What the Bible says about
God's Promises to Abraham
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Following the "bread and wine" incident of Genesis 14:18, Abraham asks for clarification of his status with God, because earlier, in Genesis 12, God had implied that Abraham's family would be great. After Abraham asks for clarification, God give the promise using an illustration involving stars. In order for Abraham to see stars, this event had to take place at night.
Notice Exodus 12:5-6:
Your [Passover] lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; you shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.
This is one of those places where the word "evening" is from the term in Hebrew ben ha arbayim. In modern English it means "twilight" or "dusk." The meaning of this word describes the time that the sun has gone down, but light continues to remain for a period of time. At this time of the year, the light would have lingered very close to about 45 minutes. After that, it would be dark.
Abraham is brought bread and wine by Melchizedek. The next thing we see in Genesis 15 is the mention of "stars"; it is dark. The Passover takes place in that period of dim light before it becomes dark. That is the time that we, in our observance, normally take Passover, just as the sun goes down. That is where the opening of Genesis 15 is time-wise. By the time you see stars, it is dark. We are beginning to see that time is moving in this episode.
When ben ha arbayim takes place, the Abib 13 has ended and Abib 14, Passover day, begins. This is undoubtedly when Melchizedek brought forth the bread and wine. Then came Abraham's vision, when it was dark and the stars were out. It is clearly into Abib 14, because it is dark.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf and the Selfsame Day
In Abraham's day, covenants were sometimes agreed to by preparing a sacrifice, cutting it in two pieces and halving it exactly. They would lay the pieces out on the ground. Then those making the covenant had to pass between the divided carcass. This symbolized the seriousness of their intentions to keep the covenant, because the divided carcass represented what would happen to them if they did not keep their oaths. They were committing themselves to be cut in two if they broke their word.
That was not the way every covenant was agreed to, only rather more serious covenants. They placed their lives at risk. If either party did not keep that covenant, they were pledging their life. Then after they passed through, the carcass was burned, symbolizing their acceptance.
What is interesting here in this case is that God is the only one shown passing between the divided carcass. First, this shows God's seriousness to meet the requirement of the covenant. It also shows that God was not holding either Abraham or his descendants to the same stringent requirement to the covenant as He held Himself. This promise therefore would be met by God's grace, and not by man's works. Nobody will meet the terms of the covenant on the basis of works, but by grace.
The smoking oven and the burning torch symbolize God in many instances in the Bible. In the Old Testament especially, God represents Himself through the image of fire: the burning bush and the pillar of fire in the wilderness. It is likely that, as He passed through the divided sacrifice, the fire consumed it, showing His acceptance. The burning of the sacrifice by fire means "fire out of heaven" from an invisible source. Whoom! It just appeared there, and turned it into a charred mess. God has done this in the past, too. When the Tabernacle was built, God ignited the first sacrifice. When the Levitical ministry and the priesthood under Aaron were consecrated, God ignited the sacrifice, as He did in Genesis 15:10. God consumed it out of heaven.
Abib 14 thus symbolizes the ratification of the promise by sacrifice, and Abib 15 symbolizes what it accomplishes by giving visible evidence of God's faithfulness as the Israelites go free. He is keeping His promise, and here is the evidence.
When Israel left Egypt on the night of Abib 15—The Night To Be Much Observed—it marked the beginning of the fulfillment of the physical aspects of that promise. God's promise included “race”—national promises—and “grace”—spiritual promises. Abraham's descendants left Egypt with great substance, exactly as the promise says, and Christ's sacrifice marks the beginning of the spiritual fulfillment.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf and the Selfsame Day
Genesis 22:16-18 records God's embellishment of the promise on the occasion of Abraham's "sacrifice" of his son Isaac. God promises to multiply Abraham and to give him control of strategic military and commercial positions, "gates," in his enemies' territories. As we will see, this promise speaks of the geopolitical advantage God later gave Abraham's descendents. God bases this promise on Abraham's obedience of the command to sacrifice his son, Isaac, a sacrifice God of course stopped just before the knife fell. Note, too, that this promise has the effect of an oath, in that God swears by Himself.
