Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 2, No. 4 Page 7 April 2000

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

God’s Divine
Promise to Abraham

 

By D. Gene West

 

Texts: Genesis 12:1-3; 22:15-18; 26:4, 23-24; 28:1-5,14-15; 35:9-12.

Introduction:

1.         As Dr. James E. Smith, so beautifully put it: “About the year 2092 B.C. God initiated a new stage in the drama of redemption. God called Abram to leave his hometown of Ur of Chaldees to embark upon a pilgrimage in search of that city whose maker and builder was God (Heb. 11:10).  No one can precisely compute the time lapse between the Flood and the call of Abram.  If there are no gaps in the genealogy of Genesis 11, the minimum figure between these two events would be 427 years. . . . In a cluster of predictions during the Patriarchal era God defined clearly the chosen line through which Messianic blessing would come into the world.  It becomes clear in Genesis 12 - 28 that the channel of blessing would be Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Toward the end of the Patriarchal period Jacob singled out Judah as the chosen one among his twelve sons.”[1]

2.         God made this promise to Abraham on six different occasions.

a)         Genesis 12:1-3,7.

b)         Genesis 13:14-18.

c)         Genesis 15:4-5, 13-18.

d)         Genesis 17:1-8.

e)         Genesis 18:17-19.

f)          Genesis 22:15-18.

3.         God renewed this promise to Isaac, the “only begotten son,” of Abraham on two different occasions.

a)         Genesis 26:4

b)         Genesis 26:23-24.

4.         God also made this same promise to Jacob on two different occasions.

a)         Genesis 28:14-15.

b)         Genesis 35:9-12.

5.         God had made a seven promise statement to Abraham while he was yet in Haran, and after he left Haran and entered into the land of Canaan God added an eighth.  They were:

a)         “I will make of you a great nation.”

b)         “I will bless you.”

c)         “I will make your name great.”

d)         I will make you to “be a blessing.”

e)         “I will bless them that bless you.”

f)          “I will curse them that curse you.”

g)         “In you shall all clans of the earth be blessed.”

h)         “To your seed I will give this land.”

6.         Abraham, who was a great man of God, and the one to whom God imputed righteousness, received an eightfold blessing because of his faith and obedience to God.

7.         The original promise, given in Genesis 12:1-3, was developed and amplified during the next 215 years of the wanderings of the Patriarchs in the land of Canaan.

8.         The seventh promise (the one in bold type above) that was made to Abraham has Messianic implications, and this is attested to by the Jewish Rabbis of earlier times, as well as by the early “Church Fathers.”  Furthermore, the New Testament specifically quotes this seventh promise given to Abraham, and connects it to the blessings of redemption that are found in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

9.         The Messianic promise was given to the Patriarchs five times; three times to Abraham, once to Isaac, and once to Jacob.

a)         [A]  Genesis 12:3, “In you shall all clans of the earth be blessed.”  (The word “blessed” here means, as it does in so many other statements of the Old Testament, “approved of God.”)

b)         [A]  Genesis 18:18, “All nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.”

c)         [A]  Genesis 22:18, “In your seed all nations of the earth shall regard themselves as blessed.”

d)         [I]  Genesis 26:4, “In your seed all nations of the earth shall regard themselves as blessed.”

e)         [J]  Genesis 28:14, “In you and in your seed all clans of the earth shall be blessed.”

10.       These statements were made by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in approximately the following years: Abraham, 2092 B.C., 2068 B.C., 2047 B.C., Isaac, 1955 B.C., and Jacob, 1930 B.C.

 


I.          Notice the Beneficiaries of the Promise Made to Abraham.

A.        In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham was told that in him “. . . all clans (families) of the land would be blessed.”

1.         If God was speaking literally, he was telling Abraham that all the clans (families) who lived in that land would someday be blessed because of him.

2.         If God was speaking figuratively, he was telling Abraham that all the clans (families) of the earth would be blessed because of him.

3.         While we cannot say dogmatically which of these is correct, it seems logical that the first one is because later, in Genesis 18:18, the promise seems to be broadened when God told Abraham that “. . . in him all nations of the earth would be blessed.”

4.         It is best to regard the statement, “. . . all nations of the earth . . .” in an unrestricted and literal sense, which assures that even in a time as early as this, at the very time of the calling of the man who would become the father of the Hebrews, God demonstrated his plan to save the Gentile world, as well as the Jews, who like Abraham, would come to him by faith.  (This is essentially Paul’s inspired argument in Romans Chapter Four.)

5.         In Genesis 15:18, Abraham’s descendants were promised dominion over the Canaanites in whose country they were living as pilgrims at that time.

B.         According to Galatians 3:8, Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles through faith.

1.         This promise is called by Paul “the gospel” (good news) which was preached to Abraham.

2.         Look at the passage: Galatians 3:8, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’”

3.         When Abraham received this promise from God he was still as much of a Gentile as the Gentile Christians to whom the Apostle Paul wrote in the Book of Galatians.

a)         He was still a Chaldean.

b)         He was still uncircumcised, as Paul argues in Romans 4:10-12.

