Promises to Abraham

We believe in God's enduring righteousness. That righteousness is demonstrated by God's faithfulness in fulfilling all the promises He made to the father of the faithful, Abraham. As promised, God multiplied Abraham's lineal descendants so that Abraham literally became the "father" of many nations. We believe that God, as promised, materially prospered Abraham's lineal descendants Isaac and Jacob (whose name He later changed to Israel). We believe that God, through Abraham's Seed, Jesus Christ, is making salvation available to all humanity regardless of physical lineage. Salvation is not, therefore, a right of birth. It is freely open to all whom God calls, and those who are regarded as descendants of Abraham are those of the faith, heirs according to the promises. We believe that the knowledge that God has fulfilled and continues to fulfill the physical promises made to Abraham and his children, and that He is fulfilling the spiritual promise through Jesus Christ, is critical to understanding the message of the prophets and its application to the world.

God made physical and spiritual promises to Abraham. The physical promises involved physical greatness for his descendants: "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great" (Genesis 12:1-2). These physical, national promises contained assurances of land and other blessings (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:18).

These physical promises were formally passed on to Abraham's descendants. First they were passed on to Isaac (Genesis 26:1-4). Next they went to Jacob (Genesis 28:3-4, 13-14), whom God renamed Israel, telling him that "a nation and a company of nations" would proceed from him (Genesis 35:9-12). Then they were passed on to Joseph and finally to Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were to become, respectively, "a multitude of nations" and "a great people" (Genesis 48:15-19, New Living Translation). But because of the enslavement of Israel and later disobedience, the fulfillment of these physical promises was delayed.

Before any of Abraham's early descendants inherited the land of promise, they became slaves in Egypt (Exodus 1:7-11). Israel groaned because of its bondage, and God heard. In His faithfulness, God determined to deliver Israel from bondage to keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that Abraham's descendants would be physically blessed by becoming a great people on the earth (Exodus 2:23-25; 6:7-8; 13:5; Deuteronomy 9:4-6).

Next we find promises of physical blessings being offered to the nation of Israel after coming out of Egypt. Only if the Israelites would obey God and remain faithful to His covenant with them would they receive these blessings. If they would not obey the covenant's terms, the blessings would be withheld and curses would come in their place (Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 26:3-39; Deuteronomy 28:1-68).

Because of the flagrant sins of Israel and Judah—the nation of Israel having been split into these two kingdoms—the national blessings were still withheld. There were only brief periods of greatness under a few righteous kings. But, because of God's faithfulness, He eventually would bless Abraham's descendants with the greatness He foretold.

Part of the punishment for Israel's sins was sending them into national captivity. Many Jews of the southern kingdom of Judah, though deported to Babylon, later returned to the land of Judea. However, the Israelites of the northern kingdom of Israel who were deported to Assyria did not return to resettle in their former homeland. They became what are now known as the "lost 10 tribes" of Israel. Over the course of time these people migrated to northwestern Europe.

The descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh have received the blessing of ascendance to national greatness. Ephraim has become the promised company of nations (Great Britain and the Commonwealth peoples of British ancestry, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand), and Manasseh has become a great nation (the United States of America). It is through these people that the prophecies of the Bible concerning Israel are being primarily fulfilled (Genesis 48:16; 49:22-26).

However, the tribes of Israel today also exist in other nations of or emergent from northwestern Europe. The Jewish people today are descendants of the people of the ancient kingdom of Judah—meaning that while Jews are Israelites, not all Israelites are Jews.

God intended Israel to be a model nation in obedience to Him for other peoples to see and want to emulate (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). He gave the people His laws and covenant, but they did not have a proper heart to continue in obedience (Deuteronomy 5:29), and thus they failed in their example, leading to national punishment.

Severe judgment will come yet again in "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7) when, shortly before Christ's return, many end-time prophecies regarding the modern-day descendants of Israel will be fulfilled. (See the chapter titled Jesus Christ's Return and Coming Reign.) A major lesson of Israel is that a people given so much will still not truly succeed unless given what is needed most—the means for a true spiritual transformation of character.

Also contained in the promises to Abraham was the more important spiritual promise of salvation to all men who would become Abraham's "seed" (his descendants). Through Abraham all families of the earth were to have access to God's blessings (Genesis 12:3). God confirmed the promises to Abraham because he obeyed God's commandments (Genesis 22:18; 26:5).

The apostle Paul understood that salvation was not just for Jews or Israelites, but for all humanity. He explained that the "Seed" to whom the promises applied was Jesus Christ, and that all must become one in Him (Galatians 3:8, 14-16, 26-29).

The priest Zacharias, at the birth of his son John the Baptist, prophesied that God would remember the oath He had sworn to Abraham (Luke 1:69-72). Paul records that Jesus Christ came to confirm the promises made to the fathers (Romans 15:8). The promise of salvation comes from God through the Holy Spirit as a part of the New Covenant made available to us through Christ's death and resurrection.

The Holy Spirit is the key to the "better promises" that come under the "new" and "better" covenant that was established on those better promises (Hebrews 8:6). It would make obedience possible, so that Israel and all others joined to Israel through it would be able to succeed in being the model nation God intended.

The apostles were told to wait at Jerusalem for this better promise (Acts 1:4, 8). They waited to receive the seal of the Holy Spirit "of promise," which was the guarantee of their inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). It is by God's Spirit that we can know that we are the children of God and in Christ (Romans 8:9, 14-17) and thus Abraham's seed (spiritually) and heirs of salvation according to the promise (Galatians 3:28).

This promise is not based on race, but on God's calling and on individual repentance, regardless of race or national origin. By this means, through faith, all can be renamed "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). (See the chapter titled The Church.)

When Jesus Christ establishes His New Covenant with Israel and Judah at His return (Jeremiah 31:31)—the covenant in which the Church of God is now a forerunner—then the physical nation of Israel will at last be able to serve as the model nation God intended it to be (Zechariah 8:23; Jeremiah 31:1; Romans 11:12)—having been transformed into spiritual Israel and leading the whole world into the same saving relationship with God.

For more details, read The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy and The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God's Law?


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