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
Genesis 13:16 emphasizes the concept of fecundity. God promises to multiply Abraham greatly.
Searching for Israel (Part One): The Promises to the Faithful
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 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
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 13:16: