The Promises of Abraham

Do These Have Any Connection to Financial Prosperity?


What promises did the Lord make to Abraham in the Book of Genesis and how may we find these fulfilled today? In view of certain charismatic claims that these promises "almost entirely concern prosperity" (as one prosperity gospeller actually stated), let us take a much closer look at this topic.





The Teaching of Genesis

We need to start off in Genesis 12, at the original calling of Abraham:

"Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your Father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." (Gen 12: 1-3).

We should immediately notice two things here:
a. The name of Abraham himself is to be made great. (Vs 2), and,

b. All the families of the earth will be blessed because of the work that God would do (Vs 3).

It has been widely recognised, of course, that this largely refers to Jesus having come through the lineage of Abraham. In fact, there is no need for even a moment's hesitation in asserting this, since Acts 3: 19-25, especially verse 25, points out the connection to Christ quite clearly!

The promises to Abraham become somewhat enlarged in Genesis 17: 1-8.
The promise of 'kings' coming from Abraham is stated (Vs6) and Canaan is promised as an 'everlasting possession' (Vs 8).
It soon becomes evident that Isaac, the son of promise, is somehow involved in these promises. His birth occurred, of course, as the result of a miracle. Again, the promises are mentioned in Genesis 22. Because Abraham has demonstrated his faithfulness - even to the point of being prepared to take his own son's life, should God have required it - the promises are now confirmed:

"In blessing I will bless you; and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gates of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." (Vs 17-18).

Genesis 24: 60 makes it plain that these promises would be passed on through Rebekah. When she is later pregnant with her twin boys, she has an intriguing experience and receives a revelation from the Lord to explain it, but we shall return to that later for we need to press on in tracing the Abrahamic promises.

What About the Promise of a Royal Line?

Genesis 17:6 contains what could be said to be an additional promise of Abraham:
'I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.'
Here we appear to have a promise of a line of kings, or a royal dynasty.

Jeremiah 33 tells us more:

'For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually' (Jeremiah 33:17-18, KJV).

In verses 19-22 of this chapter, we are told that God's promises are as sure as the stars in the sky and the moon in its orbit. In Jeremiah 31, we have this:

'If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever' (Jeremiah 31:36, KJV).

So here we have not one but 3 promises:
1. David will not lack anybody to sit on his throne.
2. The priests will not lack anybody to offer sacrifices.
3. Israel shall not cease from being a nation.

In consideration of these promises, H.C. Heffren, D.D., a writer I greatly respect, made these comments:

'We all know that there has not been a human occupant on David's throne for over two thousand years. The priests ceased to offer sacrifices after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the dispersion of the Jews throughout the world. At that time the nation of Israel ceased to exist. However, prophecy was fulfilled in that Christ, who is the Seed of David, sits eternally on the throne of the Kingdom of God. He is also the high priest and He has offered up eternal sacrifices satisfying to God...Likewise the Israel of God has never ceased to exist as a nation. In 1 Peter 2:9 it says, "Ye are a chosen generation, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, AN HOLY NATION." And it is this holy nation, that is the Israel of God over which Christ is king, and we who believe on His name are His loyal subjects. The proof that the believers are heirs to all God's promises, both present and future, is very convincing. Romans 4:16 states that the promise is to those who are of "the faith of Abraham" who is father of us all. Galatians 3:16 says, "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." Now referring to Galatians 3:29, "And if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise." These plain Scriptures show that Christians inherit all the promises of God.'

Conclusion

To conclude, Scripture reveals that the various promises of Abraham have been fulfilled:
1. Through the Jewish people who became fertile, industrious and prosperous after entering the promised land.
2. Through the line of kings from King David originally established through Judah, culminating in Christ, the King of kings, since which time the royal dynasty has been completed.
3. Through the Gospel preached by the Church of Jesus Christ, with its message that the grace already enjoyed by Abraham should be preached to all the world.

So we can see that the promises of Abraham, as they still have application, are spiritual promises pointing to the authority, kingship and gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. No further fulfillment needs to be looked for and the comment that the blessing, or blessings, of Abraham "almost entirely concern prosperity" (made by a certain prosperity gospeller) may be seen to be fully without merit, revealing a quite seriously flawed understanding of Holy Scripture.
Robin A. Brace, 2005.

Now we find the promises passed on down to Jacob. (It might initially seem, only as the result of trickery but, in fact, there was a valid reason for the deception and the Lord's will was certainly being done). Here is Jacob's blessing:

"Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of the field which the Lord has blessed. Therefore may God give you the dew of heaven, of the fulness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be those who bless you." (Gen 27: 27-29).

We also may note an interesting antithesis in that Esau, Jacob's twin brother, necessarily receives an inferior blessing (Vs 39-40). Again, we must return to give some further consideration to this a little later, and when we do, we shall find great significance to it.

Isaac repeats the substance of the blessings to Jacob in Gen 28: 3-4. Finally, God appears to Jacob again in Gen 35: 9-13:

"Also God said to him, 'I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you..." (Vs 11-12).

Here then we see the lineage of the Abrahamic blessings, culminating in Jacob. We should also note carefully that when the promises are confirmed to Jacob by the Lord Himself in Gen 35, Jacob's name is now changed to Israel! (Gen 35: 10). We should, therefore, reasonably expect to see some fulfillment of these promises in Israel. This, after all, is simply what the inspired text would lead us to expect. Too many times the biblically-naive have presumptuously imposed their own schemas and concepts upon these sacred Scriptures!

It has been stated by some that "it is a simple fact of history that these promises were never fulfilled in Israel" - but is that really so? We shall see, and be prepared for a few surprises.


The Fulfillment of the Promises

Let us now start to go a little deeper:
It is too often not noticed that these promises strongly echo the original blessing which God gave to Man, for, in the first chapter of Genesis, we already have this:

"God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen 1: 28).

This is repeated, following the flood, in Gen 9: 1, 7.

The Abrahamic promises are plainly telling us that God's greatest blessings on mankind would be fulfilled through the line of Jacob - but these promises most certainly do not tell us that no others would receive some blessings, perhaps even many blessings, however, the greatest blessings would come to mankind through that family line. Again these blessings culminated in the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ - the greatest of all of these blessings.

However, some of these promises also concerned nationhood and a royal line (see inset article). While we can agree that these promises were not entirely fulfilled among physical Israelites (although they were to a degree, as we will see), we should be able to perceive that they have indeed been fulfilled among spiritual Israelites - the Church!

Let us start with the concept of 'a nation and a company of nations.'

It is too easily fogotten that Israel were considered a company of nations; each tribe being a separate nation in its own right. Matthew Henry is one of several Bible expositors who have pointed this out in the past, although it is less frequently pointed out now. It is also overlooked by some, just how wealthy and powerful Israel became during the reigns of its various kings, including Solomon! This was indeed a 'promised land,' and a land 'flowing with milk and honey.' In purely physical terms (we must soon consider the spiritual), one does not need to look elsewhere for a fulfillment of the patriarchal promises. Again, kings did indeed come from Abraham - many of them. The noblest surely David, the most prosperous probably Solomon. The land of Canaan did indeed come to belong to the people of Jacob and many of them returned to it in the 20th century having been dispossessed by the various captivities. Without doubt the Jews have also proven an exceptionally fertile people (which they showed even during their captivity in Egypt!) The tribes of Jacob have spread around the earth and normally enjoyed great business and financial success, arousing the jealousy of many! They have mostly been industrious and prosperous, frequently heading banking and business empires. Can any seriously argue with this? Therefore we can see that some of the Abrahamic promises did find fulfillment among the Israelitish tribes. Yet (as already noted), 'in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed' is a plain reference to Christ which no serious Bible scholar has ever doubted. However, even the more physical promises only reached complete fullfiment among the Church.

It is now time to illustrate to the reader what is clearly revealed about the Church by the patriarchal promises.

Now, Abraham is clearly a type of God the Father, Isaac is a type of Christ (hence the symbolism when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, also his birth as the result of a miracle). Isaac's wife Rebekah, in like fashion, is obviously a symbol of the Church. (Christ is to marry His Church; Revelation 19:7-9). Then, as Paul makes clear, Hagar is symbolic of the Old Covenant and Sarah of the New Covenant. These two Covenants cannot co-exist since one replaces the other, therefore the enmity between the two women. Moreover Abraham dismisses the old 'woman' in order to bring in the new 'woman'. (Galatians 4:21-31; also, Hebrews 8: 13 states that the Old Covenant is now obsolete).

Perhaps we are moving a little fast for the reader here, it is essential to check out Galatians 4: 21-31. The reader should also consult Romans 9:13 and Hebrews 11: 17-19. The Romans text also makes it clear that Jacob, being renamed 'Israel,' was typical - not only of the Jews - but of the Church too; Jacob can be seen as the type of every true believer, and Esau the type of every unbeliever! Again, hence the discord between the two. Even so, there has been ongoing discord between Jews and Arabs and between the converted and the unconverted.

We must understand that 'Jewishness' becomes re-defined under the New Covenant: notice how this comes out in certain of the parables of Jesus, especially Matthew 22:1-10, where Gentile believers are able to take the place of those racial Israelites who spurned their divine invitation to the banquet, then, in Romans, Paul clearly establishes this teaching; see Romans 2:28-29. Finally, we see the outworking of this in how the '12 tribes salvation plan' becomes 'converted' to include true believers through 'divine grafting.' Carefully consult Romans 11:17-23; Revelation 7:1-10; Revelation 14:1-5.

Let us now return for one moment to the passing on of the patriarchal blessings to Rebekah. It might seem strange to some that the blessing is passed from Abraham to Rebekah and then on to Jacob, omitting Isaac. But the answer is surely in our recognition that, as a type of Christ, Isaac did not need the blessings to be passed on to him since he was the source of them anyway!

We now return to the event during Rebekah's pregnancy. Genesis 25: 22 shows how the twin boys 'struggled' within her womb. Why was this event recorded? Of course, fast growing twin boys within their mother's womb might indeed struggle, but there is obviously rather more to this:

"And the Lord said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger." (Vs 23).

When Isaac later passes on Esau's 'blessing,' we learn a little more:

"By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck." (Gen 27: 40).

This proved to be the case. David brought the Edomites (descended from Esau) into subjection for many years until they revolted (2 Chronicles 21: 8). However, the statement that Esau's descendants would 'live by the sword' needs to be seen in the light of the larger picture which shows Esau to be a type of every unbeliever. As already pointed out, Esau and Jacob ultimately 'strived' because the one was symbolic of the unbeliever and the other (Jacob) symbolic of the believer! Hence when talking about Election, God can say, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated' (Roms 9: 13). In like manner, in our day, it could be said that Esau and Jacob still "strive." As Paul pointed out, it is not possible for unbelievers to even understand the mind of a believer in the Christ, whereas those believers have little trouble in understanding sinners!

"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges [* 'understands'] all things, yet he himself is rightly judged [* 'understood'] by no one." (1 Corinthians 2:14-15, [*] my inserts).

Of course, in Gen 25, the text says of Rebekah's twins that one would be stronger than the other, and that the older (Esau) would serve the younger. While this indeed proved to be the case at the time of David, it is also true that - eventually, within God's plan - the Church does survive, but unbelievers will perish! So here too there is an application.

But let us now return to the matter of Jacob's trickery and connivance with his mother in obtaining the birthright - was that really fitting imagery for the man who would be a type of every Christian? Many have pondered over this. Why did God allow Esau the infidel to be born first? The answer has to do with God's Election and free choice in that! The man who was to be typical of the Christian could not bear any indications of 'achieving' or 'earning' on merit! Why? Because we are justified by faith alone before God, works having no merit. Jacob was not the 'firstborn' to whom certain rights and privileges were owed. This demonstrates for us that we can never earn acceptance with God. This was why God allowed the apparent deception to go ahead:

"...Rebekah also has conceived by one man, even by our father, Isaac (for the children not yet being born, not having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls) it was said to her, 'The older shall serve the younger' - as it is written, Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated." (Roms 9: 10-13).

So Jacob, like the Christian, was to be a child of grace. Of course, this is not literally saying that God hated Esau as an individual - this refers to his representation as the unbeliever!

So how may the patriarchal promises said to be fulfilled in the Church and in Christians? Well, we are to be 'as the sand upon the seashore' (Gen. 22:17). Even though this is colourful and poetic language, it is hard to escape the conclusion that this goes beyond what the 12 tribes have achieved. It is hard not to think of Revelation 7: 9 here with its description of the Church as,

'A great multitude which no one could number.'

Indeed, 'a nation and a company of nations' also suggests a great number. Eventually we inherit, as physical Israelites, the land of Canaan and, as spiritual Israelites, the whole earth! Even the promise of 'kings' might well be applicable for Christians since Revelation 5: 10 describes us as 'kings and priests'!
Genesis 12: 3 also says,

"I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you."

Surely it is difficult not to think of Matthew 16: 19 here,

"And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

We know that this refers to the Church - is there not a strong similarity? As a people, we represent Christ who is a stumblingblock to many. We have in our possession - according to this - the very keys to the gates of heaven! Some who might strive to attain Eternal Life could be very vexed that it is we who hold those keys!! In this connection we also need to consider what Genesis 24: 60 says about Rebekah (again, remember that she was a clear type of the Church),

"Our sister, may you become the mother of thousands of ten thousands; and may your descendants possess the gates of those who hate them."

Again, Matthew 16:19 tends to come to mind. So we can see that the divine promises to the patriarchs, culminating in the divine instruction that Jacob should henceforth become known as 'Israel' have indeed been fulfilled, and are continuing to be fulfilled in Israel - both on a national level, but even more so on the level of spiritual Israel! Again, putting all of the Scriptures together, this is what we would be led to believe, and expect, and look for. We are not disappointed! We need look no further.

Let us now look again at a point raised earlier in this study; In the original exposition of these promises in Genesis 12: 1-3, two of the promises seem pretty specific:
1. That through the fulfilment of these promises Abraham's name would be made 'great.'
2. That through them, 'all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'

Obviously the second promise has been fulfilled through Jesus Christ, but what of the first part? The true answer, of course, is that Abraham's name has been made great through the Bible and through Judaism, but then, and mainly, through Christianity!! On a purely national level, Abraham is even more associated with the Jewish people than his grandson Jacob, even though Jacob was the first to actually bear the name of Israel; but Abraham is also justly famous for his association with Christianity! He is known as 'The father of the faithful' among Christians. Paul is very careful that Christians should see Abraham as an example to them, much more so than Moses! For instance,

"That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith...now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your seed', who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise." (Galatians 3: 14-18).

Abraham is vitally important within Christian theology since, as Paul is at pains to explain, he became the 'father of the faithful' - Abraham effectively lived under, and tasted, the New Covenant ahead of time because He stood in a relationship with God which was based entirely on faith. His divinely-granted faith allowed him to be covered by God's grace, whereas Moses stood in a relationship with God based entirely on obedience to the Law. Today Christians stand in Abraham's - rather than Moses' - status and relationship to God.

We see therefore that while a partial fulfillment of these promises was enjoyed by the Jews, their true and ultimate fulfillment can only be expected among Christians! We also see how both Israel and the Church (Spiritual Israel) are stamped with the name of Abraham. It should also be clear to all that 'all the families of the earth' are only blessed through Christ and the message of salvation, as the Scriptures clearly show (John 3: 16-17, Luke 16: 16, Revelation 7: 9-10 etc.).

The blessing, or 'blessings' of Abraham are totally unconcerned with prosperity in any financial sense. If any prosperity teacher makes such a claim this only serves to reveal a most serious lack of scriptural knowledge and understanding.
Robin A. Brace, 2005.

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