Article of the Month

February 2011

 

THE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM 

 

God, Himself, promised something to Abraham.  That it was God making the promise should, in itself, be sufficient to make the promise special and secure.  But the Apostle Paul wants even more to impress upon our understanding the magnitude of this promise – the importance not only to Abraham, but to God and to us.  This must be ONE BIG IMPORTANT PROMISE!  Paul points out (Hebrews 6:13, 16-18) that God not only made the promise, but SWORE TO IT, and “CONFIRMED IT BY AN OATH” – as if God had to do such things!  Paul adds that the promise, although made to Abraham, was made to “show unto the heirs of the promise” that we can “lay hold upon the hope set before us.”  (Hebrews 6:17, 18)  The “us” in this discussion is the faithful footstep-following disciples of Jesus.  As we shall see, Jesus’ disciples have a vital connection to the Abrahamic promise.

 

―  What Was the Promise?  ―

 

The promise to Abraham is stated more than once in the Bible, and it is stated with varying detail both to Abraham and to his descendants.  Perhaps the most complete statement is found in Genesis 22:16-18 (KJV): 

“By Myself have I sworn, saith the LORD,
for because thou hast done this thing, and
hast not withheld thy son, thine only son,
that in blessing I will bless thee, and in
multiplying I will multiply thy seed as
the stars of the heaven, and as the sand
which is upon the sea shore; and thy
seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the
earth be blessed – because thou hast
obeyed my voice.”

Before examining these words carefully, it should be noted with all due reverence and sobriety that, according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 3:8), this promise

 

IS THE GOSPEL!

 

Noting and believing this will certainly make the sincere Christian absorb and treasure all that is implied in the words of this promise. We might casually conclude that “the Gospel” is something originated in New Testament Scripture.  Learning of its original location and content is, indeed, inspiring and enlightening.

 

―  Some of the Details in the Promise  ―

 

Let us examine the implications of Genesis 22:16-18.

BY MYSELF HAVE I SWORN

For God to swear on His own name concerning His promise is the ultimate surety in the universe of the certainty of a matter.  Abraham must have been awed as he pondered what kind of meaning would follow a statement like this.  We, likewise, should be drawn forcibly into this momentous promise.

BECAUSE THOU HAST DONE THIS THING

What Abraham had done was to listen to God and then to consent willingly to offer Isaac, his son, as a sacrifice.  THIS IMPRESSED GOD down to the very make-up of His being!  Abraham had SO MUCH FAITH that he had reasoned thus:   “God promised that a blessing would come through Isaac.  So, if He wants me to sacrifice Isaac, there is only one possible explanation:  God will bring Isaac back from the dead.”  (Paul explains this in Hebrews 11:17-19.)  How could God not be impressed with both this kind of faith and this kind of reasoning?

HAST NOT WITHHELD…THINE ONLY SON

There was an additional reason why God was so deeply and emotionally impressed by Abraham’s deed.  We learn from the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4:24 that things in Abraham’s life were ALLEGORICAL.  This means that they pictured (or typed, or prophesied) things to come.  In this instance, Abraham pictured the most important and the central and pivotal point of the Bible:  God, Himself, was going to offer His own son as a sacrifice so that all who eventually (not just in this life!) believe in him will LIVE.  (John 3:16)  It becomes clearer why God wanted to reward Abraham for his faith.  It was a personal matter for God!  It foretold God’s own action and the salvation of the world. 

IN BLESSING I WILL BLESS THEE

Another way to explain this sentence would be, “Concerning the subject of blessing, I intend to heap upon you blessings more than you can imagine.”

Some of these blessings for Abraham are:

(1)    He would have a protected existence.
(See Genesis 12:3.)
Those who worked against him would suffer for it.
Those who honored Abraham would be honored for it.
Other scriptures suggest that this promise extends to Abraham’s Jewish descendants.

