The Promises to Abraham

Abraham is called the "Father of them that believe" in Paul's writing about him (Romans 4:11; Galatians 3:7). His life was a pivotal point in the unfolding of God's plan of salvation. The first eleven chapters of Genesis span a period of roughly 2,000 years, from creation through Noah and his descendants. Then the next fourteen chapters focus on the life of this one remarkable man. Of all the people in the Bible, Abraham is the only one who is called the friend of God (James 2:23).

We are told that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). What was it that Abraham believed? God made very specific promises to Abraham, and they represent the unfolding of God's plan, and the foundation of the Gospel (Galatians 3:8). God promised several things to Abraham.

Genesis 12:
2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
[see NASB]

In addition to making his descendants a great nation, and blessing all families of the earth in him, God specifically promised land.

Genesis 12:
7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
Genesis 13:
14 And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:
15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.
16 And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.
17 Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.
[see NASB]

God reiterated and expanded the promises to Abraham as time went on. He promised that Abraham's seed would be as numerous as the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:4-5) and made a covenant with Abraham to give land to him and his seed. (Genesis 15:18; 17:1-9; 22:16-18; 26:2-5). He established the covenant to Abraham's son Isaac (Genesis 26:3-5, 24), and later to Isaac's son Jacob (Genesis 28:3-4; 13-15; 35:9-12).

It was because of God's covenant with Abraham that his descendants, the twelve tribes of Israel, were blessed (Exodus 2:24,25). God told Moses that He was going to lead Israel out of bondage and into the promised land, because of His covenant with Abraham (Exodus 6:1-8). Moses prayed to God not to destroy Israel in the wilderness by mentioning God's covenant with Abraham (Exodus 32:12-14). In Deuteronomy, Moses told the children of Israel to possess the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 1:8). Yet God had told Moses that they could have the land because of His promise to their fathers, in spite of their being an obstinate people (Exodus 33:1-3). The Israelites were permitted to enter and possess the promised land, not because of their righteousness, but because of the covenant with Abraham (Deuteronomy 9:5-6).

The Israelites settled in the promised land, and later, under David, the nation saw its greatest period of history to date. But it did not last, and the Israelites fell into idolatrous practices. Nevertheless, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God did not utterly destroy them (II Kings 13:23).  Now Abraham and David are both dead. When Stephen addressed the high priest and the council in Acts 7, he gave them a little review of their history.

Acts 7:
1 Then said the high priest, Are these things so?
2 And he [Stephen] said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,
3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.
4 Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.
5 And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.
[see NASB]

Abraham never received any inheritance in the land. The place where he buried Sarah was the only piece of ground he ever owned, and he bought that from Ephron, even though Ephron offered to give it to him. God promised great blessings to Abraham, including an inheritance of land. But Abraham never received those promises in his lifetime. Yet he believed that God keeps His promises, and as a result he sojourned as a stranger in the promised land.

Hebrews 11:
8 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.
9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.
13 These 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.
14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
16 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.
[see NASB]

This passage is sometimes interpreted as saying that living somewhere "in heaven" as a disembodied soul is how God will ultimately fulfill His promise to Abraham. But the promise was specifically land, and was repeated as such over and over again. This passage tells us that the "better country" is heavenly, not because of its location in heaven, but because of its origin from heaven, being prepared for them by God. Abraham remained faithful even when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, not because he thought Isaac would live on in heaven, but because he believed God could raise him from the dead.

Hebrews 11:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
[see NASB]

Abraham knew that God could raise Isaac from the dead. He also knew that if he did not receive the promise of land during his lifetime, God would raise him up in the future. Isaac, also, blessed his sons "concerning things to come" (Hebrews 11:20). It was the resurrection and the inheritance of the promised land, not living in heaven, that was always the hope of Israel, and this hope has not changed. The hope of this promise is still future, and we have been granted the privilege of sharing in it.

Hebrews 11:
39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
Hebrews 13:
14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
[see NASB]

That promise of a city to come is the Christian’s hope as much as it was for Israel.  The whole notion of living somewhere other than earth, in a disembodied state, is based on the pagan notion that man has an immortal soul. This notion originated with Greek philosophy and not with the Bible. The Bible clearly teaches that when a person dies, he remains dead, unconscious, in the grave, until the resurrection. This is quite contrary to what most of Christianity teaches, of course, but as I demonstrate here, it is the Biblical view of death.

The first thing that is said about Jesus Christ in the New Testament (Matthew 1:1), is that he is the son of David and the son of Abraham. Jesus spoke of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob being in the Kingdom of God in Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:28. Paul wrote in Romans 4:13 that "...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." Notice it does not speak of being an heir of "heaven" but of "the world." And that blessing of Abraham is now available to Gentiles as well as Jews, according to Galatians 3:14, "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Paul also wrote in verse 29 that "...if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." He believed and taught that the hope of the Christian is the same hope that Israel had (Acts 24:14; 26:6-7).

God had promised Abraham that He would bless him and make him a great nation, and make his name great. He would also bless them that blessed that nation, and curse them that cursed it. All the families of the earth would be blessed through this nation, which would dwell in the land that God showed Abraham. They would have victory over their enemies and inherit the cities that had belonged to those enemies. As Christians we are now privileged to share in those same promises. This is why Abraham is called the father of them that believe and we are called the seed of Abraham if we have accepted Christ.

Back To The Top

Mark Clarke