The promises to Abraham

The promise to Abraham is grossly ignored by most of Christendom. It is the foundation of the gospel message and any understanding of God’s purpose with the earth, mankind and Jesus Christ, must operate upon the axis of the promise to Abraham. The promise to Abraham was also made by God to “the fathers” of Israel, Abraham, Issac and Jacob and constitutes the second of the three great promises that God has made.

The background of Abraham’s life

The Bible teaches how that Abraham lived and grew up in an ungodly land called “Ur of the Caldees” near the ancient city of Babel or Babylon(see Genesis 11:27-32, Joshua 24:2). God appeared to him an made a promise with him if he would leave this country and go to a land God would show him. Abraham did this and it is recorded in scripture as a great act of faith.

“Now THE LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’ house, unto a land that I will shew thee” Genesis 12:1

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” Hebrews 11:8

Why is the promise to Abraham relevant?

The importance of the promise to Abraham is massively relevant to all believers in the Bible. Consider these points:

  • This promise to Abraham is described by Paul as THE GOSPEL:

    And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. Galatians 3:8

  • The apostle Paul, when imprisoned for preaching the gospel claimed that it was because of his hope in the promises to the fathers of Israel (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) that he was being condemned:

    “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers” Acts 26:6

  • When a person is without Christ, it means that they are strangers to the “covenants of promise”, meaning that to be in Christ is to be related to them:

    “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” Ephesians 2:12

  • One of the reasons for Jesus Christ’s work was to fulfill and confirm this promise to Abraham.

    Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: Romans 15:8

What was the promise to Abraham?

The details of the promise to Abraham unfolded gradually throughout his life. Abraham’s faithful obedience was rewarded by further details being revealed to him.

Here is an outline of the promise and it’s different aspects:

  • The initial promise given at UR – Genesis 12:2-3
    • Abraham would become a great nation and a great name.
    • God would bless those that blessed him and curse those that cursed him
    • That in Abraham eventually ALL natians will be blessed.
  • After entering the land God was to show him Abraham was then given the following promise at Sichem (Shechem) – Genesis 12:7
    • Abraham would have children (seed) who would inherit the land
  • After an example of Abraham’s unselfish attitude, where Abraham gave his nephew, Lot, first choice over which land he could go and graze his cattle on, these further revelations occur at Bethel- Genesis 13:14-17
    • Abraham and his seed would inherit the land of Israel forever
    • His seed would be multitudinous
  • When Abraham showed that he believed in God (Genesis 15:6), further developments in the promise are made at Hebron – Genesis 15:1-12+17-20:
    • God makes a covenant with Abraham by sacrifice.
    • The boundaries of the land which God would give to Abraham and his seed are defined.
  • After Abraham passed a great test of faith given to him by God, where he demonstrated that he was prepared to scarifice his only beloved son, Isaac, for God, the final installments of the promise are made on Mount Moriah – Genesis 2215-19:
    • That Abraham’s seed would possess the gate of his enemies (this phrase means to be victorious over them – see Psalm 110:1)
    • That in this seed all natians would be blessed.
    • The promise was confirmed by an oath from God.

These promises were also repeated to Abraham’s son, Isaac and to Isaac’s son Jacob – see Genesis 26:2-24, 28:3-14, 46:3 and 24:4.

What does the promise to Abraham mean?

The seed of Abraham

Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. Galatians 3:16

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1

The above verses show the importance and meaning of the promise to Abraham. Jesus Christ is the promised seed! The land of Israel was promised to Abraham and to his seed, Jesus Christ. How can others share in this promise?

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”. Galatians 3:26-29

So a belief, or a faith, in Jesus Christ and an understanding of these promises enable us to be heirs of the promise to Abraham! As Peter puts it:

“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”. 2 Peter 1:4

The Bible teaches that by belief and baptism, a person is considered as being “IN CHRIST” who in turn is Abraham’s seed – the promise from God is that “IN THY SEED shall all nations be blessed”. Abraham’s seed then was firstly a singular aspect (Christ) but it also has a multitudinous aspect (believers in the promises through Christ), who are as the “sand and stars” for multitude.

The natural seed of Abraham

So what of the natural descendants of Abraham? How can we be sure the promise is not to them? Consider these verses:

“Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen (The non Jews) through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” Galatians 3:7-9

“And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Matthew 3:9

“Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children.. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Romans 9:5-8

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Romans 3:27-31

The above verses clearly show that to be a natural descendant of Abraham is not enough, a belief in the promises and that they have and will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ enables anybody to be associated with them. This is the gospel.

What does the promise to Abraham means to us

Basically to be associated with these promises gives us 2 main blessings:

  • Justification through faith and from sins.

    “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Acts 3:25-26 (see also Galatians 3:8)

  • Eternal Inheritance of the land of promise

    “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”. Matthew 5:5

    “And they (the believers in their future state of immortality) sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth”. Revelation 5:9-10

    “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Romans 4:13

Promises to Abraham and the associated doctrine of the resurrection of the dead

You will no doubt have gathered so far that this promise is all to do with and earthly inheritance for believers in Christ, not a heavenly one as some believe. There is also another doctrine involved which is taught indirectly in these promises to Abraham. It is the doctrine of the resurrection.

How could Abraham, or his seed, inherit the land forever unless he was raised from the dead and given the gift of immortal life?! God cannot lie. Abraham has not yet received this promise, it is still to happen in the future – just like all those who associate themselves with Jesus and the promises, they will not receive a reward until he returns to set up God’s Kingdom either. Consider the following:

“…these (the faithful people of old) all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:12-16

“And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39-40

“And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” Luke 20:34-36

So then we can see that this promise holds great things for all who become associated with it. Belief in the promises, Jesus Christ and baptism is the only way in which the Bible teaches we can have a hope of salvation. See also Acts 26:6 & 28:20.

Author: M. Davies, Nottingham, March 2009