The idea of the “Promise” runs powerfully through all eras of biblical history. It is a unifying theme of the most fundamental sort. Without this theological binding of the Bible story via Promise, the irresistible force bringing the Old Covenant forward to meet the New Covenant would be absent. Promise is a theme that looms exceedingly large on the horizon of Scripture.
Implied in God’s words to Eve in Genesis 3:15, is the first hint we have of the Promise. It is a somewhat enigmatic statement mixing both human and divine elements of God’s great salvation plan. Deliverance would eventually be secured. Additionally, its satisfaction would in some way be through the special agency of a woman.
The “rest of the story” dramatically completes its course in the Virgin Birth (Gal. 4:4) and in a derivative sense in the church (Rom. 16:20). However, the Virgin Birth and its relationship to the “Seed Promise,” great though it is, is not the more dedicated path Scripture follows. Abraham will be the key figure in God’s highlighting the significance of Promise.
GOD AND ABRAHAM
The peg God which uses to anchor the idea of Promise is found in His dealings with Abraham. Genesis 12:1-3 is the staging area from which God moves forward with the importance of His promise. It is also at this point God expresses two basic elements to the Promise. First, He will build a great nation through Abraham. In support of this, either blessings or curses await those who deal with Abraham and those who are aligned with the Promise. The nation we will come to know as Israel will fulfill its role overseen by Jehovah’s mighty arm.
Second, there was in the Promise a universal blessing. All people would benefit from the work God would affect through Abraham and his descendants. This is a point most of Abraham’s descendants would fail to appreciate. Israel was not the end of the plan grounded in the Promise; the holy nation that would occupy the Promised Land was the means to a much greater end (Gal. 3:17-29).
The greater conclusion of the matter, however, would be accomplished many years in the future. The journey of the Promise through the years of Abraham and the great nation’s contributions would nevertheless provide an awesome display of God’s greatness.
THE JOURNEY FROM ABRAHAM TO ISRAEL
From beginning to end, this journey is filled with God’s unceasing work to secure the goal of His plan. Though many faithful men and women would participate in the journey, none were perfect. All could have potentially brought this vital enterprise to an abrupt halt, but God would not have it so.
Almost as soon as God made His promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), we encounter a problem. Pharaoh, fooled by Abraham’s ruse, takes Sarah into his house (Gen. 12:10-12). Had not the Lord intervened—end of the story! The intervention of God, however, will be present at every twist and turn of His plan’s development.
Another very interesting point on the journey comes from Genesis 15:1-21. Here, Abraham despairs over the absence of an heir from his own body. Under the customs prevailing at the time, Abraham’s chief servant, Eliezer, would be reckoned as his heir.
God, however, assures Abraham he will have a son of his own flesh. The Lord again lets Abraham know that his descendant will be vast in number. On this occasion, God goes even further to assure Abraham that His promise can be trusted. God will quite literally cut a covenant with Abraham (cf. Jer. 34:18-20).
There is something unique about this covenant procedure in Genesis 15. Normally, both parties entering the covenant agreement would walk between the pieces. In this case, however, Abraham was deliberately put to sleep and Jehovah, represented by smoke and fire, passed through the pieces alone (cf. Ex. 40:34-38). God’s promise to Abraham was further guaranteed by the covenant the Lord imposed upon Himself as He walked between the divided animal carcasses alone.
There is, however, yet another assurance. The Hebrews writer references this when he speaks of God’s twofold guarantee of His promise (Heb. 6:9-20). Here, Genesis 22:17 is quoted as providing an “oath” to further seal the promise. This oath comes immediately following the “sacrifice” of Isaac, an act directly linked to the crucifixion of Jesus and tied to Abraham’s continuing faith (Heb. 11:17-19; Jas. 2:21-23—note the tie in to Gen. 15:6).
Yet, amazingly, there is even more. The inseparable, companion verse to Genesis 22:17 is verse 18. This is the verse where it is explicitly stated that in Abraham’s “seed” all the nations will be blessed. It is verse 18 Paul quotes in Galatians 3:16, one of the most powerful Promise passages in the entire Bible. The singular masculine pronoun of Genesis 22:17 thus gives the special singular meaning to “seed” even though elsewhere the singular form of seed almost always has a plural denotation referencing the entire nation of Israel (note Gen. 22:17b). Abraham’s seed of the Promise was no less than the Christ!
Consider how God took His promise from Abraham to Isaac. He overcame the “Hagar Diversion,” opened the aged Sarah’s womb, renewed Abraham’s ability to father a child, protected the promise from going through Ishmael, interceded to once again thwart Abraham’s “she’s my sister” foolishness, and delivered Isaac from death (Gen. chapters15-22; Rom. 4:16-25).
Nevertheless, the journey from Isaac to Jacob/Israel, short though it is, remains fraught with roadblocks to overcome before arriving at the place God intends. Rebekah’s womb must be opened, Jacob, the second born, must muddle through all manner of interesting twists, Sarah’s womb must be opened, and Joseph, though given firstborn status, will be superseded by his less noble brother Judah as the one through whom would come the Messiah (Gen. 26-50; I Chron. 5:2).
How might we summarize the meaning of these things? The short of it is that when God makes a promise, He keeps it and He keeps it in His own intended way. Human weaknesses, plots, lies, improbable odds, unlikely twists and turns, etc. cannot derail the Lord’s Promise.
The Promise made to Abraham concerning the salvation to be offered to all men and women was always secure because it was God who made the Promise. Additionally, as we touched upon earlier, the Promise is also secure because of Jesus, the ultimate one to whom the Promise was made (Gal. 3:16). The Promise was made by God the Father to God the Son—God to God. The Promise made possible by the life of Christ was, therefore, just as secure at the point of fulfillment as it had been at the point of inception. God never fails.
A DAVIDIC MOMENT
There is a significant, additional element in the journey of the Promise to the Christ; David immerges as a major player in the unfolding drama of salvation. Israel had sought a king so they might be like the nations around them (I Sam. 8:4-9). This request is allowed by God and results in Israel’s first king, Saul. There is, however, an odd twist here. Genesis 49:10 had clearly declared Judah as the regal tribe—Saul was a Benjaminite. This seeming problem is easily resolved when we consider a few points from the general, surrounding context.
The people wanted a king to suit their understandings of what a king should be like. What better choice to satisfy such thinking than an exceedingly handsome and exceptionally tall man linked to might and valor (I Sam. 9:1-2)? The people’s choice award went to Saul. Only “certain worthless men” opposed the choice (I Sam. 10:27).
Saul, as most know, was not a good king. His heart sided with the people rather than with God (I Sam. 15:1-23). Now it was God’s turn. When God made his choice we are not at all be surprised to see that His choice came from the tribe of Judah (I Sam. 16:1, note that Bethlehem was in Judah). We also should not be surprised to find that when God chose a king He did not look at “outward appearance,” but at “the heart” (I Sam. 16:6-7; cf. I Sam. 13:14). The most impressive looking brother, Eliab, did not have the right heart (I Sam. 16:6; 17:26-28).
David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), would add a special feature to the development of God’s Promise to Abraham. As king over the great nation God brought into being, David would not simply be a man of significance for the nation, David would be the king who, along with his dynasty, would be of great significance to God’s universal Promise (Lk. 1:30-33; Acts 13:23). While the much shorter lived Northern Kingdom of Israel would have nine dynastic families, Judah would have but one—the house of David. It is, therefore, no wonder that God chose to highlight both Abraham and David in the highly Messianic genealogy of Matthew 1:1.
Consider the Messianic stamp God placed on David’s dynasty in II Samuel 7:12-19. David’s son Solomon would serve as a type of Christ and his kingdom as a type of the Messianic Kingdom (cf. Acts 2:29-30).
On the first Pentecost after the Resurrection of Jesus, God, having given Him all authority (Matt. 28:18; Dan. 7:13-14; I Cor. 15:20-28; Phil. 2:9-11; Eph. 1:19-23) sat Jesus at His right hand as king over the New Israel (Acts 2:29-36). The new King sent forth the Holy Spirit of the Promise and people were invited into the New Kingdom under the New Covenant (Gal. 3:14; Acts 2:33, 38b-39; Heb. 8:7-13). God made good on His promise. It was never in doubt!
THE PROMISE CONTINUES TO BE EFFECTIVE
As referenced in Acts 2:38b-39, the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is directly connected to the Promise. The fulfillment of the Promise was associated with the earliest preaching of the Gospel to the Jews (Acts 3:25). The Promise was fulfilled in Christ (Gen. 22:17-18; Gal. 3:16). Yet, though fulfilled, the significance of the Promise is not inactive today.
The Promise is clearly and inseparably tied to our inheritance in Christ (Gal. 3:13-19; Rom. 4:13-16; 8:15-17; 9:8). The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is equally attached to both the Promise and our inheritance (Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 8:16-17; Gal. 3:14, 18-19; Rom. 4:13-16; Eph. 1:13-14; I Cor. 2:12; Gal. 4:4-7; Acts 20:32; 26:18). The Promise has been kept and its influence is truly amazing. We are children of the King of all creation (I Jn. 3:1). The “down-payment” or “earnest” or “pledge” of our inheritance became ours when we became Christians (Eph. 1:14; II Cor. 1:22). For the faithful Christian, the blessings of the Promise to Abraham are as sure as God and the finished work of His Son (II Cor. 18-22). They have been revealed by the Spirit Himself rather than by the mere words of men (I Cor. 2:10-12).
Incredibly, the full greatness of the Promise has yet to be realized. Heaven will show what now can only be seen through analogies to our temporal world. The complete realization of the Promise is indescribable (I Jn. 3:2) The God who cannot lie, His Son who has paid the price, and the Spirit who has revealed what has been freely given to all unite to declare, “PROMISE KEPT”!