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(From Forerunner Commentary)
God does not condition His fulfilling this promise on any expected behavior on the part of Abraham. Its fulfillment is not dependent on Abraham's doing something in the future. This promise, unlike the promises in the later books of the Pentateuch, is an unconditional promise.
Consider, as a second example of an unconditional promise, Genesis 12:7: "Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'To your descendants I will give this land.'" That is all there is to the promise. God attaches no ifs, ands, or buts to it at all. God simply says, in effect, "I will do it. Period."
The same could be said of any of the promises to the patriarchs. An analysis of Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:15-16; 15:18-21; 17:6-8; and 35:11-12 will yield this conclusion: In every single instance, the fulfillment of the promise does not depend on any future action or behavior God expected on the part of Abraham, Isaac, or Israel (Jacob). All of these scriptures record unconditional promises.
In making these unconditional promises, God revealed His purpose to the patriarchs, at least in outline. It is a purpose to which God is absolutely committed. He will not allow anything—or anyone—to stand in the way of His executing it. A good example of His resolute determination to carry out His purposes, no matter what individuals may do or think, is an incident which took place as God was about to lead the children of Israel into Canaan.
Fearful of the indigenous population, the children of Israel refused to enter the land—refused, in effect, to believe that God meant what He said when He promised Canaan to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. In their rebellion, they even determined to "select a leader and return to Egypt" (Numbers 14:4). God's people, lacking faith, were actually trying to thwart His purposes. He was so angry with their lack of faith that He thought to "strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and . . . make [Moses] . . . a nation greater and mightier than they" (Numbers 14:12). To fulfill His unconditional promises to Abraham, God was willing to destroy an entire people and raise up another through Moses, through whom He could honor His promises to the patriarchs.
As Numbers 14:13-20 indicates, Moses dissuaded God from taking such drastic action. Nevertheless, the episode illustrates the zeal God displays in honoring His promises. He means business.
Searching for Israel (Part Three): The Old Covenant
1 Kings 4:20-34
Some people have erroneously interpreted I Kings 4:20-34—a description of Israel's prosperity under Solomon—along with related scriptures, as a fulfillment of God's promises to the patriarchs. They argue that, since God fulfilled them, they have no further meaning today or in prophecy. Is that so?
Now, it is true that the children of Israel experienced God's blessing during Solomon's reign. Specifically, they enjoyed
» Population growth: "Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing" (I Kings 4:20).
» Peace: Solomon "had peace on every side all around him" (I Kings 4:24).
» Vast territories: "Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the [Euphrates] River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt" (I Kings 4:21).
» Wealth: Solomon "made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedars as abundant as the sycamores" (II Chronicles 1:15).
There can be no doubt about it: Israel's stature under Solomon certainly represents a typical fulfillment of God's promises to the patriarchs. However, these blessing were not the final fulfillment. Notice specifically what promises were not fulfilled during Solomon's time:
» Unfulfilled remained God's promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land between the Euphrates and Nile Rivers (Genesis 15:18-21). God specifically listed the inhabitants who would ultimately be dispossessed of their territory: the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites. Shortly before they entered Canaan, God instructed Israel, through Moses, concerning the conquering of these territories, as related in Deuteronomy 20:16-18:
. . . Of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite . . . lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.
Following these instructions, Joshua totally destroyed certain peoples: "Joshua took and struck [the cities] with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded" (Joshua 11:12). These cities, as enumerated in Joshua chapters 11 and 12, do not include those of at least two peoples listed in Genesis 15:18-21 and Deuteronomy 20:16-18: the Canaanites and the Amorites.
Israel under Joshua and his immediate successors did not totally possess the land God had promised the patriarchs. Some peoples eluded destruction. Indeed, much outlying territory remained to be conquered after his death (Joshua 13:1-6). The unconquered territories, as listed in Judges 1:27-36, include those of the Amorites and the Canaanites. Joshua's conquests were as limited as they were thorough.
Early on, Israel had "put [the cities between the Euphrates and Nile Rivers] under tribute" (Judges 1:35). Solomon, after the military exploits of David, extended Israel's hegemony—its sphere of influence—to the point where he could exact tribute from all the nations situated between these rivers (I Kings 4:21). However, Israel never fully dispossessed the inhabitants of their land, never dislodged them from it. The indigenous folk still occupied the land in Solomon's time. God had not yet fulfilled His promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land between the rivers.
» Unfulfilled, as well, was the promise that Israel would be a "company of nations" (Genesis 35:11). Solomon's Israel was a great nation, but not a "company of nations." The individual twelve tribes that Solomon ruled were not sovereign nations in their own right, constituting a company of twelve nations. Not at all. The tribes were just that—tribes, not distinct nations—for at least two reasons:
a) Each tribe, separately, did not have its own king. Solomon appointed "twelve governors over all Israel" (I Kings 4:7). The tribes had little political autonomy.
b) Each tribe did not have its own unique body of law. Instead, the tribes shared a common heritage of law, that given by God through Moses at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19:20ff).
Solomon did not have political or military hegemony over a company of nations. His "empire" was based more on its economic strength than on any military adventurism to which his "forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen" (I Kings 4:26) might have tempted him. In fact, his international liaisons found their roots in his romantic liaisons, of which he had not a few (I Kings 11:3). He dealt with surrounding nations on a give-and-take basis. For instance, he traded twenty Galilean cities for the gold and lumber provided by Tyre (I Kings 9:11). He was not in a position to take the gold and lumber.
