PROMISES, PROMISES, PROMISES
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.” Genesis 12:1-3.
We have already looked a little at family trees. We looked at Abraham’s Family Tree in particular. We also looked about his Family Trek. And we concluded that, though it is nice to know where you’ve come from, it’s even better to know where you are going.
In the following we pick up the story of the life of Abraham in a place called Haran. Abraham and some of his family stopped there on the way to the Land of Promise. We’re told in Genesis 11:32 that Abraham’s dad, Terah, died there at Haran. Listen to what Stephen said before they stoned him (as recorded in Acts 7:2ff.), “Men and brethren and fathers listen; the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ Then he called out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He [i.e., the Lord] moved him to this land in which you now dwell.”
So, with these words in mind, we should take note of two things: a) Abraham was called by God while in Ur of the Chaldees and not in the place called Haran. And b) The God of glory appeared to Abraham and not to his father Terah. So, what are we to make of the words in Genesis 11:31, “And Terah took his son Abram let all they went with them from Ur of the Chaldeans”? Well, we are to take it that Moses, the writer of this passage, is giving Terah respect of place. Terah was Abraham’s father and Scripture says, “Honor your father and mother.” So, even though it was Abraham who was called by God, his father gets a mention out of respect because he went too.
So, we ask the question, Whence come they? And whither dost they goest? Or to put that into modern idiom, Where have they come from and where are they going? Well, they’ve come from a place called Ur which is in south-eastern Mesopotamia and now they are in Haran which is in North-west Mesopotamia. And they are on their way to the land the God of glory has promised to show Abraham. They have travelled up between the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. They have gone through what would now be Iraq. And if you still don’t know where I mean then think about Damascus. You’ll have heard about Paul on the road to Damascus? Well, Damascus is nowhere near Haran! However, if Paul had kept going when he was walking north to Damascus he would have come to Haran eventually.
So, Abraham and his cortege, or caravan, were traversing what is known as the “Fertile Crescent.” They could have gone straight from Ur to Canaan but this would have meant going across the desert. And if you’ve ever watched any movies about the French Foreign Legion you’ll know that the desert is a tough thing to cross. So it’s better to take the long way round rather than dying of thirst in the sands of the desert! That is, supposing it was a desert in those days as it is now.
The thing that makes the story of the life of Abraham most remarkable is that Abraham did all if is on a promise. When Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans all he had to go on was a bunch of promises. Oh sure, it was the God of glory who appeared to him and had given him these promises. But how did Abraham know that the Word of the LORD was true and could be trusted? Faith! That’s why Abraham is the father of the faithful – faith!
The general gist of what we’ll be looking at in the following is this, Take God at His Word because He is more than able to deliver what He has promised! We’ll focus in a general way on three things which up ahead will be elaborated on. Those three things are: the Promise, the Progeny and the Property.
“Now the LORD had said to Abram” Genesis 12:1. What follows is the promise, which consisted of land, offspring, blessing, a great name, God’s protection, and a blessing for all the families of the earth. However, before we get into all of that, notice the tense, “The LORD had said to Abram.” So here he is in Haran. His father has just died. Perhaps that’s why they stopped at Haran. Maybe Terah was ill, (though it looks like Abram lived in Haran some fifteen years). Anyway, Terah died there and now Abraham and his living rellies were leaving. They were heading toward this land that the LORD said He would show Abram.
Even though he’s just lost his father, Abraham doesn’t decide to turn back. It might have been tempting to return with his father’s body to Ur for burial. But more than that, what was Abraham’s father doing in Haran anyway? Didn’t the Lord say to Abraham before he left Ur, “Get out of your country, from your kindred and your father’s house, to a land I will show you”? So what’s Abraham playing at, taking the “old man” with him? He was supposed to leave his kindred behind, wasn’t he? But what would happen if you told your family that you had met the God of glory? What would happen if you told them about the promises of God?
I know a man whose daughter showed him the promises the God of glory has made in His Word. Some Christians had been teaching the Bible to this girl who was young at the time. She asked dad if he could help her understand the Word of God. He didn’t know that much about the Bible. So she showed him a few things! It wasn’t long before he was on the road to the “Land of Promise” with his daughter. In fact he became a Presbyterian minister and tells everyone who’ll listen about the promises of God.
However, Abraham didn’t hear the Gospel from the pages of the Bible. There was no Bible back then as we know it. No! The God of glory Himself preached the Gospel to Abraham! The message of salvation is found even in the words of the text before us. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says about this, “And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed’” Galatians 3:8.
Abraham then, heard the good news message from the God of glory who appeared to him while in Ur of the Chaldeans. Therefore, it’s not hard to see that Abraham is repenting and believing in the gospel. He’s turning his back on his country, which country according to Jeremiah 50, was full of idols! In fact the chief city of Mesopotamia, Babylon, is a symbol of idolatry throughout the Bible. In the Book of Revelation John names it “Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth” Revelation 17:5.
God by His grace called Abraham out of that place. Abraham obeyed. And don’t think Abraham was some kind of goody-two-shoes. He was just as bad as the rest of them (until his conversion by the grace of God). For Joshua 24:2-3 says, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River [Euphrates] in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan.’”
So we see that there was nothing about Abraham that would make God want to choose him over anyone else in Mesopotamia. It was God Himself who TOOK Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. And it was God Himself who LED him to Canaan just as He promised. However, we don’t see Abraham being dragged kicking and screaming! But rather we see that he turned his back on his wicked ways when he heard the Gospel. He believed what God had promised. Therefore Abraham, like us, was justified by faith in the promise i.e., the Word of God. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans puts it like this, “[Abraham was] fully convinced that what [i.e., God] had promised He was also able to perform” Romans 4:21. He took God at His Word because he believed that He was more than able to deliver what He had promised.
And what was the substance of this great promise of God to Abraham? Well, like all good Trinitarians we can express this one great promise in a threefold manner! In fact I’ll let someone else express it for us. The Dutch theologian Geerhardus Vos says it like this,
The objective action of God was for the patriarchs interlinked with three great promises. These were first the chosen family would be made into a great nation; secondly, that the land of Canaan would be their possession; thirdly, that they were to become a blessing for all people.
So, it’s not hard to see these three great promises in the verses before us regarding Abraham. The great nation is mentioned. The land is mentioned. And so is the fact that Abraham will be a blessing for all people. Up ahead we’ll see each of these great promises develop as we follow the life of Abraham. But let me just mention in passing, always remember what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20. “All the promises of God in Him [i.e., Jesus Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen.” Like the old saying, “All roads lead to Rome” so all gospel promises lead to Christ.
When the God of Glory appeared to Abraham with the gospel, He promised him that He would make him a great nation. When Abraham heard this he had no children. He was seventy five years old when he left Haran. His wife Sarai was sixty five years old and was unable to bear children. Have you ever noticed the Bible never beats about the bush? “Sarai was barren” Genesis 11:30. But even though Abraham was perfectly aware of his wife’s condition, it didn’t stop him from believing the gospel of God.
Abraham believed God when He said he would become a blessing for all people. God had said to Abraham that He would bless him. Now if that’s not good news then I don’t know what is! The God of glory appeared to Abraham and said, “I’m going to bless you! Not only am I going to bless you but I’m going to make you a blessing for all people! I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you.” Who is going to curse Abraham? Well, it’s certainly not going to be God. Otherwise God would have to break His promise to Abraham!
Abraham most definitely knew, one way or another, the promise made in the garden after the Fall. Remember Genesis 3:15, the embryonic gospel, in the words of the LORD, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Let me quote from a theologian I trust and respect. RL Dabney says,
To appreciate correctly the amount of gospel light possessed in the patriarchal, and even the Mosaic ages, we must bear in mind a thing often overlooked, that the human race had just enjoyed, in Adam, personal communication with God in fullest theophanies [a theophany is literally a God-appearance], which Adam, by the faculties of his perfect manhood, and other patriarchs, through their longevity, were admirably qualified to transmit well. Adam was contemporary with Methuselah 243 years, Methuselah with Noah 600 years (dying in the year of the flood) and Noah with Abram 58 years. Thus Abraham received the revelations of paradise through only two transmissions!
So, according to Dabney, Abraham had a prior and probably an accurate knowledge of the Gospel. However, if he did, he didn’t believe it until the God of glory applied it to him personally, which is not a lot different to the Christian today. In fact it’s the same!
I remember meeting a woman in North Queensland who claimed she never heard the Gospel in church when she lived in Brisbane. She moved up north, went to church, heard the Gospel and believed it! But I know for a fact she heard the Gospel many times in the church in Brisbane, because I know that her minister was a faithful preacher of the gospel if there ever was one. But unless the God of glory appears to you with the gospel, we can preach the gospel till we’re blue in the face but you won’t hear or believe it. It’s only when God causes the “penny to drop” that you begin to really understand. But Abraham began to believe when the God of glory appeared with the Gospel to him.
Just as Adam and Eve were promised a Seed that would bruise the serpent’s head, so Abraham was promised that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. And, as mentioned before, all the Gospel promises lead to Christ! That well-known passage, 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 to one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Let me just say that before the Flood there were two great families on the earth: The Family of Cain and the Family of Seth. Whereas the Family of Cain was the seed of the serpent, Seth, from whom Abraham is descended, is of the Seed of the Woman.
The God of Glory is about to form a great nation — now after the flood. He has chosen Abraham to be this nation’s father. There have only ever been two types of peoples on the earth then, what John in I John 3:10 calls, “The children of God and the children of the devil.” God, in Abraham is about to begin the process of making a new nation, a nation that will be set apart from the other nations. And He is doing this in order to fulfil His gospel promises, i.e., His redemptive plan.
By the time the promised Seed came there were two distinct peoples in terms of the Bible, viz., Jew and Gentile (more accurately the Ethnoi, i.e., the ethnics). And, there was a wall of partition that God had placed between them, which we can read all about all through the Bible. But for now, as we move on to our third and final point, with regard to progeny, Abraham is “Father of all those who believe” Romans 4:11. And, as Paul says to the Galatians, “Only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” Galatians 3:7.
So we see then that even today there are only two types of people, just as there always has been since the Fall, i.e., the church and the world, or, in other words, there are Christians and there are non-Christians. And, as it was with Old Testament so it is in the New Testament, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Romans 9:6b, which is to say that not everyone who claims to be Christian really is!
Where is this great nation of Old Testament people going to live? A great nation would need somewhere to live, wouldn’t it? So the LORD has promised Abraham property. But where is this great nation going to live? “[In] a land that I will show you [Abraham].” Genesis 12:1.
Now, in light of the fact that God has promised that the family of Abraham was going become a blessing for all the families of the earth. And in light of the fact that God has promised that Abraham and his family would become a great nation. And in light of the fact that the LORD is going to show Abraham some land, three questions necessarily arise,
a) How much of a blessing will Abraham be to all the families of the earth?
b) How great a great nation will Abraham and family be? And,
c) How large and how great is this land that the LORD is going to show Abraham?
Well, one of the benefits of living some four thousand years after Abraham is that we can look in the rear-view mirror and see where we’ve come from.
Abraham, well he was looking at everything away in the faraway distant future, wasn’t he? As he set out on the long march from Ur, he was just looking at some mountains shrouded in mist in the far off and hazy distance. The writer to the Hebrews says it like this, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would afterward receive as an inheritance. And he went out not knowing where he was going” Hebrews 11:8. All he had were promises! promises! promises! But he took God at His Word. He believed that God was more than able to deliver what He has promised!
History, even redemptive history as recorded in the Bible has proven the faithfulness of God. God fulfils His promises. He keeps His Word, including the Word He spoke to Abraham, the Word, the Gospel He speaks to all who believe as did father Abraham.
The LORD was going to show Abraham a land. How large and how great was this land, this property? Was it just the land of Canaan? Was that the extent of it? That’s what the Jews at the time of Christ seemed to believe, wasn’t it? That’s what today’s Jews believe. They believe that the land of Israel is theirs because they claim Abraham as their father. They claim Abraham as their father yet they refuse to come to Abraham’s greatest Son, Jesus Christ. They refuse the blessing of Abraham in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.
The Jews today have rebuilt the partition between Jew and Gentile. That partition was removed by the Seed of the LORD promised Abraham, even Jesus Christ, “For he Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” Ephesians 2:14.
As mentioned above, before the Flood there were two great families, a Godly line and a devilish line. After the Flood the LORD made anew Godly line which began with Abraham. This Godly line became a nation with Abraham’s grandson whose name the LORD changed from Jacob to Israel. For a time there was the Israel of God and there was the nations under the influence of the Devil. Now, there is the Church on earth made up of people from all nations and there is the world, comprising of people from all nations. Thus there are two great families on the earth. One is the family of God and the other is the family of the Devil.
The Jews today have aligned themselves with the family of the Devil. However, the grace of God is in the fact that if any should repent, like all other nations, then they can be grafted back into Abraham’s family tree. Think about it, when Christ came to earth the borders of Canaan, the Promised Land were opened from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. The command of the Promised Seed to Israel was, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commended you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20.
And, just to show His Church, i.e., the new Israel of God, that He meant what He said, the LORD had His Temple at Jerusalem destroyed, just as He promised (Matthew 24:2). Then He scattered His people, i.e., His Church made up of Jew and Gentile to the four corners.
As we begin to tie it all together, all the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham. How? Well, what does Romans 10:17 say? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” So, all the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham by eventually hearing and in turn becoming, by the grace of God, obedient to the Gospel, just as Abraham heard and obeyed the Gospel in his day. God blessed him and removed his sin and transgressions from him in Christ who became as one who is cursed for all believers.
The promise God gave to Abraham was one of progeny, even a great nation. The promise included the Seed of the Woman, i.e., Jesus Christ, who would redeem Abraham’s great nation, i.e., a nation of believers including you and me. To have your sin and transgressions removed is blessing enough, yet the blessings of God continue to grow like a mustard seed. A mustard seed starts off small and grows and grows into a huge tree by comparison. So all the blessings grow for all the families of the earth. So does the great nation that came from Abraham grow, even the Church, the true Israel of God.
And so also does the Promised Land grow. How large and how great is the Promised Land, the property? Well, Canaan was just a token, a deposit! David, in Psalm 37:22 says, “For those who are blessed by Him shall inherit the earth, but those who are cursed by Him shall be cut off.” Verse 11 of this Psalm says, “But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Jesus Christ says in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The Holy Spirit through His Apostle says that Abraham is the “Heir of the world.” Romans 4:13. All who belong to the Family of Abraham, even the Church of believers, will inherit the earth, the city which has foundations. Whose builder and maker is God, even Heaven and Earth.
Remember that God is more than able to deliver all that He promises, be they promise, progeny or property or whatever. Nations in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and obeyed are blessed along with Abraham. Whenever a person repents and believes the Gospel he/she becomes a member of Abraham’s family. And with Abraham will inherit the world and will be blessed with every blessing in heavenly places in Christ.