27 Apr 2016

The Promise(s): The New Testament Gospel is the “Old Testament” Promise … I’ll Be Your God, You will Be My People, I will Dwell with You

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Abraham, Bible, Faith, Heaven, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Jesus, Mission

Song we singI grew up singing the old hymn “Standing on the Promises.” You probably can sing it with me even now,

“Standing on the promises of Christ my King, Through eternal ages let His praises ring, Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing, Standing on the promises of God …

Though we have not sung that song in quite some time Christians do stand on the promises.

The apostle Paul makes much of the “promises” of God. The promise(s) are the cornerstone of his polemic against a false understanding of what was required of Gentiles to become members of Israel in his Epistle to the Galatians. He writes, “now the promises (plural) were made to Abraham and to his offspring” (3.16).

A couple lines later he writes “but God granted it to Abraham through the promise” (3.18).  Several lines below the apostle writes “and if you (plural) belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (3.29).

Paul refers to the promises of which we are heirs by the words “promise” and “promises” and simply by echoing or directly quoting the promises themselves repeatedly through his letters.

Modern disciples unversed in the Hebrew Scriptures often fail to see or even understand what the “promises” are and why they are so important and how they tie the Bible together into one unified Gospel Story.  I preface my survey with a quote from the premier Old Testament scholar of the 20th century, Gerhard von Rad.  Von Rad made this amazing statement in Nazi Germany in the face of the Nazi war on anything Jewish, Old Testament or the like …

It seems paradoxical: Perhaps there was never a time when the attentiveness to the message of the Old Testament was as urgent as ours {i.e look at the Nazis!!}. The Old Testament stands as the most faithful guard to the doors of the New Testament, and it assures us that the breadth and fullness of the message of Christ … The exclusion of the Old Testament has inevitably as its consequence a distortion and curtailment of the New Testament message of Christ … There are certainly many ways into the New Testament  {wrong ones!!}. But the era seems to be past in which each could see his honor, could have found his own private way. There is only one way that leads into the holy of holies of the New Testament, and that is the way over and through the Old Testament” (“The Christian Understanding of the Old Testament,” delivered on June 13, 1944. It was a daring speech).

So What Is/Are the Promises?

The promise is a single entity from God that is found all through the Hebrew Bible.  There are basically two formulas that express the content of the promise.  What I want to do in this short blog is simply quote the language that occurs all over the Hebrew Bible that is truly one of the binding patterns of the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  I do this because so many simply do not know the language that Paul is drawing on.

Paul calls this promise the “gospel” (Gal 3.8).  I will summarize the promise first then cite the passages that state the promise over and over and over.  This is not an exhaustive survey but I want the biblical words to cascade over you as you read.  Be impressed by the abundance of this promise language, what it includes and how utterly full of grace it is.  In a nut shell the promise(s) is this:

I will be your God, and you shall be my people/special possession, and I will dwell in your midst, and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

Resist the temptation to skip even one line of Scripture 🙂

The Texts in the Hebrew Bible

I will make you a great nation,
and I will bless you,
and make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing,
I will bless those who bless you,
and the one who curses you I will curse;
and in you all the families of the earth
shall be blessed
” (Gen 12.1-3)

I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you. And I will  give to you and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God” (Gen 17.7-8; cf 28.13-14, 21)

I am the LORD, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my people and I will be your God. You  shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you … I will bring you into the land that I swore  to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession, I am the LORD” (Ex 6.6-8)

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my words and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed the whole earth is mine, but you  shall be for me a priestly nation and a holy nation” (Ex 19.4-6)

… I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out  of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God” (Ex 29.45-46)

I am the LORD your God; who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy” (Lev 11.45)

I am the LORD , who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD” (Lev 22.33)

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God” (Lev 25.38)

I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (Lev 26.11-13)

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God” (Num 15.41)

But as for you, the LORD took you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are” (Deut 4.20)

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession” (Deut 7.6)

You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the LORD your God, a covenant the LORD is making with you this day and sealing it with an oath, to confirm to you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and he swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Deut 29.12-13)

For the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance” (Deut 32.9)

And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever, and you, O LORD, became their God” (2 Sam 7.24)

And you made your people Israel to be your people forever, and you, O LORD became their God” (1 Chron 17.22)

But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” (Jer 7.23)

Then I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying Listen to my voice and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer 11.4)

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jer 24.7)

And you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer 30.22)

At that time, declares the LORD, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31.1)

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31.33)

And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Jer 32.38)

That they may walk in my statutes and keep my commands and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezk 11.20)

That the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the LORD God” (Ezk 14.11)

And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the LORD God” (Ezk 34.30)

they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezk 37.23)

My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezk 37.27)

I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people.’ and he shall say ‘You are my God (Hosea 2.23)

I am with you” … “For I am with you” … “my Spirit remains among you” (Haggai 1.13; 2.4-5)

And I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness” (Zech 8.8)

And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God‘” (Zech 13.9)

The “promise” of God runs through the whole Hebrew Bible. It is the burning expression of faith of our Spiritual ancestors.