 (2)   He would be given a specific and choice inheritance of land.
(See Genesis 13:14, 15, 17; 15:18-21; 17:8.)
And this land would also belong to his progeny “for ever.”
It is important to note that Abraham NEVER inherited this land!
This part of the promise to him is yet to be fulfilled – after he is raised from the dead.  (Abraham, along with other Old Testament faithful ones, is included in Paul’s summary of yet-unfulfilled promises in Hebrews 11:39, 40.)

(3)    When Abraham returns, he, with the other Old Testament faithful, will be “princes” or authorities “in all the earth.”  They will supplant those who used to rule and who, no doubt, will yet think they should!  Jesus makes this point, showing the Pharisees returning from the grave with chagrin and disappointment (“weeping and gnashing…teeth”), only to find Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and others) installed in positions of leadership, with the Pharisees then LAST. (Luke 13:26-30; Psalm 45:16)

(4)    One other gigantic blessing should be mentioned here.  Abraham’s name was originally Abram.  It was changed in the Genesis 17:1-8 account.  God changed Abram’s name so that it would mean “Father of a great multitude” (or, “Father of many nations”).  Because Abraham was to be allegorical, God intended to make him a FIGURATIVE father as well as a literal one.  Literally, of course, he has received the blessing of an enormous natural family.  All Jews and the greater part of Arabs are his natural descendants.  But God wants Abraham to be known, because of his great faith, as the eventual faith-father of the entire human race!  This part of the blessing will become evident as we continue.

 

IN MULTIPLYING, I WILL MULTIPLY THY SEED

Abraham, of course, is not the only man to have a huge number of descendants.  Just think of Adam, Noah, Japheth, Ham, and Shem, to name only a few others.  But this part of the promise to Abraham hides a deeper meaning.  We might again do a little paraphrasing for clarity.

“Concerning the subject of multiplying, you will not only have a large number of natural descendants, but I will MULTIPLY that number BEYOND THE NATURAL.”  This concept is hinted at in the next part of the promise:

AS THE STARS OF THE HEAVEN AND AS THE SAND WHICH IS UPON THE SEA SHORE

God doesn’t waste words in prophecy.  This long explanation of Abraham’s seed is not just saying, “You will have more descendants than you can count.”  It is prophesying that ALL MANKIND will eventually be counted as Abraham’s “seed” — because, eventually, all mankind will obtain eternal life by growing the kind of faith-reliance upon God that Abraham exhibited.  Recall that Abraham was ALLEGORICAL of God when he was willing to sacrifice his son.  Thus, just as God will eventually be the father of all, Abraham here is being allegorically exalted to being the faith-father of all.  BUT NOTICE

 The “seed” of Abraham is divided into two classes, the stars and the sand.  God knew (Abraham did not) that the descendants of Adam would eventually end up in one of two places:  earth or heaven.  Thus, God here symbolizes this by calling restored mankind on the earth “the sand of the seashore,” and by calling that part of mankind who will become spirit beings “the stars of the heaven.”  These symbols continue to be used throughout the rest of the Bible.  Thus, this earliest statement of “the Gospel” teaches TWO SALVATIONS.

In Genesis 26:4 and 28:14 we see an interesting early prophetic use of stars and sands (or “dust,” in this case.)  God uses Abraham’s son, Isaac, as a symbol of those who will go to heaven.  (See Galatians 4:28.)  God uses Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, as a symbol of those who will inherit the earth.  Note how these texts in Genesis RESTATE the Abrahamic promise to each of these generations – BUT, in the restatement to Isaac, the promise excludes the sands; and in the restatement to Jacob, the promise excludes the stars.  Thus these two patriarchs represent the two ultimate salvations and destinations of mankind.

The very last use of the symbol (Revelation 20:8) excludes the stars because, at that point they are in heaven, beyond judgment (having had their judgment completed earlier); but the final judgment after the 1,000-year reign of Jesus is only upon the “sand” (the earthly descendants).  [Compare also Daniel 12:2, 3 for a similar application. 

