The Promise (Part 1 of 5)
It had been 367 years since the Flood wiped out nearly all of mankind and over 2,000 years since the eventual cause of the Flood had been unleashed. The earth and its inhabitants suffered greatly under the dominion of sin and death, longing for a way back into the Garden. The Bible does not record God addressing any human being since the covenant of the rainbow is made in Gen. 9. Simply put, one could begin to wonder if God would ever interact with people again.
It was at that moment in history when God approached an elderly Mesopotamian shepherd and make him a promise that would shape the rest of human history:
“...in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Of course, this is not all that God promised Abram, but in many ways everything else that is said in that short exchange points forward to the fulfillment of this one promise. Here is the whole quote:
“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
(Gen. 12.1-3 ESV)
God promised to Abram that his descendants would be given a land of their own, become a great nation blessed and protected by God, and that through this nation all peoples of the world would be blessed. Little did Abram know that he had been chosen as the human conduit through which God would fulfill His oldest promise made to mankind: a child of man that would battle and defeat their greatest enemy: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3.15).
This promise made in Genesis 12 is so important that the LORD references it during the conversation He has with the angels concerning Sodom (Gen. 18.17-18), repeats it again to Abraham following the interrupted sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22.18) and restates it to both Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 26.4) and grandson Jacob (Gen. 28.14)!
And yet, it would be another 2,000+ years for this promise to be fully realized. At this point these special descendants of Abraham (now known as Israel, the promised nation), had already conquered, ruled, and lost control of Canaan (the promised land). The Jews, as they were known in the 1st century AD, were scattered and subjugated, barely tolerated by their Roman conquerors. Their standing as a “great nation” had come and gone without the promise of the Messiah having been fulfilled. It was in this most unlikely of times that the entire point of the land and nation promises would be brought to bear upon the world.
Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. A descendant of Judah (and because of this, of Abraham), Jesus was the long-awaited means by which the entire world would be blessed. The God-man, the “Immanuel” as He is called in Isaiah 7.14, lived a sinless life, teaching and proclaiming the arrival of the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 4.17). Jesus would shortly be executed by the Romans via crucifixion, after which He was raised from the dead, an event known as the Resurrection.
It was Jesus of whom Peter spoke in Acts 3, when at the conclusion of his speech to the astonished Jews gathered in Solomon’s Portico (in the Temple) he declared Him to be the fulfillment of the ultimate promise made to Abraham:
“You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (v.25.26 ESV)
It has been nearly another 2000 years since those words were uttered, and at least 4,000 years since that promise was made to Abraham. And yet, that promise of blessing is still being fulfilled today!
Everyone who draws near to God through faith in Christ takes part in the blessing promised to Abraham so long ago! Paul worded it this way in Galatians 3:
“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (v.7-9, ESV)
Today, all who obey the gospel of Jesus can look back on that promise made to Abraham four millennia ago and smile, because we have the pleasure and blessing on being able to look back on such an ancient promise and see that God is faithful to His word and to us. We look forward to the day when all the blessed faithful from every nation under heaven will be gathered before the throne of God and cry out with Abraham himself: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7.9-10).