What the Bible says about
Promises, Conditionality of
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Some people draw a careless assumption from a surface evaluation of Exodus 23:20-33, leading to a shallow conclusion: that if the Israelites had just obeyed God, they would have marched into the land and taken it over without a fight. Such submission would have undoubtedly made their course easier and produced better results.
However, many other contexts show that God tests His people because He is preparing them for future responsibilities. Israel failed many tests. The march through the wilderness and the conquest of the Promised Land was a school, a vast, almost fifty-years-long training ground, for appreciating, using, and governing the Promised Land. This "schooling" included tests by which the Israelites could measure their progress, and at the same time, prove to God their growth and readiness.
We concluded that God's promises in Exodus 23 were indeed conditional. Their fulfillment depended on Israel's obedience, and part of that obedience was confronting their enemies, the people of the land, in warfare. The episode recorded in Numbers 13-14 reveals that the Israelite spies fully expected to have to fight the Canaanites, Hittites, Jebusites, etc. They did not understand Exodus 23 as a free pass, as many do today. Their responsibility was to drive them out in cooperation with God, as He promised to be with them, enabling them to drive the people out, which they were incapable of doing without His involvement. But they refused to do their part.
They were to drive out the inhabitants even as we, in cooperation with God, are to confront and drive out old habits, attitudes, and loyalties. These are negative characteristics left over from our pre-conversion days. Christian living parallels this Old Testament instruction. This is one reason why the New Testament has so many illustrations and exhortations regarding Christian warfare.
Our warfare is in many ways different. It does not involve bloody engagements featuring swords, spears, or rifles with bayonets. It is a spiritual warfare, one that takes place primarily within ourselves. Nonetheless, it requires qualities such as loyalty, patriotism, courage, self-denial, vision, understanding, and sacrifice for us to be victorious overcomers.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
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 neverfully 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
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
In all of mankind since Adam, only one person has qualified to receive the inheritance of the promises that were made to Abraham—Christ.
We can see the requirements as early as Genesis 17:1, where God says to Abraham, "Walk before Me, and be perfect." Some Bibles translate it, "Be blameless," which means the same thing; "Be without sin." Christ, at the end of His life, was found to be blameless; therefore, He qualified to receive the promises. He met every condition of the Covenant, and then became the Inheritor.
Verse 29 is explaining that, if we are "in Christ" (in union with Him), then we become co-heirs with Him. We become co-inheritors with Him, if we have met the conditions the Bible gives: God has called us; we have unconditionally surrendered to God; we believe the gospel; we believe in the blood of Jesus Christ; we have been baptized; we have received the Holy Spirit; we have had hands laid on us. Then we also become "in Christ." The picture is as if we were part of Christ's body, and we are "in" Him. That is not actually what has occurred, but we are within the church.
Christ, being the Inheritor of the promises, then made out a will, as it were, prior to His death for the forgiveness of our sins. This will is also the New Covenant, which includes all the promises and blessings the Scriptures show us.
Christ had to die for a number of reasons. First of all, He was physical; and it is given to all men to die once (Hebrews 9:27). Another reason is that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and when our sins were placed on Him, He then came under the law and the law claimed its penalty—He died. Another reason is that He had to be transformed, glorified by means of a resurrection, because, as long as He was in the flesh, He could not inherit the promises either. One has to be eternal to inherit them; "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 15:50).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 13)
One might say, "There are so many temptations out there. The whole world is evil. How do we avoid them?" James gives us some ideas, hints, clues, and instruction. First, he tells us that we will face temptation. We cannot avoid it because deception, evil, will come looking for us and especially because we are God's children. Satan is looking to devour us (I Peter 5:8). We will be the targets of his onslaughts of temptation throughout our Christian lives, and we must be ready to face them! But, if we get through them, then we reach our goal—the Kingdom of God, where we have a crown of life waiting for us. We have that assurance and faith in what God has promised us.
Then James says, "God does not tempt us." The apostle says that we are tempted when our desires lure us away. The process can then intensify if we are not strong enough, leading to sin and ultimately to death—the second death, not just physical death. We can be deceived right out of our crown if we are not careful, if we are not strong. (This process of temptation is similar to modern advertising. It works the same way because the same "spirit" is behind it.)
Then James says, in verse 16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren." This is a hint that what he has just said tells us something important about not being deceived. He has just told us that God never entices—tempts—us to accept His way by promising to satisfy our desires. Instead, we are enticed when our desires lead us to sin. God never tempts us to follow our physical desires for self-gratification.
One might argue: "Wait a second. Doesn't He promise us long life? Isn't that a physical desire? Doesn't He promise us health? Doesn't He promise us prosperity? And that our enemies won't overtake us? Doesn't He promise us all of these things?"
But what does He also say when He makes those promises? In almost every occasion, He says, "If you will keep My commandments, then I will. . . ." He always puts a condition on His promises. "If you keep My commandments," then such-and-such will happen. Many of these blessings or fulfillments of His promises—if not all of them—happen because that is how God designed them to happen. Sure, God intervenes to a certain extent in order to work out His purpose, but, like a spiritual law of the universe, if we keep God's commandments, certain things are bound to result.
If we keep God's commandments, we will probably be healthy. If we keep God's commandments, we will live long lives. What does the first commandment with promise say? If we honor our fathers and mothers, then we will live long in the land that the LORD gives us. It is A + B = C. What does the Bible call it? A person will reap what he has sown (Galatians 6:7)! It is cause and effect. So, if we keep the commandments, then there are certain blessings that just automatically accrue to us.
Oftentimes, because God is working with us so closely, He does not fulfill these physical promises to their extremes. He will give them to us as much as we need them or as much as is within His purpose at the time. He is working something greater for us than just satisfying our physical wants or even needs.
What does James say next? The next two verses key us in on the thrust of James' thought. He says, 1) God gives good gifts, and He never changes. So His good gifts are always the same. Next, he says, 2) that He has made us a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. We must put those two ideas together. Why does God give good gifts? To make us His children! This is what He is always thinking about. His purpose is focused on reproducing Himself!
He calls us and converts us by His truth for the purpose of making us His children. All of His gifts are good, and they never change. They are always geared towards His godly ends. All of His gifts are for our ultimate, spiritual good—to make us like Him. Blessings, then, are a byproduct of His way. His good gifts are all leading us toward our entrance into the Kingdom of God and not the satisfying of our physical desires.
How can we apply this? If we understand that God will give us what is good for us, what will advance us towards the Kingdom of God, then what does this say about false teachers? How can we avoid the deception? The clue is that if anyone tries to sell us a belief in which our physical desires are going to be met, then we have a strong reason to believe that the teaching is false.
God will not use that tactic. He will not say, "Follow Me, and you will have a good life. Everything is going to come up roses for you." Instead, He often tells us such things as, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). Does that sound like "the good life"?
How do we get through this life? By lurching from one trial to the next! Is that not how we are refined? By fire! By trial! By going from one problem to the next and overcoming it. That is just how God's way works because He knows that the best way to produce sons of God is the same way the Son of God achieved His glory. Hebrews 2:10 says that Jesus Christ was made "perfect through suffering."
God is not interested in this life except for what it will produce in the next. This life is a training ground. When, say, a soldier trains, he goes through the paces at boot camp. He is made to follow a regimen. He works hard until he hurts. This life is God's boot camp. Right now, we are in training like an athlete. And no athlete worth his salt lounges, plays, and lives the good life while he is in training.
So James gives us good instruction on how to avoid being deceived. When something is "too good to be true," it is probably not true.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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