Background on the Promises of God

The following is written in the style of a research paper presented to those having but a preliminary knowledge of the Bible. When appropriate, students at both university and high school levels might well consider presenting such papers on scriptural topics.
– the Editor

Recently we saw a bumper sticker on a pickup driven by a young man which read: “Real men keep their promises.”

We know how important it is that a promise be kept, not just by men, but also by women, and even children. If someone breaks a promise to us, we feel disappointed and hurt. We feel less loved, less important if forgetfulness or busyness has taken our place in someone’s life. We are less trusting when more promises are made; we remember the past, and we wonder.

Kept promises bring joy and love. We feel special to the person who made and kept the promise. We trust future promises will also be kept.

God’s promises

Has God, the creator and sustainer of all things, made promises to mankind? Why would He do such a thing? What would He promise?

“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?1

Yes, God has made promises to us. He wants us to feel joy and love, to feel special, and to trust Him. An amazing chain of God’s promises to mankind runs from the beginning of time to our day, and can include us!

God did not suddenly decide 2,000 years ago that He would offer us salvation through Jesus. That purpose was with Him from the beginning. Since God’s intention of giving us eternal life was with Him from the beginning of time, it is unlikely that He would be silent about it during the 4,000 years of His dealings with men recorded in the Old Testament. The fact is that the Old Testament is full of prophecies and promises which give details of this plan. The writer of the book of Acts wrote, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”2

The apostle Paul refers to promises

Paul was a first-century Christian and a writer of many of the New Testament letters to individuals or groups of believers. He wrote that he was a servant and an apostle (student as well as inspired teacher) of “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.”3

As a zealous Jew, Paul knew his Old Testament very well, and so he was aware of the promises made by God to his ancestors. In self defense before Caesar’s court he says,

“It is because of my hope in what God has promised our (Jewish) fathers that I am on trial today.”4 To the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote that prior to belief and baptism into Christ they were “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God.”5

The promises

What are the promises to which Paul keeps referring?

To Adam and Eve was given the sentence of dying because they broke God’s command. But a promise of hope was also given: God would provide a “seed” – a son(Jesus) – who would suffer because of sin but deal a deathblow to sin and death.6

To a righteous man named Abraham were promised a land and a son, with many descendants, even though at the time of the promise Abraham and his wife were nomads, childless, and old. God told him that all the nations would be blessed because of his seed (Jesus).7 Later God repeated the promises to Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob and to the nation of Israel as well.8

How we are involved

Let’s stop here and read a New Testament reference. Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”9 He told them it didn’t matter if they were Greek or Jew, man or woman, slave or free. If they had been baptized into Christ, they had become part of Christ’s family and could stake claim to a share of all that is his, as the sons of Abraham and of God.

Promise to David

About 1,000 years after Abraham lived, Israel had a king named David. God loved David, and David loved God. He wrote most of the psalms in the Old Testament, pleading with God or praising God during the various trials and joys of his life. God made a promise to David that one of his line, a son, would sit on David’s throne and rule from Jerusalem forever.10

Over the centuries, the Jews have remembered this promise and looked for a “Messiah” or “anointed one” (a king) who would provide this leadership. That is why the New Testament often refers to Jesus as the “son of David.”11

Jesus at first rejected

Jesus knew that his teachings, his miracles, even his resurrection would not be enough to convince some of his identity. He said, “If they don’t listen to Moses or the prophets (which refers to the Old Testament), they will not be convinced even if someone rise from the dead.”12

After his resurrection, Jesus talked to two men on a road outside Jerusalem about all the events that had gone on the past week — his entry into the city, the scene at the temple, his trial, execution, and resurrection. “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”13

Note his emphasis that the entire Old Testament spoke of him. It was not that the disciples had not read the Old Testament, they were just not seeing the real message about Jesus.

It can be the same for people today. We can have knowledge about the incidents and teachings of the Old Testament, but if we don’t see the message of Christ and the kingdom of God we are missing its point. Remember what Jesus said to the two men in the quote above, “How foolish you are … and slow of heart.” We should be very grateful to have the New Testament because its writers help us to understand the Old Testament, as well as see its importance.

Another first-century Christian, Luke, recorded the preaching of Paul, “The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath…We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus…Therefore, my brothers, (sons and daughters) I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you…Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.”14

The promises are being fulfilled

The promise of a son has been fulfilled in Jesus. The promise of a land has been partially fulfilled – Israel became a nation again in 1948 after almost 2,000 years, and Jerusalem came back under Jewish control in 1967. What remains to be fulfilled is the promise of a righteous king and priest ruling and leading in worship forever from Jerusalem.15

The New Testament, and especially the book of Hebrews, teaches that these promises are fulfilled forever in Jesus, who will be both priest and king, presiding over a new heaven and a new earth. These promises are what make up the true Christian hope.

Christians and the covenants

The old covenant, made between God and the Jews, helps us to understand the new covenant made between Jesus and his followers. Now we can be “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” the way God wanted the original Jewish nation to be, setting an example for the rest of the world and glorifying God.16

We can become full heirs of the creator and sustainer of all things by our desire and willingness to be “adopted” into His family. All God has ever asked of His people is belief and trust. The same things He asked of the nation of Israel He continues to ask of people of every nation on earth.

Isn’t it worth taking a chance to believe that what God has promised He will deliver? Look at what you have to lose. The guilt? What about the shame? Do you want to hold on to that? Why? Fear and worry – want to hold on to those also? Why?

We are told that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”17 The prophet Isaiah, who first spoke these words more than 2,500 years ago, was reminding himself and Israel that God acts on behalf of those who want Him and remember His ways. “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you,”18 Isaiah sadly admitted to God, and we must determine not to make that same mistake. We need to know the promises He has made, find out what our part of the bargain must be, and lay hold of Him, joyfully.

Again, Luke talks to us. “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”19

Sharee Turk Grazda



Footnotes:

  1. Numbers 23:19 (all quotes NIV); Moses, 1400 BC
  2. Acts 10:43; Luke, Gentile physician, 61 AD
  3. Titus 1:2,3; Paul, Roman Jew, persecutor of Christians, 63-66 AD
  4. Acts 26:6
  5. Ephesians 2:11-22; Paul, 61 AD
  6. Genesis 3:15 (Genesis was compiled in 1450-1410 BC by Moses, a Jew raised as an Egyptian)
  7. Genesis 12, 13, 22
  8. Psalm 105:8-10; David, Jew, shepherd who became king, 1000 BC
  9. Galatians 3:26-29; Paul, 50 AD
  10. 2nd Samuel 7; Nathan, Jew, prophet, 930 BC and later
  11. Matthew 21:9; Matthew, Jewish tax collector for Romans, 50s or 60s
  12. Luke 16:31
  13. Luke 24:25-27
  14. Acts 13:27-41
  15. Isaiah 9:6,7; Isaiah, Jewish prophet in Judah, advisor to kings, 740-680 BC
  16. 1st Peter 2:9; Peter, Jewish fisherman, leading apostle, writing mainly to Gentiles, 63 AD
  17. I Cor. 2:9 Paul to believers in Corinth, 55 AD, referring to Isaiah 64:4
  18. Isaiah 64:3-12
  19. Acts 13:48