The Expository Files

The Promises of God To Abraham

Genesis 12:1-3

If you want to understand the Bible, start reading. There is no better place to start than in the beginning, Genesis. Commit yourself to a personal journey throughout the entire Bible. Begin in Genesis. Read the entire Bible (perhaps based on an annual schedule). When you finish, read it again. If you will do this, year after year - with all perseverance and diligence - you can develop a good working (practical) knowledge of the Bible to use in your life.

Begin in Genesis because that is the beginning. If you skip Genesis you will come to text after Genesis that will make no sense. There will be statements in the New Testament you cannot deal with if you have not read the book of Genesis.

One passage you will come to in this good pursuit is Genesis 12:1-3. Being familiar with this passage will provide good insight into the book of Romans and Galatians, for example. This has to do with the origin of the Jewish nation, the disposition of the land we now call Palestine, and the spiritual blessings we can enjoy in Christ today.

"Now the Lord had said to Abram: Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." {Gen. 12:1-3}

In the New King James, the New International Version, and the King James, this is written as an explanation and in past tense: "Now the Lord had said to Abram." In the genealogical account in the last part of chapter eleven we are introduced to Terah, the father of Abram. We are told the family moved from Ur to Haran, and at Haran Terah died. Genesis 12 begins by explaining why they moved: "...the Lord had said to Abram: Get out of your country....."

In this communication from God to Abram, we discover three distinctive promises and we may refer to the three as - the land promise, the national promise and the spiritual promise.

1. The Land Promise: "A land that I will show you."

2. The National Promise: "A great nation."

3. The Spiritual Promise: "All the families of the earth shall be blessed."

In order to understand these promises, we must follow them through the text of Scripture to the points of fulfillment. We should not just read the promises, forget them and go on. In reading the Old Testament, when we come to a prophecy or a promise - we need to keep reading to find the point or points of fulfillment. If we neglect that there will be a hole in our Bible knowledge. Our task is to track these three promises.

The Land Promise
God called Abram out of his homeland, "to a land" that He would show him. That's in Gen. 12:1 (the last phrase). Also in Genesis 12, observe the statement in verse 7. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So, a land would be given to the descendants of Abram - that's the essence of the first promise.

When you read this promise of land to the descendants of Abram (or Abraham), one thing immediately comes to mind. If you have read the Bible, you know something about the history of the Old Testament. When you come to this promise of land to the descendants of Abraham, one thing enters your mind and that is the children of Israel entering into the land of Canaan! That conclusion is correct. It is taught in Scripture.

The Bible says, that the promise of land to the descendants of Abraham was fulfilled when God gave them the promised land. Consider this reality as revealed in these places:

Ex. 6:2-8

2And God spoke to Moses and said to him: "I am the LORD. 3I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them. 4I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. 5And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. 6Therefore say to the children of Israel: 'I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD.'"

This is what God said to Moses, the leader of Israelite nation. At the time God said this to Moses they were not there yet. But this statement adds testimony and confirms that the land promise to Abraham's descendants has to do with the Israelite nation entering the promised land, Canaan.

Deut. 1:6-8

6"The LORD our God spoke to us in Horeb, saying: 'You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. 7Turn and take your journey, and go to the mountains of the Amorites, to all the neighboring places in the plain, in the mountains and in the lowland, in the South and on the seacoast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the River Euphrates.

Moses was speaking to the nation of Israel in the land of Moab, east of the Jordan.

Joshua 1:1-6.

1After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying: 2"Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them-the children of Israel. 3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. 5No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.

This was "after the death of Moses." God said to Joshua, "Arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them..."

Acts 7:2-5 & vss. 44-46

2And he said, "Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.' 4Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. 5And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him.

44"Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, 45which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47But Solomon built Him a house.

Psalms 105:7-13, 42-45

7 He is the LORD our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
8 He remembers His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations,
9 The covenant which He made with Abraham,
And His oath to Isaac,
10 And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute,
To Israel as an everlasting covenant,
11 Saying, "To you I will give the land of Canaan
As the allotment of your inheritance,"
12 When they were few in number,
Indeed very few, and strangers in it.
13 When they went from one nation to another,
From one kingdom to another people,

42 For He remembered His holy promise,
And Abraham His servant.
43 He brought out His people with joy,
His chosen ones with gladness.
44 He gave them the lands of the Gentiles,
And they inherited the labor of the nations,
45 That they might observe His statutes
And keep His laws.
Praise the LORD!

God did what He said. He said this land would be given to the descendants of Abraham. The Bible says God did that. He fulfilled that promise. Joshua believed this, for just before his death he said to the people: "...not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you," (Josh. 23:15).

The Second Promise: A Nation
God fulfilled the second promise when He formed a great nation from the descendants of Abraham. The following passages show the fulfillment of the second promise.

In Gen. 46:3, God spoke to Israel, the man also called Jacob, and God said: "I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there." This is what God said to Abraham's grandson Jacob (called Israel after Gen. 32) and the descendants of Abraham were called Israel, the children of Israel; Israelites - who went down to Egypt as the family of Joseph, but came out - a great nation.

After the family arrived in Egypt and were cared for by Joseph, he died, and the family grew. Exodus 1:7 says: "But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mightily; and the land was filled with them."

In Deut. 1, Moses is addressing the nation of Israel, east of the Jordan, with these words:

1:8 Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD swear unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.
1:9 And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone:
1:10 The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.
1:11 (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!)

Already in Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy there are these statements leaving no doubt, when God formed the Jewish nation, He was fulfilling His promise to Abraham - multiplying his seed into a great nation.

Hebrews 11:11-12

11By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude-innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

God formed a nation out of the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and gave them the land of Canaan in the days of Joshua. This is the fulfillment of two of the promises God made to Abraham: The land promise and the national promise. We have one more promise, but something needs attention first.

