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God's Commitment to Abraham and His Descendants

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“…In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 Genesis 12:3And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
).

To understand some of the Bible’s most amazing and inspiring prophecies, we must embark on a study that begins 4,000 years ago—when God began working with a man called Abraham. Abraham was a remarkable figure. God made astounding promises to him that continue to affect not only his descendants but the whole world.

The story of his offspring is remarkable too. It covers much of what we know as the Old Testament. This is a story filled with great themes—the rise and fall not only of great men and women but of kingdoms and empires.

The story of Abraham’s descendants has its share of twists and turns and ups and downs and more than a few mysteries.

The books of the Old Testament describe Abraham’s offspring growing into a mighty nation—the Israelite kingdom—and entering into a special covenant relationship with God. Comprised of 12 tribes, or family groups, the nation gained prominence for a time.

Yet before long the Israelites divided into two competing kingdoms. When the larger of the two, which retained the name Israel (comprised of 10 of the 12 tribes), rejected its partnership with God, it set in motion one of history’s greatest mysteries when its people were forcibly exiled from their ancient homeland.

The smaller, southern kingdom of Judah—comprised of the two remaining tribes and remnants of another—failed to learn the lesson of its northern kinsmen. Its citizens likewise rejected God and were taken into captivity. For the most part, however, they retained their identity and have remained visible through history as a small and often persecuted race, the Jewish people.

But what happened to the 10 tribes of Israel whose enemies forcibly removed them from their land? The Assyrian Empire captured and exiled them from their Middle Eastern homeland in the eighth century B.C. But standard history books make no mention of them today. The world remembers them only as the lost 10 tribes of Israel.

God, however, had entered into a covenant— a divine commitment —with all 12 of the tribes. He had promised they would always be His people and He would always be their God. Can we count on Him to keep His word? How is that possible if the lost 10 tribes died out, as many assume?

To add to the puzzle, Bible prophecy repeatedly tells us that these supposedly lost Israelites are destined to reappear on the world scene in a prominent role immediately after Jesus’ return—after their rescue from a “time of trouble” that could dwarf their previous suffering. The prophets of old even speak of their restoration after that time of trouble to their original homeland under the rule of the Messiah.

Notice this promise Jesus made to His apostles: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28 Matthew 19:28And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, That you which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, you also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
American King James Version×
, New International Version, emphasis added throughout).

Did Jesus mean what He said? If these descendants of Israel are destined to play a future role that God has prophesied for the world, where are they now? How can we identify them among the peoples of the world today? And why is this knowledge so important to us?

As we proceed with this eye-opening study, you will learn just how much God is involved in shaping crucial aspects of our world. You cannot afford to be ignorant of this incredible knowledge.

If this information about the lost tribes were simply of historical and archaeological value, then it might indeed be of interest only to those who are fascinated with history. But it is far more important than that.

It is a master key for understanding all biblical prophecy. It explains why so many prophecies speak of a coming restoration of all of the tribes of Israel as one reunited kingdom and why those prophecies are so prominent in the pages of the Holy Scriptures.

By understanding this incredible story, you can learn a lot about what God expects of all who would serve Him. May God grant you the spiritual insight to understand this amazing story and heed the lessons you are about to discover.

A story of relationships and agreements

Our story begins with a series of remarkable promises God gave to a man named Abram thousands of years ago.

“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you,” God told Abram. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3 Genesis 12:1-3 1 Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you: 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

As we will learn in this book, God is always faithful in His promises. Preparation for His relationship with ancient Israel began centuries before its people became a nation. He initiated His plans for Israel as a group of tribes—or extended families—when He established a relationship with Abram. Later He changed the name of Abram, meaning “exalted father,” to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5 Genesis 17:5Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made you.
American King James Version×
).

Notice again God’s promise to him: “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 shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 Genesis 12:3And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
).

What a fantastic commitment! With these promises God set in motion an awesome design destined to benefit “all the families of the earth” when they are fulfilled. The history and prophecies of this nation, springing from Abraham, are important not only for its own people but for the people of all nations.

God later passed these promises on to Abraham’s son Isaac, his grandson Jacob and then to Jacob’s 12 sons—from whom came the 12 tribes of Israel. God provided succeeding generations more details about His purpose for Israel and how He intended to fulfill His grand design for them.

This commitment by mankind’s Creator is the thread that links the various parts of the Scriptures together. It enhances the meaning and gives structure to the Bible. Even the mission of Christ is a continuation of this promise.

Almost 800 years after Israel disappeared as a nation, the apostle Paul described gentiles (non-Israelites) who are “without Christ” as “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 Ephesians 2:12That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
American King James Version×
).

That’s strong language, but it underscores the importance of God’s commitment to Abraham and that Paul recognized that Israel, including the lost 10 tribes, continued to exist. If Paul had been talking only about the Jews, the tribes comprising the southern kingdom, he would have spoken of Judah, not Israel.

Paul then clarifies His meaning. “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:5-6 Ephesians 3:5-6 5 Which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6 That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
American King James Version×
, New Revised Standard Version).

How can all peoples share in the promises God made to Abraham through Jesus? Paul explains, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29 Galatians 3:29And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
American King James Version×
).

This means that God must graft all who become His servants into the family of Abraham, and God has bound Himself by a series of covenants to accomplish this (Romans 11:13-27 Romans 11:13-27 13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify my office: 14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. 15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? 16 For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 Boast not against the branches. But if you boast, you bore not the root, but the root you. 19 You will say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Be not high minded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not you. 22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness: otherwise you also shall be cut off. 23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? 25 For I would not, brothers, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. 26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant to them, when I shall take away their sins.
American King James Version×
). 

God’s promise to Abraham was not limited to a small and ancient people in the Middle East. It extends far into the future, and it is not limited by national boundaries. From the beginning, God designed this promise to bring blessings to all nations. That is His purpose. That is what He will accomplish.

Why God selected Abraham

Why did God choose Abraham to be His servant and, through him, bring ancient Israel into existence as a nation? What did God have in mind, and why did He call Abraham into His service at that particular time in history?

After the Flood in the days of Noah, the earth’s inhabitants once again began to turn their back on God. By Abraham’s time all peoples had again grown corrupt.

God then set in motion a major aspect of His plan to offer salvation to mankind. Selecting Abraham was a crucial step in God’s long-term plan to turn all nations back to Him. The remainder of the Bible is woven around His plan to reconcile all humanity to Himself.

You may remember that shortly before the Flood “God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth’ ” (Genesis 6:12-13 Genesis 6:12-13 12 And God looked on the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
American King James Version×
, NIV). God spared only Noah and his wife and their three sons and their sons’ wives.

Then, shortly after the Flood, when humanity again began to oppose the ways of God, the Tower of Babel became the symbol of their rebellion (Genesis 11:1-9 Genesis 11:1-9 1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelled there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad on the face of the whole earth. 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. 6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there on the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from there did the LORD scatter them abroad on the face of all the earth.
American King James Version×
). In the context of this rebellion, and the founding of the city-state system of human governance accompanying it, God initiated a new phase in His plan to lead all nations to worship Him. He decided to select one faithful man and develop his descendants into a group of influential nations chosen for the explicit purpose of teaching and illustrating His values and way of life.

A part of that plan involves God’s desire that all nations recognize the stark difference between these two conflicting ways of life. He wants every person to learn that His ways alone can consistently bring true and lasting blessings to all people.

Chosen for service

God created all peoples on earth “from one blood” (Acts 17:26 Acts 17:26And has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
American King James Version×
). The story of the Israelites is the story of a single family the Creator God chose for His service out of all the earth’s peoples.

Although the Israelites were a chosen people, in no way were they to be considered a superior people—either in antiquity or now. The apostle Peter later explained that “in every nation anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35 Acts 10:34-35 34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him.
American King James Version×
, New Revised Standard Version). This has always been true.

Some may assume God chose to work with Abraham and his descendants because they were in some way greater or innately better than other people. That simply wasn’t the case. God deliberately chose to work with a small group of people who had no international prominence.

Notice what God said to ancient Israel: “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers … Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:7-9 Deuteronomy 7:7-9 7 The LORD did not set his love on you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people: 8 But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn to your fathers, has the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of slaves, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;
American King James Version×
; compare 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 26 For you see your calling, brothers, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.
American King James Version×
).

God chose Abraham for a particular job. But He also tested Abraham to see if he would be faithful to Him. Abraham passed those tests. God then began using him because he believed and trusted his Creator. “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ ” (Romans 4:3 Romans 4:3For what said the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.
American King James Version×
; compare Genesis 15:6 Genesis 15:6And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
American King James Version×
).

God forged ancient Israel, under His careful guidance, from 12 related tribes, or extended families, whose ancestors were Abraham, his son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob.

Abraham’s extended family grew into an even greater multitude, the descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob. God made them a nation and entered into a covenant relationship with them. Collectively they became known as “Israel,” “the sons of Israel” or “the children of Israel.”

Israel was another name for Jacob. When God began to work directly with Jacob He named him Israel, meaning “one who prevails with God” or “a prince with God” (Genesis 32:24-30 Genesis 32:24-30 24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. 25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. 26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaks. And he said, I will not let you go, except you bless me. 27 And he said to him, What is your name? And he said, Jacob. 28 And he said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince have you power with God and with men, and have prevailed. 29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray you, your name. And he said, Why is it that you do ask after my name? And he blessed him there. 30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
American King James Version×
).

Israel’s descendants were also to be known as “the seed of Abraham,” “the House of Isaac,” “the House of Jacob” or simply “Jacob”—and by their individual tribal names of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Benjamin and Joseph.

The patriarch Jacob later adopted Ephraim and Manasseh, his grandsons through his son Joseph, as his own sons in regard to his inheritance. As a result, the nation of Israel has historically been said to consist of either 12 or 13 tribes, depending on whether the descendants of Joseph are counted as one tribe (Joseph) or as two (Ephraim and Manasseh).

Promises of historic importance

As God worked with Abraham He expanded the series of covenant commitments between them. These commitments were based on the most important and far-reaching series of promises and prophecies ever delivered by God to a human being. The later prophets of Israel, Jesus’ apostles and Jesus Himself all regarded these promises as the foundation of their work (Acts 3:13-25 Acts 3:13-25 13 The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Son Jesus; whom you delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. 14 But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted to you; 15 And killed the Prince of life, whom God has raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. 16 And his name through faith in his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know: yes, the faith which is by him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. 17 And now, brothers, I know that through ignorance you did it, as did also your rulers. 18 But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he has so fulfilled. 19 Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. 20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached to you: 21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. 22 For Moses truly said to the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up to you of your brothers, like to me; him shall you hear in all things whatever he shall say to you. 23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. 24 Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. 25 You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, And in your seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
).

Again notice what God told the patriarch Abraham: “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 shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3 Genesis 12:2-3 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
; also note Genesis 18:18 Genesis 18:18Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
American King James Version×
; Genesis 22:18 Genesis 22:18And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 26:4 Genesis 26:4And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
American King James Version×
; Genesis 28:14 Genesis 28:14And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
).

The most important blessing ever to be made available to all nations through Abraham’s “seed,” we later learn from the apostles, is the blessing of eternal life through Jesus Christ (Acts 3:25-26 Acts 3:25-26 25 You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, And in your seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. 26 To you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.
American King James Version×
; Galatians 3:7-29 Galatians 3:7-29 7 Know you therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel to Abraham, saying, In you shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that does them shall live in them. 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree: 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. 15 Brothers, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man cancels, or adds thereto. 16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to your seed, which is Christ. 17 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 cancel, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 19 Why then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness should have been by the law. 22 But the scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up to the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Why the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
American King James Version×
). Through His mother, Mary, Jesus was born a Jew, of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of Abraham (Hebrews 7:14 Hebrews 7:14For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.
American King James Version×
). His sacrifice opens the door to the people of all nations to enjoy a relationship with the God of Abraham.

When people of any race or background enter into a covenant relationship with Christ, they, too, become Abraham’s seed. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28-29 Galatians 3:28-29 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
American King James Version×
: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Thus, from the beginning of God’s interaction with Abraham, it becomes increasingly clear that God’s objective is to make salvation available to all. The remainder of the Bible reveals many more details of how God will fully implement this plan. But we find its foundation in the book of Genesis in the promises God gave Abraham.

The Bible reveals many aspects of God’s master plan for the salvation of mankind. The spiritual dimension of His promise to Abraham is only one part of the story. As physical beings we function in a physical world. Therefore God often achieves His spiritual goals through physical means such as giving or taking away physical blessings—using the principle of rewards for good behavior and punishment for sin.

For example, we need to consider why God promised to make of Abraham a “great nation” (Genesis 12:2 Genesis 12:2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing:
American King James Version×
). Many modern students of the Bible fail to understand the importance of this great physical promise. Critics of the Bible simply scoff at it altogether because they think the people of Israel never amounted to more than a pair of insignificant kingdoms at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. But they are wrong. God doesn’t lie (Titus 1:2 Titus 1:2In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
American King James Version×
). He keeps His promises. We will soon see why and how God has fulfilled this particular promise of national greatness to Abraham.

Promises of great national and material blessings

From Genesis 12 through 22, seven passages describe the promises God gave and reconfirmed to Abraham. In the initial account (Genesis 12:1-3 Genesis 12:1-3 1 Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you: 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
) God told Abraham to leave his homeland and family. This was the first condition Abraham had to meet before he could receive the promise.

When Abraham willingly obeyed, God then promised to bless him and make his name great. His progeny would also become great. (As we will see, the results of this promise would rank among the world’s greatest historical developments.)

A few verses later God appeared to Abraham and promised his descendants the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:7 Genesis 12:7And the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, To your seed will I give this land: and there built he an altar to the LORD, who appeared to him.
American King James Version×
). God’s promises unequivocally included material aspects—physical land and possessions.

Genesis 13 provides more details about the promises. After the account of Abraham’s willingness to give the fertile plain adjoining the Jordan River to his nephew Lot (Genesis 13:5-13 Genesis 13:5-13 5 And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. 6 And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. 7 And there was a strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. 8 And Abram said to Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray you, between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we be brothers. 9 Is not the whole land before you? separate yourself, I pray you, from me: if you will take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as you come to Zoar. 11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. 12 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. 13 But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.
American King James Version×
), God, in turn, promised all of the land of Canaan to Abraham forever (Genesis 13:14-17 Genesis 13:14-17 14 And the LORD said to Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: 15 For all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed for ever. 16 And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your 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 to you.
American King James Version×
), indicating that the temporal and eternal aspects of His promise were closely related.

Although Abraham was still childless, God also promised that his descendants would be counted “as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then [Abraham’s] descendants also could be numbered” (Genesis 13:16 Genesis 13:16And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your seed also be numbered.
American King James Version×
). The immense scope of this promise—the almost limitless expansion of Abraham’s descendants—should not be taken lightly. As we will see, it has enormous implications.

About a decade later God again appeared to Abraham in a vision. Notwithstanding that he still had no offspring, God again promised him an heir—and this heir, said God, would come “from your own body” (Genesis 15:4 Genesis 15:4And, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, This shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir.
American King James Version×
).

An incredible multitude of people would develop from that heir, Isaac. “Then [God] brought [Abraham] outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them … So shall your descendants be’ ” (Genesis 15:5). How did Abraham respond? “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 Genesis 15:6And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
American King James Version×
).

Abraham’s confidence that he could trust God to keep His word—even far into the future—was one of the reasons God loved Abraham. God chose him to be not only the father of several mighty nations but “the father of all those who believe” (Romans 4:11 Romans 4:11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also:
American King James Version×
). God was working out a dual role for faithful Abraham.

A few verses later God promised him not only innumerable descendants but all the territory stretching “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18 Genesis 15:18In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, To your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates:
American King James Version×
). This swath of territory covered much more land than the land God included in His original promise of the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:6-7 Genesis 12:6-7 6 And Abram passed through the land to the place of Sichem, to the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. 7 And the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, To your seed will I give this land: and there built he an altar to the LORD, who appeared to him.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 17:8 Genesis 17:8And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 24:7 Genesis 24:7The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spoke to me, and that swore to me, saying, To your seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife to my son from there.
American King James Version×
).

God expands His promises

As Abraham further demonstrated his faithfulness, God expanded the scope of His promises to him. Ultimately they involved far more than He had originally revealed. The most detailed accounting of God’s astounding promises to Abraham appears in Genesis 17.

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly … As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.

“ ‘No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God’ ” (Genesis 17:1-8 Genesis 17:1-8 1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be you perfect. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5 Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made you. 6 And I will make you exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you, and to your seed after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
American King James Version×
).

As with earlier statements of this promise, God’s blessing was still conditional and based on Abraham’s obedience and commitment to maturing spiritually. Here God again reminds him of this by saying, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1 Genesis 17:1And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be you perfect.
American King James Version×
; compare Matthew 5:48 Matthew 5:48Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
American King James Version×
).

A “great nation” is expanded to “many nations”

Remember that an important part of God’s promise was to greatly multiply Abraham’s descendants. Here God emphasized this yet-to-be reality by renaming the patriarch. Up to this point he had been known as Abram. God now told him: “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5 Genesis 17:5Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made you.
American King James Version×
). As mentioned earlier, Abram means “exalted father,” but Abraham means “father of a multitude.”

God elaborated on this aspect of His promise: “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:6 Genesis 17:6And I will make you exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you.
American King James Version×
; see also Genesis 17:15-16 Genesis 17:15-16 15 And God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. 16 And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her: yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.
American King James Version×
).

God continued: “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God … You shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations” (Genesis 17:8-9 Genesis 17:8-9 8 And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. 9 And God said to Abraham, You shall keep my covenant therefore, you, and your seed after you in their generations.
American King James Version×
). The account in Genesis 17 establishes God’s commitment to Abraham as an “everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:7-19 Genesis 17:7-19 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you, and to your seed after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. 9 And God said to Abraham, You shall keep my covenant therefore, you, and your seed after you in their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your seed after you; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you. 12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of your seed. 13 He that is born in your house, and he that is bought with your money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant. 15 And God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. 16 And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her: yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. 17 Then Abraham fell on his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? 18 And Abraham said to God, O that Ishmael might live before you! 19 And God said, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son indeed; and you shall call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
American King James Version×
), a binding agreement obligating God to give the patriarch’s descendants the land of Canaan in perpetuity (Genesis 17:8 Genesis 17:8And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
American King James Version×
). God’s commitment to Abraham was major and far-reaching.

