The Promises

A PROMISE OF DELIVERANCE

In the beginning, after the disobedience of Adam and Eve, in the curses that God pronounced in consequence of man's sin, a short but wonderful promise provided a ray of hope. It comes in a verse that is not easy to understand:

"The Lord God said unto the serpent ... I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:14-15).

GOD'S PROMISE IN EDEN

The serpent, because of the part it had played in Adam and Eve's transgression of God's law, became the symbol for sin. Jesus used the same term for his enemies, addressing the Pharisees with the words, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers." The bruising in the head, a fatal wound to a serpent, promises the utter destruction of sin and death. The seed of the woman is the destroyer, and in carrying out this work receives a bruise in the heel, a wound from which there can be recovery.

A careful reading of the Bible will show that this parable of the seed of the woman speaks of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, in which he gained the victory over sin and death and has paved the way to everlasting life for all who believe in him.

A clue to the identity of the seed of the woman is given in the words, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

This was quoted in the message of the angel to Joseph telling him that his espoused wife Mary was to "bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet", and then follows the quotation from Isaiah 7. The Apostle Paul comments, "When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law."

By Jesus' triumph over sin and death, the serpent (sin) was bruised in the head, i.e. utterly destroyed, as far as Christ was concerned; in the process he received, by his death on the cross and his short stay in the tomb, a bruise in the heel, as the prophet Isaiah had foretold, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities." The first stage of God's plan of redemption was thus completed. But Christ was only the firstfruits. There is to be the harvest in two further stages which will accomplish the abolition of sin and death completely.

The second stage will be completed when Christ returns to reward his friends - who will be those who have done whatsoever he has commanded them. These he will raise from the dead, and will bestow on them eternal life, to be enjoyed on the earth as rulers with Christ over the nations who submit to him at his coming, this stage lasting a thousand years.

The third and final stage will be at the end of the thousand years, when there will be a final judgment and sin and death will be completely destroyed. "Christ must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." As unbelief brought death, so belief in the Gospel and obedience in baptism and continuance in well doing can bring everlasting life.

THE PROMISES TO ABRAHAM

Abraham is an outstanding example of a man who was prepared to accept and successfully endure many rigorous tests because of his faith in God's word.

Abraham's faith was founded upon promises of blessing which accompanied God's command. He realised that when God, the All-powerful and All-wise Creator, makes promises, then they are certain to be fulfilled. God said to him:

"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" (Genesis 12:2-3).

Throughout Abraham's long life these promises were repeated many times, and each time something was added to the original promise. For the purpose of this Study we will consider the most significant aspects of the promises under the following headings:-

  1. Abraham's descendants to possess the land of Canaan.
  2. Abraham's descendants to become a great nation.
  3. Through one of Abraham's descendants all nations to be blessed

1. ABRAHAM'S DESCENDANTS TO POSSESS THE LAND OF CANAAN

The land to which God eventually led Abraham was called Canaan in ancient times. It is an area which at the present day roughly coincides with the modern states of Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Jordan at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea (see Genesis 15:18). When Abraham reached Canaan God said to him, "Unto thy seed will I give this land" (Genesis 12:7).

The promise was repeated later, "For all the land which thou seest, (Canaan) to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" (Genesis 13:15).

Note particularly the addition of the words "to thee" and "for ever." If it were not for these two important factors, we might understand the promise as referring to the conquest and possession of Canaan by the Israelites in ancient times as recorded in the book of Joshua. This was, however, only a partial fulfilment because, first, the promise was to Abraham, as well as his descendants, and, secondly, possession was to be enjoyed for ever.

On the first point, the Bible reveals that while in Canaan, Abraham was like a Bedouin of modern times and that when his wife died he had to buy a piece of land in which to bury her. Finally he died, not having received the promised inheritance of the land (Acts 7:2-5).

On the second point, it is clear that neither Abraham, or his descendants, the nation of Israel, who have spent a great part of their national existence exiled from Canaan, have obtained possession of it for ever.

THE RESURRECTION PROVIDES THE ANSWER

Clearly then, the complete fulfilment of this promise must still be future. It requires no lesser event than the resurrection of Abraham and of his true descendants, whom the Bible defines as those who are like Abraham in showing faith and obedience to God's commands. After the resurrection they, as immortal beings, will take possession of Canaan for ever (Matthew 8:11).

These facts will become clearer as the other promises are considered.

2. ABRAHAM'S DESCENDANTS TO BECOME A GREAT NATION

This promise is found throughout the record of Abraham's life, and has, to a large extent, been fulfilled as the Bible shows (Genesis 12:2; 13:16; 15v5; 22:17).

The Book of Genesis records that Abraham's son Isaac and his grandson Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) became the original ancestors of the nation of Israel. They lived in Canaan until Jacob, in the time of famine, took his family into Egypt. The book of Exodus tells how Jacob's descendants increased into a nation of more than two million and became enslaved by the Egyptians. About 1,500 BC God sent Moses to free them and lead them to Canaan. The book of Joshua, Moses' successor, tells how the twelve tribes of Israel conquered Canaan. Later books of the Bible describe how Israel developed until, about 1,000 BC it became a great and prosperous kingdom, during the reigns of David and Solomon.

THE NEW TESTAMENT EXPLAINS THE PROMISE

The Bible shows that after the death of Solomon, Israel declined and was eventually exiled from Canaan because the people were, generally speaking, faithless and disobedient to God (Deuteronomy 28:l15-68). It is in the New Testament that we find a wonderful exposition of the promise to Abraham. In the letter to the Romans the apostle Paul makes it clear that "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children" (Romans 9:6-7).

This introduces an important principle briefly referred to in the consideration of the first promise. The great nation which was to be descended from Abraham was not to be composed of faithless natural descendants but of those who showed a similar faith to Abraham. In each generation they have been few, but when they are raised from the dead, when Jesus returns to the earth, they will be gathered together into one great nation. Then Abraham will see his immortal descendants, praising God for their salvation, forming "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindred's, and people, and tongues" (Revelation 7:9). Thus the promise will be fulfilled in a far more wonderful way than it was in the past.

3. THROUGH ONE OF ABRAHAM'S DESCENDANTS ALL NATIONS TO BE BLESSED

However, mankind has not yet received the greatest of all blessings with which this promise is concerned - the deliverance from the universal curse of sin and death. The Bible reveals that there is a time coming when, "All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (Numbers 14:21).

There is little room for God's glory while man fills the earth with violence and oppression and while sin and death remain. A great change is obviously necessary to bring about this wonderful time of blessing, which we read of in many Bible prophecies (Psalm 72; Isaiah 32). However great the change, its realisation is certain! This is the message of the gospel (good news) which is taught throughout the Bible. Few realise that the promise made to Abraham 2,000 years before Christ, is the foundation of the gospel!

"And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen (nations) through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Galations 3:8).

THE PROMISE TO DAVID

In the Psalms David says that God had made a special promise to him. "The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne" (Psalm 132:11).

David, when his kingdom was established and the nation was at peace, wanted to build a temple, or a house of worship, for God. The prophet Nathan was sent to David to tell him that although God did not want him to build a house, God would establish David's royal house, and one in his royal line would rule over his kingdom for ever.

"And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16).
There are three important points in these verses:-

  1. The promise did not refer to Solomon, David's son, because God said that the "throne of his kingdom" would be established for ever. Although Solomon was noted for his riches and for his wisdom, he certainly did not reign for ever. In verse 14 Nathan the prophet tells David that God would be the father of this great king who would come in his line. "I will be his father, and he shall be my son" (2 Samuel 7:14).
  2. The king would rule on David's throne (2 Samuel 7:12).
  3. God declares that He will bring it to pass (2 Samuel 7:12).

THE TEACHING OF THE PROPHETS

The same points are emphasized throughout the Bible. Read the following passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah which is often quoted at Christmas time and see the same three points.

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:6-7).

The same points are stressed:

  1. "Of his government ... there shall be no end."
  2. "Upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom."
  3. "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this".

JESUS WAS THE ONE PROMISED

There is no doubt as to who the great king in the line of David will be.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary before the birth of Jesus and told her, "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32-33).
Notice the same three points again -

  1. The kingdom would be established for ever.
  2. He would rule on David's throne.
  3. God would bring it to pass.

MARY'S SONG OF REJOICING

Later in the same chapter Luke records a wonderful song of rejoicing in which Mary praised God for His promises. A remarkable feature of it is that although the angel told Mary that the child would be born to fulfil the promise God made to David, Mary thanked God for the promise that He had made to Abraham. She must have realized by her understanding of the purpose of God that both of these promises would be fulfilled in the same individual.

"He hath holpen his servant Israel...as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever" (Luke 1:54-55).

THE KINGDOM

There can be no doubt that the kingdom which Jesus came to proclaim was a real kingdom on the earth. He would be the king and his followers would also have positions of rulership. Jesus told his disciples "When the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28).
It was the purpose of God in the beginning to fill the earth with His glory and with peace:

"As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (Numbers 14:21).

This will happen when Jesus returns to the earth as King.

One of the main points that Peter made in his address on the Day of Pentecost was that Jesus was the great descendant of David that God had promised. Peter referred to the Psalm we have already quoted to show that David looked forward to the establishment of the Kingdom with Christ as king:
"Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne" (Acts 2:29-30).

The apostle also explained that the resurrection of Jesus was a sure sign that the promise God had made to David would be fulfilled. "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses" (Acts 2:32).

Peter said that David understood that the time would come when the Almighty would say to the Lord Jesus Christ, "Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool". The apostle then said, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:34-36).

GOD'S GUARANTEE

Paul summed up the wonderful hope which the Bible offers when he was speaking to the people of Athens:
"He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in
righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he
hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him
from the dead" (Acts 17:31).