Since this is the last recorded promise to Abraham, it is fitting that God should refer to His first promise, recorded in Genesis 12:1-3. God reminds Abraham of His promise that his seed would be a blessing to all nations. In Galatians 3:16, Paul makes it plain that this "Seed" is Christ. Christ, who is in the lineage of Abraham, blazed a trail by which all peoples could ultimately develop a relationship with the Father. Christ's work makes it possible for God to be our God, according to the promise of Genesis 17:7-8. Christ is indeed a blessing to all nations.
Searching for Israel (Part One): The Promises to the Faithful
He adds to the dust mentioned in Genesis 13:16: sand and stars, which are considered to be countless. We see here strength, power, greatness in number. And not only that, those who come from Abraham are going to sit in strategic locations like doors and gates, letting people in and out.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Three)
Some people "spiritualize away" the promises of God to the Patriarchs. It is certainly true that many of those promises have spiritual meaning and will have spiritual fulfillment. For example, the promise of the eternal possession of the land certainly has reference to spiritual Israel's inheriting the entire world. However, it is unfair to limit God's promises in this way. The promise that Israel would "possess the gates of those who hate them" (Genesis 24:60) is a good example of a physical blessing, one that cannot be "spiritualized away." In Genesis 22:17, the reference is to the "gate of their enemies." However, in God's Kingdom, all that offends will have passed away. All the spirit beings there will enjoy rich, eternal relationships with the children of God. There will be no "enemies"; no one will "hate" others. Clearly, the "gate" promise has its clearest fulfillment in this age; it is a physical blessing God bestowed on Israel after the completion of her 2,520 years of punishment.
Searching for Israel (Part Ten): Clues and Answers
As in the previous oracles, the third begins with the certainty of Israel's future prosperity and power. "Cedars beside the waters" is a strange illustration because normally, cedar trees do not grow beside rivers. However, it makes the point that God will override even the natural order of things, if need be, to bless Israel. Conversely, aloes grow best in arid places, suggesting that Israel will have the best of both worlds. Geographers have long noted that, for its size, the land of Israel is one of the most geographically and climatically diverse areas on earth.
In verses 6-7, there are four references to water. Water, of course, is a prime necessity for life, and an abundance of water set the stage for prosperity. A well-watered land ensures abundant crops with enough left over for water's myriad other uses. These verses intensify the assertion of Israel's future abundance—in stark contrast to the semi-arid, high plateau upon which Balak and his people lived.
The water imagery shifts in the second clause of verse 7 from the land's abundance to the people's fertility. The thought is that Israel's population would grow so great that its people would expand into other areas, whether by migration, colonization, or conquest. Balak's dream of defeating a weakened Israel, God says through Balaam, is pure fantasy.
Besides that, Israel's king—whether he is God Himself (as in Numbers 23:21) or a human monarch—will be far more powerful than Agag. Some have thought that this is a prophecy of the Amalekite king Saul defeated and Samuel slew (I Samuel 15). However, others believe "Agag" to be a royal name or title among the Amalekites, much like "Pharaoh," "Hadad," and "Abimelech" were to the Egyptians, Syrians, and early Philistines. In effect, Balaam is saying that, by comparison, Israel's kings will come to dominate the rulers of even the strongest nations of the time.
Verses 8-9 reiterate Israel's future military power, but the emphasis is that its power flows from God Himself. God began matters by bringing Israel up from Egypt, and He will continue to provide Israel's strength. Thus, the rhetorical question arises, "Who will rouse him?" If God is backing Israel to the hilt, who can challenge them?
Finally, the oracle ends with a paraphrase of Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you, and curse him that curses you." This is a reminder that God made promises to Abraham, and He will fulfill them. As God says in Isaiah 55:11, "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Prophecies of Balaam (Part Two)
Verse 12 describes people wandering about in a vain attempt to regain the word of the Lord. Some of the people seem to realize that something is missing. They wander and even run "to and fro," but they do not find it. Part of the reason is that they are unwilling to look in the right place. Notice where they are willing and not willing to wander: They go "from sea to sea"—probably meaning from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea—so they will go from east to west. They will also go "from north to east." The only direction they will not go is toward the south. Why?
Amos prophesied to the northern tribes of Israel. Shortly after Israel broke from Judah, King Jeroboam of Israel feared that Israel would reunite with Judah, because Judah was where Jerusalem and the Temple were. He therefore devised his own religious system, leading the northern ten tribes into gross idolatry. He appointed his own priesthood, established his own feast days, and created his own centers of worship, removing the need for the northern Israelites to travel south to Judah.