4.         What God spoke to Abraham directly was to be understood by all nations of men as being the “good news” of salvation.

5.         This was to come not through Abraham alone, but through his seed, and this has reference to his whole line of descendants, but especially to Jesus Christ who would come through the family of Abraham, the tribe of Judah, and the nation of Israel.

6.         Abraham was the forerunner and type of the Gentiles who would one day hear the Gospel of Christ and become obedient by faith.

7.         So that this could come to pass, according to the divine plan of God, God commanded Abraham to be circumcised, and after that he created from his loins a great nation of people who would also be saved by Abraham’s promised seed who is the Lord Jesus Christ.

C.        We must also look at the action of the blessing that was spoken to Abraham.

1.         The blessing, the approval, of God upon the nations means that the nations would think of themselves as being blessed as the seed of Abraham.

2.         The Jews would be his natural, or physical seed, and then they would become his spiritual seed.

3.         The Gentiles would be his spiritual seed, and would come to realize how blessed they were to be associated with the great patriarch of the faithful.

4.         The teaching is not that the nations would be blessed as Abraham was blessed, rather, the idea is that the nations would be blessed through Abraham.

5.         The blessing would be an objective fact that through, or in, Abraham, because this great man would be the father of the Hebrew nation from which would come the Messiah in the fullness of time.

 

II.        What Is Meant by “Seed” in the Promise That Was Given to Abraham?  (See also point four of this outline.)

A.        It could be an unlimited collective noun embracing all of the offspring that can be traced to a given person.

B.         But the Apostle Paul makes an argument upon this word seed in Galatians 3:16 in which he identified the seed as our Lord Jesus Christ, and insists that the promise made to Abraham was not that he should have seeds as of many, but one seed who was the Lord.

1.         Look at the verse: Galatians 3:16, “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.”

2.         That seed of whom God spoke in the promise to Abraham was an individual, and that individual was the Messiah.

3.         Paul further argues that the promises were spoken to Abraham and his seed, meaning the promise was not for Abraham and his seed, nor through Abraham and his seed, rather he spoke of the seed as the person through whom the promise would be fulfilled.

4.         Paul reveals the overpowering truth that God made the promise to bless the families, and the nations, with Abraham and with the Messiah.

5.         Until Christ made his entrance into the world, and died upon the cross, this promise was not fulfilled.

6.         Even after the law of Moses was given, and the Hebrew people occupied the land of Canaan, the promise of a universal blessing for mankind awaited fulfillment.

7.         Furthermore, there is no way that the promise given to Abraham could include his son Ishmael, nor any of the sons born to him by Keturah, so there has to be some limitation placed upon the promise, and upon the word seed.  Inasmuch as Paul makes the argument that he does in Galatians 3:8, it cannot refer but to one of Abraham’s seed.

8.         It is obvious from Genesis 17:19-21; 21:12; 25:11 that the blessing was to be confined to one branch of the family, that of Isaac, and would come through no one else.

9.         In Romans 9:6-7, Paul made this abundantly clear, and in Hebrews 11:17-18, this truth is repeated.

10.       In the years following those of Abraham and Isaac, the promise was further narrowed down in that it was to be fulfilled in only one portion of the family of Isaac, and that was Jacob.  (Genesis 49:10)

11.       It was further narrowed down that the seed spoken of would come from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe of Israel.

12.       The promised blessing came through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, then from David, and Solomon, until it was finally fulfilled in the Messiah, who came in the “. . . fullness of time . . .”

C.        The Jews, in the day of Jesus, evidently, and mistakenly, thought of themselves as this seed, because they told John the Baptist that they were God’s chosen people because they had Abraham as their father.

1.         Matthew 3:8-12, (8) “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, (9) “and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. ( 10) And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. ( 11) I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (12) His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

2.         John 8:56-59, (56) “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. (57) Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ (58) Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ (59) Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”

D.        Paul argues that Christ died on the cross to redeem men from the curse of the law “that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”  (Galatians 3:14)

1.         Galatians 3:13-14, ( 13) “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), (14) that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

2.         The promise of the Holy Spirit, which is salvation by faith, could not be received under the law, but it can be received through the gospel because of the promise and covenant that God made with Abraham.

3.         Since Jesus Christ was biologically and spiritually the Seed (Son) of Abraham, he was the apogee of the Abrahamic line and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise.

4.         The only purpose for the choosing and the calling of Abraham and his descendants was the way for the coming of the Messiah.

5.         Abraham’s destiny was to be a blessing to all families and all nations, and that could only be fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

 

III.       The Nature of the Blessing Through Abraham.

A.        The promise of blessing through Abraham’s seed is definitely Messianic, as is clearly taught in the New Testament.

1.         The full scope of the blessing which would be granted to all mankind through the Seed of Abraham can be ascertained by a study of apostolic writing.

2.         At the time of the birth of Jesus, Zacharias, who was the father of John the Baptist, by the influence of the Holy Spirit, related the birth of our Lord to the oath which God made to Abraham.

3.         Notice his inspired words: Luke 1:67-79, (67) “Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: (68) ‘Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, (69) and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, (70) as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, (71) that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, (72) to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, (73) the oath which He swore to our father Abraham: (74) to grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, (75) in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. (76) And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, (77) to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, (78) Through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; (79) to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’”

4.         Notice especially verses 72-75.

B.         In addition to this, Paul made the connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the Patriarchal blessing in his great sermon at Antioch of Pisidia.

1.         Acts 13:30-33, (30) “But God raised Him from the dead. (31) He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. (32) And we declare to you glad tidings - that promise which was made to the fathers. (33) God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’”

2.         Paul’s expression “. . . that promise which was made to the fathers . . .” has reference to the promise God made to Abraham, as well as to all the other fathers, including Isaac and Jacob.

3.         Peter argued in his sermon on the porch of the Temple that the blessing of salvation offered in Christ was the very blessing considered in the well-known promise to Abraham.

4.         He argued that God had sent his risen Son to bless the Jews with salvation before visiting this blessing upon the rest of mankind.

5.         Look at his words: Acts 3:25-26, (25) “You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ (26) To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”

6.         Of this statement by the Apostle Peter, brother J.W. McGarvey makes the following comment: “This was a tender appeal to their national sympathies, made more effective by the statement that to them first, because of their relation to the prophets and to Abraham, God had sent his risen Son to bless them, before visiting the rest of the world. . . . The use here made of the promise to Abraham shows the true interpretation of it. It is to be fulfilled, according to Peter, in turning living men away from their iniquities. Those only, therefore, who, under the influence of contemplated in this promise. That all the kindred of the earth were to be blessed does not affect this conclusion, except to extend its application to those of all nations who should, at any period of time, turn from their iniquities . . .”[2]

7.         It is no wonder Jesus told the Jews: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”  (John 8:56)

8.         We must always remember that Abraham was a worthy pattern of faith, because he was a man who obeyed the voice of God, kept God’s charge to him, and kept God’s commandments, his statutes, and his laws.  Genesis 26:4-5, (4) “And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; (5) because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

 

IV.       A Special Note on the Word Seed as Used with Regard to the Jews and to Christ.

A.        There is some confusion about the word seed as it is used regarding the Jews as a people, and Christ the individual who is the Savior of the world.

B.         Brother Homer Hailey makes the matter very clear in the following quotation: “Just as in Genesis 3:15, seed may be used as a collective noun, designating a line of descendants; so it is used twice in 22:17.  Or, it may designate one person who epitomizes the whole line . . . and is so used in 22:18, ‘In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed.’  In Genesis 12 - 35 seed occurs more than thirty times designating descendants of Abraham and others.  Within the same chapters, seed occurs at least three times (four, if 28:14 is included) referring to an individual: l) Abraham said to Jehovah, ‘I go childless . . . Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir’ (15:2-3); the context before and after seed refers to an individual.  2) It was said of Ishmael, the individual, He is thy [Abraham’s] seed’ (21:l3).  3) God told Abraham about the blessings that would come through him, And in thy seed [the Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’ (22:18).”

C.        Brother Hailey continues his comments on this matter as follows: “Many students dispute that this third instance refers to the Christ and contend that in this verse seed is used as a collective noun, Abraham’s family or descendants.  Even the American Standard Version in a footnote to Galatians 3:16 referred the statement to Genesis 3:l5 and 17:8, which are definitely collective nouns.  Such a conclusion overlooked Genesis 22:18, which more appropriately is the passage Paul quoted in Galatians 3:16.  In Genesis 22:17, God uses seed twice as a collective noun, referring to Abraham’s descendants.  But in verse 18, He referred to an individual.  The Apostle Paul said, ‘He saith not unto seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ’ (Gal. 3:16).  . . .Genesis 22:17, 18 distinctly teach that through Abraham’s seed, his descendants, who would become a great nation, and the seed, an individual, referring to the Christ who would bless all the families and nations of the earth.  This seed, the Messiah, would come through the woman, bruise the serpent’s head, and would justify the nations through Abrahamic faith.  (Rom. 4:3-5; Gal. 3:6-9).”[3]

Conclusion:

1.      Nine times, in the third and fourth chapters of Galatians, Paul refers to the promise that God made to Abraham.

2.      There can be no doubt that this promise was one of such importance that Paul, by inspiration, built a whole argument on it for the identification of the Messiah.

3.      That promise was first given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, and it is another example of the prophetic statements made regarding the coming of the Messiah.

Endnotes



[1] James Edward Smith, What the Bible Teaches About the Promised Messiah, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, 1993, p. 47.

[2] J.W. McGarvey, A Commentary on Acts of Apostles, With a Revised Version of the Text, B.C. Goodpasture, Nashville, Tennessee, 1958, A reprint of McGarvey’s work done originally in 1863.

[3] Homer Hailey, The Messiah of Prophecy to the Messiah on the Throne, Religious Supply, Inc., Louisville, 1995, pp. 23-24.



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