot be that only since the time of Jesus has eternal life been available. If we look we are told the promises in the old testement were the promise of eternal life. No less than Jesus said this:

    Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life:and they are they which testify of me. John 5:39

    So the Jews of Jesus’ day, using the O.T, thought eternal life was promised to them, not in one passage, but many. The conclusion cannot be escaped. It must be that eternal life was promised from the very beginning. Can the coming of Jesus effect the promises understood for some 4000 years before? No, rather Jesus coming established the Genesis promises, which is what Jesus means when he says he fulfilled The Law (The Law is all 5 books) (Matthew 5:17).

    The Kingdom of Heaven

    If the natural descendants of Abraham for 2000 years understood that the promises were literal, and Jesus said nothing to change this, how relevant is more recent interpretation?

    The Kingdom of heaven only occurs 32 times and all occurrences are in the book of Mathew, but the disciples do not ask Jesus regarding this Kingdom of Heaven but rather the Kingdom of Israel.

    When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?Acts 1:6

    The majority term is the kingdom of God. This occurs in both Old and New testaments. The writers of the New Testament were Hebrews in their thinking. They had the scriptures that said that the kingdom of David and Solomon was the Kingdom of the Lord.

    And of all my sons, (for the LORD hath given me many sons,) he hath chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel.1 Chronicles 28:5

    Abijah a king of the royal line of David calls his kingdom the Kingdom the LORD.

    And now ye think to withstand the kingdom of the LORD in the hand of the sons of David; and ye be a great multitude, and there are with you golden calves, which Jeroboam made you for gods. 2 Chronicles 13:8

    According to Mark the crowd welcomes Jesus as the heir of the kingdom of 'our father David'. The disciples understood the Kingdom of the LORD, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of heaven to be synonymous.

    Blessed bethe kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest. Mark 11:10

    The scriptures never say the kingdom is in heaven, and the term Kingdom of Heaven is limited to only one book of the bible. The scriptures say plainly that the kingdom of Yahweh was the kingdom of David until it was destroyed by Babylon. One would be bold indeed to categorically state that Jesus will not rule from Jerusalem from the throne of David, while David looks on, and that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would not walk in the land of Israel in the future. After all they were promised this.

    Abraham was counted righteous because he believed implicitly Yahweh Elohim’s promise. The implication is that the belief in the detail is important for our salvation.

    Those who doubt there is power to deliver these promises may like to look at some other items this God of Israel has promised. Things like that Babylon would never be inhabited, that's never (Saddam was thinking of doing some building there and never got to it...). That Egypt would be a 'base nation' and they still wonder what happened to that mighty civilization. That Israel would exist again and dwell safely (written 1400BC).

    The focus is The Land of Canaan, sometime Palestine, now Israel, and it cannot be ignored. There are many quotes to supoort this- so many that it Christians call it 'the Promised Land'. Moses is one who calls this land the promised land

    And if the LORD your God enlarge your coast, as he hath sworn unto your fathers, and give you all the land which he promised to give unto your fathers;Deuteronomy 19:8

    Nehemiah, much later speaks of it again

    Their children also multiplied as the stars of heaven, and brought them into the land, concerning which you had promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it.9:23.

    The promise was acted on despite the disobedience of Israel. It is clear that Israel was the land that was promised to their fathers.

    The focus of the promises is The Land – Eretz Yisrael. This is the location. However the substance is,

    And this is the promise that he has promised us, even eternal life. 1 John 2:25