The Importance to Christians of God's promise to Abraham
The centrality of the Bible relates to the promises God made to Israel, recorded in Genesis 15[i]. The Old Testament ends with Israel under a curse for if they did not obey the law God stated He would curse the land (Malachi 4:6). The promises made to Abraham do not cease at Malachi or any point onward, but rather until Israel reaches a state of obedience the Church age has been ushered in. The Church age ends when the time of the gentiles is complete (Romans 11:25), meaning that all those gentiles that will accept Christ as their saviour have done so, and God is finished with the gentiles for the purpose of bringing Israel back to Himself (Romans 11).
The unconditional promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 was sealed with a solemn oath, whereby God would be cut in pieces in the same way the animals were (that is utterly destroyed), as seen in the vision shown to Abraham by God. Since God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), the oath remains. The essence of the promise is these three elements:
1. Land (Genesis 15:18)
2. Descendants – too many to count (Genesis 15:16)
3. Blessing or an exceedingly great reward (Genesis 15:1)
Upon this unconditional promise, with its three elements, the Lord built throughout the Old Testament history of Israel. Just a few of these:
- A fertile productive land is promised to Israel in Deuteronomy chapters 29 & 30 - which is conditional upon the obedience of Israel to God (e.g. 30:10)[ii]. Because of the covenant (promise) made to Abraham, God remembered that Israel was suffering in Egypt and He takes them out of the slavery and bondage and gives them the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 2:24).[iii]
- Israel would be a great name on all the earth promised in 2 Samuel 7:12 - 16, whereby David’s throne would become the throne of the Messiah, which would continue for ever.
- A new covenant is promised (Jeremiah 31:31-34)[iv], which does not replace the covenant to Abraham, but the covenant made to Israel when she left Egypt (see verse 32), whereby the Lord will put His law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and He will be their God, and they shall be His people.
To those that want to know what it would take for God to break his promises, he provides an answer in Jeremiah 31:35-37[v]: the universe would need to stop, and all matters related to the ‘fixed-order’ of the universe would need to cease. That is, the laws of physics would need to stop for God to even contemplate breaking his promise – this He cannot do, because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Because of this, any theology that replaces Israel with the church is false and at best unsound without foundation and contrary to the Bible – to do so would require God to forego a promise. This Paul emphasises this in Romans. In Chapter 8 of Romans there is the great promise due to those who are saved[vi], and in chapters 9 – 11 He shows that He does not go back on any promise EVER, in that, just as the promises to Israel will be fulfilled, so will the promise of eternal inheritance for those saved in the church age will also be fulfilled.
[i] Gen 15:1-21 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." (2) But Abram said, "Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (3) Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!" (4) And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir." (5) Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." (6) And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (7) Then He said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it." (8) And he said, "Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?" (9) So He said to him, "Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." (10) Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. (11) And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. (12) Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. (13) Then He said to Abram: "Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. (14) And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (15) Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. (16) But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." (17) And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. (18) On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— (19) the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, (20) the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, (21) the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites."
[ii] Deuteronomy 30:10 if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
[iii] Exodus 2:24 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
[iv] Jeremiah 31:31-34 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— (32) not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. (33) But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (34) No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
[v] Jeremiah 31:35-37 Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): (36) "If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the LORD, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever." (37) Thus says the LORD: "If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the LORD.
[vi] Romans 8:1-39 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit….(11) But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you…. (29) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (30) Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (31) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (32) He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (33) Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. (34) Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (35) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (36) As it is written: "for your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." (37) Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (38) For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, (39) nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.