Even though Israel certainly flourished during Solomon's reign, the promises to the patriarchs remained unfulfilled until a later time.
Searching for Israel (Part Five): Solomon and the Divided Kingdom
1 Kings 11:35-39
One of these promises is conditional, while the other is unconditional.
» Unconditional promise: "I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you" (verse 31). God goes on to explain that He will leave one tribe, Judah, under the Davidic monarchy in order "that My servant David may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem" (verse 36). God did this to honor His promise to David that He would "establish the throne of [Solomon's] kingdom forever" (II Samuel 7:12-13). Christ, the last King, descended from Judah and will sit on that throne forever.
» Conditional promise: ". . . if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you" (I Kings 11:38). This is a remarkable promise. God says He will establish in Jeroboam a permanent dynasty over ten tribes if he keeps His covenant.
Searching for Israel (Part Five): Solomon and the Divided Kingdom
Most successful televangelists preach what is called "the Prosperity Gospel." Using select Scriptures, they teach that if one gives his life to Jesus, and if he follows certain biblical principles, God is obligated to fulfill His promises of wealth, health, and well-being. In the end, God becomes little more than a genie-in-a-bottle, granting wishes out of sheer compulsion. To these preachers, this is the abundant life God promises, and hundreds of thousands of people agree with them.
It is true that the Bible is full of promises. It is also true that Jesus tells us several times in John 14-16, "If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:14; see also 14:13; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24, 26). Psalm 37:4 pledges, "Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." These sound like absolute promises, and if God is to be true to His Word, He must fulfill them, right?
This is what the televangelists have concluded, but in the end, it is a facile conclusion. Very few of God's promises in the Bible are absolute in nature; they are, instead, conditional promises, governed not only by our responses to God, fulfilling certain requirements, but also by the perfect judgment of God. As James 1:17 says, He gives only good and perfect gifts; He will never give one of His children a "blessing" that would ultimately derail His purpose for him or that would be too much for him to handle.
It works similarly among mere mortals. A human parent would not send his son to vocational school if he really wanted him to be a doctor, even though tuition to the vocational school would be a "good thing." Likewise, the same parent would not entrust his child with thousands of dollars in cash at Toys 'R Us, despite the fact that such sums of money would be considered a wonderful gift. If human parents have enough wisdom to give goal- and maturity-dependent gifts to their children, how much more does God (Romans 11:33)?
The faithful Abraham and Sarah are good examples of this aspect of God's promises. In Genesis 12:2, God tells Abraham, age 75 at the time (verse 4), that He would make of him "a great nation," implying that he would have children. God makes this promise again in verse 7: "The LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'To your descendants I will give this land.'" Yet, He does not give Abraham the promised child when he is 76 or 78 or 80!
After his rescue of Lot from the confederation of kings, Abraham pleads with God in Genesis 15:2-3—he is now 80 years old—for an heir. God repeats the promise, and Abraham believes Him (verses 4-6), yet Sarah does not become pregnant any time soon. Later, after Ishmael is born of Hagar when Abraham is 86 years old (Genesis 16:16), the patriarch wonders if this is the promised seed, but when the boy is thirteen—Abraham is now 99!—God reiterates, "No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son" (Genesis 17:19).
. . . the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. . . . Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. (Genesis 21:1-2, 5)
Evidently, a great deal had to happen in the lives of Abraham and Sarah—predominantly in terms of spiritual maturity—before God felt the right time had come to give them their promised baby boy. Twenty-five years passed before God fulfilled His promise. Notice that Scripture itself informs us that God performed the miracle to allow Sarah to conceive "at the set time." There was one perfect time for this promise to be fulfilled, and God fulfilled it when all the conditions were right.
And we can thank Him profusely for doing the same for us (II Corinthians 4:15).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are You Living the Abundant Life?
It is evident that a specific descendent was implied: that one of Abraham's "seed" had the same promise made. The promises entailed so much more than justification by faith. If that were the main or only promise, it had already been given to multiple characters throughout the Old Testament (Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, the prophets, etc.). Even Noah, living before Abraham, "became an heir of the righteousness which is by faith" (Hebrews 11:7)—yet none of these received the promises (Hebrews 11:13)! The promises made to Abraham cannot be limited to justification because all of these "men of faith" mentioned in Hebrews 11 did receive that. The promises entail eternal life, inheritance of the earth (Matthew 5:5, not heaven), and being born into the Family of God.
These promises were made to Abraham and Christ. Abraham died without receiving them (Hebrews 11:13), which means he must live again in order for the promises to be fulfilled. Christ came to earth to confirm that those promises were still in existence and to set in process a means by which true Christians could inherit them. This will be fulfilled at the first resurrection, when the firstfruits are changed into immortal beings, given a full measure of God's Spirit, and begin reigning on the earth with Christ (Revelation 5:10; 20:4-6).
David C. Grabbe
Paul writes these verses to assure all that the Abrahamic Covenant, which contained the wonderful promises that Herbert Armstrong simply called "the race and grace promises," was in no way negated or cancelled out by the Old Covenant.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 27)
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