God, in grace chose Abraham. God, in grace, promised to be the God of Abraham and his family.  God, in grace, will dwell with the family of Abraham as his special possession. God, in grace, gave the good land to Abraham’s family. God, in grace, has tasked Abraham’s family to be a blessing for the whole creation, to be priests on creation’s behalf.  This is the content of the Promise that Paul waxed eloquently about.

PromiseThe NT Applies This Promise so that it includes Gentiles

As noted above, the NT speaks of the promise in various ways repeatedly.  But it is important to stress the content of the promise did not change from “Old Testament” to “New Testament.” Frequently Paul will simply say “promise” as in the opening quotes and expects us to know what that means. Paul has not only baptized Gentiles into the Jewish King but he immersed those former pagans in the Hebrew Scriptures.

At other times the New Testament writers directly apply the language of this promise to “us”,(that is Gentiles).  I will quote the texts.  Each text has the freight train of the above Hebrew texts behind them (and there are many other allusions to the promise in the Hebrew Bible).  When we realize what is going on it is truly stunning.

Paul directly applies the promise, in its full dimension, to the Corinthian church made up of primarily former pagan Gentiles. What Paul does, and it is frequently missed or simply ignored, is utterly breathtaking. Paul never heard of the church replacing Israel, and he certainly had no idea that the so called “Old Testament” did not apply to believers (Paul never once calls them or anyone Christians).

Lifting ink straight out of the Law of Moses, Leviticus in fact (quoted above), holiness is demanded, because we, the gathered people, are “in” the presence of the Lord.  “We” [the group] are the “temple” … that is the place where God dwells in the camp, just as with our ancestors. God dwelled in the world in Israel, so God dwells in the world through renewed Israel.  So Paul writes about idolatry and immorality in 2 Corinthians 6 and states this is true …

What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?
For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said,

I will live in them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people
(2 Cor 6.16 citing Leviticus 26.12)

This is a statement that is made to ISRAELITES! But Paul has now applied it to Gentiles, who are now Israelites! For more on how the apostle to the Gentiles applies the “Holiness Code” of Leviticus to the Corinthians see the detailed article, “Drive out the Offender,’ Paul, the Old Testament, and Church Discipline in 1 Cor 5.

If the God of the Exodus is walking through the camp then the camp is sacred space! Immorality in the local ekklesia pollutes the temple as much as anything in the Old Testament.  That is the very basis of Paul’s argument.  God has come to dwell with GENTILES in the assembly, therefore they are the same as Israel camped around the tabernacle with God’s throne in the very center of the camp.

Paul is not the only one to make much of the Gospel of Promises.  Notice what Peter does with God’s Promise when he writes to the former pagan Gentiles in what is now Turkey.  This is breathtaking …

But you {plural} are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s own people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2.9-10 grounded Ex 19 and Hosea 2.23)

And finally, the last page of the Bible brings us face to face with this wonderful promise of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel.  It is the promise of God to Israel. The promise that we have become heirs …

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling place of God is with humans. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21.3)

The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son” (Rev 21.7)

The Jewish King will now reign with the nations he has received as an inheritance.  God has kept his Promises to the Fathers.

John’s language is that of Genesis to Hosea …

Conclusions from the Promise

The Promise of God to Abraham is a single entity.  This promise cut across the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  In the Promise we have the grace of God and the hope and faith of Israel. The promise shows that the Testaments have

the same hope,
the same message,
the same God,
the same people
and the same goal

The promise to Abraham ties the Bible together into a single unifying narrative of God pursuing the ultimate realization of his promise in the New Heavens and New Earth that is the inheritance of Jesus the Son of David.

Thus the biblical narrative is a history of the faithfulness of God to the promise.  The promise reaches its goal in the Eschaton. The promise is:

The Lord will be the God of his beloved people. The People reciprocate in acknowledging the Lord as “their God.”  The Lord will live with his people, dwell in their midst, together within the “land”

… the New Heavens and New Earth.


See also my The Gospel According to Paul: God Has Kept His Promises in the Messiah.

One Response to “The Promise(s): The New Testament Gospel is the “Old Testament” Promise … I’ll Be Your God, You will Be My People, I will Dwell with You”

  1. Andrew Swango Says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

Leave a Reply