When we talk about God forming a nation from the descendants of Abraham and giving them the land of Canaan there is something else to be considered: God told this nation, God told His people - if they sinned, they would be driven out of the land He had given them:

Lev. 26:27-39

27 'And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me,
28 then I also will walk contrary to you in fury;
and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.
30 I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and cast your carcasses on the lifeless forms of your idols;
and My soul shall abhor you.
31 I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas.
32 I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it.
33 I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you;
your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.
34 Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies' land;
then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths.
35 As long as it lies desolate it shall rest-
for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it.
36 'And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies;
the sound of a shaken leaf shall cause them to flee;
they shall flee as though fleeing from a sword, and they shall fall when no one pursues.
37 They shall stumble over one another, as it were before a sword, when no one pursues;
and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies.
38 You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.
39 And those of you who are left shall waste away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands;
also in their fathers' iniquities, which are with them, they shall waste away.

Deut. 30:17-20

17But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, 18I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. 19I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them."

Let's put all this together: God promised Abraham that a great nation would be formed from his descendants and they would be given the land of Canaan. But God said clearly, sin would result in their being driven from the land. Bible students know that is exactly what happened! The Israelites sinned grievously, and although Jehovah was patient and longsuffering with them - He eventually did what He said.

The northern kingdom of Israel was carried away into Assyrian Captivity in 733 B.C. (2 Kings 17:5-6, 22-23).

The southern kingdom of Judah was carried away into Babylonian Captivity in about four stages of expulsions (2 Chron. 36, Dan. 1, 2 Kings 24).

God said this captivity would last seventy years, then only a remnant would be restored to the land, not the whole nation (Isa. 10:20-25; Jer. 23:3-4).

Now back to the promises to Abraham, revealed in Genesis 12.

We know about the fulfillment of two of those promises: God formed a nation from the offspring of Abraham; that nation was Israel; the land promise was fulfilled when they came into the land of Canaan under Joshua.
We have one more promise:

"And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
We started our study in Genesis in chapter eleven and twelve with our focus on Abraham and his family; then Isaac; then Jacob or Israel; then the nation formed, called Israel, and the giving of Canaan to that nation.

Now in this third promise the statement is not confined to an immediate, single family or a single nation, but "all .... all the families of the earth!"

What did God do that holds opportunity for "all?" What did God do - what offer, what gift that is available to bless "all the families of the earth?"

This is about Christ!
Acts 3:24-26.

24Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. 25You 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."

Gal. 3:7-9

7Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed." 9So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.

Gal. 3:13-18

13Christ 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"), 14that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
15Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16Now 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. 17And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

Isn't this clear? God fulfilled the third promise when He sent Jesus Christ to die for the sins of the world. Today - anybody can respond to the Good News of Christ and be saved. The gospel is God's offer of salvation in Christ - to "all the families of the earth."

Whoever you are; whatever your blood line or national origin - you can hear, believe and obey the gospel. And thus become a participant in the spiritual promise God made to Abraham. All three promises to Abraham, in Genesis 12, fulfilled! God formed a nation from his offspring - gave them the land of Canaan. Then Christ came. Paul said, in Galatians 3:26-28 ...

26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Does God have a nation today? He does. Peter wrote this to Christians: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." 1 Pet. 2:9.

I need to deal with one more matter that concerns all of this, and is relevant to things you may hear in our time. God had a plan. In bringing His plan to completion, He chose and used various people. He formed a nation from the offspring of Abraham and God did everything that He promised. To use the language of Joshua in Josh. 24 - "not one thing has failed." God had a plan ... it led to Jesus Christ ... so that today, "whosoever believeth and is baptized, shall be saved."

This means the Biblical nation of Israel has served the purpose for which it was divinely created, and there are no obligations we have as Christians to hold the modern nation of Israel above other nations; no biblical grounds to esteem the modern nation of Israel above others! (See Acts 10:35)

Now I should be careful here, in what I say and you should read carefully. We may feel great sympathy toward the modern nation of Israel. We may be in favor of political friendship. We may observe how those people have been mis-treated and want to help.

There is little doubt - the Israelis have been the victims of terror. So - we may feel great sympathy toward the modern nation of Israel, and we may agree that the United States should maintain a good relationship with them. But all of this cannot be argued on Biblical grounds. We have no instructions from God - to maintain higher loyalty to modern Israel, above other peoples.

In Romans chapters 9-11, Paul argues against any theocratic definition of Israel. He acknowledges the role Israel had before Christ came, but denies any theocratic definition of this nation. He says, "whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved."

Let me illustrate what we need to guard against.

Jerry Falwell: "God has raised up America in these last days for the cause of world evangelism and for the protection of His people, the Jews. I don't think America has any other right or reason for existence than those purposes... to stand against Israel is to stand against God."

A pro-Israeli Kansas journalist: "As a gentile American, as a Christian who considers loyalty to God above all human commitments, if the choice ever comes between loyalty to Israel, I have no choice. I must stand by Israel."

The bible doesn't teach us this! The religious doctrine called pre-millennialism demands this position - but the Bible doesn't tell us to stand with Israel, no matter what! God did everything He said to Abraham. And the modern nation of Israel is not the same as the biblical nation, used by God before Christ.

When people talk with you about: Israel's biblical right to the land ...protecting them today, so that future purposes can be fulfilled - that's the language and teaching of premillennialism not the Bible. The only thing left for the Jews today is - to believe and obey Christ. Jews or Gentiles - "whosever!" Our loyalty must be directed to Christ, who is our only hope of peace.

Based on article by Kevin Kay, and material by Ferrell Jenkins.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 11.7; July 2004