The Israelites were willing to expend some effort in seeking the words of God, but they were unwilling to go where they actually needed to—where the Temple was. To a degree, they wanted the truth, but on their own terms. They were not so hungry for it that they would sacrifice for it. They wanted it, but not if they had to humble themselves and go to the Temple, where God was. As a result, they could not find the words of the Lord again.
This same process happened in the modern nations of Israel, particularly in America. Though America has never been a true Christian nation, at its founding God's Word was held in high regard, and biblical principles were considered to be essential to the success of the Republic. However, during the mid- to late-1800s, bits of secular humanism began creeping into the larger culture. As the nation prospered because of God's promises to Abraham, it acted out exactly what God predicted in Deuteronomy 32:15: It grew fat and kicked, and forsook Him.
Gradually, the words of the Lord were edged out of the picture, and each succeeding generation arose with a diminished regard for the Bible. This nation began with a President, George Washington, who wholeheartedly believed, and was willing to proclaim, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." Now, however, it is illegal to pray in schools, to speak warmly about Christianity or the Bible in a school or government office, and to post the Ten Commandments in a courthouse.
As the Word of God was neglected and rejected, it began to be replaced. What bits of truth this nation had are quickly falling out of favor. Even the worldly, syncretistic Christianity—with its Sunday-worship, Christmas, Easter, pagan trinity-god, and other false doctrines—is being rejected. It is being rejected, not because of its falsehoods, but because of the bits of truth within it that still call people into account, directly or indirectly.
Journalist and novelist G.K. Chesterton observed, "When people stop believing in God, they do not believe in nothing. They believe in anything." Something will fill the belief void. Even atheism is a belief system. To put it another way, a starving man will eat whatever is at hand—even if it is slow poison. Thus, we have seen rapid growth in secular humanism, Eastern religions, Islam, and Wicca and New Age religions. Apparently, an increasing number of people are even claiming "Jedi" as their belief system!
Nominal Christianity has become so weak that in Britain, more people attend each week in a mosque than in a church. God's words, even in a watered-down form, are not being heard, and while some may still be searching for truth, they are not willing to seek out the true spiritual Temple that can actually provide nourishment.
David C. Grabbe
A Subtle Yet Devastating Curse
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?
A mediator is only necessary when there is an agreement for two or more parties to agree to or discuss. God's promise to Abraham, and the inheritance that will come from that in the future, was not something that had to be negotiated. A mediator was not necessary, because there was only one party—God—who was agreeing to do a certain action. God's promise was His intent to carry something out, and so it was not necessary for there to be a mediator.
The Mosaic covenant required a mediator. Moses stood between the Rock and the children of Israel. The Israelites did not want to deal directly with God (Exodus 20:18-21) and instead requested that Moses speak with God and then speak to the children of Israel. The Old Covenant was set up with a high priest as an intercessor, who would stand between God and the people. The system, the covenant, did not allow for a personal relationship to develop between God and an individual, except in the rare exceptions where God made it happen. But it was not available to the average Israelite.
God's promise is sure! Abraham and the others in the "cloud of witnesses" all died without receiving the promises in their entirety. But the spiritual children of Abraham still stand to inherit eternal life, the earth, etc. This was not an agreement or covenant, but a promise.
When the covenant was ratified at Sinai, Moses was the mediator for only physical Israel. The Gentiles, the rest of the people who would be the spiritual descendents of Abraham, were not represented. Because of this, the agreement made at Sinai could not affect the unrepresented people. This is why the Old Covenant, or the Mosaic Covenant, is not binding anymore: Christ, the Seed, came to earth as a man, and the temporary covenant between God and Israel became obsolete.
God's law did not become obsolete, though—God does not change, and so His definition of what is right and what is wrong does not change. If it was wrong for the Israelites to commit adultery or fornication, it is still wrong now. If it was wrong for the children of Israel to break the Sabbath, it is still wrong now. Obedience to God's law was a condition of the covenanted agreement, but doing away with the covenant does not do away with God's law!
David C. Grabbe
This statement would have been a bombshell - and high heresy - to the average Jew of Paul's time, who would have had it in his mind that the people of Israel were the only children of God. Paul here is beginning to explain that physical lineage is not relevant where God's calling is concerned, because under the New Covenant only God can give the summons (John 6:44), and if He summons a Gentile, it is just as valid as if He gave it to an Israelite.
The faith of Jesus Christ is the important factor rather than heredity. This faith is also a part of what God gives (Ephesians 2:8) - again, only to those whom He chooses. But if God has given this living faith (James 2:20) to a man, that man is then a begotten - but not yet born - child of God. God is the real father, rather than Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.
David C. Grabbe
Some contend that there are two groups of 144,000, one in Revelation 14, the other in chapter 7. Apparently, the idea is that the ones in chapter 7 are physical Israelites that are the seed of physical government for the Millennium, and the 144,000 in chapter 14 are the bride, the firstfruits, the elect of God.
First, we must ask why God would see a need for physical rulers when He has prepared 144,000 humans-turned-spirit beings to rule as kings and priests? Isaiah 30:21 shows that they will be visible and audible to humans.
We can ascertain the truth of the matter simply by defining the "sealing" of those in Revelation 7. We will see that sealing has to do with protecting and setting aside for special use.
In II Corinthians 1:22, Paul describes himself and the spiritual Israelites, the church, as being "sealed . . . and given . . . the spirit in our hearts as a deposit" (see also II Corinthians 5:5). In a real estate transaction, earnest or "sincerity and serious intent" money is put down ahead of time. If the buyer fails to finish the purchase, he loses the money. Spiritually, God gives us "earnest money" in the form of the Holy Spirit. He buys, redeems, or purchases us with Christ?s blood, which seals us or designates us as His. The Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ in us are the evidence of this, recognizable to Him and others. God completes the transaction when He returns and changes us into spirit as members of the God Family and co-heirs with Christ (John 3:6; I Corinthians 15:42-55).
Ephesians 1:13-14 combines sealing, as in Revelation 7, with redemption, a characteristic of the 144,000 of Revelation 14:
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the guarantee [earnest, KJV, NKJV margin] of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Here, "sealed," "earnest," "redemption," and "purchase" are all included in one passage, showing they are inseparable! There is only one group of 144,000!
Ephesians 4:30 makes the same connection, showing we are "sealed [protected, set aside or apart] for the day of redemption" by the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 9:11-15 shows the redemption from our sins is of Christ so that we can "receive the promise of eternal inheritance," which occurs at the return of Christ (Luke 21:27-28).
The time element of Revelation 7 is the sixth seal and the day of Christ?s wrath (Revelation 6:12-17). The angels are instructed to hold back opening the seventh seal and seven last plagues until the sealing of the 144,000 is complete (Revelation 7:1-3). The last two to be sealed, set aside, given the final stamp of approval may be the Two Witnesses, who die only three-and-a-half days before Christ returns. God resurrects them to meet Christ in the air with the 143,998 others who form the bride and government of Christ, the mother for the rest of humanity, who will then have the opportunity for salvation in their order.
The sealing is not just physical protection of 144,000 physical Israelites. The Bible clearly defines sealing as being of the Holy Spirit of promise toward inheritance of the promises. This includes the patriarchs and all true Christians right until Christ returns. Notice they are called "the servants of our God" (Revelation 7:3). God does not use this term lightly in the Bible. Could we legitimately classify 144,000 people who had just endured the Tribulation because of sin, barely surviving and not yet converted, "servants of our God?"
Those who survive into the Millennium will be humbled and ready to become converted, not already converted and ready to rule. That opportunity is reserved for those who have already proved themselves worthy to rule, servants of God, the firstfruits.
Why are they numbered by tribe? Because the apostles rule over the twelve tribes (Matthew 19:28), and as we see in Revelation 21, twelve is the governmental number of the bride. Whether we are physically of Judah, Gad, Asher, or whatever tribe is not important. Very likely, God places us spiritually in those tribes as He organizes His government.
We know this because the twelve apostles were not all physically from the tribes they will rule! They were apparently mostly of Judah, Levi, or Benjamin. Since there were several sets of brothers among the Twelve, it is impossible that all twelve tribes could physically be represented, so Christ will place them over whichever tribe He chooses. He will do the same with us.
Who Are the 144,000?
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