May 24, 2004

God's promises to Abraham

A major presupposition of the Dispensational hermeneutic is that there are still promises to Abraham and his descendants (i.e. the nation of Israel) awaiting future literal fulfillment: that they will inherit the Promised Land as a permanent possession, that they will be a great nation, and that from them will come worldwide blessings. These, we are told, are to be realized in the Millennium. Therefore, so-called "replacement theology" (God's transferring his covenantal rule from the children of Abraham according the flesh to the spiritual children of Abraham according to faith) is a fallacy.

Over my Christmas holiday, I sat down with a Bible, a concordance, and the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and went through all the promises made to Abraham in Genesis - systematically ordering those promises according to topic and seeking out their fulfillment elsewhere in the Scriptures. My intent was to determine which of them remain unfulfilled 4000 years later. Having posted last night's sermon, I thought it might be a good idea to resurrect this list from another discussion forum and post it here.

Unless otherwise indicated, all chapter and verse references are taken from Genesis.

Promises of Blessings

Status: Fulfilled.

Blessings are promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:2; 22:16) and to those who bless him (12:3; conversely those who curse Abraham are themselves cursed). Also, blessings are to come to the nations of the earth through Abraham's seed (12:3; 22:18).

Paul specifically declares the last of these to be fulfilled in the coming of the Gospel to the Gentiles through Christ (cf. Gal. 3:8). The remainder are fulfilled in a general way, as seen by God's favour upon Abraham and his offspring.

Abraham is also promised a peaceful death at a "good old age" (15:15). He lived to be 175 (25:7-8).

Promises Concerning Ishmael

Status: Fulfilled.

While these promises are not germane to the present point, for the sake of completeness I include them to get them out of the way.

Ishmael was not Abraham's heir, but since he was Abraham's offspring, God promised that he would multiply exceedingly and be the father of a great nation and "twelve princes" (17:20; see also 21:13). These promises were fulfilled to the letter (see 25:12-17).

Promises of an Heir

Status: Fulfilled.

Both Abraham (15:4) and Sarah (17:16,19) are promised an heir despite their advanced age. This promise is fulfilled in the birth of Isaac (21:2).

Promises of Many Descendants and a Great Nation

Status: Fulfilled.

God promised Abraham that he would renew his covenant with Isaac and his descendants. This he does, with Isaac (26:3-5), with Jacob (35:9-15), and with the Israelites at Sinai (Exod. 20-23).

Abraham is promised that he will have many descendants through Isaac (17:2,6; 21:12). They will be innumerable, like the stars of the heavens or the sand of the seashore (15:5; 22:17). Solomon prays to God for wisdom to rule over "a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude" (1 Kings 3:8); in fact the author of 1 Kings says that "Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance" (1 Kings 4:20). Nehemiah also affirms that "Thou didst make their sons numerous as the stars of heaven" (Neh. 9:23).

Abraham is further promised that his seed "shall possess the gate of their enemies" (22:17); the conquests of Joshua (Josh. 1-12) and David (2 Sam. 8:1-18), to name two, fulfill this promise.

The promise to make Abraham's name great (12:2) is said to have already occurred, in Deut. 26:5, and it is restated in 2 Sam. 7:9.

God promises Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that Sarah would be the mother (12:2, 17:4,5,6,16). The fulfillment of this promise in the twelve tribes of Israel is self-evident - the remainder of the Old Testament deals exclusively with the nation of Israel.

A number of promises were made that found their specific fulfilment in the Israelites' deliverance from Egypt. These are:

  • that Abraham's seed would be "strangers in a land that is not theirs (15:13)
  • they shall be slaves for 400 years (15:13)
  • the nation that enslaved them would be judged (15:14)
  • Abraham's seed would "come out with many possessions" (15:14)
  • in "the fourth generation" they would return to Canaan (15:16)

Finally, Abraham is promised that "kings of peoples" shall come from his line. These would include Saul (1 Sam. 10:24), David and his line (2 Sam. 5:3), and of course this promise finds its ultimate fulfillment in the King of kings, Jesus Christ himself.

Promises of Land

Status: Fulfilled.

Abraham is promised the land of Canaan as his possession and that of his descendants (12:7). In places this is said to be "all the land which you see" (13:14-15) and, most specifically, "[f]rom the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates" (17:18).

Joshua conquered it:

So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. (Josh. 21:43)

Some land was lost in border skirmishes during the rule of the judges, but David regained it:

Then David defeated Hadadezer, the son of Rehob king of Zobah, as he went to restore his rule at the River [i.e. the Euphrates]. (2 Sam. 8:3).

Solomon ruled over it:

Now Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt; they brought tributed and served Solomon all the days of his life. . . . For he had dominion over everything west of the River, from Tiphsah even to Gaza, over all the kings west of the River; and he had peace on all sides around about him. (1 Kings 4:21,24)

In conclusion

All the promises given to Abraham by God have been fulfilled. None remain outstanding.

Joshua affirms it:

So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. (Josh. 21:43-45)

"Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed." (Josh. 23: 14)

Nehemiah reaffirms it:

And Thou didst find his [Abram's] heart faithful before Thee,
And didst make a covenant with him
To give him the land of the Canaanite,
Of the Hittite and the Amorite,
Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite -
To give it to his descendants.
And Thou has fulfilled Thy promise,
For Thou art righteous. (Neh.9:8)

So the question remains: What part of the covenant with Abraham remains unfulfilled and awaiting the millennial kingdom to be realized?