Purpose Statement: This blog makes the case that whatever the current situation, the promise of land and descendants to Abraham remains. Israel has a future in God’s plan.
Abram wasn’t a missionary bringing God to the Holy Land. He was a pilgrim moving to a region where God was already worshipped. There was already a king-priest in Salem whose name was Melchizedek. He blessed Abram, and Abram paid him tribute (Genesis 14:18-20). After Abram had demonstrated his faith, God made him a solemn promise. The nature of that promise, and how it is to be understood, is at the root of this discussion.
Investigating the evidence
1. The Promise to Abram was Unconditional
Abram doesn’t see any reasonable possibility of he and his wife Sarah conceiving a child. They are both well on in years. So he imagines that God will establish descendants through his household manager (Genesis 15:3). God firmly rejects that idea, but Abram pressed further, saying he wanted assurance, since the idea seemed so unlikely. So God made a formal covenant promise to Abram. He gave him His word.
The essence of God’s promise is found in Genesis 15:18
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
There were no conditions attached to the promise – no “if you do this…then I will do that.” God’s promise was a simple statement of intention: “here’s what I’m going to do…no strings attached.”
2. The Promise to Abram was Unilateral
Abram was passive when the promise was established. He wasn’t required to do anything or say anything, or commit to anything at all. He was asleep. The gift of land and descendants was made on God’s initiative and was based on God’s reputation. It was by grace on account of Abram’s faith. And it was Abram’s faith in the promise that established him among the righteous.
Later there would be a sign of the covenant promise – circumcision; but this came after the promise was made and after it was formally ratified. In the same way, we as Christians show signs of our promise of salvation through baptism or confirmation after the promise has been made real in our lives through faith.
Our promise isn’t nullified by disobedience on our part. That was also true for Abram and his offspring. The unilateral terms of the covenant were stressed even after his son Isaac had sinned.
3. The Promise to Abraham is Eternal
In Genesis 17:5-8 we see Abram’s name changed to Abraham (“father of many”), and the promise is once again stated. But note in verses 7, 13, and 19 that it is described as an everlasting covenant. This is reiterated in David’s song of thanks when the Ark was brought into Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:14-18) and again in Psalm 105:7-11.
In Revelation chapters 7 and 14 we read of 144,000 specifically from the ethnic nation of Israel. The separate identity of those saints is clearly expressed in John’s vision. They are a distinct unit of people singled out in the text.
In A Nutshell
A hypothetical case: I give a house to my daughter (I did say it was hypothetical). The deed is given to her, it’s hers to live in. Even if she makes bad choices and goes to prison, the house is still hers. While she’s in prison she can’t enjoy the benefit of the house. Nevertheless I gave it to her without conditions, there were no strings attached. It will remain hers. Israel might make bad choices and forfeit the enjoyment of the land, but the ancient deed is still in effect. When she accepts her Messiah, she will always have a home to return to.
If God makes a promise, He keeps it. Around four thousand years ago, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great multitude and they would always have a land to go home to. God is clearly free to do more than that promise (such as the mystery of the gentile Church), but He is bound by His own reputation not to do less than that promise.
Dr Terry Boyle servers as Pastor for Insight for Living UK. Although he began his professional life as a biochemist, Terry holds a Th.M. in Pastoral Ministry and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas.
Follow Terry Boyle and IFL UK on Facebook