The sixth account of God’s promise to Abraham appears in Genesis 18 in a setting immediately before the destruction of the sin-infested cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s angelic guests—messengers with news about the divine punishment to come on the two cities—reconfirmed the soon-coming birth of a son to the 99-year-old Abraham and his wife, Sarah, 10 years his junior (Genesis 18:10-14 Genesis 18:10-14 10 And he said, I will certainly return to you according to the time of life; and, see, Sarah your wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? 13 And the LORD said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? 14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
American King James Version×
).

With God promising that He would not “hide” His intentions from Abraham (Genesis 18:17 Genesis 18:17And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;
American King James Version×
; Amos 3:7 Amos 3:7Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets.
American King James Version×
), the angels then visiting the aged patriarch affirmed the promises that Abraham would “surely become a great and mighty nation”—a physical, material and national commitment of immense scope. They also reconfirmed the messianic promise that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Genesis 18:18 Genesis 18:18Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
American King James Version×
).

Dramatically fulfilling the promise, about a year after this encounter Sarah gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21:1-3 Genesis 21:1-3 1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had spoken. 2 For Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.
American King James Version×
). First Abraham had proven himself faithful to God. Now, miraculously, God proved His faithfulness to His commitment to Abraham.

Abraham’s supreme test

The climax of these seven accounts of God’s promises appears in Genesis 22. Here we find one of the most significant events in the Bible. This is God’s final elaboration to Abraham of His promise.

In this account Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac foreshadows the foundational event of God’s plan to offer salvation to all—God’s willingness to offer His only Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice (John 3:16-17 John 3:16-17 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
American King James Version×
).

Earlier we noted that God’s promises were dependent on Abraham’s continued obedience (Genesis 12:1 Genesis 12:1Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you:
American King James Version×
; Genesis 17:9 Genesis 17:9And God said to Abraham, You shall keep my covenant therefore, you, and your seed after you in their generations.
American King James Version×
). But after the events of Genesis 22 God transformed His covenant with Abraham by elevating it to a new level—and with good cause.

God told Abraham to take Isaac, the son of the promise (Romans 9:9 Romans 9:9For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.
American King James Version×
), and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2 Genesis 22:2And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.
American King James Version×
). Abraham’s supreme test of faith had arrived.

By this time in his life Abraham had learned to trust God implicitly. He had long experienced God’s wisdom, truth and faithfulness. He proceeded to do as he was told, only to be miraculously stopped at the precise moment he would have slain his son (Genesis 22:9-11 Genesis 22:9-11 9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar on the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11 And the angel of the LORD called to him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
American King James Version×
).

We can learn several profound lessons from this incident. First, God—whether in ancient or modern times—has never sanctioned worshipping Him with a human sacrifice.

Second, God prohibited Israel from following the pagan practice of offering firstborn children as sacrifices to idols. Human sacrifice was part and parcel of the Mesopotamian society from which Abraham was called, as well as the nations around him. But God made sure his faithful servant would not actually slay his son, although Abraham did not know in advance what God had in mind.

In the next verse God’s words reveal what He really wanted to find out about Abraham: “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12 Genesis 22:12And he said, Lay not your hand on the lad, neither do you any thing to him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.
American King James Version×
). In his willingness to obey the living God, Abraham had proven that he would relinquish that which was most precious to him, his only heir (Genesis 22:16 Genesis 22:16And said, By myself have I sworn, said the LORD, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son:
American King James Version×
; compare John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×
). God did not want Abraham’s son as a sacrifice. But He did want to know if Abraham trusted Him enough to make the hardest choice God could put before him. Abraham passed the test.

Third, Abraham’s behavior demonstrated he was a man fit for the role of “father of all those who believe” (Romans 4:11-22 Romans 4:11-22 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also: 12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. 13 For 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. 14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: 15 Because the law works wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, 17 (As it is written, I have made you a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who vivifies the dead, and calls those things which be not as though they were. 18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall your seed be. 19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: 20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
American King James Version×
; Galatians 3:9 Galatians 3:9So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
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; Hebrews 11:17-19 Hebrews 11:17-19 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 your seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from where also he received him in a figure.
American King James Version×
)—that he was a suitable founder of the family of countless descendants who could become the people of God (Genesis 18:19 Genesis 18:19For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring on Abraham that which he has spoken of him.
American King James Version×
).

However, God could not complete the plan He initiated through Abraham without involving the problem of human sin, and that problem would later require the sacrifice of humanity’s Redeemer—Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb of God (John 1:29 John 1:29The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.
American King James Version×
).

