Critics assert that Israel's history demonstrates the weakness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in that their God could not keep His promises. Is that so? We need to set the record straight.
The Old Testament is a chronicle of Israel's repeated failure to obey God, of its refusal to keep His commandments and statutes. In Psalm 78:10-11, 40-42, 56-57, the psalmist mentions that Ephraim (meaning Israel at large)
did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them. . . . How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power. . . . Yet they tested and provoked the Most High God, and did not keep His testimonies, but turned back and acted unfaithfully like their fathers.
II Kings 17:7-8 speaks of the sins of the Kingdom of Israel, up north:
For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, . . . and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel.
The prophet Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 32:30, quotes God's scathing indictment of the people of both Kingdoms: "[T]he children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth."
Because of their sins, as II Kings 17:18-20 indicates, God
was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight. . . . Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunders, until He had cast them from His sight.
In Psalm 78:59-62, the psalmist Asaph relates that God, when He became aware of the idols of Israel,
was furious, and greatly abhorred Israel, so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, . . . and delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy's hand. He also gave His people over to the sword, and was furious with His inheritance.
As early as the days of the founder of the Kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam I, God understood the direction Israel was taking. In I Kings 14:15, God warns that He will ultimately
strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the [Euphrates] River, because they have made their wooden images, provoking the LORD to anger.
Much later, Amos warned Israel, "Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth" (Amos 9:8).
The patriarchs were, as God attests again and again, faithful. However, the people of Israel failed to observe the terms of God's conditional promises to them. Israel exhibited again and again its refusal to obey God. As a result, it has yet to enter into the peace, prosperity, and eternal possession of the land He promised the patriarchs. Hebrews 3:8-11 summarizes the matter: "In the day of trial in the wilderness, [the children of Israel] . . . tested Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation. . . . So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'"
Because of the peoples' recalcitrance, God withheld His blessings, ultimately separating Himself from them by casting them out of the land He had promised the patriarchs. God punished Israel for its disobedience by deferring the fulfillment of His promises to the patriarchs. This deferment did not make Him unfaithful to the people, because His promises to them were conditional, based on their obedience to His revelation.
In fact, it is not perverse to assert that God was completely faithful to the children of Israel, doing to them exactly what He promised He would do if they persistently sinned against Him. At the right time and for the right people, God will honor His unconditional promises to the patriarchs. Israel's sad history is the consequence of peoples' faithlessness, not of their God's weakness.
Searching for Israel (Part Eight): The Scattering of Ten-Tribed Israel
These promises either imply or clearly state large populations, large land surfaces, good geographical locations, good weather patterns, rich soil, and mineral wealth. Do not these promises indicate that Israel is to become a major force in the world?
In the prophecies of the Old Testament pertaining to the end-time and beyond, Israel is almost always the subject, and other nations, regardless of how populous and powerful, are mentioned only as they come in contact with Israel. His revelation is devoted almost exclusively to the end time, yet evidence of Israel's existence at that time is very sparse and vague. But as the time of the end has approached, what has God done? He has revealed to His church where Israel is. The rest of the world does not give a hoot, but to the church it means something. It has been revealed so that we can make a proper use of this truth. Indeed, Israel is large, and it is important. Its combined population is somewhere around 500 million people.
The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are given in the sense of the entire completion of God's purpose, when all of mankind will be included within the sons of Abraham—all converted, all part of the Family of God as well. We are in an important juncture today, but from the time Genesis 12 took place up until now—throughout all of history—God has been following through on all of His prophecies and promises regarding this.
We have reached a critical point at the time of the end when He has revealed where Israel is right now, and we know that Israel's combined population—the United States, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and so forth—is over 500 million people. Its combined economic, military, educational, religious, political, and geographic influence is unrivaled in the world. It is lopsided in almost any area one could research. For instance, 70% of the world's fresh water is in Israel, and most of that 70% is in the United States.
God has blessed the Israelitish people to such an extent there has never been a power on earth that can even begin to rival them. One can make any kind of comparison, whether it be the Roman Empire, or China at its greatest, despite its hundreds of millions of people, nobody can hold a candle to Israel. That is why the United States and Britain just blew Europe off in the lead-up to the recent Gulf War. There is nothing that they could do about it except yell at us and complain. So does God just write Israel off in the most significant end-time book of all, Revelation? Hardly. It is there, but it is prophetically hidden.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Three)
God tells Abram to head toward a different land, which is linked with his people becoming a great nation. We usually interpret this as meaning a vast number of physical descendants, and God has certainly fulfilled that, considering the teeming populations of his offspring. However, the real meaning of being Abraham's children has to do with those who have the faith of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).
The Jews boasted that Abraham was their father, yet they were concerned only with physical lineage. Jesus told the priests and Pharisees that the kingdom would be taken from them and “given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43). That nation is defined, not by a physical bloodline, but by a certain faith and a different spirit. Peter calls those with the faith of Abraham “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (I Peter 2:9).
Genesis 12:3 says that in Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Paul explains this promise in Galatians 3:8: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.'” From the Genesis 12:3 promise, Paul derives the idea that justification by faith would become available. In addition to foretelling a spiritual nation, God's promise of the land also suggests many being brought into alignment with God's standard of righteousness based on belief in Him.
David C. Grabbe
Why Was Jesus Not Crucified as Passover Began? (Part Two)
To understand fully what God has done, it is necessary to go back to the beginning to see His purposes in choosing Israel. Israel's beginning occurs, not with Jacob, but with the calling of Abraham.
God's final remark in verse 3 is the most fundamental reason God chose Abraham, and thus Israel and his descendants: to bless mankind in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ is the center, the focus, of everything. He is the end or the goal of the law (Romans 10:4), the One toward whom the whole Old Testament was written (Galatians 3:24; see Luke 24:44). As Paul puts it, to us He "is all and in all" (Colossians 3:11; see Ephesians 1:23).
Physically, Jesus had to descend from some line of humanity. Abraham, who was himself descended from those who had been faithful to God in earlier times, possessed special qualities that pleased Him. Therefore, He chose Abraham and his family, which later became known as Israel, to work through to bring the wonderful blessing of salvation to all mankind. God says of him:
For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him. (Genesis 18:19)
This man had a special relationship with God: He knew God, and God knew him. God says He had worked with Abraham to bring out the qualities that would allow the patriarch to command his descendants so that they would keep the way of the Lord. In other words, Abraham had such a force of godly character that he would pass down to his descendants an affinity for God's way (see the principle in Exodus 20:6). In Abraham, God created a people who had a special link to Him. God knew that, for the purpose He was working out, Abraham was the best candidate, later called "the father of us all" in the faith (Romans 4:16), from whom to build a model nation with certain desired qualities.
We should be careful not to take this idea too far. Abraham was not perfect; he sinned and his story reveals that he had to grow a great deal. Nevertheless, he was the only person whom God ever asked to sacrifice his only son, just as He did. If nothing else, this puts him at least one rung above the rest of us. Beyond that, his righteousness does not make his descendants one whit better than other people of the earth. Their prime advantage lies in the fact that, since God had a close relationship with Abraham, they hold a special place in God's heart (see Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
This is the beginning of Israel. For His purposes, and to produce an eventual blessing for all nations, God started with the best clay that He could mold.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part One)
God remembers the Gentiles when He calls Abraham, promising that every nation, "all the families of the earth," will be blessed in the blessings of Abraham. Paul, "the apostle to the Gentiles" (Romans 11:13), carries the thought to its conclusion when he asserts that the line demarcating Jew and Gentile disappears in Christ: "[T]here is neither Jew nor Greek; . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:28-29).
Peter's Trumpets Message—on Pentecost
God exiled Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans and then from Haran across the Euphrates River. He had to leave everything. He took his family with him, but when they left Haran, he even left his father's grave behind.
He had to leave all his kindred and go with Sarah and his servants into this wild Canaan, a land that was not his, to live there as a stranger and a pilgrim for the rest of his life. There is no record of him ever returning to Haran, not even to visit his father's grave. When he needed to make contact with his relatives in Haran, he sent Eliezer. For example, he sent Eliezer to get Rebekah as a wife for Isaac. In a sense, Isaac was sent into exile as well. Abraham, the father of our faith lived through many, many years of exile from the land of his birth.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
How to Survive Exile
God made a twofold promise to Abraham. The first was a material promise that he would be the father of many nations and that kings would descend from him. God promised him that his progeny would inherit the land of Canaan, an expanse that He defined as stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates rivers. The second, but more important, promise was spiritual. God promised Abraham that in his Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise encompasses the life and work of Abraham's best known and most revered descendant, Jesus Christ.
This promise was later extended to include the inheritance of the whole world (Romans 4:13). Abraham's physical descendants, the nation of Israel, inherited the land of Canaan. This was a type of Abraham's spiritual descendants inheriting the earth.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: The Reward of the Saved
The part of these seven-fold “I will” promises that applies most directly to the Promised Seed is the final one. Abram was a mere man, though he would live to be 175 years of age. However, in no way could he be called a blessing to all nations, so he understood that the promise would be fulfilled by a descendant. When to this is added that the descendant will be a blessing to all nations on earth, he understood that the promise applied, not only to one generation, but to all nations for all time. Therefore, the last promise included that the Promised Seed, an eternal being, would be born from his family.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Eleven): Signs
God appears to Abraham while he is in Haran, calling him to Canaan. Abram, as his name was at that time, was 75, and he "departed as the LORD had spoken to him" (verse 4), not knowing to what land he was going. The promise at his calling is very general. God particularizes it in a number of iterations. In these further rehearsals, God embellishes this first promise.
Searching for Israel (Part One): The Promises to the Faithful
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 12:1: