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Section II B


Abraham and the Promise Ch.3:6-22

Study B4
The Promise and the Covenant

Study B4 The Promise and the Covenant

That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 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. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

B4.1 The Promises

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 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: 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.

B4.2 The Spirit promised

At the start of Gal. 3, Paul asked the Galatians as to how they had received the Spirit (Gal. 3:2): by the works of law or by faith? Turning to the verses now under consideration, we note that the blessing of Abraham was to come on to the Gentiles that they too might receive the Spirit. Essentially it is the promise of the Spirit that marks out the New Covenant from that of the Old. In the Old people could be forgiven their sins, as in the New, but no one could have a new nature, that had to wait for the New Covenant to appear. In the New we still have forgiveness, but there is something much more: – a new heart, and this only comes by the gift of the Spirit. And the gift of the Spirit could not be given until Jesus had been crucified, resurrected and glorified.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Ezk. 36:26-27

Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.
Lk. 24:45-49

(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
Jn. 7:38

Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear… Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts. 2:33-38

The promise to Abraham was to this end: the coming of the seed ( singular), that is Christ, so that He would suffer be raised from the dead and glorified. This was in order so that we could have the gift of the Spirit in order to  bring us into the Life of God. It was always God’s purpose to give the Holy Spirit to those that believed. His plan of salvation was no after thought, He had it all worked out and ready before Adam fell; it was planned in eternity only awaiting its execution in time. That this was for all nations, and not just the nation of Israel, we have already considered; but this is also seen when God directed Abraham to see the stars and the dust; He was alluding both to the physical Israel (represented by the dust) and the Church (the stars).

B4.3 The promise certain

For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
Heb. 6:13-18

When a man promises something the value of that promise depends on his character. Some people make promises with good intentions but are unable to fulfil it; others just promise to get themselves out of tight spots, or to placate others. God never promises for those sorts of reasons. He promises in truth, and has the ability to perform what He promises, as Abraham found out. Abraham believed God because he knew God and His character. And it was on that Abraham relied.

In the normal course of human events, when people take oaths they call upon something, or someone greater than themselves to confirm it. Not so with God for no one is greater than He, instead He took oath by Himself, thus staking His word by His own character, and we are then told that it is impossible for God to lie! The promise is as certain and true as much as He exists. What could be more sure than that?

In Num. 30 we have the law on disallowing vows. The only vows that could be disallowed was that of a woman by her husband or father, if she were single. By this we see that only the head of someone could disallow such a vow. But God is head of all, there is no on above Him in authority, so there is none that can set aside the vows and promises of God.

So not only is the promise certain, because of God’s character, but it can not be disallowed by any either He made promise to Abraham about the seed, and it was only a matter of time before its fulfilment in history.

We also need to note, especially in relation to the message of Galatians, that the promise had nothing to do with Abraham at all! God made this promise without any input from anyone else. Abraham didn’t sit down to scheme or work out a way of getting God to promise anything at all, let alone the promise of being the father of many nations and a blessing to the whole earth! No, God out of grace spoke to this man and gave him the promise, there was no effort on Abraham’s part at all. Abraham had to do nothing except respond in simple faith.

B4.4 The covenant confirmed

We have already seen that the original promise to Abraham was made to him whilst he was a Gentile, and that the blessing would be to all the nations, and not just one particular one that was to be called Israel. The nation of Israel was formed by God to fulfil His purposes in bringing Christ into the world and accomplish the plan of Redemption. But then Abraham asks for something  we have, in reply,  God making a covenant.

After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
Gen. 15

In this chapter we have God telling Abraham that He Himself was his reward! In response Abraham asks for his steward’s child to be heir, since he had none. This was an attempt to fulfil the promise by self effort,  though not as disastrous as the birth of Ishmael! But God stopped Him and promised specifically that the heir would be his own offspring. And it was at this that it is said that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness; there was no righteousness whilst Abraham tried to fulfil the promise by his own ideas, it was only when he believed God.

But then we have a strange episode: Abraham asked how he would know that he would inherit the land; God then instructed him to take some animals divide them and lay them down side by side so that a pathway would be made. Abraham was put to sleep and then a smoking furnace and a lamp passed down between the pieces and the scripture says : In the same day the LORD made a covenant. What do we make of it all?

This strange act of Abraham in dividing and carefully laying out animal pieces was in fact a well established method of making a covenant: a binding agreement between two parties. The contractual parties, in order to ratify it would walk hand in hand between the pieces. The first thing we notice is that the animals chosen would be later required under the Mosaic law for sacrifice, and we know in that system the animals spoke of the Lord Jesus; here they too typify the Lord: his death and being smitten of God, but the sacrifice for sin is not here in view, it is to typify the confirming (or cutting) of the New Covenant at Calvary.

And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Dan. 9:26-27

Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
Rom. 15:8

Abraham was put to sleep! He didn’t walk with God to make the Covenant, it had  nothing to do with the great man, for God was making this Covenant with Himself! The smoking furnace, and the burning lamp speaking of God the Father and God the Son.  Abraham was out of the picture. God was working His purposes out. The Covenant was made within the Godhead, and flesh had nothing to do with it, Abraham was in it by grace. In the NT Paul speaks like this: And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ Gal.3:17. The Covenant was ratified (confirmed) in Christ! It stands sure, it has nothing to do with flesh, we are in it purely by grace alone.

B4.5 Summary

So then we have seen that God made promise to Abraham, a promise that can not fail because it was made by the one who can not lie and who is greater than all. He confirmed the Covenant in Christ. Believing or not believing God depends on what we really think of His character; if we don’t trust him then we are saying in effect that we don’t believe his character.

Specific to the theme of Galatians: if we believe God then we do not need anything, other than what God has already done in Christ, to become a Christian nor to continue in the Christian life. To make anything else a necessity for salvation or Christian living is a clear declaration that we don’t really believe God.