God’s commitment becomes unconditional

At this point God’s promises to Abraham—physical and spiritual—became unconditional. His words, “By Myself have I sworn” (Genesis 22:16 Genesis 22:16And said, By myself have I sworn, said the LORD, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son:
American King James Version×
), show that the fulfillment of the promise no longer depended on Abraham. The fulfillment of the promise would now depend solely on God Himself. He unconditionally committed Himself to fulfill His promise to Abraham and his descendants.

God puts His own truthfulness and integrity on the line in these commitments. He has unconditionally bound Himself to bring all of His promises to pass in all their details.

Because we understand the unconditional nature of God’s promises, we have a better picture of what to look for down through history concerning the descendants of ancient Israel. Since God cannot annul His promise to Abraham because He will not break His word (Numbers 23:19 Numbers 23:19God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: has he said, and shall he not do it? or has he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
American King James Version×
), every detail in His promises becomes a guide in our search for the identity of the lost 10 tribes of Israel after their exile.

Genesis 22 concludes with God restating the central elements of His commitment to Abraham: “Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies” (Genesis 22:17 Genesis 22:17That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
American King James Version×
, New American Standard Bible). These physical, material and national blessings continue as clues to the identity of Abraham’s modern descendants.

God continued: “And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 Genesis 22:18And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.
American King James Version×
, NASB). The apostle Paul, commenting on this verse many centuries later in Galatians 3:16 Galatians 3:16Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to your seed, which is Christ.
American King James Version×
, explains that this promised blessing refers to Jesus Christ: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ” (NASB). Through Christ, as the Seed of Abraham, God would make salvation available to the whole of humanity (compare John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×
).

Promises renewed to Abraham’s son Isaac

God renewed His promises to Abraham in subsequent generations. He reconfirmed His covenant to the patriarch’s son Isaac (Genesis 26:1-5 Genesis 26:1-5 1 And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines to Gerar. 2 And the LORD appeared to him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell you of: 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you, and to your seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father; 4 And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; 5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
American King James Version×
) and to his grandson Jacob (Genesis 27:26-29 Genesis 27:26-29 26 And his father Isaac said to him, Come near now, and kiss me, my son. 27 And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed: 28 Therefore God give you of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: 29 Let people serve you, and nations bow down to you: be lord over your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you: cursed be every one that curses you, and blessed be he that blesses you.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 28:1-14 Genesis 28:1-14 1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him, You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and take you a wife from there of the daughers of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 And God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, that you may be a multitude of people; 4 And give you the blessing of Abraham, to you, and to your seed with you; that you may inherit the land wherein you are a stranger, which God gave to Abraham. 5 And Isaac sent away Jacob: and he went to Padanaram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother. 6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padanaram, to take him a wife from there; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, You shall not take a wife of the daughers of Canaan; 7 And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padanaram; 8 And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father; 9 Then went Esau to Ishmael, and took to the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife. 10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11 And he lighted on a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac: the land where on you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed; 14 And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 35:9-12 Genesis 35:9-12 9 And God appeared to Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, Your name is Jacob: your name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be your name: and he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins; 12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land.
American King James Version×
).

Through Jacob God passed the national and material aspects of His promises on to the descendants of Abraham’s great-great-grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:1-22 Genesis 48:1-22 1 And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, your father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, your son Joseph comes to you: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat on the bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, 4 And said to me, Behold, I will make you fruitful, and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people; and will give this land to your seed after you for an everlasting possession. 5 And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. 6 And your issue, which you beget after them, shall be yours, and shall be called after the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem. 8 And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these? 9 And Joseph said to his father, They are my sons, whom God has given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray you, to me, and I will bless them. 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near to him; and he kissed them, and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, I had not thought to see your face: and, see, God has showed me also your seed. 12 And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near to him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long to this day, 16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the middle of the earth. 17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head. 19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. 20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In you shall Israel bless, saying, God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 And Israel said to Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.
American King James Version×
).

That the Bible records in some detail how these promises of blessings pass from one generation to another is additional evidence that God’s covenant with Abraham included physical, material and national aspects besides the vital messianic prophecies.

God’s promise to Isaac that “I will give to your descendants all these lands” (Genesis 26:3-4 Genesis 26:3-4 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you, and to your seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father; 4 And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
American King James Version×
) implies great material blessings. God also promised him, as He had Abraham, almost limitless descendants, telling him his descendants would “multiply as the stars of heaven” (verse 4).