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It seems evident that Abraham (except for Jesus) may well be the most important man in the Bible.  We have seen that God’s oath to Abraham incorporates nearly everything the Bible teaches.  A closer look reveals even more.

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Building upon the “stars of heaven” part of the promise, we are drawn to a passage which doesn’t mention that phrase, but which does build upon its meaning by mentioning Isaac – the son who received the restatement of the promise which focuses on the “stars of heaven” inheritance.  (Genesis 26:4)

In Galatians 4:21-31, the Apostle Paul reasons on one of the allegorical meanings of Abraham’s life.  He points out that Abraham’s two sons represent the results of two covenants.  Ishmael represents the Jews as the fruitage of the Jewish Law Covenant – an arrangement under which people found themselves enslaved under the bondage of sin, unable to obtain life.  Isaac, on the other hand, represents the product of the covenant under which the Church is developed – a covenant which brings life to the Church.

Notice Paul’s wording (verse 23).  He is showing that the Jews (as pictured by Ishmael) were Abraham’s NATURAL SEED – “born AFTER THE FLESH.”  But Isaac, (picturing Jesus and his Church) are Abraham’s SPIRITUAL or NON-BIOLOGICAL SEED – born “BY PROMISE.”  Verses 28 and 31 make it abundantly clear that faithful Christians (who will go to heaven) constitute the “stars of heaven” part of Abraham’s seed.  Verse 30 shows that this Isaac class is the sole heir to the promise that Abraham’s “seed” would bless all the families of the earth.  Thus Paul calls the Church “the heirs of promise.”  (Hebrews 6:17)

This brings us back to the final sections of the promise of Genesis 22:16-18. 

THY SEED SHALL POSSESS THE GATE OF HIS ENEMIES.”  

In ancient times, a walled city was the symbol of protection from invasion.  Thus, God here is showing that Abraham’s spiritual seed (Christ and his Church) will CONTROL access to any who might oppose Christ’s Kingdom.  Enemies will have no refuge.  As Paul summarizes the Millennial Kingdom of Christ:  “He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
(I Corinthians 15:25, 26)

Thus, again, in this initial statement of “the Gospel” to Abraham, the entire thousand-year Kingdom of Christ for which we pray is summarized.  How can we not marvel at how much is contained in the promise to Abraham to which God swore?

IN THY SEED SHALL ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH BE BLESSED

Here is the very crux of the Gospel.  Jesus and his Church, as Paul said, are HEIRS OF THIS PROMISE.  Once again, the TWO SALVATIONS, are clear:  (1) The SEED, and (2) ALL NATIONS (or FAMILIES) OF EARTH. Once we see these two halves of the Gospel, all error and superstition leave us!  The scales of blindness fall from our eyes.  Salvation becomes both a rational and a heart-warming doctrine.  The Church has purpose.   It is being developed in this lifetime and during this age TO BLESS everyone else in the next lifetime in the coming age.  Unbelievers are not lost!  They merely are waiting in ignorance for the next age! (Romans 8:19; I Timothy 4:10) What a Gospel:  In Abraham’s faith seed (Jesus and his faithful followers who go to heaven) all of the remainder of mankind will come to know God and be blessed. “Thy Kingdom come…on earth.” (Matthew 6:10)

BECAUSE THOU HAST OBEYED MY VOICE

With this final phrase, the promise ends as it began.  Faith and obedience bring enormous rewards.  This is the final lesson of this Gospel.

God doesn’t want obedience because He is a tyrant.  He wants it because He knows what will bless everyone.  Once we learn this lesson, we will be prepared for an eternity of blessings.

God doesn’t want faith because He wants us to be unquestioning.  He wants it because He knows that once we know we can trust Him even where we cannot trace Him, we will have ultimate peace.

What a journey we have taken through the words of the promise to Abraham – THE GOSPEL! May it warm our hearts and hopes.  May it inspire those who are disciples to revel in the GOOD NEWS!  May it soon BLESS ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH.

 

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