At one level this promise would be fulfilled by the time the several million Israelites reached Mount Sinai under Moses’ leadership and, later, at the time of Solomon (Deuteronomy 1:10 Deuteronomy 1:10The LORD your God has multiplied you, and, behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.
American King James Version×
; 1 Kings 4:20-21 1 Kings 4:20-21 20 Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry. 21 And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt: they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life.
American King James Version×
). But Moses himself was aware that the blessings of great multitudes were to be multiplied many times over what had already occurred by his time (Deuteronomy 1:11 Deuteronomy 1:11(The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as you are, and bless you, as he has promised you!)
American King James Version×
).

Jacob receives the birthright and blessing

The physical blessings passed down to Isaac normally would have gone to the firstborn son, Esau (Genesis 25:21-26 Genesis 25:21-26 21 And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. 24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was three score years old when she bore them.
American King James Version×
). However, Jacob, the younger of twin brothers, persuaded Esau to sell his birthright to him for a meal of stew (Genesis 25:29-34 Genesis 25:29-34 29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray you, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day your birthright. 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he swore to him: and he sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
American King James Version×
).

What was the birthright, and why was it important? The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains that the birthright was “the right belonging naturally to the firstborn son … Such a person ultimately became the head of the family, the line being continued through him. As firstborn he inherited a double portion of the paternal estate … The firstborn was responsible for … exercising authority over the household as a whole” (1979, Vol. 1, “Birthright,” pp. 515-516).

To attain the blessings of the birthright from his father, Jacob resorted to tricking the blind and aged Isaac into believing he was Esau (Genesis 27:18-27 Genesis 27:18-27 18 And he came to his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I; who are you, my son? 19 And Jacob said to his father, I am Esau your first born; I have done according as you bade me: arise, I pray you, sit and eat of my venison, that your soul may bless me. 20 And Isaac said to his son, How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son? And he said, Because the LORD your God brought it to me. 21 And Isaac said to Jacob, Come near, I pray you, that I may feel you, my son, whether you be my very son Esau or not. 22 And Jacob went near to Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said, The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. 23 And he discerned him not, because his hands were hairy, as his brother Esau’s hands: so he blessed him. 24 And he said, Are you my very son Esau? And he said, I am. 25 And he said, Bring it near to me, and I will eat of my son’s venison, that my soul may bless you. And he brought it near to him, and he did eat: and he brought him wine and he drank. 26 And his father Isaac said to him, Come near now, and kiss me, my son. 27 And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed:
American King James Version×
). Little did Jacob know that deceit was unnecessary. God had already revealed, even before the births of Jacob and Esau, that Jacob would be the stronger of the two and that Esau would, in the end, become subservient to Jacob (Genesis 25:23 Genesis 25:23And the LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
American King James Version×
).

But God allowed Jacob to receive the right-by-birth promise to be the family patriarch and to receive the best of the family inheritance from his father without intervening to change the circumstance. Later He would teach Jacob to cease trusting in his own deceitful devices.

Now notice the blessing Isaac pronounced on Jacob: “Therefore may God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness 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!” (Genesis 27:28-29 Genesis 27:28-29 28 Therefore God give you of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: 29 Let people serve you, and nations bow down to you: be lord over your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you: cursed be every one that curses you, and blessed be he that blesses you.
American King James Version×
). These were no idle words. Isaac was officially passing on to Jacob the awesome promises God made to Abraham.

Later, through a dream, God confirmed to Jacob that he indeed would receive the birthright promise. God then revealed to Jacob that his descendants, numbering “as the dust of the earth,” would “spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south”— in all directions from the Middle East (Genesis 28:12-14 Genesis 28:12-14 12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac: the land where on you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed; 14 And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
). In later chapters we will see how this prophecy has been fulfilled in an amazing way.

Joseph’s two national identities

In Genesis 35 we encounter another aspect of the birthright promise. Here God promised Jacob that “a nation and a company of nations” would proceed from him (Genesis 35:11 Genesis 35:11And God said to him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins;
American King James Version×
). Knowledge of this aspect of Israel’s inheritance is essential if we are to understand key prophecies. The birthright promise would be fulfilled in two separate national entities.

In Genesis 48 Jacob passed this part of God’s promise to Abraham and Isaac to Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. At the same time Jacob placed his own name on these two grandsons (Genesis 48:16 Genesis 48:16The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the middle of the earth.
American King James Version×
). As a result, many later references to “Jacob” or “Israel” in the prophetic books of the Bible refer primarily to these two branches of Jacob’s descendants.

Jacob’s blessing included land—national territory —that his two grandsons’ descendants would inherit “for an everlasting possession.” They also would grow into “a multitude of people” (Genesis 48:4 Genesis 48:4And said to me, Behold, I will make you fruitful, and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people; and will give this land to your seed after you for an everlasting possession.
American King James Version×
). Here, for a second time, we see the remarkable promise that Jacob’s descendants—specifically those who would spring from Ephraim and Manasseh—would grow into “a multitude of nations” and a single great nation, respectively (Genesis 48:19 Genesis 48:19And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.
American King James Version×
).

Not all dimensions of the promises, however, would go to Joseph and his descendants. Judah would receive a promise with an important spiritual dimension. Through Jacob God gave the prophecy that “the scepter [ruler’s staff] shall not depart from Judah” (Genesis 49:10 Genesis 49:10The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and to him shall the gathering of the people be.
American King James Version×
). That prophecy pointed both to the dynasty of Israel’s future king, David, and to the role of Jesus, also of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David, as the Messiah (Luke 1:32 Luke 1:32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David:
American King James Version×
; Hebrews 7:14 Hebrews 7:14For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 5:5 Revelation 5:5And one of the elders said to me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
American King James Version×
). Christ is destined to rule the earth as King of Kings (Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 17:14 Revelation 17:14These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 19:16 Revelation 19:16And he has on his clothing and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
American King James Version×
).

In contrast, the birthright promise of physical, material and national greatness went not to Judah but to Joseph, bypassing the firstborn son, Reuben. Notice the circumstances that routed this great promise into Joseph’s hands:

“[Reuben] was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright; yet Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph’s” (1 Chronicles 5:1-2 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 1 Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but for as much as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. 2 For Judah prevailed above his brothers, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s:)
American King James Version×
). With the birthright promise, Joseph’s descendants—Ephraim and Manasseh—were to receive the blessings of wealth, power and national prominence.

Blessings for Joseph’s descendants

Perhaps the most revealing of the biblical passages about the birthright promise, however, is in Genesis 49. Here we find Jacob blessing and prophesying about each of his sons’ descendants “in the last days” (Genesis 49:1 Genesis 49:1And Jacob called to his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.
American King James Version×
). Notice that the blessings Jacob pronounces on the descendants of Joseph for the last days are monumental.

“Joseph is like a grapevine that produces much fruit, a healthy vine watered by a spring, whose branches grow over the wall. Archers attack him violently and shoot at him angrily, but he aims his bow well. His arms are made strong. He gets his power from the Mighty God of Jacob and his strength from the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.

“Your father’s God helps you. God Almighty blesses you. He blesses you with rain from above, with water from springs below, with many babies born to your wives, and many young ones born to your animals. The blessings of your father are greater than the blessings of the oldest mountains, greater than the good things of the long-lasting hills. May these blessings rest on the head of Joseph …” (Genesis 49:22-26 Genesis 49:22-26 22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: 23 The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: 24 But his bow stayed in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from there is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) 25 Even by the God of your father, who shall help you; and by the Almighty, who shall bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: 26 The blessings of your father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brothers.
American King James Version×
, New Century Version).

This prophetic passage tells us that Joseph’s descendants “in the last days” will live in a productive, well-watered and fruitful land. They will be a people who have greatly expanded their territory and influence—politically, militarily, economically and culturally—a people “whose branches grow over the wall,” or beyond their natural borders. They will be a people that, on occasion, will be attacked by other nations but will generally be victorious. Their triumphs will sometimes seem “miraculous” or “providential” because the Almighty God is their helper and source of blessings.

They will be a people who live in an unusually favorable climate that easily supports their steadily expanding population. They will enjoy the blessing of good crops, vast herds of livestock and extensive natural resources such as fine stands of timber and valuable minerals mined from their soil.

In other words, we can expect them to possess the choice blessings and resources of the earth. All of these blessings are to be theirs “in the last days” (Genesis 49:1 Genesis 49:1And Jacob called to his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.
American King James Version×
).

Where can we find the descendants of Joseph, the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh? This list of blessings eliminates most of the nations of the world as contenders. To find them we must ask: Which nations possess these blessings in our world? God promised all these blessings to the descendants of Joseph “in the last days.” Since God does not lie, we can trust Him to keep those promises.

What does the evidence tell us? As we will see, the evidence is overwhelmingly in God’s favor. If we believe the promises and God’s fulfillment of them, our outlook toward the world will be quite different from the outlook of those who remain ignorant of this knowledge.

In the nearly 3,700 years since God gave these promises, few nations can lay claim to blessings anywhere near these. Even fewer can claim the kind of economic stature and national prominence—even superpower status—promised to Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, “in the last days.”

Two candidates, however, perfectly meet the exacting criteria of these prophecies: the United States of America and the British Commonwealth of nations. How well does their apparent fit mesh with the evidence we find? To answer that question, we embark on a study of historical evidence of the tribes of Israel from their beginning as a nation down to our day.

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